Shelf Life: March 2012

Novels, graphic novels, children’s books and non-fic, but no poetry? How did that happen?

23. The Game, by Ken Dryden
(Wiley, 1983, 2005)

Continuing reading the Canada Reads 2012 shortlist in reverse order of elimination,1 I read The Game despite my complete lack of interest in hockey. And loved it.

I have little idea who most of the players are, and fortunately lists of statistics are kept to a minimum. What you get with that the jacket copy calls “the best hockey book ever written,” is a surprisingly well-written and thought-provoking overview of the industry from the perspective of an insider, Ken Dryden being, of course, a former goalie for the Montreal Canadiens.2

I can see why this was in the top five, and further, I can see why it almost made it as this year’s pick. It’s definitely worth the read.

24. The Death-Ray, by Daniel Clowes
(Drawn & Quarterly, 2011)

My first Clowes. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I’m still not sure what just happened.

25. The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
(Viking, 2009)

This is pretty much what the Harry Potter series should have been. You know, had it featured even remotely realistic high school students, and had it been set in America. These kid magicians take drugs, have sex, skip class and generally wreck havoc, all while pining for a magical story-book land.

It was a lot of fun, and it could have ended here.

26 The Magician King, by Lev Grossman
(Viking, 2011)

What was fun and youthful in the first book, where the kids are still in or just out of high school, quickly becomes juvenile and bizarre in the second. The puppet strings are too visible, the characters become caricatures.  It’s a shame.

27. The Book of Longing, by Leonard Cohen
(McClelland & Stewart, 2006)

Poetry interspersed with home made stamps and illustrations from the author. A number of people tout it as one of his best, but I preferred Let Us Compare Mythologies, and not just for its glorious title.

28. All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy
(Vintage, 1992)

The first in the Border Trilogy, and my first Cormac McCarthy.

I had no idea a book about cowboys could be so beautiful. Funny, yes. I’d read The Sisters Brothers, but beautiful? Well, now I know better.

29. Treat Me Like Dirt, by Liz Worth
(Bongo Beat, 2009)

I’m the same age as Liz Worth, also born in 1982, and my high school punk rock icons were largely British and American as well. The first wave of punk had crashed before I was born, and the only bands I heard about were the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones. Maybe the Damned, Siouxsie Sioux, and so on, but the Diodes? The Viletones? The Dishes?  Never heard of ’em. Until now.

Treat Me Like Dirt is an oral history of punk in Toronto. There was a scene here as vibrant as those in New York and London, and it sounds like it was incredible. I love the vintage photos, the posters, the way some of the stories conflict and turn back on each other to somehow create a more complete and living story.

There’s a new edition published in 2011 by ECW Press. I’m not sure how it differs from the edition I bought when it came out, but you should buy it and glory in the punks of yesterday. They were awesome too.

Since reading it, I keep checking Sonic Boom relentlessly to see what they have in stock. One day I will posses all the music. Until then, I have their words.

30. Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
(Scholastic, 2008)

My sister demanded I read the books so I could accompany her to the film. I read the books. We didn’t end up seeing the film together. My sister bought me the first two Twilight books, so, I’ll admit, I had lowered expectations going in.

I was pleasantly surprised. Katniss is a hard-ass young woman with no time for romance. Questions of Team Peeta or Team Gale were irrelevant. I was Team Katniss.

The world Collins created is hopelessly silly, and I doubt even a child would buy into its overly simplistic set up, but Katniss is at least an engaging character.

31. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
(Scholastic, 2009)

Not bad, as sequels go. Continuing along similar themes, Katniss still gets to kick a bit of ass.

32. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
(Scholastic, 2010)

And here it came crashing down. Katniss is suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, and spends most of the book wandering in hallways with a headache, occasionally doing a film spot, and generally being useless. And the “resolution” to the unwanted love story is a gaping plot hole of doom. It pretty much invalidates my admiration for the first book and my tolerance for the second.

33. Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse
(Picador, 1927, 2002)

Why weren’t Hesse’s books on the curriculum for high school? It’s yet another book of Hesse’s I would have loved as a teenager. I can still appreciate the themes of wanton sex and rebellion against the middle class, but I would have gotten so much more out of it had I read it when I was 12-15.

34. Letters on Cezanne, by Rainer Maria Rilke
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1907, 2002)

Kind of fragmented. I would have loved to have seen both sides of the correspondence. And it would have been nice had pictures of the paintings discussed been on the opposing page. Or had the biographical notes followed the letters rather than being tacked on at the end.

35. The Crossing, by Cormac McCarthy
(Knopf, 1994)

The second volume in the Border Trilogy, though it features none of the same characters. I suppose this is a trilogy of impressions of the land, the permeable border between America and Mexico, as a sort of character itself, rather than of human beings.

I should note that my reading two (adult) books by the same author in the same month is a testament to the impression the first one made on me.


This month I read some great books, some mediocre books, and some that weren’t quite up to snuff. All in all though, not a bad month.

  1. See Shelf Life: February 2012 for more. []
  2. I saw “of course,” as if I knew that before. I didn’t. But I assume most people know more about hockey than someone who’s spent her childhood trying to ignore that team sports exist outside the classroom. []