Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Mercy

A novel by Toni Morrison.

Quickie Recap: A slave woman casts off her daughter in order to save her, but this little girl spends the rest of her existence searching for a person who can love her.

Quickie Review: Mention the name Morrison and little else needs to be said. Of course it's an intense and tragic read worth every page. But it's not just about slavery. It's about the backdrop of intolerance, class and religious, that breeds the kind of culture where slavery seems justified, sometimes even to the enslaved themselves.

Quickie Recommendation: Disturbing and devastating, it's a definite yes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Alice Munro's Best

Selected Stories, by Alice Munro.

Quickie Recap: Alice Munro offers up some great great pieces to love and re-explore.

Quickie Review: Munro is a goddess of Canadian literature. Many of these stories were familiar to me, like old friends with whom you instantly take up the relationship where it left off. Others were less known to me and gave me new opportunity to appreciate her genius. The Bear Came Over the Mountain struck me in particular - it has recently been transformed into a wonderful movie by Sarah Polley but still stands on its own as a brave short story.

Quickie Recommendation: A resounding Canadian yes.

Friday, November 14, 2008

An Imperfec Offering

Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-First Century, by James Orbinski, MD.

Quickie Recap: Dr Orbinski has worked as the international president of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), and this book recounts the political frustrations, UN-induced nightmares and personal tragedies that he's witnessed while working in Somalia, Rwanda, Afghanistan and the like.

Quickie Review: Fucking Heart-breaking, and important.

Quickie Recommendation: Fucking yes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Quickie Recap: So there's this boy who goes through a sweet potato phase is a foreign country and wakes up transformed: a woman.

Quickie Review: It's kind of crazy how reflective this novel is. It really is personal and soul-searching; sometimes funny and sometimes tragic. The magical gender transformation seems natural, almost trivial to the story. It's the spiritual journey that is most remarkable, and more than a mite addictive.

Quickie Recommendation: Psychologically fascinating.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Flying Troutmans

Quickie Recap: Hattie's sister Min is in the psych ward again, having lost her sanity and her will to live, and Hattie is left to fend for Min's 2 children. Overwhelmed by the responsibility, and more than a little lost herself, the three Troutmans embark on epic journey to find the children's absent father that has you hoping that somehow, damaged people can help each other.

Quickie Review: I adore this book, adore it! I gorged myself on it, consuming every last drop in one delicious sitting. Toews is unpretentious and darkly funny. She doesn't use her characters' youth as an excuse not to make them into fully emotional and intellectual beings. She's compassionate but she's not a drip; if this book breaks your heart a little, then so be it. It's rich and layered and always has you thinking more than one thing at once.

Quickie Recommendation: The only bad thing about this book is that it had to end - this one is tough to let go of.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Furies

a novel by Fernanda Eberstadt.

Quickie Recap: Gideon, a penniless puppeteer, meets Gwen, an ambition liaison to Russia, and they fall in love, and they fall out of love.

Quickie Review: I'm still not sure what to make of this book. The arc of the relationship seems predictable, inevitable. It isn't a story about love, it's about lust-addiction-dependency-complacency-obligation-resentment-hatred. It's about sexual obsession, which was mistaken for love, a grave error with grave consequences, although ultimately I think Eberstadt punished her characters a little too strongly. However, the two worlds that clash continually was a great backdrop to the book and the author shows no mercy.

Quickie Recommendation: How many times can you read the word pussy in one sitting?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach.
Quickie Recap: What happens to a body when it is donated "to science"? You'd be surprised. Cadavers have a whole bunch of uses, and I bet you haven't really stopped to think about most of them, but Mary Roach has.
WARNING: Cool book alert!
Quickie Review: Like a gruesome car wreck, you can't help but look. Sure it's gory and gross and deeply disturbing, but it's also oddly fascinating and enlightening and has you questioning your own sense of mortality. The first time you laugh out loud, it will surprise you, but pretty soon you realize that Roach is faultlessly respectful, which never stops her from being highly entertaining. This is a re-read for me and I'm enjoying it just as much the second time around. It has been on my list of all-time favourites for years now and I can't see it ever being displaces because it's quirky, unusual, extremely thorough, and delightfully fun. The footnotes alone would be worth a glowing review but all together - I cannot say enough.
Quickie Recommendation: God, yes!!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Flash Forward

Quickie Recap: Lloyd and Theo are physicists messing around with atoms when their experiment goes wrong, knocking the entire population out cold for 2 minutes and granting them all a glimpse of their future 21 years hence. Obviously this experience is life changing, some good and some bad, but regardless, almost everyone agrees that the experiment should be replicated...and what will this second vision show? Is the future immutable?

Quickie Review: Hold on to your socks, folks: I'm actually going to say that I liked this book. It was given to me by someone after confessing my distaste for the genre and so this foreknowledge probably helped him select something that would be more philosophical than technological, and he hit a homerun with this selection. I think that when a reader can throw themselves into a narrative and start thinking like a character, then the author has accomplished something. And that's how this book got me: it gave me some very interesting shoes to walk in, and I did, and I asked the tough questions and thought about the future and I made this reading experience a personal one. This is good.

Quickie Recommendation: I repeat, this is good.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Origin of Species

a novel by Nino Ricci.

Quickie Recap: Alex is a grad student working on a thesis uniting literature and Darwin's theory of evolution while plodding ungracefully through the 80s in Montreal and regretting his romantic entanglements. Although he sees a psychoanalyst daily, it's a random sampling of his acquaintances that actually shed meaning on his life.

Quickie Review: Oh, the existential angst in this book is palpable. I felt a bit like a voyeur reading it because Alex is holding on to so many secrets and insecurities that at times I felt like looking away and granting him some privacy. At it's most basic, this book is about exploration - geographically, philosophically, personally. It's also about the growing pains that come along with it, the self-doubt and the fear that grips us when we know a big jump is required of us. The novel is structured in three parts and for a moment I worried that the second part was careening away and stopping the narrative, but a little faith in Ricci goes a long way. He knows what he's doing, and he's remarkable at making a cohesive story out of some pretty big concepts. This is a pretty dark book, which is not a criticism. In fact, it's nearly a compliment because I think it's hard to be so consistent without being overwhelming, but Ricci is forgiving and empathetic, and there's comfort in that. There's hope.
Quickie Recommendation: Well the Governor General isn't often wrong about these things... :)