Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lullabies for Little Criminals

by Heather O'Neill.

Quickie Recap: Baby is being "raised" by her junkie dad, who had her when he was all of 15. Really, he's barely capable of keeping tabs on her, as evidenced by her constantly falling into the hands of others - foster homes, detention centres, homeless shelters - and all of these better than her fate if the pimp who has his eye on her gets his way.

Quickie Review: Oh, sigh. Big sigh. This has been in my to-read pile for so long that I'm so tickled to have finally gotten to it. It was worth the wait! My friend Luc read it just before me and gave it his seal of approval so of course I couldn't wait to rip into it. But then I stalled. Well, not stalled, exactly. But my enthusiasm paled. Not because the writing wasn't stellar, because it was, but because it's tough. You want to give this little girl a home, even though you know she's not real, but your chest tightens because you know there are actual little girls just like her. It's messy. It makes you emotional. I kept looking up from my book to exclaim things because I needed to interrupt myself, cut the tension. Really, really good read.

Quickie Recommendation:

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

by Yves Engler.

Quickie Recap: While at a Propaghandi show in Toronto, the band promoted Engler's book and my mates took it upon themselves to order me a copy for my birthday (thanks, boys!). Engler writes to expose the foreign policy myths engineered by the government and believed by the citizens - namely that we are peacekeepers well-respected throughout the world.

Quickie Review: It is important to remember that such subversive material is probably being printed by a small, brave press and so tolerance toward typos and other mistakes needs to be exercised. Engler obviously goes out of his way to do an enormous amount of research and for that reason alone I feel that this is an important book for Canadians to have read. There is a bias in our media and certainly in what our government is telling us, and if Engler sometimes goes too far the other way, at least it helps balance out the perspective we are normally presented with. He takes a look at our dealings in all the various regions and tackles our favourite lies about ourselves as a find, upstanding country. Maybe we are, but not always, and there's a lot that's kept under the radar. Engler is not even afraid to take on Lester B. Pearson, whom you may remember was awarded (perhaps erroneously, according to Engler) the Nobel peace prize. Personally, I especially respected the piece on our Israel\Palestine stance and the tracking of where exactly and how exactly our so-called "foreign aid" is being spent. Yes, it is disappointing to read about so many of our failures, but it also highlights the areas where we can improve as a nation who takes pride in what we do for others.

Quickie Recommendation: For anyone who suspects that there is more to this than what Harper tells us.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

by Michael Chabon.

Quickie Recap: Clay is the lucky boy born and raised in America in the 1930s and has all the big dreams to prove it. His cousin, Kavalier, escapes Prague just in time and arrives with only one ambition: to earn enough money to send for his family. Together they create a comic book featuring The Escapist, and hope it will lead them to fame and fortune.

Quickie Review: I could fall in love with this author based solely on his vocabulary. It's tremendous. It's exciting just to read his words, never mind what they mean when they're all strung together into a story. But what a story! Kavalier & Clay is not new to me, but having recently read the Yiddish Policemen's Union, I got the bug to reread this one, and I'm always glad when I do. It's a tapestry of incredible stories and feels to me what a "great American novel" should be.

Quickie Recommendation: For everyone, yes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.

Quickie Recap: Yes, it really is the bones of our favourite Austen story, with Miss Bennett and Mr. Darcy and the whole crew, plus a few undead thrown in for extra fun. And it is! If you've read the "original" as I have, you can't help but delight in Elizabeth sparring verbally with her lover and pausing only to disembowel a zombie. It's genius!

Quickie Review: You'll laugh, I promise. You may also wince in disgust. It'll open your eyes to a whole new side of Austen that she probably never intended but I think is a whole pile of enjoyment nonetheless.

Quickie Recommendation: I liked it. Apparently I like watching a classic be defiled. Actually, that's not generally true. I hate remakes. This is just different. It's cute. It works.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Possible Side Effects

by Augusten Burroughs.

Quickie Recap: Burroughs shows us yet more sides him with awesome stories, my favourite possibly being the one about how he fell in love with an unlovable puppy.

Quickie Review: Not a one-trick pony! Yeah, he wrote that crazy-popular Running With Scissors, but he's not just one of the dozens capitalizing on a crazy childhood. He's a legitimate writer with things to say beyond the "hey, look at me and my eccentric ways" that are dominating the best-seller lists these days. Actually, I thought Dry was even better than Running, and this collection of little essays is yet more proof that he's an author, not just a victim.

