Posts tagged ‘literature’

December 25, 2010

Don’t Read These Books: Our Least Favorites of 2010

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BY THIS ZINE STAFF

“Best Of” and “Favorites” lists have been coming out all month long (we published our own yesterday), but what about the worst books of the year? For a cheat sheet on which books to avoid, check out our least favorites of 2010.

 


JOHN COLEMAN
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
A good attempt at a fresh Holocaust story, but the book’s hefty devotion to an inner-story play turns it into a train wreck. Martel should have done like his character and written an essay on revitalising Holocaust representation instead of attempting to depict it.

- C by Tom McCarthy
McCarthy needs to get out of the Victorian era if he wants the new generation to read his books.

In addition, John’s “on the fence” about David Bergen’s The Matter with Morris : A relevant and needed look at the lives of war parents. Although not as drab as Martel's 2010 offering, there are times when Morris whines about his life in excess. If you don't want to read about male menopause, don't read Morris.

 

SWEETMAN
Sweetman’s 2010 Hit List – because some books are just so much fun to hate!

- The Entire Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer
Dreadful with dull teeth. I never thought I’d get tired of seeing the word sparkling. I reviewed them on my blog but don’t feel you have to read the ranting – just believe me, I loathed it to the point that Stephanie Meyers really, really, really, really hates me – oh, sorry, I start to write like her when I think about the books!

- The Help by Katherine Stockett
A young white woman in the 1960’s in Mississippi is the only person on the planet who strives for racial equality in really annoying Suthun’ patois. Took the book clubs by storm and took every ounce of Sweetman’s will to not throw it against the wall because she was reading a friend’s copy.

- The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
Cursed with Jane Austen praise, Ms. Goodman fell far short of any Austen comparison. A long, overwrought, drivel about…well there were a few cookbooks in there somewhere.

- Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
I was disappointed in this quick read due to the lack of depth. It read like a condensed version of a more substantial novel.

- House Rules by Jodi Picoult
I can’t honestly comment on this because I didn’t finish it. Ms. Picoult appears to have a burning desire to write about the wrenching societal dilemma of the moment with as much engaging flair as the list of ingredients on a cereal box.

- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
I was confused, disappointed and felt stupid because I just could not get into this book! Was it the translation? The violence? The irrelevant details? The boringness? What did I miss? See the movie.

- The Talented Miss Highsmith by Joan Schenkar
Boy did I struggle with this biography of writer Patricia Highsmith! Call me rigid and inflexible but I find it easier to read a biography in chronological order and found myself wanting to call up Ms. Schenkar to ask her if that would have been so difficult given the maniacally rigid order that Miss Highsmith reportedly kept of her life and writing.

- Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Ugh Ugh Ugh.

 

URSULA K. RAPHAEL
One of the biggest waste of trees that I’ve ever read was This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson.

Want to know why? Read Ursula’s review, forthcoming in our blog.

 

LACEY N. DUNHAM
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
All the hipsters and Brooklynites will hate me for this one but I found Auster way overrrated, especially after I considered the superb meta-fiction of Mark Z. Danielewski and read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas about a month after I finished The New York Trilogy.

- Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis
A sort-of sequel to Ellis’s first novel, Less Than Zero, which so perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the ’80s, Imperial Bedrooms attempts a Raymond Chandler-esque noir and fails to hit anywhere near the mark. While the prose keeps very much to Ellis’s typical style, he can’t seem to successfully merge the type of provocative writing from which he’s largely built his fame and the type of genre writing perfected by others.

- So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
Shriver’s novel, shaped by the issue of health care in the U.S., was released shortly before the eventual passage of actual health care reform (or Obamacare, depending on your politics). In a novel so carefully wrought, so precisely personal, it’s too bad So Much For That’s stiff prose and exhausting machinations of plot lacks the muckraking ululations for change.

- In the Land of Believers by Gina Welch
Welch’s undercover foray (as a writer, not a journalist) into the world of Evangelism at the Thomas Road Baptist Church (founded by Jerry Falwell) offers strong writing but lacks new insights into the life and beliefs of Evangelical Christians and certainly doesn’t add much to the conversation between Evangelicals and non-believers. Walking a fine line of respect for her subjects, Welch eventually comes clean to her friends at Thomas Road that she’s an atheist who doesn’t need Jesus to save her soul, but only after her book contract is wrapped up and her editor gives the green light.

