Orange titles link to more about the book
Mike Myers Canada by Mike Myers /Canadian/ Mike Myers loves Canada. So do I. The book is somewhat of an autobiography of comedian/actor Mike Myers. I say somewhat, because like a miner panning for gold, he sifts the sand from his riverbed of memories through the Canadian flag; looking for anything with a whiff of maple. Some readers may find that a bit heavy-handed, even a touch contrived at times. I ate it up like a bag of ketchup chips, licking my fingers clean of every speck of savoury red dust.
I am only two years older than Mike Myers and so the Canadian childhood he remembers from Scarborough, Ontario, has much in common with mine in Pierrefonds, Quebec. His Maple Leaf Gardens is my Montreal Forum, his sad Maple Leafs hockey team is my mighty Montreal Canadiens –sorry Mike. But we share Cherry Blossoms, Expo 67, the Eaton’s catalogue, Lonesome Charlie, Mr. Dressup (when Mr Dressup died shortly after 9/11, it felt like all goodness was draining from the world), The Friendly Giant, Stompin’ Tom, Canadian Tire and pretty much every other Canadian memory from growing up in the 60’s and 70’s.
The book is also a snapshot of Canada, but like any snapshot, it’s taken from a specific perspective. This is not a scholarly look at Canadian history or politics. It is one man’s memory, and often very funny, interpretation of what it means to be a Canadian.
Perhaps even more than a snapshot, it’s a love letter, and like all love letters, there is an element of giddy drunkenness, seeing mostly what is beautiful, quick to forgive the beloved’s flaws. (I actually found it hard to write that last sentence, because I am punch drunk in love with Canada too– I take it as a personal accomplishment whenever we make a list of best places to live).
But what’s wrong with a love letter in a world so full of cynicism?
If you are one of the millions of Canadians suffering from U.S. presidential flu, I suggest you vaccinate yourself by reading Canada by Mike Myers. It’s like enjoying Hickory Sticks and a Molson on a sunny May two-four weekend.
Furiously Happy by Jenny Larson / This memoir by an author struggling with mental illness and depression is very amusing. I laughed out loud for real many times. It can be over the top in parts, and is best read in small doses (humour is often that way, too big a dose and it starts feeling forced). I bought her first book, Let’s pretend this Never Happened right after I finished reading this one. I look forward to reading it. I may also check out her blog.
By The Numbers by Jen Lancaster /I can’t imagine there is anyone who knows pop culture better than Jen Lancaster. I find her very funny, but I do think that she jumps around in time a little too much in this book. Some of it felt like it served the funny, but not the narrative. The humour and light storyline makes this “chick lit” or a “beach read,” but she is a smart writer and without sounding like this sort of book is “lesser,” because I don’t think it is, I think if she turned her sights to something less like a rom-com, she could create something very moving. Because behind all her funny, I suspect, is someone with a sharp eye and a lot of insight into what makes people tick.
Nutshell by Ian McEwan / This was a very enjoyable read as all McEwan’s books are. The story’s narrator is a unborn child. The baby is listening to his mother and her lover’s plot to kill his father. There is beautiful writing, humour and an interesting concept. Click the title to read a review in the Guardian.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple / This fun read about a young girl looking for her missing mom—sounds dark, but is not—is written as emails, letters, and other documents, so it reads quickly. If you’d like to know more about the plot click the title, it links to a review in the New York Times.
The Break by Katherena Vermette / Canadian / This book is beautiful and sad and powerful. It is the author’s first novel, so if this is where she is growing from, I will read anything she writes. Every time I stopped reading I had that dazed feeling of coming back to my world and being a bit disoriented. The characters are so alive. It was nominated for Canada Reads, and in my opinion should have won. It was nominated for 13 other awards or lists. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time: a compelling story matched with incredible writing talent. Click the title for the Globe and Mail review.
15 Dogs by Andre Alexis / Canadian / Giller prize winner / Canada Reads winner / I really thought this book fell short of its hype. Not the quality of the writing (parts of it are beautiful and very moving), but the content. It was violent in ways that didn’t ring true to me, and while I will accept the existence of Gods and dogs that are granted consciousness, I cannot accept people having conversations with dogs and being all, “so this is odd, but whatever,” about it. It was an interesting concept that went to waste in my opinion. An opinion not shared by many people, whose opinions I respect (like Giller judges), so this is strange to me. But I won’t pretend I liked it. I am willing to say, that as far as I can see, the emperor is naked. Click the title for a review that thinks much higher of this book than I do.
The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall / Canadian / Giller Prize finalist / I really enjoyed this novel despite it’s difficult theme of rape culture. The Woodbury family has it’s life turned upside down when the dad, a pillar of the community is charged with attempted rape and other related charges. Their confusion and doubt becomes the reader’s confusion and doubt, because we don’t know if he is guilty or not either. The novel is well crafted with lots of takes on this difficult subject. I look forward to reading Whittall’s earlier work, I don’t know how I missed such an interesting voice in Canadian Lit. The title links to an article about Sarah Polley’s upcoming film adaptation of the nov
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood / Canadian / One of the things I love about Atwood is she writes so many sorts of books. This book is funny and a good read, but it won’t be for everyone. It is a retelling of the The Tempest, but much more fun. You can read a review by clicking the title.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid / Canadian / I read this on vacation. I really wanted to love it. I liked the ride, in moments I loved the ride, but ultimately I didn’t like the destination. I guessed “the secret” early and was really just reading to see if my guess was correct. He’s such a great writer I wish the story had matched his ability better. A few years ago, I read his memoir, The Truth About Luck and it still lingers in my mind. It was funny and deeply moving. I love the way he writes and will definitely read more of his work, but this one, despite some edge of seat moments, had too many holes and dead-ends for me.
