7 Comments on Room

RoomRoom by Emma Donoghue
Published: 2010
Length: 321 pages

This story follows a young boy, Jack, and his mother as they live their lives trapped in a small room. Jack was born there, and in his five years of life he has never seen the world beyond the locked door. Emma Donoghue was inspired by the horrifying events in the 2008 Josef Fritzl abduction case, in which a man in Austria locked his daughter in his basement and abused her for twenty-four years.

When I was a little kid I thought like a little kid, but now I’m five I know everything.

I enjoyed this so much more than I thought I would. What could have been an irritating gimmick, having a five-year-old narrate a harrowing story such as this, worked perfectly for me. I thought Donoghue hit the perfect balance of making Jack’s voice feel authentic without it feeling like you’re actually in the head of a child for three-hundred pages, which seems like a tricky feat. This novel wouldn’t work if Jack’s thoughts were too mature, but it also wouldn’t work if his thoughts were completely that of a five-year-old, and she really managed to pulled it off.

The writing in this was fantastic. Not only was Jack’s voice somewhat believable for his age, but I was constantly surprised with the little insights and observations he had as a child locked away from the outside world. We learn about the situation as Jack does, without any chunks of exposition, but we obviously understand what’s happening well before he does. That gap in knowledge, between the reader and the protagonist, is usually a huge annoyance in fiction, but it’s part of the charm when you have a five-year-old narrator. He watches television, and listens to his mother’s stories, and often misinterprets what he’s seeing in smart and beautiful little ways that make sense in the context of his life. I really loved these moments, and I imagine there must have been a strong temptation for Donoghue to carefully explain to the reader how clever she was being, but she just sprinkles these moments about for the reader to find.

Sometimes when persons say definitely it sounds actually less true.

I wouldn’t call this a thriller, and it’s not really frightening, but it was very unnerving. It was also often a pleasant read, however, despite having such dark inspiration and subject matter. In a way, the mother’s act of shielding her son from the horror of their situation managed to also shield it from the reader. Maybe I’m just simple, but the daily routines and distractions she set out for Jack also helped settle me in a way, although there was still always that eerie undertone of wondering what was to come. This was the dictionary definition of a page-turner for me, without it being heavily plot-driven, which is an interesting mix.

I really thought she executed this perfectly, and I’ll will be looking to pick up another novel by her soon. We have a big used book sale coming up, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned, and there will certainly be a few of her novels to be found there. It’s usually easy to find books from anyone associated with a Man Booker Prize, which this was shortlisted for in 2010, as well as popular Canadian authors in general (Irish-born, but we’ve adopted her).

Alas, Babylon

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Alas, BabylonAlas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Published: 1959
Narrated by: Will Patton
Length: 11:14 (323 pages)

I keep hearing that dystopian and apocalyptic fiction has saturated the book market in the last few years, but I feel like these disaster scenarios have always been popular, really hitting their stride in the mid-twentieth century. A few of my favorites that come to mind (The Day of the Triffids, Earth Abides, and I Am Legend for example) all come from the 40s and 50s.

What I love most about the apocalyptic stories from that era, at least from my limited sampling, is that the reader often gets to experience the disaster happen, and Alas, Babylon does the same. The worry of nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union was a major concern during this time, and this novel imagines what would happen if a war did break out. The main character in this, Randy Bragg, has a brother in the military that is able to warn him in time of an inevitable nuclear war. Randy is then able to try to acquire the provisions his family will need if they live through the attack.

We follow this group as they struggle to survive, to protect and feed themselves, and I found it thoroughly interesting. I always enjoy the thought experiment angle of apocalyptic fiction, imagining what I’d ideally do in a similar situation. That’s often a bit of a depressing activity, but not as much with this. Alas, Babylon is an optimistic novel of a community coming together when things seem hopeless, but it does play out to be a bit too easy for everyone. This is really a best case scenario of finding yourself in the middle of a nuclear war. There is violence, and medical issues, and some food concerns, but it’s not as devastating as some other apocalyptic novels. As a result, it didn’t tend to stir up a lot of emotion. There were a few emotionally charged scenes, but a lot of the book didn’t feel as impactful as it could have, particularly in the end. I guess without those lows, it’s hard to reach those highs.