- The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
So little action occurs in the first two-thirds of Kostova’s novel that even the overarching sweep of a mysterious woman inching the narrative forward is too minuscule to make me care about what is, ostensibly, the real story that happens in the last hundred or so pages. Even when the mystery is resolved, there is no satisfaction in the predictable ending, nothing that makes the long wait through six hundred pages pay off. Without any real definition to her characters, a lackluster plot, and an ending the fizzles rather than bangs, Kostova delivers a wholly forgettable book.

- Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
Ugh, this was awful. I mean, seriously, terrible. It reads fast and still I couldn’t get through it. Yet, it seems to be popular among book clubs, which is why I don’t belong to any book clubs.

December 13, 2010

Book Review: The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

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THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR
by Allegra Goodman

The Dial Press
(July 2010, $26, 416 pages)

I waited several weeks for my turn to throw myself into The Cookbook Collector because the wait-list at my library was that long. Was it NPR’s palavering reviews which bestowed the crown upon Allegra Goodman’s not-so-humble head as the modern-day Jane Austen? An honor Goodman neither accepted nor declined, she just side-stepped by stating she had many, many influences and inspirations, not just Jane Austen.

Hmmmm, not too modest for such high praise, I thought but I didn’t want to begin in the wrong frame of mind. I wanted The Cookbook Collector to be great. It was important for me as a Janeite and because 2010 was the summer of Franzenfeud, when Jonathan Franzen reigned supreme. There was a dire need of a strong female novelist to knock Jonathan Franzen out of his Ivory Tower. Alas, Ms. Goodman comes up decidedly short.

The Cookbook Collector is a confusing ramble into the decline of the shallow and greedy days of the Dot Com boom. The central characters, Emily and Jessamine, are sisters with opposite personalities and lifestyles around which this story — no, make that multiple stories or, better yet, multiples of multiple stories — revolve. Emily is a smart, reserved and successful CEO of a start-up on the brink of becoming incredibly successful while making her incredibly rich. Jessamine is the artistic, philosophic and free-thinking perpetual student/vegan who makes the reader wonder if she’s about to wander right off the pages of the novel in pursuit of a butterfly. Emily is focused and driven; Jess is scattered and flighty.

Their stories take the reader back and forth from West Coast to East Coast on a wild roller coaster ride of an IPO and up to the top of a protected Red Wood tree. Enter an array of characters, each with their own subplot: Emily’s ruthless and brilliant fiancee CEO, Jonathan, who just needs a set of jagged teeth and some fins to complete his image; Jessamine’s sanctimonious tree-hugging beaus; their father and his second family, Hassidic Bialystok Jews (also bi-coastal!); software programmers and their messy affairs; their dead mother who wrote the girls birthday letters until their 25th birthdays; a woman with a valuable cookbook collection looking to make a sale; and George Friedman, the bookstore owner and collector of valuables, he’s also a jaded Microsoft millionaire that delights in perpetually jabbing Jess with his wry insights into her chaotic life and loser boyfriends. The story shoots between Yorick’s, an antiquarian bookstore where Jess works at an hourly rate while Emily is prepared to rake in millions as CEO of her wildly successful company Veritech.

If that’s not confusing enough, throw in the Dot Com crash and 9/11, mix it with love, loss, more love, more loss, some misunderstandings, inconceivable connections that neatly wrap up all the loose ends and a happy ending for one, a sad new beginning for the other. Unfortunately, this is no modern Sense and Sensibility. It’s a distracting and predictable yarn that reaches far and wide but lacks heart and soul that allows the reader any satisfaction in its boring and overwrought finish.

The Cookbook Collector is loaded with inconsistencies that yanked me right out of the story. For example, the birthday letters from the sisters’ dead mother, an artistic woman, are written on the computer. This was designed to add depth to the story but was actually one of several events that brought my reading to a screeching halt. The time frame for the story was 1999. Was Microsoft Word around 20 years before the story took place? Wouldn’t a woman writing birthday letters for her daughters to read after her death prefer the touch of handwritten letter? Then there was George Friedman, the wealthy proprietor of Yorick’s antique bookstore. Curmudgeonly and jaded at the ripe old age of 39, he had lived through the hippy days of the 60s and 70s then landed a job at a little company known as Microsoft… wait a minute… a hippy in the 60’s? He was just born if he was 39 years old in 1999! Emily’s fiancee Jonathan owned one of the first Blackberrys, which sent me off to Google the history of the Blackberry. This is the first novel I’ve ever made the effort to factually verify.

