Infinite Detail, by Tim Maughan

Infinite Detail cover

It’s rare for me to be as excited about a new release as I am about Tim Maughan’s excellent debut novel, Infinite Detail. I don’t recall exactly who put me on to Maughan’s work—someone on Twitter, surely, as that’s where I’ve gotten most of my book news and recommendations for close to a decade now—but I read Paintwork in 2016 and felt like I’d finally found the kind of science fiction I’d been looking for, and which the genre seemed determined not to give me. For those who haven’t encountered Maughan’s fiction before I’d probably say that it combines William Gibson’s remarkable ability to see right to the heart of now with the politics and analysis of someone like Adam Greenfield and the weird narrative prototyping of design fiction, although that doesn’t seem quite right. Jay Owens might call it kitchen sink dystopia, which applies to much of his short… Continue Reading

2018: Year in Review

My mother

Normally at the beginning of every year I post a breakdown of all the reading I’d done the previous year. I won’t be doing that this year. I’ll include some recommendations at the end of this post, but I’m having a hard time worrying about how many books I read by certain authors, or books of a certain kind, or whatever categories interest you, or have interested me in the past. Today, I don’t care. 2018 was not a good year. I’ve already written about my cat dying, but my mother also passed away in September, following complications from what is generally routine day surgery. I’ve had great difficulty reading, since then. In the four months since my mother died I’ve read seventeen books, which is roughly the count I normally have for December alone. My concentration is shot, my motivation is shot, and my investment in the world around… Continue Reading

Belated Reading Breakdown for 2017

2017 Reading Breakdown Feature Image

I apologize for the lateness of this reading breakdown; I’d anticipated having time to work on it back in January, but other projects intervened over and over again, and I simply haven’t had the time until today. My reading project for 2017 was significantly smaller in scale than in previous years, and if nothing else, the sharper focus yielded fewer books I didn’t connect with—in fact, I chose not to make a “worst of the year” list at all. For those who haven’t been reading along, for Canada’s 150th birthday I read and wrote about one book every month that was new to me but is considered a Canadian classic by one metric or another. Since I finished early, I also wrote about a “bonus” thirteenth book that was recommended by several people. I read a total of 71 books in 2017, down 22 from 93 in 2016 and down… Continue Reading

Sourdough, by Robin Sloan

Detail of Sourdough cover

Apparently the sourdough bread in San Francisco is unique in the world; it not only has a reputation for being unusually good, with a strangely tangy flavour, the starter in San Francisco sourdough has its own strain of bacteria not found anywhere else. This sounds so much like bullshit that it’s a perfect metaphor for how San Francisco sees itself; the fact that it’s true almost ruins it. I liked Sourdough almost as much as I liked Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which makes sense, because the two books have a lot in common. Sloan’s writing in both is clean and direct; personable, even. He’s not in any danger of developing a reputation as a stylist, but he gets balance and rhythm, knows when and how to be funny, knows when to stop. That’s harder to get right than many imagine; I can direct to you to some books if you… Continue Reading

The Double Hook, by Sheila Watson

Detail from the cover of The Double Hook

When planning this year’s reading project I put out a call for book recommendations; I received several, but the most common one was The Double Hook, by Sheila Watson. It didn’t make the cut for a number of reasons—mostly because my list was already pretty heavy on pre-CanCon material—but I added it as a “just in case” book, because I was having trouble locating copies of some of the other books. But December has rolled around, I’ve finished all twelve of my posts, and it turns out that I have time to do one more: my bonus book, The Double Hook. Sheila Watson’s prose was absolutely glorious. In a great many ways it reminded me of the best of Southern US writing; the same deceptively simple diction, the same idiosyncratic syntax, the same presentation of the mundane as the mythic. The Double Hook was gorgeous from beginning to end, but… Continue Reading

The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King

Detail from the cover of The Inconvenient Indian

The Inconvenient Indian was one of the first books I chose for my Canada 150 project. I picked it up in the store, read a couple of pages, and was instantly hooked. Had it not been for my decision to read the books in chronological order, this would have been my first selection rather than my last, though perhaps it’s fitting to end the project here. The Inconvenient Indian was compulsively readable from sentence one, full of wit and charisma and righteous anger. It definitely made me want to read more of King’s work. I’m not always comfortable writing about non-fiction; if you aren’t an expert in the subject—or at least have a solid grounding—then there’s not much you can comment on except the quality of the prose. And I’m certainly not a historian, an expert in Native cultures, nor on any of the specific political issues at play between… Continue Reading

The Polished Hoe, by Austin Clarke

Detail of The Polished Hoe cover

The Polished Hoe has been on my to-be-read this for about a decade, but I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that, for a number of reasons, it’s just not for me. This is not to say I thought the book was bad—far from it. Clarke’s account of the abuses of plantation life and the way it warps the people of the island and their relationships is deeply affecting. His characters have tremendous depth, especially Mary-Mathilda, and her narrative is truly heartbreaking. You’re expecting me to say but, and here it comes: there were a number of mechanical issues in The Polished Hoe that I just couldn’t get past. I’ve never been a fan of novels built almost entirely out of dialogue, and it didn’t work for me here either. In some ways The Polished Hoe reminds me of The Recognitions, by William Gaddis. Almost all of the thematic heavy lifting… Continue Reading

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale cover detail

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has known me for very long or who follows me on social media but, despite having read nine of her books, I actually don’t like Margaret Atwood’s work very much. I continue to read her books mostly out of a sense of professional obligation. I am therefore both pleased and surprised to report that I found The Handmaid’s Tale to be absolutely riveting. There are some books—and I usually try to avoid making statements like this, because most of the time they’re bullshit—that have an ineffable quality that separates them from other books; they are in some way the real deal, and The Handmaid’s Tale is one of them. I don’t know that I would have felt that way if I’d read it earlier. Certainly my point of view has changed as I’ve gotten older, but since November the world has… Continue Reading

The Wars, by Timothy Findley

The Wars cover detail

The Wars is my second Timothy Findley novel, the other being Famous Last Words. That they both wound up being war novels is a coincidence. I did try The Piano Man’s Daughter when I was younger, which was recommended to me by someone after I’d told them how much I loved The Stone Diaries, but I put it down before finishing the first chapter out of utter fucking boredom, and I never went back to it. Famous Last Words was better, and fortunately so was The Wars. The framing device of an unnamed historian or researcher with no clear identity of their own examining the life of Robert Ross is a bit strange; it doesn’t cohere in any meaningful way, but it does make the primary narrative extremely unreliable. Ross also feels under-developed. We know he’s sensitive, unsure of his sexuality, dislikes violence but is comforted by the authority his… Continue Reading

Bear, by Marian Engel

Photo of a bear resting on a log.

For those who aren’t familiar, there’s no delicate way to say it: Bear is that infamous Canadian novel about the woman who has sex with a bear. An actual bear. There is a rather famous, very lurid cover that makes the rounds on social media every so often, but unfortunately I was not lucky enough to find one of those. My copy (pictured here) is a first edition, and rather appropriately comes in a plain brown wrapper. Having not read any of Marian Engel’s other work I was completely in the dark. On the one hand, the premise almost cries out for something gonzo; on the other hand, it is not the done thing to give the Governor General’s Award to works of gonzo literature. Sadly, Bear was not gonzo, but happily, it turned out to be quite elegant. Of all the things it could have been, that was the… Continue Reading