What I read in Summer 2011

As I wrote last July, I had a difficult time landing on a book for some time last summer and now it seems to have been an equally difficult time writing about the books that I did manage to find.

Summer 2011

The last of my books at 8th and Fraser.

May

  • John McPhee, Oranges (1967) – I took just two days off between campaigns, between New West and Kitsilano. All I really remember is being at sea, at a total loss for what to do with myself and this was the joke, once I started in Point Grey. I took on another campaign to delay my reentry into society. I carried Oranges with me for the first 11 days of May and finally went through it, less than 200 pages, when the campaign was over and we’d lost.  What a wonderful book, and one of my favourite quotes: “Later writers have guessed that Volckamer was ignorant of the effects of frost. My own belief is that science erases what was previously true. The earth was the centre of the universe until Copernicus rearranged it. Life did begin in Eden before Darwin restyled in. In the early eighteenth century in Nuremberg, a woman did sit in the branches of a orange tree and kill it to the ground.
  • Paul Auster, Man In The Dark (2008) – I was just racing through this, my first novel in a lifetime. Lesser Auster, I think but the same wonderful narrative force as ever. From PulpFiction.
  • Bret Easton Ellis, The Rules Of Attraction (1987) – Oh, what a bleak thing this is. From PulpFiction.
  • Joseph O’Neill, Netherland (2008) – This was great; a perfect small novel. I remember reading this on the patio at the Whip. From Pulpfiction.
  • Kenneth J Harvey, Inside (2007) – I don’t think I have anything to say about this at all. I was trying to find new Canadian novels on the discount tables at Book Warehouse. Maybe, unlike the rest of the country, I’m just not that interested in the Maritimes?
  • Patricia Highsmith, Strangers On A Train (1950) – I might not read any more of these (so I say after I’ve bought two gigantic short story collections), no matter how exhilarating. If I read a novel to get a reaction, to provoke – and this is the point is it not – then yes but if my breath is caught and I live in a small panic? I can’t imagine how crazy I’d go if I was alone, out of town, on a plane, reading this. From the front cover: “not to be recommended for the weak-minded.” Well, there we have it. I think this is from Russell Books in Victoria, from when I stayed at the Empress for the 2010 CA convention.

June

  • John le Carre, Smiley’s People (1979) – I read this to and from Seattle on the train, and in Seattle on the bus and at the top of the library downtown. What I remember most is the density and the pace and the wonderful scene from the BBC version, which I watched subsequently, with Smiley and Toby Esterhaze: “You do not buy photographs from Otto Leipzig; you don’t buy Degas from Signor Benati, you follow me?” This is such a thrill.
  • Daniel Gawthrop, The Rice Queen Diaries: A Memoir (2005) – Dan Gawthrop wrote the last good book about BC politics in 1995; this is his memoir about many things but mostly about being a gay Canadian man in South East Asia. A travel story and a post-colonial personal examination. From a cheap pile at Book Warehouse in Summer 2010 – one of the books I bought while wondering if I might ever actually end up reading it and now I expect I will probably read it again someday.
  • Karen Connelly, Burmese Lessons: A Love Story (2009) – To compare to The Rice Queen Diaries, here is another love story of South East Asia. In this case, a Canadian woman and a Burmese man, singular. More lyrical and less exacting. I tried one more in this vein, Over The Moat, featuring an American man and a Vietnamese woman but it was too much. Rice Queen Diaries and Burmese Lessons are fraught with the politics of the situation, which to me is the whole point of the story. The height of the political here is the American man and Vietnamese woman but the lousy author managed to write his way entirely around what seemed to be the only question at the heart.
  • Henning Mankell, The White Lioness (1993) – Nope, I did not enjoy this. Choppy and overwritten mystery novel about South Africa by way of Sweden. I was always so attracted to the lineup of these on the shelf at PulpFiction but I probably won’t ever read one again. I sped through this – I didn’t want to spend anymore time inside than necessary, and I finished it on the ferry to Victoria.
  • Lucy Grealy, Autobiography Of A Face (1994) – The ‘pre-quel,’ in my narrative, to one of my favourite books from last year, Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. Having read Truth and Beauty, this seemed more like a legend or guide than anything fully formed. I bought this in the summer of 2010 from Tanglewood Books on Broadway.

