Baltimore Noir edited by Laura Lippmann. Part of the Noir series, set in Baltimore and featuring a ton of writers from The Wire. David Simon’s (who’s married to Lippmann) story is actually just Bubbles’ story from season 3. My favourite was a re-worked Edgar Allan Poe story about a contractor who ends up working on what was once his grandmother’s house.
Ecstacy by Irvine Welsh. The main story about club goers was dumb, the story about a thalidomide femme fatale out for revenge was cool and the one about a romance writer and a necrophiliac was okay but I had to look it up to remember what happened.
Bed by Tao Lin. I was going to throw the towel in (sorry) after Taipei, but I liked Bed. Someone called his writing “single-entendre fiction" and I think that fits.
Stoner by John Williams. The ‘rediscovered’ book everyone’s been talking about this year. Enjoyed it. The guy’s life completely falls apart in so many brutal ways. He’s a farmer’s kid who becomes an English prof and does battle with the head of the department, and he has this weird wife who hates him and wants him dead.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I read it in high school along with everyone else, but I don’t think I really appreciated it at the time.
The Complaints by Ian Rankin. I’ve read a few of his Inspector Rebus novels and thought they were okay. This is the first of his Malcolm Fox series, which is related to Rebus except this guy is a Scottish internal affairs cop instead of a murder cop. It’s kind of clever because it has a sort of Mexican standoff with three different police units investigating each other.
Dead Men Scare Me Stupid by John Swartzwelder. This one has Frank Burly turning into a ghost and avoiding most of the usual science fiction stuff, except for a giant machine that undoes the government’s mistakes.
Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin. An Inspector Rebus novel, where he squares off with Rankin’s other protagonist, Malcolm Fox. I started reading Rankin’s books because I heard about this and loved the idea of an author having two book series and then pitting the protagonists against each other. The plot’s better than most of Rankin’s books but the ending was kind of shit because they basically just beat a confession out of some guy and ended it there.
Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin. The latest Rebus/Fox novel. I liked this one the most of the three, I think. Although the way it kind of ties in to the Scottish independence movement was kind of gimmicky.
Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton. Lovelorn schizophrenic stalks/tries to woe a manipulative woman in London. His split personality wants to murder her. The woman is repelled by him but lets him stick around because she and her friend want to steal his money. Everyone drinks a lot because it is 1939.
Favourite books I read this year, in no particular order:
The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
Mean Boy by Lynn Coady
The Antagonist by Lynn Coady
Filth by Irvine Welsh
The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky
Clockers by Richard Price
The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura
City of Thieves by David Benioff
NW by Zadie Smith
Under the Skin by Michael Faber
Cataract City by Craig Davidson
The Dog of The South by Charles Portis
Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
Canada by Richard Ford
Here is a list of all of the books I’ve read this year, with one final update coming sometime this week. There were a couple of books that I really liked but didn’t include on the list because I was re-reading them.
Well, they found Amelia Earhart. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, they found her in the trunk of my car. Boy, was my face red. I had a lot of explaining to do there. And after I had explained everything, they didn’t believe me! You probably won’t believe me either, come to think of it. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.
It all began a few months ago in the middle of a murder investigation.
"SOMEONE IN THIS STADIUM IS THE KILLER… Killer… killer," I announced over the PA system.
A mighty roar of surprise and anger went up. Everyone thought they were here for a free ball game. But there would be no double header today. Babe Ruth Jr. wasn’t here, despite what the posters promised. And they wouldn’t be seeing a race around the bases between a man and a tidal wave. Nor would the National Anthem be sung by an owl. It was all a ruse to get them into the ballpark so I could ask them a few questions about a little murder I was working on. I’d gotten the idea from a novel.
He told me the crooks used this place for more than just a dumping ground for undesirables. He said they also had a lot of food stored here in case there was ever a nuclear war. That way they could insure that in the future there would still be criminals.
He said they even had a selective breeding program going on down here, trying to breed the perfect criminal by crossing themselves with gorgeous showgirls.
"Wouldn’t it be better to have the women be scrawny and beady-eyed?" I ventured. "Maybe with the face of a rat?"
"Hey, you have your selective breeding program, we’ll have ours."
from The Time Machine Did It by John Swartzwelder.
