What I read in Summer 2012

Summer 2002

May

  • Martin Cruz Smith, Gorky Park (1981) – This was hard to start but ultimately really fun to read. A little mystery novel in Moscow that I couldn’t quite figure out for maybe 100 pages.
  • Benedict Erofeev, Moscow Circles (1976) – I read this with a different title and a different translation in 2006 for a Soviet history course. I was looking for another book about Soviet Russia after Gorky Park and ended up reading most of this between 5 and 8 am one morning with a head cold. A lurid drunken subway ride through Moscow suburbs: some of my very favourite things all together in a little novel.
  • Mark Hume, The Run of the River: Portraits of Eleven British Columbia Rivers (1992) – It’s always such a thrill to learn so much more about BC than I already knew.
  • Bev Christensen, Too Good To Be True: Alcan’s Kemano Completion Project (1995) – The short chapter on the Nechako in The Run of the River reminded me that I’d had a full book about the Kemano project on my bookshelf since 2007. In 1955, the Nechako river was dammed completely, creating a massive reservoir that was channeled underneath a mountain to the west in order to power the aluminum smelter at Kitimat. I’d taken the smelter for granted and had never connected it to the lack of bauxite mining in BC. The smelter and Kemano are strictly hydroelectric projects and until the 1990s there was no public debate or discussion about what was happening on the Nechako; it was all just done. This book is poorly edited and reads as though it was rushed to print; I imagine it was written as a summary of the first public discussions of the Kemano project and put to print in a hurry when Harcourt announced the project’s cancellation in 1995. I’m glad I have this and read it but the chapter in Run of the River tells the story nearly as effectively in a fraction of the pagecount.
  • David Plouffe, The Audacity to Win: How Obama Won and How We Can Beat the Party of Limbaugh, Beck, and Palin (2010) – I read this quickly at Youbou after finishing my Kemano book. It’s funny to think that Limbaugh, Beck, and Palin have all already dropped off the radar. I read right through these campaign memoirs and that’s to my detriment, as at the end they’re hardly there at all for me.
  • Timothy Taylor, Stanley Park (2001) – I started this at Youbou after I read the Obama book over a weekend. This is not a very interesting novel – is it a faux-gossipy slice-of-hip-young-Vancouver-life or a forest meditation on family? It wants to weave the two together but the seams show and it ends up reading as trite. Although, I liked it, ultimately, a lot more than I thought I would at about 100 pages in.

June

  • Eric Ambler, A Coffin For Dimitrios (1939) – the progenitor, apparently, of the ordinary-man-caught-by-web-of-international-intrigue. This was fun but a bit lost in comparison to the Alan Furst novels or even my favourite Helen MacInnes novels. I could read almost anything about the mid 20th century Balkans, however.
  • Paul Theroux, The Great Railway Bazaar (1975) – After collecting six or seven Paul Theroux books, this is the first I’ve actually read and I loved it. The criticism is that he is a misanthrope who hates all the places he visits but I’ll take that above the wide-eyed tourist gaze that he seems to contrast.
  • Steven Heighton, Every Lost Country (2010) – I ran around town to find a paperback copy of this when it came out last summer but I waited for a year to actually read it. It’s as good as I wanted it to be when I hunted it down.
  • Jay McInerney, Brightness Falls (1992) – From a Tibetan expedition to an “elegy for New York in the 1980s.” “A big, sprawling novel” that I really enjoyed. Who knows what I’d have thought at the time, but twenty years later this is as much an artifact of 1992 as it is of the 1980s.

Summer 2012-2

July

  • C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia – I read these all over two days on vacation at Youbou, before we headed up to Quadra island. I read these a number of times a child but not since I was eight or 10 years old. They aren’t subtle. The good white Christians go to war with the swarthy, cruel Muslims at one point and in the final book, believers are shuffled off to heaven at the end of the world. It’s all a bit much. It was nice to remember all the little scenes, especially the relatively dark stuff in The Silver Chair and The Last Battle. And I was not wrong as a child: Prince Caspian really is the weakest.
    • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)
    • Prince Caspian (1951)
    • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
    • The Silver Chair (1953)
    • The Horse and His Boy (1954)
    • The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
    • The Last Battle (1956)
  • Byron Ricks, Homelands: Kayaking the Inside Passage (1999) – I brought this up to Quadra Island at the last moment, wanting to make sure I had a book about the BC coast on hand in case I wanted to read about the place I was traveling through. I started Great Jones Street but all I really wanted to read was the world I was in – the BC coast, not fantasy New York. I read an online review that complained that there was not enough action in this book. No , there isn’t; it’s a day-by-day account of a five month kayak trip from Alaska to Puget Sound and there’s not a lot of action to that. There’s no axe to grind or point to make; this is an honest account and a wonderful counterpoint to Passage to Juneau, which made the opposite trip by sailboat.
  • Don DeLillo, Great Jones Street (1973) – A character in Brightness Falls has an apartment on Great Jones Street, which reminded me to read this again. I read the first 40 pages in a hostel outside of Courtney, on the site of an abandoned mining town. I read the rest once we were back in Victoria. I read this first in about a day, camping outside of Merritt in June 2008. I’d forgotten how good it is, especially the bits about ‘timeless lands’ and The Happy Valley Farm Commune, an “earth-family” whose goal is “to return the idea of privacy to American life.” I remembered it as a MacGuffin plot, similar to Running Dog, but there’s so much more going on.
  • Joseph O’Neill, Blood-Dark Track: A Family History (2001) – The densest and maybe most rewarding book I read this summer.  The author’s grandfathers each spent WWII in prison, accused of being spies for the IRA and Nazi Germany, respectively. This is the very best sort of history: doubting and asking and personal. What a wonderful thick book.
  • Harry Harrison, Make Room! Make Room! (1966) – I just can’t get into sci-fi the way I once could. Soylent Green was written from this book. It’s fun and quick but that’s about it.
  • Allan Garr, Tough Guy: Bill Bennett and the Taking of British Columbia (1985) – I didn’t even know this existed before I found it at a thrift shop in Sidney. Although I must have bought 20+ books about politics in BC and Canada this summer, this is the only one I read. A wonderful small story of how the Socreds professionalized politics in BC and manufactured a crisis for the sake of crafting the premier’s image.
  • Emily White, Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude (2010) – This works so well because it’s as much a memoir as anything else. And it is woven through with anecdotes from self-described lonely people across the continent. One of the best books I have read about life, today.

