January 2, 2016 at 2:30 am #203263
I’m thinking of aiming for something crazy like 52 books this year, which would be about twice my normal pace and would make a good dent in the 178 unread books on my shelf. Wish me luck!
(Granted 52 books is not particularly crazy compared to my pace of reading 10 books per week the summer of 1986 when I worked as a security guard at a construction site in the middle of nowhere.)January 9, 2016 at 7:00 am #245458
1. David Mitchell – Black Swan Green (2006)
From award-winning writer David Mitchell comes a sinewy, meditative novel of boyhood on the cusp of adulthood and the old on the cusp of the new.
Black Swan Green tracks a single year in what is, for thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor, the sleepiest village in muddiest Worcestershire in a dying Cold War England, 1982. But the thirteen chapters, each a short story in its own right, create an exquisitely observed world that is anything but sleepy. A world of Kissingeresque realpolitik enacted in boys’ games on a frozen lake; of “nightcreeping” through the summer backyards of strangers; of the tabloid-fueled thrills of the Falklands War and its human toll; of the cruel, luscious Dawn Madden and her power-hungry boyfriend, Ross Wilcox; of a certain Madame Eva van Outryve de Crommelynck, an elderly bohemian emigré who is both more and less than she appears; of Jason’s search to replace his dead grandfather’s irreplaceable smashed watch before the crime is discovered; of first cigarettes, first kisses, first Duran Duran LPs, and first deaths; of Margaret Thatcher’s recession; of Gypsies camping in the woods and the hysteria they inspire; and, even closer to home, of a slow-motion divorce in four seasons.
Pointed, funny, profound, left-field, elegiac, and painted with the stuff of life, Black Swan Green is David Mitchell’s subtlest and most effective achievement to date.January 17, 2016 at 6:19 pm #245459
2. Randall Munroe – Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words (2015)
Have you ever tried to learn more about some incredible thing, only to be frustrated by incomprehensible jargon? Randall Munroe is here to help. In Thing Explainer, he uses line drawings and only the thousand (or, rather, ten hundred”) most common words to provide simple explanations for some of the most interesting stuff there is, including:
– food-heating radio boxes (microwaves)
– tall roads (bridges)
– computer buildings (datacenters)
– the shared space house (the International Space Station)
– the other worlds around the sun (the solar system)
– the big flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates)
– the pieces everything is made of (the periodic table)
– planes with turning wings (helicopters)
– boxes that make clothes smell better (washers and dryers)
– the bags of stuff inside you (cells)
How do these things work? Where do they come from? What would life be like without them? And what would happen if we opened them up, heated them up, cooled them down, pointed them in a different direction, or pressed this button? In Thing Explainer, Munroe gives us the answers to these questions and so many more. Funny, interesting, and always understandable, this book is for anyone-age 5 to 105-who has ever wondered how things work, and why.January 18, 2016 at 5:59 am #245460
3. Don DeLillo – Falling Man (2007)
There is September 11 and then there are the days after, and finally the years.
Falling Man is a magnificent, essential novel about the event that defines turn-of-the-century America. It begins in the smoke and ash of the burning towers and tracks the aftermath of this global tremor in the intimate lives of a few people.
First there is Keith, walking out of the rubble into a life that he’d always imagined belonged to everyone but him. Then Lianne, his estranged wife, memory-haunted, trying to reconcile two versions of the same shadowy man. And their small son Justin, standing at the window, scanning the sky for more planes.
These are lives choreographed by loss, grief, and the enormous force of history.
Brave and brilliant, Falling Man traces the way the events of September 11 have reconfigured our emotional landscape, our memory and our perception of the world. It is cathartic, beautiful, heartbreaking.January 30, 2016 at 7:26 pm #245461
4. Alexander Pushkin – Eugene Onegin (1837?, translated by Charles Johnson 1977)
Eugene Onegin is the master work of the poet whom Russians regard as the fountainhead of their literature. Set in 1820s imperial Russia, Pushkin’s novel in verse follows the emotions and destiny of three men – Onegin the bored fop, Lensky the minor elegiast, and a stylized Pushkin himself – and the fates and affections of three women – Tatyana the provincial beauty, her sister Olga, and Pushkin’s mercurial Muse. Engaging, full of suspense, and varied in tone, it also portrays a large cast of other characters and offers the reader many literary, philosophical, and autobiographical digressions, often in a highly satirical vein.January 30, 2016 at 11:52 pm #245462
5. Gilgamesh and Enkidu
Miraculously preserved in clay tablets, the famous Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, from which this extract is taken, dates from the third millennium B.C. and is the finest surviving epic poem before Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. Both mortal and a god, Gilgamesh is superior to all men in looks and strength. He finds a companion in Enkidu and a firm friendship ensues. Enkidu’s fate is sealed when their adventures incur the wrath of the gods and Gilgamesh is left to contemplate the inevitability of death.January 31, 2016 at 6:06 pm #245463
6. Stephen King – Finders Keepers (2015)
A masterful, intensely suspenseful novel about a reader whose obsession with a reclusive writer goes far too far—a book about the power of storytelling, starring the same trio of unlikely and winning heroes King introduced in Mr. Mercedes.
“Wake up, genius.” So begins King’s instantly riveting story about a vengeful reader. The genius is John Rothstein, an iconic author who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn’t published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel.
Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Saubers finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he’s released from prison after thirty-five years.
Not since Misery has King played with the notion of a reader whose obsession with a writer gets dangerous. Finders Keepers is spectacular, heart-pounding suspense, but it is also King writing about how literature shapes a life—for good, for bad, forever.February 2, 2016 at 6:07 am #245464
7. Guy Vanderhaeghe – Daddy Lenin and Other Stories (2015)
WINNER 2015 — Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction
Bestselling author Guy Vanderhaeghe’s new book of fiction is both timely and timeless and showcases his supreme talent as a storyteller and poignant observer of the human condition.