Band name: Loan Wolf Album name: Predatory Lending
Morning Commute through the Boreal Forest - 8:35 Suit & Tie & Blood & Fur - 4:33 Three Wolf Conference Room - 3:20 Snowy Owl Mountain Meeting Massacre - 2:45 Water Cooler Wetlands - 3:40 Marking Territory in the Scent Free Workplace - 1:39 Loan Wolf in the Break Room - 3:39 Pinewood Paperjam - 8:25 Howling at the Printer - 4:35 Cold Call of Destiny - 7:36 Leaving the Timber Cubicles Behind - 3:55
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. I want to go to spaaaaace.
Filth by Irvine Welsh. Misanthrope cop has a Yeerk tapework that speaks to him and tries to remind him that there was a time when he didn’t use people and play ‘the games’ at work. The parts about his butt were especially gross. Great book, would recommend.
No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod. “Grandpa used to say that when he was a young man he would get an erection as soon as his feet hit Cape Breton.” Well okay then. The title comes from James Wolfe’s remarks about the Scottish Highlanders who fought for him at Quebec, about how they were good fighters but it would be no great mischief if they fall. Must read.
How I Conquered Your Planet by John Swartzwelder. Frank Burly takes a second job as a bus driver, and even a detective as stupid as Frank can tell there’s something weird about the passengers who get on at the mysterious new glowing bus stop out at the crop circles. For one thing, they pay the bus fare using money that looks like crops. They have antennae and they do a lot of hissing and mind control and they keep stealing military secrets. Maybe they’re magicians or something? This book was great, like if you could read a Chuck Jones short.
The Exploding Detective by John Swartzwelder. After buying an old Nazi jetpack from the back of a magazine (with extra rockets from an ad in a women’s fashion mag), detective Frank Burly is approached by the mayor to become Central City’s first superhero… The Flying Detective! It doesn’t end well.
If two men who were friends in their youth meet again when they are old, after being separated for a life-time, the chief feeling they will have at the sight of each other will be one of complete disappointment at life as a whole; because their thoughts will be carried back to that earlier time when life seemed so fair as it lay spread out before them in the rosy light of dawn, promised so much—and then performed so little. This feeling will so completely predominate over every other that they will not even consider it necessary to give it words; but on either side it will be silently assumed, and form the ground-work of all they have to talk about.
Solo by William Boyd. The new Bond novel. Pretty boring. Bond kicks ass in a fake African country and Washington, D.C. He also eats a lot of food and bangs some women. Kind of by-the-numbers, even for Bond.
The Preserve by Patrick Lestewka. Lestewka is Craig Davidson’s pseudonym for his horror novels. This one’s about a retired top secret black ops team of Vietnam vets who get tricked by a Wendigo into going to the Northwest Territories to be hunted down by vampires and werewolves and goblins and a Yeti. It’s kind of silly but entertaining.
Platform by Michel Houellebecq. A Frenchman goes to Thailand and figures he can change the tourism industry by getting hotels to allow prostitutes and then euphemistically advertising themselves as brothels. Better than that sounds.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. You’d think Chechnya of all places would be able to escape the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. It’s not a terrible book, but I feel like it’s overwritten in some spots and there was something kind of off about it. I think my favourite book about Chechnya was that autobiography of the Seattle dude who found Islam in prison and then went over there to fight, before hooking up with the FBI and getting thrown into a Mexican jail.
Haiti Noir edited by Edwidge Danticat. Part of the really great Akashic Noir series which picks a city/country and does an anthology of noir stories about them. This one’s less about crime stories and more about life in Haiti, but it’s still pretty good. Danticat defends her decision by reinterpreting the title, pointing out that after the Haitian Revolution, all citizens of Haiti — even the Polish soldiers who deserted the French to fight alongside the Haitians — were called noirs, while all foreigners were referred to as blancs.
We at the eXile feel that it is time to start taking a more pro-active stance on the religion thing. This means more than merely not believing, but actively attacking the God culture. Otherwise, it simply will not go away—ever. In any case, here are seven deadly ways you can do your part to depress God people as much as they depress you:
(1) Don’t celebrate Christmas.
