What I read in Spring 2009

January

  • “The Great Game: The Race for Empire in Central Asia,” Peter Hopkirk (1990) – from PulpFiction, last fall or maybe late summer. I started this last November when I was working on my NaNoWriMo and put it aside after maybe 100 pages. I was scared that I couldn’t focus on history anymore but no, I just needed less outside narrative while I was trying to build my own. the next 400 pages were great; what a wonderful moment in history.
  • “The Information,” Martin Amis (1995) – from PulpFiction as well, one of the ‘Books for Men’ that I picked up in November after the New Democrat convention was finished. And again, a book I started and put aside in December, after maybe 40 pages, in favour of Alice Munro. And again, I was scared that I couldn’t focus on a dense novel but no, I just needed something calmer at the time. This was one of my favourite books of the period and one I want to read again.
  • “Vancouver Special,’ Charlie Demers (2009) – an Xmas gift from my dad last year. When I stopped reading this as a book about Vancouver and started reading it as memoir (i.e. these are not attested truths but rather Charlie’s truths) I went right through in four hours or so.
  • “My Father The Spy: An Investigative Memoir,” John Richardson (2005) – from Powell’s, last summer. Not as good as I hoped it might be but very very good. The story of the CIA from Vienna to Athens to Saigon to Korea
  • “Zamboni Rodeo: Chasing Hockey Dreams from Austin to Albuquerque,” Jason Cohen (2001) – borrowed from my dad. The story of a season in the ECHL. So close but it just reads as a collection of the magazine pieces he was initially working on.
  • “The Boat,” Nam Le (2008) – from Elliot Bay Book Co. in Seattle, from my lonely October trip to see Steely Dan. On Mike Hingston’s recommendation. I skipped the Hiroshima story entirely but really enjoyed other stories here. I read this in Harrison Hot Springs and on the West Coast Express, heading back to Vancouver that Tuesday morning.

February

  • “The Tailor of Panama,” John le Carre (1996) – from a thrift store in North Vancouver that I stopped at on my way down to the Seabus after speaking on a UPass panel at Cap College. I wondered several times if I would ever actually read this book but with a sense of the area now from Joan Didion I really enjoyed this.
  • “Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire,” Alex Abella (2008) – from Powell’s last summer. Just as much fun as I wanted it to be. I remember reading this at Jambo Grill on Kingsway.
  • “I, Shithead: A Life in Punk,” Joey Shithead (2003) – an Xmas gift from my dad in 2003, I think. I read this on the ferry.
  • “The Politics of Resentment: British Columbia Regionalism and Canadian Unity,” Philip Resnick (2000) – from SFU somewhere, either left in a hallway outside some office on the 6th floor AQ or else left in a pile at the student society. Why did I read this on vacation? It only took a day, in Port Alberni.
  • “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency,” Barton Gellman (2008) – from PulpFiction this spring, one of my pre-Monday night trivia book runs. I read this on the beach in Tofino.
  • “And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief As Photos,” John Berger (1984) – from the same Pulp Fiction run as ‘The Information” last November. I’ll need to read this again. You can read it, paragraph by paragraph, each day, here.
  • “Rabbit, Run,” John Updike (1960) – from Powell’s last summer. I managed to buy all four of these before reading any which is a debatable strategy. I had a hard time breaking into this in Tofino – the disjunction between the west coast in spring and horrible sweltering Pennsylvania was too much. But I will read the rest.
  • “Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig’s War Against Big Oil,” Andrew Nikiforuk (2001) – from a discount rack at the Broadway Book Warehouse in 2006, I think. Hooray, this was almost great but I need to readjust my expectations for books by journalists. I have facts here and information but I do not have a location in history. But again, this is solely my problem.

March

  • “No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies,” Naomi Klein (2000) – a birthday present from my parents in 2001. First read in May 2001. This came to be a bit of a grind by the end but I’m glad I read it again, ten years later. The only book by a woman I read this spring interestingly enough.
  • “White Noise,” Don DeLillo (1985) – I can’t even remember where I got this. first read in 2001 I think and again in 2006 and now a third time. I read this at the Light Bar in Gastown when I was in no mood to dance but the beer was good and in the lineup for the washroom someone asked me how it ended, “I started it last year but didn’t finish it! what happens!?” Another guy took a photo of me reading and said “Hey, that’s fitting!” when I showed him what it was.
  • “Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures,” Vincent Lam (2005) – from Bibliophile on Commercial. This won the Giller Prize oddly enough and all I could think of was one of my very favourite columns from Leah McLaren: I’m keeping my eyes off the literary prize. This was fast and easy but really inconsequential.
  • “Sweeter Than All The World,” Rudy Wiebe (2001) – from Bibliophile on Commercial, sometime in 2009. Another book that I thought I may never end up actually reading. And as a contrast to “Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures,” what a thrill. If you can write, and write well, you can write a 400+ page book where nothing even really happens and if you can’t write well you can write a soap opera in short story form and win a Giller I guess. On the back, a quote calls this “a construct of iron tongs and stone” which is such a wonderful description for a novel.
  • “The Northern Lights,” Howard Norman (1987) – from Bibliophile on Commercial, on the $3 shelf. A small story that hardly made an impact but I remember enjoying. I finished this in the waiting room at the little walk-in clinic on Commercial and 10th.

April

  • “Single & Single,” John le Carre (1999) – from Powell’s, last summer. I kept waiting for this to get big and panoramic but it never really opened up and, if anything, narrowed in focus.
  • “The Book of Illusions,” Paul Auster (2002) – from PulpFiction this spring, maybe in March. I’ve written about this before; surprisingly a really wonderful book to read.
  • “The Rebel Sell: Why The Culture Can’t Be Jammed,” Joseph Heath & Andrew Potter (2004) – from MacLeod’s Books downtown, in 2008. I read this that same year in September, just before starting that fall’s Kingsway campaign. Just as much fun now as then, if not more so.

Now two days into a fever that shows no indication of breaking beyond horrible taunting two-hours gaps. And I can’t read or I guess I just don’t know what to read – not a good book, not my favourite book, nothing that will stick in my memory as “that book I read when I was sick.” Maybe science fiction, then.

In the photo you can see what I did this spring: only red, black, grey, white spines. It was a tactic to narrow down my bookshelf to something manageable and test myself against an arbitrary (and absurd) limit. I almost made it too but by the end of April I would compare my remaining (and substantial) pile of red-black-gray-white spines with this growing pile of blue, green, yellow, orange, wonderful new books that I just couldn’t wait to break into.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “What I read in Spring 2009

  1. AvB

    Once I move and have gotten through the many other books you’ve lent me, I’d like to read Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig’s War Against Big Oil. I think I’m expected to return to Grande Prairie sometime this summer. I was asked if I’d heard of him on the last visit. For a fairly “lefty” family, they had surprisingly little to say. I think I’m still too new to engage in that controversy. Regardless, I’d like to know what its all about.

    At the moment I have four stories left in the Alice Munroe you lent me and am a third of the way through the 33 1/3 on Celine Dion.

  2. Glad you liked THE BOAT. I don’t really remember the Hiroshima story, but “Halflead Bay” and the first one really stick with me. The writer getting shot and not realizing it… the lesbian vampire meta-joke… so much being juggled, so well.

    And you should definitely try some more Amis if you were able to stomach THE INFORMATION. (It’s one of my least favourites.) May I suggest SUCCESS next?

  3. I actually have ‘London Fields’ and ‘Experience’ on my shelf now for the summer, for no particular reason other than that they were there at the bookstore. Will look for ‘Success’ as well.

    Re. the Boat, the first story was probably my favourite.

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