Wednesday, November 22, 2017

My Top Books of All Time (according to Goodreads ratings)

I saw someone recently post their top books recently and thought it would be an interesting exercise to think back about some books that have stood out over time and that I continue to think about and recommend. So in no particular order here are my top books of all time (which all got 5 stars on Goodreads for me). Another caveat is that I only included one book by author even if more of their books have gotten five stars from me:

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Missoula by Jon Krakaur
The Cartel by Don Winslow
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Mara
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagahara
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx by Alex Callinicos
The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
The Goldfinch by Donna Tart
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Nature's Metropolis by William Cronon
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
The Art of Fielding by Chad Haubach
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
A People's History of the World by Chris Harman
Ecology of Fear by Mike Davis
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
I Married a Communist by Phillip Roth
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Atonement by Ian McEwen
Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Maus I and II by Art Speigelman
The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Origin of the Urban Crisis by Thomas Sugrue


Sunday, November 12, 2017

National Book Awards - My Prediction

Ok so I have already noted why this year's award show is problematic here. The National Book Foundation's deciding to invite a sexual predator, former President Bill Clinton, to present an award is horribly tone deaf, especially in the context of everything that has happened post-Weinstein. The Liberal establishment has so long defended Clinton that it can't see the problem, even as recent events have changed the lay of the land.

In terms of the literary awards themselves, the finalists for this year's prize are actually quite exciting, novel works, featuring a diverse group of writers, mostly women, mostly women of colour.

In terms of the Fiction prize, for which I have read the entire shortlist, Jesmyn Ward's SING, UNBURIED SING is the likely favourite. My review is here, and I did admire Ward's novel, although I think it fell short compared to her previous NBA winning book, her debut Salvage the Bones.

My top pick, however, is actually HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES and I wouldn't be surprised if it's author Carmen Maria Machado won. The NBA seems to like its short stories, and this collection is stunning. You can find my review here.

I really enjoyed THE LEAVERS. It was an emotionally powerful immigrant story that I felt drawn to (being married to a South East Asian woman probably made it more personally resonating).

PACHINKO was the book I had the highest expectations in before reading. In terms of scope and topic it felt the most ambitious. I love historical fiction and a book about the experience of Koreans living in Japan from the Depression era until the here and now felt like it was going to be amazing, dealing with issues of discrimination and persistence through very tumultuous times. That said I found Min Jin Lee's writing pretty pedestrian. There are no wow sentences and passages. Instead we just get a plot that plods along at a nice pace but never had me gasping for air amazed by the writing. The most impressive and compelling parts of the book are in the first two thirds and I felt it loses considerable steam toward the end. My review is here.

The worst of the bunch was DARK AT THE CROSSING. Again really interesting place and time (is about a Syrian returning home to fight Isis) but the writing was painfully dull and I wonder if the fact that Ackerman isn't Syrian robbed the story of its intimacy that a Syrian writer would have brought to the subject matter. I certainly don't think an American can't tell the story of the Other, and presumably Ackerman, as a journalist who has covered the area would be well placed to do so, but just found his writing didn't meet the challenge.

The awards are on Wednesday evening, will be hosted by Cynthia Nixon of Sex in the City fame, and can be streamed on their website. Feel free to hiss and boo Clinton's speech.