New Books, August 2013


Jan Morris, Hong Kong (1989) – It’s hard to imagine that Hong Kong was under British Control until I was in high school. This is a problem – the sense that the formal colonial period had ended before me. Of course it hasn’t ended but it has changed and Hong Kong was one of the final dominoes to fall, if only symbolically.

Eric Ambler, Cause for Alarm (1938) – “The best spy story in a long time”

Jeanette Winterson, The Powerbook (2000) – I’ve wanted to read something by Jeanette Winterson for a long time and this is about the Internet at the turn of the century.

Margo Jefferson, On Michael Jackson (2004) – “It’s false! Of course he had a #1 hit in England; he had hits everywhere!”

Maggie de Vries, Missing Sarah: A Memoir of Loss (2003) – Again, the Pickton trial has been ‘gone’ long enough that I can read about it with distance through a history told through memoir.

Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America (2009) – The premise is that focus on ‘positive thinking’ has led to personal self-blame and national denial and I expect that is true. I tend to make this argument myself about recycling and small-scale ethical purchasing.

Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2011) – Sherry Turkle has been writing about people and computers since 1984!

Kevin Phillips, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush (2006) – I was happy to have found this on the rack at Value Village the day before I learned that George P. Bush – George W.’s nephew; Jeb’s son – is running for Land Commissioner in Texas.

Esi Edugyan, Half-Blood Blues (2011) – the #1 book of 2011!

Paul Theroux, Fresh-Air Fiend: Travel Writings, 1985-2000 (1997) – “Theroux lives in Hawaii and Cape Cod” which is insufferable but I keep buying his books. Paul Theroux and I share a birthday.

Jean Chretien, Straight From the Heart (1985; 2nd ed. 1994) – “one of the most charismatic Canadians of our time” and that is hard to dispute, 10 years later.

Eileen Welsome, The Plutonium Files: America’s Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War (1999) – I chose not to buy this when I saw it new at Left Bank Books in 2008 and I’ve wondered about it ever since but it was just $5 at Value Village.

Don Martin, Belinda: The Political and Private Life of Belinda Stronach (2006) – This book was written at a bad time. After this was published in 2006 Belinda opted against contesting the Liberal leadership – which would have been symmetrical, considering that she defeated Martha Hall Findlay in Newmarket-Aurora in 2004 as a Conservative, before muscling her out of the Liberal nomination in 2006. In 2008 she retired from office, and Martha was elected in Willowdale. I don’t think I’ve seen her name in the news since.

Trevor Walkom, Rae Days: The Rise and Follies of the NDP (1994)


Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (2010)

Jonathan Raban, Surveillance (2006) – A novel.

E.M. Forster, A Passage to India (1924) – An old novel.

John McPhee, Encounters with the Archdruid (1971) – Inscribed inside: “to Tricia J. Wood, in recognition of your outstanding design project in the Biomedical Engineering Program at Northwestern University. June 8, 2001” which is the same month that I graduated from high school.

John McPhee, Uncommon Carriers (2006) – People who work in freight transportation.

Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors (1987)

Len Deighton, London Match (1985) – “Essential reading for all espionage fans” and I am nothing if not an espionage fan.

Len Deighton, Mexico Set (1984) – “The poet of the spy story”

Len Deighton, Berlin Game (1983) – “Sheer, consistent rightness, page after page.” I don’t know very much about these books but they came as a set and I hope they’re great.

Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking: Essays (2012) – “Reading is perception as translation. The inert signs of an alphabet become living meanings in the mind.” It seems as though “essay collection” is suddenly short-hand for “hilarious and actually full of unexamined distancing devices” and then there is this rigorous and beautiful book. “No one writing about art today comes closer than Siri Husvedt to the elusive strangeness of a great painting.”

J.G. Ballard, Super-Cannes (2000) – I admired Crash more than I enjoyed it but this looks beautiful. “Our poet laureate of modernism’s dead zones.”

Polly Pattullo, Last Resorts: The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean (2005) – What a nice thing to find at Left Bank Books last month.

James Blanchard, Behind the Embassy Door: Canada, Clinton, and Quebec (1998) – To further complete my collection of 1990s political memoirs. James Blanchard served as Ambassador to Canada from 1993-1996.

Hal Rothman, Devil’s Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West (1998) – I’ve been looking for this since at least 2006 and it showed up cheap at Russell Books. “Once pillaged for its raw materials, the American West is now looted for its landscapes and historical auras.” The frontier as theme park.

Jeanne Gullemin, Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak (1999) – a first-person account of the investigation into a 1979 anthrax outbreak in Soviet Union; from Left Bank Books.


Frederick Jackson Turner, The Significance of the Frontier in American History (1897) – I’ve read about it for years and written about it too but no professor ever asked me to read the full, original ‘frontier thesis.’

Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn (1999) – It hadn’t occurred to me to read this but it was just $2 at a thrift store in Duncan.

Alberto Manguel, All Men are Liars (2012) – Russell Books said that if I bought four books from the fiction section I’d get a fifth for free, so I went up and found this and the next four novels on command.

Richard Ford, The Ultimate Good Luck (1981) – “The same hot, mercilessly white light that scorches Mexico.”

Martin Cruz Smith, Havana Bay (1999) – I bought this before, from Brown’s Books in Burnaby but sold it before I moved to Victoria without having read it because I hated the edition. This is nicer.

Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child (2011)

Alan Hollinghurst, The Swimming-Pool Library (1989)

Andrew Ross, The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney’s New Town (1998) – I’d forgotten all about Celebration and I certainly didn’t know that anyone had written a book about it until I saw this on the Sociology shelf at Russell Books.  This looks as though it has some rigor; it’s not just a comedy at the expense of the folks that live in Celebration.

Paco Underhill, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (1998) – Robin found this at a thrift store and was very kind to let me keep it on my shelf next to Call of the Mall.

James Mann, The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (2004) – 10 years later, I can’t wait to read all about the Bush administration.

Tom Zoellner, Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock that Shaped the World (2009) – A “geo-thriller.”

Eric Klinenberg, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone (2012)

Brian Fawcett, Human Happiness (2011)

Schmidt, Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter (2010)

Paul Litt, Elusive Destiny: The Political Vocation of John Napier Turner (2011) – I borrowed this from the legislative library in 2011 but never did read it. My third book on John Turner.

Naftali Bendavid, The Thumpin’: How Rahm Emmanuel and the Democrats Learned to be Ruthless and Ended the Republican Revolution (2008) – I read the introduction to this and it’s awful. It’s bad history and hero worship. But I followed the 2006 cycle closely and this it is full of neat gossip about that election.

Gavin Young, Slow Boats Home (1985) – Long slow travel writing.

Dylan Jones, iPod, Therefore I Am (2005) – What a strange book. As far as I can tell, the iPod is just a hip publishing hook to write 200 pg about listening to music, and how awesome music is, and how neat it is to listen to music all the time.

Bret Easton Ellis, Lunar Park (2005) – I’m not sure I need to read anything more by Bret Easton Ellis but this is a novel in which the main character is Bret Easton Elis and I love that sort of thing.

Taras Grescoe, The Devil’s Picnic: Travels through the Underworld of Food and Drink (2005)

Kalle Lasn, Culture Jam: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge – and Why we Must (1999) – “A brilliant and essential manual” – maybe? Probably not? I’m curious about what I’d have thought or done if I’d found this when I was 16.

John Vaillant, The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed (2005)

Robert Kaplan, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (2010) – I’m trying to ignore what this guy’s politics might be like and just read his books, which I really enjoy.

Michael Azzerad, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991 (1998) – This doesn’t say ‘secret history’ but that’s what it is; a secret history of a decade, told through vignette. Interestingly, I’m not really that into any of the 13 bands profiled.

Robert Anderson and Eleanor Wachtel, The Expo Story (1986) – A book of essays all about what Vancouver was anxious about under Expo in 1986. There was probably more journalism produced online about the Olympics in 2010 but this is nicer to have – collected and edited and full of Bob Krieger cartoons.

Brian Tobin, All In Good Time (2002) – I always saw this guy as an obnoxiously privileged dilettante: MP, cabinet minister, Premier, then cabinet minister again, on the timetable of his own ambition.

Susan Mayse, Earthquake: Surviving the Big One (1992) – How to survive: before, during, and after. Our central neurosis, in ebbs and flows.

Tony Penikett, Reconciliation: Treaty-Making in British Columbia (2006) – This was being thrown out at my office!

Neil Howe and William Strauss, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation (2000) – I seem to think that the whole perception of this generation changed, first in 2001 and again in 2008-2009, and that this book, which everyone at SFU Student Development and Programming was excited about in 2006, serves as a time capsule. What we thought this generation would be about before any of them actually left high school.

John Clague and Bob Turner, Vancouver, City on the Edge (2003) – Vancouver’s dynamic geological landscape, in pop-science form.

Don Boudria, Busboy: From Kitchen to Cabinet (2005) – Brian Tobin was published by Penguin but poor Don Boudria had to send his memoirs out through an Ottawa vanity press with a terrifically ugly cover. But this looks less vain – these are honest memoirs of a day-to-day MP, rather than a cheer for a guy who thinks he should have been Prime Minister.

Brian Mulroney, Memoirs: 1939-1993 (2009) – This is 1,000 pg long and absolutely terrifying.


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