December in Books

 Well, only three days left of my vacation and I am pleased to say that the sitting there has been a success. I have sat there so long I am now ready to get up again. In order to ease my way back into the swing of things, I am beginning with this post. Baby steps, I know. But the calendar is filling up quick and I am not quite ready to take the blinders or the pyjamas off quite yet.

Here are some of the books I read during my epic sitting-there phase, form the most recent read on.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

I just finished this novel yesterday and loved it! Set in 1862 London, with a very Dickensian cast of rogues and schemes, this novel kept twisting and turning like a kid trapped by a fat aunt wanting a kiss. Just to give you an idea- Waters is credited for inventing the “lesbian picaresque”. This was a great vacation read- fun, gripping, smart and long.

 Room by Emma Donoghue

Lyrical, tragic, funny. For those of you living under a literary rock (and don’t worry, I live under other kinds of rocks- social, technological, etc.) this book was nominated fro most of the huge literary prizes in the Commonwealth and even won some of them. Deserved? Oh yes. The story is told through the eyes of a five year old boy who has never left the room he was born in, due the fact that his mother was kidnapped by a psycho at age 19 and locked away like a princess in a tower (except way more nasty). Donoghue must have had a 5 year old living with her at the time because she gets the voice perfectly. The hardest part of this story is that the Room is completely  normal for the narrator, but through his innocent eyes we see the struggle of the mother. Although this book is hard (especially if you are a mother) it is worth reading. The scenes with the kidnapper are few and not overdone- it is mostly a study in how the world can be huge even if it is only one room. Highly recommended.

 An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

There is a student at the school I work at that has been recommending this book to me for over a year. I finally broke down and read it and am very glad I did. If you are looking for quality coming of age fiction, look no further. Funny, sad, witty, Green takes us on a road trip with a washed up child prodigy and his Judge Judy watching best friend. Child Prodigy dude has just been dumped by his 19th Katherine (he only dates Katherines) and, in a desperate bid to contribute to the world’s knowledge, to “matter”, he devises a mathematical formula that should be able to predict the arc of a relationship. A Printz Honor Book (for those of you who don’t know, the Printz is the big cheese award in the U.S. for young adult literature).

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

So this one actually won the Printz Award. And is about the kookiest book I’ve ever read. In fact, maybe a little too kooky.
Cameron is a 16 year old boy who doesn’t really do much. Unless getting stoned in bathrooms and making daily trips to the record store count. He doesn’t really have friends, while his twin sister is cheerleader perfection and hates him, his mother is an indecisevenees quake of nerves and his father, a physicist is having an affair with one of his students. But then he gets mad cow disease and is about to die.  The thing about mad cow disease is that, well it makes you mad. Cameron starts seeing things – Dulcie, a cute punk rock angel, fire monsters, a black knight (that reminded me way too much of Monty Python’s Holy Grail). His hallucination becomes more and more complicated and more and more real. He ends up having to go on a road trip (all in his mind) with his friend, a hypochondriac little person who lives in a world of video games.
The manner in which Bray makes this quest seem real at the same time as giving the reader no doubt that Cameron is still in his bed at the hospital dying is masterful. She also treats the fact of Cameron’s death with beauty and subtlety. Bray is always funny and witty, sometimes satyrical and at times moving. A very interesting, unique novel. My only beef with it is that it sometimes gets a little too kooky, though hallucinations and quests based on a life of reading comic books and video games, perhaps they would be filled with talking yard gnomes and crazy science projects that can cause interdimensional travel through the vibes of a good rock’n’roll song….

 La maison aux 52 portes by Evelyne Brisou-Pellen

This is a book my youngest daughter had to read. She’s in Grade four and I have to say, I’m impressed and a little mystified. A classic ghost story about a family who moves into an old house they inherited from a dead, recluse uncle, the young girl starts seeing things as soon as their car hits the dirt road coming their house.The mystery is a historical one, and involves a young woman, a horrible father and a dead soldier/lover during WWI. Heady stuff for nine-year olds, don’t you think?

