Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Bullshit

Quickie Recap: What is bullshit? Bullshit is less than a lie, but a nontruth nonetheless, that aims to impress and persuade the audience at hand.

Quickie Review: What is bullshit? This essay is bullshit. Nobody seems to call Frankfurt on this, though, which makes me think he's sitting in an oak-panelled office somewhere just gloating and stroking his beard (as if he doesn't have a beard!). But I'll say it. This was bullshit at its finest, and in actually publishing an essay on bullshit that is bullshit and getting away with it, Frankfurt deserves the title of bullshit artist. And I don't mean that in a bad way at all, because it was a very amusing little read and I think the whole concept of writing bullshit about bullshit to be very clever, and I have lots of respect for the person who pulled it off. By his own definition of the word - Frankfurt is never lying, but he is, I dare say, misrepresenting his own thoughts and feelings on bullshit, because let's be honest here, can anyone really have felt a need for a whole book on bullshit? Doubtful. But can anyone have thought it a marvellous little joke to publish a seemingly serious piece on something that can never ever be taken seriously? I think that to be the case. Is it bull? Is it trivial nonsense? Yes, it is. But highly entertaining.

Quickie Recommendation: There is a slim slice of the more literary-minded set who will find this to be all kinds of clever.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Well of Lost Plots

(Third in the Thursday Next Series), by Jasper Fforde.

Quickie Recap: Following her stellar work for fiction in The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book, Thursday Next seeks refuge in an unpublished novel. With a baby on the way by her disappeared husband, Thursday deserves a break, but you can't really expect her to get one. There's a new technology about to be released that will change reading forever, supposedly for the better, but when readers of advance copies start being murdered for their secrets, its more sinister intentions are revealed and it's up to Thursday to once again save fiction.

Quickie Recap Recap: The above, of course, does not make sense to you. It barely makes sense to me and I just read the damn thing. The truth is, Thursday's universe is so unique you really just have to read it to understand.

Quickie Review: Fforde is incredible. He can afford to write a book about the recycling of about 8 basic plots because he is secure in the knowledge that his series is of true original content. Right down to the last detail I am constantly blown away by how thoughtful and imaginative he is as a writer. His novels live and breathe because they are infused with so much detail. You cannot just jump into The Well of Lost Plots blind; start at the beginning, with The Eyre Affair, and do yourself the favour of entering a universe created for the book lover in all of us.

Quickie Recommendation: Every time I read a Fforde, my recommendation is the same, that:

a) you read the book, cause it's awesome


b) that Mr. Fforde make babies with me

I won't embarrass myelf this time by proposing that he swing by around, say 7ish, or that he bring the wine and I'll supply the steaks, and that we'll both get drunk and just see what happens. I will, however, stick with the whole READ THIS BRILLIANT SERIES thing, because I surely do believe in it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

At Swim, Two Boys

Quickie Recap: Jim and Doyler are two outcasts who become the best of friends during a trying time for Ireland, circa WW1. But as boyhood turns to manhood, these touching displays of friendship become charged with underlying passions and desires.

Quickie Review: I knew how this book would end before I even properly began it, but this is the kind of book where you say it's not the destination, it's the journey. This is a bittersweet journey, but one worth making. You really get the sense of witnessing something rare and beautiful: these two boys share a love that is almost completely unselfconscious despite the fact that they have to hide who they are, don't even know what to call it, really. But they explore this new territory together, fearlessly. Meanwhile, a gentleman named Anthony befriends them, having recently been released from a term of hard labour served for "buggery". This character teeters on the edge of impropriety but as he extends himself to teach them about their love and lifestyle, we see a transformation of sorts occur. You find yourself grimacing at times, willing him not to be a schmuck, to make the right choices because ultimately, though O'Neill could have written him as an ugly pedophile, you do end up sympathizing with him. But this is not just a story of love between boys, but also of love for one's country...and how sometimes these two intersect, and other times, they don't.

Quickie Recommendation: I feel a little improved to have shared in this story, and a little foolish to have ended up crying on a bus.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

13 Things That Don't Make Sense

The most baffling scientific mysteries of our time, by Michael Brooks.