I enjoyed the book, and Will Patton’s narration was fantastic. It felt like he was bringing more life to the characters than what was actually on the page. Pat Frank, whose real name was Harry Hart, was very involved world politics, working as a wartime journalist and eventually with the United Nations. He wrote a few novels concerning war and nuclear threat, and even wrote a non-fiction novella called How To Survive the H Bomb And Why. This was his most famous novel, and I’m not sure I’ll read his others, but I will keep an eye out for them.

The Classics Club – Round Two!

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I’ve decided to join The Classics Club for another round. That’s another fifty classic novels read in the next five years, with a completion date of April 12th, 2022 (starting a few days back to include my current read).

This is just a tentative list. I like to read on a whim, so it will change dramatically by the time I’m finished, as the previous list did. I don’t understand how people follow TBR lists that span a month, let alone five years, so I’m not even going to try. But this is what I would currently like to read, having scanned my shelves and Audible wishlist.

I would like to incorporate more classics from outside of America and England, which are the countries I mostly read from despite not being American or English, so I’d love any recommendations. My only criteria for what constitutes a classic is that most people would describe it as quite old. I’m a simple man.

  1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605)
  2. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (1623)
  3. The Tempest by William Shakespeare (1623)
  4. King John by William Shakespeare (1623)
  5. Emma by Jane Austen (1815)
  6. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
  7. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
  8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
  9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
  10. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
  11. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856)
  12. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1859)
  13. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)
  14. Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1864)
  15. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)
  16. Roughing It: A Personal Narrative by Mark Twain (1872)
  17. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
  18. Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson (1879)
  19. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
  20. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1888)
  21. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (1889)
  22. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1894)
  23. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells (1896)
  24. Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome (1900)
  25. The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton (1904)
  26. A Room with a View by E. M. Forster (1908)
  27. The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton (1908)
  28. My Man, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse (1919)
  29. The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925)
  30. Jesting Pilate by Aldous Huxley (1926)
  31. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929)
  32. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (1933)
  33. I, Claudius by Robert Graves (1934)
  34. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934)
  35. The Plague by Albert Camus (1947)
  36. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (1949)
  37. The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler (1950)
  38. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)
  39. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov (1951)
  40. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)
  41. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (1953)
  42. The Seeds of Time by John Wyndham (1956)
  43. The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham (1957)
  44. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (1962)
  45. Travels with Charley in Search of America by by John Steinbeck (1962)
  46. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (1962)
  47. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (1964)
  48. Memento Mori by Muriel Spark (1965)
  49. Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
  50. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)

The Double

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The DoubleThe Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Published: 1846
Translated By: Jessie Coulson (from Russian in 1972)
Length: 144 pages

Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin is a government clerk, a faceless bureaucrat, who is struggling both in work and in his social life. After a particularly emotional encounter at a party, while walking home through a cold night’s fog, he finds himself face to face with his double, a man identical in look, background, and even name. At first, they becomes friends. Golyadkin even shares his home with him, but before soon his doppelgänger begins to take over his life. Golyadkin is awkward with people, but this double is charismatic and popular. Golyadkin isn’t getting anywhere in his career, but the double is working with his superiors and advancing within the organization. He’s everything Golyadkin has tried and failed to be.

This was my first Dostoyevsky novel, and I really had mixed feelings about it. I like the premise and how the story was structured, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing style. The dialogue, in particular, was a bit painful to get through. Golyadkin’s incessant repeating of each character’s name while speaking to them was a bit too much for me. I don’t think it’s a translation problem, Jessie Coulson seemed to do a fine job on the rest, but rather a style choice made to show how the character was struggling to hang on. It did successfully convey that feeling, but it wasn’t fun to read. When characters weren’t speaking, I found myself enjoying the story much more.

