Shelf Life: July 2012

July’s reading consisted largely of fiction, poetry, literary criticism, and comics. By the end of the month I’d reached 100 books read in 2012.

82. Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
(Picador, 2010)

Huh. This is the second month I’ve entered this year reading Jonathan Frazen. I have no idea why. It’s not intentional.

Like The Corrections, it’s a sprawling family epic that tries to cover more social issues than a can be comfortably handled in a single novel, even a longish one such as this. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, environmentalism, feminist and racial politics, infidelity, complex relationships between parents and children – at times it becomes overly preachy (even when I sympathize with the positions expressed) and at others, not enough depth is given to fully realize the characters or scenes.

83. The Fetch, by Nico Rogers
(Brick Books, 2010)

What a lovely first name, and what a gorgeously rich first collection. I had the pleasure of hearing Rogers read a couple of years ago at the Art Bar, and couldn’t pass this up when I came across it again in the bookstore.

These prose poems are drawn from interviews with Newfoundland enders and research from regional archives and museums. They’re brilliantly executed snapshots of people and situations communicated in Newfoundland’s unique dialect, aided in part by the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.

84. The Lost Gospels, by Lorri Neilsen Glenn
(Brick Books, 2010)

Glenn’s third collection, though the first I’ve read of hers, draws in part from French mystical poet and philosopher Simone Weil.

85. Hooked, by Carolyn Smart
(Brick Books, 2009)

A collection of seven poems about seven remarkable women, Myra Hindley, Unity Mitford, Zelda Fitzgerald, Dora Carrington, Carson McCullers, Jane Bowles, and Elizabeth Smart. I’m not familiar with all of them, but it’s inspired me to learn more about them and their obsessions. This is one I’ll need to reread.

86. Zombie, by JR Angelella
(Soho, 2012)

An awkward high school kid obsessed with zombie films – an ok premise, but ultimately irrelevant to the plot, which degrades into floundering misogyny, unexplored addiction, and a Fight Club-esque dismemberment club/cult as a method of reclaiming lost masculinity. Unfortunately, none of the characters or ideas are fully realized, and the hero’s inevitable trophy girlfriend appears out of nowhere with no reason to stick with him. It just doesn’t work.

87. No One Belongs Here More Than You, by Miranda July
(Scribner, 2007)

I keep hearing about the New Sincerity and Miranda July, but haven’t read her work until now.

Taken in short bursts, these stories are wonderfully odd, but read in one sitting, the quirks that make them delightful eventually becomes tiring. I like – maybe even love – her work, but in small doses.

88. Kerosene, by Jamella Hagen
(Nightwood Editions, 2011)

Hagen’s first poetry collection, reviewed for Broken Pencil.

89. Astonishing X-Men, Vol. 1: Gifted, by Joss Whedon
(Marvel, 2005)

I used to read X-Men comics in high school, but the countless spin-offs and alternate storylines eventually turned me off reading them, until now. A friend at the bookstore recommended I try Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, and I’m glad I took his advice. There were some shockers (when did Scott Summers and Emma Frost start dating? and is the seasonal and temperamental conflict deliberate?), but overall I felt grounded enough in the story to get what was going on, despite not having read the comics for over ten years.

And, as always, Joss Whedon’s writing, and his dialogue in particular, are a pleasure to read.

90. Against Interpretation and Other Essays, by Susan Sontag
(Picador, 2001)

I’ve never read Sontag before, though she’s been on my list for a while, and this collection of critical essays seemed like a great place to start. Her erudite deconstruction of criticism – what it is, what it should be, and the review essays collected here are an inspiration. Reading Sontag and Frye really highlights what’s missing from most of today’s literary critics – wherever they’re hiding, and whatever space is left to present arguments.

91. Earworm, by Nick Thran
(Nightwood Editions, 2011)

Thran’s second collection, and winner of this year’s Trillium Book Award for Poetry.

92. Left Hook, by George Bowering
(Raincoast, 2005)

A collection of critical essays on Canadian writing, some very colloquial, others more in depth. Highlights writers I need to read, as well as wanting to read more from Bowering himself.

The more I read, the more it feels like I haven’t read anything.

93. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
(Crown, 2012)

It’s been getting a lot of word-of-mouth buzz, so when an ARC became available, I picked it up. The first half is quite gripping, and partially into where it flips, and feminist reality challenges male idealization of what the perfect woman should be, but it then degrades into another psychotic woman using her uterus to claim victory over a man. Very disappointing.

94. Astonishing X-Men, Vol. 2: Dangerous, by Joss Whedon
(Marvel, 2005)

95. Astonishing X-Men, Vol. 3: Torn, by Joss Whedon
(Marvel, 2007)

96. Astonishing X-Men, Vol. 4: Unstoppable, by Joss Whedon
(Marvel, 2008)

As you can see, after enjoying the first volume, I quickly made my way though the next four. I won’t spoil the plot points, and simply say that it makes for a fun read.

97. Re: Reading the Postmodern, edited by Robert David Stacey
(University of Ottawa Press, 2010)

More CanLit litcrit. I’m on a roll, here. Though, again, I feel under-read. I haven’t read Linda Hutcheon’s The Canadian Postmodern, or some of the books discussed within. But Hutcheon’s book is coming back in print either this month or next (I’ve got it on order), and I’m working on playing catch-up with my CanLit as well, all while trying to read what’s been coming out in the past few years and some light comic/graphic novel reading too. Whew.

98. Alien, Correspondent, by Antony Di Nardo
(Brick Books, 2010)

I heard Di Nardo read at the Art Bar a few years ago – it may have been the same night I heard Nico Rogers. I adored Soul on Standby, and this was a pleasure to read as well.

99. The Crystal Palace, by Carey Toane
(Mansfield Press, 2011)

Another book read and reviewed for Broken Pencil. A really neat collection, with its title taken from the building erected to house the 1851 Great Exhibition in London’s Hyde Park. Keep an eye out for this book (and my review).

100. The Sex Pistols, by Jim McCarthy
(Omnibus Press, 2009)

I loved this band in high school. Sure, they were long over by the time I got into them (Sid Vicious died years before I was born), but I loved their aesthetic, their attitude, their raw filth and sexuality. It was gorgeous. I bought any CD with their name on it, and any book that discussed them, even in passing. So, a graphic novel retelling of their story? I couldn’t pass that up.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite up to snuff. Odd things are included, and others omitted. The illustrations are interesting, but it lacks a coherent story. If you’re not already familiar with the band and its history, these disjointed scenes aren’t going to amount to much. A neat idea, but poorly executed.

So, that’s it. A little over halfway through the year, and 100 books read. I’ve randomly committed to read 175 this year on GoodReads, so we’ll see how that goes.

Any recommendations? What are you reading?

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