Quickie Recap: In 2008, scientists are still struggling with some pretty basic questions. Things we have come to take for granted remain unexplainable, so much so that many scientists, after decades of research yielding conflicting results, have started to ignore some of these 'things that don't make sense'. How is it, for example, that we can only account for 4% of the cosmos? It's space. It's pretty damn big. We spend billions of dollars thinking about it, and yet, we can't find 96% of it!

Quickie Review: I do not make sense. Let's get that right out of the way. The truth is, I did find this book to be rather fascinating, despite the built-in frustration of having all of your curiosities piqued only to conclude "we don't know!" We don't know, because it just doesn't make sense. But it made me think of things in ways that I hadn't before. Sex and death were two chapters I enjoyed most. Everyone dies, so we've accepted that it's just part of life. But think about that statement, and nope, it doesn't make sense. Death and life should not go together. Our tendency to self-destruct is a little crazy, and from an evolutionary standpoint, it's kind of not very handy. But we all do it. And how about that sex? No matter how much we may enjoy it, it's kind of ludicrous. The truth is, there are way better ways to reproduce. Asexual organisms do it far better than we do, with less fuss and more efficiency. So why haven't we adapted the better way of doing things? Is there something about sex that we're missing? These kinds of questions prompted me to annoy my colleagues with my thoughts on the subject, and that's pretty much my measure of a book. It gave me the itch, and I made other people itchy too. It put some sparks in my brain.

Quickie Recommendation: Well done, you!

If anyone's read it, let me know your thoughts on the question of free will. Or should I say the delusion of free will. :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sex is Red

Stories by Bill Gaston.

Quickie Recap: How can you really recap a book of short stories, except to say that there's a range of emotion here that is quite impressive. However, there is a unifying theme of internal struggle, a feeling of alienation, a yearning for something that perhaps was never quite yours to begin with.

Quickie Review: I would agree that sex is red, but sex isn't the only thing that's red, and in the story in question, I doubt whether it's only sex being referred to. There are shades of subtlety, of quiet revenge, of quiet rage, even, for lives lived not quite right. I was bowled over by the very first story and just kept on truckin, delighted to have found a new (to me) Canadian voice that actually has something to say.

Quickie Recommendation: Worth the perusal.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Truth About Canada

Some important, some astonishing, and some truly appalling things all Canadians should know about our country - by Mel Hurtig.
Quickie Recap: According to Hurtig, everything, absolutely everything about Canada is horrid and wrong and disgusting - except of course, for this one small (unvoiced) exception - our freedom of speech. But everything else, from our education system to our ability to negotiate free trade agreements, is an utter and complete mess beyond all redemption.
Quickie Review: Remind me never to have this guy over to dinner! Honestly, this book comes off as whiny, petty, and most puzzling of all, pompous. I hated it from the get-go. If Canada was half as bad as Hurtig thinks it is, we'd have been left to die on the side of the road by now. I can't even say that he overstates the facts because he offers them without any context at all. He may say, for example, that our country has fewer acute care beds than country X without ever offering any possible explanations (perhaps country X has a more aged population that REQUIRES this discrepancy?), which is bad science, terrible research, and a huge sin, possibly the hugest, as far as statistics go. I think Hurtig should be a little more grateful to be living in a country that allows blow-hards like him to publish such astonishing loads of crap.
Quickie Recommendation: What, do you really have to ask?
p.s. I've also never read such a complainy book that offers no advice whatsoever towards improvement. What, then, is its point? If you're not part of the solution, Mel, you're part of the problem!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Black Girl White Girl

by Joyce Carol Oates
Quickie Recap: 15 years after the mysterious death of her even more mysterious roommate, Genna embarks on this "text with no title" as an exploration of the racism, both real and imagined, on their college campus in the 1970s.
Quickie Review: I have to hand it to Oates, she doesn't shy away from tough topics. When she begins to touch on the theme of personal attacks vs. racial attacks, she hits on something meaningful. I wished the book would pause and take a more in-depth look. Genna is a rare protagonist; she seems painfully honest in her quest for the truth. But ultimately as the story confuses race and politics, a haze takes over and the story-telling loses its focus and ends, in my opinion, unsatisfyingly.
Quickie Recommendation: Interesting, but not quite recommendable. Yes, I just made that word up. Shut it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

You Say I'm a Diva Like it's a Bad Thing

by Ed Polish and Darren Wotz.

