Books I Read over Summer 2010

  • Jacob Slichter, So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star: How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful of Record Executive and Other True tales from a Drummer’s Life (2004) – after all these years this was disappointing but hey, now I know and I probably don’t ever need to read it again.
  • Robert Kroetch, The Man From The Creeks (1998) – I liked this! What a fun, quick thing to read.
  • Douglas Coupland, Miss Wyoming (1999) – What a waste of time it was to read this! And, subsequently, to write about it. Not quite the worst book I read this summer.
  • V.S. Naipaul, The Enigma Of Arrival (1987) – I just happened to read this review by Salman Rushdie, from The Guardian in 1987 – and this is what I felt at the time, the sadness and remove. I really enjoyed reading this, aside from my week with a fever when I was stuck at home with it, and nothing else at all.
  • David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (1989) – And this took me another three weeks but they were rich and wonderful weeks. It was while reading this that I started eating at Sunflower Bubble Tea all the time. Closer to work than anything on Kingsway and also cheaper than most of what I would I would eat on Kingsway.
  • Steven Heighton, Flight Paths of the Emperor (1992) – I remember reading this at Jiro, the sushi restaurant across from Kingsgate Mall.  Trying to find something small and manageable after two great big narratives and maybe this was too small entirely. I started to read this last November and gave up in the face of NaNoWrioMo.
  • Stephen Amidon, Human Capital (2004) – I wrote about this at the time and while I feel more forgiving towards it now I still stand by my initial take. I remember reading this at Sunflower Bubble Tea, at lunch, on Joyce st.
  • Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis (2003)I either started or finished this at Our Town café. I enjoyed this a lot more the second time. I read this first in September 2006, just after buying it at Powell’s in Portland, in the escalating heat of the impeachment process we were undertaking at SFU that semester.
  • Robert Sullivan, Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants (2004) – I had this on me for a bike ride across the city and ended up reading a lot of it one day at the end of my trip, on a rock at the Point Grey Foreshore – between Kitsilano and Jericho beaches. It is about rats and also about New York and, well, it’s a memoir of sorts too and I appreciated it in that escalating order.
  • Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho (1991) – I specifically worked to finish this before a long-planned hiking trip to Lynn Valley, because this was the last book I wanted to read while eating my lunch at the end of the trail. I liked this, I really did – even more so after I saw the movie.
  • Miranda July, No One Belongs Here More Than You (2007) – A birthday present from my friend Haida! What was as different from American Psycho as possible? This came close but not quite – we are still dealing with recent American fiction about people and constructed identities. I liked this but I can hardly remember it.
  • Joseph Weisberg, An Ordinary Spy (2008) – I can remember even less of this but I think I liked it less as well. I remember reading this in just two or three days, on my balcony at 8th and Fraser. The gimmick – he blacks out sections of the text as if it had been censored (or, maybe it was actually censored, because he was actually in the CIA? whoa.) – doesn’t matter that much in the end because the story is not that interesting. The central argument – being a spy is kinda dull and full of a lot of bureaucratic process and James Bond isn’t actually real – was not new to me.
  • Mark McKinnon, The New Cold War: Revolutions, Rigged Elections, and Pipeline Politics in the Former Soviet Union (2007) – what a great book, what a great context for my favourite part of the world. I wanted this book to keep going and going.
  • Colin Thubron, The Lost Heart of Asia (1994) – I tried to read this in January, after finishing The Great Game but I found it hard to keep with the subject matter and switch to a different author. Peter Hopkirk is sober and solid and Colin Thubron is getting really drunk with these dudes in Turkmenistan just 40 pages in here and the shift in focus was too abrupt. So, in January I read Martin Amis instead and read this in the summer. The New Cold War is more journalism than narrative, so it was easier to switch perspective this time. What a neat part of the world.
  • Jenny Diski, Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions (2002) – Travel/memoir, what a fantastic category. I didn’t really see what was going on here until the end, when our narrator follows up on a momentary contact with an extended visit and the sheer terror of it all, I don’t think I’ve ever read a better description of such a peculiar, specific anxiety.
