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Archive for March, 2015

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Last year, as you may recall, I let loose a rather impassioned rant about the Man Booker International Prize. Well, it appears that someone somewhere heard my cries. The Man Booker International Prize short list was announced today, and it is a thing of beauty. Of the 10 finalists, 8 are authors who write in languages other than English, and TWO of the authors (Couto and Aira) actually appeared as suggestions in my original angry post. (Coincidence? I think not!) So, I’m totally taking the credit for the fact that this year we have the pleasure of being introduced to more non-English writers, less familiar names, and I’m pleased that even the names I’m already familiar with aren’t really household names and are entirely deserving of a more global readership. Deep gratitude goes to the judges this year for saving a prize that I had almost given up on! Well done Marina Warner, Nadeem Aslam, Elleke Boehmer, Edwin Frank, and Wen-Chin Ouwang. You have redeemed the Man Booker International Prize, and brought English readers a treasure trove of new authors to explore. I look forward to reading books from each of the authors on this short list, and am actually excited for an award announcement for the first time in a very long time!

The Man Booker International prize short list, with some notes on what I’ve got on the shelf. I’m so excited to have new authors to discover!
• César Aira (Argentina) – My favourite (so far) is Varamo, but really, anything Aira writes is gold.

• Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)

• Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe)

• Mia Couto (Mozambique) – My favourite is The Last Flight of the Flamingo, and I’m looking forward to getting to The Tuner of SIlences.

• Amitav Ghosh (India) – The Sea of Poppies sits on my shelf, waiting for me to have time…

• Fanny Howe (US)

• Ibrahim Al-Koni (Libya)

• László Krasznahorkai (Hungary) – I’ve read bits of The Melancholy of Resistance and it is amazing, but then, I haven’t had the time to tackle Satantango yet, which I hear is a masterpiece…

• Alain Mabanckou (Democratic Republic of the Congo) – I’ve had Broken Glass on my TBR since 2010, but have yet to order it in. That makes it #1 on the pile.

• Marlene van Niekerk (South Africa)

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In celebration of International Women’s Day, I would like to recommend 25* (okay, now 30 because I decided to add non-fiction and poetry) of my favorite women writers from around the globe:

Jang Eun-Jin – No One Writes Back

Barbara Comyns – Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead

Claudia Rankine – Citizen: An American Lyric

Assia Djebar – A Sister to Scheherazade

Elizabeth McCracken – Thunderstruck and Other Stories

Fatima Mernissi – Dreams of Trespass

Jacqueline Baker – The Broken Hours; The Horseman’s Graves; A Hard Witching and Other Stories

Ahdaf Soueif – A Map of Love

Mary Swan – The Boys in the Trees

Valeria Luiselli – Faces in the Crowd

Nuala Ní Chonchúir – Mother America

Kjersti Skomsvold – The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am

Alissa York – Effigy

Park Wan-Suh – Lonesome You

Tiffany Murray – Diamond Star Halo; Sugar Hall

Aglaja Veteranyi – Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta

Jenny Offill – Dept. of Speculation

Clarice Lispector – The Hour of the Star; A Breath of Life; The Foreign Legion

Lucy Wood – Diving Belles and Other Stories

Nawal El Saadawi – God Dies by the Nile

Kate Atkinson – Life After Life

Anna Gavalda – I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere

Helene Wecker – The Golem and the Jinni

Kiran Desai – Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard

Karen Russell – St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Half a Yellow Sun

Missy Marston – The Love Monster

Roxane Gay – Bad Feminist

Leslie Jamison – The Empathy Exams

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In an attempt not to bail on my “post regularly” resolution a mere 25 days after the resolution post, here’s an update on what I’ve been reading and how my read slow / read big project is coming along (spoiler alert: it’s not):

In January, I truly believed my work schedule for this semester would allow me to take things slow and read big. Boy was I wrong. After my last post, things suddenly picked up with editing/proofreading work, which is great, because that helps with another of the resolutions! However, my “leisurely” reading time has all but evaporated. I now only read for pleasure on the bus to and from work.

