- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel (2002) – I am a reluctant traveler, mostly because I don’t know how to reconcile myself to tourism. This is one more effort to figure out how to see the world, or to figure out if I even care to. From Pulpfiction on Main.
- Allan Raymond, How To Rig An Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative (2008) – I read this in an evening last week. This dude told his hapless story after going to prison for that shady New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal in 2002. The best thing is that I hadn’t even heard of any of the candidates this guy directly worked with. These are my favourite political stories: the little narratives that no one else could tell. But what a grotesque piece of fluff. From Pulpfiction on Main.
- Raymond Carver, Cathedral (1989) – from Pulpfiction on Main.
- Linda Spence, Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History (1997) – How to write personal history. Or, conversely, how to live personal history. This is full of questions to answer for life as much as for history because those are really the same thing. From Pulpfiction on Main.
- John Banville, The Untouchable (1997) – I liked The Sea but not enough to buy anything else by John Banville until I found this book, which is about a spy. From Pulpfiction on Main.
- Benedict Erofeev, Moscow Circles (1976) – I have a different translation of this, by Venedict Erofiev and titled Moscow to the End of the Line. Unfortunately I missed a play in yet another translation: Moscow Stations. One of my very favourite drinking books. From Pulpfiction on Main.
- Tom Perotta, Election (1998) – I liked the movie, that I think was made in the same year, but I am curious to see if the book plays it all as broadly. From Pulpfiction on Main.
- Todd Denault, The Greatest Game: the Montreal Canadiens, the Red Army, and the Night that Saved Hockey. (2010) – I guess the title spells it all out. A gift from my father, who is encouraging me to pursue research into the nexus of hockey and the Cold War.
- Jay McInerney, Story Of My Life (1988) – I half-heartedly started this in the fall but to no avail. From Russell Books.
- Bill Blaikie, The Blaikie Report: An Insider’s Look at Faith and Politics (2010) – I voted for Joe Comartin in the 2003 NDP leadership, but Bill Blaikie was my second preference and I wanted him to win. He wrote a book, and someone left a copy behind (presumably Glen Clark, because it is inscribed ‘To Glen!’ at the Dec 2011 convention and I was cleaning up and, well, I’d really like to have a copy of this book.
- Jill Ker Conway, True North (1994) – Following her first memoir, The Road from Coorain, which I have but have not read. I look forward to reading them both, sometime, someday. From Russell books.
- Paul Auster, City of Glass (1992) as adapted to graphic novel by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli (2004) – I read the full New York Trilogy over one night in the fall of 2009. I didn’t even know that this existed until I saw it at Russell books.
- Douglas Coupland, Polaroids From the Dead (1996) – I first learned about Joan Didion from an exhibit at the SFU gallery: Douglas Coupland’s favourite/most influential books, displayed with their covers glued to long sticks that formed a sort of vague box. The only ones I remember are Mike Davis, City of Quartz and Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I think I borrowed Polaroids From the Dead from my friend Rich in 2002, during my first Coupland phase, but now I see it as somewhere that he may have really tried to do Joan Didion. From Russell books.
- Paul Theroux, My Other Life (1996) – Another Paul Theroux book that I won’t read, to add to the other five I already have. This is a neat thing: a fake memoir. From Russell books.
- Peter Gzowski, The Game Of Our Lives (1981) – I read this as a childhood fan, maybe in 1992. Peter Gzowski’s year with the Edmonton Oilers. Gretzky’s first era in the NHL I think. From Russell books.
- Ken Dryden, The Game (1983) – “The best hockey book ever written” it says on the front and that is what I have been told by anyone who has ever read it as well. I will finally read it, now soon, maybe, that it is finally on my shelf in a 20th anniversary edition. From Russell books.
- Byron Ricks, Homelands: Kayaking the Inside Passage (1999) – Just as it says, an account of a couple kayaking south from Alaska to Puget Sound. From Pulpfiction on Main.
- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) – I always meant to take one of these from the piles and piles slated for first year communications classes at the SFU Bookstore and finally got a copy from Pulpfiction on Main after finding a cartoon of the bit comparing 1984 to Brave New World.
- David Spanier, Welcome to the Pleasuredome: Inside Las Vegas (1992) – I looked at this for years, on the shelf at Pulpfiction on Main and I finally bought it.
- Jennifer Price, Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America (1999) – all about plastic flamingos and birds-on-hats and forests-in-malls. From Pulpfiction on Main.
