Month: December 2012

Community Reader Profile: Barb McLean

Barb McLeanName: Barb McLean

Job Title: Cultural Development Officer, North Vancouver Arts Office

Best book I read in 2012: The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers.  A sweeping saga about a Jewish man and African American woman who meet and marry in the mid-1900’s and their extraordinary life as a mixed race family. The mutual love of music that drew them together is passed on to their children who they try to raise beyond time, beyond identity, steeped only in song. The joys, the technicalities and the challenges of music and the music business are described against the backdrop and turbulence of the civil rights movement. A fantastic read for musicians – especially singers!

I will read any book by: British author, Ian McEwen. Always intriguing, insightful and topical. Don’t miss the opportunity to hear him read from one of his books if he comes to town!

Best place to curl up with a book on a rainy day: A hot bubble bath – although I need to pay special attention steam and water depth when reading on my Kindle!

Best place to lounge with a book in the sun: Third Beach in Stanley Park on a hot sunny day is heaven and there’s ample opportunity for a refreshing dip in the ocean between chapters.

A book I know I should read, but haven’t: James Joyce, Ulysses. While it seems rather daunting, I’m told it’s well worth the journey!

A guilty pleasure favourite: I would maintain that Tom Wolfe’s latest novel Back to Blood, and the author’s use of ‘over the top’ characterizations, literary sound effects and sensationalist subject matter places him firmly in the guilty pleasure category.

The book I push on all my friends because it is soooooooo good: I loved Elizabeth Hay’s Late Nights on Air and have recommended it to many with much success. A less successful recommendation, but wonderful read, is The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal a story of the author’s journey to discover his past by tracing the origins of a collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke.

Where you can find me:  You can find me and all of the services that the North Vancouver Arts Offices provides at www.artsoffice.ca

Heidi’s Best Books of 2012

Heidi and Patricia pick their best books of the year, just in time for last-minute holiday shopping! Here are Heidi’s picks…

In a recent post on The Millions, Sheila Heti wrote “It’s a weird and tremulous thing to look at a list of the books you loved in a year — you see the inside of your mind and heart: what you were coping with in January, what mattered most in February and March, what you hope to be thinking about next year.”

As I put the finishing touches on this post, it struck me that my slate of best books of 2012 almost all center around characters facing pivotal life decisions. This is perhaps unsurprising, as it was a big year of big life decisions for me, as well. It’s strange to realize, after the fact, that your reading choices say a lot about who you are and what you’re going through. And so here they are, in no particular order:

 

The Yellow BirdsBest Debut: The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers

War fiction at its best – poetic, personal, elegiac. Written by an Iraq War Vet who will be on many literati’s radar from now on.

 

 

This is How You Lose HerBest short stories: This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz

It’s not an easy feat, but Junot manages to portray his philandering, doltish male characters as endearingly sympathetic.

 

WildMost deserving of its hype:

Janet Potter recently pronounced Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, this year’s Strongest Confirmation of Public Opinion, saying “Everyone is right. This book is great.” Patricia also praised this book in a similar fashion. I heartily second their endorsements. Just read it, already.

 

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkBest nearly plotless novel: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain is set at a bombastic Dallas Cowboys game where Billy Lynn and his army comrades are worshipped as war victors. Nothing much happens, but it will wrench your gut all the same.

 

 

Gone GirlMost appealing book to fans of both literary and thriller fiction: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn is tautly plotted and tightly written. Twisty and turny, with deplorable characters you can’t help but root for.

 

 

Tiny Beautiful ThingsMost likely to make you cry while vowing to make momentous life changes: Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed

There she is again! Who needs a therapist when you’ve got two books by Cheryl? This one is a collection of her Dear Sugar columns, originally published anonymously on the therumpus.net.

 

NWYou either love it or hate it award: NW, by Zadie Smith

I fell into the former camp, obviously. Yes, it was experimental and slightly uneven, but I was ultimately impressed by Smith’s ability to illustrate four characters’ struggles with identity and class in contemporary Northwest London.

 

Above All ThingsBest historical fiction: Above All Things, by Tanis Rideout

Based on the true story of British mountaineer, George Mallory – the first Westerner to scale Mount Everest in the early 1900s — and his wife, Ruth. The book simultaneously inspired me to start backpacking and also to vow never to set foot on a mountain again – it is that inspiring and that terrifying. Bonus: Tanis Rideout will be at the North Shore Writers Fest next April!