I was surprised by how darkly funny this was at times. There were scenes that were awkward to the point of slapstick, a weirdly tragic slapstick that I thoroughly enjoyed. I especially loved how Golyadkin would struggle with getting the nerve up to do something, standing outside a party for the better part of three hours for example, and as soon as he’d decide to abandon the plan he’d immediately turn around and go through with it. It felt like the physical version of an internal monologue that many introverted people will know all too well.

At the end of the novel, Golyadkin is driven away to an asylum. This business with his doppelgänger was all in his head, and it ends with him being locked away. I was still thinking there really was a double at that point, mainly because we see the hallucination conversing with people in the office and at parties, and it’s written very much as if they’re two different people.

Looking back now, I do really like the idea of his double being a delusion. I’ve often heard people with social anxiety describe social situations as feeling like they’re an actor playing a part, so the idea of that stress manifesting itself like this makes a kind of sense. Golyadkin feels so out of character that it’s like watching a completely different version of himself.

There is a scene in which Golyadkin asks his co-worker if the new hire reminds him of anyone, and it takes a while but does eventually dawn on him that Golyadkin and his double look remarkable similar, and I don’t really understand how that works with the idea of Golyadkin going insane. I suppose you could write that whole conversation off as a hallucination, but that seems a bit easy. There are a couple of moments in the story, looking back, that don’t seem to really fit with the ending.

So, I’m still not sure about Dostoyevsky, but I will give him another go at some point. I have Notes from Underground as well, so that may be the next one. The Double was one of his first published novels, so maybe I’ll enjoy his later work more. Even though I was lukewarm on this one, I am interested in giving it a re-read at a later date. I think it would be really interesting to see each scene again, knowing how it ends.

His Bloody Project

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His Bloody ProjectHis Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Published: 2015
Narrated by: Antony Ferguson
Length: 10:22 (280 pages)

It’s 1869 and Roderick Macrae, a young man from the Scottish highland village of Culduie, is being held in jail after a gruesome murder. He’s a smart young man, shy and insightful, and he never denies committing the act. The question is what drove him to do it.

This is a novel composed of found footage, essentially. First we’re shown police statements taken from the residents of Culduie, some praising Roderick as a wonderful kid and others calling him a animal-abusing lunatic. The story ends with a transcript of the trial and various other documents, such as his medical assessment. The largest section of this book is comprised of Roderick’s written account of his life in the village and the events leading up to the murder. He’s a genius, held back from his scholarly potential by his depressed and aggressive father, and it’s a detailed and eloquent retelling.

This was very well-written and gripping from start to finish. I really enjoyed the story, and I loved the historical setting of 19th century Scotland, particularly on audio. We get a glimpse into the early days of using psychological assessment in law, as well as the now, thankfully, outdated use of physiognomy. I’ve seen the book criticized in how unrealistically intelligent and level-headed Roderick Macrae appeared to be, but I thought that added an even greater sense of eeriness to the story. His somewhat detached retelling of what happened is reminiscent of The Stranger, where his personal morality, however at odds with society’s, left him confident that his actions were justified. He’s the narrator of his story and has a very sincere tone, so the reader is left wondering how reliable that narration truly is, and whether anything was omitted or altered. The trial at the end manages to be suspenseful, even when knowing the outcome going in. It brilliantly sheds light on Roderick’s memoir in subtle and surprising ways, presenting certain revelations and leaving them for the reader to interpret.

This was on last year’s shortlist for the Man Booker Prize, which some people did not like at all. Not because it’s a bad book, but because they felt it fell outside of the literary fiction genre. This could be seen as crime fiction, and some people argued that the purpose of the Man Booker Prize is to expose contemporary literary fiction to a wider audience, and that it was a disservice to include a novel outside of that genre. I can see the reasoning, but I think a large part of the problem is that the genre of literary fiction is just so vague. I love reading it, but I think it needs a new name and a reworded definition.