- Martin Amis, Time’s Arrow (1991) – This summer, my lawyer was reading London Fields and having some of the same trouble that I had with it a year ago; trouble that led me to leave it alone, rather than throw it across the room. I liked The Information enough that I bought this from the Munro’s discount pile.
- Julian Barnes, England, England (1998) – Also from the Munro’s discount pile, for no discernable reason beyond the fact that it was there and I was curious.
- Robert X Cringely, Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date (1992) – Soon I will stop buying old books about the computer industry and start to read some of them. This is from Russell Books, where I have also been close to buying a 1998 memoir by the guy who ran Netscape.
- Richard Ford, A Multitude of Sins (2001) – I have had Independence Day on my shelf for two years but keep waiting to read The Sportswriter first, so here is a set of short stories from the Munro’s discount shelves. I read the first story in the store.
- bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions (2002) – A friend told another friend to read this several years ago, and I read the first three chapters one evening while staying at a different friend’s house while in Vancouver last December. Now my girlfriend is reading it too and I want to finish it. Ordered online, because no one seems to have it used, in Vancouver or Victoria.
- Paul Theroux, The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling The Pacific (1992) – from the Munro’s discount shelves. I have six, maybe seven books by Paul Theroux that I have never read.
- Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (1997) – They go on about this book in The Rebel Sell but when I saw piles of it at the SFU bookstore, most recently in 2010 when I was taking my Natural Disasters course, I assumed I could find a cheaper copy at a used bookstore. Apparently not; I finally ordered a copy online.
- Kerry Banks, Pavel Bure: The Riddle of the Russian Rocket (1999) – This is exciting on three levels. I was a 9-year-old hockey fan with BURE – 10 on the back of my Canucks jersey. I am consistently fascinated by the early Russians, of whom Pavel Bure was among the last to formally ‘defect’ from the Red Army in order to play in the NHL. And there is the cultural side of it all that no one ever pries into; namely, Pavel Bure slash fanfic. And bless Kerry Banks for printing a list of “the homoerotic sayings of Tom Larscheid:” Don’t you just love to see the big guys play the body? I know I do. Ordered online, used, from New York, because everyone in Vancouver apparently still has their copy on the shelf at home.
- Andrew Potter, The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves (2010) – This looks loosely like a follow-up to the stuff that I enjoyed the most in The Rebel Sell. I was waiting to find a paperback copy but there it was in the discount pile at Munro’s last week.
- Katherine Harmon, The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography (2010) – What a gorgeous book. I am going to buy a red coffee bench for my little home and now I have a book to put on it. A gift from my dear friend Sam, who drew me my own map of Vancouver when I moved away.
- Hasan-Uddin Khan, International Style: Modernist Architecture from 1925 – 1965 (2009) – This is a true coffee table book, full of pictures of my favourite buildings, that was marked down to $7 at the Munro’s discount stack.
In October I moved to Victoria, and through the fall I left about 2/3 of my books in boxes. First in a stack on one side of the room, then arranged into the rough shape of a couch, to space out where a prospective couch might eventually fit. For all sorts of reasons, I managed to forget how to read again, after having haltingly relearned what books were all about in May.
I finally put the shelves up in February 2012.
- Victor Sebestyen, Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire (2009) – A history of 1989 in delicious and tangible pieces and the main lesson being that nothing just happens – Poland’s story starts here in 1981 to a finish in 1989 and ongoing of course. And what I love about it all, the shade and colour of each and every little country. And how much more open and grinding and mechanical so much of this history was, and, marvelously, how much pull there was for the status quo for the sake of stability, evil empire or no.
- Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (1992) – I was looking on YouTube for this: http://youtu.be/z3_J5WA7iP0 (and part two: http://youtu.be/p-nZ6x1W3ug) and found this: http://youtu.be/sTBMYf9Zt7A and realized that I had absolutely no reason to not re-read The English Patient. What a thrill, once again.
- Laurie Lico Albanese, Blue Suburbia: Almost a Memoir (2004) – This was on the shelf at the closing 30% off sale of the Book Warehouse in Yaletown. Subtitled “almost a memoir” and yes, it is a set of prose poems, 200+ pages of poems in memoir form, or memoir in poem form.
