Books — 2013

caughtCaught by Lisa Moore

Caught was short listed for the 2013 Giller Prize. It’s the story of a young Newfoundlander, David Slaney, who escapes from prison on the eve of his birthday to attempt a do-over of the crime that got him “caught” (incarcerated) in the first place: smuggling massive amounts of pot into Canada by boat.

I loved this book, not so much for the plot, but for Slaney as a character who is complex, thoughtful, and reflective. Patterson, the cop who hunts him, is equally well rendered — vivid portraits of twin protagonists, one “good,” one “bad” on opposite sides of the law.

Moore’s language is clipped yet lyrical, dense yet economical. The cadence of the prose is like an incantation, casting a spell that evokes the details of the working poor in Canada in the 70s, the strippers, truckers, barkeeps, veterans, students, huge families, and the mentally ill trying to live their lives. I read the book twice, back to back, and I’d read it again.

–October, November 2013

atfttbA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, A Tale for the Time Being rocketed to the top of my all-time favorite books list after two consecutive reads. It’s rich and deep, yet accessible. East / West, past/present, the relationship between the writer and reader, quantum theory, reflection, memory, regret, shame, cruelty, brutality, and pacifism are just some of the ground Ruth Ozeki covers in this stellar novel that left me thinking differently about how I perceive the world. I will probably be processing this book for the rest of my life. The twin protagonists, Naoko (Nao) Yusutani and Ruth, a blocked writer, are in the language of quantum theory, entangled particles — two things that share the same characteristics. Bravery, heroism, and the examined life take on new meaning viewed through the lens of this book. Highly recommended, and worth every time being’s time.

— September, October 2013

thelongwalkThe Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows by Brian Castner

Brian Castner lead an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit during the American occupation of Iraq. He and his team responded day and night to calls into the field to defuse and dispose of explosive devices. This is the story of his tours in Iraq, and how the daily struggle for survival affected him in country and later, at home, after he left the military. This was my third reading of the book (no, I don’t read all my books three times — just the ones I connect with). Castner’s first-person account of the three-strikes-you’re-out pressure of EOD school, the relentless unpredictability of calls into the field, and the never-ending brutality and human suffering in Iraq helped me understand what life was like for those that chose to answer the call of the US military. Recommended.

— September, 2013

Tiny_Beautiful-330Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

This is my third reading of Tiny Beautiful Things. I read it twice back to back last summer and found it just as compelling if not more powerful this time. Sugar’s message is that we all have work to do, that we’re all flawed, but when you do the math, when you take away the sad, the mad, and the bad, there is still good within us, provided we reach for it, reflect, and examine our motives and intents to learn from mistakes and not wallow in grief, remorse, and regret. Self-forgiveness is the first part of becoming a better human. We’re never done becoming who we’re meant to be and we must be vigilant about getting stuck. Sugar reminds us that we’re all vulnerable and human. That beyond our made-for-public-consumption shiny veneers, we are all the same: we want to love and be loved for who we really are.

— September, 2013

WildTP_Books-330Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

This was my third reading of Wild; I read it twice, back-to-back last summer. This time, I read it along with Mom. Strayed is gifted at conveying the humanity in those who appear in the book, most importantly, herself. She’s honest and transparent about her actions, her selfishness, bad choices, and infidelities. She reminds us that we’re all flawed, but have great potential — that although we might not be able to repair the inevitable damage we do to ourselves and others, we still have great capacity to learn from those mistakes and most importantly forgive. Read this book and be inspired.

–August, 2013

namewindThe Name of the Wind: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind charmed and frustrated me. Rothfuss is a great storyteller — at times I couldn’t put the book down. I wanted to know more about Kvothe, the magical prodigy raised by a traveling threatre troupe.

Two elements of the novel frustrated me: Kvothe’s devotion to Denna, who is essentially a strumpet who survives on what she can extract out of a never-ending stream of suitors. She manipulates Kvothe, yet he remains besotted. One of his best friends questions the relationship. I questioned it throughout the novel:

“I just don’t understand what you see in her,” Sim said carefully. “I know she’s charming. Fascinating and all of that. But she seems rather,” he hesitated, “cruel.”

The second element of the book that frustrated me was the seemingly random trip to Trebon two thirds of the way through the book so that Kvothe can pursue a faint hope he be able to avenge his parents death with the Chandrian rumored to be in the neighborhood. The lengthy passages featuring the fire-absorbing dragon felt forced and out-of-place.

These frustrations were minor and the fantastic storytelling is worth the read. Recommended!

— July, 2013

considerphlebasConsider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

My first Iain M. Banks book — my first Culture novel. Banks is an incredible writer — there were some beautiful passages in the novel and when the plot flagged, the writing held me. The dynamic between Horza and Balveda was fascinating: who was good? Who was evil? Even though they were on opposite sides of the Culture/Idiran war, as a reader, it’s difficult to label one good and one evil. The chapters around the game of Damage held my interest most closely. The lengthy battle scene in the train stations within Schar’s World felt drawn-out, and over-descriptive, the chapters and scenes with Fwi-Song seemed extraneous to the story and confused me. I wanted to know more about Fal Ngeestra and was disappointed in her bit part in the novel. Consider Phlebas was worth my time and whet my appetite for more work from Iain M. Banks.

–July, 2013