- 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”
I read Blood Meridian in September and October 2008 and I just hated it, probably more so in retrospect. What a frustrating way to have spent my downtime through an election campaign.
I would go back into Cormac McCarthy – we have all of The Orchard Keeper, All the Pretty Horses, and No Country for Old Men in the house – but the odds of reading any of those when there are so many other wonderful things in the world to read are slight.
Here I was all ready to say that I didn’t read another solid novel until Afterlands by Steven Heighton but I’ve checked my fall 2008 list and that isn’t true. In between I read What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn which was nice but not as good as Afterlands turned out to be. And, wonderfully, the real-life arctic expedition in Afterlands came up again in Elizabeth Hay’s The Only Snow In Havana which was one of my favourite books of 2009. The quote on Afterlands, from The Globe or something: “A magnificent novel about the wreckage of history – both the history that happens to us and the versions of it we create.” Yes and it had so much more to say about history and exploration and memory and the day to day and even more to say about the American Southwest than bloody Blood Meridian. Maybe I was the wrong audience (not an issue – good books should transcend etc etc) but the point of Blood Meridian was entirely lost on me. I don’t need 400 macho pages telling me how the west was really won – I don’t need your inside-joke cowboy subversion. The structure beat me into submission and I was left with how many hundreds of pages left to go where nothing really happened. Blood and guts and long sentences but nothing. Whose fault: the reader or the writer? It’s fair to split the difference.
I read The Road too but I read it as genre fiction, not as a novel, no matter how many awards were splashed on the back cover. My copy has an ‘Oprah’s Book Club’ sticker too. Maybe the genre/novel bit is a quaint distinction, maybe I should have read Blood Meridian in the same style but the fact is that I went through The Road in two days and fought with Blood Meridian for a month. The Road sits beside The Chrysalids and Earth Abides and Interface while Blood Meridian sits alone as some horrible totem. How a novel can make you feel so lousy about reading books.
And speaking of totemic novels – Point Omega by Don DeLillo, the 117pg (shorter than The Body Artist for crying out loud) new novel is on my shelf, waiting for the summer.