 

The Age of MiraclesBook that left me ruminating days after I put it down: The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker

Subtle and poignant, the story of a future tween who must cope with the increasing drama of adolescence while the world around her literally slows to a stop. A coming of age story set in a scarily realistic speculative future.

 

The LifeboatMost harrowing book of the year: The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan

A tense and morally questioning tale of shipwreck survivors on the open sea. A perfect book club selection.

 

 

Beautiful RuinsBest narrative construction: Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

Quite possibly the most perfectly constructed novel I’ve read in a long time. Walter dazzles with a kaleidoscope of stories – a love triangle between a young Italian dreamer, a Hollywood ingénue, and a smarmily charismatic fictional Richard Burton; a despondent musician and his playwright girlfriend; and a jaded Hollywood agent whose life takes a turn for the bizarre when her boss – a fossilized has-been movie producer – options a young hipster’s screenplay about the Donner Party. Yes, it’s funny. It’s romantic. It sounds and looks like a beach read. But underneath its many layers, this book illustrates how decay and suffering weather life and love into things of beauty. 

 

The Dog StarsBest Book of the Year: The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller

Very rarely does a book meet my extremely high expectations. This one exceeded them. I fell in love with The Dog Stars, which could be described as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road if written by John Krakauer, with a slightly more optimistic take on the aftermath of apocalypse. 

 

Okay, people, what were your favourite books of 2012??

–Heidi

 

Patricia’s Top 12 Books of 2012

Just in time for Christmas shopping, Patricia and Heidi have picked their top 10 books of the year. Here are Patricia’s picks:

 

Invisible OnesMy favourite mystery of 2012: The Invisible Ones, by Stef Penney

Investigator Ray Lovell is hired to find missing Romany wife Rose Janko – 7 years after her disappearance. What makes it so good?  You feel like you’re getting an insider’s look into a notoriously private culture.

 

My favourite comedy of 2012: Hope: A Tragedy, by Shalom Auslander

Laugh out loud funny account of a Jewish-American man who finds Anne Frank alive in his attic. What makes it so good? Absurd humour and lots of it.

 

Gone GirlMy favourite thriller of 2012: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

A wife goes missing on her 5th anniversary.  Is her husband to blame? What makes it so good?  The plot is so twisted with characters so engagingly evil that it’s impossible to put this book down. 

 

Shadow and BoneMy favourite series starter of 2012: Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

Orphan Alina is taken under the wing of Gravka’s second-in-charge, the Darkling, when it’s revealed that she has an unusual power. What makes it so good? The entwining of dark fantasy with Slavic myths.

 

City of Lost SoulsThe series I couldn’t stop reading in 2012: The Mortal Instruments, City of Lost Souls (Book #5) by Cassandra Clare**

Magic binds Clary’s true love and evil brother together in such a way that you can’t kill one without killing the other. What makes it so good?  Demonhunters in love and difficult moral choices.

 

InnocentsBest revamping of a classic:  The Innocents, by Francesca Segal

Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence recast in a tightknit Jewish community in modern day London. What makes it so good? It’s a beautifully written examination of the line between comfort and claustrophobia.

 

Working Theory of LoveMy favourite quirky read of 2012: A Working Theory of Love, by Scott Hutchins**

A recently divorced man falls into a relationship with a girl who’s in a kind of sex cult while working for an IT company aiming to use his dead father’s journals to create a sentient computer. What makes it good?  The father-son relationship between Neill and the computer program based on his dad is bang-on.  A deft balance of humour and heart.

 

Street SweeperMy favourite literary fiction of 2012: The Street Sweeper, by Elliot Perlman

The Street Sweeper tells the story of the intersection between two lives:  that of an ex-convict who befriends a Holocaust survivor and that of a failing academic who stumbles upon a new calling. What makes it so good?  It’s a wonderfully plotted book, with memorable writing.  Devastating and hopeful, without being too Hollywood.  I loved it.

 

Fairy Tales from the Brothers GrimmMy favourite short story collection of 2012: Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, by Philip Pullman*

Classic tales crisply retold. What makes it so good?  Among other things, the endnotes to each story give a brief history of each tale, which adds depth.

 

WildBook that lived up to the hype best: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

A twenty-six year old divorcee candidly describes her experience hiking in the wilderness on her own. What makes it so good?  Strayed is so broken and imperfect, yet so relatable, that you can’t help but go on the journey with her.