Literary fiction is described as having ‘literary merit’, which is a term I just hate. How anyone can argue that the involvement of a detective or a castle or a spaceship can somehow wipe a story clean of any realistic emotional complexity or its ability to comment on the human condition is beyond me. I can understand not enjoying certain settings, but to write off those books in that way seems so snobbish and unimaginative to me. I personally don’t see a problem with including a vaguely crime-centric novel in the prize nominations, but as someone who reads across most genres, I guess I just don’t care as much about those divides as someone who limits themselves to just literary fiction.

Anyhoo, it made it to the shortlist. I can’t say whether it was well-deserved or not, having not read the other longlisted novels, but I found it to be an engrossing read. Graeme Macrae Burnet wrote another book a few years prior to this, The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau, and I’ll definitely pick up a copy of that when I come across it.

March in Review

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Books Acquired:

Books Read:
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Room by Emma Donoghue
Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Not a single book bought or stolen or conjured up this month. My favourite used book sale is only about five weeks away now, so I’m saving myself for that. We have limited shelf space left here, and we usually both go a bit nuts at that sale.

It’s been a fairly busy (but also lazy) month, and as a result I’ve fallen quite behind on these posts. I haven’t written about a single novel that I read in March yet, but I do hope to start plowing through those soon. It has been quite a good reading month, however. Five books finished, and one finished just after the month ended, and I really enjoyed everything I read.

Here’s a random video of my dog, Paisley, and her version of what she considers ‘fetch’.

Paisley's still trying to figure out the whole fetch thing.

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Goodbye winter. Won't miss you one bit.

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The weather has finally taken a turn for the better. I’m hoping this keeps up. The better the weather, the more audiobooks I’ll hopefully get through.

Movies watched:
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) – This was fantastic! Perfectly handled suspense and great acting. I remember watching Dan Trachtenberg, the director, a lot when he hosted The Totally Rad Show, so it was very cool to see him go from hosting that to directing a big film like this.

The World’s End (2013) – Despite loving Edgar Wright, I never got around to watching the third movie of the Cornetto trilogy. This wasn’t my favourite film of his, but it was a lot of fun. I loved the premise and how it played out, but some of the humour felt a bit strained.

Beauty and the Beast (2017) – They did a great job with this. It’s probably been about twenty years since I watched the last one, and I’d forgotten how catchy the songs are. I also went into this somewhat blind, as I knew my girlfriend (who loved it) would be pulling me into the theatre for this no matter what, so I was happy to find such a stellar cast. They really made it feel like a seamless live-action Disney movie, rather than a bunch of actors surrounded by cartoons and CGI.

Night Train to Lisbon (2013) – Great locations and great actors, and I love that it’s a movie about a guy obsessed with a book, but it was a bit dull. The beginning setup was weak and underdeveloped, which made the main character’s actions throughout the movie seem a bit silly.

TV watched:
The Mind of a Chef: Season 4 (2015) – I absolutely love this series. It follows two chefs a season, one for the first half and another for the second, as they present and uncover recipes and food preparation techniques that explain how they approach food in their restaurant and throughout their life. This season had Gabrielle Hamilton and David Kinch. Both were great, but I really enjoyed Gabrielle Hamilton’s episodes. So much so that I looked her up to see if she’d written any books, as I just loved the way she described food, and I was happy to discover that she was the author of Blood, Bones, & Butter, a food memoir I’ve almost picked up multiple times in the past, so I’ll definitely be reading that soon.

Games played:
Torment: Tides of Numenera (2017) (PC) – This should almost count as another read for the month. A dialogue-heavy role-playing game, heavy to the point of almost having no combat so far, and it’s extremely well-written. I took a break and never returned, but I’d like to get back into it this month and finish it off.

