Shelf Life: Janaury 2012

I’ve never really set targets for my reading before, beyond a general expectation that I’d read at least a hundred books a year, but last year a friend pushed me to challenge myself to commit to 150. According to Goodreads I surpassed it, but according to my own count I read 135. I read twenty-seven graphic novels that I hadn’t added to the count. For the past three years, I’ve listed the graphic novels I’ve read, but not included them in the total number of books I read.

This was, admittedly, due to a foolish prejudice I’d acquired that graphic novels somehow didn’t count as “proper books”. Most of them can be read in about an hour, often they’re picture (rather than text) heavy, and though I read comics prodigiously in high school (Marvel universe FTW), I couldn’t quite convince myself to put them at the same level as the classic lit I was also reading.

I know, I know. It was snobbish and stupid. There are tons of wonderful and highly literate examples in the medium. Marjane Satrapi’s Persopolis, and Blankets by Craig Thompson, Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is rife with literary allusions, both overt and more subdued. It’s not all men wearing underwear over their spandex leotards and large breasted women bursting from their flimsy costumes. Graphic novels count. Books like Kate Beaton’s excellent collection of comics Hark! A Vagrant count.

So, for the first time I’m including comics and graphic novels in my official tally of books read. I feel like I’ve grown as a person.

1. The Beautiful and the Damned, by F Scott Fitzgerald
Vintage Classics, 1920, 2011

Aimless playboy Anthony Patch and fluttery socialite Gloria Gibson look great together, but that’s not enough to sustain a marriage. The story begins with their courtship, carries on through the booze filled jazz age, and concludes with Patch a predictable wreck at the end of it all.

2. The Walking Dead, Volume 13: Too Far Gone, by Robert Kirkman
Image Comics, 2010

And I start of the year with zombies. No apologies. They’re a lot of fun. Terrible things are happening to Rick Grimes and what’s left of his group. I won’t spoil it for you if you’re only watching the show.

3. The Walking Dead, Volume 14: No Way Out, by Robert Kirkman
Image Comics, 2011

More zombies. More fun.

4. Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami
Vintage, 2000

My first Murakami. I’ve also picked up his latest, 1Q84, as well as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, which seems to be the one everyone recommends, but I started with Norwegian Wood as it’s recently been made into a film. I have no idea how they made a film of this book.

5. Paris Then and Now, by Peter Cain
Thunder Bay Press, 2003

A  photographic comparison between Paris of the past, and what it looks like today at various significant periods throughout its history.

6. Negotiating with the Dead, by Margaret Atwood
Anchor, 2003

In, Negotiating with the Dead, Atwood reflects on the roles of reader and writer and the intersections between the two.

7. Duino Elegies, by Rainer Maria Rilke
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1963, 2001

A book that calls to be read aloud.

8. Metamorphosis and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka
Penguin, 1915, 2001

My introduction to Kafka begins with this book, but my love affair with his work will, I’m sure, last eternal. Kafka, where have you been all my life?

9. Boredom Fighters, edited by Paola Poletto
Tightrope Books, 2008

The back cover describes this as an intersection of image and poetry, but I’m afraid I just didn’t get it.

10. The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje
McLelland, 2011

Ondaatje’s latest, and most autobiographical novel. The comparisons it invites between the character, Michael, and Ondaatje’s own life are both infinite and inevitable – the note at the back of the book does nothing to alleviate this. I’m now suspicious of any female cousins he may have.

I had fun waiting for the thief Caravaggio to show up, as he seems to in every novel he’s written. In this work he appears as Baron C, convincing young Michael to break into the cabins of various wealthy travellers. I’d love to know the origins of Caravaggio, his fascination and any real-world origins of the character in Ondaatje’s life.

11. The Walking Dead, Volume 15: We Find Ourselves, by Robert Kirkman
Image Comics, 2011

The latest installation of the series was a bit of a let down. Nothing terribly exciting happens, though they’re now working on building a more stable community. The kiss on the last page has been building up to inevitability since the first volumes.

12. Open City, by Teju Cole
Random House, 2012

A stream of consciousness  portrayal of New York City, it’s history and people. It’s also very much a character portrayal of loneliness and isolation. An irony for a novel whose main character is a psychiatrist. His line of work involves talking to people about their problems, yet his receive little or no attention, and nothing is resolved. Impressionistic and erudite, it’s a neat book.

13. The Girl on the Escalator, by Jim Nason
Tightrope Books, 2011

The characters in these stories were inspired by “every day people riding the TTC”, which makes me a little nervous about which routes he frequents. The people depicted here are fundamentally broken. These are stories of abandonment, abuse, addiction – stories in which no one is guaranteed a happily ever after.

Full review forthcoming in an upcoming issue of Broken Pencil.


This year I’ve committed to reading 175 books on Goodreads. I have no idea if that’s achievable, especially while working two jobs. We’ll see what happens.