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The 2016 Reading Report: Q2

the q2 reading report

I made one resolution for 2016: to read 100 books. Even though 100 felt like an ambitious target, I didn’t think it was insane. I thought back to my high school days, when I would regularly burn through 2-3 books a week and still have time for high school nonsense. I thought about all the wasted time I could freely redirect towards reading (I’m mostly looking at you, Netflix). I made the pledge public on my mailing list, believing that this accountability would keep me on the page-turning straight and narrow.

It was insane.

After Q1’s dismal total of six books, I dropped my total 2016 target to 50. And then in Q2 I read . . . six books. The titles below link to the paperback version on Amazon.ca where possible.

What are you reading? What should I read next? Let me know in the comments.

Q2: 6 books

Interface
Neal Stephenson & J. Frederick George (Spectra)

I had a great time reading Stephenson’s Diamond Age last quarter. Interface combines the “what-if” of speculative fiction with American presidential politics. Hmmm, I thought. My kind of stuff!

I felt the back of the book gave too much away. So, I’d vaguely say that the novel explores the democratic process, and how emerging technology can be used to gain an unfair advantage and keep power in the hands of the few. I’d leave it at that.

Interface is a slow burn. The ideas take a while to develop. You’ll find the underlying cynicism just right or not enough. Mostly though, what bogs down Interface is its mid-90s ideas are dated. Not because of the technology or the cynicism, which are really A-OK. But the rules of American politics have evolved so much since the Clinton triangulations that the political premise, which might have once terrified me, just never rang true.

Burning Chrome
William Gibson (Harper Voyager)

Despite my lacklustre feelings for Interface, I got through it in just a few days. And this slight collection by Gibson was next. Fortuna! Hope Springs Eternal! I was going to get through two books in the first week of April, on pace to crushing my reading responsibilities for the quarter. Instead, this collection of 10 stories lingered on my nightstand for over a month.

The first few pieces didn’t grab me. The charms of “Johnny Mnemonic” didn’t transfer. There was something unpleasant to me about the noirish tones of the stories that took place on the ground. But once we got into space, things got a lot more interesting. My two favourites are the back-to-back tales of “Red Star, Winter Orbit,” about a Soviet space station near the end of its run, and “Hinterlands.” Its disappearing, reappearing cosmonauts and the attempts to reach them after indescribable events haunts me still. It’s a collection I will return to.

Good Omens
Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett (Mass Market Paperback)

Aka “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter. Witch.” Ok, so according to the prophecies, the end of the world is to take place on an upcoming Saturday, just before dinner. The Antichrist’s arrival on Earth is going to set the whole thing in motion. Except that he’s been swapped at birth with a plain ol’ civilian boy, leading to an understandable series of problems. Angels. Demons. Armageddon. And a host of characters that I did not see coming.

What starts off (and continues very nicely) as a satire about life and death and humanity ends up as one of the more philosophical and interesting looks at the nature of good and evil I’ve come across in a long time. Although not too similar thematically, it did remind me somewhat of  In the Shape of a Boar by Lawrence Norfolk. Unlike Norfolk though, Good Omens is also laugh out loud funny. This book has been out for decades. I should have read it decades ago. It fell into my pit of the unread because I had moved away from “entertaining” books towards “important” books that I generally didn’t enjoy and which dampened my enthusiasm for literature for many years. Good Omens was such as treat I put all other plans on hold and finished it in three or four days.

Hamburger
Daniel Perry (Thistledown Press)

I could recap Daniel’s terrific collection of short stories. Or, you can just listen to us chat about them on the Start Writing podcast.

Elsewhere: A Memoir
Richard Russo (Random House Canada)

I got into Richard Russo after seeing the theatrical adaptation of Nobody’s Fool, starring Paul Newman. I dug it, and read Russo’s first few books shortly after. He kind of blew up after that, winning a Pulitzer and getting all kinds of famous. We lost track of each other for a while.

I picked up Elsewhere because I missed his writing. Clear, human, hopeful. Also, because after running a number of workshops for seniors in Scarborough, I was curious about memoirs. I wanted to see how a writer I trusted chose to frame and describe a part of their life.

Elsewhere does tell the story of Russo’s life, reflected in his relationship with his mother. You’ll recognize her. Someone who means well, sees themselves as fiercely independent, never wants to intrude on your happiness . . . and lacks all self-awareness at how much of a burden they really are on your every waking moment.

We also learn a lot in these pages about the upstate New York Russo comes from, its history, and how his childhood home shapes the fictional universes of his stories. How, as Charles Baxter has suggested, we are often committing our lives to the wishes and needs of others, not ourselves. And that even with love, and best intentions, we’re limited by what we know of the world at that time. We don’t always do the best for those around us. We only do the best we can. Russo has yet to disappoint.

The Alchemist: A Graphic Novel
Paulo Coelho (HarperOne)

My dad lent this to me. After I finished, this exchange:

“So, I finished it.”
“And?”
“And, why did you lend it to me?”
(thinking) “Well, you gave me a graphic novel and I wanted to give you one in return.”
“Did you like this book?”
“No.”
“Did you read it?”
“No.”
“Oh.”

Apparently this is a very famous book that has sold tens of millions of copies. There is some comfortable, familiar new agey mysticism at play in this tale of a shepherd from long ago who travels the word in search of its secrets. I didn’t feel it translated well to graphics. In fact I didn’t feel that it translated well at all. I was suspicious that the English text ended up in places by way of a Google translator.

When your dad gives you a book, generally there’s some kind of endorsement implied, which is why I finished. Otherwise, I don’t have many notes to pass on.

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