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Posts Tagged ‘Chico Buarque’

I always anticipate literary award season with a mixture of hope and dread. Each year, I hope to be surprised by what makes it to the short lists, but each year I am almost always disappointed. Canadian literature awards especially, like the Giller Prize (this year’s short list: http://www.scotiabankgillerprize.ca/finalists/2014-shortlist/) and the Governor General Awards (this year’s short list: http://www.cbc.ca/books/2014/10/governor-generals-literary-awards-2014-the-finalists.html), tend to stick to the “safe” titles: literary and “serious” and appealing to the broadest possible spectrum of readers. Rarely do the titles on literary award short lists strike me as challenging either literary conventions or challenging commonly held beliefs/perspectives. My usual response is a disappointed sigh, as the short lists seem to be more of the same old, same old. I don’t intend this as a disparagement of those who are lucky enough to make these short lists, as their talent is not what I am questioning. I am sure I would enjoy many of the books on these lists. I just tend to be less interested in reading them because they seem to fit conventional narrative patterns or subjects and I like to stretch my boundaries as a reader. I would like literary awards to take some risks in introducing readers to books beyond the conventional and familiar, in order that readers may expand their comfort zones. So, in response to this apathy I feel, I have decided to make a long list of books that I found interesting in terms of form or challenging in terms of subject matter, books that I feel made me a better reader. These books aren’t perfect. They have flaws, but their authors were brave enough to try something different (new or less familiar) in terms of form or genre and to look at subjects deemed uncomfortable or unworthy by others. Some have been recognized by larger prizes, but even in those cases, I feel they didn’t get the consideration they deserved by the reading public. Each book on this list gave me a thrill as I figured out what they were trying to do, and each one was emotionally affecting in its own way. Here is the inaugural long list for the Hamilton Award for Interesting Literature (HAIL – as in, all hail to me, queen of cool book recommendations):

The City of Bohane – Kevin Barry

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Love and the Mess We’re In – Stephen Marche

Faces in the Crowd – Valeria Luiselli

Observatory Mansions – Edward Carey

The Boys in the Trees – Mary Swan

So Many Ways to Begin – Jon McGregor

Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

The Logogryph – Thomas Wharton 

Vernon God Little – DBC Pierre

Spilt Milk – Chico Buarque

The Manual of Detection – Jedediah Berry

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing – Eimear McBride (I’m still reading this one)

I am not able to offer a spectacular monetary prize in the tradition of those prizes I discuss here (I am a poor adjunct, after all), but I would like to offer my sincere appreciation to these authors for shaking up expectations and creating marvelous fictional worlds for readers to inhabit. I hope you will consider giving these writers your attention.

I must say that the Booker Prize short list (http://www.themanbookerprize.com/news/man-booker-prize-fiction-2014-shortlist-revealed) did come as something of a surprise to me this year, as it seems fresher and more interesting than many of their lists in the recent past. I often find at least one title of interest, but this year I am interested in reading most of the titles here. However, in the world of literary awards, I find that the most reliably interesting long and short lists are for the Dublin IMPAC Award (last year’s nominees http://www.impacdublinaward.ie/ won by Juan Gabriel Vasquez) and the Neustadt Prize (last year’s nominees http://neustadtprize.org/the-23rd-biennial-neustadt-international-prize-for-literature-nominees-announced/#.VDwOmfldVaQ won by Mia Couto). I want unfamiliar literary prize nominees, new writers whose bodies of work I can begin to explore. I want prize lists to challenge my comfort zone.

