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Half Years and Such

July 5, 2011

I’m behind again, aren’t I. Three books. Honestly, it is not intentional – there has been so much to do over the past couple of weeks that I’ve not really had time to reflect on my reading experiences with you. But I can assure you that the adventures I’ve been having, the pages I’ve read, have left me thoroughly impressed. I’ll do my best this week to get you caught up.

This post is not about anything of that nature though. Instead, it is a celebration of a year of reading – or rather, six months of reading. I’ve counted, and have had the pleasure of reading 19 books thus far. Not an overly impressive number, but seeing as one book (Atlas Shrugged) took me nearly two months to get through rather than my standard 4 or 5 days, I’ll take what I can get.

This gives me a great opportunity to look back at what I’ve read, and the places I’ve been. And the places I’ve been.

I’ve crossed into Japan and back with a man named Jacob de Zoet, traveled to the Ukraine and altered the lives and deaths of entire towns, witnessed the split of Czechoslovakia in the midst of a political art crisis, traveled to the backwoods of Canadian Identity in lakes of Quebec, discovered a post-Civil War Southern United States where lawlessness is terrifying, traveled to St. John’s from Labrador with a transgendered almost woman almost named Annabel, perused Norway’s backwoods where the war still haunts the memories of man and woman, and built a railway with a female tycoon only to have it taken away and be transported to a utopia while the world falls to pieces.

I’ve done well for myself, considering I’ve not actually left my town since New Years, no?

So where do I stand so far? What are my favourite reads?

I’m going to keep the number to six, just under a third of what I’ve read. A challenge, because, as you’d know if you’ve been following me all year, I don’t really think I’ve read anything particularly bad this year. Here goes nothing…

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer – I’m sure this surprises nobody. After finishing this novel, I was in a reading funk; I could not convince myself that the books I was picking up to try and fill the void were doing it. The language and characters that fill the pages are truly special, and I look forward to reading it again.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – This is a haunting tale, and I’m sure that an academic could place it in a historical genre of magical realism if they were so inclined. I would listen, as I am sure that Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is also rightfully placed in it (and it also, is rightfully placed among the classics). What impressed me most was Dorian Gray’s character, and how Oscar Wilde took hold of a theme and illustrated with a painting. Terrifying.

Regeneration by Pat Barker – Part One of a trilogy, I was impressed with this novel’s subtlety. You’ll find out more about it later this week (I promise), but the characters and their attachments to each other thoroughly impressed me, and the delicacy with which Barker captured the flashbacks horrified. The second novel is waiting for me to pick up from the local library. Truly, this trilogy should be exalted into the highest echelons of anti-war literature.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – If you knew me, you’d be shocked by this selection. My entire family scoffed at me for reading it, and then slowly came out of their respective closets: my mother read it in University, my Grandma read it while she was pregnant with my aunt. This highly controversial novel, though not perfectly written, is phenomenally constructed. While not a masterpiece in literature, it is a masterpiece in the mixture of ideology and plot and character. I battled with Rand throughout the story, because it challenged so many of my ideals – and still does. A powerful and demanding read expertly constructed.

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel – Yann Martel wrote about Pears and Bananas and stole my heart. This story, this allegory, this symbolic portrayal of the destruction of an entire race of people – it proved to me that Martel can make me react to animals with more empathy than almost any other author can with human characters. Not only is the ending heartbreaking and confusing, but it asks for you to become involved. A short, disconcerting read.

Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy – Mr. McCarthy has something to say about the human condition, and he does by no means sing its praises. It does not trust, it does not see beauty. It destroys, and turns the world to darkness. There is no respite. And McCarthy’s incredible painting of a landscape, both detailed and mysterious, and his populating of the world with people, both detailed and mysterious, astounds – he writes as though he has seen this, and though the world he portrays is the world he recognizes. And by the end of every novel he writes you are only more convinced. The characters and the plot of this story, neither elaborated beyond the bare necessity, feel like an exploration of the unknown, and the discovery of monsters turns this two-hundred page novella into an epic. Stunning.

Honourable Mention: The best parts of my judgement are telling me that I can’t include The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoetby David Mitchell on this list. I just finished it tonight, but it impressed me immensely. I look forward to reflecting on it over the next week.

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