Rocket League (2015) (PC) – They came out with a new update for this, so I’ve been playing again. Great fun.

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?

The Classics Club: Completed!

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Five years ago, I decided to join an online challenge called The Classics Club, the goal of which was to read fifty classic novels in a five-year period. For the purposes of this list, I defined a classic as any book written mid-century or earlier. I always enjoyed reading classics in school, but I went almost my entire twenties without reading anything older than a decade or two, outside of university assignments.

I didn’t really expect to finish this, or even still be blogging by this time, but here we are. I actually read the fiftieth book about half a year ago, but I decided to carry on to the five-year mark, ending with 56 novels read and reviewed. I’m so glad I took part in this. I can’t say I was very active in the community, but having that little goal in the distance really did spur me on to pick up more classics, and after five years of doing that it’s permanently changed my reading. It’s no longer a conscious decision to pick up a classic novel; they’re just naturally a part of my to-read queue now.

Here’s the final list:

  1. The Trial and Death of Socrates: Four Dialogues by Plato (~399 B.C.)
  2. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (1623)
  3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
  4. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1817)
  5. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (re-read) by Mary Shelley (1818)
  6. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin (1833)
  7. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864)
  8. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
  9. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)
  10. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)
  11. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)
  12. King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard(1885)
  13. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
  14. She by H. Rider Haggard (1887)
  15. Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome (1889)
  16. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
  17. A House of Pomegranates by Oscar Wilde (1891)
  18. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
  19. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (1895)
  20. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)
  21. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
  22. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898)
  23. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
  24. In the Ravine and Other Short Stories by Anton Chekhov (1900)
  25. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)
  26. The Poison Belt by Arthur Conan Doyle (1913)
  27. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1915)
  28. The Great Gatsby (re-read) by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  29. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
  30. Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov (1932)
  31. The Hobbit (re-read) by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
  32. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  33. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
  34. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
  35. Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)
  36. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (1945)
  37. Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (1949)
  38. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951)
  39. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway (1952)
  40. The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham (1953)
  41. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis (1955)
  42. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
  43. Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein (1958)
  44. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
  45. Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham (1960)
  46. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
  47. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1961)
  48. Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut (1961)
  49. Solaris by Stanisław Lem (1961)
  50. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)
  51. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
  52. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (1963)
  53. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (1966)
  54. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1966)
  55. Chocky by John Wyndham (1968)
  56. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)

I’m pretty happy with the list, despite completely dropping the ball on reading at least one Shakespeare a year. I’ve discovered so many new authors during this time and returned to a few old favourites that I’d forgotten. I loved The Chrysalids in high school, but I didn’t even realize John Wyndham had written anything else. I finally read some Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, Graham Greene, and John Steinbeck, and now I’m excited to read the rest of their work. I hadn’t even heard of Jerome K. Jerome, and Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) was one of my favourite novels I read during this.

I started with quite a different list and swapped out novels as I went. Here are the novels I wanted to read originally but didn’t get to:

  1. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (1623)
  2. The Tempest by William Shakespeare (1623)
  3. King John by William Shakespeare (1623)
  4. Othello by William Shakespeare (1623)
  5. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)
  6. Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
  7. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)
  8. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1888)
  9. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1920)
  10. Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre: The Best of H. P. Lovecraft by H. P. Lovecraft (1921 – 1936)
  11. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster (1924)
  12. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (1933)
  13. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934)
  14. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1939)
  15. The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler (1949)
  16. Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut (1952)
  17. Moonraker by Ian Flemming (1955)
  18. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut (1959)
  19. A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway (1964)
  20. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine by Kurt Vonnegut (1965)

So now there’s the question of whether I should start a new list and start again. I do like making lists…

Ex Libris

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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common ReaderEx Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
Published: 2000
Length: 162 pages

I love books about books, but this is probably the first time I’ve read one so purely about the love of reading. Ex Libris is a collection of essays about the reading, storing, and sharing of books, something I imagine many people would find incredibly dull, but I love it. If you’re someone who spends their spare time reading book blogs, you probably will too.

