I am staring at a pile of thirty or more titles that have been on my ‘to read’ list for the past couple of years. Isolation has given me the opportunity to dig into some nonfiction and fiction ‘grown up books’ to fill the days. Here are some that have intrigued me over the past month. I still have piles to go before I sleep.
LITTLE FAITH by Nickolas Butler
Since reading Shotgun Lovesongs (2014), I have been a Nickolas Butler fan. The pictures he paints of characters, of communities, of nature, of clothing, of meals, and the hearts of men and women are folksy, poetic and reverent. Lyle Hovde is one of the strongest fictional characters I’ve encountered this year. A devout husband, father, grandpa and friend. the story is centred around faith. His adopted daughter Shiloh is heavily involved as a member of an extremist church. She and the pastor of the church believe that her five year old son Isaac has been given the God-given ability to heal the sick, a belief that is shaken when Isaac becomes ill. This is a story of questioning faith, religious and/or otherwise. I read this novel in one day. I loved it!
THE REVISED FUNDAMENTALS OF CAREGIVING by Jonathan Evison
One of my favourite novels in the past couple of years was Lawn Boy (2018) and after finishing it, I decided to purchase earlier titles by the author because since I enjoyed his storytelling, his voice and humour. Since receiving three titles, they have been sitting in my ‘to read’ pile. I chose The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving (2012) to read first because of the promos on the back cover: ‘Funny, humane and a lot of fun.’ ‘It’s got a great big heart.” An entertaining picaresque* and a moving story of redemption’. Poor Benjamin Benjamin: His days as a stay at home father have ended (due to tragedy); He is now on the brink of divorce; after taking a caregiving course, he has been hired to tend to the needs of a young adult man who with Muscular Distrophy. Things don’t seem to be going Benjamin’s way. A road trip throughout the midwest brings adventure and surprises and a sense of determination to make the most of what comes your way. “Be ready to be ready. … Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: nothing is indestructible.”(page 236). Yes, an enterrtaining picaresque story of redemption. I look forward to reading other Evison titles. *picaresque = an episodic styule of fiction dealing with the adventure of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.
KIT’S LAW by Donna Morrissey
It’s funny how good books come into your life. Last fall, I made a visit to St. John’s Newfoundland and my friend took me on a whirlwind trip to some fishing villages and the downtown area before I headed off to the airport. We stopped into a second-hand bookstore and Jan asked, “Have you ever read books by Donna Morrissey”. Since, I hadn’t Jan gifted me with a $4.99 used copy KIT’S LAW (the author’s first novel) and it’s been sitting on my to read pile since October. I finished it this afternoon. What a great book! What a great Canadian author! The fishing-village 1950’s setting is as strong a character as the vivid portrayal of a grandmother, her mentally handicapped daughter and her teenage granddaughter, Kit. This is a story of despair and tragedy and longing and sin and murder. Anyone who loved the popular book Where The Crawdad Signs by Delia Owens will recognize a kinship between that book’s character and Kit. Thanks Jan for introducing me to Morrissey. I’m sure I’ll read more books by her and perhaps buy other titles on my next visit to Newfoundland. Hopefully soon.
THE MAN IN THE RED COAT by Julian Barnes
This is a rich and detailed specimen of nonfiction writing illuminating the world of The Belle Epoque . The list of famous names spread throughout the book would fill a telephone directory of Parisian and British cultural elite from the late 1900 hundreds to the early 30th century (Proust, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Henry James, James Whistler). Society doctor, renowned gynecologist (and an adventurous private life of Samuel Pozzi binds this historical together. What a fascinating, detailed read of time and place and culture. Includes quite a number of photographs and coloured plates of famous portraits, including The Man in the Red Coat a striking portrait of Pozzi by John Singer Sargent. Mr. Barnes yo are a marvel, researcher and raconteur extraordinaire.
BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This 150-page book is presented as a letter from author to his adolescent son, digging deep onto the meaning of race and history. “What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a place to live within it?” is the question that drives the author’s force and truthful awakenings that seeks to find answers of the black man’s place in the world. Every paragraph (perhaps every sentence) (But race is the child of racism, not the father. And he process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. “(p. 7) in this book provokes profound thoughts drawn from history, personal narratives and reporting which Toni Morrison claims to be ‘required reading.’
GOING SOLO: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg
There’s some irony in the fact that I read this book during times of self-isolation but I’ve had this on my shelf for a while and now was as good as time as any to read about this examination of those who choose (and prefer) to live alone, and those whose life circumstances (widowhood, old age) force them to do so. Klinenberg is a professor of sociology at New York University and the writing of this book prompted him to drawn on extensive research with wide statistics and data including 300+ interviews with those who live solo, to help us think about the huge political, cultural and sociological shift over the past few decades of those who come to live ‘comfortably’ on their own, whatever their age or class or culture. This is an in-depth analysis that helps the millions and millions across the world who go solo think about marriage or being single, work and play, freedom and independence, relying on the self (particularly as seniors) loneliness and connectedness, depending on others and needing others. And of course it helps those who don’t live solo to contemplate and understand those who find appeal in living alone.
GREEK TO ME by Mary Norris
Norris worked in the copy department for many years and would therefore be considered the maven of proper punctuation and grammar, and eventually be known as The Comma Queen. The author of Between You & Me has given us a book that reveals devotion to Greek words, Greek Gods,olive trees, ouzo and Greeks. Attention is given to the Greek alphabet and the surprising ways Greek helped form the English language. Norris is a deeply informed, engaging tour guide into the journey of all things Greek.
BEST KEPT BOY IN THE WORLD by Arthur Vanderbilt
Denham (Denny) Fouts’ clqim to fame was his role a socialite, muse and renowned male prostitute who hung around with princes, barons, tycoons, heirs, artists and a with authors as Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Christopher Isherwood was a notorious male prostitute. This slim book (155 pages) is a salute (worship?) to this extraordinary character. Not a very interesting read, other than the fact that it is what it is.
THIS PLACE: 150 Years Retold (Graphic text: nonfiction/ fiction)
Ten stories created by Indigenous authors and illustrators, providing a history of known and unknown figures and events that tell a history that goes back 150 years. The graphic collection helps to illuminate the past, present and future of Indigenous communities and their battles to survive. The narratives are not always presented with clarity but the visuals are often strong and provide powerful imagery(frequently drawn from real-life photographs). Any of the stories can lead to further inquiry about the stories of people, places and time. “It tells tales of resistance, of leadership, of wonder and pain and pasts we must remember and futures we must keep striving towards planting each story like a seed deep inside from us ” (from the forward by Alice Elliott, p. vi) A timeline of historical events is presented to introduce each of the stories. Suitable for adolescents and adults.
ONE DAY: The Extraordinary Story of An Ordinary 24 hours in America by Gene Weingarten
What do these events have in common? a heart transplant, a daughter and her boyfriend murder her parents, a Grateful dead concert, a man dies of AIDS, an abusive husband. Each of these stories are centred on the Date of Sunday December 28, 1986. Journalist, Gene Wiengarten digs into the past and chronicles events across America that took place on a specific date within a 24 hour period. The target incidents leads to unravelling fascinating stories of love, murder, prejudice, fate and coincidence. What at first seems ordinary, indeed turns out to be extraordinary as we read about the relationships and behaviours and connections of a variety of humans. Six years of research resulted in a series of 20 fascinating essays