This sounds like a small thing, but in fact it is - to quote Dan Quayle, referring to his anti-“Murphy Brown” campaign - “a real winner, trust me.” You wouldn’t celebrate the resurrection of Osiris, would you? Then why celebrate the birth of Christ? The best part about not celebrating Christmas is the reaction it inspires among friends and family. In most families, Christmas is the warmest time of the year, the one true annual homecoming, where everybody gets together and feels like a family again. Most people have overwhelmingly positive associations with Christmas, and would not even suspect that it could inspire the icy, deep-seated hatred that, given the proper opportunity, you can demonstrate upon your announcement that you will not be celebrating around the yolka with the Fam this year. For most people Christmas is mostly devoid of any real religious content, but some bone always gets thrown little baby Jesus’s way during the holiday. Usually it’s a midnight mass, or the purchase of a little nativity scene, or a reading from Mark or Matthew before opening presents, or some similarly loathsome activity forced upon everyone by some family member who is seeking to retain some credibility as a believer, despite the fact that he or she does not attend church 50 weeks out of the year. In steps you: you announce that even though the whole thing isn’t religious anymore anyway, you’re not going to celebrate it, or buy anyone presents, or go caroling, or take part in the big dinner in any way except to do the dishes and sit mute, because you don’t believe in Jesus and do not want to celebrate his birth even in a meaningless and superficial way. This will seriously depress everybody, and if you are at all loved in your family, it will likely ruin everyone’s holiday. As an added bonus, your little revolt will make people feel silly and nerdy for believing in God in the first place; you composure and confidence in bringing about this family catastrophe, compared to their despair and confusion at being on the business end of it, will make them feel instinctively that they are the ones who are mistaken or in the wrong. The effect may seem best in the first year you pull this trick, but it actually gets better with each passing year, as your family goes off to buy the tree and then, thinking of you, realizes unconsciously that another year has passed, and they still haven’t learned anything.
from God Can Suck My Dick by Matt Taibbi.
Probably one of my favourite pieces of writing about Christmas, alongside his equally brilliant Christmas in Hell.
Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch. The third book in a series. Some wizards hire thieves to rig an election. It’s set in a faux renaissance Italy instead of faux medieval Europe. It’s okay once you get into it but it takes a while.
The Island by Alistair MacLeod. Sixteen classic short stories about Cape Breton from a generation or two ago, full of drowned fishermen and buried miners and large Catholic families and people who still speak Gaelic and remember the Highland Clearances. There was one particularly sad story about a farmer who had to sell his loyal horse to feed his family, but it doesn’t work because it upsets his young son so much that he takes an axe to their chickens.
Rust and Bone by Craig Davidson. More short stories. I guess they made it into a movie, and some producer said the setting of St. Catharines, Ontario wasn’t pretty enough so it’s set in Southern France. I guess thats pretty standard for movies but I still find it funny. Imagine if some producer said my life isn’t pretty enough and reset it in Southern France. Except if he did this for me he’d have to do it for everyone, and before you know it Southern France would look like the Black Hole of Calcutta. I don’t know. The book was okay and my favourite story was about the repo man with the shaking wife who tracks down a man trying to film a sequel to an old kid’s show in his garage.
Mean Boy by Lynn Coady.This is about an aspiring undergraduate poet at a New Brunswick university. That description makes it sound terrible but I liked it. It reminded me of some of John Dolan’s writing, but with a slightly more optimistic outlook. Also I went to the wax museum mentioned in the book, when I was maybe nine or ten years old. The first or second exhibit was a recreation of da Vinci’s The Last Supper and it scared me so bad I had to leave and never went back.
Under the Skin by Michael Faber. An alien abducts Scottish hitchhikers for their delicious meat. Makes a convincing case that humans should be used as cattle to feed a superior species. Soon to be a movie.
(In a related note I’ve just beat my 2013 reading challenge that I decided to do as a New Year’s Resolution Challenge. Normally I hate New Year’s Resolutions and only do easy things like promise to change a lightbulb once in a while or pretend I’ll eat less junk, but this year I actually did something albeit still something easy that I liked and wanted to do, but I did it with two months to spare. All the books I’ve read so far this year are listed here.)
Googled myself and it turns out there’s a men’s rights guy in Toronto with my name. Like, what if there’s someone trying to track me down who hasn’t spoken to me in years and they try googling me and they scroll past the Australian soccer guy and thinks that’s me and decides I’m an idiot even though that’s not me?
The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. Huron priest takes in Iroquois girl and French priest in 1600s Quebec. Maybe not as good as I hoped it’d be, but still pretty good. Guess it won’t win the Giller though. Some pretty gruesome torture stuff.
