Real Life by Brandon Taylor

I don’t know Brandon Taylor in real life, but it sometimes feels like I do. He’s prolific on Twitter, but doesn’t stick to a particular persona or schtick. He tweets all kinds of stuff and in all kinds of moods. It’s the kind of Twitter account that draws me in, and in this case, convinced me to buy a debut novel (see also: Colin Barrett).

So while I acknowlege that Twitter is not real life and I don’t actually know Mr. Taylor, after following him for several months, I feel confident in saying that he did not write Real Life to educate the likes of me, a 39-and-three-quarters-years-old white Canadian woman, about racism and sex. There’s also this article in the Guardian that says so pretty explicitly. And yet!

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20 Books of Summer 2020

Embarking on a quantity-based reading challenge in the midst of a pandemic-induced reading slump? What could go wrong?

Fortunately, Cathy, our fearless 20 Books of Summer leader, is very flexible. This challenge will be less about quantity for me, and more about making time for some books I’ve been meaning to get to, and hopefully, posting reviews here. I had so much fun in 2019, writing about disgusting teen boys, Puritans, cannibals, and yes, Jonathan Franzen (and he’s back this year!)

Here’s the stack, and a quick note about each book’s providence:

  1. The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang – purchased at Glass Bookshop‘s Valentine’s Day sale
  2. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Coles, bought “for my husband”, no he hasn’t read it
  3. Give War and Peace a Chance by Andrew D. Kaufman – Garage sale, I think?
  4. Green Darkness by Anya Seton – not a clue, had this for many years
  5. Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy – Garge sale
  6. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner – Chapters
  7. River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay – Coles
  8. This Marlowe by Michelle Butler Hallett – from the publisher, years ago (sorry)
  9. The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell – Wee Book Inn
  10. The Known World by Edward P. Jones – borrowed from my mom
  11. In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje – a long-ago library sale
  12. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrente – an emergency same-day delivery from Glass Bookshop
  13. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo – borrowed from a coworker
  14. Milkman by Anna Burns – Wee Book Inn
  15. Quartet by Jean Rhys – antique mall
  16. Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos – Blackwell’s
  17. Real Life by Brandon Taylor – Glass Bookshop
  18. The End of the End of the Earth – Coles
  19. Nerve by Eva Holland – Glass Bookshop
  20. Weather by Jenny Offill – Glass Bookshop

Given that I haven’t even read 20 books this year, the chances of me reading, let alone reviewing, this whole list is slim. Expect DNFs, random order, round up reviews – you know, the usual.

Are you ready? Let’s see those stacks!

Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano – International Booker Prize review

The story of how Emmanuelle Pagano’s 340-page French short story collection, Un renard à mains nues, became the 128-page International Booker Prize nominated English collection Faces on the Tip of My Tongue is almost as interesting as the stories themselves. Peirene Press, the English publisher, exclusively offers books that can be read “in the same time it takes to watch a film,” so Un renard needed to be drastically shortened. Translators Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins narrowed down the stories to those that best conveyed the themes, then divvied them up, translating alone before trading drafts back and forth and critiquing each other’s work.

The result is a charming, disorienting, tightly connected collection that literally does something that many a novel tries to metaphorically do: forces the reader to consider different perspectives.

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How to read the 2020 International Booker Prize longlist in Canada

Once again, I have rashly decided to follow the International Booker Prize. I learned some harsh lessons in 2018 about how difficult it is to get new and obscure UK books in Canada, and I’m back to share my wisdom (and spreadsheet) with you.

This year’s longlist looks a bit easier to manage than the 2018 edition. I found at least one way to access each book in Canada. I was able to start Faces on the Tip of my Tongue immediately on my Kindle, for the low price of $5.59, and I will use an Audible credit for one of the three audio titles available, perhaps starting with the The Memory Police, which appears to be the most straightforward plot (that’s saying something, given TMP’s surreal premise.)

If you’re in Canada, take a peek at my spreadsheet for a variety of options, including bookstore cover prices, plus ebook, audio, and international ordering. For books that aren’t published yet, I noted the publication dates, though hopefully some will change – one book isn’t published here until September!

A few other things to note:

  • I didn’t include library options here as it will vary by system, but always check the library first! In my library, two titles are on order and one is available but waitlisted. See if you can request titles that aren’t in your library’s catalog.
  • I took my cover prices from Amazon and Chapters, but you should of course avail yourself of your favourite local indie bookstore.
  • I included Blackwell’s as my international ordering option because I’m not a fan of Book Depository, but it’s probably safe to assume anything at Blackwell’s is available there too.
  • Direct-from-publisher prices were converted to CAD by me, your credit card company may have different ideas.
  • Feel free to make a copy of my sheet and use it to track your progress.
  • I am not responsible for any TBR explosions or book budget overruns that may result from irresponsible use of this spreadsheet.

Canadians, and Americans of North, Central, or South varieties: are you reading the IBP this year? How are you getting your books?

2019 Year in Review

I didn’t do a Goodreads challenge this year. I didn’t even use Goodreads (looking up one-star reviews of books notwithstanding), but I was keeping track of my reading, and as the the year went on, I could tell something was amiss.

I’ve never cracked 100 books in a year, but I usually get close. By Novellas in November time, I start doing calculations, and look for super-short novels to speed things along. This year, I was barely past 50 books read on November 1. No amount of novellas was going to get me out of this one.

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Short Story Advent Calendar 2019: short reviews

Daily videos were great for a couple of years, but that’s gone out the window, so let’s catch up on the Short Story Advent Calendar with a few short reviews. It’s been a pretty good #ssac2019 so far, with a mix of old and new; and traditional and weird.

Day 1: Shelley Oria, “Beginnings”
A song about the end of a relationship that was doomed from the beginning(s). Reminded me of the Feist song “Let it Die”, which you’ll recall as a Seth/Summer song from The O.C., right?

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Novellas in November 2019 Round Up #1

Halfway through #NovNov ’19, I don’t have as much to show for it as in previous years. Blame it on the Ducks. It has been an eclectic reading month so far, with a dud, a local success, a backlash, and a reading hangover that has me reaching for nonfiction to clear my head.

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Novellas in November 2019: a novella for every occasion

With Novellas in November mere days away, it’s been brought to my attention that there are people who intend to read things other than novellas next month. And other people might get distracted by book prizes. The good news is that there’s a novella for just about every occasion. Here are some suggestions if you insist on participating in other types of reading in November.

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Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson, Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector, and The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

I’ve had some wonderful cases of book serendipity this year. That is, when books you’re reading simultaneously, or consecutively, have a common thread, a coincidental similarity of theme, or detail, or maybe an uncommon word usage. Bookish Beck keeps track of these in Twitter threads. I kicked of this 20 Books of Summer challenge with just such a case of eerie paralells, between Jonathan Franzen’s How To Be Alone and Paul Auster’s Winter Journal.

This (another mini review cop out) is the opposite of that. Books 12, 13, and 14 of my list of 20 could not be more different. Objectively, they are of very different lengths, subjects, genres, and tones. Subjectively, they ranged from unexpectedly delightful to completely incomprehensible.

These books do serve to illustrate a point, though. In the Literary Fiction Book Tag, I defined “literary fiction” as fiction that leaves “plenty of room for interpretation.” I still believe this to be true, but in examining my reaction to these books, I find that what I need is a middle ground. Don’t spoon feed me, but don’t leave me completely on my own. Here’s how I fared with interpreting each of these books.

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