My Year in Books

Outside of work-related reading, I read 42 books in 2017. Most years when I look back on my reading, I have a standout winner. This year, it’s a bit trickier. I rate all books I read out of 10, and I gave only one a 10/10 this year: Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America. However, I’m not sure that this is the book that stands out the most in my mind. That goes to Katherena Vermette’s The Break, a novel unlike any other I’ve read and one that made a big impression on me. Highly recommended. Here are my reading highlights of 2017.

I read two Michael Crummey novels this year, The Wreckage, an older one, and Sweetland, his most recent. Both were excellent. Newfoundland story-telling at its best. Christy-Ann Conlin’s The Memento was one of the most unique books I read this year — whimsical and spooky. Very well-written. And it’s set in Nova Scotia. ūüôā Ian McGuire’s The North Water is the most violent book I have ever read, which was very jarring at times and could definitely put people off. However, this is a fantastic adventure story.¬†I also have to give an honourable mention to Barkskins by Annie Proulx, which I am about a third of the way through right now, and really loving.

I really enjoyed Gloria¬†Steinem’s My Life on the Road, which details her career and life as a journalist and activist. Very readable and inspiring. Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon’s Shadow of Doubt¬†was a fantastic summary of a high-profile murder case in Atlantic Canada. I sped through it. I also liked Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay, a series of essays on a variety of topics loosely connected by the theme of the complexities of contemporary feminism. My final non-fic recommendation is Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography,¬†Born to Run. It’s not as good as Life by Keith Richards, but it’s fantastically written and candid.

Goals for 2018
1) Get back into fiction — I’ve been in a fiction rut since the late summer, though Barkskins is helping me get out of it.
2) Read more obscure/diverse fiction. I have been let down too many times by bestseller lists.


2016 in reading

So far, I’ve read 40 books in 2016 (outside of those I read for work).

As with most years, I have a clear winner. The best book I read in 2016 was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This book absolutely knocked my socks off. I read it almost a year ago and I am still thinking about it. Any description of this book that I attempt won’t do it justice. Just read it. I came to Station Eleven in a bit of an unusual way; I had heard good things but never really thought it was for me, because I never read sci fi. What eventually persuaded me was Shelagh Rogers’ interview with the author: Shelagh explicitly mentioned not to discount this book if you think sci fi or dystopian literature isn’t for you. That made me investigate it further, and I am so glad I did. This is not only my favourite book of the year, it is one of my favourites, ever.

Runners up fiction
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan¬†This was another ‘wow’, for the way that Flanagan writes about war. I don’t think I have ever read such a heartbreaking tale of warfare. The story centres on an Australian POWs in WWII Japan. It is very well-deserving of all its accolades.
All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews — Brilliant storytelling by a fantastic Canadian writer. Sad, but so funny at the same time. Toews just gets better and better.
A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories, by Lucia Berlin¬†— I read maybe one or two short story collections a year — not many — but I am so glad I read this one, because it’s the kind of book that makes you sit up straight, gasp, and really think. Berlin was an extraordinary woman. (Check out these sample quotes:¬†‚ÄúSome lady at a bridge party somewhere started the rumor that to test the honesty of a cleaning woman you leave little rosebud ashtrays around with loose change in them, here and there. My solution to this is to always add a few pennies, even a dime.‚ÄĚ)

Runners up non-fiction
Unfinished Business, by Anne-Marie Slaughter — I had the pleasure of seeing Slaughter speak at the LSE early in the year, and was so impressed and inspired by her ideas and tenacity. I am at a natural crossroads in my career, and spending a lot of time thinking about what I exactly want out of it, and how to combine it with family life, so this was well-timed for me.
The Battle of the Atlantic, by Jonathan Dimbleby — This book distills, very impressively, all of the naval action the Atlantic saw during WWII. It is written in a very captivating, engrossing style that hooked me from page one. I am still thinking about some of the stories.

‘Til ¬†next year! Happy reading. ūüôā

2015 in reading

Hello from Canada! ūüôā This will be my last post of 2015. While I have an awkward end of the month work-related deadline, I’m trying to take as much time away from work/the computer as possible now that I am home for Christmas. Other than helping out, I won’t be in the kitchen much either, so expect food-related posts to start back up again in the new year¬†(and I’ll do a big favourites round-up in January). Come January, my work schedule changes and I hope to get back to what has been sorely lacking in my life for the past few months — cooking! You can also expect a travel post early in the new year¬†as H. and I are embarking on a 3400km road trip next week!

I always enjoy sharing my favourite books of the year. As always, this isn’t necessarily books published in 2015, just the ones I happened to read.

