I review Love Water Memory over at The Coast: “Jennie Shortridge’s fifth novel takes pains to find sure footing but seems to stumble its way towards a climax. The characters are less well-rounded or real as they are sketches for a made-for-TV movie. Still, there’s something in a light read that strives for depth, not quite catching it. If you like your traumatic back stories as more of a footnote or are a fan of Nicholas Sparks, then it might be for you. Save this one for hotter days and sandy beaches.”
She suggests we become pen pals, though we live only a twenty-minute walk from each other, and suddenly it seems like my best friends are always screens, stamps, and several failed plans away. Like I woke up one morning and we suddenly stopped making time for each other. Or maybe it was always that way and I’m only just realizing it.
Another season of Girls ends and the last scene, as Hannah is rescued by her awful mistake of an ex-boyfriend instead of any one of her closest friends bubbles up in me such a raw desolation that I can’t stop sobbing, long after the credits roll. It’s because they all seem so broken and I see myself in all of their selfishness and most of their mistakes but they’re still girls, and I’m almost 28. When do you stop having an excuse for not having it together?
I stay up way too late and think about rekindling friendships long faded, making apologies for why things ended, if I can even remember. Maybe I was too idealistic in how I thought a friend should be. Maybe I could be more forgiving.
Friends Like Us seemed like the perfect read to match my mood. And it is but it isn’t because here’s two best friends that live in their own bubble, mistaken for sisters, a language all their own—it captures perfectly that ease, the support and adoration when you’re just so smitten with a friend that the years before you knew them are almost defined by that. Before careers, schedules and relationships seem to get in the way. Before like in Girls, we start turning to others for help. Why wasn’t it Marnie, Hannah’s oldest friend, that ran to her that night? Was there too much said between them? Too many disappointments? Have they just drifted too far apart? At what point does a friendship start to erode in on itself and can you catch it, fix it, send it back on track? Or is it a kind of inevitable motion, like falling, that you just have to let play out? Set it free and if it comes back to you, yadda yadda yadda. I know now that sometimes they do.
In Friends Like Us you start out at the end, an awkward run-in for Willa and Jane, years after whatever breaks them apart has done its damage and the dust has had time to settle but they don’t rekindle anything. They say the things they’ve been harbouring for years and then they go back to their respective and very separate lives. The rest of the book is what leads up to that inevitable end. It’s depressing but captivating. All the characters are fully formed and nuanced. It’s playful, funny, but sad too, and it’s so full of longing that it’s pretty heartbreaking to get to the end and know that some friendships can’t withstand the things we submit them to. That we can mess everything up but not love a person any less. That no amount of years going by will stop you from replaying conversations, remaking moves, and wondering wondering wondering how you could have done things differently. Maybe that’s just a risk you take when you love anyone, only you expect romantic relationships to end and to ultimately get over them… but there’s no guidebook on how to get over a friend.
Lately it’s everything. The first sunny day it seems in months and I read Nora Ephron’s last book I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections in an hour in my most comfortable chair. It’s really Gerald’s chair but now, all of these things feel like our things. She talks so much about mortality and it’s haunting. She was by all rights still young, too young to be talking so much about death and not three years later she died. It’s incredibly sad, the last chapter in the book is a list of things she will miss and the very last item is pie. And so I cry because I think about pie and sharing pie and suddenly the years are gone and maybe my own mother will be gone someday too and I don’t even like pie.
We take little pills and make little pay cheques and try to be the best possible versions of ourselves and then one day all we leave are words behind.