It begins with one of my favourite essays, Marrying Libraries, which recounts the compromises and sacrifices that go into the merging of two personal libraries. The bookshelves in the Loose Logic household are still currently segregated, but our reading doesn’t tend to cross-over into each other’s books very often, so it still works for us.

#CurrentlyReading Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. Loving this so far.

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That essay was also an interesting look at the personal connections people can develop with certain editions, and the pain of having to choose which copy to keep when both people own the same book. I don’t think I have many specific editions that I’d have a hard time giving up, although if forced to make the decision, I might feel differently. There are a few signed copies, but almost none of those were signed in person, so that probably doesn’t matter. The main books I wouldn’t be able to give up are my tattered Lord of the Rings novels that my father used to read to me and my siblings. In fact, I already have two separate copies of the trilogy on the shelf, because those books from my childhood are starting to fall to pieces.

I loved hearing the bookish stories of Fadiman’s childhood, as so much of it reminded me of my own. She describes her childhood house as having thousands of books covering the walls, and how naked other people’s houses felt to her when they lacked bookshelves, and I remember feeling that as well. She had a father who wasn’t precious with his books, who would let her build forts out of them, and I can remember huddling under a propped up blanket, peeking out from behind walls of science-fiction hardcovers. My love of reading largely developed from being surrounded by books as a kid and watching my father sit down with one every single night. He never once urged me to read; it was just something I picked up through osmosis.

There must be writers whose parents owned no books, and who were taken under the wing of a neighbor or teacher or librarian, but I have never met one. My daughter is seven, and some of the other second-grade parents complain that their children don’t read for pleasure. When I visit their homes, the children’s rooms are crammed with expensive books, but the parent’s rooms are empty. Those children do not see their parents reading, as I did every day of my childhood. By contrast, when I walk into an apartment with books on the shelves, books on the bedside tables, books on the floor, and books on the toilet tank, then I know what I would see if I opened the door that says ‘PRIVATE–GROWNUPS KEEP OUT’: a child sprawled on the bed, reading.

This was such a joy to read, and I know I’ll be returning to it from time to time in the years to come.

Gourmet Rhapsody

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Gourmet RhapsodyGourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
Published: 2000
Narrated by: Full cast
Translated By: Alison Anderson (from French in 2009)
Length: 04:03 (160 pages)

A renown Parisian food critic, the greatest alive, is on his deathbed. He’s lived a life of eating, where food mattered more than the people around him, and in his last hours he strives to find comfort in that passion by tracing his memories back to the truest taste of his life, in an attempt to experience it again before he’s gone.

This is presented as a series of vignettes, short scenes from his life. Half of the chapters are from his point of view as he scours his memories for that taste he can’t quite recall, a defining bite of food from his past. The other half, every other chapter, are each from a new character’s point of view as they describe their own memories and relationships with the man. These characters include, but are not limited to, his family, past loves, house staff, and the pet dog.

Through these memories, both his own and the others’, we quickly discover how awful a person he is, how neglectful he was as a father and a husband, and how much of a bully he was to nearly everyone around him. His life was about his work and the power that came with it, the power to crush or advance a restaurant with a single review. Most of the memories others have of him are quite negative, although not all, and it’s an interesting look at the complexity of life-long relationships and how one man will affect a variety of people throughout his life, in both insignificant and major ways, but it’s handled in a lighthearted and funny manner.

I personally really enjoy reading about nasty people. Maybe that reflects badly on me, but there’s something about the freedom of expression of being a complete douchenozzle that is just fun, heartbreaking, shocking, and often hilarious to read. I don’t like to be around assholes in real life, but they’re a blast on the page.