  • Keith Maillard, Gloria (1999) – My favourite book of the year. I read this over a week. I was ready to spend so much more time with it but I couldn’t – it read as though it would never end so I kept going and going. I would ride my bike down to Main and 1st and then across the Dunsmuir Viaduct, up Burrard to the Coal Harbour seawall and then around the water – Stanley Park, English Bay, Yaletown – until I made it back up to Main and 6th where I would cool down on the patio at the Whip, drink beer and read Gloria all afternoon. The best of the summer – my life in Mount Pleasant.
  • Neil Steinberg, Drunkard: A Hard-Drinking Life (2008) – the worst book I read this summer! The quick bio describes the author as a ‘columnist’ but it does not say that he writes a ‘lifestyle’ column, a ‘what I’m thinking about today!’ column, a social-norm-reinforcement column. And that’s more or less how he writes this book. I can read a memoir by a guy who is a jerk so long as the question of whether he is a jerk is explored to some degree. In this case, his story dispenses with the fact that he is a jerk only as a joke, a crutch. The story starts when he hits his wife and this anecdote is related almost in the sense of “we’ve all been there, hey, guys?” I appreciate distancing devices in text but only when deployed with some awareness of the distance. This guy is just a jerk.
  • Siri Hustvedt, What I Loved (2003) – What a joy to find a novel on the shelf, take it home, read it a week later and fall inside of it.
  • Elizabeth Royte, Garbage Land: On The Secret Trail Of Trash (2005) – This is a sequel to Rats, in that it is about garbage, but also about New York and, well, a memoir of sorts too.  Most of what it tells me about garbage is inapplicable to my own life here in Vancouver and the fact that I know what does and does not translate, for the most part, between New York and  Vancouver’s waste disposal streams means that this book is not for me. But I liked it, nevertheless. Since I was reading National Geographics as a 12-year-old I’ve wanted to know more about the Fresh Kills landfill and now I do.
  • Tracy Kidder, The Soul of a New Machine, (1981) –  I saw this on the shelf and put it back. I went home and read about it. I went back to PulpFiction and looked at it again. I went back a week later when I got paid and I brought it home and now I can’t believe that I almost left it on the shelf.
  • Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr Ripley (1955) – the most startling book I read this summer. I was caught up in a horrible anxious Saturday afternoon until I realized, no, it’s not me, it’s not my life: it’s the book. Gloria took my breath away but this book scared me, made me check the room, over my shoulder, and check to see who I was after all at the end.
  • Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky (1949) – I did not like this as much as I hoped to or might have under a different situation (i.e. not reading right after a much better book).
  • Stefan Maechler, The Wilkomirski Affair: A Study in Biographical Truth (2000) – just as with The Soul of a New Machine, I looked at this on the shelf, did some research, went back and brought it home. This is the very best sort of history and a wonderful, layered, sensitive treatment of a sensational mess. In 1995 a Holocaust memoir titled Fragments, the concentration camp memories of a child, is released and begins to win awards. In 1998, there are accusations that the author, Binjamin Wilkomirski, is in fact Bruno Grosjean, a Swiss child who made the whole story up. Stefan Maechler is a historian who was subsequently hired by the original publisher of Fragments to ascertain its veracity and this book is his report. Not only does he cover the entire lives of Binjamin Wilkomirski and Bruno Grosjean but also the situation of post-WWII orphans, the phenomenon of the modern Holocaust memoir, and the essential whys of the whole debacle.
  • J.M. Coetzee, Youth (2002) – I read most of this on the patio at Habit on Main, where I had lunch for three days on my staycation.
  • Joan Didion, Democracy (1984) – I couldn’t read this for the longest time, strangely enough. What a thrill.
  • George Orwell, Burmese Days (1934) – 50 years earlier than Democracy but the same themes and sense, in a way. I started this hiking alone in Lynn Valley.
  • Ann Patchett, Bel Canto (2001) – I started and stopped five books before this and kept reading it through September.


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2 responses to “Books I Read over Summer 2010

  1. Sam

    Sounds like a great summer. I want to see this new cafe now.

    I’ve only read two on your list, which is 200% more than the previous lists.

    Bel Canto was one of my favorite books around 2004. I remember starting it when I was taking classical singing lessons and just being swept up in how she describes the rapture of the audience.

    I also read the Elizabeth Royte book on my camping trip this summer. I was quite frustrated with her. Although I appreciate that she was trying to keep her thesis quite narrow, in contrast to reading Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff at the same time, this book does not quite hold up.

  2. Thanks for reminding me about Rats. I meant to pick it up when it came out and then I forgot about it – I’ll be on the hunt now. Also I hadn’t heard about Garbage Land – added to the list.

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