Easy Money by Jens Lapidus. This was supposed to be the next Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, but it didn’t catch on. I liked it just as much if not more. A Swedish kid trying to live the Stureplan life hooks up with a Chilean immigrant to sell coke for the Yugoslavian mafia. It’s by a Swedish defence attorney and some parts of the book read like instruction manuals for importing drugs or laundering money or escaping prison. Loved it. Definitely going to track down the sequels, Never Fuck Up and Life Deluxe.
Supergods by Grant Morrison. Like taking drugs and going through your friend’s comic book collection while he tells you about his family: it’s kind of tedious but you still feel like you had a pretty chill time.
Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada. I love those quasi-socialist 20th century novels where the drama is driven by a man or woman’s financial troubles in an expensive world (think Orwell’s lesser read novels or The Jungle or Strindberg’s Inferno), and this one fits the bill. I guess it’s just nice to know I’m not alone. I don’t know. The only shortcoming is that Fallada sort of hedges his bets regarding the Nazis, but it’s hard to blame him considering they were a year away from coming into power when he published this. He sort of made up for it after the war when he wrote Every Man Dies Alone, my favourite of his novels about a German couple who fight back by leaving anti-Nazi postcards in public spaces until they get caught and sentenced to death.
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden. The description of the book made me yawn, “aboriginal woman reminisces about life in attempt to heal bush pilot out of a coma” sounds like the worst kind of Canadian novel, but people said it was his best book and they were right. It was a really fascinating story. The bush pilot gets on the wrong side of some drug dealers on the reserve and there’s plenty of action. And his niece has an interesting story about heading to the city to look for her missing sister.
From the very beginning, Batman habitually found himself dealing with crimes involving chemicals and crazy people, and over the years he would take on innumerable villains armed with lethal Laughing Gas, mind-control lipstick, Fear Dust, toxic aerosols, and “artificial phobia” pills. Indeed, his career had barely begun before he was heroically inhaling countless bizarre chemical concoctions cooked up by mad blackmarket alchemists. Superman might have faced a few psychic attacks, but, even if it was against his will every time, Batman was hip to serious mind bending drugs. Batman knew what it was like to trip balls without seriously losing his shit, and that savoir faire added another layer to his outlaw sexiness and alluring aura of decadence and wealth.
Frank Burly and Professor Groggins discuss TIME MACHINES:
While the hole was open, people in both time periods could look in and see what was going on in the other time period and shout abuse at each other. “1958 Sucks! 1743 Rules!”, that sort of thing.
Only the briefcase was needed to travel through this hole, but Groggins said you should always remember to duck into a phone booth, or an elevator or some small walled-in space before turning on the machine.
"You want to be in an enclosed space when you travel through time. Otherwise you’ll be hit by rocks, bottles and other debris," he said.
"Oh, I don’t know. It’s a jealousy thing probably, resentment. Who knows why people throw things?"
I more or less understood the science of the thing now, but I still couldn’t figure out what crooks would want with a time machine. What would they use it for? Historical research? That seemed unlikely to me. Don’t make me laugh. I mean, who are they trying to fool? This is bullshit. Groggins explained that if you’re a criminal, having mastery over time is very useful in a number of ways.
"It’s good for extremely quick getaways, for example," he said. "One second after committing a crime you can be 1000 miles and 4 years away. You can rob a bank in broad daylight, writing your name all over all the people you’ve just robbed, then prove conclusively that you were in five other places when the robbery occurred. No one with an alibi like that has ever been convicted in the United States. You can also go back in time and steal things and then return to the present with no danger of being prosecuted. Because the statute of limitations will have run out on the crimes. I understand they’ve already stripped 1995 of every penny it had."
Then I suggested Groggins must be pretty upset that the criminals were using his wonderful machine for evil purposes. He said not really. Some of the things he’d planned on using it for were kind of evil too. What irritated him was that they weren’t being careful with it.
He went on and on about how valuable space and time was, but frankly I didn’t buy it. I mean, if you think it’s so easy to change the course of world events, try it. You don’t need a time machine. You’re already living in somebody’s past and somebody else’s future. Just step on a bug or something and see what that gets you. See if you were never born, or suddenly now there’s fifty Hitlers in your bathroom, crapping all over everything. It ain’t going to happen. Anyway, that’s what I figured.
Now that I knew what the time machine looked like, all I had to do was escape and find it. Then I could probably take the rest of the day off.
from The Time Machine Did It by John Swartzwelder.