Among these nine addictive and resonant stories: A teenage boy breaks out of the strict confines of his family, his bid for independence leads him in over his head. He learns about life in short order and there is no turning back. An actor’s penchant for hiding behind a role, on and off stage, is tested to the limits and what he comes to discover finally places him face to face with the truth. With his mother hospitalized for a nervous condition and his father away on long work stints, a boy is sent to another family for his meals. His gradually building relationship with a teenage daughter who has been left handicapped from Polio opens unexpected doors to the world. In the powerful title story, a middle-aged man remeets his former adviser at university, a charismatic and domineering professor dubbed Daddy Lenin. As their tense reunion progresses, secrets from the past painfully revise remembered events and threaten to topple the scaffolding of a marriage.
With Daddy Lenin and Other Stories, award-winning author Guy Vanderhaeghe returns once again to the form that launched his stellar literary career. Here is a grand master writing at the height of his powers.February 8, 2016 at 5:58 am #245465
8. Michel Houellebecq – The Map and the Territory (2010)
The most celebrated and controversial French novelist of our time delivers a riveting masterpiece about art and money, love and friendship, and fathers and sons.
Jed Martin is an artist. His first photographs feature Michelin road maps, and global success arrives with his series on professions: portraits of various personalities, including a writer named Houellebecq. Not long afterward, Jed helps a police inspector solve a heinous crime that leaves lasting marks on everyone involved. But after burying his father and growing old himself, Jed also discovers serenity, a deeply moving conclusion to a life of lovers, friends, and family, and filled with hopes, losses, and dreams.February 14, 2016 at 8:00 am #245466
9. Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises (1926)
The quintessential novel of the Lost Generation, The Sun Also Rises is one of Ernest Hemingway’s masterpieces and a classic example of his spare but powerful writing style.
A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway’s most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. First published in 1926, The Sun Also Rises helped establish Hemingway as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.February 20, 2016 at 10:08 pm #245467
10. Margaret Atwood – Stone Mattress (2014)
In Margaret Atwood’s stunning new collection of stories, her first since her #1 nationally bestselling 2006 collection, Moral Disorder, she returns to the here and now in this brilliant, new collection of stories.
In these nine dazzlingly inventive and rewarding stories, Margaret Atwood’s signature dark humour, playfulness, and deadly seriousness are in abundance. In “Freeze-Dried Bridegroom,” a man who bids on a storage locker has a surprise. In “Lusus Naturae,” a woman with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In “I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth,” we remeet Tony, Charis, and Roz from The Robber Bride, but, years later, as their nemesis is seen in an unexpected form. In “Torching the Dusties,” an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet’s syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. In “Stone Mattress,” a long-ago crime is revenged in the Arctic. This is classic Margaret Atwood, and she is at the very top of her form.February 24, 2016 at 10:40 am #245468
11. Roberto Bolano – The Third Reich (2010)
On vacation with his girlfriend, Ingeborg, the German war games champion Udo Berger returns to a small town on the Costa Brava where he spent the summers of his childhood. Soon they meet another vacationing German couple, Charly and Hanna, who introduce them to a band of locals—the Wolf, the Lamb, and El Quemado—and to the darker side of life in a resort town.
Late one night, Charly disappears without a trace, and Udo’s well-ordered life is thrown into upheaval; while Ingeborg and Hanna return to their lives in Germany, he refuses to leave the hotel. Soon he and El Quemado are enmeshed in a round of Third Reich, Udo’s favourite World War II strategy game, and Udo discovers that the game’s consequences may be all too real.
Written in 1989 and found among Roberto Bolaño’s papers after his death, The Third Reich is a stunning exploration of memory and violence. Reading this quick, visceral novel, we see a world-class writer coming into his own—and exploring for the first time the themes that would define his masterpieces The Savage Detectives and 2666.March 13, 2016 at 3:18 am #245469
12. Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go (2005)
From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, comes an unforgettable edge-of-your-seat mystery that is at once heartbreakingly tender and morally courageous about what it means to be human.
Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.
Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.
Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.March 18, 2016 at 5:11 am #245470
13. Rudy Rucker – The Hacker and the Ants (1994)
From a two-time winner of the Philip K. Dick award, and one of the founding fathers of cyberpunk comes a novel about a very modern nightmare: the most destructive computer virus ever has been traced to your machine. Computer programmer Jerzy Rugby spends his days blissfully hacking away in cyberspace — aiding the GoMotion Corporation in its noble quest to create intelligent robots. Then an electronic ant gets into the machinery … then more ants …. then millions and millions of the nasty viral pests appear out of nowhere to wreak havoc throughout the Net. And suddenly Jerzy Rugby is Public Enemy Number One, wanted for sabotage, computer crime, and treason — a patsy who must now get to the bottom of the virtual insectile plagueApril 10, 2016 at 5:52 am #245471
14. Peter Høeg – The History of Danish Dreams (1988)
In a Danish feudal castle, 1520, a count believes he has pinpointed the center of the universe–a patch of land on his estate. But when his discovery is met with disbelief, he walls off his mansion and has all of the clocks stopped. Four centuries pass instantaneously, and the count’s young secretary, Carl, emerges from isolation to find a world bursting with war, innovation, love, sexuality, danger, and all the values of the sixteenth century turned upside down as though by supernatural forces–namely, the force of history. From one of our most gifted international writers comes a dazzling epic fairy tale, a tough fable about the gifts and iniquities of progress.
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