What I Read

Even though I’ve not been able to read “big” I’ve managed to squeeze in 4 shorter reads so far this year (not counting work reads). I just finished reading Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s This One Summer (Groundwood), a YA graphic novel that won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Illustration. The artwork is beautiful and evocative, and the story is insightful. The graphic novel captures that difficult moment between childhood and teenage years when there is a dreadful “inbetween-ness” that sometimes separates kids from their parents and their friends, and sometimes even their own understanding of themselves and their own behaviour. Some of those problems stem from an awareness and a desire to appear more “grown-up” and deal with “grown-up” things, but not having all the information or the emotional capacity to cope with the fall out/consequences. The story deals with several complex and difficult issues with a light, non-preachy touch, and is compulsively readable. 4 stars.

Simon Rich’s collection of short stories, Spoiled Brats (Little, Brown), has some absolute gems in it, but I found more misses than hits in this collection. Rich is certainly clever, and I can see him developing into a great comic writer, but at this stage I found the comparisons to Woody Allen to be off the mark. However, there are 5 or 6 stories in this collection that had me in stitches: “Sell Out” and “Animals” and were among the best and show his potential for humour and depth. The less impressive ones were entertaining but without staying power. Worth picking up for “Sell Out” and “Animals” alone, but expect more and better from Rich as he develops over the next few years. 3.5 stars.

I was enamoured of Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper (dorothy) for the first third of the book and a small section near the end. I loved the prose, but found myself tiring of the selfishness of the characters, and struggled to get through the last two thirds of the book mostly because of my own reactions to those characters and their lack of (or willful blindness to) self-awareness, and their narcissism. However, I will certainly be watching out for Nell Zink’s next book, because she is clearly a talent to be watched. 3.5 stars.

My first read of the year was also one that has already made my “Best Reads of the Year” list, which is a hell of a feat. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns (dorothy) is darkly hilarious, macabre, and moving. The Willoweed family, an aristocratic family on the decline, must deal with first a flood, and then a mysterious plague of madness and death that sweeps through the village. Both the events and their consequences change the family forever. My only problem was that I felt as though the ending rushed a bit (or perhaps the problem is that I just didn’t want the book to end). 4.5 stars.

Currently Reading: Eric Lundren’s The Facades (Overlook)

I’ve also decided to let you folks know what books I buy, because if I buy something, I’m confident I’ll get around to reading it someday, and I’m also confident that I will enjoy it enough to own it forever (because I only ever get rid of duplicates). So, here’s a new little segment:

Newly Shelved But Not Yet Read (Jan/Feb)

I am Radar – Reif Larsen (Penguin)

Welcome to Braggsville – T. Geronimo Johnson (William Morrow)

Get in Trouble – Kelly Link (Random House)

Blood-Drenched Beard – Daniel Galera (Hamish Hamilton)

And the Birds Rained Down – Jocelyne Saucier (Coach House)

Works – Edouard Leve (Dalkey Archive Press)

Fancy – Jeremy M. Davies (Ellipsis)

Of Things Gone Astray – Janina Matthewson (The Friday Project)

The Old Ways – Robert MacFarlane (Penguin)

Etta and Otto and Russell and James – Emma Hooper (Hamish Hamilton)

When Mystical Creatures Attack! – Kathleen Founds (U Iowa P)

The Land of Laughs – Jonathan Carroll (Viking)

Hotel Andromeda – Gabriel Josipovici (Carcanet)

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes – Caitlin Doughty (Norton)

Silver Screen Fiend – Patton Oswalt (Scribner)

Every Blade of Grass – Thomas Wharton (self published)

The Librarian – Mikhail Elizarov (Pushkin Press)

The Voyage – Murray Bail (MacLehose)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne Valente (Square Fish)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan (Knopf)

In other news, at this pace, I will have to declare bankruptcy by the end of the second quarter. Until I typed those all up, I did not realize there were that may new books in the apartment, because they are scattered in so many different rooms. Wow. Well, at least it’s not heroin, I guess.

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