Archive for September, 2011

Summer Readings

Against all odds, I actually managed to read some books this summer that were purely for pleasure. I started with Patrick DeWitt’s marvellously rendered, darkly funny tale of two cowboy assassin brothers, “The Sisters Brothers”. There is bloodshed, sibling rivalry, and existential crises, but throughout the entire novel I could not help but grin at the tale told in the voice of Eli Sisters, the overweight brother with a crisis of conscience and a need to be loved. Eli struggles with his overbearing brother Charlie as they travel to California on a job during the goldrush.

Then, seeking a lighter read and attracted by the striking new cover art, I finally picked up Melissa Bank’s “The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing”. Following the protagonist Jane through a series of short stories as she learns to navigate the seas of love, the book was a pleasant surprise containing emotional depth as well as humour.

I continued with Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians,” finally getting around to reading it just as the sequel “The Magician King” is set for release this fall. While the literary genealogy of this novel is rather obvious, I did enjoy the darker direction that Grossman took, choosing to focus on the navel-gazing, hedonistic, and ultimately unfulfilled youth confronted with disillusionment when they discover that magic is real. Grossman very deftly takes a familiar premise and overturns our expectations. I’m thoroughly looking forward to the next book.

Slightly less satisfying, perhaps because of my higher expectations, was Kristen den Hartog’s new novel, “And Me Among Them, the story of Ruth, a young giantess, and her parents. The tale is told in the voice of Ruth, but I found that voice to be oddly distant and not terribly engaging. The characters of Ruth’s parents, and indeed even Patrick, the neighbour boy, are far more interesting than Ruth or her best friend and worst influence, Suzy. The back stories of Ruth’s parents, Elspeth and James, were the most vivid and emotionally affecting episodes in the novel, and both were well written. I only wish the rest of the novel lived up to the same standard, as I think den Hartog has great potential as a writer. My favourite of her books is still “The Perpetual Ending,” which is definitely worth tracking down.

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Stumbling around the web today and I came across this gem on The Guardian website. The Guardian is exploring the literature of “new Europe” in a series of articles, compiling a reading list based on reader recommendations. While I do find this a commendable effort, the problems with this approach are pretty self-evident. A quick glance at their spreadsheet of suggestions will pick up on a number of duplicates – the list would have benefitted from being consolidated and edited in some fashion. I also perceive problems when it comes to leaving the selection solely in the hands of The Guardian’s readership. While they are certainly counted among the highly literary (the Guardian’s book section is excellent), it might have been interesting to speak with scholars or citizens or bookshops and newspapers of the country they are creating the reading list for, because an outsider’s vision of the best of a nation’s literature is certainly going to be limited. Still, a great way to broaden one’s literary horizons. Perhaps I will chime in with my own list of favourites by nation as I continue this blog.


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