It is also one of a very few novels I’ve continued to read after giving up on it out of sheer spite, which was probably a good thing for the author. Allegra Goodman had passages of stunning writing scattered throughout The Cookbook Collector but those brief and rare interludes simply hinted at her potential and provided nothing to improve her story. I bestow upon Ms. Goodman a quote from Jane Austen regarding The Cookbook Collector: “Commonplace nonsense but scarcely any wit.”

-Sweetman

November 1, 2010

THIS Reads: Sense and Serendipity

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BY JOHN COLEMAN

I find it interesting how we stumble over the things we end up reading. What makes us pick up a certain newspaper, magazine or book, only to have it become one of our favourites? In hindsight, I sometimes realise odd licks of fate that initially guide me to a certain trend in writing, only to view it later as something monumental. For instance, I’ll always remember the cornerstone novel in my life being Orwell’s 1984. I first read it on a philosophical whim when I was thirteen years old; I was coming of age and getting interested in world politics, and had heard how prolific was the novel’s satire of modern democratic society, derived from a premonition. I not only fell in love with Orwell (since having read most of his catalogue), but 1984 influenced my perception of the world. Whenever I reminisce on how I forged my left-wing, anti-establishment, down-with-globalisation ways, I often think of how trapped Winston Smith is, constantly evading Big Brother, and how the thought of becoming him forever changed my outlook.

It seems like lately, in a much less momentous way, I have oddly stumbled over more reading when titles jumped out at me for some reason and became some of my favourites. Here are a few that I have tripped over in the past few weeks.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
I fell upon Packer while reading an article about the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 list in this a few months back. Skimming through the finalists, the words Drinking Coffee Elsewhere pulled me in for a couple of reasons. One: It reminded me of the movie “Coffee and Cigarettes,” one of my favourites, a documentary about rock and roll warlords. Two: Because it sounds so good (I know, but if you share this sentiment, you know what I mean). Thankfully, the witty title of this collection of stories was not a guise to lure in readers, only to have them disappointed at some lame, poorly written life story. Contrarily, ZZ Packer’s style is sensational. She not only attacks identity and gender theories, racism, and other contemporary controversial topics in Coffee, but does it with some of the best writing I’ve ever read. I highly recommend.

Anton Chekhov
I recently reviewed a book of modernised Chekhov tales and while doing so realised that I had never actually read anything by Chekhov. It’s hard to say this as an English major, but true. I had only heard of his prowess – how he is the best Russian story writer of all time and second to Shakespeare in the world-scope of bards. And, I’m pretty sure a few Simpsons episodes are taken straight from Chekhov‘s pages. Needless to say, I had to do some buffing up. What I mainly love about Chekhov’s over two hundred stories (and a number of plays) is the focus on everyday life. Whether drawing characters from working class Russia or writing about important national landmarks, Chekhov had an unbelievable knack for depicting reality in a highly important era.

Death In Venice by Thomas Mann
The other day I was reading the arts section of the newspaper and came across a review of a new opera in Toronto, Death In Venice, based on the novella by Thomas Mann. Once again, and I don’t know why, this title leapt off the page at me. I instantly hit the library. Now, if there is one thing I love about literature, it’s being able to get entranced by writing. Venice opens with its hero Gustav von Aschenbach taking a very Poe-esque walk by the cemetery where he bumps into an eerie stalker. From this, I was hooked. But the story is more than a Gothic stroll; it deals with everything from ancient philosophy, Shakespearian tragedy and the Narcissistic archetype. Check this out if you enjoy quick reads and allusion rich literature requiring an afternoon or two full of research.

October 12, 2010

From Shortlist to Winner, the Man Booker Committee Pulls an Upset

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Howard Jacobson‘s novel The Finkler Question was announced the winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize in a London ceremony earlier today, dispensing with Tom McCarthy’s C, which was considered the front-runner for winning the prize and even caused the British bookmaker Ladbrokes to close betting on wagers for the prize after they received nearly $24,000 USD in a single day.