There’s a genius passage in every three or four pages of this book. I love it.
Cataract City by Craig Davidson. It’s a gritty pulp fiction novel filled with Canadiana, what’s not to love? Two friends live on either side of the law and come together to race greyhounds and bust a cigarette smuggling ring and fix illegal bare knuckle boxing matches in the Niagara region. I loved it.
One Bloody Thing After Another by Joey Comeau. Not the sort of thing I normally read but it was a nice surprise so close to Hallowe’en.
Porno by Irvine Welsh. I’m starting to like Welsh. I guess the thing is you have to ignore people who say he’s extreme and gritty or whatever. It’s just a cartoon. I picture it in my head as Scottish junkies animated by Chuck Jones.
Our Daily Bread by Lauren B. Davis. Based on the story of the Goler Clan, a sort of Texas Chainsaw Massacre family that lived in rural Nova Scotia back in the day. Except it’s set in Genericville, USA. The novel was utterly ruined by the inclusion of a sentimental grandmother type who owned an antique store and taught a girl to love tea.
The Time Machine Did It by John Swartzwelder. Speaking of cartoony, this book by the most prolific writer of The Simpsons was amazing. I even pictured P.I. Frank Burly as a yellow-skinned Springfeldian. The only thing that stopped it from being Portis-level funny was that every sentence kind of negated itself for a punchline. That doesn’t make sense but you’d know what I meant if you read the novel.
The next day, a dead turtle was left on my doorstep as a warning. I couldn’t figure out as a warning for what, and I guess whoever was watching me picked up on that, because the next day there was another dead turtle, but this one had several sheets of paper glued to its back leg. The pieces of paper contained a long footnoted explanation of all the symbolism involved. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me. The turtle was the “turtle of inquisitiveness” and the cheese smeared on its shell meant something, and the little cowboy boots on its feet meant something. Everything about this animal meant something apparently to whoever sent it. I still didn’t get what it was all about. The next morning there was no turtle. Somebody just shot at me from the bushes.
The fact that I had continued my investigation despite their friendly warnings, delivered by them in what they felt was a friendly way, amazed the crooks and, yes, it kind of hurt their feelings too. This was not the way friends acted, they felt. It prompted a late-night visit to my house of four thugs, who invited me to come with them for a little ride.
While this invitation was being delivered, the leader of the group absently picked lint off my shoulder and eyelashes off my eyelids. This helped me come to my decision. I would go along with them. I said a well lighted area might be a fun place to go, maybe someplace with a lot of witnesses, but they said they would choose the destination.
They took me to a drive in movie. About half way in to the second feature, they told me what was on their minds. They didn’t want me nosing around asking about TIME MACHINES ever again.
From The Time Machine Did It by John Swartzwelder, writer of 59 episodes of The Simpsons.
The criminals came into my apartment. One was very tall, the other was very small. Actually, they were both average height. I was using artistic license there. I’m told this is the thing to do, as it makes the story more interesting. If one guy is the size of a refrigerator and the other is the size of a thumbtack, this conjures up a vivid picture in your mind. It’s like you can see the one guy being smaller than the other, and this interests you. Anyways, these two guys came into the room and looked around. I hadn’t expected visitors, so the room wasn’t looking its best.
The smaller crook said: “Geez, what kind of guy would live like this? It’s like a pig lives here.”
I frowned. “I’m already mad about you breaking in and pointing a gun at me. Don’t make it worse.”
The smaller crook covered his mouth with his handkerchief. “I gotta get out of here, Boss. The dust and mold is getting to me.”
"Have you taken your medicine?"
"Yes, but it’s not helping."
The guy with the gun turned to me. “I’ll have to make this short. We just stopped in to give you some friendly advice, Burly. There are some things going on around town right now that don’t concern you, things involving time machines and other advanced scientific concepts understood by few. Our friendly advice to you is that you keep your nose out of these things, or you and your nose are dead men.”
I don’t think the ricin is going to kill anyone. The joke has always been how ineffective it is. Tuco, Tio, Fring’s dealers, Fring and Lydia all escaped poisoning. Even in real life the only confirmed killing in in recent times was the cold war umbrella spy’s target. So I think Walt’s going to try it on Gretchen or Lydia or someone and it’ll fail, which will make him look like just another crackpot and tarnish his fearsome reputation.
Just worrying about fictional character who are going to be slaughtered tomorrow night. I have no idea who will die.
