A Canadian book blog: Publishing, marketing, books and technology from a Canadian perspective

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Book Review: The Imperfectionists — a novel by Tom Rachman

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Longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a New York Times bestseller, The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman was certainly on my radar as a book that I missed reading in 2010. The first I heard of it was actually in a holiday round-up by the Guardian, then it appeared in other round-ups and the next thing I knew, Tom Rachman was doing a reading at my local bookstore, Ardea Book & Art.

So Tom, let’s see what you’ve got.

The Imperfectionists is a series of linked stories that together form a novel. The characters are various staff members of an English-language newspaper in Rome. Each character is imperfect in his or her own way, as is the newspaper they run.

The table of contents is pretty clever:

“BUSH SLUMPS TO NEW LOW IN POLLS”
Paris Correspondent—Lloyd Burko

“WORLD’S OLDEST LIAR DIES AT 126”
Obituary Writer—Arthur Gopal

“EUROPEANS ARE LAZY, STUDY SAYS”
Business Reporter—Hardy Benjamin

...

Some of the stories were pretty brilliant. My favourites being the interspersed italicized stories of the paper’s original publisher, Cyrus Ott.

The novel, overall, was memorable, but I felt like Rachman’s writing was trying too hard to be clever. Its jolts of insight are many and often back to back, which at times is like reading a series of Jon Stewart intros.

The NY Times review highlights most of the characters and provides a good sense of the novel. I found it enjoyable, and kind of like a newspaper in that some articles are more intriguing than others.

The Imperfectionists: a novel by Tom Rachman
(Published by Anchor Canada)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hint Fiction, Selected Aphorisms and Love

Happy Valentine’s Day. For some this is a day of love poetry and candied hearts, for others it is a day of willfully ignoring the former. Regardless of your state, I want to share two books with you:

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Hint Fiction: An anthology of stories in 25 words or fewer
Edited by Robert Swartwood
(Published by WW Norton)

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Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms
by George Murray
(Published by ECW Press)

Both slim volumes are big on the poetry of brevity. And in honour of Saint Valentine, I have plucked some love stories for you.

Hint Fiction: Edited by Robert Swartwood

Rapunzel by James Burt
The boys waited below the tower-block for the paper planes. They fought over them, to be the one to carry them back to her.

Ideal by Ha Jin
The boy dreams of becoming a panda who makes money by meeting visitors. For such a pampered celebrity, even a girlfriend is provided.

The Time Before the Last by Marcus Sakey
He held her crepe-paper hand and summoned an autumn day, sepia and smoke, and dancing, and music that sounded nothing like the beeping of machines.

Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms by George Murray

Writing the erotic poem is like ironing in the nude—sexy for women, dangerous for men.

She looks like a million bucks, but it’s all in fives.

In martyrs and poets both, the rumour of greatness is enough to starve off criticism.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

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The Hunger Games trilogy is LOST meets Man Tracker meets Big Brother. In this post-apocalyptic world, North America is now Panem, a nation with a Capitol district and 12 outlying districts, each in charge of providing something to the Capitol, like agriculture, electronics, or weapons. As a measure to remind the districts of the rebellion of District 13 and the consequences of that defiance, each year the districts offer up two children—a boy and a girl—who participate in a televised fight to death. Only 1 can be named the victor, and they and their family get extra food for the upcoming year.

It’s cruel and awful, yet is a spectacle that glues Capitol residents to the tv (who are exempt) and equally engages the districts as they fearfully watch the fate of their loved ones.

The trilogy follows 16-year-old Katness Everdeen through the ordeal of 2 Hunger Games and an even deadlier match that pits the districts against the Capitol. Survival of the fittest is often about compassion, humanity, loyalty, friendship and compromise.

I really can’t tell you much about the series without giving away the plot, but it is riveting. I found the second book a bit formulaic in that the structure and outcome is much like the first, but it’s like Lord of the Rings in that you need a middle that bridges the beginning and end, which isn’t a weakness to the narrative at all.

If you missed the first round of fandom regarding this series, you might want to read it before the movie trailers hit and you’re inundated with the Hollywood version of these characters.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Vancouver Sun Book Club Reads The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud

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My review of The Sentimentalists is going to be one of those long, slow, percolating posts as I’m actually reading/reviewing the book as part of The Vancouver Sun’s re-launched book club.

Each week we start out with a group questions, converse via email and then Tracy Sherlock, books editor for the Vancouver Sun distills the conversation into its tantalizing bits and posts to the blog and Saturday print edition ( http://www.vancouversun.com/covertocover ). We finish things off with a live chat with author Johanna Skibsrud, winner of the 2010 Giller Prize, in early April.

You can also follow the conversation on Twitter @VanSunArts and use the hashtag #VanSunBooks to comment. Or comment here, I’d love to know what other people thought, and if you have any questions that I should ask Johanna.

My fellow panelists include Angela Haaf, VPL librarian; Julia Denholm, Langara English Instructor; Sean Cranbury, founder of http://BooksOnTheRadio.ca; Ian Weir, author of the novel Daniel O’Thunder; Mark Medley, National Post books editor; and from The Vancouver Sun, Brad Frenette, social media and community newsroom editor, and Tracy Sherlock, books editor.

Check out this week’s Vancouver Sun Book Club conversation about The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud…

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Original edition
by Gaspereau Press
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Redesigned Giller Prize edition
by D&M Publishers