#40 – The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman

I actually finished reading this on Thursday night (this being Saturday afternoon), but my allergies were so severe that I could barely think, let alone write a coherent blog post. Likewise last night after work. The allergies are with me still, but they have cleared sufficiently that I can now function more or less at my previous level, paltry and insufficient though that may be. The Amber Spyglass was not quite what the first two books were. It didn’t have the sense of fun, adventure and wonder of The Golden Compass, nor was there the sense of transition of The Subtle Knife. This was a book almost exclusively of conflict and self-discovery. It’s also a book of considerable controversy, probably more so than the other two. One of the big points of contention is the so-called “sex scene” near the end of the book. The two underage children do not… Continue Reading

#39 – The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman

The shortest of the three novels in the His Dark Materials series, The Subtle Knife feels very much like a transitional work. At least one new major character is introduced (Will), and a new magical object (for which the book is named), but otherwise very little seems to have happened as far as Lyra’s adventure to find her father is concerned. The book does feel considerably more mature, dealing more frankly with matters of sexual maturity and issues of moral authority (and not coming down entirely against moral authority; Pullman rather sensibly comes down only against arbitrary moral authority). I can’t say that I had as much fun reading this one as I did The Golden Compass, but I now have more respect for Pullman’s ability to pull together a functioning set set of rules for world-building. Lyra’s world seemed rather skimpy in the first volume, but pulls together nicely… Continue Reading

#38 – The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman

I had originally planned to read The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell for book number thirty-eight, a book that had come to me along with a dozen or so others in a package from my father (whose taste in historical fiction is quite good; he steered me towards Patrick O’Brian, after all), and I had even announced that fact on this blog, but I got a hundred pages in only to learn that it was the second book in a series, and that while I had been sent the third book, I had not been sent the first. I am not the sort of person who will read a series out of order, so I switched to The Golden Compass instead, and here we are. For those not in the know (although how could you not be, given that it was recently adapted into a major motion picture starring Nicole… Continue Reading

#37 – A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor

I can’t remember anymore if I’d read some of these stories prior to this week, or if I’d simply heard so much about them that it only seems like I had. I was interested in reading this book because O’Connor had a reputation for being controversial, and also for being somewhat forgotten, although I don’t pretend to know how true that last is. I only know that finding even this one volume of her work was pretty damned hard, and I had to look for quite some time. (I may not have mentioned this before, but I don’t buy books online unless it’s absolutely necessary; even when buying used or remaindered, I prefer to give my money to someone in the neighbourhood.) I have no difficulty seeing how her stories could be seen as controversial back in 1948. They address head on issues of race and religion; they tackle a… Continue Reading

#36 – The Projectionist, by Michael Helm

This is a bittersweet moment for me. Well, not this exact moment. More like three hours ago, when I finished reading the book. That was a bittersweet moment. You see, Michael Helm has only written two novels. On the one hand, I just finished reading a second spectacular novel by Michael Helm; on the other hand, there are no more Michael Helm novels left for me to read. I can guarantee you, that should I compile a list at the end of this year as I did at the end of last year, a list describing those books that I enjoyed reading the most in that year, both of Helm’s novels would be on it. In fact, I think it’s safe to declare Helm my favourite living Canadian author, supplanting the still wonderful Sheila Heti. Actually, come to think of it, all three of my favourite (living) Canadian writers of… Continue Reading

#35 – Courage My Love, by Sarah Dearing

What is it with French flaps these days? I hate the goddamn things. Sure, I suppose they look pretty and expensive, but books saddled with them almost always have tighter bindings, and that makes them more difficult to hold open, and all that extra weight near the outside edge of the book means that they can flop closed on you at exactly the wrong time. They are just a pain in the ass. I know, I know, Ed had told us that we shouldn’t talk about the cover when we review a book, that treating the thing like an artifact is out of bounds. Ed is wrong (or full of shit, depending on how much he’s irritated you on any given day). In an ideal world—and in the academic world as well, which is far from ideal—we talk about “texts” rather than “works” or “books”. Texts are these mystical abstract… Continue Reading

#34 – Blue Ridge, by T.R. Pearson

I purchased this book some while back because Pearson was described on the back cover as being neo-Faulknerian. This is a term I’d never heard before, but Faulkner is among my favourite authors, is probably my favourite American author. Neo-Faulknerian? How could you go wrong? As it turns out, you can’t, at least not if buying and reading a copy of Blue Ridge was the course of action you were contemplating. Going wrong, I suppose, would involve not doing those things. Pearson’s prose does not possess the same biblical slowness as Faulkner’s, but his South is very obviously the same South Faulkner wrote about. They also share the same dry, considered wit, often showing itself to great effect when the plot would seem to suggest other directions. Blue Ridge is actually possessed of two plots that meet only briefly and somewhat superficially in the final pages. Two cousins, Ray and… Continue Reading

#33 – The Line Painter, by Claire Cameron

My first thought upon finishing this book, and I hate that it came to me in these words, was “what a good little book.” Right away I regretted the phrase; it appears, even to me, as a patronizing remark of the damning-with-faint-praise variety, and that’s not at all what I intend to do. After all, as I said to a friend over coffee this afternoon, I would most certainly read another book by Claire Cameron, based solely on the experience I had reading The Line Painter. It was, after all, a good book. It had interesting characters that I could imagine walking the streets out there somewhere, it had an excellent plot that was, as advertised, a genuinely fresh take on a premise that has been worked over by authors and film makers literally for generations. It was decently paced and hit all the right emotional notes. It was suspenseful,… Continue Reading

#32 – The Fiend in Human, by John Maclachlan Gray

I first heard about this book when William Gibson posted about Gray on his blog some time back. I must confess that this is the way I discover a lot of new fiction; what better recommendation than one from another writer? Finding a copy of this book was another kettle of fish entirely. Of course it was available online, or locally in mass market paperback, but I refuse to buy mass market books (they are cheap, disgusting little objects) and if at all possible I’d rather not buy a book online when there are old-fashioned bricks-and-mortar book stores about. I think it was five or six months that I looked for a copy, until finally Dave at Words Worth Books in Waterloo, one of my favourite book stores in the country, was able to track down a hard cover copy for me, at a more than reasonable price. (The staff… Continue Reading

#31 – No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy

I will confess that I only thought to read this book after having seen the movie. I kind of hate it when that happens; I feel like a bandwagon jumper or some other brand of hanger-on. A johnny-come-lately or what have you. If we were talking about music and I told you that I only started listening to Sonic Youth because of their Carpenters cover on the Juno soundtrack, you (some amorphous hypothetical you, not any specific you who might be reading this) would definitely ridicule me, and given the hipper-than-thou politics of the music scene, you would have cause. More and more lately I’ve seen a similar attitude among readers; if a film has been made or Oprah has heard of the book, then God help your street cred if you get caught reading it on the subway. You are branded a mindlessly consuming sheep. Yes sir, no sir,… Continue Reading