July

  • Andrew Young, The Politician: An Insider’s Account of John Edwards’ Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal that Brought Him Down (2010) – no. 1 most terrifying read of the year. I bought this at Ophelia Books in Seattle’s Fremont neighbourhood before seeing the Steely Dan show with my dad and his friend NJ. I read this in just a few days.
  • Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City (1984) – I know I liked it but I can hardly remember it. Mostly I recall thinking about how much Russell Smith must have liked it too.
  • Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists (2010) – I remember reading this downtown, eating lunch on the plaza at Granville Square. A rare “TOP 10 OF THE YEAR” read for me; I liked this. A series of little stories about the staff of a newspaper in Rome. I got this at PulpFiction.
  • Elizabeth Royte, Bottlemania: Big Business, Local Springs, and the Battle over America’s Drinking Water (2008) – I read this quickly; what a fun thing at the time but I couldn’t say now what I took away from it. I remember making this case to my mother in high school, that because of our Canadian Springs water cooler we didn’t need to worry about the quality of our tap water, and we’d vote to degrade it, however unwittingly, which would lead to a two-tier water supply, and the solution to the quandary was to drink tap water instead. This book just backed up my argument, 12 years later. This was from a cheap pile at Book Warehouse.

August

  • Donna Tartt, The Secret History (1992) – looking back this might be my ‘big read’ for the summer, oddly enough. From Russell Books in Victoria, from one of my trips over in the summer. I was looking for more books about the 1980s and had read that Donna Tartt, Jay McInerney, and Bret Easton Ellis were of a type. This wasn’t especially about the 1980s but it was the most interesting and focused novel I read over the summer.
  • Lance Berelowitz, Dream City: Vancouver and the Global Imagination (2005) – It finally became real for me that I would be moving from Vancouver and I decided to go through the Vancouver books that I’d collected while I could still look at the city. This is a great big hardcover that I think I bought at PulpFiction; just a month later I had the chance to get a free copy from a CBC discard pile. Because of its size, I had to read it at home, my little house on 8th and Fraser.
  • Douglas Coupland, City of Glass: Douglas Coupland’s Vancouver (2000) – I read this long ago, in 2002 maybe and while I enjoyed it more this time I still found it glib. It is very much Douglas Coupland’s Vancouver – no one else’s. Even before I studied much history, this book taught me just how individual a city can be, and how specific a perspective can be. I don’t know anything about North Vancouver; in fact I grew up on the other end of the city. The SkyTrain line is my Lions Gate. I borrowed this from my friend Rich in 2002, and I bought my own copy a few years ago from Bibliophile on Commercial, I believe.
  • Mike Harcourt and Ken Cameron with Sean Rossiter, City Making in Paradise: Nine Decisions that Saved Vancouver (2007) – This is a bit clubby and self congratulatory but I loved it anyway. I’ve had it for years but never bothered to read it before. From Bibliophile on Commercial.
  • William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984) – I thought I’d try again after being disappointed by Pattern Recognition last year and this was better but it still wasn’t as exciting as I’d imagined it might be. From PulpFiction, I think.

September

  • Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990) – I kept September going, a my last month in Vancouver, the end of the summer. I read this closely over several weeks, including on the beach at Dallas and Menzies, after looking at apartments on Labour Day and signing for the little home I live in now. I first saw this book as part of a Douglas Coupland diorama at the SFU gallery in 2002, of the covers of books that shaped his life. I remember this, and Joan Didion, maybe Democracy or Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
  • Timothy Garton Ash, The File: A Personal History (1997) – This was just as wonderful as I hoped it would be. See, in the 1990s, the files of the Stasi were opened up so people could see what the state had believed that it knew about their lives. Timothy Garton Ash had lived in East Berlin briefly in the 1980s and this book is his exploration of his Stasi file, and his reckoning with the people in his life that he now learned had been informants. from Magus books in Seattle.
  • Victor Sebestyen, Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire (2009) – I kept reading this through October. A straight narrative through each of the eastern bloc countries as they slowly fell apart from 1981 on. I was always taught, glibly, that these countries were all the same, and they fell apart together, and only now are they finding their own paths but of course this is untrue.
Summer 2011, Victoria

And the first of my books, at Dallas and Menzies.

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