Jacobson’s previous novels include Who’s Sorry Now and Kolooki Nights, both of which we shortlisted for the prize in 2002 and 2006, respectively. The prize comes with a $79,000 USD monetary award and an almost guaranteed bestseller status in the United Kingdom. Assuring the winner’s book will fly off the shelves in North America is another matter, one that last year’s winner, Hilary Mantel for her novel Wolf Hall, surprised with its commercial success abroad. Wolf Hall went on to win the National Book Critics Circle Award in the U.S.

October 7, 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Laureate in Literature, Breaks Eurocentric Streak

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Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature today, ending what some have decried as the prize’s long Eurocentric streak. Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian native, is probably best known for his novels published in the 1960’s and ’70’s, including The Time of the Hero, The Green House and Conversation in the Cathedral, all of which are deeply political works that examine the pervasive corruption in Latin America.

Vargas Llosa is the first South American writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since Gabriel Garcia Marquez was awarded the prize in 1982; Mexican novelist Octavio Paz, the most recent Latin American to win, was awarded the prize in 1990.

Vargas Llosa has been criticized for a shift in his politics. Initially a supporter of the Cuban revolution, he took a political step away from Fidel Castro in the 1970’s and ran for the presidency of Peru in 1990 as a right-center conservative. Despite the political nature of his work and its examination of corruption in Latin American, his alignment with policies and economics of the right have left hard feelings among some writers and politicians in Latin America. According to the Wall Street Journal, Vargas Llosa punched former friend and ally Gabriel Garcia Marquez at a movie premier in Mexico City in 1976. The two writers have not discussed the feud publicly.

Vargas Llosa currently teaches Latin American studies at Princeton University. Last year’s Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to German-Romanian writer Herta Muller.

October 4, 2010

Giller Prize Longlist; Shortlist Announcement Tomorrow

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BY JOHN COLEMAN

The longlist for the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize, the leading literary award for Canadian authors, was announced Monday, September 20. This year’s judges – Canadian journalist and broadcaster Michael Enright, American author and professor Claire Messud, and renowned UK author Ali Smith – decided on thirteen titles from ninety-eight submissions from a wide variety of Canadian publishers.

This year’s selections are diverse and somewhat surprising compared to previous years, with a balanced list of big and small presses, male and female authors, and novels and short story collections.

The 2010 Giller Prize for Fiction longlist is:

- The Matter With Morris by David Bergen (Phyllis Bruce Books/HarperCollins)

- Player One by Douglas Coupland (House of Anansi Press)

- Cities Of Refuge by Michael Helm (McClelland & Stewart)

- Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod (Biblioasis)

- The Debba by Avner Mandelman (Other Press/Random House)

- The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (Dial/Random House)

- This Cake Is For The Party by Sarah Selecky (Thomas Allen Publishers)

- The Sentimentalists by Johanna Scabbard (Gaspereau Press)

- Lemon by Cordelia Strube (Coach House Books)

- Curiosity by Joan Thomas (McClelland & Stewart)

- Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart (McClelland & Stewart)

- Cool Water by Dianne Warren (Phyllis Bruce Books/HarperCollins)

- Annabel by Kathleen Winter (House of Anansi Press)

The shortlist will be announced at a Toronto news conference tomorrow October 5 and the 2010 Giller Prize winner will be announced November 9.

While I have you here, I’d like to mention that the five nominees for the City of Toronto Book Award were announced recently. They are:

- Prince of Neither Here Nor There by Sean Cullen (Penguin)
Valentine’s Fall by Cary Fagan (Cormorant)
Where We Have To Go by Lauren Kirshner (McClelland)
The Carnivore Mark Sinnett (ECW)
Diary of Interrupted Days by Dragan Topologic (Random House Canada)

The Toronto book award has been running annually since 1974. This year’s finalists will read selections from their works at the Word On The Street book and magazine festival in Toronto on September 26. The winner will be announced October 14.

September 25, 2010

September/October 2010 Issue Is Here!

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We can’t believe it’s true!

Head over and read our newly published September/October 2010 issue!

