Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reading Journal: Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane (2010)

The sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone comes in at about half of its predecessor's length, and much thinner on story. Some of the excesses of the first installment were done away with, but as must any book in a series, this volume burns a lot of early pages catching up backstory, which stalled the book's ability to get its hooks into me. Lehane's prose is as clean and quick-reading as it's ever been, though, and when the action does finally pick up, the book comes to a whirlwind conclusion - breathless, if a bit contrived, and giving us a sense of what will happen to Amanda (GBG's abductee), complete with a side of Russian gangsters, which (eventually) makes for an exciting read. Best of all, the ending is one that will allow Kenzie to come back to us a very different man... or, one that could equally allow Lehane to abandon this series altogether and try something new.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reading Journal: Off Book, by Mark Sampson (2007)

A world-beating debut that must have some truth in it, about a young writer named Cameron from rural Nova Scotia who attends King's College (Halifax) then moves to an unnamed prairie city, where instead of following his passion and writing plays, he begins crunching code for a web start up. Sampson himself, from Prince Edward Island - where one of Cameron's girlfriends comes from, one whose home we visit in the novel - attended King's, then the University of Manitoba (in Winnipeg). What he has produced here is a seeming hybrid of the academic novel and the bildungsroman, in which he often lays bare the device, referencing the process of writing frequently as well as the coming-of-age archetypes. The novel, the last book now-defunct Norwood Publishing produced, has a quite a few editing errors - spelling, doubled words, missing indents, tense errors - but the story is nevertheless profluent, and stocked with believable characters. It's over 360 pages long and tightly packed, and though I was working through several other books at the time, I kept wanting to come back to this one. Engaging story in functional - if occasionally a touch stiff - prose that reads quickly, but that also makes you think, as you recognize the types Sampson is employing to tell this ambitious story and discover the Kroetsch-ian leanings of the style the writer character develops. I really enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to his next novel, Sad Peninsula, from which The Quint, (University College of the North, Thompson, MB), has published an excerpt that you can read here.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reading Journal: King Leary, by Paul Quarrington (1987)

A Leacock Medal for Humour and Canada Reads winner, King Leary tells of an old-time (1910-1930, roughly) NHLer much more like King Clancy than King Lear. The plot revolves around the King's upcoming trip to film a ginger ale commercial in Toronto with Duane Killebrew, the record-shattering phenom clearly based on Wayne Gretzky. Overall, the book is audacious, and peppered with funny moments, but I struggled with the diction. Sometimes we were in the 1920s, and others, we were in Southern Gothic. And it took a long time for the main story to ramp up, about 100 pages - nearly half of the book. I was really hoping to laugh more, but with no chapters longer than about 10 pages, and because of the book's shifting chronology - sometimes in the present, sometimes in flashback, generally flipping one chapter at a time - it was hard to get deep enough into any given character or storyline for the humour or pathos of the situations to rise up. A great idea, but unfortunately, a book that I found too easy to read distractedly.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Top Ten Reads in 2011/Review: Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby

If you follow me on Facebook, then you know that I dispatch quarterly about the books I've read, in some form of hybrid micro-review/reading journal enterprise.

Of the 74 I got through in 2011, these were my 10 best reads.

10. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie (1993)
09. And Also Sharks, by Jessica Westhead (2011)
08. July, July, by Tim O'Brien (2002)
07. My White Planet, by Mark Anthony Jarman (2008)
06. The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink (1995)
05. Post Office, by Charles Bukowski (1971)
04. Taxi!, by Helen Potrebenko (1975)
03. Room, by Emma Donoghue (2010)
02. Barney's Version, by Mordecai Richler (1997)
01. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera (1984)

The quarterly wrap ups will continue on my Facebook page, but as of now, I will also be posting the reviews here, on my blog, one at a time. Here's the first:

Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby (2009)
A work of genius, to an extent, as Hornby has his finger squarely on the lonely, obsessive enterprise that music fandom has become, updating High Fidelity in the wake of the Internet much like Douglas Coupland's JPod was an update on Microserfs. The novel gives us three characters: childless (1) Annie, who's been with slacker and obsessive fan of (2) Tucker Crowe, (3) Duncan, for 15 years, in a holding pattern in a dreary English seaside town. Duncan runs an Internet fan board re: Tucker, who for his part, hasn't released an album in two decades, and is holed up in Pennsylvania with his most recent illegitimate child and its mother. When Tucker's hit album, Juliet, is re-released minus its production values (as Juliet, Naked - Beatles' Let it Be in 2003, anyone?), Annie's decision to listen to it first (without Duncan), and her difference of opinion as to whether it's better than the original, kicks off a sequence of events that makes her and Duncan rethink their relationship. I really liked the first 5/8 (250 pages out of around 400), but - slight spoiler - when Tucker himself enters the story, the focus changes, and though rooting for Annie (and, as with all Hornby male protagonists, only sort of rooting for Duncan to get his shit together), I much preferred Tucker in absence than in presence; the story sags as the window opens further into his life. That said, I demolished this book: started on a Thursday night, finished Saturday morning. An entertaining read that only misses the mark when the author plays away from his strengths (i.e., writing about fandom), it may nevertheless be Hornby's best.