Holy or the BrokenMy favourite non-fiction of 2012: The Holy or the Broken, by Alan Light*

A history of Hallelujah – one of Leonard Cohen’s most enduring songs. What makes it so good?  The exuberant detail.  I had no idea that Lemony Snicket played “Hallelujah” on the accordion at Neil Gaiman’s wedding in Michael Chabon’s apartment.  Now I know.

 

Fault in Our StarsMy favourite book of 2012: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

Teens Hazel and Augustus meet at a cancer kid support group. What makes it so good?  “Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” — from The Fault in Our Stars

 

Stay tuned for Heidi’s Best Books of 2012 post tomorrow! What were your favourite books? Tell us in the comments.

 

*NetGalley was kind enough to provide Heidi and/or Patricia with copies of these books. (NW; The Holy or The BrokenFairy Tales from The Brothers Grimm)

**Good Reads First Reads provided Patricia with promotional copies of these books. (A Working Theory of Love; The City of Lost Souls)

Patricia’s 12 Days of Book Nerd Xmas

Ready Player OneA Tale of Two CitiesThree Day Road 2Rule of FourThe Five Books of Moses LapinskyThe Trinity SixSeven Types of AmbiguityEight Months of Ghazzah StreetNine StoriesThe Ten-Year Nap11.22.63The Twelve Rooms of the Nile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not all great Christmas presents were published in 2012. Sing along, if you know the words…

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me Ready Player One, and a great bookbag from the library.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me A Tale of Two Cities, Ready Player One, and a great bookbag from the library.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me Three Day Road, A Tale of Two Cities, Ready Player One, and a great bookbag from the library

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me The Rule of Four, Three Day Road, A Tale of Two Cities, Ready Player One, and a great bookbag from the library.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky*, The Rule of Four, Three Day Road, A Tale of Two Cities, Ready Player One, and a great bookbag from the library.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me The Trinity Six, The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky*, The Rule of Four, Three Day Road, A Tale of Two Cities, Ready Player One, and a great bookbag from the library.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me Seven Types of Ambiguity, The Trinity Six, The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky*, The Rule of Four, Three Day Road, A Tale of Two Cities, Ready Player One, and a great bookbag from the library.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, Seven Types of Ambiguity, The Trinity Six, The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky*, The Rule of Four, Three Day Road, A Tale of Two Cities, Ready Player One, and a great bookbag from the library.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me Nine Stories, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, Seven Types of Ambiguity, The Trinity Six, The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky*, The Rule of Four, Three Day Road, A Tale of Two Cities, Ready Player One, and a great bookbag from the library.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me The Ten-Year Nap, Nine Stories, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, Seven Types of Ambiguity, The Trinity Six, The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky*, The Rule of Four, Three Day Road, A Tale of Two Cities, Ready Player One, and a great bookbag from the library.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 11/22/63, The Ten-Year Nap, Nine Stories, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, Seven Types of Ambiguity, The Trinity Six, The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky*, The Rule of Four, Three Day Road, A Tale of Two Cities, Ready Player One, and a great bookbag from the library.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, 11/22/63, The Ten-Year Nap, Nine Stories, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, Seven Types of Ambiguity, The Trinity Six, The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky*, The Rule of Four, Three Day Road, A Tale of Two Cities, Ready Player One, and a great bookbag from the library!

(*Seriously… an amazing book. One of my all-time favourites. Would make a great Christmas present, if you can give a copy.)

–Patricia

Patricia’s Picks for Anna Karenina Readalikes

Anna Karenina

(This is what Anna Karenina looked like when I first met her – on the cover of a Penguin Classic.)

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 

Next to “Once upon a time…” the opening lines of Anna Karenina are some of the most quoted of all time.  To honour these beloved words, I thought we should share the opening lines of some other memorable books set in Russia.

Generations of WinterGenerations of Winter, by Vassily Aksyonov

First lineJust think – in 1925, the eighth year of the Revolution, a traffic jam in Moscow! 

What’s in it for Anna fans? It’s epic.  Covering an especially turbulent period of Russian history (1925-1945) this novel tells the story of the Gradov family.  It weaves together their triumphs and tribulations with those of actual figures such as Joseph Stalin.

