July 17, 2017
Here’s a quick look at what we’re reading now …
The Voice of Rose of Sharon: An Anthology of Korean Writers in Hangual and English by the Korean-Canadian Writers’ Association (editor)
July 2, 2016
Reading Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante.
I’m reading The Translation of Love by Lynn Kutsukake and Sawdust Castles by Omar Khan. A friend also gave me a box full of Exile magazine dating back to 1974(!) that I am happily going through slowly.
January 22, 2014
I am currently reading two books:
Blood: The Stuff of Life by Lawrence Hill. This book was the basis for the 2013 CBC Massey Lectures. Hill has had a life-long fascination and a self-identified obsession with blood. He writes from the perspective of his awareness of blood as both a substance and a metaphor. Of mixed-race background himself with a black father and a white mother, Hill is the brother of Dan Hill, the singer-songwriter and a politically active father. Hill has written nine other books. Several of them deal with the topic of blood as a bond, a familial tie, as well an indicator of racial identification. In this book, he explores blood as it relates to culture, science, religion and language.
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I’m using this book as a guide for increasing my overall happiness and improving the areas of my life that could do with a boost. Rubin offers a 12 month long set of resolutions and goals that are designed to amplify the happiness that already exists in your life. She offers suggestions and insights that she gained while doing her own happiness project.
Recently, I finished What’s Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies. Fifth Business is my all-time favourite Canadian novel, but this one I had a hard time getting into. It picked up in the second half, though, and I can see why it is so popular. I learned a lot about the great art masters. Also, I think I’m going to use a similar style in the re-write of my second novel, The White Devil.
After that, I will read Still Missing by Chevy Stevens, a popular first novel that came out a few years ago and I’m just getting around to reading. An excellent psychological thriller with some original twists.
Presently, I am reading Haze by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. He is known more for his three ongoing adult fantasy series, but I collect and read his science fiction novels. I like the high adventure and quasi-military bent, I agree with much of his economic and political philosophy and some of his work is truly lyrical and inspiring for me.
I am currently reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I am only around page 100, so I know there will be a lot more I have to say once I’m done or further along. This is also the first Stephen King book I have ever read. I chose it because a friend said it was ‘amazing’.
So far, it is great. Something interesting happens immediately. The characters are instantly three-dimensional, the plot is interesting and entertaining, and the scenes are vivid and realistic. King creates mystery and intrigue in the first chapter and does not let up as you discover the secret at the diner and the new world the narrator is sucked into. It’s a time travel piece, which has been done and done again, but King’s characters are so readable, I really didn’t care.
It takes a lot for me to finish a book. I tend to lose interest if I can figure out the ending, or if the middle gets hung up in doldrums, or the characters do something that makes me roll my eyes. So far King has yet to do any of that.
I recently finished reading Martin Amis’s Lionel Asbo – State of England, which is hilarious. It drew me in immediately when I picked it up while browsing in the book store. I’ll never be able to look a pit bull in the face again without laughing. I found it a clever and pointed commentary on, as the title says, the state of England; a sort of fable. I particularly enjoyed the colourful language and the plot which moves inexorably towards a satisfying conclusion.
I am now reading Dennis Bock’s Going Home Again, mostly because I took the Creative Writing Summer School with him at U of T, and also because I enjoyed his previous novels which I read because of meeting him through the course. Going Home Again reads to me almost like a memoir, and much of it is located firmly in Dennis’s own environment in Toronto . It is an easier read than his previous novels, although the bit I’m reading at present is an extended flashback within an extended flashback, leaving the dramatic opening event suspended. His writing is known for jumping about in time like this, and it will be interesting to see how he develops the plot within this structure.
I just started reading Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. It was lent to me by someone that thought I’d enjoy it. I always check online reviews before reading anything, and those only made the book more appealing. Plus the quote on the front by Steven D. Levitt, was hard to resist… “Think you know what makes you happy? This absolutely fantastic book will shatter your most deeply held convictions about how the mind works.”
I’m immersed in poetry right now, enjoying the works of Billy Collins and other contemporary Canadian and American poets.
I just finished reading Divergent, and I plan on reading the sequel, Insurgent, next. I’ve been looking for action-oriented fantasy novels that are geared towards young adults, feature a female protagonist, and have been successful to help me get a better sense of what works as I try to assess what I need to change with my own book.
I had mixed feelings about Divergent. I liked the characters for the most part and what the author, Veronica Roth, did with a society focused on taking virtues like bravery and honesty to their purest and most extreme forms. I also liked the protagonist, Triss’, voice as the narrator. My biggest problem was the romance, which I found to be by-the-numbers and corny to the point of being a significant negative for me, but then I’m not big on romance to begin with, so I’m willing to assume that the problem is with me rather than the writing. Either way, I thought the end was very strong and that last act made me want to see what happens next.
As for books I am reading and planning to read…
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward. This is what I’m currently reading. It’s a memoir by the National Book Award winning writer Jesmyn Ward. It tells two parallel and interrelated stories 1) how Ward grew up in a marginalized, working-class black community in Southern Mississippi and 2) how five young men she knew growing up (including a cousin and brother) died early, violent deaths. I was motivated to read this partially by the subject matter (I admittedly have an attraction to Southern writers, as well as elegiac, sad stories) and partially by the rave reviews the book has been receiving in the press (you’ll find it in several top ten lists of the best non-fiction books of the year). There is certainly a sadness to the book. While Ward doesn’t go into the sociology of why so many young black men die early in her town as much as I personally would have liked, the sense of interconnectedness amongst friends, family, and acquaintances in her community is strong, and the sadness and frustration Ward feels through her loss is palpable.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein. Ferrante is an Italian author and academic who is virtually unknown, and by that I mean there is virtually nothing to say about Ferrante as she has only given one short interview in her writing career, writes under a pseudonym, and makes every effort to hide her identity. The book is part one of a trilogy centred around two friends from a poor neighbourhood in Naples. Both are women with obvious intellectual gifts, both have to deal with poverty and an overwhelming patriarchy, and both want nothing but to get out of their environment. Their lives will take different turns as the years go by. I only stopped reading this as I received Men We Reaped on hold from the library and figured I needed to finish that first. Ferrante’s book is excellent, using direct language, giving us a sense (as in Ward’s book) of how a community functions together. I was looking for good fiction to read in translation, and Ferrante has been touted as one of Italy’s best living authors by English-language reviewers for some time now (I have a personal attraction to stories set in Italy as much as my affinity for stories set in the South). What could have been heady, overly-abstract, intellectual fiction turned out to be something altogether more down to earth and realist in the best sense.