Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013: My Reading Year in Review

Twenty thirteen was a weird reading year for me. I managed to blow through my typical number of books, and yet I had this strange pall of laziness that I couldn't shake for most of the year. This is partly due, I think, to the fact that I failed to review every title on my reading list. Some books were by people who have become good friends and I couldn't really give them an objective evaluation; others books got read at a time when I was low on energy, and I just didn't have the brainmeats to commit to a critique. (You'll also notice from the full reading list below, there were a number of books late in the year that I'm reading for "research"for a new major work of fiction.)

At any rate, I did manage to compile my usual 10 best reads and my 5 worst reads. Here we go:

10 best reads of the year

  • (reread) The Information, by Martin Amis (part of the Co-habitational Reading Challenge): "Throughout, what we find is a treatise on professional avarice and a hilarious (and strangely touching) portrait of the Failed Male of the late 20th century. Amis has mastered an incredible narrative voice for this book, an almost amorphous "I" that watches Richard from a distance and yet can capture him so perfectly, gain access to his every thought so readily. Couple that with an enduring fascination of cosmogony as a way of grasping the midlife crisis, and what you've got is a book about squandered potential and revenge that gets out of control." Full review: here, here and here.
  • (reread) Ulysses, by James Joyce: I covered this book over three posts, and it's difficult to find a singular pull quote that captures the essence of them all. Best to read the full reviews here, here, and here.
  • The Crystal Palace, by Carey Toane: "What makes The Crystal Palace such a remarkable achievement is its breathy ability to both build up and tear down our assumptions of what the book is going to be. You cannot come to this collection thinking you will find a Zwickian thisness to the Great Exhibition, or to rats, or to flowers, or to any other recurrent preoccupation cast upon its pages. You come to this collection to marvel at the looseness of its metaphors, the temporary but powerful allusions that scuttle like crabs across its landscape." From an as-yet unpublished review.
  • Arguably, by Christopher Hitchens. "In the end, when reviewing Arguably, one must set aside these literary profiles/criticism and once again acknowledge Hitchens’ true m├ętier: his geopolitical writing. Whether tackling the historic phenomena of Nazism and Stalinism, or writing about the current-day situations in Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, Hitchens’ breadth of knowledge and depth of engagement have few peers." Full review.
  • Contents of a Mermaid’s Purse, by Phoebe Tsang: "[I]n poem after poem, Tsang peels back our expectations of what can be conveyed through a traditional image for kids—a mermaid, a black cat, a pig with an apple in its mouth—to reveal a visceral world of lust, desire and even violence underneath." Full review.
  • The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud: "There is no denying that this is a powerful and well-envisioned novel that captures perfectly a kind of self regard that feels so prevalent to the 21st century. The Woman Upstairs is a deeply contemporary novel that reflects back the darkness and the light of ourselves as we try to shape our own worlds and how we define the meaning of success." Full review.
  • Cottonopolis, by Rachel Lebowitz: "What unfolds is a breathtaking, eerie and oddly beautiful look at the vicious underbelly of capitalism, and how this tangled system of human subjugation continues to lord over our lives and our prosperity." Review forthcoming in The Fiddlehead.  
  • Savage Love, by Douglas Glover: "If there were any doubts that Douglas Glover is one of Canada’s best prose writers, then Savage Love will surely extinguish them. The fact that this collection braids so many modalities, so many tonalities, together into a cohesive whole speaks to the author’s immense talent. These stories are skillful yet breathless, and deserve any and all accolades that may come their way." Review forthcoming in CNQ. 
  • M/F, by Anthony Burgess: "Burgess weaves his puns and his allusions expertly and with great deliberation. Thankfully, one can read M/F simply at the level of its convoluted plot, missing much of its subtext, and still get a lot out of it. You’ll laugh. You flip the pages. And you’ll probably increase your vocabulary by a wide margin." Full review.
  • The Last of the Lumbermen, by Brian Fawcett: "Brian Fawcett’s engrossing new book is as good as any hockey novel gets. Whether you’re a fan of the sport or a devotee of tense, multi-threaded storytelling, you’ll find something to love in this book that bursts with family secrets, small-town violence, and scads of on-ice action." Full Quill & Quire review.
5 worst reads of the year
  • Every Little Thing, by Chad Pelley: "The story itself moves through a series of pointless twists and tropes: there’s a drowned brother (an increasingly overdone occurrence in CanLit); parents dying of cancer; an infidelity involving Allie and her boss; and a young boy Cohen wants to adopt. The issue here isn’t just these convolutions. Nor is it the novel’s clunky prose, wooden dialogue, or tortured similes. An insidious sentimentality infects the entire novel, culminating with a final scene in a cemetery that will have readers throwing the book across the room." Full Quill & Quire review.
  • Flip Turn, by Paula Eisenstein: "What Flip Turn does explore, inexplicably, is an array of petty relationships that the narrator has with other girls at school and at the pool. A motley assemble of vague, poorly drawn female characters are marched out, given some kind of trivial interaction with our protagonist, and then scarcely heard from again. This approach goes on for dozens of pages, and left me wondering what all these relationships would amount to, what sort of jouissance they would instill by the end of the story. The answer, sadly, was nothing and none." Full review.
  • Iron-on Constellations, by Emily Pohl-Weary: "[I]t often seems like Pohl-Weary is reaching for the easy rather than the difficult, the vague rather than the specific, the prefabricated rather than the vibrantly original." Full review
  • Extraordinary, by David Gilmour: "As with other Gilmour books, Extraordinary contains elements that left me baffled. Example: Sally broke her neck at a cocktail party after tripping on a carpet and hitting her head on a fireplace. The exact nature of her injuries is not made clear, however: she’s not a quadriplegic – she appears to have full use of her arms – or a paraplegic, since she occasionally gets around on crutches. These and other nebulous details pepper the book, making for an occasionally jarring reading experience." Full Quill & Quire Review.
  • Day of the Oprichnik, by Vladimir Sorokin: "[U]nfortunately Day of the Oprichnik just doesn’t hold together. Sorokin—perhaps in the interest of appearing original—relies too heavily on elision: we never get a sense of the broader machinations of the society he creates or how Russia arrived in the state that it’s in. Komiaga’s inner world comes off as rather hollow. He doesn’t really change or evolve over the course of the novel, doesn’t ever build upon his sense of the magnitude of his actions or the role he plays in this horrific society." Full review.
My reading year in full
64. December 29. Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects, by Catherine Graham. 57 pps.

