books: installment #2

after this i am making a resolution to keep up to date with my book blogging.

Neal Stephenson & J. Frederick George

this was published several years ago under a nom de guerre, and i guess now re-released because stepheson has become popular (or at least has a recognized name now). part spy novel, and part political crit – this book is premised on a senator who has a stroke which allows government manipulators (who seem to be comprised of shadowy groups of those who have large money interests) to hardwire his brain permanently into a “focus group” that represents the cross-section of the american public. whatever the senator says gets immediate feedback, and allows the controllers to change his story. rife with guns, chase scenes, and some dubious medicine, interface is not at all plausible, but very entertaining.

A Complicated Kindness
Miriam Toews

you know, it’s really too bad that rohinton mistry won the governer general’s award for a fine balance a few years back because now i expect every gg winner to be that good, which is why i picked up this book. having said this, a complicated kindness is a somewhat enjoyable read about a young woman marooned in mennonite town in manitoba while her family disappears, one by one, from around her. no doubt, this book stands in the canadian tradition of flat external landscapes with which tumultous internal landscapes are contrasted – and in this case the land is wide open while the characters are constrained by their religion, their community and their pasts. also like a lot of canadian fiction is a distance in the writing that makes one feel as though youa re viewing the scene from afar, which is not really the relationship i want with a story. in the end, i’m not so interested in her main character, but much more those who have disappeared, particularly the father who is quirky in a sad and interesting way. i wouldn’t buy this book again, but i would take it out of the library.

A Short History of Progress
Ronald Wright

the massey lecture series (sponsored by cbc radio) has produced a number of slim after-the-fact volumes of note, and this is definitely an interesting addition to the collection. really, this is a short version of jared diamond’s recent book collapse and the five essays within explore the collapse of civilizations historically (easter island, rome etc) and the very real possibility that the western empire could also be on the verge of collapse for similar reasons (environmental, political excesses). i don’t really agree with all of his conclusions – particularly that our society has a possibility of reversing the collapse scenario we currently find outselves in – but i think wright does a good job of summing up in an accessible 136 pages the crux of the arguments for potential collapse and change.

All About Love: New Visions & Communion: The Female Search for Love
bell hooks

hooks is not only an activist for change, she is an activist and a believer in the right to and power of love – and her recent trilogy on the subject explores this eloquently. when i was in california back in february, a friend recommended these to me, and i’m so glad. definitely these are some of the best and most progressive books i have read on defining, understanding, and looking for love within the patriarchal morass we often find ourselves in. love, she posits, is subverted by popular notions of love on television and in the movies – and it is a radical act to reclaim love, and to be open to it, and to live it. i found these books hopeful and moving and they made me realize my own rights to love free of coercion and violence, and that this is as worth a goal as any.

After Goodlake’s
Terence Young

terence young was my favourite teacher in high school. from him i took classes in english lit, creative writing and french. he was also the teacher-sponsor for the peace club, and if the truth be told, i had a small crush on him in the way of girls who have uber-cool teachers (but then again, i also had a crush on his wife – celebrated poet patricia young). back then he wasn’t published yet, but in the last few years there have been three books, two of short stories. after goodlake’s is his first novel, and although i’m not sure i liked it as much as his short fiction, there were many touchstones in it i found vaguely comforting, and his characters are so very – real. the plot concerns one fergus goodlake, deli-owner and owner of a midlife crisis that results in an affair that slowly unravels his life. the honest representation of the people involved is waht makes this an interesting (if not familiar to life) read. really just a slice of life, a falling crucifix represents the undoing as the lives of the goodlakes are forever subverted, as so often quirky or random moments can do – and it’s up to fergus to try to pick up the pieces and try to make ammends. somehow this rang a little too close to home for me – as it’s a subject matter i try not to read about too much… but it also made me realize how predicatble we humans are….

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