August

  • V.S. Naipaul, The Mimic Men (1967) – I really enjoyed this, despite complaining throughout the week that life was too short to keep reading V.S. Naipaul. I bought this from Pulpfiction during a trip to Vancouver. Would you believe that it tells the story of a post-colonial man’s alienation from both his home colony and the old world? The narrative structure is really marvelous, however: it goes, chronologically, D-B-A-C  which is so refreshing to read in a faux-memoir.
  • Heather Rogers, Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage (2005) – Garbage is great fun and this is the best book I’ve read on the subject of modern trash.  Rather than do what a lot of writers do, and posit trash as an unavoidable feature of modern life, this book is clear that we have made decisions over the past 60 years to deliberately increase the amount of trash we produce. Rather than search for more technological solutions, let’s just make less trash.
  • Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (1984) – This is a secret history, written in anecdotes and little sagas. After I read The Soul of a New Machine in 2010, I started to collect as many narrative histories of the computer industry as I could find. I bought Hackers last June on a trip to Victoria. I read the first half over maybe two weeks in July 2011 but gave up; it was too dense. I realized this month that I was waiting to finish this before reading any of my other 10 computer books and somehow I thrilled to it and read the rest in just two nights. It’s all context.
  • Alan Furst, The Polish Officer (1995) – Although these novels have no linear arc and all take place more or less simultaneously with entirely different characters, reading them sequentially by publication does point out stylistic changes. This is the third; it is maybe 200 pages shorter than the first two and notably more glib. Maybe this is for the best? It stuck with me less, at any rate. The reading guide at the end had a very good point: none of these novels feature an antagonist or villain, unless the general tenor of the times can be characterized as such. Nazi Germany is framed as an overarching evil but the points of conflict are small and wonderfully diffuse.
  • Michelle Mercer, Will You Take Me As I Am?: Joni Mitchell’s Blue Period (2009) – I just pre-ordered a copy of Joni: The Creative Odyssey of Joni Mitchell by Kathleen Monk and realized that I bought another book about Joni Mitchell two years ago that I hadn’t read yet. The title suggests that it is just about Blue but the author defines the ‘Blue period’ all the way from Blue in 1971 to Hejira in 1976. I’ve listened to these five albums more than anything else since I was 12 or 13; I was worried that learning more of the specifics around these songs and albums would work against the memories and attachments that I’ve formed myself but it’s all just layers and layers.
  • Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness (2009) – The crow stories here are wonderful and fun; the philosophy less so. But that is because I’m already looking around at my world and the nature in my city. I don’t need the revelations about sidewalks and common birds and the reality of nature in my life, or the tepid eco-worries. The other 2/3 of this book are really wonderful but the truth is that I could probably read crow facts and stories forever.
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4 Comments

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4 responses to “What I read in Summer 2012

  1. Hi Derrick! I think I’m stealing this.

  2. “And I was not wrong as a child: Prince Caspian really is the weakest.”

    Nooooooooo! Voyage of the Dawn Treader is horrible. Like, really horrible.

    • That’s interesting; tell me more. I think I can see what’s horrible – it’s goofy and a bit obnoxious. But it’s also a fun travel story. Nothing even happens in Prince Caspian! Although I had forgotten about the neat bit at the end where they try to do magic to bring back the evil queen. It’s a nice spooky chapter but even that just makes it feel like an addendum to Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. The actual last chapter, in effect.

      • I thought it was the most heavy-handed allegory I could possibly imagine. On and on about the light and sailing towards the end and on and on. I’m sure the mouse is meant to be something like innocent children, or uneducated savages or something (I’m stretching – I don’t actually remember it that well).

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