My Life With Bob – Pamela Paul.

My Life With Bob - Pamela PaulSometimes a book can provide a perfect reading experience, usually due to both content and timing, and this book is a wonderful example such a sublime event. Ms. Paul is Editor of the New York Times Book Review. This fantastic book is an autobiographical recounting of her love of reading. The “Bob” in the title is an acronym for “Book of Books”, a journal that lists every book (title and author) the she has read since 1988. A wonderful aspect of this book are the references to her philosophy of reading, and her motivations for choosing to read particular books at specific periods in her life: childhood, young adult, while travelling in France and SE Asia, and finally re-reading books to her children. This is just an exceptional book about the joy of reading.

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Swimming to Elba – Silvia Avallone

Swimming to Elba - Silvia Avallone.jpgThis is an excellent book for two reasons. The first is context: Italy in 2001, specifically a town on the west coast across from Elba, dominated by soul crushing work in a steel factory. The description of drug-fuelled workers in the paralyzing heat of summer is incredible. And the second reason is the author’s description of emotion, particularly in family and friendships. There are breathtakingly horrible husbands/fathers but the key relationship is between two young girls, best friends forever who undertake a remarkable coming -of-age transition at the age of 14. Their actions are both risqué and innocent while navigating the emotional pitfalls of adolescence. Overall, a powerful, gritty and captivating story.

The Star Side of Bird Hill – Naomi Jackson

The Star Side of Bird Hill - Naomi JacksonThis is a remarkable first novel about 3 generations of women who are both powerful and vulnerable. Two sisters in Brooklyn, Dionne and Phaedra, are sent to Barbados to spend the summer with their grandmother, due to their mother’s deepening depression. There is a predictable cultural clash as the strong-willed grandchildren are confronted with a more traditional society. Life becomes more complicated with their mothers suicidal death. This is  passage near the end of the book when Phaedra thinks about her mother’s death: “This time there was no hope for her mother’s arrival, because Angie was where she would always be now, silent and below the ground. And this had, rather than saddening Phaedra, settled in beside her, the way that the hill’s red dust filmed her white clothes, the way that sand lined her pockets days and weeks after she came home from the beach. It was always there, a reminder of what had come before”.
Powerful story-telling about love and conflict, death and discovery, pain and hope – highly recommended.

Brother – David Chariandy

Brother - David ChariandyThis is an outstanding book that everyone in Canada should read for its insight into the world of ethnic immigrant families. The place is Scarborough; the principal family has Trinidadian origins: two brothers and their mother. The fragility and vulnerability of their lives is captured vividly. There are issues of poverty and violence, and most chillingly, dangerous encounters with police. All the honours that this books has received (Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, etc) are richly deserved. This will be a formidable contender in the upcoming Canada Reads competition.

The Piano Teacher – Eugene Strickland

Strickland is a well-known Alberta playwright, journalist, educator and occasional actor. The Piano Teacher is his first novel and it is a joy to read. The book is written as a series of journal entries by an accomplished pianist, to his niece (who has given him three journals), so it is a stream-of-consciousness recounting of meandering thoughts. There are some outrageous anti-technology rants, philosophical musings on artistic creativity, many reminiscences and so forth. There are laugh out loud moments and beautiful poignant parts. Overall, a great read, especially for music lovers.

Difficult Women – Roxane Gay

Difficult Women - Roxane GayThis is a book of previously published short stories. As a collective book, the story-telling becomes even more powerful. Gay’s writing is both compelling and disturbing. The situations she describes are amazingly diverse: raunchy and dangerous with some awesomely poor decision-making. There are situations of danger, physical and sexual abuse. So be warned: this is a book with impact.

The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

The Music Shop - Rachel Joyce.jpgThis is a magical book about the power of music, of listening to music and learning to listen to silence. Frank has a music shop in 1988 with only vinyl records. Part of the charm of this book is the context; Frank’s shop is located on a failing street with other shops closing. He is a “music whisperer”, someone who can choose music that will change someone’s life. And then Frank meets Ilse and his life becomes complicated. The ending will bring you to tears because of the redemptive power of music. Joyce is a spectacular writer; read everything that she writes.