This book was GREAT for refreshing my memory of French-Canadian history. Since I am French-Canadian, the history of New France was repeatedly shoved d...moreThis book was GREAT for refreshing my memory of French-Canadian history. Since I am French-Canadian, the history of New France was repeatedly shoved down my throat all throughout elementary AND high school, but it was actually nice to go back there. I also learned a lot about les filles du roi that I didn't know before, and I felt I came away from the book with new knowledge of my ancestors.
But man, does this ever read like a PhD thesis. This is probably because the author is an academic who actually IS writing her PhD thesis on les filles du roi. All throughout the novel, I was amazed at how fiction could be made to sound so academic. I couldn't dream up more straightforward prose if I tried! It also seems like she's milking every possible opportunity to squeeze in as much historical fact as she can, and this sometimes causes the narrative to trip over itself. Even in the last ten pages, Desrochers manages to fit in little informative digressions that interrupt the book's climax. She's desperate to educate rather than entertain her audience.
I won't be too harsh about this, however, because I still think it's amazing that an author with strictly an academic background was able to transform pure research into a story that is still compelling. For the most part, Desrochers pulled off her first novel even though it's clear she's not really a novelist.(less)
This book was just pure fun. I had some reactions expected of the chick lit genre, but I maintain these were worth the light read. For what it is, it...moreThis book was just pure fun. I had some reactions expected of the chick lit genre, but I maintain these were worth the light read. For what it is, it was definitely a good time.(less)
Oh, Pike. You don't realize how happy this made me. To have my favourite teen series revived in my mid-20s was a total fucking treat. This novel could...moreOh, Pike. You don't realize how happy this made me. To have my favourite teen series revived in my mid-20s was a total fucking treat. This novel could almost do no wrong. I dare say it was dripping with cheese, barely edited, and a total cash cow -- but I don't give a shit. Long live Sita, and I can't wait to see the movie. (less)
This book was a pretty painful read. It's been a little over a month since I've read it, and it didn't leave much of a mark except that I remember bei...moreThis book was a pretty painful read. It's been a little over a month since I've read it, and it didn't leave much of a mark except that I remember being very bored ... and very happy that it was short.
Siddhartha is self-indulgent asshole. Kind of funny considering he joins the samanas, a travelling group of ascetics who live off as little as they can and deny themselves the most basic of life's pleasures. But he really does come off as a narcissistic dickhead when he tells Buddha that his teachings don't do it for him and that it would be best if he found his own path in life. Fair enough, but then he ends up spending most of his life as a rich sellout. This would be cool if he didn't spend so much time whining about it.
Then he "sees the light." He leaves his rich life to live with a canoe paddler who swears the river tells him everything he needs to know about life. But as far as I'm concerned, the river can fuck off because even after years of listening to it, Siddhartha is still a total loser.
The only thing that somewhat redeems this book is the last ten pages, when Siddhartha finally shuts the fuck up for a minute and stops pestering the reader with his quest to find the meaning of life. But everything before that sucks. SHUT IT DOWN. I don't know what was worse, actually reading the book or wading through the pretentious dribble that was the analytical introduction. It was all pretty dire.(less)
I read this series when I was fourteen, and I'm re-reading it for nostalgia's sake. I was also SUPER excited to find out Simon Pulse released a THIRD...moreI read this series when I was fourteen, and I'm re-reading it for nostalgia's sake. I was also SUPER excited to find out Simon Pulse released a THIRD volume that continues the series beyond the 1996 books. I'M SO EXCITED. A fourth volume is also going to be released this year. Bonkers, I tell you. What's even crazier is that I still love them after all these years. It's not like watching Full House and realizing that something you liked when you were younger is actually pretty shitty now that you've developed taste. (less)
Goldengrove begins with a conversation between two sisters: Margaret, the beautiful singer who just graduated high school, and thirteen-year-old Nico,...moreGoldengrove begins with a conversation between two sisters: Margaret, the beautiful singer who just graduated high school, and thirteen-year-old Nico, the younger sibling who worships her older sister. They're sitting in a boat on a lake in their backyard, talking about some pretty ordinary adolescent things like weight, boys, and smoking. All the while we're getting to know Margaret and how cool she is in the eyes of her younger sister (also the narrator): Margaret has a thing for old movies, vintage clothes and furniture, and she sings "My Funny Valentine" like it's sex on a stick. Her parents don't approve of her boyfriend Aaron, so she sees him in secret and probably has sex with him in his creepy soccer mom minivan. He's an artist, and Margaret's father thinks he has "a few screws loose".
At the end of the first chapter, Margaret jumps into the lake and drowns. Turns out she has a heart condition that causes her to occasionally pass out, and her ticker decided to take a little nap at a really awful time. The rest of the book depicts a family immersed in extreme grief, all from Nico's point of view. Goldengrove is ultimately a story about loss and the crazy things people will do to fill the void caused by that loss.