- Diane Schoemperlen, The Language of Love (1994) – My favourite book of the fall. I went to Russell Books to find a novel and I found this: a novel in 100 chapters, each built around a word from the Standard Word Association Test. Is it a novel without a narrative arc? By forty pages or so the story line is clear, but the flesh and colour are spaced through and around another 300+ and nothing ‘happens.’ But this is the novel I read last year that might have stuck with me the most. I think I bought this at Russell Books just after I moved to Victoria, looking for a quiet new novel.
- Edmund White, City Boy: New York in the 60s and 70s (2009) – I read this forever and I can hardly remember it. Books about New York are tending to blur together – City Boy and Neverland and Moon Palace and Great Jones Street and “Goodbye to All That.” This was on a cheap pile at Book Warehouse sometime last summer.
- Paul Auster, Invisible (2009) – The only book that I read in less than a week, or maybe even less than two weeks, through the fall. I wanted a novel that I would go right through and this was it. I read most, if not all of this on a trip to Vancouver and then north to Whistler, a weekend at the old Camp David. I remember talking to my friend Kate about Paul Auster while she was reading Richard Florida, Who’s Your City. I’d like to read Who’s Your City, but not for another 10 years or so, in order to read with the full context. (I’m a history student, not a futurist.) In any case, just as New York is blending together, so is Paul Auster. I loved this book for all the things that are in every Paul Auster novel and that is ok.
- Kristin Hersh, Rat Girl (2010) – I waited and waited to read this and when I did it took weeks. I liked it but I just didn’t know how to read through the fall. Something that I used to do that I had memories of and something I intended to do again, somehow. I remember reading this in fits and starts at lunch, over pho on Fort street. I remember starting it on the ferry in November. I saved this little line at the time, and it is all just as wonderful: When I say playing music is owning violence, she says it’s owning love; when I say it’s math, she says it’s tap dancing; when I say it’s my gun, she says it’s her dance card.
- Alan Furst, Dark Star (1991) – I remember trying to read this in May of 2011, when I ended up reading John McPhee, Oranges. I distinctly remember bending the cover back trying to put it into my bag while on the 99 bus, on the way to Kitsilano for my first meeting of the Point Grey campaign. I started this on the way back from Vancouver at the beginning of December, after the NDP convention, and finished it when I was back in Vancouver near the end of the month. It the same as Night Soldiers, when I think about it briefly. But when I recall the characters, no, it was different and it told an entirely different story and I’m glad that I have 10 more of these novels waiting on my shelf.
- Alice Munro, The Love of A Good Woman (1998) – I say that I read just one Alice Munro set each year and I only narrowly did that this year and I am glad that I did. I started this on the ferry, or on the way to the ferry, at least, and I remember reading it over dinner at Baan Thai on Blanshard after I go off the 70x bus downtown. Ferry reading is a new and wonderful thing now.
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.
The last of my books at 8th and Fraser.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
And the first of my books, at Dallas and Menzies.
- Flight Paths of the Emperor (1992)
- On Earth As It Is (1995)
- The Admen Move on Lhasa: Writing and Culture in a Virtual World (1997)
- The Shadow Boxer (2000)
- Afterlands (2004)
- Every Lost Country (2010)
I’m having trouble reading. I stopped reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward after 157 pages and I stopped reading Alex von Tunzelmann, Indian Summer: the Secret History of the End of an Empire after 153 pages and after almost two weeks and 235 pages I might put aside Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. The last is the most disappointing. I’ve been waiting to read this for years. Breaking up with a book: it’s not you; it’s me. Something about how he’s writing, how he’s telling the story and avoiding all the context I want somehow. I think I was spoiled by reading The Soul of a New Machine, and believing that anything about computers between 1955 and 1990 would be just as wonderful.
In 2010 I read Flight Paths of the Emperor as a palate cleanser, a short break, something completely different after reading, back-to-back, VS Naipaul, The Enigma of Arrival and David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. I finished Flight Paths of the Emperor late at night in a big chair at Our Town, in my new neighbourhood. Early June 2010, learning new streets and restaurants and reading books on a balcony with a view of the tallest poplar tree in Mount Pleasant. And in 2009 I read The Shadow Boxer over lunch in Kingsway, after we won our May campaign, walking up Stamford St to go to Cho Sun BBQ. And I finished it a week later in Port Alberni, drinking beer slowly, all day long. And most of all, reading Afterlands in 2008, in early December, after forgetting how to read over two campaigns and a brief gap of unemployment and an early snowfall and my first 50,000 word November. I read Afterlands in two days, reading all day and all night and learning how to read, how to take it all in at a glance and leave everything else out – how to disappear completely and never be found.