The Gryphon Project by Carrie Mac

Okay, so I read this at the beginning of the month and I think my brain is a little muddled about it. I remember thinking that the premise was very interesting: a near future where the structure of society seems similar to ours except for some very important details. The class lines are now determined not only by income, but your income determines how many resurrections (called recons) you are allowed. The most powerful, important people in society – doctors, lawyers, etc. Are allowed 3 resurrections in their life – 3pers. Then you have the middle class, 2pers, the working class, 1pers, and then the poor, nopers.  The story follows a teenage girl name Phoenix and her popular brother Gryphon – a star athlete. Once the perfect big brother, kind, loving and inclusive, lately he had been distant and harsh. When he dies in a weird accident that seems like suicide and might not be resurrected, Phoenix is determined to unravel the mystery.
I liked the idea a lot- however, I don’t feel like Mac explores the dysfunction of the world that she created enough. She spends a lot of time on Phoenix, who is self-absorbed and prejudiced (although part of the story line is how she has to confront this). I think this might be one of the most difficult thing about science-fiction: creating this one to one correspondence between the world building and the plot. The plot needs to have a reason for residing in this world, it needs to allow the author to explore the set of problems posed, exposed, circled and highlighted by this particular vision of the future. In this case, our fear of death, and how that might affect the socioeconomic aspect of our future. The idea of having people alotted more lives than others is extremely Orwellian and worth more time than Mac gives to it.

So that’s all I got folks. In all, a pretty good month for reading. Oh! I also listen to books. I have a subscription to audible. They sometimes give freebies. This month I listened to some of O. Henry’s holiday short stories and a Robert J.Sawyer short story, “You see but you do not observe” about transporting Sherlock Holmes into the future to solve the Fermi paradox. All good, entertaining stuff.

Right now I am rereading Wuthering Heights (book club pick) and listening to the Complete Sherlock Holmes.

Ok. Now that’s really all I’ve got…

4 thoughts on “December in Books

  1. I am very interested to learn more about why you think literary prizes are so important. I've never considered myself to be living underneath a literary rock, but am at the same time completely ignorant as to who is in the running for whatever prize.

    The Academy Awards are notoriously political; wouldn't that be the same for literary works? Finding the right publisher that has enough money etc. for promoting the book to juries, etc.? Gotta have the right connections to be recognized.

    I'm so glad you liked Fingersmith.

    Good thing I'm not a mother, so I guess Room won't affect me so much when I get my hands on it (over 400 requests for it at my local library). My total lack of empathy for people in horrible situations will make it a breeze, right? (I'm joking, you know that, right? My experience of mothers is that just because you've birthed a human doesn't mean you necessarily care about them. I don't believe that all mothers share the same experience, or all fathers, or all humans….)

    I'm sorry for picking on your “mother” thing. My hackles get super-high when generalizations enter the picture.

  2. I'm impressed, Lina. A whole lotta readin'–which you have to hear in your head like Led Zeppelin's whole lotta love. (And if you don't know LZ, which I admit it my generation, give it a listen on Youtube.)
    See you soon…

  3. Thanks for the comments! To respond:
    Alice, Led Zeppelin was also part of my growing up, but as oldie but goodies.

    Carrie, the mention of the literary prize was because of the big fat silver or gold sticker on the front. The Printz award is a YALSA award which means a bunch of my american colleagues get together and choose the best book of the year. If you go to their site you can see the policies and procedures laid out. What happens is that a call for nominations to eligible publishers is sent out. They respond with the titles they wish the jury to consider. However, that does not mean that a title not submitted by a publisher but seen by a jury member is not eligible.
    Knowing first hand how subjective it is, I still find it handy to know who has won awards. With the YALSA awards, it is like having a group of your colleagues get together and talk about the best books you've read during the year. Definitely not conclusive, but interesting, as a reader and in a professional capacity.

    As for the mother comment. It is my experience and one I have heard from many other mothers that there are things that we used to be able to stomach that we can no longer stomach. That's all. No generalizations, really. Just an observation. Of course I don't mean that everybody would have the same reaction or that you have to have had a child squeezed out of your vagina to feel squeamish about the abuse or horrible fate of children. Just that things that never bothered me more than any other things before now bother me so much I will stop reading or walk out of the cinema. Talking to other moms, they have the same experience. But no, not all.

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