I think Todd will eat it, but not Lydia. Maybe he will die for her? That’s the kind of weird shit Breaking Bad loves to pull off. It’s either that or he tosses her under the bus. Jack and his goons are toast.
Jesse will have a death with meaning and it will be very sad. I think he will get some kind of revenge on Walt. Probably one other minor character like Brock or Badger or Detectives Dickhead will die a quick, brutal and shocking death at the hands of either Walt or Todd.
I think Walt will die just before or as he is taken into custody. I think his entire family will be dead, with only one survivor (I’m not sure who) who will go into Marie’s custody.
I have no idea what will happen to the money or the ricin or the Greymatter couple.
According to the Breaking Bad Insider Podcasts, Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston did one of those things where they visit terminally sick kids who are fans, and the kid suggested part of the ending of this week’s episode, the part where Walt sees his old partners on television. That’s pretty cool. (Although the kid died before the season started, which sucks.)
"Did you know," Mahoney said, "that the Russians sent dogs into space? My mother told me this when I was a boy. Nobody knew the effects of space on a body, you see, so they sent dogs first. They found two little mongrels on the streets of Moscow. Pchelka, which means Little Bee, and Mushka, which means Little Fly. They went up in Sputnik 6. They were supposed to get into orbit and come right back. But the rockets misfired and shot them into space.
"Whenever I look at the night sky, I think about those dogs. Wearing these hand-stitched spacesuits, bright orange, with their paws sticking out. Big fishbowl helmets. How… crazy. Floating out and out into space. How bewildered they must have been, dying from oxygen deprivation. For what? They would have happily spent their days rummaging through trashcans.
"For all anyone knows these dogs are still out there. Two dead mongrels in a satellite. Two dog skeletons in silly spacesuits. Gleaming dog skulls inside fishbowl helmets. They’ll spin through the universe until they burn up in the atmosphere of an uncharted planet. Or get sucked into a black hole to be crushed into a ball of black matter no bigger than an ant turd."
Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont by Joseph Boyden. Part of some series called Great Canadians edited by John Ralston Saul. I figure if God’s ever spoken to a Canadian, it might as well have been Louis Riel. Much like the French Revolution, it is still too early to say if I liked this book.
The Fighter by Craig Davidson. Kind of a rich boxer vs poor boxer thing, set in St. Catharines, Ontario of all places. I like it because I think a lot of modern literature, especially CanLit, is mostly written by women. Not that that’s a bad thing! I like Miriam Toews and Lynn Coady and Esi Edugyan! But this was a much needed boost of testosterone. The class aspect was kind of lame though, in that both rich and poor were exaggerated in ways I don’t think anyone would find believable, and too caricatured to find funny. The fighting was also way over the top but in a good way. There’s one insane chapter about underground fighting in Vietnam where fighters are forced to cover their knuckles with methamphetamine while gamblers flick super hot coins at them. Over the top in an awesome way. Split decision in favour of the book.
Decisions by Jim Treliving. I kind of like that tv show, Dragons’ Den. Why I read this book, I don’t know. I should have read the book by the woman or the angry bald one. Or something else. Treliving is probably the most boring of them. He’s a former Mountie who’s now a billionaire chain restaurant owner. The book reads like a Boston Pizza training manual, with lots of meaningless business speak cliches and reminders that they serve pasta. Seriously, this book was awful. I’m out.
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. It’s 40 junior high kids eviscerating each other with deadly weapons. That’s good enough for me.
Caught by Lisa Moore. Newfoundlander escapes prison and runs to Vancouver to meet up with friends so they can sail to Columbia to try and import two tons of marijuana in the 1970s. It’s a good enough novel and definitely better than her others, but there was something missing completely from the book. I got to the last ten pages and realized it was humour. Not once in 318 pages is there an attempt at levity. Just a dull seriousness that sometimes goes for the burnt out philosophizing you get from people who’ve used too many drugs.
The Upgrade by Paul Carr. I still haven’t decided on Paul Carr. His NSFW Corp site is great if only because it regularly publishes John Dolan and Mark Ames. He’s also a dickhead, though I think the whole Sara Lacy/Valleywag thing is overblown. Anyways, this book is from his days as an alcoholic (2009ish?) where he came up with a scheme to live as a nomad living in one nice hotel after another, riding the coattails of tech and Internet famous people.