I spent my holiday break in New Mexico. Which, if you’ve never been, is choice, I hiiiighly recommend it. Of course I got the most vicious of colds, because that’s what happens to me nearly every time I set foot on a plane, and I ran quickly out of money but the good news is I got plenty of reading done. Also, I got a Kobo Glo for Christmas and hell froze over. Wait, wait, wait before you throw my own words back in my face, there’s actually a perfectly good reason I went over to the electronic darkside. Netgalley. A site that connects book reviewers/reading professionals (which is an actual thing, life dream complete) with publishers. I request what I want and if I look legit based on my profile (so legit, BTW) then I get access to a free ebook copy. I hate reading books on screen but this is too good to pass up. So, I tried to make do with my computer—awful, reading never felt so much like work—gave up and asked for an ereader instead. It took a little convincing of G that it was something I actually wanted. That’s how much I’m not a fan of ereaders. But, in the end there it was under the tree, with a rad typewriter embossed case so that I can feel like even more of a hypocrite. Ha! In all seriousness, though, maybe I gave the thing too hard of a time. There are several instances when it just might be BETTER than real live, hold ‘em in your hands books. Like, late night driving if you’ve never invested in a book light. Life saver. Or if you have access to ebooks that you need to read but no comfortable way of reading them… so… at least two ways they beat books. Otherwise. Sorry, no. Real book every time.
Anyway, one of such books I read over the holidays was Wise Men by Stuart Nadler. I can already assume this will be a contender for my favourite book of the year. The son of a lawyer, Hilly Wise, is caught up in a life he doesn’t recognize when his father wins a big negligence case against an airline. Part of the nouveau riche in Cape Cod in the early ’50s Hilly meets and falls in love with a young African American girl, Savannah, at a time when their relationship only finds obstacle after obstacle, not the least among them, his overtly racist father. The summer they spend together changes him and the rest of the book chronicles how one season carries through and touches the rest of his life. Stuart Nadler is pretty fantastic. I wasn’t especially excited to read this book but from the first couple pages, I was completely drawn in. It’s not that any of the characters are particularly likeable, actually, most of them are maddening—but to watch them each circling their own drain is immensely satisfying.
Nadler isn’t heavy handed with serious themes, they take a back seat to character development—people who you might love then hate, but at the very least, constantly surprise you.
Yay! Salty Ink’s Judge a Book by Its Cover Contest is back! One of the only two contests I participate in when it comes to best of book selection (the other being Goodreads’ best of the year vote) and this is by far my favourite. In part because choosing a book based solely on its cover design and blurb is something that I do all the time. Of course, I usually read the first page too to get a sense of the writing style and if I’ll like it. I used to know someone who read the last page first so they’d know how it would end, but that’s just going too far. A little OCD, even. In any case, it’s here, it’s awesome, and will sate your visual appetite. Also, a talented lady I work with has several of her covers featured, too. This being one of them. I’m still into the whole chalkboard look. I also really liked Animal Husbandry Today’s fail whale cover and The Land of Decoration for its collection of things that reminds me of pressed flowers and the little things I used to collect as a child.
It wasn’t that there were stars in your eyes, it was that it was all you could see. Twinkling lights and your own name blinking in and out like a vacancy sign on that old hotel that kept advertising colour TV long after it stopped being a selling point. It was like that with love—realizing everything I thought was special about you was just the basics for most people. Telling the truth and housing hurt for each other like old furniture with not enough room. That’s all I was, in the end. I was your storage facility. Your long-distance U-Haul. I was the place you put everything you had no immediate need for but didn’t want to give up. All those things that you thought you couldn’t part with, until parted, are forgotten. I don’t want to be the dust on your picture frames but that’s better than the dark, better than nothing at all. Better than the whispers of what once was—all your old suitcases packed full of ghosts, lingering like old love letters. Like the versions of ourselves we used to want to be. ‘Til we knew better.
I’m not usually a fan of end of year lists as much as people seem to make them, especially since, when it comes to books, there’s almost no way that you (or at least I) can get to every book in my to-read pile, especially considering a lot of the books I want to read aren’t usually published the year I read them, I’m a bit slow to the game with these things. So, it was lucky this year that I started writing book reviews for The Bookshelf as well as The Coast (and here on the blog) because between the three of them I was often knee-deep in new books.