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris / The stories (all the character are animals) are dark, but there are enough moments of humour (again dark) and insights into the absurdities of human behaviour, that I liked this book. But I’m a die-hard Sedaris fan. Pick it up and read one of the stories and you’ll know immediately if it’s something you’d want to spend time with. Click title for review.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett / (Spoilers ahead) I enjoyed Commonwealth while I was reading it, but the pages didn’t add up to much for me. I felt the whole betrayal that their story was “taken” was underdeveloped. Seemed almost like a pointless side story. And the recurring mention of the father’s gun went no-where, and the mystery around the brothers death was anti-climatic. Title links to a review that liked it better than I did.
Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood / Canadian /A collection of Atwood stores that has been on my shelf for ages. I just started writing a short story collection, so I wanted to absorb some magic from reading some excellent ones. Title links to review.
And Also Sharks by Jessica Westhead / Canadian / I love Westhead’s unique voice and style. She is a funny and insightful storyteller. I reread these stories as part of my “absorb magic” plan, to inspire my own short story collection.
Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips / This book was suspenseful while I was reading, but despite that, once I put it down I wasn’t compelled to pick it back up. I think the coincidence that I started reading it just before the horrible shooting spree in Las Vegas, coloured my reaction. The biggest gun massacre to date in the US and their government is still backing away from any kind of common sense gun control. It boggles my mind. When shootings are “normalized” and considered the the cost of freedom to those who fight against gun control, it’s appalling and sad to me. The most nerve jangling thing about Fierce Kingdom, was that it was pretty tame in the face of Raging Reality.
American Girls – Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales / This was a very disturbing book to read. It made me very sad for the lost innocence of the internet generation. My children are grown, I don’t have direct influence over any children at the moment, and don’t envy the mountainous task of raising a child who is being asked for nudes, being valued by their peers for their hotness and finding their self esteem through the number of social media likes they achieve. Sales says that things can change but that support is needed from the tech developers in Silicon Valley. That isn’t a promising solution, as Silicon Valley seems to be a boys club enjoying the riches of the status quo. She also recommends that we get our girls to read more. I think we need to start at home. Boys and girls need to be discouraged from living in social media. They need to be taught their intrinsic value beyond likes. They need parents who are engaged with them, who value them, who don’t also spend their own time curating a perfect social media image while reality falls apart. Anyone who is a parent should read this book. But be warned, it will turn your stomach and break your heart.
Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits,the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games by Ian Bogost / I heard the author on CBC and thought the book sounded interesting. It was a bit of a let down. The book is very repetitive and mostly theory. I had hoped to be able to translate the info into a new approach for myself to diet and exercise. But the info was too abstract and academic to be a good read or of much practical use. If you want to read a review click the title.
Productivity for Creative People by Mark McGuiness / If you have a productivity book addiction, as I do, this book won’t really add much to your stockpile of ways to stop procrastinating. If your are a creative, and haven’t read a lot of these books it may be just the book you need to start your addiction. 😉 The title links to the author’s website.
Story Genius by Lisa Cron / Reading this book inspired me to start writing a collection of short stories. Her approach to writing fiction is fresh and really made me excited to write again. The title links to her website. She is also a writing coach and offers workshops.
You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero / This book doesn’t say anything I haven’t read in many other books (such as Think and Grow Rich, or Overcoming Underearning), but she has a sassy voice and does make you wonder why you don’t just get out of your own way and make some great money. Title links to a review in Publisher’s Weekly.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson / I enjoyed this book. Manson has a no nonsense approach to what makes us happy. He suggests we worrying about what everyone else is doing, and set our own metrics and values for our life. I also like his idea that everything we do in life comes with elements that we don’t like so much. He calls those things the shit sandwich. He says that everything comes with a shit sandwich, we just have to discover which shit sandwich we can tolerate. I think that’s a good message. There can be a tendency to think if something is shitty, then we should move on, which leaves a lot of people constantly dissatisfied and looking for some place, relationship or job that has no shit sandwich. If you are not offended by rough language, I’d recommend this book. Title links to a review in Huffington Post.
Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans / I liked this book. It fed my self-improvement addiction, but it’s something sort of fresh. Talked less about discovering your passion and more about experimenting with ideas, or as they say “prototyping” ideas. My favourite quote: “Designers don’t agonize. They don’t dream about what could have been. They don’t spin their wheels. And they don’t waste their futures by hoping for a better past. Life designers see the adventure in whatever life they are currently building and living into. This is how you chose happiness.” If that resonated with you, as it did me, you’ll enjoy this book. Title links to Bill Burnett’s TedTalk.
The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People by David Niven, PH.D. / It’s not a bad read. Some of it’s inspirational. I really need to stop reading about success and just get on with life. There should be a self-improvement junkie 12 step program. I’d read that. 😉 Click the title to see what Publishers Weekly had to say.