Thursday Thirteen – 13 Books, more or less

I’m a voracious and somewhat undisciplined reader. First off, I tend to have two or three books on the go at any one time. I’ll read bits and pieces of one, skim through another that I’ve read before, start another and decide it’s not my cup of tea. I’m a firm believer in the ‘one chapter and you’re out’ rule of reading – if the author doesn’t catch my interest within the first chapter, I move on to something else. I don’t see the point of forcing myself to read a book I’m bored by, and since I’m no longer reading for course credits, I just don’t do it.

I’m also a genre crosser – I don’t read exclusively of any one sort of literature. Science fiction, fantasy, current fiction, alternative press, old dog stories – it’s all grist for the mill. So, if you’re expecting any sort of coherence from this list, you’re going to leave disappointed.

This list is of books I’ve either just finished, am in the middle of, or am planning to read. If you have a book suggestion for me, please let me know in the comments section.



1. Dumb-Bell of Brookfield and Other Great Dog Stories, John Taintor Foote

I first encountered a dusty, mildewed copy of this book in my uncle’s extensive library, and I’ve loved it ever since. While some of the human characters might seem like caricatures to modern day readers (The Harvard sport, the African American handyman, the Claudette Colbert-esque leading lady), the dogs all ring true. I first fell in love with ‘Bulldogs’ because of Allegheny, a story of a ‘Bull Terrier pup’ out of two fighting parents. I re read this one every few years, in this case to take the after taste of “The Dogs of Bedlam Farm” out of my mouth.



2. The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, Jon Katz

I finished this book, the first by Jon Katz I’d ever read, before Luisa’s wonderful summation of his stupidity appeared on her blog. Even for a non herding person such as myself, this book disturbed me. Mr Katz is one of those inept ‘do as I say, not as I do’ trainers who seems to take pride in detailing his own ineptitude, and at times seems to expect praise for the myriad ways he let down the dogs in his care. In particular, I was baffled by his insistence that he had to clear out half his flock because ‘real farmers’ wouldn’t like him keeping more stock than he ‘needed’ (real farmers, in my experience, have more important things to worry about than what the wanna be farmer up the road is doing with his play flock – things like trying to stave off bankruptcy).



3. Coldheart Canyon, Clive Barker

Well, this was a disappointment. I love Clive Barker, and rate a few of his books (Abarat, Imajica, Weaveworld) among some of the best horror -slash- fantasy writing I’ve ever read. This book, however, felt like a mishmash of plot stories, with orgiastic ghosts, demonic tile mosaics (don’t ask) and vengeful Theda Bara esque ageless vamps. Oh, and angels, too. Maybe. Just too much going on, in too many different ways. Not his best work, by a long shot, but I’ll send this book to anyone who wants to take a crack at it, and who will post their own review in their blog. Fuzzy? You game?



4. The French Bulldog, Muriel Lee

The French Bulldog, Muriel LeeI got my copy of this book months ago, but didn’t sit down to read it until just recently – and I am so pleased that I did! Muriel has drawn on a pool of amazing talent to write (dare I say it?) the best over all guide to the breed I’ve ever read.

Her collaborators include James Grebe, Michael Rosser, Penny Rankin-Parsons, and numerous other breed specialists, all of who have helped to make this work a thorough and exhausting source of knowledge for both novice and experienced French Bulldog enthusiasts. After years of recommending Steve Eltinge’s “The French Bulldog”, it’s a relief to have an alternative to his (now out of print and ridiculously over priced on the secondary market) book. Well done, Muriel and company!



5. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007, edited by David Eggers

One of the literary highlights for me every year is picking up a copy of David Eggers wonderful Anthology, Best American Nonrequired Reading. This year’s copy just arrived last week, and I’m already through it. I’ll let this review sum up BANR –

“The premise is simple – San Francisco high school students scour through literary magazines, independent publications, and on-line journals for articles, stories, vignettes, and memoirs that they consider the best. They share their findings with each other and with their editor, Dave Eggers, until they’ve parsed it down to a few pieces to publish in this NonRequired Reading volume.”

A gem, as always.



6. Pushcart Prize XXXII: Best of the Small Presses, 2008 Edition

Another anthology, this one of short stories published by small presses (as opposed to the O’Henry prizes, which tend to draw from the same pool of periodicals). There is always a moment of amazement hidden within this great anthology – the feeling of discovering a new writer, on the brink of becoming great. There are also stories by established writers, waiting to give us fresh insights into what keeps them topical. My personal favorite was ‘Unassigned Territory’, by Stephanie Powell Watts. I still have half of this book to go, and am reading it in small chunks, the better and longer to savour it.



7. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

Like everyone else who reads, I thoroughly enjoyed Khaled Hosseini’s wonderful book ‘The Kite Runner’. I’m only a few pages into his new book, but already I’m as enraptured as I was by Kite Runner. He captures his characters and their environments with incredible deftness and a sparsity of prose that’s simply beautiful.



8. The Principles of Uncertainty, By Maira Kalman

This is an odd but lovely little book, composed of paintings that don’t illustrate the text, but in fact are the text. It’s a beautiful take on the traditional mange style of graphic novels. I’ve gotten through half of it, some of which left me simply baffled, but all of which I found lovely.



9. The House of Meetings, by Martin Amis

The premise of this book – gruff, amoral Red Army veteran looks back on the time he spent in a Russian gulag and the damage it did to his life and that of his gentler, more delicate brother Lev – is simple enough, but the prose is dense and chewy, and my brain has been too jammed full of stuff to do this book justice. I started it last fall, enjoyed it, then tossed it aside when I got caught up in other things. I’m starting it again now, and liking it even more than I did then.



10. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Michael Chabon

Oh, how do I love this book. I loved it the first time I read it, and I’ve just picked it up for a second go. I often do this, because I’m a greedy first reader – I gulp down the words, rushing through to the conclusion. A second reading lets me savour the words, as I am with this book. The premise – a temporary Jewish settlement is established on the Alaska panhandle for two million displaced Jews of World War 2. Fantasy? Yes, but only if you ignore the fact that Franklin Roosevelt proposed just such a solution. From there, the book segues into a Yiddish come Alaskan murder mystery. It might indeed be flawed in places, but over all this is just a great book.



11. The World Without Us, Alan Weisman

I haven’t started this one yet, but it’s on my to read list, and the premise is intriguing – if we all of us disappeared from the planet tomorrow, how long would it take for all traces of humanity to disappear? According to Weisman, the answer is ‘not long at all’. National Geographic took this concept and has turned it into a TV series, ‘Population Zero ‘. I can’t get it yet in Canada, but it looks interesting.



12. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah

Another book waiting its turn on the bedside table, this story of a child soldier stolen from his Sierra Leone village at age twelve is on just about every top ten list of 2007. I have been waiting for a stretch of time when I have no other books on the go, so that I can do it justice.



13. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

I’m looking forward to this book the way that some people look forward to Christmas. Based on Gaiman’s short story, the release of this book is an event for any fan of his fiction, and I’ve already pre ordered my copy (plus a few to give as gifts!). Too bad it won’t be here until some time in September… in the meantime, rabid fans can read about the books progress, and see galleys of the cover art by Dave Mckean, over on Neil Gaiman’s blog.