September 22, 2010

Oversung and Underpraised: Overrated and Underrated Canadian Writers

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BY JOHN COLEMAN

The National Post recently ran two pieces in its literary section, The Afterword, entitled Don’t Believe The Hype: 10 Overrated Canadian Authors, and, the next day, Flying Under The Radar: 10 Underrated Canadian Authors. The articles were penned by critics Alex Good and Steven W. Beattie.

In response to the articles, I would like to play devil’s advocate. Albeit I agree with some of Good and Beattie’s slams on big time CanLit monopolisers (I won’t sour you with my opinions), I feel that more than a few toes were stomped on in the more than pretentious analytical/critical slice of opinion. Below I reflect on what they think of CanLit today.

First off, the word Overrated. It’s no doubt that Yann Martel made the list, especially since his recent novel, Beatrice and Virgil, got almost all negative, and really negative, reviews. Yes guys, you saw the headlines too, thanks for the recap. Also on their hitlist are Douglas Coupland for being too much like Kurt Vonnegut; Michael Ondaatje for romanticising the new millennium in a cliché manner; and Anne Michaels and Jane Urquhart, more or less for having top sales.

If I may interject with one opinion, Joseph Boyden should not be on the overrated list. Good and Beattie knock Boyden’s two novels Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce for being stylistically and interpretively off the mark. Missed, however, is an acknowledgment of Boyden’s attempt to slash the colonial view of Native culture. Maybe if more than a handful of Native authors would be accepted into the scene, Boyden could be ruled out for bad writing. Until then, I praise any NativeLit authors, Boyden included, who truly represent Native culture in literature – a form, I remind, absent until the nineteen-eighties.

To give Good and Beattie some credit, they publicise writers who a lot of people don’t, although should, know in their Underrated list. And I agree, if it weren’t for corporate publishing labels worried most about the bottom line, there would be a chance for amazing writers currently dwarfed by Coupland, Michaels, Munro and Atwood. Almost all in the Underrated list were praised for stylistic mastering and pushing unconventional form, such as Sharon English, Clark Blaise, and Ray Smith. These authors, among others, are highlighted on the list for the average daily newspaper reader.

Enough about my take, what do you think? Is one of your favourites deemed overrated? Does an unsung writer you know fit the role of an underrated CanLit author? Are we just becoming too snobby? Or, is commercial literature an oxymoron – should it be chastised for ruining smaller writers’ chances? Leave a comment and have your say; one voice can’t speak for all of us.

September 13, 2010

Old School Book Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

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THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY
by Patricia Highsmith

W. W. Norton & Company
(June 2008, Originally pub. 1955, $13.95, 273 pages)

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith is a book that stays with me. I’ve read it twice. Knowing the plot twists and secrets the second time around did very little to take away the tension and suspense of this psychological thriller.

Tom Ripley is a 23-year-old living in New York City in the 1950s. He is liar and and a schemer with vague aspirations for better life. In Tom’s vision, better equals wealthy and includes every aspect of the lives of his affluent associates, including their sneering opinions of Ripley himself. He clings to people who barely tolerate his presence – a fact of which he’s well aware, yet he chooses to expose himself to disdain and contempt rather than seek out a more welcoming circle of companions. Funny, this is exactly what I believed The Great Gatsby might have thought of the clingy Nick had Fitzgerald gave him a voice!

Tom Ripley is not above any means of gaining a foothold to his vision of betterment. He extorts random people by impersonating an agent of the IRS and although his endeavor does not bring in any great sum of money, it is more of a glimpse into what Ripley is capable of doing. By targeting unassuming, run-of-the-mill, hard working people most likely to quickly pay a small fee to the IRS, Highsmith brilliantly portrays Ripley as clever, calculating and completely amoral. He knows the difference between right and wrong but he is utterly indifferent to either. This makes for a fascinating protagonist.

Ripley’s fortune takes an interesting turn at an opportune time. He is hired by wealthy ship builder, Herbert Greenleaf, with the mission to persuade Greenleaf’s son, Richard “Dickie” Greenleaf, to return to the proverbial helm of his father’s ship-building empire. Dickie’s life of ease in Mongibello, Italy displeases his wealthy father, who believes Dickie’s bohemian lifestyle is counterproductive to the heir of a shipbuilding magnate. Ripley, while only a mere acquaintance of Dickie’s, sees this opportunity as a new beginning and quite possibly the better life of his dreams.

