Books read, January-March 2016

Posted on March 31, 2016 under Books

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I thought I’d start doing quarterly posts about the books I’ve read in my attempt to reach my goal of 25 for the year. Although this semester has been incredibly busy for me, so far I do remain on track, having finished 8 books so far this year. I’m hoping to pick up my pace over the summer – I’m really doing all I can at the moment; I keep telling people who ask me if I’ve seen the latest episode of a television show or a newly-released movie that I don’t have time for fun at the moment. I’m coming down the home stretch, though: in less than 3 weeks, I will be finished my degree.

Onto the books! These will be presented in order of when I finished them. This does not include any short stories, though I have probably read about ten this year so far.

Face Paint: The Story of Makeup by Lisa Eldridge

This is more of a survey course with 250 students and two TAs type book than an in depth seminar of 20 students book, but it is fantastic for what it is: well-researched, beautifully-presented, and absolutely brimming with Lisa Eldridge’s passion for makeup. I reviewed it in full in January.

Marx for Beginners by Rius

This is a graphic novel all about Marxism! I had to read it for my Marxist Cultural Theory class. Having already been through for years of high school and three and a half years of a liberal arts degree, I don’t know that I would categorize myself as a “beginner” when it comes to Marxism – though the book was highly readable and easily understood, so it would probably be an appropriate primer for a true beginner.

Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

Honestly, when faced with the task of reading an 1835 French realist novel, I was not very enthused. And while it isn’t one that I’m likely to revisit, it was much more enjoyable than I expected. The plot wasn’t quite enough to balance out the often tediously lengthy description, but this was much less of a struggle to get through than I anticipated. Which doesn’t really sound like high praise, now that I think about it…

Whylah Falls by George Elliot Clarke

Really gorgeous narrative poetry about a Black family living in mid-20th century Atlantic Canada. I’m not normally a poetry person, but perhaps narrative poetry is the way to my heart. The story was as compelling – and heartbreaking – as the poetry itself.

Diamond Grill by Fred Wah

Another one that I really enjoyed! This is a literary/poetic autobiography, focusing on Fred Wah, Jr.’s father’s Chinese restaurant in Western Canada as well as his own hybrid Chinese-Scottish-Swedish identity. Peppered with recipes and mouth-watering descriptions of food – two of my classmates actually cooked from a recipe in the book, and it was pretty good! I loved the use of language and overall found this book very moving and evocative.

What We All Long For by Dionne Brand

While this book was made up of interweaving narratives, a device which I usually enjoy, and while it was set it in my home city of Toronto, it fell very flat for me. The characters really lacked meaningful interiority, which was a shame, because their situations rendered differently could have been hugely emotionally affecting. Emotional connection with characters is almost always the number one factor in my enjoyment of a book! Really too bad, because the descriptive passages were great and the plot could have been awesome.

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music, From Bill Haley to Beyoncé by Bob Stanley

This is a 550-page history of the past 70 years of pop music, which is certainly an ambitious task. Overall, I do think that the task was in good hands. Although the text suffered sometimes from over-editorializing (which at various points lead to sexist condescension), it was lucidly- and engagingly-written, packing in a massive amount of information without being dry or confusing. This isn’t a page-turner: it took me nearly 3 months to get through, and I normally finish books inside of half a week, even if they’re quite long.

Foe by J.M. Coetzee

Foe is a retelling of Daniel Defoe’s classic castaway tale Robinson Crusoe. This time, Cruso (as he is called in this novel) is joined on his island by Susan Barton, a British woman who has just spent two years searching for her lost daughter in Brazil. In Coetzee’s adaptation, Cruso’s “manservant” (aka slave) Friday is not indigenous to the Americas; rather, he is an African slave whose tongue has been cut out, supposedly by slavers – though Susan does question several times whether it was Cruso who cut his tongue out. It’s an interesting postcolonial (and to a lesser degree feminist-aligned) adaptation of the original novel, and while the writing is great, it fell short for me. Above all, it’s an exploration of authorship and whose story gets to be told, and it seems that Friday is the loser here. The novel can be read as an allegory for Apartheid (it was written in 1986 by a white South African), but it just didn’t push far enough for me. I do believe that Susan’s insistence on speaking for Friday and justifying why she kept him as a “servant” was meant to be rather damning of her character, but there is no narrative closure for Friday and he ends up being denied a voice. (I mean, literally, he has no tongue.)

Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler

(Can you tell from this list that I’m taking a class on Canadian lit? Probably only if you’re Canadian or particularly into CanLit.)

I must be a bad Canadian, because it’s taken me this long to read any of Mordecai Richler’s adult novels. (And I’m not entirely sure that I even read any Jacob Two-Two as a kid.) Being assigned a nearly 600-page novel in the last three weeks of my degree did not agree with me, but I actually ended up really enjoying the book. It’s part adventure story, part genealogy of the dysfunctional and sprawling Gursky family, and part rather apt picture of the Montreal of the 20th century. It’s told non-chronologically, spans many decades, and is made up of multiple narratives, which is right up my alley. And it makes heavy (fictionalized) use of the Franklin Expedition, which was an object of my obsession when I was about 11 or 12. I also loved the writing style – it’s very Montreal. All in all, a very rewarding read.

I was, like a nerd, going to include a list of some of the academic texts I’ve enjoyed over the past semester, but this post is already long enough, so I’ll leave you hanging.

I’m happy with the amount I’ve read this year so far: at this rate, I’m on pace to read 32 this year, which is 7 ahead of my goal of 25. (I have no doubt I’ll slow down in the fall, but a girl can dream.) As for my goal to read more by marginalized people: I’m not sure if I’m quite hitting my target of 75%, but this is a pretty diverse list. More women and more LGBTQ+ people in the next few months, though! My one true disappointment is that only two of these books were read simply for the fun of it: everything else was for school. Obviously, over the summer I will not have school dictating what to read, so I will be able to dive into the small stack that has been accumulating on top of my bookshelf. Meet you back here in 3 months and hopefully I’ll have another 8 books to share with you!

There are 2 responses to “Books read, January-March 2016”

  • Some of these sound amazing. I’d love to read the Marx book. For some reason I love dystopian novels and such. The face paint book by Lisa Eldridge looks amazing! Plus it’s just pretty enough to have sitting on your coffee table :)

    Lindsey Elyse | lindseyginge

    • Face Paint is definitely a good coffee table book, but also worth a read! And I used to be obsessed with dystopian – back in 2012 I read everything I could get my hands on. All the classics plus a lot of the YA stuff, too. YA dystopian was really having a moment a few years ago, haha.

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