Shelf Life: October 2012

I have an absurd number of books on my to-read shelf. These are books that I’ve bought, and physically have on my shelves, waiting to be read.

I don’t know how I’m ever going to catch up, especially with all the neat books that have come out this fall, and the classics I have yet to read. Never mind the review stuff that isn’t even on that list.

How does anyone keep up?

127. Fables of Identity, by Northrop Frye
(Mariner Books, 1963)

Why doesn’t anyone name their kid Northrop any more? I’m not breeding, but I still think this name should make a come back. So c’mon breeders: next kid, choose Northrop!

This is a great collection of essays, dealing with everything from archetypes and mythology in general, to their presence and effects in specific texts.

I always feel under read. I learn so much every time I read a book of his, and I need to reread everything I’ve read before, because I’m sure I’d get more out of it now than when I first began reading literary criticism.

128. Zen Ghosts, by Jon J Muth
(Scholastic Press, 2010)

I originally picked this up for my little cousins as a Hallowe’en gift, but I love it too. It’s an unusual ghost story, more of a zen koan, told by Stillwater, a zen panda.

The costumes, colours, and illustration are gorgeous. The owl pirates on the flaps slay me. It’s such a beautiful book.

129. What Disturbs Our Blood, by James FitzGerald
(Vintage Canada, 2010)

I won a copy as a part of a CBC Twitter draw, which was pretty nifty. Slightly less nifty was the book itself.

We learn that his father and grandfather accomplished a lot, despite the debilitating depression and stigma of mental illness, but FitzGerald drags on and on. Under someone else’s pen it could have been a moving memoir spanning generations. Instead, all I got from it was that he resented his parents and remains thoroughly unable to move passed the past.

130. The Elements of Story, by Francis Flaherty
(Harper, 2009)

A New York Times editor on writing non-fiction, though much of it can, of course, apply to fiction as well, particularly his notes on pacing and maintaining human interest.

A bit light at times and, as a newspaper editor, he must work to keep a lower reading level, but a good read, especially for his background notes on what happens in NYT offices.

131. The Umbrella, by Judd Palmer
(Bayeux Arts, 2012)

The first book in Bayeux’s new series “An Odd Little Book,” this odd little book is a story told from the perspective of an umbrella, and its love for its owner. It’s illustrated with Goryesque depictions of the umbrella, the man, and its final resting place. An odd little book indeed.

132. De Niro’s Game, by Rawi Hage
(House of Anansi Press, 2006)

I’d heard this was good, and in light of his new book coming out, I wanted to read Hage’s backlist. I’m glad I did.

It follows the story of Basam, the narrator, and his childhood friend George, and their diverging paths in war-torn Beirut. It’s beautifully told, and I’m looking forward to Cockroach and Carnival.

133. Monoceros, by Suzette Mayr
(Coach House Books, 2011)

A seventeen year old boy is gay. His boyfriend ignores him in the hallways, necking his girlfriend, and publicly pretends their relationship does not exist. The boyfriend breaks up with the boy. The boy is tormented at school. The boy commits suicide.

The book opens with his suicide, and the book takes up with different people in the boy’s life: his guidance counsellor (gay), his Catholic School principal (gay, in a secret long term relationship with the counsellor), his English teacher, his boyfriend, his boyfriend’s girlfriend, and a host of other characters who intersected with his life and were affected by his death, including a unicorn obsessed  virgin and a sympathetic drag queen.

It’s incredibly sad, but a great book. Read it.

134. Avatar, by Sharon Harris
(Mercury Press, 2006)

AVATAR is an Abstract Visual Asymmetric Technology Apperception Resource. Whatever that means. It’s an unusual first collection of poetry and illustrations, some of which are quite beautiful.

135. Bent at the Spine, by Nicole Markotic
(BookThug, 2012)

I love this cover.

Nicole Markotić’s third poetry collection, Bent at the Spine, is divided into five sections. The first, “Big Vocabulary,” unleashes a torrent of loosely connected words, bare bones with limited benefit of ligaments and flesh to hold them together; we get skeleton poems that pop at disturbing angles. Early on, she writes “Don’t expect alleyways in every poem, sometimes the artknot / ties itself,” warning the reader that these poems aren’t easily read or understood. The poems trip off the tongue when spoken, lost in their own fierce rhythms.

Full review forthcoming in Broken Pencil.

136. Rain; road; an open boat, by Roo Borson
(McClelland & Stewart, 2012)

137. Omens in the Year of the Ox, by Steven Price
(Brick Books, 2012)

I won both of these from Open Book Toronto as a part of an IFOA prize pack. Details of my fun here.

138. Bike Snob, by Eben Weiss
(Chronicle Books, 2010)

I’ve never read the blog, but I’m an avid cyclist, and an enthusiastic snob. I really wanted to like this book – for its title, for its adorable cover, for the illustrations and packaging…but I couldn’t.

Several cyclist types are illustrated, each with their own snarky comments…and they’re all are dudes – save a single woman, depicted as an oblivious bimbo trailing hearts behind her. Yeah, fuck you very much.

So, I’m annoyed, but then I come to chapter 5, “Why is Everybody Trying to Kill Me?,” echoing the song of my heart. The rant that follows is almost worth the price of the book alone. Every cyclist, bimbo or not, has experienced this. It’s frustrating as hell.

Also frustrating, however, is his penchant for “unnecessary quotation marks.” They drive me crazy. And his Random Capitalization. That, with his sexism, and ignorance of those north of the 49th (hey, it’s not only Europeans who use Celsius, it’s everyone except America), pretty much ruined the book for me.

139. Begin with the End in Mind, by Emma Healey
(Arbeiter Ring, 2012)

The title poem stands out for its depiction of a boy reading on the subway, the protagonist of the poem reading the boy reading on the subway. Its rhythms and repetition, as she flips from the boy to her inner monologue, is both striking and oddly soothing.

Full review forthcoming in Broken Pencil.

140. The Invisibles, Vol. 6: Kissing Mr Quimper, by Grant Morrison
(Vertigo, 2000)

And The Invisibles just keeps getting weirder.

141. The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolano
(Picador, 1988, 1998)

A loosely autobiographical novel about a group of Mexican poets and their underground literary movement. My list of poets I need to look up is now beyond absurd. This is my first Bolano and I loved it. It’s become one of my new favourite books.

142. Lemon, by Cordelia Strube
(Coach House Books, 2009)

A disaffected teenager who calls society out on its bullshit, while remaining in the shadows, even when her friend is raped and she is sexually assaulted by the same group of kids. A difficult novel to read, but an important one.

I’m still meditating on what I read. I’d like to write a full length essay review on this. So, perhaps you’ll see more on this at a later date.