Tag Archives: Non-human protagonists

Fifteen Dogs: Insufficiently Human


It was tempting to cheat on this one and wait until after bookclub tonight to post my reaction to André Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs, with the thought that my ideas would be much more refined after discussion with my smart and insightful bookclub friends. But you only have me, and so you’ll have to make do with my pre-discussion, pre-wine interpretation. Continue reading


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Filed under Book Club, Fiction, Giller prize, Prize Winner

Jonathan Livingston Seagull: A Parable (and not about seagulls)


So all the book lists and reviewers I read suggesting I read “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” because it featured a seagull protagonist and was so “about seagulls,” clearly missed that this is a book about Buddhism. Jonathan, the “seagull” learns the truth about flying (it’s love), reaches a higher plane of understanding, returns to the earthly realm to teach other seagulls the truth about flying, faces resistance, but teaches one or two seagulls and so feels satisfied.

Here’s a telling excerpt:

“Your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip…is nothing more than your thought itself, in a form you can see. Break the chains of your thought, and you break the chains of your body, to…” (76-77).

While a parable of Buddhist enlightenment is entertaining, it is nevertheless disappointing when you are expecting a book about seagulls, or a book narrated from the perspective of a seagull. Jonathan never eats a fish.

The illustrations/photos in the book are less of a disappointment. They get far closer to the supposed “majesty” of Jonathan-the-buddah-seagull by representing seagulls (writ large) as majestic creatures.

Now that I’ve finished this last book on the non-human protagonists list I’m prepared to declare this category a wash. I’ll have to review my notes in detail, but I’m confident that I didn’t read a book with a non-human protagonist that wasn’t, in fact, a human protagonist. Cursed be the limitations of the (my) human imagination.

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, Worst Books

The Loving Dead: Really bad.


Maybe I just don’t get the whole “zombie” thing. Don’t get me wrong, like the next 20s something I have a zombie-pocalpyse escape plan, have watched enough zombie films to know zombies are “cool,” and am forwarded by I. relevant zombie-in-the-news stories. But I don’t get the appeal enough to enjoy (or even want to read) Amelia Beamer’s The Loving Dead. No wait, I think it’s Beamer’s fault for writing a boring, predictable, boring, and boring book, because I liked Wide Sargasso Sea (zombies) and The Forest of Hands Teeth (more zombies). So I take it back. I don’t blame zombies for the terrible book I just suffered through: I blame the lack of plot, character, setting, theme and ability to narrate without the use of clumsy descriptions.

I guess the thing that’s supposed to make the book appealing is that zombification takes place by way of sex, and that zombies can be controlled through sadistic whip lashings. As if somehow by describing lesbian sex and sadism I’m going to forget the narrative is TERRIBLE.

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, Worst Books

The Art of Racing in the Rain: Not good.


A weekend spent in E. with my parents meant I read a lot. Too bad I finished the weekend with such a terrible book. Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain has been widely celebrated, but for reasons I’m struggling to understand.

I suppose it’s a feel-good book. The reincarnated dog returns to his master, the widowed husband gets judicial vindication and his choicest job, the mother who died of cancer died because she didn’t ‘fight’ hard enough. The overarching message is one of terrible cliche and terrible responsibility: if you want it hard enough you can have it.

I say terrible responsibility because how cruel to suggest, (nay, to preach as this novel does) that cancer, or unemployment, or lawsuits are somehow the manifestation – or lack of manifestation – of individual wishes/desires. Karma! The book actually suggests karma to be the source or cause of misfortune and reward. *Note: I am not, at all, taking issue with karma as a philosophical idea; rather, I’m very uncomfortable with the quasi-mystical, entirely uncomplicated use of “karma” and “spirit” used throughout this book.

Combine the uncomfortable (or disturbing) morality of the novel with a dog narrator and excessive use of life is like a racetrack metaphor and you have yourself a terrible novel. 

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, Worst Books