63. December 26. Interpreters, by Ron Schafrick. 127 pps.

62. December 21. Unruly Voices: Essays on Democracy, Civility and the Human Imagination, by Mark Kingwell. 272 pps. (for research)

61. December 15. The Fiddlehead No. 257, Fall 2013. 118 pps.

60. December 7. Prisoner of Zion: Muslims, Mormons, and Other Misadventures, by Scott Carrier. 240 pps.

59. November 30. What's the Score? 99 Poems, by David McFadden. 146 pps.

58. November 26. Baffle, by Zachariah Wells. 28 pps.

57. November 25. One Fat Englishman, by Kingsley Amis. 162 pps.

56. November 19. So Much Love, by Rebecca Rosenblum. 180 pps. (manuscript)

55. November 19. (reread) On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill. 141 pps. (for research)

54. November 13. The Desperates, by Greg Kearney. 319 pps. (For review in Quill and Quire.)

53. November 12. (reread) The Social Contract, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 139 pps. (for research.)

52. November 6. The New Quarterly 128 (Fall 2013.) 141 pps.

51. November 5. (reread) Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, by Immanuel Kant. 115 pps. (for research)

50. October 31. Personals, by Ian Williams. 68 pps.

49. October 29. M/F, by Anthony Burgess. 206 pps.

48. October 25. Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, by Chrystia Freeland. 330 pps.

47. October 18. The Fiddlehead No. 256. Summer 2013. 181 pps.

46. October 5. Arguments with the Lake, by Tanis Rideout. 70 pps.

45. October 3. The Blue Guitar, by Ann Ireland. 254 pps.

44. September 28. Happy Birthday, Nicanor Parra, by Jim Smith. 98 pps.

43. September 25. Long Shots: The Curious Story of the Four Maritime Teams That Played for the Stanley Cup, by Trevor J. Adams. 148 pps.