[…] for I only ever knew how to spoil my own children — spoil in the strictest sense of the term. I caused them to rot and decompose, those three children who emerged from my wife’s entrails, gifts I had negligently given to her in exchange for her decorative wifely abnegation – terrible gifts, when I think about it today, for what are children other than the monstrous excrescences of our own selves, pitiful substitutes for our unfulfilled desires? For the likes of me – people, in other words, who already have something which gives them pleasure in life – children are worthy of interest only when they finally leave home and become something other than one’s own daughters or sons. I do not love them. I have never loved them, and I feel no remorse on that account. If they expend all their energy hating me with all their strength, that is no concern of mine; the only paternity that I might lay claim to is that of my own oeuvre. And the buried flavor that I cannot find is beginning to make me doubt even that.

I picked this up mainly because I love reading about food, and I was not disappointed in that regard. Barbery writes vividly about the tastes, textures, and experiences of eating, and while it definitely borders on, and sometimes casually shuffles past, the line of self-indulgence with prose so purple it could have hung in Prince’s closet, it will almost certainly hit the spot if you’re in the right mood.

True sashimi is not so much bitten into as allowed to melt on the tongue. It calls for slow, supple chewing, not to bring about a change in the nature of the food but merely to allow one to savor its airy, satiny texture. Yes, it is like a fabric: sashimi is velvet dust, verging on silk, or a bit of both, and the extraordinary alchemy of its gossamer essence allows it to preserve a milky density unknown even by clouds.

As a whole, I found the narrative disjointed, and it took me nearly half the book to find the story’s rhythm. Once it clicked, I started to really enjoy myself, but it sounds like her later book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, is where her storytelling really comes together. I’m still deciding whether or not I’ll read that.

Sleeping Giants

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Sleeping Giants (Themis Files, #1)Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Published: 2016
Narrated by: full cast
Series: Themis Files #1
Length: 08:28 (304 pages)

A young girl falls through the earth and lands cradled in a giant metallic hand. Seventeen years later, that woman is now a brilliant physicist leading a research team to discover the mystery behind the discovery. When they find another body part buried in another area of the world, there’s a new goal: to reconstruct.

I really enjoyed this. It’s written as a series of interviews, similar to World War Z, except the interviews take place as the story progresses rather than looking back afterwards. Some chapters are solo journal entries or radio recordings, but most are interviews conducted by a mysterious, unnamed man who oversees the entire project. I’ve always been a fan of the epistolary format, so this was perfect for me, and I thought Sylvain Neuvel really brought the characters to life in those chapters.

The success of a novel like this is to keep the reader guessing while not keeping everything from them, and the balance here was just right for me. I wanted to know more, but it still felt as though I was learning with the research team, and the pace felt very natural. It was smart to mix interviews with the occasional journal and recorded radio call, as it let Neuvel interject some action into the story. Instead of everything being explained just after the event, the reader still gets to be present during some of the more exciting moments.

In a way, this felt more like classic science fiction, where the central plot device is more of a background to the human stories it affects. John Wyndham did this a lot. The Day of the Triffids isn’t really about the Triffids or the meteor shower, but rather the effects those had on society. In The Kraken Wakes, there’s only one scene that actually features the invading aliens, and the rest of the book is how the world, specifically the two protagonists, deal with the long-term threat.

This was structured similarly. When giant robots are mentioned, I think for most people that conjures up images of epic battles that leave cities in rubble, and there’s not much of that action in this. This is much more a personal story of the team working on this project than it is a story about giant robots, but it feels like the sequel (out in April) could be quite different, as the story hinted at big things to come. It can be a bit disappointing when none of those big things come to fruition in the book you’re actually reading, as it makes this all feel a bit like a first act, but I actually usually enjoy the personal side of science fiction more than the action anyway, so it works for me.

I listened to this on audiobook, and I thought the narrators were great. It’s read with a full cast, which works really well with the interview and journal format. It’s a fun novel, and I’m interested to see what happens in the next book.