On Wednesday I went to Munro’s Books in Victoria, and today I went first to Book Warehouse on Broadway and then downtown to the Chapters on Robson and finally found Every Lost Country, brand new in paperback. To quote: “A glorious novel” / “A stunning new novel” / “A truly exceptional novel”
WordPress has a ‘tag surfer’ via which I can track specific tags. The two I tend to follow are ‘books’ and ‘reading’, in addition to the default tags of the authors I have tagged in pieces here, such as Paul Auster. It’s a great survey tool: what are people saying about what I write about? This has been great fun over the spring and summer, as fans of actor Robert Pattinson started reading and discussing and debating and of course tagging Don DeLillo – the novel Cosmopolis is being filmed by David Cronenberg, starring Robert Pattinson. But the survey is frustrating when people tag ‘reading’ or ‘books’ but aren’t talking about either of those things at all. Namely, when people are comparing prices and features and options and brands of e-readers.
I enjoyed Russell Smith’s piece on e-readers this week in the Globe. What I can’t believe are the comments left on the online story. Some folks are genuine in trying to help him out, explaining the 32b v. 64b. kernel issues, or debating UBS cables. Some are less helpful and even critical that someone with such limited technological capacity is writing about e-readers. My favourite: “Wow, technology articles written by people who don’t know anything about technology. Classic Globe and Mail.” Then there are a raft of comments comparing and contrasting various brands of e-reader. It is only on the third page of the comments that someone named ‘wildeyed’ calls it out: “It is astonishing to me that so many people can be such vehement defenders of e-readers and the underlying technology while evidently being incapable of understanding the simple and entertaining message of this small essay.”
I agree with Russell Smith. In a sense it’s a question of risk: the same reason we are more comfortable jaywalking than boarding an airplane. The odds of my paper book being soaked with water and therefore unusable are probably much greater than the odds of my e-reader choosing to spontaneously malfunction. But I know what will cause my paper book to breakdown: in this hypothetical case, a large quantity of water. I know what steps to take to avoid such a disaster. I can avoid an oncoming bus, and do, when I jaywalk, but there’s nothing I can do about jet engine failure.
Suppose my e-reader has a 98% success rate; that’s still a 2% higher failure rate than my book. The comments go on and on about how easy an e-reader actually is and these folks continue to miss the point. This is what I always hated about reading and writing about music: the tendency to stop talking about music and instead descend to technological cock-waving. I don’t really care about e-readers one way or the other – I don’t use one but do not begrudge those that do – but I do regret this: the commodification of the act of reading, and the resulting consumer one-upmanship.
Over the past six months or so I’ve bought 58 books. I read just 74 books over 2010. I’ve got less than two years left to read. In 2013 I’ll be 30. This is the simple math. 22 months to go. At 6 books a month, on average, I have 132 left to go.
Of course I’ll keep reading after 30. I’ll keep buying books and rereading old books and reading about new books and I’ll probably still be writing about books. But it will be different. I’ll be on borrowed time. I’m still in a window, for now – I can still read with impunity.
Part of not reading, not really reading for three months was not really writing either, about books or about reading or about anything important. Or, rather, writing things that simply don’t make any sense outside of where I was through the spring.
- Ian Fleming, Doctor No (1958) – from Magus Books in Seattle.
- Ian Fleming, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963) – from Magus Books in Seattle.
- Paul Auster, The Music of Chance (1990) – More old Auster. From Magus Books in Seattle.
- Victor Sebestyen, Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire (2009) – written in chunks, country-to-country. I’ve never really read the reporting of this period and this seems like an easy place to start. From Magus Books in Seattle.
- Alan Furst, The Foreign Correspondent (2006) – From Magus Books in Seattle.
- Timothy Garton Ash, The File: A Personal History (1997) – A personal history as explored through the now-opened Stasi files from the other side of the Berlin wall. This is the thrill of used bookstores, and the value of looking at each and every book in the “conspiracy/espionage” section because you never know when something like this will simply appear. From Magus Books in Seattle.
- Joseph O’Neill, Blood-Dark Track: A Family History (2001) – Personal history by the guy who wrote Netherland, which I really really enjoyed last month. From Magus Books in Seattle.
- Patricia Highsmith, Ripley Under Ground (1970) – From Magus Books in Seattle.
- Alan Furst, The Spies of Warsaw (2008) – From PulpFiction on Main.
