"A girl was never ruined by books," my mother used to say. I've spent most of my life trying to prove that wrong.

Friday, August 21, 2015

End of Summer Reading: Stories

The heat broke in Montreal overnight, so this is a day that maybe be liveable, sans air conditioning. Makes reading a lot easier, too. 

Nevertheless I read during the heat wave, and not just sitting on the stairs underneath the fan. Finished Mavis Gallant's excellent Montreal Stories (edited by Russell Banks whose introduction is interesting and who did a marvelous in choosing these stories from Gallant's many, many stories.) In the book discussion groups I lead, a question often asked is "Why does an author write short stories, and not novels?" It's one that I'm sure will come up when we discuss this collection. 

The stories concern clusters of characters, and one could argue that Gallant might have made a big, sprawling novel out of them. She chose, however, to explore various facets of her people's lives, without a real narrative thread. It's up to the reader to make the connections, and in so doing reflect more deeply on their lives and times. The experience is that much richer, since the reader becomes a real accomplice in the telling of the story. 

These stories also appear to have been written over at least a 20 year period, and it's possible that Gallant saw more and more in her characters as she lived with them. That's something to be thankful for too, as her writing grew more nuanced, her tone surer with the years.

Definitely worth sitting down to read. I'd recommend not reading more than two stories at a sitting, in order to give yourself time to reflect on the stories

Monday, August 3, 2015

Novels to Accompany an Election Campaign

Now that Canada is gearing up for the longest Federal election campaign in memory, and the American Republican Presidential hopefuls are set to debate this week, it's time, perhaps, to think about what one might read while observing the parties' shenanigans.  Here are half a dozen, enough to keep you reading through all those weeks of campaign.

1. The ultimate political junkie's novel is Primary Colors, by Joe Klein.  It was originally published with "Anonymous" listed as the author, but Klein was eventually outted.  Several of the characters are clearly modelled on Bill and Hillary Clinton and their friends.

2.  Robert Penn Warren's All the Kings' Men, about an initially idealistic, but ultimately corrupt Southern politician.

3. The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon. An American POW from the Korean war is brainwashed  and programmed to kill a U.S presidential candidate.

4. Wag the Dog by Larry Bienhart.  Getting George Bush elected by staging a war.

5. The Suffrage of Elvira by V.S. Naipaul.  A slapstick, cynical novel about the first popular election on a newly independent island in the Caribbean.

6. And I'll throw one in that I did a long time ago: Endangered Species.  It  takes place in 1990 during a by-election that was inspired by the one where Gilles Duceppe was elected for the first time as a Bloc Québécois MP.  Worked a lot on the NDP campaign that summer  which was a disaster, but times change, don't they?

The book appears to be out of print, but you can still get it in some libraries, and I have a lot of copies in the basement, should anyone want one. (Price: $2 plus postage.)