Summer Reading 2011
A couple of years ago I decided I hadn't read enough Pulitzer Prize winning fiction, for some reason.
Every book I had picked up that had won that award was awesome, so I went to the website, looked up previous winners for fiction and ordered a bunch of books from Amazon. It turned out to be one of my favourite summers of reading. I decided to try something similar this year.
The Guardian newspaper put out its list of the best books of 2010. The list was a bit different; the editors didn't ask certain people for their top ten or top fives. Instead, they asked all of their reviewers to submit a list of their favourite books of the year, regardless of genres, and they published a list of all of the books that appeared on more than one reviewer's best of list.
So I took that as my base, and ordered a bunch of books again. I also read some other books as well. I thought I would make a list of those books, along with a few lines about them. So this is my summer of reading, from the Victoria Day long weekend to Labour Day. They're not in order, my memory isn't that good.
THE FLOOR OF HEAVEN by Howard Blum
I read this because the guy came to Skagway for a writer's event. It's a history book, about the Klondike Gold Rush. Quite good, a breezy read, and it's apparently being made into a Hollywood movie, so maybe some big stars will be coming North.
SWEET LIFE IN PARIS by David Lebovitz
I bought this in Haines, Alaska, because I thought it would remind me of a trip my wife and I took to Paris.It's a love letter to the city and its food, with recipies. The recipies looked amazing, the story itself was okay, but not great.
THE QUIET AMERICAN by Graham Greene
I bought this in Dawson City when I read the book I had brought with me to the Music Festival. Fantastic, wicked story, great writing, I need to read more Graham Greene.
THE SENTIMENTALISTS by Joanna Skibsrud
This one of the Giller Prize and was probably the biggest disappointment of my reading summer. The writing was fine, but the story and the characters did nothing for me. The story didn't pull me along at all. Must have ben a bad year for Canadian fiction if this won a major prize.
BLOOD RIVER by Tim Butcher
This book is the author's account of his trip down the Congo River, through a ruined country. I've wanted to read this one for a couple of years and it didn't disappoint. It was a fantastic read, a terrific bit of journalism and adventure.
LIGHTS OUT IN WONDERLAND by DBC Pierre (a Guardian book)
A great novel about our screwed-up modern era, the book blasts a lot of the things about the state of the world that should be blasted. I really enjoyed this one as well.
THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET by David Mitchell (a Guardian book)
A great novel set in Japan when it was still a closed country, focusing on the life of a Dutch trader posted there, this is a beautifully written book and a real accomplishment. Terribly sad, though.
ROOM by Emma Donoghue (a Guardian book)
This book tells the story of a woman who is kidnapped and held hostage in a garden shed, raising the son she has by the kidnapper. This was a remarkable book, that's why it's on all of the best-of lists. A superb page-turner, and one of the best reads of the summer.
OUR TRAGIC UNIVERSE by Scarlett Thomas (a Guardian book)
This was kind of a strange story, about a struggling writer who decides to shake up her life. There are some fantasy elements to the story, and in some ways, at least for me, those things didn't entirely work, though I did enjoy the characters and the story. There was a lot of new age, sci-fi philosophy in this story I could have done without as well, though maybe I'm just not smart enough for this book.
VISITATION by Jenny Erpenbeck (a Guardian book)
This book tells the story of a house in Germany as it passes through many hands during the 20th century. Think about the things Germany went through during that period, and you'll get an idea of the story. This was a terrific book, great story and very well written. My only complaint is it could have been longer.
IN A STRANGE ROOM by Damon Galgut (a Guardian book)
This book is a series of connected stories about a restless young man's travels and the people he meets during those travels. It really got me thinking about some of the trips I have taken. I'm no world traveller, but I have gone on enough trips to see why everyone writes about trips. Good book.
SKIPPY DIES by Paul Murray (a Guardian book)
This book tells the story of some boys at a boarding school in Ireland, and the death of one of their friends. I loved this book, I think it really captured some of the uncertainties and problems I would imagine are facing kids these days, and it was very well written, and funny. It was another summer favourite.
THE FINKLER QUESTION by Howard Jacobsen (a Guardian book)
I love Howard Jacobsen, and this book was right in there with his best. A story about an aging guy who is jealous of the Jewish heritage of his best friends, this was another great page turner, and also very funny.
HITCH 22 by Christopher Hitchens (a Guardian book)
I have to admit some of this book was difficult for me, I'm not a smart guy like Christopher Hitchens, but I did enjoy this memoir and the tales about his intellectual development, even if I didn't completely grasp all the complexities of it.
HAVANAS IN CAMELOT by William Styron
Styron is one of my favourite writers, and I think I have actually read all of his novels. This is a collection of essays, and I breezed right through it. Very enjoyable, though I do realize he has mined a lot of his experiences over and over again for both this collection and some of his non-fiction.
THE SENSE OF AN ENDING by Julian Barnes
I devoured this book, which starts as a coming-of-age tale and then turns completely around in the second half. One of my favourites of the summer again, and caused me to immediately buy more Julian Barnes, which leads us to.......
METROLAND by Julian Barnes
Similar in a few ways to The Sense Of An Ending, Barnes really is a great writer and storyteller. This was his first book, and I'll have to dig into his back catalogue a bit more.
RED PLENTY by Francis Spufford (a Guardian book)
This is kind of a novel about the Soviet Union in the 1950s, when it looked as though communism was working. I enjoyed the story, but got sidetracked by the footnotes. I think it would have been better as a straight novel.
THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad
This was a great read, a sad story but very well told and holds up quite well.
QUEEN OF THE SOUTH by Arturo Perez-Reverte
A sprawling story that tells how the girlfriend of a Mexican drug pilot becomes the biggest drug dealer in Spain, this was another page turner, and a good read, but I prefer Perez-Reverte's historical stuff.
TOWN HOUSE by Tish Cohen
A straight up story about the agoraphobic son of a dead rock star who is struggling to stay in his crumbling Boston town house, this was a good book for the plane or beach, but there really wasn't a whole lot to it. Still, it was entertaining, and there has to be something said for that.