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Blogger Flannery on the schizophrenic effects of reading all five books at once

Hello again, fellow readers.

We're barely into the New Year — not to mention the new decade — and I'm ashamed to admit that I've spent most of it trying to shake my holiday-induced lethargy. My struggle to get back into the swing of things — an uphill battle made even more fatiguing by the presence of a new puppy/tormentor in my home (see irresistible photo at left) — has led me to the conclusion that there's a reason why some people never take time off. Frankly, it's just too hard to assume the yoke of routine after you've tasted sweet freedom.

And in my case, freedom was truly sweet. During the holidays I swore off any form of activity that could be considered exercise, tamed my Google addiction and wholeheartedly surrendered to Xmas Carbfest 2009. Like Edith Piaf, je ne regrette rien, rien — not even those shortbreads with the little maraschino cherries on top. Chemicals are yummy.

On the bright side, all that leisure time gave me plenty of opportunity to dig into the five books on our collective plate (or should it be platter?) And dig I did — with both hands. But perhaps I did so a tad too eagerly. Early on I made the possibly unwise decision to read all the books simultaneously, to keep the stories and characters fresh in my mind the whole time.

This foray into concentrated reading — I read 20 pages here, and 20 pages there, diving into the troubled waters of Fall on Your Knees one moment only to hit the road with Joyce in Nikolski the next — had some unexpected results, however.

In hindsight, I think this gig should come with a warning: do not attempt to converse coherently about Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture while reading four other books at the same time. Do not operate heavy machinery (if a Bodum can be considered heavy machinery) while reading The Jade Peony and Good to a Fault simultaneously. Side effects may include plot confusion, character migration, thematic cross-contamination and the paranoid conviction that the form of the novel is conspiring to drive you insane.

I don't know about you — how is your reading coming along, anyway? Are you managing to read and maintain a social life? — but I find that trying to digest five books at once takes its toll. (To be perfectly honest, I'm actually reading seven books at once. New puppies should come with a warning. Not to mention an instruction manual. Sharp milk teeth and a rebellious disposition have forced me to seek out expert advice while tending my wounds.) Call me a schizophrenic reader (so many voices!), but I could swear Nicolas Dickner taught me how to teach my dog to "Sit!" last night. Or was that Wayson Choy? Marina Endicott?

Geography was never my strong suit and all this synchronous reading is definitely affecting my sense of place. There have been many times I've had to restart a chapter and make a note of where I am and with whom. I think I could use that compass that the grieving narrator discovers in the first chapter of Nikolski to help me out, or at the very least one of those maps.

In the past two weeks, I've been in Vancouver, Montreal, Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and Manitoba — and those are just a handful of the locales mentioned in Nikolski (and I'm only on page 82). Generation X opens in Palm Springs, with stopovers in Portland and Mexico.

The Jade Peony may be set in one place (Vancouver), but it takes place in three very distinctive time periods, including the Depression and the Second World War. China is never far from the thoughts of all three narrators either.

Luckily for me, Clara Purdy in Good to a Fault sticks pretty close to her home in Saskatoon. Now if I could just bring her together with Andy in Generation X. I think the two of them would have a lot to talk about. They may be separated by a border and by differing generations, but both are coping with a profound sense of isolation. The past looms large for each of them (see why I'm getting confused?) Andy chooses to flee the bonds of family and social expectation, while Clara has her personal crisis in the home she grew up in. I can't decide who is the more brave or the more cowardly: in some ways, in fact, Clara and Andy show elements of both courage and cowardice. Fight or flight — it's not just a hardwired response to trouble; it's an enduring dilemma.

Lesson learned: I've decided to abandon my all-at-once approach and instead focus on one book at a time (wouldn't that have been the smartest approach from the start?).

My dilemma for next week: finishing Nikolski and then giving my undivided attention to the remainder of Fall on Your Knees. A few diehard fans of the novel have told me that it's a real heartbreaker, so I'm fortifying myself with Vitamin E and omega-3s (good for the cardiovascular system, don't you know!).

Next week we put the spotlight on Wayson Choy and The Jade Peony.

Until then,



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