- Natalie Goldberg, Long Quiet Highway (1993) – A memoir. From Magus Books in Seattle.
- Joseph Lanza, Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong (1994) – Yet another part of the ongoing exploration of my own relationship to Karen Carpenter. I’m always thrilled to hear Steely Dan in Muzak form. From Magus Books in Seattle.
- Ben Watt, Patient: The True Story of a Rare Illness (1996) – the guy from Everything But The Girl got really sick in 1994 and wrote a book all about it. From Magus Books in Seattle.
- Paul Theroux, The Great Railway Bazaar (1975) – From PulpFiction on Main.
- Paul Auster, Sunset Park (2010) – More new Auster. From Magus Books in Seattle.
- John le Carre, The Looking Glass War (1965) – From PulpFiction on Main.
- Katie Hafner and John Markoff, Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier (1991) – Still my very favourite secret history of the moment. This is a new library I am working on: computers, and the people that surround them, in post-war US history. Big business and small business and espionage and history in simplest sense: how we ended up where we are today. From Magus Books in Seattle.
- Mark Hume, The Run of the River: Portraits of Eleven British Columbia Rivers (1992) – BC travelogue. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Bruce Serafin, Stardust (2007) – Essays. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Todd Tucker, Atomic America: How a Deadly Explosion and a Feared Admiral Changed the Course of Nuclear History (2009) – Another addition to my nuclear library. from Magus Books in Seattle.
- Craig Nelson, Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon (2009) – Official history, written for an official audience. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Paul Auster, In The Country of Last Things (1987) – Still more Auster. I read them so fast, I need to keep my reserves up. A positive balance. From PulpFiction on Main.
- VS Naipaul, Guerillas (1975) – From PulpFiction on Main.
- Joan Didion, Run River (1963) – From PulpFiction on Main.
- Alice Munro, Too Much Happiness (2009) – Maybe the last Alice Munro book I will ever buy, because now I have them all. From Book Warehouse on Broadway.
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward (1968) – I am reading this right now. What a wonderful edition, solid and unforgiving. What a wonderful book. From PulpFiction on Broadway.
- John Le Carre, The Secret Pilgrim (1990) – From Book Warehouse on Broadway.
- Patricia Highsmith, Nothing That Meets The Eye: The Uncollected Stories (1938-1982) – I have to stop buying her books because when I read them I freak out and feel awful. But I love that books can do that, so here’s another great big anthology. From PulpFiction on Broadway.
- Kristin Hersh, Rat Girl (2010) – I’ve meant to order this for moths, and even wrote about it, months in advance, and here it is marked down to $6.99 or something incredible at Book Warehouse. From Book Warehouse on Broadway.
- Don DeLillo, Point Omega (2010) – From Book Warehouse on Broadway.
- Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up And Start Again: PostPunk 1978-1984 (2005) – Another secret history. From PulpFiction on Broadway
- Bill Mathews and Jim Monger, Roadside Geology of Southern British Columbia (2005) – A guide to the rocks and landscapes and the basic physical history of my province, written through the frame of the highways we’ve built around and across and through it all. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Matt Hern, Common Ground in a Liquid City: Essays in Defense of an Urban Future (2010) – My pal Ben recommended this and so did the guy at Pulp Fiction when I brought it up to the counter. I am curious to counterpose this to George Melnyk, New Moon At Batoche: Reflection on the Urban Prairie but I think it may be less myth and more technocrat. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Hugh Brody, Maps and Dreams (1988) – More histories of BC; recommended by my friend Renee even after we saw Mr. Brody discuss his friendship with Mr. Ignatieff at tedious length last summer. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Robert Sabbag, Down Around Midnight: a Memoir of Crash and Survival (2009) – I read more than half of this in March before I realized that, just like the books I’d tried before, I wasn’t actually reading it. I blame external factors – this is actually a pretty neat premise. Our hero the author is in a place crash in 1981(?) and takes steps, years later, to track down the other people in the crash, to learn how they’ve dealt with the memory, and to learn how it all connects in the end. I should start over. From Book Warehouse on Broadway.
- Philip Kerr, A Quiet Flame (2009) – More espionage, more glamourized 20th century. From Book Warehouse on Broadway.
- Kenneth J Harvey, Inside (2006) – I just read this, a cheapo novel that was a fast read. Hard life in Atlantic Canada. I wasn’t that into it but I did enjoy it. In 2002 I would have been really into this book. From Book Warehouse on Broadway.
