Category: Uncategorized

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

This book is positioned as an essay collection, but it easily could’ve been called a memoir. Or one big essay in pieces. Or, as Meghan O’Rourke is quoted in the cover blurb, a “guide to the complexities of thinking about illness”.

The essays aren’t scholarly, though you’ll gain quite a bit of background knowledge, not just about her diagnoses, but mental health systems of diagnoses and treatment in general. They aren’t personal essays, in the “it happened to me” style, though there are plenty of personal details and even a little name-dropping. Wang doesn’t use schizophrenia as a metaphor, though she references the metaphors and plots of movies and books with ease.

And this book definitely, thankfully, doesn’t have the “overcoming adversity” inspirational feel of mainstream illness memoirs.

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The Known World by Edward P. Jones

I noted that my first #20BooksofSummer20 review, of Real Life by Brandon Taylor, would likely be enhanced by a rereading of Mrs. Dalloway, a text that is alluded to from the very first line. The Known World immediately put me in mind of a another book too, and I even did some research this time! And reread the first chapter of said book! Don’t say I never did anything for you, gentle blog readers.

But after all my hard work, I think I’ve talked myself out of it. Let me explain…

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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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Blurbing the Blurb: A recommendation of Songs for the Cold of Heart by Éric Dupont

During my hiatus, I wrote a “recommend” for Canadian literary website 49th Shelf. Songs for the Cold of Heart has been on my mind lately, as various translated book award long and short lists are being announced. I was hoping to see it crop up – but alas, no Canadians at all are in the running for either the Man Booker International Prize or the Best Translated Book Award. Let’s take a moment and appreciate the book and the blurb, in both official languages. 

I am a blurb skeptic. Blurbs are, at best, the most biased form of literary criticism. Just check how often a blurber’s name appears on the acknowledgements page. At worst, blurbs are clichéd, or taken out of out of context, or of dubious veracity (did Gary Shteyngart really read all those books?).

The blurb on Songs for the Cold of Heart got all my skeptic senses tingling:

“If the Americans have John Irving and the Colombians Gabriel García Márquez, we have Eric Dupont. And he’s every bit as good as them.”—Voir

Like most Canadiens anglais, I didn’t hear of Éric Dupont until this English translation hit the Giller Prize longlist in 2018. I wondered if he was really as good as Irving and Márquez, two luminaries of world literature (and longtime personal favourites of mine). Or was this blurb just another bloated piece of hype?

Read the rest of my recommendation on 49th Shelf, as well as those of other luminaries, including Karen Hofmann, whose debut I reviewed five years ago and who since wrote another great novel with a very meta title: What is Going to Happen Next.

Thanks for indulging me with this mini-post while I try to get back in the swing of things! Let me know if you generally believe the blurb, or if you side-eye them as much as I do. Sadly, Shteyngart Blurbs is no longer updating, but I maintain that he must have been bullshitting at least some of the time.

The Full Monte Read-Along Chapters 21-40: Half Baked

If you have trouble maneuvering your ship into port at Marseilles, steer yourself over to the master post.

NOTE: This post covers the chapters from The Island of Tiboulen to The Breakfast, inclusive. The numbering varies by edition, and I’m going by the Penguin Classics edition, which seems to match Project Gutenberg. If you have the Oxford World’s Classics or some other editions, you might need to read up to and including chapter 41.

This week is another mixed bag, but unlike last week, where I kind of knew what to expect (false accusations, jail, escape, yada yada yada), this section has got me like:

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I have questions about 19th century French hashish, and French translations
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The Full Monte Read-Along Chapters 1-20: Edmond Dantès’ Right to Due Process

If you have trouble maneuvering your ship into port at Marseilles, steer yourself over to the master post.

The Count of Monte Cristo is best known as a story of revenge. But for the first 200ish pages, our boy Dantès doesn’t have a vengeful thought in his head. Or many other thoughts. He’s just a good-looking, lucky kid, on the cusp of gaining all the money, status, and love he could ever want.

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Dantès at his betrothal feast, about to learn an important lesson about the correlation between Money and Problems

This week, we read up to chapter 20, a totally arbitrary cut-off, but one that worked out wonderfully well. We follow golden boy Dantès until his arrest on trumped up charges, then we follow the conspirators, and the prosecutor who ensures he will stay in jail indefinitely, then we get back to Dantès in jail, and we stop right when it seems his escape is about to be foiled – though we know he must escape, because we still have 1,000 pages to go.

So far, Rick’s prediction that there may not be a lot to “discuss” seems apt. I don’t have an overarching theme to expound on, or a pop culture parallel to draw. So, here are my disjointed observations on this novella-length introduction to Edmond’s story. Continue reading

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi: Man Booker International Prize Review

 

frankenstein

I picked up Frankenstein in Baghdad because it was the most accessible book on the longlist (in stock at Chapters!), not because I was excited to read about war. My last war book, Canada Reads contender American War, didn’t go so well, and right off the bat, I noticed similarities. Frankenstein opens with a leaked government document, a top secret report on the activities of the “Tracking and Pursuit Department” in Iraq. American War actually makes great use of leaked documents, transcripts, and newspaper clippings to frame its time-hopping narrative. The author is a former journalist, and probably got a feel for what government documents look like, so they feel really authentic. I didn’t buy it in Frankenstein, though. The language was too plain. Even the “Top Secret” stamp looked amateur.

Luckily, that’s the only such document in the book. The rest is a straight-up narrative set in contemporary Iraq. Frankenstein distinguishes itself from American War in one more important way: it leave room for the reader to think. Continue reading

How to follow a UK Prize from Canada or my foray into the Man Booker International Prize

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I made a snap decision today: I’ve decided to follow the Man Booker International Prize. I came to my decision, oh, about a half hour before the longlist was announced this morning. In my excitement, I filmed two videos before work: one about why I’m following the prize, and one reacting to the longlist. Scroll down to watch, if you wish.

Since my early morning burst of activity, though, I’ve learned some harsh lessons about following a UK prize from overseas: you can’t get the books.

Well, you *can*. And I knew it would be a pain – this isn’t my first rodeo (or my first Booker). But the combination of UK publication dates, translations, and this particular longlist’s preponderance of small press books makes the 2018 MBIP a real challenge. So, I did some research. Continue reading

War and Peace Newbies Read-Along Volume II, Parts III and IV: Phoning it in

Et bienmes readers-along, si vous n’avez rien de mieux à faire, go to the master post for the read-along schedule and more.

It happens every read-along: around halfway through, the host starts phoning it in. I regret to inform you that the time has come. I’m about to fly across the country to see my family in Atlantic Canada and between wrapping up at work and packing and regular summer time craziness, it ain’t happening this week, or at least, not with my usual attention to detail.

Let’s see who else is phoning it in these days… shall we? Continue reading

War and Peace Newbies Read-Along Volume I, Part II: Did you get the memo?

Et bienmes readers-along, si vous n’avez rien de mieux à faire, go to the master post for the read-along schedule and more.

THE FIRST OF THE DREADED WAR PARTS.

And it was okay! Fascinating, even. As a Canadian, I’ve read plenty about World War I. I read Fifth Business in grade 11 and The Wars in first year University. Both were stark, realistic portrayals of the horror and confusion of war. Lots of mud and gas. But neither got that deep into the bureaucracy of war. The posturing, the double speak, the sycophancy, the ass-covering…. the memos.

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