Shelf Life: October 2011

Better late than never.

105. Short Talks, by Anne Carson

This is the first collection I’ve read from Carson, and these prose poems have turned me into a budding fan. I adored Short Talks and must read more from her.

106. 100 Jams, Jellies Preserves & Pickles, by Gloria Nicol

On the surface the recipes seemed great, but when it came to actually making them, I had little idea how much each would yield, as for most recipes no actual measurements are given. I ended up guessing wrong for a few of them and ended up with oddly filled jars.

107. Working the Room, by Geoff Dyer

Previously I’d only read his introductory essay to Apropos Rodin, but I kept hearing great things about Dyer, so I decided to pick up his latest. The essays collected span an eclectic range, from photography, art, book reviews and literary commentary to more personal essays.

108. The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver

I adored The Lacuna when I read it, and was hoping for more of the same: brilliant prose and characterization, but didn’t find myself as captivated by this one. Still, a solid book.

109. Grunt of the Minotaur, by Robin Richardson

An excellent debut collection from a wonderful Toronto poet. Also, love the title.

110. Be Good, by Stacey May Fowles

It’s a work of multiple perspectives as what would otherwise be secondary characters are give their own brief accounts: Estella, Mr Templeton, Jacob, Finn – with corrections given in italics, enclosed in brackets, as if shielding someone else’s truth. “The minor detail that the lipstick was burgundy, and not red, irrelevant.” (p. 62) Though other details are relevant, the truth of which is burdened under the lies they tell themselves, the lies they want to believe.

The accounts are deliciously contradictory, especially regarding how they view one another. They lie to themselves, and to each other, but mostly, most cruelly, to themselves. They endure situations that make them miserable because they’ve forgotten how to want anything else, coupled with the mad belief that sex and alcohol will solve everything, somehow.

I loved it.

111. Return from Erebus, by Julia McCarthy

Return from Erebus is McCarthy’s second collection, following Stormthrower (2002). The poems collected here continue to explore mythic themes with meditations on ephemera interspersed throughout.

A longer review is forthcoming, details when it’s published.

112. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, by Philip Pullman

Pullman splits Jesus Christ into twin characters: Jesus, a religious zealot, and Christ, a simpering opportunist who easily falls prey to Satan’s dark promises.

113. The Discomfort Zone, by Jonathan Franzen

Ok, so it wasn’t Freedom I read next, but The Discomfort Zone, a collection of personal essays by Franzen which reveal how true to life The Corrections was, in spirit if not in exact content. No wonder he was able to write these characters so well, he was them.

114. Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose

This was recommended by one of the writing blogs I follow, and I wish I’d kept note of which one. For those who aspire to write, but don’t attend to a text closely or with an eye to the craft, this is probably an excellent book. However, I found what I most got from this book were recommendations for authors I’ve not yet read, which in itself I suppose is a good thing.

115. Aide-Memoire, by Ruth Roach Pierson

Pierson’s latest collection, Contrary, was one of my favourite reads of 2011. This earlier collection was her second, and was also strong, as you’d expect from a book listed as a finalist for the 2008 Governor General’s Award for Poetry.

Bonus: Black Hole, by Charles Burns

I’ve had this recommended to me by several different people, but as I’d never read anything by Burns before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Now I know: expect the weird.

A strange disease is spreading through the community, particularly among sexually active high school students, generating odd mutations. Kids grow extra mouths, tails, and others end up deformed in other ways. There’s no cure, and those affected are ostracized from the community.

Loneliness, sex, deformity, death – high school tropes re-imagined in a truly unique way. A bizarre read. It sticks with me.

Bonus: Doorways, by George R R Martin

My husband picked this up after watching The Game of Thrones television series. Doorways actually began life as a pilot that never got picked up. Alternative Earths, battles of good versus evil, and variations on people through each world. It’s an interesting premise, kind of a cross between Sliders and Fringe in some ways. It’d be nice to see the series extended in graphic novel format, unfortunately it doesn’t sound likely.