The Winter QueenThe Winter Queen, by Boris Akunin

First lineOn Monday the thirteenth of May in the year 1876, between the hours of two and three in the afternoon on a day that combined the freshness of spring with the warmth of summer, numerous individuals in Moscow’s Alexander Gardens unexpectedly found themselves eyewitness to the perpetration of an outrage that flagrantly transgressed the bounds of common decency.

What’s in it for Anna fans?  Suicide and Setting.  It covers the same setting – late 19th century Russia.  A wealthy and talented student from a good family shoots himself in Moscow’s Alexander Gardens.  Young detective Erast Fandorin is not so sure that this case is as simple as it seems.

OblomovOblomov, by Ivan Aleksandrovich Goncharov

First lineOne morning in his apartment in one of those big houses on Gorokhovaya Street, which could have accommodated the whole population of a country town, Ilya Ilyich Oblomov lay in bed.

What’s in it for Anna fans?  It’s about the upper classes, for one.  Oblomov is a 30-something underachiever whose life changes dramatically when he falls for a cultured woman named Olga.

People's Act of LoveThe People’s Act of Love, by James Meek 

First lineWhen Kyrill Ivanovich Samarin was twelve, years before he would catch, among the scent of textbooks and cologne in a girl’s satchel, the distinct odour of dynamite, he demanded that his uncle let him change his second name.

What’s in it for Anna fans?  This novel, about a Christian sect deep in Siberia in 1919 deals with themes of desire and sacrifice.  Also, like Anna, it has two separate love stories.  In the Guardian, Irvine Welsh raved, “You could write page after page on the possible reference points for this incredible novel; it reads like a modern Heart of Darkness, and Coppola’s Vietnam remake Apocalypse Now, fused together with the great Russian masters such as Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.”

Last StationThe Last Station (ebook), by Jay Parini (also a film starring the incomparable Helen Mirren)

First Line: The year has turned again, bringing us to the end of the first decade of the new century. I write the strange numbers in my diary. 1910. Is it possible?

What’s in it for Anna fans?  A tumultuous marriage.  A tragic death.  A train station.  Plus it’s about the dramatic final years of Leo Tolstoy, Anna’s creator.  Both happy and unhappy in his own way.

 –Patricia

 (Painting image courtesy of this site).

High-Brow Chick Lit — By Heidi

For a long time, my reading modus operandi was ridiculously exclusive. I refused to read books about children, anyone over the age of 40, animals, men, or losers. No nonfiction. No historic or rural settings. No magic-realism. No nerdy sci-fi. Very few male authors and mostly limited to ones from North America.

What did that leave? Novels by and about successful, contemporary, urban women in their 20s and 30s. But it got even more specific. I didn’t read (or openly admit to reading, at least) “chick lit” novels. No Sophie Kinsella or Emily Giffin. They had to be more high-brow, more literary. Chick lit for the discerning woman.

My reading tastes have thankfully evolved to include novels about contemporary urban men in their 20s and 30s, nonfiction books about women, and contemporary novels with children as (minor) characters.

However, when it comes to going on holiday, especially beach vacations where I tend to indulge in excessive laziness and an afternoon margarita (or two), I revert back to my old ways. As my week in the Caribbean is booked and fast approaching, I thought I’d get into the spirit by offering up some of my high-brow chick lit faves:

Emperor's ChildrenClaire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children is like an erudite version of Sex in the City – younger, better educated and swimming in pathos.

 

 

One DayOne Day, by David Nichols, is a clever love story with extremely well-wrought characters. Disregard the horrible movie version – the book is a million times better.

 

 

Dive from Claussen's PierThe Dive From Clausen’s Pier, by Ann Packer, attempts to answer the question of what would happen if the love of your early-20-something life became severly quadriplegic. Would you stay? Would you go? The main character’s decisions regarding this premise are fascinating.

 

 

My Year of MeatsIf you like a little environmental activism with your chick lit, may I recommend a hearty dose of Ruth Ozeki, whose novels My Year of Meats and All Over Creation feature plotlines about the meat and oil industries, with a healthy dash of humour.

 

 

How Should a Person Be2And finally, for the hipsters who like their high-brow chick lit set in ironic diners and art galleries, try Sheila Heti’s experimental and provocative novel How Should a Person Be. While not for everyone, those who can relate to having a “pretentious 20s” phase will get a kick out of Heti’s post-modern existential identity crisis couched in sex, drugs and party dresses.