This week was the Critics’ Picks issue of The Coast which means I had to compile my Top 12 of 2012 books of the year list and happily this year (maybe unlike last year, shhhh) I had read so many books (68 and counting) that all the books on my list were both published this year and rated well by me on Goodreads. In the next couple of days I’m going to post a companion list to this one featuring my list of the year just in general, new and old, the best books I’ve read this year. I’m curious to see how different they would be.
My Top 12 of 2012 (books published this year)
A somewhat bumbling provincial attorney Leo Curtice is saddled with the task of defending a 12-year-old boy after he molests and murders an 11-year-old girl. Drawn into the boy’s past and seemingly inability to understand the significance of his actions, Leo finds himself not just the only person willing to even consider defending the child but also, maybe, his only friend. It’s disturbing novel, not just for the boy but how he’s perceived in a system that pretends to withhold judgement until proven guilty. It’s horrifying to consider at what point a child stops being a child and turns into a monster—and scarier still what you can lose if you defend that monster. I’m not a huge crime fan, but this one was hard to put down.
I wrote about this one just the other day. Sloan’s novel about a life-lost guy who finds himself working at a strange bookstore that turns out to be a kind of front for a secret society’s quest for the secret of immortality is swiftly engaging and fun. Even if it doesn’t turn out how you (or the characters) necessarily want it to, it still manages to share a few life secrets with you, regardless. Maybe I’m biased because a literary-based mystery is just too appealing, but then again I never really fell for The Davinci Code, so I think I’m doing alright.
After reading The End of Everything and being totally unable to shake it, I had to read Megan Abbott’s newest novel and see if it was just a one-off. Dare Me is focuses again on the tight friendship between two young girls only this time, that bond is far more insidious. Both are cheerleaders who develop an unhealthy obsession with their new coach and how that obsession begins to define their friendship. It’s sort of Mean Girls meets Crush or Election only way darker and just as enthralling as The End of Everything.
I love love love Nick Hornby. I haven’t written about him until now, but he’s one of those writers who I search out and gobble up every word they write (see also: Barbara Kingsolver, John Fowles, Anais Nin, Haruki Murakami, I could probably go on…). He’s equal parts smart and funny, which is nice, and he just, I dunno, writes the kinds of books I never want to stop reading. He also writes a column for The Believer called Stuff I’ve Been Reading which is really, really good. It’s sometimes rambly and oftentimes completely unrelated to books but it’s also probably the best and most realistic description of reading activity that I’ve seen from a book critic (every month there’s a list of the books he’s bought and the ones he’s read, they don’t always overlap) anyway, fan girl squeeing aside, this is a collection of one year’s worth of that column. Totally worth reading, but only if you love books… wait… if you don’t love books why are you even reading this?
An aging man gets a letter from an old friend that is dying and sets out on a really long walk to reconnect with her. Along the way he gets hurt, famous, considered senile, forgotten and finds peace. It’s such an odd premise that I had to read for myself. Rachel Joyce’s depiction of Harold Fry and his estranged wife is so quietly tragic that you just can’t help falling for them a little, and rooting for their failed marriage. The scene where she is pairing her clothes with his is just, perfect. This book is a slow ambler, kinda paced the way Harold is, so if you don’t have the patience, you might want to skip it.
The follow-up to 2010′s The Passage (which I just read this summer) deserves to be on this list solely for the anticipation it garnered while I waited for fall and my advanced copy… it’s a giant blockbuster of a series which is going to be a giant blockbuster of a movie too. You get the feeling that’s what Cronin always planned for in this epic sweeping action series about a military-made virus that ushers in the vampire apocalypse and the world’s human survivors that attempt to make sense of the world they grew up in decades upon decades later. This book wasn’t near as good as the first one but the story is still pretty awesome. Read it before they make it a movie so you can get in on the ground floor.
