The 9 titles below are fairly eclectic mix of hilarious, mysterious, diary, short stories, Canadian and non-Canadian. Next up…I’m going to dig into books by favourite authors (John Boyne, Rachael Joyce, David Leavitt, Colum McCann). If folks would stop recommending titles to me I’d perhaps get to those 20 or so books staring at me. But keep those recommendations, coming… I think we’ll be stuck indoors for a while longer.
ANXIOUS PEOPLE by Frederik Backman
This is the newest title by popular author Frederik (A Man Called Ove) Backman. This book is hilarious. I was entertained and enlightened by this whacky farcical story” about a bank robbery, an apartment viewing, and a hostage drama. But even more it’s a story about idiots. But perhaps not only that”. (p. 98) This is my favourite of of Backman’s books since since Ove. It was the last novel I read in 2020. I loved it!
THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by Matt Haig
Do you have any regrets about the choices you’ve made or the way you’ve lived your life? If you could go back in time to make changes, small or large would you? Nora Seeds, in her late 30’s is very unhappy with her life, so despondent, so wallowing in self-pity that she wants to end her life (“I am a waste of carbon footprint..” “I am not cut out for living.” )When Nora finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to replay the events of her life by choosing from shelves of books that will allow her do things differently. Will she find a perfect life? Will she after experiences hundreds of life stories (singer in a band, Olympic swimmer, author, Arctic traveller find the answer to the question, “What is the best way to live?” I myself don’t seem to live a life that dwells on regrets, so I didn’t seem to emerse myself in Nora’s adventures back in time. Accepting the fantasy premise that you can re-do your life, I was intrigued enough to keep reading if and how Nora will find happiness.
RABBIT FOOT BILL by Helen Humphreys
Humphreys draws on real life events that took place in Saskatchewan in 1947 when a an outsider, named Rabbit Foot Bill killed a bully boy. In the novel, a young boy named Leonard flint was enamoured with Rabbit Foot Bill’s free-spirited life living alone and chasing rabbits. The book skips through time, from 1947 to 1959 (back to 1947) and then to 1970. When Leonard Flint arrives at Weyburn Mental Hospital, known for LSD experiments with mental patients, he meets up with Rabbit Foot Bill once again and is eager to establish a bond with him. The book is a mystery story, digging into the events of the past, but moreover, a psychological narrative, digging into why we behave the way we do. I loved this book. Humphreys is a great storyteller, describing events and feelings with clarity and compassion.
LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN by Colum McCann
This novel has been sitting on my shelf for a few years and I knew I’d get around to reading it one day. This summer, after reading the author’s newest publication APEIROGON, I’ve been collecting some McCann novels and was eager to find out what all the fuss was about with Let The Great World Spin. When my nephew recently asked me what it was about, I said that it was the story of the guy who walked across the twin towers in the ’70’s. That news event filters throughout the novel, but the book is more than the story of PHILIPPE PETIT’S harrowing feat. Narratives include a young Irish monk living in the Bronx who brings salvation amongst prostitutes, a group of mothers, connected by the loss of their songs who died in Vietnam, who meet in a Park Avenue apartment, a prostitute and her mother charged with misdemeanors and a Jewish judge who, in some way, connects all the stories. But the main character is the city of New York. who draws humans together through tragedy and hope. Yes, McCann is deserved of praise for this heartbreaking novel. I am anxious to read three other of his titles sitting on my shelf.
THE DIARY OF DUKESANG WONG: A Voice from Gold Mountain by Dagid McIlwraith; illus. Wanda Joy Hoe (NF)
This book contains the only known first-person account by a Chinese worker on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and serves as witness account to the life and times of thousands of Chinese railway workers. The book presents translations by Wanda Joe Hoe of her grandfather’s diaries from 1867-1918 outlining Wong’s journey. This narrative journey includes Wong’s decision to emigrate from an unstable China, the appalling conditions, hard labor working on the CPR he encountered, and finally to the time he became a father, husband and tailor in New Westminster BC. It is the document not only of racism and exploitation but it is the story of the strength of the human spirit.
THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich
The setting – a reservation in North Dakota, 1988. The protagonist – thirteen-year-old Joe who’s family life is transformed when his mother has been raped. As Joe tries to bring comfort to his traumatized mother and gets answers about the crime from his father, a tribal judge, he is prepared to independently embark on the investigation. This book is more than a mystery story and a coming-of age story. It provides powerful (and comical) (and spiritual) narratives of the Ojibwe experience. This National Book Award winner provided the author with a platform for 1 in 3 Native women who will be raped in her lifetime, the majority of assaults perpetrated by non-Native men. (2009 Amnesty International Report)I hadn’t read any books by the author, but this title, which is a birthday gift from a dear friend, has assured me that I am in for further rich reading about the Native American people through the many novels she has written.
IN ONE ERA & OUT THE OTHER by Sam Levenson
I have a distinct recollection of reading this book in 1974 while riding on the Sheppard Ave bus . Early in the book, humourist, Sam Levenson describes his experiences as a school teacher and it spurred me on to apply to the Faculty of Eduction University of Toronto to become a teacher. The rest of history. I re-ordered the book from Amazon and re-read it on Christmas Day 2020. Levenson’s writing made me laugh, especially his observations of Jewish family life. Mother: “I’m going to visit the neighbour’s for a minute. Make sure you stir the chicken soup every 30 minutes”. Father: “Next time I take you any place I’m gonna leave you home.” Humour a la David Sedaris, Jerry Seinfeld, Neil Simon that I love.
“IS THIS ANYTHING?” by Jerry Seinfeld
The title questions is what every comedian says to other comedian when. they want to try out new bits. Jerry Seinfeld has dug into the files of stand-up material and is divided into sections that cover the past 4 decades (the final chapter archives routines from the last 5 years). Each transcript as a title, and most take up less than 3 pages in double-space format. I love this stuff. Funny observation s scrutinize the ordinary and give meaning to what seems to be the ordinary with Seinfeld’s razor-sharp wit. (e.g. Cotton Balls, Airplane Bathrooms, Doctor’s Waiting Room, Marriage Chess, Lip Liner, Coffee Break).Having been a fan of the sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld’s voice and mannerisms jumped off every line of the shticks presented here. This book kept me company as U.S. election results unfold. Great to have a funny book, a funny man to keep you company in these wonky times. Loved it!
HOW TO PRONOUNCE KNIFE by Souvankham Thammavongsa (Short Stories)
Winner of the Giller Prize 2020. Poignant narratives floating around the immigrant experience. I liked every story in this anthology. Precise crafted writing. Deserved of the award.