Tag Archives: bleeding edge

Reading in Newfoundland; or, How to Hit a Moose

Moose Standing in WaterFear not. We didn’t hit a moose. But I also didn’t get as much reading done as I intended because my time as a passenger was spent on moose patrol, rather than reading. What? Oh, yeah, I was on holiday in Newfoundland for eleven days. Saw some whales, dolphins, puffins, no big deal. No moose spotted (happily), though we learned that in Gros Morne (where we spent the latter half of the trip) there are five moose per square kilometer. Symbols of Canadiana don’t come much more dense (ha ha).

In retrospect, with such a quintessential ‘Canadian’ vacation planned (though many of the Newfoundlanders we talked with disputed the ‘Canadianness’ of Newfoundland) I probably should have selected Canadian or Newfoundland-based novels. As it was, I took along several of your summer recommendations (thanks):

Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer

Post-apocalyptic fantasy finds a group of four ‘explorers’, defined by their roles (the psychologist, the anthropologist, the linguist…), sent into a [anthropomorphic][animated][alien] landscape/environment to gather data. They encounter a range of challenges that are at once metaphoric and practical. With a nightmarish, oppressive atmosphere, the book asks the reader to consider the environment/natural world as both hero and antagonist to our present and our future. 3/5

Euphoria, Lily King

Following the anthropologist theme, Euphoria is based on the life of Margaret Mead with Mead fictionalized as Nell, her husband as Fen and their collaborator as Bankson. In addition to being one of the best love stories I’ve read in recent memory, the book is a thoughtful and nuanced exploration of ideas of ethnocentrism, positivism and colonialism. Principally narrated by Bankson, the retrospective time frame infuses the novel not only with urgency and threat, but with an assurance of the importance of the narrated events: for it is only in retrospect, the novel argues, we recognize and signify small choices, taken-for-granted actions and chance encounters with power. 4.5/5

Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon

Gawd, N. Gawd. What a mess of terrible boredom. Maybe I’d have liked this one if I knew anything about the early years of the Internet. Or New York. Or business ventures. Who am I kidding, the point of fiction is that you ought not need to know anything about the subject to be captivated and moved by it (see Euphoria above!). The novel was altogether too interested in its own clever turns of narrative direction and layered sentences to present anything like compelling character or plot. I was marginally interested in the thematic concern of American greed and self-centered ambition, but only barely. 1/5 #worstbooks

The other books recommended still to come: I’m nearly done part one of My Struggle (Karl Ove Knausgaard) (It is So. Good.) and have the Pope and Mussolini and Snow Boy Bird from the library, and am on the waitlist for Station Eleven. All this to say: stay tuned.

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Filed under Fiction, Prize Winner, Reader Request, Worst Books

Summer Reading List

summer-reading

What makes for a great summer read? I remember listening to a great episode of Slate’s Culture Gabfest (if you don’t listen, this podcast is the only reason I know the terribly little I know about movies, music and celebrity – looking at you P.) on the qualities of a summer book that included arguments for books of ‘escape’ (that is, books that aren’t emotionally or intellectually challenging), giant books that you’d otherwise not have time to dedicate to reading and books with heady plots that might capture interest for long stretches.

I’m not sure I have a ready answer to ‘the qualities of a great summer read’ question. Perhaps I’ll use this summer’s list to develop some kind of framework or taxonomy. What I do know is that each year I put out a call to friends and family for their suggestions. I populate a list that sits outside my usual, ongoing and interminable pile of recommendations and to-reads, because this list is the one that I promise to read, and do read while on vacation.

And so this week coming I head out on my first of two vacations this summer. I’m grateful to have the time, and looking forward to the chance to read. Thanks to those who suggested titles for me. I’ve put in my order at the library, and have picked up the following

Annihilation – Jeff Vandermeer (already fifty pages in to this one) Double suggestion made me put this one right to the top of the list. That and it was the only suggestion that clocked in under 400 pages (really? you all want me to read giant books?) and I wanted an early success.

Bleeding Edge – Thomas Pynchon (those who have been reading the blog for any duration will know that I have long resisted the urging (taunting?) of N. to read Thomas Pynchon. Perhaps he’s worn me down. Perhaps it’s my guilt for not being a better long-distance friend. Perhaps it’s my sympathy for his soon-to-be-no-sleep-ever-father-of-twins status, but I’ve committed to read it. The real shit of it is I secretly worried he’s been right the whole time and I’m going to love it.

Boy, Snow, Bird – Helen Oyeyemi I know nothing about this one other than P. recommended it and she’s been right with all her other suggestions. Even in suggesting a short story collection. Gasp.

The Pope and Mussolini : the secret history of Pius XI and the rise of Fascism in Europe – David Kertzer 99% of the time my mum is right about the book she suggests I’ll love. It helps that she reads 99% more than I do (she reads a lot) and that she knows enough about me to know what I’ll like. I have to say, she’s been going on and on about this one lately to the point that I’ve suspended my outright ban on non-fiction and am prepared to read it. Also because I love her. 

My Struggle – Karl Ove Knausgård One part deferrance to my supervisor-hero’s wisdom, one part realization that this book is on the top of a bazillion best-of lists, and one part guilt that the last book L. suggested (a collection of Lorna Crozier’s poetry) I actually read but failed to blog (don’t worry, it’s the only time that’s ever happened. *wink*). Let’s be clear: I’m not committing to all four volumes.

Station Eleven – Emily  St John Mandel Because Amazon said I should. (And a half a dozen others).

It’s exciting to imagine that with *two* vacations this summer I’ll get to put out *another* call and collect another set of magic. Until then I thought I’d leave you with one or two of my own suggestions for you to read this summer. Books that I’ve read in summers past (I’ve chosen books from the pre-blog era to give you something I’ve not otherwise reviewed) and really loved. Read em’ if you like. Let me know what you think.

City of Thieves – David Benioff: Siege of Leningrad. Boy must find a dozen eggs or be sentenced to death. Incredible mix of humour, intensity and imagination. Oh, and historical fiction.

The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The book that introduced the image and mystery of  ‘the cemetery of forgotten books’. Mystery, literary love affair and suspense coiled around magic realist elements.

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