Category Archives: Book I’ll Forget I Read

The Best Kind of People: Great premise + adequate execution = Beach read

9781770899421The Best Kind of People is the sort of book you take on holiday and read quickly and find yourself enjoying (despite of or because of) its content and then you finish it and move on to playing volleyball and eating BBQ and you forget about it. Even though the subject matter is such that it should probably linger: rich, white man is a high-school teacher and community leader; he is accused of several counts of sexual assault; the reader follows the impact of the legal proceedings on his family: his teenage daughter who goes to the same school where he taught and where the young women who were assaulted attend, his wife – a nurse and community leader, his grown son – now living in New York who came into his gay identity in the same homophobic small town.

One of the things to admire about the novel is that it tells this story without narrating the perspective of George Woodbury – the father and abuser. Nor does it narrate the abuse itself. Focusing instead on the ripples of the crime on the family of the criminal, the novel offers a vision of guilty by association, or monster by proxy. It considers the way individuals are framed in relation to crime and the criminal: what should have been known, who should have known it and when. It raises all sorts of interesting questions about trust and belief and forgiveness. And in its shifting narrative point of view, asks the reader to take on different perspectives of those around George in order to imagine a sort of empathy for those in the orbit of crime who are neither victims nor perpetrators.

I’m not sure then why I find it forgettable. I enjoyed reading it (as much as you can enjoy being asked to enter a world of emotional distress and disruption and empathize and discover): the pacing was neat (with a structure of examining the week after in detail, and then the week before the trial – giving a sort of telescoping of time while still allowing for character development and change) and the moral questions and actions for the characters complex. I suppose I didn’t find any of the three key characters: daughter, son and wife, all that compelling. Their reactions made logical sense, their decisions and their choices in the aftermath were scripted such that they felt like the ‘right’ set of responses one might be expected to experience. Yet they lacked a certain something that made me want to really feel alongside them and so was left in a sort of observational capacity when the book was clearly calling me to empathy.

All that said I do think it would make for a compelling summer read or a great book club discussion. Again – not for anything stylistic so much as the questions it raises and then fully explores.

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Filed under Bestseller, Book Club, Book I'll Forget I Read, Canadian Literature, Fiction, Giller prize, Prize Winner

Grief is the Thing With Feathers: Spend two hours with poetry (or watch House of Cards)

We read Max Porter’s Grief is a Thing With Feathers for book club. Yet another reminder of why book club is great (if the bowls of candy & chocolate weren’t sufficiently compelling) is the invitation to read things I would never otherwise read. Even things I don’t like. Maybe especially things I don’t like?  Continue reading

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The Nix: This 600 page novel is 400 pages too long.

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A lot of people liked Nathan Hill’s The Nix. And there are a lot of reasons to like it. There are moments of laugh out loud humour; the writing is sharp and immersive; the range of fully realized characters is impressive; it has something to say about American political activism, partisan politics and the role of an impartial judiciary (*cough* nothing relevant about those themes).  Some of the scenes of academic life (and the corollary days spent absorbed by video games) resonated pitch-perfect. Continue reading

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Filed under American literature, Book I'll Forget I Read, Fiction, Funny, New York Times Notable

In the Unlikely Event: It’s Just Not that Good.

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Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event is about three plane crashes in eight weeks and the effect of such trauma on the citizens of the small town of Elizabeth where the novel (and ‘real’ historical experience) is set.

I say it’s about the effect of the trauma on the citizens, and I do think it’s meant to be about that, but it mostly reads like a novel that wants to describe three plane crashes and then looks for characters to justify this plot. Continue reading

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Filed under Book Club, Book I'll Forget I Read, Fiction