Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Barry’

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.

Read Full Post »

ImageImageImageImageImage

Here, finally, is the second installation of the books I had the most fun reading this year. These books were a blast. You should read them.

George and Weedon Grossmith – The Diary of a Nobody (Oxford): A friend gave this to me the last time I was in Scotland. I was so enchanted by its quiet charm and gentle social satire that I read it in a single sitting. The suburban Englishman’s diary entries of daily routines in Victorian England are full of slapstick and social faux-pas. I thought it was absolutely hysterical.

Kevin Barry – The City of Bohane (Jonathan Cape): Great read. The west Irish accent really comes through here in the speech patterns. There are wonderful turns of phrase, and a Burgess-like linguistic invention. I love Barry’s language, and the non-tech vision of the future gives the story an oddly workable hybrid of old west/1920s mobster feeling. The characterization could use some work, and the plot seems to lose steam, but all in all it was a very refreshing read. This is a must-read just for the incredible inventiveness of the language.

Tiffany Murray – Diamond Star Halo (Portobello): Tiffany Murray has an excellent ear for storytelling language. Here, she tells the story of the Llewellyn family who run a recording studio in rural Wales. The story follows the family from the 1970’s through to the 1990s. I especially enjoyed the character of Nana, and the back-story of Halo’s parents, which contains wonderful imagery and is emotionally pitch-perfect. There is a pseudo-taboo broken in the latter part of the novel that I wasn’t terribly smitten with, but it is a small flaw easily over-looked in light of the sheer joy to be found in the language, and the overwhelming charm of so many of the characters. Also, two of the best literary grandmothers EVER live within the pages of this book.

Robin Sloan – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux): Sloan’s fast-paced romp through bookshops, secret societies, and the world of high-tech gadgetry is an ode to friendship and a recognition that perhaps the tech world and the book world aren’t really as distant from one another in their principles as we have been made to believe. This one’s a bit slick, and not as “bookish” as I might have liked, but it made me think about my own book vs. tech assumptions a little more carefully. It’s a light, quick read, and very timely.

Patrick DeWitt – The Sisters Brothers (Ecco): Okay, this is a bit of a cheat because I technically read it last year, but it’s now available in paperback and was so entertaining that it deserves a spot on this list. If you haven’t read Patrick DeWitt’s dark and hilarious tale of two assassin brothers, Charlie and Eli Sisters, you have been missing out. It’s full of murder, gold, sibling rivalry, and a desperate need just to be loved. Fantastic!

 

Read Full Post »