42. September 23. The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde's Nemesis, by Linda Stratmann. 316 pps.

41. September 12. Savage Love, by Douglas Glover. 262 pps.(For review in Canadian Notes & Queries.)

40. September 5. The Last of the Lumbermen, by Brian Fawcett. 285 pps. (For review in Quill and Quire.)

39. August 29. Day of the Oprichnick, by Vladimir Sorokin. 191 pps.

38. August 22. We Others: New and Selected Stories, by Steven Millhauser. 387 pps.

37. August 16. No One Belongs Here More than You, by Miranda July. (audiobook)

36. July 28. Cottonopolis, by Rachel Lebowitz. 117 pps.

35. July 25. Extraordinary, by David Gilmour. 186 pps. (For review in Quill and Quire.)

34. July 21. The Semiconducting Dictionary (Our Strindberg), by Natalee Caple. 111 pps.

33. July 15. Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann. 512 pps.

32. July 3. CNQ 87. Spring 2013. 96 pps.

31. June 30. The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud. 253 pps.

30. June 25. It's Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems, by Jeanette Lynes. 91 pps.

29. June 24. Whiteout, by George Murray. 64 pps.

28. June 22. Contents of a Mermaid's Purse, by Phoebe Tsang. 62 pps.

27. June 20. A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems of John Newlove, edited by Robert McTavish, with an Afterword by Jeff Derksen. 251 pps.

26. June 15. Arguably, by Christopher Hitchens. 788 pps.

25. May 20. Unmapped Dreams: The Charlottetown Stories, by J.J. Steinfeld. 171 pps.

24. May 14. The Hundred Hearts, by William Kowalski. 292 pps. (For review in Quill and Quire.)

23. May 7. Iron-on Constellations, by Emily Pohl-Weary. 54 pps.

22. May 6. Gaspereau Gloriatur - Volume II: Prose, edited by Michael deBeyer, Kate Kennedy and Andrew Steeves. 278 pps.

21. April 28. Waking in the Tree House, by Michael Lithgow. 59 pps.

20. April 25. The King's English: A Guide to Modern Usage, by Kingsley Amis. 270 pps.

19. April 16. Event, 41.1. 102 pps.

18. April 14. Li'l Bastard, by David McGimpsey. 151 pps.

17. April 10. Flip Turn, by Paula Eisenstein. 190 pps.

16. April 4. CNQ 86. Winter 2012/2013. 96 pps.

15. March 30. The Crystal Palace, by Carey Toane. 93 pps.

14. March 27. Grunt of the Minotaur, by Robin Richardson. 80 pps.

13. March 26. Ash Steps, by M. Travis Lane. 85 pps.

12. March 23. Giant, by Aga Maksimowska. 211 pps. (For review in The Antigonish Review.)

11. March 15. Distillery Songs, by Mike Spry. 155 pps.

10. March 11. (reread) Ulysses, by James Joyce - Episode 15: "Circe" to Episode 18: "Penelope", plus endnotes. 572 pps. (For A Time to Re-Joyce.)

9. March 4. Every Little Thing, by Chad Pelley. 271 pps. (For review in Quill and Quire.)

8. February 24. Prism International, Winter 2013. 81 pps.

7. February 21. (reread) Ulysses, by James Joyce - Episode 11: "Sirens" to Episode 14: "Oxen of the Sun." 162 pps.  (For A Time to Re-Joyce.)

6. February 13. Charms Against Lightning, by James Arthur. 64 pps.

5. February 11. (reread) Ulysses, by James Joyce - Jeri Johnson intro to 1922 text and Episode 1: "Telemachus" to Episode 10: "Wandering Rocks". 313 pps. (For A Time to Re-Joyce.)

4. February 3. Under Budapest, by Ailsa Kay. 260 pps. (For review in Quill and Quire.)

3. January 21. What We All Long For, by Dionne Brand. 318 pps.

2. January 15. (reread) The Information, by Martin Amis. 494 pps.(For the Cohabitational Reading Challenge)

1. January 2. PRISM International, Fall 2012. 79 pps.


  1. :) It was great! Whole new direction for her. I think y'all are going to be impressed when it's published.