They call it a novel-in-stories, but what Carrie Snyder manages in her second book is deeper and more coherent than that. Juliet grows up in Nicaragua (post-revolutionary war) with her two brothers as almost an afterthought for their activist parents, until illness drives them home and into the immediacy of conventional family life. Each early chapter is a glimpse, a hazy portrait of ten year old Juliet that doesn’t fully form until later, as a collection, comes understanding. Back in Canada, the fractured family continues to deal with reverberations from their past, unable to forgive each other, instead clinging to Nicaragua as this place out of time, free from the stamp of grief. It’s only in going back to confront the ghosts that Juliet is able to come to terms with her stories and begin a family of her own. Snyder is phenomenal here, crafting some of the most striking images and beautiful sentences that you will likely read all year. The Juliet Stories is not to be missed. (Re-posted from The Coast)
Short-listed for the Giller Prize, I’ve blogged about Inside before—Ohlin’s novel about Grace, a sincere therapist and the people she becomes entwined with will have you diagnosing characters left right and centre, although each one will manage to surprise you—it’s a bit obsessive and maddening but engrossing just the same. Although, most of the characters are unlikeable assholes that you don’t mind watching fall apart, so you definitely have to be into books where you don’t need to relate to or root for the people in it. Let’s just book club and laugh maniacally together as they fail.
The only thing better than Adam Marek’s book of fantastic short stories is imagining how he possibly came up with them. Absurd, darkly comic and at times head-scratchingly bizarre, Marek’s talent for rending the supernatural or outrageous in real, human terms is mind-boggling. A couple finds out they are pregnant with 37 babies. A man is diagnosed with cancer just before the city he lives in is attacked by a Godzilla-like beast. A pet shop sells animals by volume. A man working in a restaurant for zombies finds out the meat is locally-sourced. Another man travels to the inner workings of his mind only to discover the controls are manned by Busta Rhymes. The premise is always wildly weird, but Marek manages to take the fantasy from unbelievable to relatable in a few short pages, surprising you with emotional insight not usually attributed to the sci-fi section. This is a gem of a collection—no story left behind. (Re-posted from The Coast)
By Jaime Forsythe
In her first book of poetry, Forsythe manages to create a fascinating balance between the oddly witty and beautifully weird that most writers only dream about, or go wildly off the mark while attempting it. It’s a riveting collection that pays tribute to the strangeness in everyday life. I’ve written about it here and here already. That’s just how lovely it is. Plus, she’s from Halifax which makes it even better. (Who doesn’t love to read poetry that’s influenced by places they often frequent?) If you’re going to only read one book of poetry this year, it should be this one.
2. This is How You Lose Her (Riverhead)
By Junot Díaz
The follow-up short story collection to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao sees Yunior’s life set against a backdrop of heartbreak. The women he loves and inevitably loses because of his own short-comings romanticize that special kind of failure in the tender, raw and darkly comedic way that Díaz has long perfected. It’s cut from the same cloth that Oscar Wao was—full of untranslated words and seemingly autobiographically-tinged sexism—so if that rubbed you the wrong way, then this will too. Personally, I’ll probably read everything Díaz throws at us, even that weird sci-fi epic that’s reportedly in the works called Monstro.
1. The Rook (Back Bay)
By Daniel O’Malley
One fantasy book to rule them all, The Rook is part Memento-esque amnesia mystery and part political thriller with a dash of Men in Black-level government-weird to keep you guessing, laughing and crossing your fingers for a sequel more than any other genre could. It’s exactly what you didn’t know you were looking for. When Myfanwy Thomas awakes in the rain with dead bodies surrounding her, she knows only what is provided by a letter in her pocket addressed to her from…herself. She learns that she holds a high level position in a secret supernatural government agency—organized like a chess board—and that a traitor from within stole her memories and still wants her dead. In a thrilling page turner that is as funny as it is suspenseful. Rook Thomas, guided by a suitcase of letters from her former meticulous self, needs to solve the mystery before her would-be murderer succeeds while juggling her everyday responsibilities like, oh, running an organization that employs people who type with tentacles, subverting a Frankenstein-esque Belgian invasion, and figuring out how to control her recently discovered superpowers. The Rook melds the best of all genres into a fantastically fun and intensely readable debut novel. (Re-posted from The Coast)
YAY! My top 5 books read this year, period, to follow.