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So, my grand plans for participating in the blogosphere regularly and in earnest this year have gone the way most of my New Year’s resolutions go: absolutely nowhere. In the first week of January I found myself suddenly with 5 jobs, and sadly wasn’t even able to post the last of my 2012 lists. So, because I still have not had time to do proper capsule reviews for my favourite literary reads of the year, I am just going to give you the list. If you trust my judgement, you should definitely pick these up. If you don’t trust my judgement (yet, because it is just a matter of time, really), you should look these titles up and get more feedback. I have no reservations at all in whole-heartedly endorsing every book on this list. They might offer something quite different from one another, but each title is moving and interesting or innovative in its own way. These are the books I would like to force on all my friends:

The Other City – Michal Ajvaz

Dublinesque – Enrique Vila-Matas

Varamo – César Aira

The Following Story – Cees Nooteboom

Spilt Milk – Chico Buarque

The Ocean Sea – Alessandro Barrico

The Man Who Walked Through Walls – Marcel Aymé

Man in the Holocene – Max Frisch

Circus Bulgaria – Deyan Enev

Train Dreams – Denis Johnson

Glaciers – Alexis M. Smith

Radio Iris – Anne-Marie Kinney

Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt

The Emperor of Paris – C.S. Richardson

Love and the Mess We’re In – Stephen Marche

 

Let me know if you agree. If not, that’s great too, because one of my favourite things about literature is that encourages debate and discussion. Happy reading!

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Continuing the holiday reads recommendations, here are five of my favourite short reads of the year – two short story collections and three novellas. All deal with rather dark subject matter and are fantastic reads.

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Marcel Aymé – The Man Who Walked Through Walls (Pushkin Press): This collection of stories is absolutely brilliant. It belongs alongside the works of Borges, Kafka, Gogol, and Cortázar. The stories combine surrealism and biting social satire. Among the denizens you will find in these pages: a man who discovers he suddenly has the ability to walk through walls, a woman who can replicate herself infinitely, young boys dreaming of seven league boots, governments that can legislate leaps forward and backward in time.

Lucy Wood – Diving Belles (Mariner Books): These contemporary tales are drenched in Cornish folklore, and range from the charming to the downright unsettling. Most of the stories are wonderfully dark and incredibly original. For a debut collection of stories, this is rather masterful. If you’re a fan of Panos Karnezis or Karen Russell, these stories will be right up your street. They skillfully blend the fantastic with gritty realism, and are incredibly evocative of place – the wilds of Cornwall and the salt-sea air of its coastline.

Denis Johnson – Train Dreams (Picador): Denis Johnson’s latest novella is entirely deserving of all the praise heaped upon it, and in all honesty, should have taken the Pulitzer this year. Concentrated, evocative, and moving, the novella contains all of the mythology of the American northwest in its slim binding and at its core stands Robert Grainier, the hero figure – hardworking, taciturn, and touched by tragedy. Johnson weaves incredibly intense episodes from Grainier’s life into a tapestry of the history of the American West. Wonderful single-sitting read.

Chico Buarque – Spilt Milk (Grove Press): Eulálio Montenegro d’Assumpção – descendant of Portuguese nobility, former weapons dealer, great-great-grandfather of a Brazilian drug dealer – lies in a hospital bed in his one-hundredth year of life and remembers. In his old age and infirmity, his stories blend and blur, weaving together past and present through images, emotions, and associations in a rich tapestry of national and family history. The short novel was awarded two of Brazil’s leading literary prizes when it was originally published in Portuguese in 2009. Buarque is well-known as a musician in Brazil, and his prose has a rhythmic, musical quality to it that carries the reader forward effortlessly.

Max Frisch – Man in the Holocene (Dalkey Archive Press): This was my first experience reading Max Frisch, and it definitely won’t be the last. The narrative is interspersed with notes and clippings from the books in the widower Geiser’s house in a Swiss valley. Outside, an epic rainstorm threatens to undermine the very solidity of the landscape with landslides and rockfalls. Inside, Geiser’s mind is undermined by his inability to recollect things he once knew, and he obsessively writes down facts on slips of paper or clips paragraphs out of his books and fastens them to the walls of his house. The narrative is claustrophobic and perfectly suited to its subject matter: an isolated man suffering the indignities of age and senility and trying to find meaning.

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