What I Read in Summer, 2014

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May

  • John le Carre, The Looking Glass War (1965) – “A book of rare and great power” it says on the front. A bleak novel about bureaucrats.
  • John Banville, The Untouchable (1997) – I finished this in Port Angeles. The most beautiful spy book I’ve read and the book that’s compelled me to buy five more books by John Banville. A perfect novel.
  • Sheila Nickerson, Disappearance: A Map (1996) – Terrific, spooky book about Alaska; “a meditation on death and loss in the high latitudes” by a former state poet laureate. Memoir woven with disappearances, modern and past. Found in Port Angeles and read on the trip home.
  • Page Spencer, White Silk and Black Tar (1990) – I tried to read this in March 2013 when I was reading about the ocean; I finished it in May when I was reading about Alaska. This is a memoir of a National Park Service employee who worked, with her new husband, to coordinate the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill for two months in 1989. Alternately very boring (it’s just a day-to-day relatively unedited journal!) and very raw and intense (emotional introspection!). I found this at Left Bank Books in Seattle.
  • Dan O’Neill, The Firecracker Boys (1994) – The true story of the late-1950s attempts to preserve federal funding for nuclear weapons research in the face of imminent arms-limitation treaties. The loophole was created for ‘peaceable use’ and a little piece of Alaska was chosen as a demonstration site for the use of warheads to carve out bays, canals, or simply move an inconvenient mountain. Perfectly bizarre piece of history. Excellent book.

June

  • Georgette Gagnon and Dan Rath, Not Without Cause: David Peterson’s Fall from Grace (1991) – What better way to celebrate the Ontario election than read about David Peterson’s collapse in 1990. Brutal and gory campaign stories.
  • Madeline Sonik, Afflictions and Departures (2011) – I didn’t pick this up at BC Book Day but one of our interns left it behind and I read it before any of the books that I did pick up at Book Day. Terrific short memoir.
  • John Doyle, The World is a Ball: The Joy, Madness, and Meaning of Soccer (2010) – In trying to read along with current events, I read this when the World Cup games started up. I don’t know anything about soccer and after reading this I don’t know much more, technically. But this is a wonderful and genuine book about being a sports fan.
  • Dave Zirin, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy (2014) – The other side of being a sports fan; critical examination of what it is that we’re endorsing and supporting when cheering for a team or a country. I ordered this direct from Haymarket Books and I’m glad I did, in time for the World Cup.
  • Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap (2008) – I’m always captivated by big new novels on the Munro’s discount shelves. This one won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize but I rushed through to finish it. Fun enough but inconsequential. I read this on the ferry, back and forth to Vancouver for something I’ve completely forgotten about.
  • Hugh Brody, Maps and Dreams: Indians and the British Columbia Frontier (1981; 2nd ed. 1988) – I read this in two days at Youbou. I think it stands up, 30 years later, as we continue to develop resources (what a euphemism) in the Treaty 8 lands.
  • Arno Kopecky, The Oil Man and the Sea: Navigating the Northern Gateway (2013) – An outsized Tyee feature piece that does not justify its length. A worthwhile artifact of our current historical moment.
  • John Vaillant, The Golden Spruce (2005) – Another book that I read in a day at Youbou, which was once a little forestry town. A colleague recommended this to me as a good perspective on the history of forestry in BC. I regret not spending more time with it, but will read it again, one day, someday.

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July

  • Carol Shaben, Into the Abyss (2012) – Wonderful narrative of the plane crash that killed Grant Notley in 1984, and the subsequent life stories of the survivors; written by the daughter of another politician, Larry Shaben, who was in the plane but survived.
  • Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) – I’ve meant to read this since I saw piles of it at the SFU bookstore for an intro CMNS course. I wondered if I might be reading it as history – what did we think then? – but I think it’s all true today. I’ve read the introduction several times before: ‘what if Huxley, not Orwell, was right?’ And the rest is just as much fun to read.
  • William Gibson, Burning Chrome (1986) – Another book I’ve meant to read for years and years but only bought and read this summer. As good as I wanted it to be.
  • Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) – I feel as though I’ve already read discrete books about each of the case studies here but this was a fun summer read nonetheless. I bought this four years ago at PulpFiction on Main.
  • Catherine Price, 101 Places Not to See Before You Die (2011) – Dumb fun; I think I read most of this in Beacon Hill Park while watching ducks. Effectively for free from the library book sale.
  • Philip Kerr, Berlin Noir – Three novels reprinted together in one volume. I read this too fast; three novels over three days at Youbou. I didn’t want to spend more than three days in 1930s Berlin but reading this so fast was brutally immersive. I bought this new at Munro’s after giving up on finding a nice used copy, after already buying three of the sequels, which I’ll read at a slower pace. It says on the back “taut, brutal, coarse” which is true. Meaner and tighter than Alan Furst.
    • March Violets (1989)
    • The Pale Criminal (1990)
    • A German Requiem (1991)
  • Charlotte Gill, Ladykiller (2005) – Another fast hot day at the lake in Youbou; another book from the Munro’s discount shelf. I would have loved this in 2004: short stories about Vancouver.
  • Helen MacInnes, Above Suspicion (1941) – Another day at Youbou. Even faster because I remembered the major plot points from reading this in high school. I’ve remembered all the scenes and settings and it was only the interstitial scenes and, oddly, the ending that I’d forgotten. The bit on the hillside and the bit in the bookshop and the bit on the cobblestones and there’s not much more although I remembered these as highlights from a broader narrative. A small little spy book and as much as it treats Nazi Germany as a light opponent I had to remember it was written in 1941, when anyone writing this book in Britain wouldn’t have known about what was actually going on in middle Europe.
  • Jerry Thompson, Cascadia’s Fault (2011) – All about the earthquake that will kill us all one day. I’ve known it all – the broad strokes at least – since I was a child but I can never stop reading more.
  • Joseph Boyden, Three Day Road (2005) – Two days at Youbou; modern Can-Lit myth-making.

August

  • Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919 (2001) – A present from my mother in 2006 although I guess everyone read it in 2002. A really terrific history.
  • Joseph Roth, The Radetzky March (1932) – I read this in October 2009. After Paris 1919, staying inside the end of the Austo-Hungarian empire. Big sad beautiful book.
  • Joseph Roth, The Emperor’s Tomb (1938) – I read this, in some ways a sequel, first as assigned for a European history course at SFU in July 2005.
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