- John le Carre, The Mission Song (2006) – From Book Warehouse on Broadway.
- James Sullivan, Over The Moat: Love Among the Ruins of Imperial Vietnam (2004) – More secret history, public and private and travelogue. But also an interesting counterpart, genderwise, to Burmese Lessons. White-Man-finds-Viet-woman-to-love vs White-Woman-finds-Burmese-man-to-love. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Elizabeth Royte, Bottlemania: Big Business, Local Springs, and the Battle over America’s Drinking Water (2008) – Boring, boring, boring but also cheap, fun, fast. From Book Warehouse on Broadway.
- Margaret MacMillan, Nixon in China: The Week that Changed the World (2006) – The big official history of big officials doing big official things. From Book Warehouse on Broadway.
- Harry Harrison, Make Room! Make Room! (1966) – The original draft of Soylent Green. I remember over-population and Thomas Malthus but I can’t remember the last time these things mattered as a public crisis. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Marshall N Klimasewiski, The Cottagers (2006) – A cheapo first novel set in Sooke and featuring tourists. From Book Warehouse on Broadway.
- Paul Theroux, The Kingdom By The Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain (1983) – A counterpoint to Simon Winchester, Outposts – home base against the colonies. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Dave King with Eric Duhatschek, King of Russia: A Year in the Russian Super League (2007) – Two of my favourite things: hockey and post-Soviet Russian travelogue. But I am ready, oh so ready, for disappointment. From Book Warehouse on Broadway.
- Jim Walsh, All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History of the Replacements (2007) – A history of the Replacements through collage: interviews from across the last 30 years. In the category of bands I maybe should like more than I do, bands I forget to listen do, and maybe a band, like Luna, that I’ll appreciate more through history. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Fred Wah, Diamond Grill (1996) – My friend Renee talks about this book and it looks so wonderful, all about British Columbia on several levels. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Boyce Richardson, Strangers Devour the Land (1976) – The history, public and private, of the construction of the massive James Bay hydroelectric projects in Quebec. From Book Warehouse on Broadway.
- JM Coetzee, Summertime (2009) – Part three in this set of pseudo-memoir, of which I have only read part two. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Margaret Atwood, Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing (2002) – Writing is reading and if I do have to start writing, somehow, someday, then I’ll have to keep reading about writing. From PulpFiction on Main.
- David Kaplan, The Silicon Boys and their Valley of Dreams (1999) – I feel there is some secret history at work here but that’s just the shadows of The Soul of a New Machine left in me. But if every book is rewritten as I read it, if what I bring to the table is my experience of any book I’ve ever read, then what I bring to this, a lameo set of business-porn profiles from Wired magazine or something, is a context of: military-industrial complex; espionage; economic development in the post-war United States; unintended consequences. Secret history. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000) – The biggest book of 2002? Finally in an edition that won’t crack all over the spine like the first paperback edition that I see everywhere. This is in every used bookstore I ever go to but it’s always cracked along the spine. Maybe I am the only person who didn’t read this at the time. From PulpFiction on Main.
- ed. Lee Gutkind, The Best Creative Non-fiction Vol. 1 (2007) – I haven’t been reading anthologies in over a year. I may have not read an anthology, in fact, since I read the same, Vol. 2, of the best Creative Non-fiction. But it matches on my shelf, you see, and I am glad to have this on hand. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Andrew Meier, Black Earth: A Journey through Russia After the Fall (2003) – I very nearly bought this from Powells in Portland on a trip there with my friend Rich and others in 2006. In fact I wrote down the title so that I could track it down one day. And here it is, Russia After the Fall, on the shelf at my local neighbourhood shop, just down the street. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies (2006) – More Auster, more Auster. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Howard Kalman, Ron Phillips and Robin Ward, Exploring Vancouver: The Essential Architectural Guide (1994) – I grew up with this, reading my father’s copy. Some of the buildings are gone now but that makes it all the more valuable. From PulpFiction on Main.
- John McPhee, Annals of the Former World (1998) – Another history, a geological history of the continent but also a story of how it was written, across the continent. I’m excited to spend a month with this. From PulpFiction on Main.
- Emma Donoghue, Room (2010) – A gift from my mother. I don’t know anything about it! But it was on the ‘lists’ all year long.
- John Heileman and Robert Halperin, Game Change (2010) – I read this in just two days or something in January. It was hardly there at all. From PulpFiction on Main.