David Downing, Zoo Station (2007) – When does a person give up on a book? I only know about this book because Amazon has told me for years that if you like Alan Furst and John le Carre and you’re interested in reading Philip Kerr then you are going to love reading these books by David Downing all about spies in Germany! Because what those books all have in common is spies! In Germany! But there’s more. They’re good books. They’re written. This book is… compiled? There’s a word for what it is – maybe just ‘bad writing.’ After I hated ‘The Tourist’ by Olen Steinhauer in summer 2010 I should have noted that while I enjoy a spy novel, I have standards. But I found this for just $9.99 at Book Warehouse and it was small and I wanted a novel and I started to read it the next day and I kept trying to persevere and Robin had to tell me to stop! just stop reading it instead of moaning about it! and I did and I’m happier now and I’ll sell it, I guess, but with a warning: only read this if you don’t enjoy reading.
Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds (2001) – A perfect little book about perfect birds. I didn’t know what to read on my way to the ferry, so I found this at Russell’s and read it in two days.
Slavenka Drakulic, Cafe Europa: Life After Communism (1996) – I’ve seen this before but somehow didn’t remark on it. Little essays about the world after the fall of the Soviet Union, in Croatia.
Rudyard Kipling, Kim (1901) – The original Great Game novel. I know the line but that’s all – “Now I shall go far and far into the North playing the Great Game;” this book is somehow the root of all sorts of wonderful history around this little space of the world, the long finger of Afghanistan across the ‘high Pamirs’ to touch China and block the empires at the very end from ever making contact.
Morrissey, Autobiography (2013) – I almost don’t want to read it but rather pose it on the wall, a book that I find hard to believe exists. “In 2007, Morrissey was voted the greatest northern male, past or present, in a nationwide newspaper poll.” I’m most interested in what he has to say about Your Arsenal and ‘National Front Disco.’ What a gorgeous book – unfortunately the binding is stuff and I don’t know how to read it without splitting the spine. I may have to leave it on the shelf after all – Penguin Classics! – and buy a North American edition to read instead. On a glance, he seems to have a lot to say about David Bowie, which is amazing.
Sandra Mackey, The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein (2002) – I read this only days after I bought it from Russell’s. I had just read two books about Iraq at the beginning of the new century and wanted to read exactly this: a brief political history of Iraq through the 20th century.
Vincent Bugliosi, Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (2007) – I bought this to read for the 50th anniversary but that’s come and gone and I couldn’t even manage to start Don DeLillo, Libra, which I’d been saving to re-read this fall. This is drawn from a much larger book by the same author.
Renee Sarojini Saklikar, Children of Air India: Un/Authorized Exhibits and Interjections (2013) – My friend wrote a book! We went out to see the launch but it was over-capacity so we had to wait outside and sneak in to buy copies at the end. I want to read this soon.
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1972) – Is this readable, i.e. worth the 800 pg? To the large and difficult novel pile, with Dhalgren and 2666 – although maybe that pile is unfair to all three of them.
Brad Lavigne, Building The Orange Wave: The Inside Story Behind the Historic Rise of Jack Layton and the NDP (2013) – Another one for the shelf. Recent history; or hagiography?
Chris Chester, Providence of a Sparrow: Lessons of a Life Gone to the Birds (2002) – A little book about living with a House Sparrow.
Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur: How Blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the Rest of Today’s User-generated Media are Destroying our Economy, our Culture, and our Values (2008) – This was written for 2007/2008 and unfortunately it talks about Second Life and MySpace and other little artifacts that we’ve blown past. I don’t like to read these diagnostic books in the moment but I hope there’s a lesson to be found in the diagnostic as signpost to the past – where we were concerned about heading at a fixed point in time.
Po Bronson, The Nudist on the Late Shift, and Other True Tales of Silicon Valley (1999) – It says right there, “Bronson has captured this remarkable place and time” which is all I really want from a computer-culture book-of-the-year written in 1999. I remember where I was then, in computer culture, working on Geocities websites and marveling at how much there was to do in this world.
John le Carre, Our Kind of Traitor (2010) – One more for the stack. The Globe and Mail said “let me be specific: I think the man deserves the Nobel.”
Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackal (1971) – I vaguely recall watching this film but I might be confusing it with Three Days of the Condor. “A conspiracy, a killer, and one man who can stop them.” From the cheap rack at Book Warehouse.