Ripley, loaded with good intentions and bank-rolled by Herbert Greenleaf, finds Dickie in Mongibello in the company of Marge Sherwood, a sometimes friend, sometimes lover. Ripley’s envy and desire for a life he can never achieve resurface as the bottom quickly falls out of his well-intentioned goodie basket.

Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith takes the reader on a dark roller-coaster ride of deception, jealousy, deceit and murder, followed by evasion, more deceit, and more murder. Rather than chilling, senseless violence, Highsmith carefully crafts a mesmerizing tale of pursuit and near-miss as Ripley manages to stay just ahead of capture. He is crafty and calm even when in a panic. For the reader, the result is riveting.

In getting into the eerily empty room that is Tom Ripley’s conscience, I never thought I could sympathize with such a cold and calculating character, yet I was captivated. The story spirals horrifically and the building tension was incredible. I read this book well into the wee hours of the night because I simply could not put it down! It electrified me. There is not one fiber of my being that sympathizes with someone who harms others yet I could not bear the thought of Ripley’s failure. Wow!

Written in the 1950′s, Highsmith exquisitely captures the sense of time and place in New York City and of the enviable life of a wealthy American abroad. She describes in lovely detail the nuances that made life so wonderful for those Ripley admired that it made me want to go back and live there too. Her writing is elegant and clear, simple yet with the depth of distinction to deprive the reader from a restful night’s sleep. Sweetman’s advice: You must read this book!

~Sweetman

September 7, 2010

Old School Book Review: Stoner by John Williams

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STONER
by John Williams

NYRB Classics
(June 2006, $14.95, 288 pages)

How could a book about a reserved, quiet assistant professor of Classic English, Latin translation and grammar, set in a small southern college early in the twentieth century, be so incredibly riveting?

I know your eyes glazed over after the first half of the first sentence! Mine did too – as I wrote it! None of the pieces that make up this beautiful novel, originally published in 1965, had the ability to draw my slightest interest: dry academia, small college politics, poor farming to middle class life, unhappy marriage. It presents as so run-of-the-mill when in this day and age, only the epic will do.

Fear not! Don’t even despair for wading through several chapters to get the rhythm of the book because novelist John Williams (not the composer) writes with simple, direct and heart-achingly beautiful prose that will set you on a straight path.

The first paragraph is a clear outline of the novel beginning when our protagonist, William Stoner, enters the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910 at the age of nineteen and ending with, “Presented to the Library of the University of Missouri, in memory of William Stoner, Department of English. By his colleagues.” The rest that follows may well fall into the category of the perfectly written novel.

The novel’s humble beginning is much like the beginning of its subject. William Stoner was born to two uncomplicated, hard-working parents who’s goal in life was to raise a son who would take over the farm. The only snag in their plan was gifting their only son with enough brains to attend Missouri’s new university.

Initially this was not so much a tragedy as it is a delay his assumption of the family yoke. Stoner was to study “agronomy.” Then, in his sophomore year, his world was transformed by the power and pull of literature. There was no way to reconcile the two; it was either agriculture or English and for Stoner, there was no choice. He elected a life of literature with only one regret: breaking the news to his parents.

Living his life with the kind of certainty and purpose was not as easy as he hoped. Even in small circles of academia, petty arguments and misunderstandings grow and fester into lifelong, bitter resentments. Stoner’s inflexibility delivers him unto a path that, while others may find humiliating and limited, fills his time with purpose and a desire to be a better teacher.

Novelist John Williams

Meanwhile, the rest of his life remains unfulfilled. Stoner’s unhappy marriage to the mentally unbalanced Edith, a sheltered and shallow woman, is one of the saddest relationships that have ever lived in prose. His two friendships, while strong and lasting, do not provide him enough support or sustenance to let him leave his lonesome path or travel a wider road of male companionship. His daughter Grace, his delightful kindred spirit and true joy in his life until Edith interferes, is the embodiment of a product of two truly incompatible people. Stoner’s one true love, Katherine Driscoll, is half his age but equal in his brilliant passion and becomes his mistress. She provides him with a brief respite and the good fortune of a compatible woman that ends sadly and far too soon. They part before they become a University scandal that may jeopardized all they worked to achieve.

