Sunday, 11 February 2018

Top 20 Books I Read in 2017

My friend Natalie asked me to create a top ten list of the books I read in 2017. Of course, I have more than ten. So to celebrate this plethora of riches, I present to you my favourite reads of 2017.

Historical Fiction

Very different books. Both set in Scotland. There may be a few more Scottish titles on this list. I've been hypnotized by the Edinburgh Book Festival.

I had intended to add book covers and links to all of the books below. But then I'll never get this posted and it's already February. Here goes!

Young Adult

Rodent by Lisa J. Lawrence
Fifteen Lanes by S.J. Laidlaw

Both titles were nominated for the White Pine 2017 awards. Please keep in mind that I'm only listing books which I actually read in 2017. There are a couple of other White Pine 2017 titles that I loved, but I read them in 2016.

Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by John Spencer

Enjoyed meeting up with my Tweeps old and new in the #LaunchBookChat this year!

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Goblin by Ever Dundas

Nasty Women by 404 Ink
One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

Nasty Women led the revolution in the year of the great shake up of #MeToo #BlackLivesMatter and #OscarsSoWhite.

Scaachi Koul's acerbic essays hit the funny bone. Clever book jacket design, too.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Mind blown
The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Finely peeling away the layers of secrets
The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Valazquez by Laura Cumming
Winner of the 2017 James Tait Black Prize for NonFiction, a stunning tale of how art can consume us.

Picture Books
The Tale of Tam Linn by Lari Don
Scottish fairytale. A favourite of my niece's.
Journey by Aaron Becker
Only illustrations. Beautiful ones, at that. Great way for pre-literate or early literate children to tell stories.

Literary Fiction
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell
Nominated for the 2017 James Tait Black Prize for Fiction
The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron
Made me mourn for the extinction of the neanderthal. I want a lip like Girl's. Nominated for the 2017 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

All the Devils by Neil Broadfoot
Broadfoot's writing keeps getting better. Novel is set in Edinburgh. Scotland, yet again!
Glass Houses by Louise Penny
A perennial favourite - it's a good thing that Penny tends to publish a book a year!

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
This book was partly written in Edinburgh. And it shows.

Short Stories
The 2017 Short Story Advent Calendar by Hingston & Olsen Publishing
Forget about the chocolate - open a new short story every morning leading up to Christmas. Great being introduced to new writers and chatting with other readers about the tales on Twitter. #ssac2017

I tend to read bit and bites of poetry, but what got me hooked on poetry this year like never before was the FutureLearn course, "Literature and Mental Health". Highly recommended.

Other Recommendations
This list from Kirsty Logan who read 220 books. Quite a diverse range of books that puts my list to shame. Enjoy!

The Power

The PowerThe Power by Naomi Alderman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

I remember when I was in university and how we said that if the world were ruled by women, it'd be a much kinder, gentler place.

The Power demonstrates that old adage about how "absolute power corrupts absolutely". The books is immensely readable, but I wanted more of a transformation in the society that was created. Or some sort of realization in the epilogue that is more than just a sly wink (albeit entertaining) between the author and reader.

The book has got a lot of buzz, and provides a good amount of fodder for discussion. A warning for some readers: There are depictions of violence, and two rape scenes.

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Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Autumn by Ali Smith

AutumnAutumn by Ali Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars  View all my reviews
Read Autumn the way you would a collage painting: What’s the big picture? What’s in the details? How does the story all hang together, and what do we imagine happens next? Autumn is a painting made up of words, as Daniel shows Elisabeth when he asks her to close her eyes and imagine as he describes a collage by Pauline Boty. Elisabeth is able to recognize the painting when she actually sees it.

Sixties icons play a central role in the novel: Pauline Boty, as well as Christine Keeler (who was the subject of one of Boty’s paintings), serve as totems for us to examine our present time. In an article by Ali Smith herself, she describes the work of Pauline Boty as dropping “us head-first into a dream, and when the dream turns into a nightmare she slaps it in the face, wakes up into what’s now a multilayered narrative of dreamworld and mundanity” [1]. Quite often in the book, when things seem to be quite grim for Elisabeth (and the world), Daniel shows how art can lift you out of the darkness.

Ali Smith, writer, signing books at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. By Tim Duncan. From Wikimedia Commons.

Christine Keeler’s role seems to guide us to the question, “What happens culturally when something is built on a lie?” [2]. The fallout from Brexit is definitely in the book, from the comically absurd task of applying for a passport, the fences around common land, and the spray painting of “GO HOME” on people’s houses. Ali Smith uses fiction and painting to remind us “to read the world as a construct. And if you can read the world as a construct, you can ask questions of the construct and you can suggest ways to change the construct. You understand that things aren’t fixed” [2].

Initially, I thought about giving the book a four star rating because of its lack of resolution. But you have to stare at the novel, dissect it, make connections,  and do research. By God, did Smith do a lot of research - which is not immediately apparent, especially considering the speed with which this book was written and published: “Maybe an accelerated news cycle requires accelerated art” [2].

We live in the era that comes after Rule Britannia (political empire) and Cool Britannia (the resurgence of the cultural empire). Does Europe and the rest of the world ask what happens Post-Britannia? What has the empire stood for, for us? Smith looks to the art of Pauline Boty and her final testament: A “message of undying hope, of solidarity with the oppressed, and of certainty about the future that gave all us us more than courage. Determination” [1].

Works considered while writing this wee review:
[1] Ali Smith on the prime of pop artist Pauline Boty

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Enter the Darkness

As we head into darker days and longer nights, we celebrate what scares us. Perhaps, in our fear, we will cling to each other to keep safe until the daylight comes. Or perhaps the darkness will follow us - as Del Toro wishes - home.

Here are three of my favourite spooky things from this year:
  1. "Time Warp Saloon" from Epidsode 2 Lost in Time
  2. The Ghost Box from Hingston & Olsen
  3. The AGO's Guillermo Del Toro Exhibit: At Home with Monsters

Saturday, 21 January 2017

His Bloody Project

His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick MacraeHis Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae by Graeme Macrae Burnet
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Coincidentally, after I finished this book, I listened to a CBC program about Indigenous issues in Canada. Both the book and the interview shared the following aspects:

-19th century racial theories;
-Colonial control over native peoples (in the book's case, the English over the Highlanders);
-and the power struggle between people who are kept under the heel of others.

The powerlessness of Roderick Macrae is what has stuck with me. As Bob Rae said in the interview: "People need the power to control their own lives" or else tragedy follows.

So despite my lack of an "a-ha moment" while reading the novel, I found I gained insight upon digestion.

FYI link to the Interview:

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