I liked the quiet nature of the story, but I found the writing to be rigid and lacking in fluidity. That being said, I understand how difficult it must be for a writer to pull off grief and mourning without injecting a sort of stiff discomfort into their prose. But add that to the informal voice of a thirteen-year-old girl, and sometimes you get oddly inconsistent pockets of intentional sloppiness mixing with some pretty formal language. There are probably cases wherein this would be a nice contrast that would actually add depth to the writing, but Prose didn't find a way to mesh the two together in a cohesive way. This may be one reason I also thought some of the secondary characters fell flat, such as Nico's hippie parents. It's like Prose was trying so hard to make them unique that they actually became their own little cliches. I still cared about them more than I thought I would, though.
While the concept of the plot didn't strike me as particularly original, Prose succeeded in allowing it to unfold in such a way that I felt disturbed by what I knew was on the horizon. I knew Aaron was a creep to begin with, and I couldn't tear my eyes away from his predatory acts of replacement therapy with Nico: making her wear Margaret's old perfume, insisting she wear Margaret's clothes, feeding her Margaret's favourite ice cream, etc. And of course Nico's going to go ahead and fall weirdly in love with him because she's thirteen and Aaron's one of the only real connections she has left to her sister. This is when the rigid, uncomfortable nature of the writing actually felt appropriate. As I was reading I felt like I was having one of those slow motion moments where you put your hand out and say, "Noooooo!" as the main character lets something really stupid happen. But then it turned out that it wasn't as bad as I thought, and even though Aaron was way creepy and out of line, he really just went temporarily insane because his girlfriend died. Or maybe he was insane to begin with and really did have some screws loose all along.
The end really bothered me. I won't spoil it for those who have yet to read the book, but the ending was way too neat and tidy for my liking. Perhaps I'm just used to Canadian writers who like to end their books in dark and mysterious ways that keep you guessing, but I wasn't impressed by the finality of the family's grief. Because grief isn't final, and a Canadian would never dare to portray it as such. Just sayin'.
Would I recommend this book? I wouldn't say it's a must-read, but I wouldn't kick it off my shelf. (less)
I bought this book from a second-hand store in Paris. I'm French-Canadian but my French has become rusty over the years, so I've dedicated myself to r...moreI bought this book from a second-hand store in Paris. I'm French-Canadian but my French has become rusty over the years, so I've dedicated myself to reading more books in what is supposed to be my first language. And where better to start than Paris?
But I can't really review this book. This is the first French title I read in eight years, so I don't yet feel qualified to comment on its translation due to my eroded French. It's not that I didn't get it, as I'm still quite fluent. It's just those little undertones, nuances, and symbology that make language such a delicious little indulgence have perhaps flown over my head a little, even though I did start to settle into them after reading about two thirds of the book. A lot of words simply escaped my understanding, and I'd only really *get* them after some serious consideration.
And how best to comment on a translation, anyway? Do I praise the writer or the translator? Hmm. This will be something to hash out once I get a better handle on mon français.(less)
The Solitude of Prime Numbers was written by an overachiever. Paolo Giordano is 27, a professional physicist, and "currently working on a doctorate in...moreThe Solitude of Prime Numbers was written by an overachiever. Paolo Giordano is 27, a professional physicist, and "currently working on a doctorate in particle physics." He's also the youngest winner of the Premio Strega award for The Solitude of Prime Numbers, his first novel which turned out to be a slam dunk. And if all that wasn't enough, he's cute as a button. So it turns out this author is a debonair scientist with a sensitive artsy alter-ego who just happens to write award-winning books on the side.
Daaaaa-yum, Paolo. You're a winner!
I can understand why this is an award-winning book. The Solitude of Prime Numbers is a solid beginning for a novelist, especially someone as young as Giordano. I loved the main thematic weave of the narrative: twin primes existing closely together but never able to walk through life totally side by side. Twin primes are numbers like 3 and 5, which are both prime numbers that are separated by a single digit. In The Solitude of Prime Numbers Alice and Mattia are twin primes in that they are kindred spirits brought together by personal tragedy, yet there is always a wall between them that prevents their connection from cementing. It's a wonderful and interesting concept.
Despite the awkwardness of the characters, Giordano strikes a near-perfect balance between minimalist writing and beautiful description. His style is almost simplistic, although I wouldn't characterize that as a bad thing. In fact, I think he succeeds in what Goldengrove by Francine Prose failed to do: capture awkwardness and mourning in the overall sweep of language. All of Solitude's characters are sad about something they've lost and will never get back, and this is reflected in their stunted and not-quite-fulfilling relationships. Even Alice and Mattia, who are pretty much the modern definition of "soul mates", can't ever connect the way they should because they can't overcome the trauma they experienced as children. It's a great blown-up example of the long-term impact certain events can have on us even when they're long over.