Quickie Recommendation: Keep buying Burroughs.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

by Michael Chabon.

Quickie Recap: This novel features an alternative history to the one we're familiar with: during WW2, Alaska opened its doors to Jewish immigrants, saving the lives of 4 million Jews. Sitka, Alaska, is the town where they were settled, and it boomed for 60 years, but now the treatise is ending and all these nice people have to find somewhere else to go. In the meantime, the town's police force has close all of its open files, which is not easy to do in a town full of close-mouthed people afraid of the Jewish mob boss who makes sure that no one sees anything.

Quickie Review: Whoa. This guy is a genius.I'm always impressed with a writer who can invent a divergent history for us. It takes balls, and a scope of imagination that I know I wouldn't be capable of. As a reader, it fascinates and thrills me - as a fellow writer, it leaves me feeling comparatively vapid. So I don't compare, I just enjoy, and this is a very enjoyable novel. Lucky me. Lucky all of us that Chabon is willing to dive into something so rich and nuanced and finely tuned, and brings us along for the ride. It's a detective story, I suppose, but also a really cool cultural exploration, throwing together Native Americans and Jewish people of varying backgrounds, and a mix of world history and personal history that really present a strong and interesting mosaic.

Quickie Recommendation: So cool.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Downtown Owl

a novel by Chuck Klosterman.

Quickie Recap: Owl is a tiny mid-western town stuck in the rut of mediocrity. Nothing big ever happens there and the people are just limping through life, never imagining anything bigger. But then one day, something big blows in, and as you might imagine, many are unprepared.

Quickie Review: Let`s just forget that I love everything that Klosterman does. This is different. This is fiction. And yet: still totally awesome! Win!

Quickie Recommendation: Oh yeah, I was seriously impressed. Yum!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Girl In A Blue Dress

a novel by Gaynor Arnold.

Quickie Recap: Alfred Gibson is a celebrated author revered by his public and he'll do anything to keep their unblemished impression of him - including betray the woman who has cared for and loved him for years.

Quickie Review: Although this is a work of fiction, it is based on the life and marriage of Charles Dickens. It's easy to see the similarities if you're at all familiar with his work, and it's lump-in-the-throat-ish even if you aren't. It's a fascinating and intimate portrait of life behind closed doors, all the more so because Gibson\Dickens took such pains to always present a certain image to his adoring audience. It definitely stands on its own as a novel but as a glimpse of the man, the talent, the hypocrite, it's even better.

Quickie Recommendation: A brilliant insight.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Blue Notebook

by James A. Levine.

Quickie Recap: Batuk is a young girl sold into prostitution by her father. Her only escape is via the nub of a pencil she managed to pilfer from her madam and whatever scraps of paper she can keep hidden in her cage. She writes of violence, savagery, and dehumanizing acts as if they were merely a way of life, and for her, they are.

Quickie Review: Haunting, devastating, heart-breaking, hopeful. I don't know how he did it, but Levine writes beautifully and manages to present to us a face and an issue inside a story that you cannot put down. I blew this one out of the water, staying up past the wise hour in order to finish it all in one sitting. It's painful, but it's good. It makes you really think about the magic of words.

Quickie Recommendation: Please, yes. Levine is donating proceeds to help exploited children, so by buying his book you not only help, you have an inspiring and inspired piece of writing.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?

The play-at-home companion book to the hit TV show! by Michael Benson.

Quickie Recap: 75 quizzes, two questions per grades 1-5 with a follow up $1 000 000 question (all answers are of course provided in the back) and plenty of "Did you know?" factoids to keep things interesting.

Quickie Review: I bought this because I was going to be spending over 2000km in various cars with various people and I thought it would be a good way to pass the time. It was. I never knew how competitive my coworkers were until we were a little bit lost coming home from a punk show in Toronto at 4 in the morning and solving 4th grade algebra suddenly became more important than finding gas when the tank was empty.

Quickie Recommendation: Only if your ego can take it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Something Rotten

4th in the Thursday Next series, by Jasper Fforde.

Quickie Recap: Thursday Next, literary detective and fiction crime fighter, is on yet another mission, and this time, the fate of the world depends on it.

Quickie Review: By now everyone knows I have a Ffordian crush that appears to be unrequited. And though this novel had a couple of cliched moments, overall I just feel like this guy goes to a place that I've never read of before. It's exciting to see what he'll come up with next. It's a whole other universe, and yet it feels oddly familiar.

Quickie Recommendation: He does it well. Very, very well.