Benjamin Black, Elegy for April (2010) – “Cool, atmospheric… memorably etched” and “an elegance and nimbleness that surpass almost all other genre fiction” – which is interesting because this is genre fiction under a pen name, cheap on the Munro’s discount shelf.
Benjamin Black, Christine Falls (2006) – “A dark, ambitious crime novel” written by John Banville. Again, cheap on the Munro’s discount shelf.
Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2010) – I’ve wanted to read this before but I’m glad that I waited to read Liar’s Poker first. After the ‘80s, here’s what happened at the end of the last decade.
Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron (2004) – And here is what happened at the beginning of the last decade. We seem to have forgotten about it but here’s a book all about Enron.
Julie Greene, The Canal Builders: Making America’s Empire at the Panama Canal (2009) – “Imperial ambition, class conflict and racial injustice” sounds like a good entry to books about the Panama Canal. There are lots of them out there but only one in good shape on the Munro’s cheap shelf. This seems to be a reaction to earlier ‘great man/manifest destiny’ tracts. One day, someday, I’ll enjoy this.
Donald Fagen, Eminent Hipsters (2013) – from PulpFiction.
Ed. Peter Ludlow, High Noon on the Electronic Frontier: Conceptual Issues in Cyberspace (1996) – a textbook, filed under “Philosophy/Computers” which is the direction that I feel I’ve been heading ever since my family bought a personal computer in 1991. “A timely and useful compendium of some key articles on hot cyberspace policy issues, together with some lively extracts from on-line discussions of these issues…” This was published one year before I first had internet access.
Marci MacDonald, The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada (2010) – I cringed when this book came out and the author was on the air; the premise seemed to be such a cartoon or cardboard cutout relative to the actual problems that I felt were salient at the time. Looking now, I imagine the facts in here are accurate and technically sound but the question of course lies with the analysis.
Jerry Thompson, Cascadia’s Fault: The Deadly Earthquake that will Devastate North America (2011) – Another secret history of the Pacific Northwest.
Julian Barnes, Talking It Over (1991) – Cheap from Russell’s Books; I felt like I needed a novel, for balance against another set of Middle East political histories. I’ll save this, and one day I’ll read right through it.
Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap (2008) – “A gripping suburban fable” that was beautiful and substantial on the Munro’s cheap shelf. A story told in circular on a small scale.
Ian Mulgrew, Bud Inc.: Inside Canada’s Marijuana Industry (2005) – A little book that might be wildly out of date by now! I really don’t miss having Marijuana Party candidates on every ballot.
Andrew Smith, Moondust: In Search of the Men who Fell to Earth (2005) – There are the books that it would never occur to me to look for but are suddenly there on a shelf and I couldn’t feel luckier than to find. The author tracked down the nine surviving astronauts, thirty years later, to find out what happened. A “blend of history, reportage, and memoir” which is exactly what I hope gets written someday about everything interesting that happens or has happened.
Sandra Steingraber, Living Downstream: A Scientist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment (1997) – Again, a book I couldn’t have looked for but it was there, the perfect book.
Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (1939) – “I was neat, clean, shaved, sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.”
Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (2007) – Pop-history on the cheap shelf at Munro’s. I might even read this before the end of the year. I have two books on MI6 and one on MI5, both of similar size, which I haven’t read for two years but I’m reading about the US this fall.
Brooke Jeffrey, Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-conservatism in Canada (1999) – One more for the collection. Soon I’ll read a full set of these; maybe in the spring. How did we get to here from 1993? Books by Hugh Segal, Tom Flanagan, Deborah Grey, and this too.
George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (1938) – The classics; I’ve been waiting to read a history of the Spanish civil war that I found in summer 2010 but I might read this first.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day on the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1978) – More classics. I read this in high school and here’s a nice new edition from Munro’s.
Brian Clegg, Armageddon Science: The Science of Mass Destruction (2010) – Pop-science about the end of the world.
Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004) – the CIA book feels technically heavier but this one has heft. It’s the Penguin orange spine – also a Pulitzer prize, relative to the National book award. I continue to shade in the last decade and its precursors, now that the history can be seen for what it is, beyond polemic.
Larry Spencer, Sacrificed? Truth or Politics (2006) – This wingnut sat in Parliament for one term before his own party turfed him for being a bit too wacky on – to quote his bio from the book – ‘calling for the preservation of the Judeo Christian principles on which Canada was founded.’ Bless him, he published his own book about the experience.