Steppenwolf by Herman Hess. I thought it was an old novel about werewolves but it’s it’s about a guy who changes his name to Steppenwolf because he hates himself and he’s a recluse. That’s a pretty good idea I think, and so my recluse steppe name is going to be Tundra Shrew.
City of God by Paulo Lins. The violence in this book is insane. It’s like Grand Theft Auto, except it’s based on real events. The gangsters and the police regularly fire at each other in crowded public spaces and you just can’t do that without bystanders dying! I think my favourite character was the guy’s brother was a crossdresser because at least she had self-defence as an excuse for cutting and shooting people.
The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq. I read this because I was browsing old eXile book reviews and this is one of the few books that didn’t get panned completely. It’s similar to Oryx and Crake, but it predates it by a few years and it’s a lot better anyways.
The Violent Bear it Away by Flannery O’Connor. This was kind of a weird book, to say the least.
Glue by Irvine Welsh. Think Trainspotting with less drugs and more soccer hooliganism. Kind of a rehash of his earlier stuff.
Dare Me by Megan Abbot. I was talking about how great Rian Johnson is, and someone recommended this book. It’s a sort of neo-noir set in a high school. It was okay, but it wasn’t as good as Brick.
Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. I loved this book. It’s about two Cree hunters who become snipers for the Canadian army in World War One. It was really good and I have nothing bad to say about it. Loosely based on the exploits of Francis Pegahmagabow.
Kikwaakew by Joseph Boyden. A short e-book sequel to Three Day Road, published byThe Walrus (ugh) set one generation later, in the traplines of Northern Ontario. Kikwaakew is Cree for wolverine, by the way.
The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan and Pierre Rigoulot. I think there’s better books about North Korean prisons (Escape From Camp 14 comes to mind). What put this in the top tier of North Korean books is the parts set outside prison, because the author had a kind of privileged spot in society, which you don’t often get accounts of. That being said, the prison chapter that gives a detailed count of how to eat rat meat is as creepy as any horror film I’ve ever encountered.
Tishomingo Blues by Elmore Leonard. Yeah, I guess I’m just reading it cause he died recently. I haven’t read many of his books, admittedly. I think my favourite was Djibouti about pirates and stuff. This one was Leonard’s favourite and I can see why. The Robert Taylor conman character was the standout part of the book.
Clockers by Richard Price. Apparently this served as sort of an inspiration for The Wire because he wrote for that too and there’s a whole bunch of scenes in this book that get repeated on the tv show. Mostly Herc and Carver gags, but you can see how the main character was kind of a precursor to D’angelo Barksdale. It’s about a shooting at a fast food place and how it’s connected to a bunch of small time drug dealers. I thought it was great.
Canada wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for great alcoholics like Sir John A MacDonald. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal if someone smokes smokes pot, even as Prime Minister.
Stephen Harper’s soberness kind of works against him, even. Relax, Steve.
It’s called the chamber of sober second thoughts because you’re supposed to be blasted out of your skull in the House of Commons. Senate is for the morning after.
Mackenzie King got us through WORLD WAR TWO by having seances to talk to his dead cats, dead mother, all kinds of dead people. If he can do that you can probably turn 24 Sussex Drive into an opium den without much of a negative effect on the country. It would probably even improve Question Period.
If I were a party leader I’d want to one up Trudeau right now. Legalize all drugs! Start using igobaine! Total anarchy! Sod the TransCanada and rename Calgary as Fat City!
The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan. Oh my god, this book. Imagine Lizbeth Salander dropped into the Scotland from Trainspotting, bouncing from one childcare institution to the next.There’s a sort of ‘nothing to lose’ spirit that the protagonist Anais embodies that provides catharsis and lets her fight back, but there’s also a deep sadness in the book. No one should have to wonder what it’s like to have a loving parent. No one should have to work a job that robs them of dignity and puts them at risk of rape and abduction. There was a part at the end that felt kind of faked, but otherwise I loved it.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson. I heard Eleanor Wachtel interview the author and thought I’d read it. It’s about how the author had a rough upbringing, being adopted by a crazy religious woman who locked her in a coal-hole and wouldn’t let her read books and made her live in Manchester. It’s kind of similar to Panopticon but it felt a lot more optimistic despite the dreary subject matter and the fact that this take is a non-fictional account of the author’s awful childhood.