It is Stoner’s ability to carry on, to rise above evil but never preach or proselytize that I admire so much. He is not a martyr, but a strong man who is above all, human. Stoner is strong and true to the end, where he remains the same quiet, calm and never-regretful man of purpose.

While this might sound like a tragedy – which in all aspects I believe it is the Great American Tragedy – it is neither maudlin, sappy nor wallowing in self-pity. I could not get Stoner off my mind when I finished it (which I have to confess was in a puddle of tears while flying from San Fransisco to Boston – not my ideal spot for ending such a brilliant novel). I re-read passages and was able to gain more insight from a second look. I found it hard to start something new because I couldn’t even think of another novel that could top it. I was able to find a rare interview with John Williams about Stoner. In the interview, he regarded his protagonist as a hero who lead a good life doing the things he wanted to do. Well, honestly, what’s so sad about that?

~Sweetman

September 1, 2010

Book Trailer of the Week: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

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Dan Chaon‘s Await Your Reply, recently in paperback in the U.S., examines the lives of three strangers who interconnect in unforeseen ways. Miles Cheshire can’t stop searching for the twin brother who’s been missing for ten years, alive but unwilling to be found. A few days after her high school graduation, Lucy Lattimore leaves her small town in Ohio with her former history teacher, only to end up at a deserted Nebraska hotel. College student Ryan Schulyer abruptly leaves his life one day. Presumed dead, Ryan attempts to remake himself through any means possible.

The book trailer is perhaps one of the most disturbing we’ve seen – not because the images are particularly upsetting, but because the narrator’s voice and tone worm into your head and expand into your nightmares.

August 21, 2010

Super Sad True… Whatever. Just Watch It.

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Gary Shteyngart‘s satiric novel Super Sad True Love Story was released in late July and here at this we wonder how we could have possibly missed the book trailer for what is the most star-studded and bizarre-o trailer ever for a book. Shteyngart is listed as one of The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40″ though the book trailer leads one to question, does he deserve it?

Authors Mary Gaitskill, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Jay McInerney all make appearances, in addition to actor James Franco and some very svelte Mt. Holyoke debutantes.

According to Eugenides, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Middlesex “Gary [Shteyngart] has managed to escape the anxiety of influence by the sheer fact that he has never read a word.”

Catch the trailer below. It’s long but totally worth it, especially if you’re a book nerd.

August 20, 2010

Booker Prize Canadian Nominees

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BY JOHN COLEMAN

The longlist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction was announced July 27, narrowing down an initial 138 nominations to thirteen runners. Being this‘s CanLit correspondent, I am pleased to report that two Canadian authors have made it through to this year’s Booker Baker’s Dozen. The Northern hopefuls are Emma Donoghue for her novel Room, and Lisa Moore for February.

Emma Donoghue is an Irish-born writer who settled in London, Ontario in 1998. Writing professionally since the age of twenty-three, Donoghue writes fiction, drama, young adult, historical and literary fiction, and short stories. Hitting the literary scene in the early nineties, her first novels focused on contemporary life in Dublin. Most recently she has published a historical fiction trilogy made up of Slammerkin (2000), Life Mask (2004), and The Sealed Letter (2008), which investigate the British class system from the fourteenth century until the eighteenth century. Room (September 2010) is the tale of young boy Jack and mother, Ma, who reside in a room. Jack has never seen the outside world, until he escapes amidst dire circumstances. Donoghue has won several literary awards, including the 2009 Lambda Award for best Lesbian Fiction for The Sealed Letter (also longlisted for the 2008 Giller Prize), and the 2002 Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction for Slammerkin.

Emma Donoghue

Lisa Moore


Lisa Moore is a St. John’s native and studied at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She has released two short story collections, Degrees of Nakedness (1995) and Open (2002) which was nominated for the Giller Prize. Her first novel Alligator (2005) won the 2006 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize Best Book Award for the Caribbean and Canada region. Her 2010 Booker longlisted novel February tells the story of one Helen O’Mara who is haunted by the loss of her husband Cal who died in an oil rig accident in 1982.