Quickie Recap: A flip book of affirmations for "mommies on the edge, self-styled drama queens, and domestic goddesses everywhere. Featuring full-color advertising images from the 1950s and 1960s paired with sly, laugh-out-loud sayings". Some of them are actually pretty risque!

Quickie Recap: Like the other one, a saucy collection of fiercely feminist declarations paired with kitschy vintage advertising images. Quite possibly more daring and defiant (with a no-fear attitude toward language! nothing is safe!), it ponders the fine points of bitchiness with provocative panache. Walking a thin line between vulgarity and hilarity, how could you not love it?
Quickie Review: Exactly the kind of thing your girlfriends will laugh about, and you'll hide when your in-laws visit, I'm liking this so much I've found some very unique uses for it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Ravine

Quickie Recap: Phil's life has hit a rough patch and he believes that resurrecting the memory of a childhood "incident" will give him the context and the insight to move on. Not everyone agrees, but they indulge him on his mission.

Quickie Review: We all have that defining moment in our pasts that changes who we are. For Phil, the memory is distorted and painful, but Quarrington is not gentle. He's not afraid to be confrontational, and I think that really drives the story and makes it real. He manages to be whimsical and tragic and mysterious and funny all at the same time. This book is just full of grace. I find that Quarrington writes characters that I really get into. He's got this subtle touch that allows him to channel a character's insecurities and defense mechanisms and show those vulnerabilities without absolutely naming them. It's kind of brilliant. He never disappoints me.

Quickie Recommendation: I'd even take seconds, if only they were on offer.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Remember Me?

A novel by the #1 NewYork Times best-selling author Sophie Kinsella.
Quickie Recap: Lexi wakes up in the hospital and finds that the past 3 years of her life have completely vanished from her memory. Surprisingly, she seems to be living the dream...but she soon finds out that appearances can be deceiving.
Quickie Review: That recap makes me sick. It's so formulaic. To be honest, I think the whole amnesia theme is a bit played out. I only know of Sophie because my sisters have left her stuff lying about, usually on the edge of tubs, which I think is where she belongs. This book was a bit gratuitous. Fluff. Romantic and predictable cheap thrills. The best that I can say is that I think her ladybug dress in the back cover author photo is cute. Heck, I'll even give it a really cute just to show how generous I can be.
Quickie Recommendation: It is what it is.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Imposter

Quickie Recap: Adam is a middle-aged dude barely getting by in South Africa when he decides to move to the country and write poetry. Things don't go particularly well until he reconnects with someone from his past who serves as inspiration while entangling him in complications.
Quickie Review: This book definitely has its moments. There's a sinister quality that really succeeds, that really has you waiting for the other shoe to drop. And then there's this backdrop of racial tension, definitions of friendship and betrayal, and a sense of secrecy that pervades the story. All these little pieces are great, but somehow I felt they missed the mark as a whole.
Quickie Recommendation: Good, but not great.

Monday, September 1, 2008


A novel by Daniel Clay.
Quickie Recap: Reminiscing from the depth of her coma, Skunk recalls the events that led her there: the school bullies, the crush on her teacher, the absence of her mother, the disappearance of her friend, the mystery surrounding her neighbours, all of which conspire to make an 11 year old girl not want to wake up.
Quickie Review: At times, this book was utterly depressing. It's meant to be that way. An 11 year old girl should not be exposed to so much suffering in the world, she should not get to the point where she can't think of anything worth waking up for. But there's something beautiful in her quiet observation, the way her experiences are so pure. I really felt something for this book. I had sympathy for so many of the characters, probably because Skunk does. She feels with such innocence that it really rubs off on the reader.
Quickie Recommendation: Inspired.