I hope Giordano finds time in his busy scientist schedule to write another novel, because I would definitely pick it up. I think he should just give up the whole science gig altogether, as everyone knows it's a pipe dream and that there's a real future in books anyway. (less)
Every Canadian book publishing professional should read this book. Roy MacSkimming has written the one-stop-shop book on the history of book publishin...moreEvery Canadian book publishing professional should read this book. Roy MacSkimming has written the one-stop-shop book on the history of book publishing in Canada, spanning from the early-twentieth century to 2003 when the book was published. He discusses the birth of such established presses as McClelland & Stewart, University of Toronto Press, MacMillan, etc., in addition to the advent of independent book publishing in the 60s, headed by House of Anansi, Coach House, New Star, etc. I'm fairly certain he covers the beginnings of every Canadian press established before 2003, although he obviously spends more time on the heavy hitters. The last quarter of the book is then dedicated to the demise of publishers such as Stoddart and Hurtig (which I found especially interesting since I used to live in Edmonton), the rise of multinationals such as HarperCollins, Pearson, and Random House, and also the impact of Chapters Indigo on the industry as a whole.
I can imagine that many outside the book publishing industry might find the content a little dry. But as someone who's worked in the industry for four years, I thought The Perilous Trade was a fascinating and illuminating read. It was exciting to read about industry folk whom I've actually heard of, although I'll admit that it was often difficult to follow all the name dropping. I'm pretty sure I've already forgotten a lot of the people mentioned in the book in relation to which press they worked for and/or started. But I've never been good with names in the first place, so this isn't a criticism against the book.
After reading this book, I wish more than ever that I had been a publisher during the 60s and 70s--those people had it made, and they didn't have to worry about e-book pricing or XML workflow. They published books because they believed in Canadian writers and Canadian content. What a concept! While this is of course still the driving force that keeps that ever-creaking publishing wheel turning, hippie-era publishers seemed more likely than present-day publishers to say, "Fuck it, I'll probably lose money on this book but I'm publishing it anyway because it's awesome." So what if they were drunk or high on acid when they decided which books to publish? It obviously worked out because some damn good authors emerged from that time, and Can lit is better for it.
It wasn't always this way, of course, and MacSkimming describes in great detail the financial struggle many publishers weathered in order to remain in business. But that in turn resulted in much of the cornerstones of present-day publishing, such as grants for publishers and writers, the Canada Council, the Association of Canadian Publishers, the Literary Press Group, and the general sense of community that occurs when an underappreciated industry needs to strengthen itself internally to stay afloat. Because back then, publishers got together to harass the government a hell of a lot more than they do now to get what they want. And get this--the government used to listen. (Well, sometimes. The Mulroney government really fucked over Canadian publishers with bullshit free trade agreements and allowing the infiltration of foreign businesses into the Canadian market. So that's shitty. But at least I know the story behind that after reading MacSkimming's book.)
My only gripe about the book is that it included no insight into the future of Canadian book publishing, which I thought was a bit cowardly. I realize the book is meant to focus on the history of the Canadian book publishing industry, but I think MacSkimming may have skipped out a little early and consciously avoided commenting on where he thinks the industry is headed. While 2003 may have been early to speculate on the advent of digital publishing, I think at least some mention of it is essential to the text, and he really did sidestep the whole issue. But there's a new(ish) edition of the book that was released in 2007, so I imagine this oversight has been touched upon in the latest version.
The Perilous Trade is essential reading for those in the Canadian book industry, and I highly recommend it for anyone looking to better understand Canadian literature, writers, and the cultural sector as a whole. (less)
I struggled to appreciate this book in the beginning because I found no beauty in the writing. It was straightforward, simplistic, even a little patro...moreI struggled to appreciate this book in the beginning because I found no beauty in the writing. It was straightforward, simplistic, even a little patronizing at times. (Like we know 1916 was a leap year if the date is February 29. Thanks.) The characters lay flat for the most part, and I scoffed at the suspense Findley was attempting to construct surrounding "the event with the horses", which I knew would probably disappoint me. I didn't come away feeling like I had become acquainted with the main character, Robert Ross, whose brooding nature seemed like a way to escape real character development. He came off as fairly stock, to be honest.
Then Robert Ross went to war and things picked up. While the writing remained elementary, it also strangely managed to describe trench warfare in a vivid way. The Wars contains tiny pockets of prose that made me squeamish, which I both thoroughly enjoyed and didn't expect. But I wouldn't say these parts were compelling enough to make this worth a read, as the novel dies as soon as it looks like it's gaining life. Most of what happens comes off as irrelevant padding, and secondary characters do almost nothing to add to the intrigue except to foreshadow the book's disappointing climax.
In a nutshell: who cares about what Robert Ross did or didn't do? I certainly didn't.(less)
The last ten pages of the book are some of the most beautiful I've ever read. But the book as a whole just didn't grab me. The writing itself is gorge...moreThe last ten pages of the book are some of the most beautiful I've ever read. But the book as a whole just didn't grab me. The writing itself is gorgeous, truly poetic, but the plot seemed overblown. Maybe I just didn't understand what the book was trying to accomplish? As soon as I read the first page, I knew it wasn't going to be my type of book. I don't have much else to say, unfortunately! There isn't anything technically wrong with it, and I can understand why some would even be mesmerized by it. I'm just not one of those people.(less)