Food for thought, the entire 2010 Booker longlist is as follows:

–Peter Carey for Parrot and Olivier in America (Faber and Faber)
–Emma Donoghue for Room (Pan MacMillan – Picador)
–Helen Dunmore for The Betrayal (Penguin – Fig Tree)
–Damon Galgut for In a Strange Room (Grove Atlantic – Atlantic Books)
–Howard Jacobson for The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury)
–Andrea Levy for The Long Song (Headline Publishing Group – Headline Review)
–Tom McCarthy for C (Random House – Jonathan Cape)
–David Mitchell for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Hodder & Stoughton – Sceptre)
–Lisa Moore for February (Random House – Chatto & Windus)
–Paul Murray for Skippy Dies (Penguin – Hamish Hamilton)
–Rose Tremain for Trespass (Random House – Chatto & Windus)
–Christos Tsiolkas for The Slap (Grove Atlantic – Tuskar Rock)
–Alan Warner The Stars in the Bright Sky (Random House – Jonathan Cape)

The 2010 shortlist of six authors will be announced September 7, 2010 and the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction winner will be announced October 12, 2010.

August 19, 2010

Book Review: White Masks by Elias Khoury

by thiszine

WHITE MASKS
by Elias Khoury
Translated from the Arabic by Maia Tabet

Archipelago Books
June 2010, £14.60/$22, 250 pages)


Civil war-era Beirut is a filthy, damaged mess. Posters of martyrs peel from the walls, fridges sit endlessly without electricity and start to smell, husbands take unsuitable second wives, children run mad in the streets and militiamen might loot your house and rape your grandmother or show surprising mercy. Somewhere in this city which is a distorted shadow of itself, the body of retired post office worker Khalil Ahmad Jaber is discovered naked to the waist and full of puncture wounds. Simply another random horror, a line in a newspaper to be swiftly forgotten as just one among many other bodies?

Not so; the fate of Khalil Ahmad Jaber attracts the attention of a bored travel agent and frustrated journalist, though this is no tale of crime-solving or redemption. The narrator opens with the dampening sentiment that the story ‘may not be of particular interest to readers, as people these days have more important things to do that read stories or listen to tales. And they’re absolutely right.’ Intrigued largely by the fact that no-one seems to have had a reason to do away with the victim, he talks to people who knew the man and pieces together as much as he can of the case from newspapers and official reports; the novel is made up of his findings. As people are wont to do, his interviewees talk about their lives as much as they do about the case; the disruptions, losses, killings and sheer surrealist madness that they, one way or another, are surviving. Strength and humanity, tenderness and brutality, damaged minds and the tides of filth and immorality that people casually accept or try to counter – all these emerge in various forms. Through it all, the unexpected soul of Khalil Ahmad Jaber haunts his many biographers, still fretting, perhaps, that he died before he was able to cover the whole city in a mask of white lime.

Lebanese literary legend Elias Khoury published ‘White Masks’ in 1981, but it only became available in English translation this year. As Beirut fractures unrecognisably once more in its post-war incarnation – though through the rapacious appetites of tower block developers rather than sectarian sniping – and the drums of regional war rattle away intermittently in the newspapers, the fetid breath of conflict and the psychological impacts it wreaks that rise from the pages of Khoury’s novel are dreadfully unnerving. The Lebanese are still living with the suppressed memories of their wars, even as their capital city booms wildly, overflowing with tourists and investment. The return of ‘White Masks’ to the bookshelves is an uncomfortable reminder of how close the past is, and of the fragility of the many faces of the city.

~Ellen Hardy

July 28, 2010

Badass Jane Austen

by thiszine

We always knew there was more to Lady Jane than corsets and manners.

July 27, 2010

Man Booker Longlist Announced

by thiszine

The “Man Booker Dozen,” 13 books longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, were announced today. The longlist includes:

–Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America

–Emma Donoghue, Room

–Helen Dunmore, The Betrayal

–Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room

–Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question

–Andrea Levy, The Long Song

–Tom McCarthy, C

–David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

–Lisa Moore, February

–Paul Murray, Skippy Dies

–Rose Tremain, Trespass

–Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap

–Alan Warner, The Stars in the Bright Sky

The 2010 shortlist will be announced Tuesday, September 7, so read these books while they’re hot!

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