Empire Falls, by Richard Russo (2002) — Russo is hands-down one of my favourite authors. I’m quite literally pacing myself through his work so that I don’t read everything at once. While not as laugh-out-loud funny as Straight Man, Empire Falls is a humorous and highly perceptive look at small-town life in America.
Sylvanus Now, by Donna Morrissey (2006) — A sparkling Newfoundland tale (the best kind of tale!) that will stay with you a long time after. Morrissey nails the descriptions of 1950s Newfoundland. Brilliant.
Crow Lake, by Mary Lawson (2003) — This is another Canadian author and this story takes place in rural Ontario. Again, the story-telling is magnificent.
Undermajordomo Minor,¬†by Patrick deWitt (2015) — Not my usual ‘type’ of read, but this book was fun, funny, and very engaging.

No Expenses Spared by Robert Winnett & Gordon Rayner (2010) — I remember the expenses scandal as it unfolded and this book gives the backstory of how that happened as the truth came out of how MPs were abusing their expense accounts. Required reading for anyone interested in politics, power, and the media.
The Shepherd‚Äôs Life, by James Rebanks (2015) — I think the reason this book was so successful is because it’s about ¬†practices that many of us are so far removed from and disengaged with. Rebanks brought shepherding and farming back into everyday conversation and I think he did a fantastic job of it.
Hack Attack by Nick Davies (2014) — This should be on everyone’s reading list. Everyone. It is a book about power and the media and corruption and while it’s a hideous story it is a brilliant book.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! ūüôā

My Year in Reading

2014 was a bit of an odd year for books for me, at least in comparison to the last few. I read a lot, but have spent the last 10 weeks on the same book (which I finally finished yesterday!).

Usually, when looking back on a year of reading, I always have a book that stands out as the best, and it usually stands out by a mile. That book for 2014 was Richard Russo’s¬†Straight Man. This was completely unexpected. I read about¬†it online, in an obscure comment on novels set on university campuses. I took a gamble because I’d only read one of Russo’s books before — That Old Cape Magic — and thought it only average. I found¬†Straight Man second hand, bought it, and am SO glad I did because I absolutely loved it. The only¬†word to describe it it HILARIOUS (“uproarious” is in the Goodreads description and is bang on). My sister has read it and I currently have my dad onto it as well. If you are in the mood for a funny novel, give it a go: Russo¬†nails it.

The best historical fiction I read this year was An Officer and a Spy. Excellent storytelling. Life after Life was good too, and I was a bit skeptical starting it as I am not really into novels that have anything to do with fantasy.

Unfortunately I didn’t read as much¬†Canadian fiction¬†as I’d have liked; however the one that stands out of the few I did read is an older, lesser-known novel called No Beautiful Shore.

Crime fiction for me rarely stands out¬†when looking back throughout the year¬†— some¬†I enjoy, some I don’t, but rarely does something make me step back and think.¬†Into the Darkest Corner and Apple Tree Yard¬†came¬†the closest for me this year. The best true crime I read was¬†The Monster of Florence. Well-researched and chilling.

Biggest disappointment: The Flamethrowers, followed by The Signature of All Things. Neither (in my very humble opinion!) lived up to any of their hype. The Goldfinch was another one that, for me, just fell short. It was only okay.

Surprisingly accessible classics that I finally got around to reading: Lolita and The Woman in White.

Fun and quick reads: Where’d you go Bernadette, Garlic and Sapphires, Bossypants.

On the horizon, I started The Secret Place¬†this morning – 50 pages in and it’s hooked me already.¬†¬†The Lobster Kings, and another Russo, Empire Falls,¬†will also be coming with me to Germany tomorrow.

Looking backwards:
Best book I read in 2013: May We Be Forgiven, A.M. Homes (read this book!)
Best book I read in 2012: Life, Keith Richards
Best book I read in 2011: Freedom, Jonathan Franzen

The common denominator in all of these books (that I only just realized): humour.

Holiday Reads

Given that lots of people like to delve into a good book around this time of year, I thought I would share some recommendations of my own. (And no,¬†Gone Girl¬†will NOT be featured on this list!)¬†For me, the holidays are a time both to sink my teeth into a challenging book I may otherwise not pick up, as well as the complete opposite — quick and frivolous reads that can be finished in an afternoon by the fire! This year I will be home in Nova Scotia and will use the time to catch up on books that haven’t made their way to British shelves yet.

May We Be Forgiven, AM Homes
I have recommended this at least twice before on this blog as well as to friends, and it’s pretty much on every ‘best of 2013’ list, but the hype is worth it. This was the best book I read in 2013. It is serious, silly, hilarious (laugh-out-loud-on-public-transport funny), slightly weird, and so human all at the same time.

Capital, John Lanchester
Capital follows the lives of different inhabitants in London. It is a Big London Novel that is down to earth and accessible, and both sad and funny at the same time. Thoroughly recommended.

Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel
I read this book in Alaska this summer and loved it. In my opinion it is easier to read and better than the first in the trilogy, Wolf Hall (which I also enjoyed, but found the style challenging at times). The writing is so damn good, and the subject matter fascinating.

NW, Zadie Smith
I have been a fan of Zadie Smith for a long time. Funnily enough I bought NW almost 6 months ago and only got round to reading it recently. It’s not (in my opinion) quite as good as White Teeth or On Beauty, but it’s close. To me, what is most impressive is the way Smith writes so confidently and knowingly about such a huge range of characters. It’s as though she’s lived a thousand lives.

Caught, Lisa Moore
I read two of Moore’s books this year, February and Caught, and recommend them both. They’re very different: the former lovely, sad, and heartbreaking; the latter a lot punchier, adventurous, and more daring. What links them is Newfoundland — not the physical setting, because most of Caught does not take place there. But the island echo is so strong that in both books I’d almost argue that Newfoundland becomes a character itself.

Why Men Lie, Linden MacIntyre
It’s a bit cheeky and premature to recommend this when I’m not even halfway through, but I adore this book so far, and I loved The Bishop’s Man¬†as well. It’s so good that I didn’t want my tube journey to end — that does not happen very often!

Finally, view my all-time favourite books on Goodreads¬†here. Happy reading! ūüôā

Summer Reading List

The publishing of summer reading lists is one of my favourite times of the year (NPR, Globe & Mail, NYT, the Guardian, the Telegraph, etc.). I never normally make a list myself, but I’ve decided to do that this year. Now that it’s officially summer, here’s what’s on mine:

  • The Sisters Brothers¬†by Patrick deWitt —¬†Not because the publisher of this book is a family friend, but because it’s supposed to be a fantastic story (even if you’re not in Westerns, which I’m not).
  • Wolf Hall¬†by¬†Hilary Mantel —¬†Bring Up the Bodies has received a lot of acclaim recently, but I still have not gotten around to reading the first in the series.
  • The Art of Fielding by¬†Chad Harbach¬†Someone did something very¬†right¬†when an article on the (back)story and publishing process of this book was published in Vanity Fair in October (article unfortunately not available online). Since then, it’s been receiving accolades left and right.
  • Why Men Lie¬†by¬†Linden MacIntyre¬†¬†– Part 3 in his Cape Breton trilogy. I read The Bishop’s Man last summer and loved it. It’s also one of the most requested books at the Halifax public libraries, with over 100 requests, so I might hold off on this one.
  • NW¬†by¬†Zadie Smith¬†¬†– One of my favourite authors, perhaps my most favourite. To be released in late summer — the perfect cross-Atlantic timing.
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce – It seems like a lovely book.
Other books that have caught my eye: The Spoiler by Annalena McAfee; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; The Darlings by Cristina Alger; Restaurant Man by Joe Bastianich; The Expats by Chris Pavone; An Unexpected Guest by Anne Korkeakivi; and The Receptionist by Janet Groth; as well as a few crime fiction novels. (Suggestions for crime fiction authors are welcomed!)

TGIF and Happy Summer!

Books 2011

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a book fiend as well as a list fiend. I keep a “read” list as well as a “to-read” list (currently 3 pages in Word).

Here are the books I read in 2011: (my favourites are bolded)

Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy
The Imperfectionsists — Tom Rachman
Shantaram — Gregory David Roberts
The Wishing Game — Patrick Redmond
Checker & the Derailleurs — Lionel Shriver
World Without End — Ken Follett
Other People‚Äôs Money — Justin Cartwright
Cabal — Michael Dibdin
Skippy Dies — Paul Murray
Fall of Giants — Ken Follett
The Man Who Smiled (Wallander) — Henning Mankell
The Bishop‚Äôs Man — Linden MacIntyre
By Nightfall — Micheal Cunningham
The Death of Donna Whalen — Michael Winter
Swimming — Nicola Keegan
Fall — Colin McAdam
Rebecca — Daphne du Maurier
Faceless Killers (Wallander) — Henning Mankell
Matterhorn — Karl Marlantes
The Leopard — Jo Nesbo
The English Patient — Michael Ondaatje
Freedom — Jonathan Franzen (almost finished!)