The Long Walk by Brian Castner. About an EOD guy in Iraq. The War Nerd’s rule of thumb is that the losing side generally produces better memoirs, but I guess it doesn’t hold true for Americans. They lost a war and the best their memoirists could do was sign up for yoga and learn to fake PTSD. Boring.
Alligator by Lisa Moore. I really wanted to like her last book, February. I like to think I’m not a prude but halfway through there’s a scene where the widowed mom remembers blowing a hairy fisherman in Newfoundland and suddenly all I could think of was the summer smell of the wharf back home in August with all the fish baking in the sun and I threw up in my mouth a little bit and couldn’t finish the book. Alligator was a slog to get through, but I did finish it eventually. Her new Newfie heist thriller, Caught, sounds interesting though. Third time’s the charm, right?
The Antagonist by Lynn Coady. I really loved this book. Once upon a time I thought I could write one of those shitty Cape Breton/Maritimes novels but I gave up on it because a) those books suck and b) I have no confidence in myself to pull it off and c) I kinda worried about people I know accusing me of stealing their stories or slandering them. This book was all about the last part, after a man discovers an event in his life on the east coast was the basis for a former friend’s novel. Also it was kind of strange because one of the main characters has a lot of superficial resemblances to myself (same name, from roughly the same place, similar physical description though a different age, both of us being shitty writers) which sort of made the whole thing surreal given that this was a book about people stealing stories and identities. Not that I’m accusing Lynn Coady of anything, that would be absurd and paranoid. It was just weird.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. The book is kind of a big, mean Mormon fantasy with a layer of scifi on top. I don’t know. There’s also some pretty gay undertones with that whole Spanish boy thing. Homophobes are always the gayest, for some reason. I’ll never understand it.
The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam. I love how the Canadian publishing industry pretty much sustains itself on fictionalized re-tellings of how people’s grandparents made it to North America. This one was particularly good, about a Vietnamese school teacher slash gambler in the sixties and seventies.
The Quiet Twin by Dan Vyleta. The elevator pitch for this is “Rear Window moved to World War Two Vienna”. It’s such a clever concept. The protagonist is a doctor, and instead of being in a wheelchair he’s looking after a paralyzed woman and a hunchbacked girl, both of whom would be murdered by the Nazis if given half a chance. And you don’t want the actual murderer(s) to get caught because all of the dead are Nazis. That being said, the execution isn’t great: there’s at least one coincidence that helps the protagonist way too much, and the ending just sort of tapers off.
Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. A novel about the Iraq War by a veteran. Not that great.
The Last Policeman by Ben Winters. Giant meteor threatens existence, persistent detective refuses to stop investigations. Clever premise, boring characters. Also some really weird discrepancies that aren’t explained. Like, why does the New Hampshire National Guard start using AK-47s? That bugged me.
Kurds are more phlegmatic, grim, quiet people than the average Wahhabi. I remember a great story from the early stages of the war, about a Kurdish fighter and an Arab jihadi sharing a position in a skirmish against Assad’s troops. The jihadi would yell, “Allahu Akbar!” every time he fired a shot, and the Kurd would wearily repeat, “They can’t hear you, you know.” It’s a real difference in style, in tone, born of the Kurds’ nightmarish recent history.
I am not a stupid joke, or a trippy game, or an experiment. I will not go insane. Something bad is gonnae happen, though. I can feel it. It’s in the way that crisp bag has faded from the rain. I am not an experiment. If I keep saying it, I’ll start believing it. I have to try. I am not an experiment. It doesnae sound convincing. It sounds stupid.
Try it in German. Ich bin nicht eine experiment. My German’s shite. Inhale slowly to the count of four, look hard at the tip of my nose and try again. This time I go for an official BBC broadcaster circa-1940 accent.
Today, one finds one is not, in actual fact, a social experiment. One is a real person. This is real actual skin as seen containing the bodily organs of a real actual human being with a heart and soul and dreams.
It’s true that I came from real people once too, and they were a jolly old sort, with no naked psycho-ess in any way.
I, the young Miss Anais, understand wholly that I am just a human being that no one is interested in. No experiment. No outside fate. I am not that important, and that is just fine by me. I propose a stiff upper lip and onward Christian soldiers, quick-bloody-march! This is Anais Hendricks, telling the nation: to be me is really quite spiff-fucking-spoff, lashings of love, your devoted BBC broadcaster since 1938.
Anais Hendricks tries to convince herself that she is not being watched as part of a sinister experiment. From The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan.