I’ve just finished two truly excellent works of nonfiction: Wild and Zeitoun. Both books read like fiction, with clean, clear writing and page-turning suspense. Both document almost unbelievable, out-sized events, in one case likely unique, in the other – horribly – anything but. I highly recommend both books.
I didn’t expect to like Wild. Something about the phrase “best-selling memoir” just turns me off. But when the book was chosen as one of my Library’s “Raves and Faves,” I was intrigued. Those are always excellent books. (I’m quite proud that all five of my Raves and Faves suggestions made the (Read more…)
In the prologue to Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America’s Most Extraordinary House, author Franklin Toker writes, “Put this book down now if you can’t live without the old myths about Fallingwater. But take comfort in the fact that a Fallingwater history shorn of miracles can still be thrilling.”
Toker examines those old myths, and one by one, he uses his extensive and impeccable research to dismantle them. The truth, for me, was far more interesting.
I visited Fallingwater in 1999, and although I have a great interest in architecture and am captivated by (Read more…)
“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
For me it’s one of the most memorable final sentences ever written.
I just finished re-reading The Catcher in the Rye, possibly for the first time since reading it (twice) in high school. I remembered it in a theoretical way, but had forgotten the details. It’s a funny, sad, perfect little book.
I’m not breaking any new ground when I call Catcher the original young-adult novel. Every John Green and Ned Vizzini and Stephen Chbosky narrator, every wise-cracking alienated youth straight through to Buffy (Read more…)
My desire is to get the reader, well, first of all to read it. That story [“The Bottom of the Harbor”] was hard to write because I had to wonder how long can I keep developing it before the reader’s going to get tired of this. Here and there, as I think a fiction writer would, I put things that I know—even the remark the tugboat men make, that you could bottle this water and sell it for poison—that are going to keep the reader going. I can lure him or her into the story I want to tell. I (Read more…)
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss is an excellent addition to a bookshelf that includes works by Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Marian Nestle and others who write about the health of our food and the un-health of the industrial food system. Moss lifts the curtain on the giant corporations that engineer and market convenience foods and processed foods. What he reveals is largely invisible to us on a daily basis, yet affects our society significantly – and catastrophically.
Moss is a seasoned investigative reporter – he was the first to expose trans fats, (Read more…)
I’ve been meaning to read Richard Ford for years – actually, for decades. Both the 1986 novel The Sportswriter and 1995′s follow-up Independence Day have been languishing on The List since they were published. When Canada came out in 2012, and reviews made me want to read it, it was time to dig up those earlier titles and finally discover Ford. I recently put all three titles on hold in my library, and read them in order of publication. (An aside: there was only one copy of The Sportswriter in our system, so my borrowing it probably saved that book’s (Read more…)
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman, has been on my to-read list since it was first published in the mid-1990s. Although I generally don’t read fantasy fiction, after reading an outstanding review in The New York Times Book Review, I was very intrigued. Thanks to the Teen Book Club I facilitate at the library, I recently had an excuse to read it: The Golden Compass (published as Northern Lights in the UK) is our March title.
This is an absolutely wonderful book. Lyra Belacqua, a smart, spunky 11-year-old girl, is wholly believeable as our powerful, but very human, hero. She (Read more…)
Hoarding is a hot topic these days, and often approached through a lurid, sensational lens – eccentric recluses and their hoards of junk are exposed for public entertainment. You’ll find none of that in Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by psychologists Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. Instead, the book is rich with insight based on solid research, combined with large doses of empathy, patience, and compassion. The book was written to help hoarding sufferers and the people who love them recognize and understand their affliction, and begin to seek help.
The words sufferers and affliction are (Read more…)
Readers over a certain age may remember Pat Conroy as the author of “The Great Santini,” the novel and later, a movie for which he wrote the screenplay. The movie starred Robert Duvall as an aggressive, bullying father; the son was played by Michael O’Keefe. Conroy is probably best known for The Prince of Tides, a hugely popular novel from the mid-80s, adapted into a movie starring Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte, directed by Streisand. Conroy has written many other novels and screenplays, and in general has been a highly successful writer.
A recurring theme in Conroy’s (Read more…)
Despite the increased attention given to graphic novels in recent years, many readers don’t consider graphic novels when thinking about what to read next. In this “what i’m reading” post, I highlight four graphic novels considered classics of the form.
At least three of these books are included on high school and university curricula, and taken seriously as literature. These are certainly not the only graphic novels to achieve that standing, but if you asked a bunch of non-graphic-fiction readers to name some well-known and influential graphic novels, these would likely top the list. Each is worth reading, and perhaps (Read more…)
Lost Memory of Skin, Russell Banks’ 2011 novel, begins with an impossible paradox.
A group of men are living in an encampment under a highway. It is, in fact, the only place they can live.
Each of them has been convicted of some crime involving sex. The state, in a moral panic over child pornography, has decreed that after serving time in prison, a former sex offender cannot live within 2,500 feet of any place where children may be present: schools, public parks, bus stops – and homeless shelters. The men wear homing devices on their ankles to enforce (Read more…)
Swamplandia! caught me by surprise. At first, Karen Russell’s debut novel seemed like a quirky family story, a strange and somewhat sad tale told with great wit and humour.
Then it deepened, became (possibly) supernatural – or is that just the fantasy of a troubled girl? Then it quickened, and became suspenseful, and dangerous, and a bit heartbreaking. Step by strange step, I was hooked. Swamplandia! is not an easy book to describe, but more importantly, it’s not an easy book to put down.
The Bigtree family lives in Swamplandia!, an old-fashioned roadside-attraction theme park deep in the Florida (Read more…)
Last week I attended “R.A. in a Day,” an annual one-day mini-conference on readers’ advisory – that is, finding books for readers.
It happens that the manager of my own “Readers’ Den” department is one of the principal hosts of the conference, and the Mississauga Library was well-represented in the audience. More than 100 people attended from libraries throughout southern Ontario.
It was a joy to spend the day focusing on the singular pleasures of reading and the experience of people who read. Part of what makes doing readers’ advisory fun is that you’re already (Read more…)
Revolutionary thought of the day: Hunger isn’t about the amount of food around. It’s about being able to afford and control that food. After all, the U.S. has more food than it knows what to do with, and still 50 million people are food insecure.
Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved and The Value of Nothing, quoted by Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything
Revolutionary thought of the day: …if there is a reason for social movements to exist, it is not to accept dominant values as fixed and unchangeable but to offer other ways to live – to wage, and win, a battle of cultural worldviews. That means laying out a vision of the world that competes directly with the one on harrowing display at the Heartland conference and in so many other parts of our culture, one that resonates with the majority of the people on the planet because it is true: That we are not apart from nature but of it. (Read more…)
Continuing on the young-adult fiction theme, it’s been about six months since I blathered about my absolute favourite part of my job: teen book club. Our monthly gathering is still going strong, a small but dedicated group of young readers who love books, and love to talk about books. My posters for TBC invite teens to “hang out, eat snacks, talk about books, talk about life,” and that pretty much sums up what we do.
Every few months, the group votes on the next four titles, chosen from a selection that I gather, as well as their own suggestions. Most young (Read more…)
In June of this year, Slate ran a now-infamous piece called “Against YA,” in which Ruth Graham argued that adults shouldn’t read young-adult fiction, and should be embarrassed if they do. A flood of posts and essays were written in response; my own response is here. In the short term, as far as I can tell, not a single writer agreed with Graham.
Despite this lopsided showing, some headline writer (possibly here) dubbed this “The Great Y.A. Debate,” and the name stuck. There must be people out there who agree with Graham – surely hers was (Read more…)
Last year, I wrote about an excellent, unusual youth novel called There Is No Dog, by Meg Rosoff. I recently read the author’s 2004 debut novel, How I Live Now, and I’m here to lay down a flat-out rave review.
Most of How I Live Now is told from the point of view of a teenaged narrator, in a present-tense first-person stream of thought, with long, rambling sentences and minimal punctuation. I often have problems with quirky or immature narrators as the voice feels forced and inauthentic to me. I found some famous and popular novels unreadable because (Read more…)
Unlike most people I know, I have little or no interest in my family’s genealogy. I know the general outlines of my family background – where some of my forebears hailed from, and where they settled and what work they did when they emigrated to North America – and that’s enough for me. Despite this, I very much enjoyed The Juggler’s Children: A Journey into Family, Legend and the Genes that Bind Us by Carolyn Abraham. If you have a keen interest in family-history searches, you are sure to enjoy this book.
The Juggler’s Children is part travelogue, part quest, (Read more…)
Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese, is a hauntingly beautiful novel about an Ojibway boy’s journey into manhood. It was the Readers’ Choice winner of the 2013 Canada Reads, CBC Radio’s book promotion program. But if you’re like me and don’t listen to the radio, you may have missed it. Don’t miss it. Indian Horse should be widely read – by everyone, but especially by Canadians.
In a slim, spare volume, drawing vivid pictures with very few words, Wagamese brings you into the Ojibway family. They are struggling to hold onto their culture – and indeed, to keep their (Read more…)
My grandmother had always referred to the universe as the Great Mystery.
“What does it mean?” I asked her once.
“It means all things.”
“I don’t understand.”
She took my hand and sat me down on a rock at the water’s edge. “We need mystery,” she said, “Creator in her wisdom knew this. Mystery fills us with awe and wonder. They are the foundations of humility, and humility, grandson, is the foundation of all learning. So we do not seek to unravel this. We honour it by letting it be that way forever.”
Richard Wagamese, Indian Horse (2013)
Do you ever borrow ebooks from your public library? Do you have any idea how your library adds ebooks to its collection, or at what cost?
The number of library customers who borrow ebooks is growing all the time. How many of them, I wonder, are aware of how their library gets screwed every time they do.
Even some library staff is unaware of the raw deal libraries are getting when it comes to ebooks. Library-themed journals, blogs, and conferences are filled with talk about digital technology and resources. Yet in this deluge of discussion, there is too little exposing – (Read more…)
I recently read The Given Day, Dennis Lehane’s novel about 1919 Boston, especially the Boston police strike, and the widescale rioting that followed.
The book is an engaging hybrid of historical fiction and noir crime thriller. It deals with labour history, racial bigotry in both Jim Crow states and Boston, radical political organizing, and the United States during World War I and on the eve of Prohibition. It’s also full of great characters, plot twists, and suspense. If you enjoy historical fiction, I do recommend this book. However, I’m writing about it to highlight something that bothered me, (Read more…)
Nadine Gordimer was a great writer, and a steadfast voice for justice.
Gordimer, a white South African, was a member of the African National Congress when the organization itself was illegal. Several of her novels, which explored the affects of apartheid on those who lived it, were similarly banned.
Gordimer was a courageous woman, an outspoken intellectual, and a writer for whom art and politics became inseparable. She lived life on her own terms, and died at the old age of 90. Despite that, her passing feels like a great loss to the world.
Nadine Gordimer’s obituary in The Guardian (Read more…)