Some of my recent reading…and yours?

By Caitlin Kelly

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Not a day goes by that I’m not reading for hours — newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs…

But books.

Aaaaaaah, books!

That’s what I read for pure pleasure.

Here’s some of my recent reading:

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Kicking the Sky, Anthony de Sa

 

Loved this book. Loved!

I grew up in Toronto and, like anyone who knows their hometown or city well, I know its history when I was a teenager there and its urban peculiarities.

Toronto was stunned, in 1977, (I was in my second year at University of Toronto), by the murder of a young boy, a Portuguese immigrant named Emmanuel Jacques. He was raped and murdered and left on a rooftop.

It was ugly and terrifying and the city had never seen anything quite like it, at least not in recent memory.

Toronto is, then as now, very much a city of immigrants, and the Portuguese community was clustered in a few streets downtown. The women would scrub and wash their sidewalks, something I’d never seen anywhere else in the city.

This novel, by a man who grew up in that community himself, is so detailed and nuanced, so filled with moments you know he lived. It’s also set along an alleyway filled with garages, so  much a part of Toronto as well.

His characters are indelible, his intimacy with the subject and the city and the backstory utterly compelling, told through the eyes of a 12 year old boy, Antonio Rebelo.

Although the murder is grim, his characters are not — and I highly recommend it.

(If you like or are curious about other novels set in Toronto, I also really enjoyed Cat’s Eye, by Margaret Atwood and In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje, better known as the author of The English Patient.)

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The Killer Next Door, Alex Marwood

 

Wait, more murder and mayhem?

Hmmmm.

Not even sure where or when I bought this book, as it’s not my genre at all. But it’s very very good and very very scary.

Marwood, a London-based journalist, sets her novel in a seedy London boarding house filled with transients, one of who is very much up to no good.

Her characters, and their individual histories, are wholly believable, and if you know London a bit (as I do), you can totally picture this street and the characters’ English reticence that pervades every scene.

She also describes so well the cultivated anonymity of people who need a huge city to disappear into…until it happens to them in a way they hadn’t planned on at all.

 

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Inside, Alix Ohlin

 

Whenever I go back to Canada, usually two or three times a year, I drop into a bookstore to see what’s on the shelves there, always finding fiction and non-fiction I just won’t see in an American bookstore, and prominently displayed.

I normally don’t read fiction, as I so often find it disappointing, but am enjoying this one, interlocking portraits of four people.

I enjoy reading stories set in places I know, allowing me to fact-check the work for veracity and detail while being able to picture scenes easily — this 2012 book is partially set in Montreal, where I’ve lived twice, and New York, where I’ve lived (nearby) for more than 20 years.

Her writing is clear, simple, unadorned, but she paints a picture of people who are complicated and private, trying to know themselves and one another, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not.

The New York Times review was savage — but this one, from the Rumpus, was not.

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Alligator Candy, David Kushner

Oh, this is a tough one.

I don’t, I promise, automatically reach for books about murder! (Trying to fathom what this inadvertent pattern of mine is saying about my current tastes.)

Yet here’s another, this one a powerful memoir by the older brother of a young boy who was snatched in the woods of Florida, and killed, on his bike, on his way to buy candy.

Jonathan was 11, and it was 1973 — again, a resonant time for me, as it was my adolescence, too, although far from the pine woods of Florida.

I found the book too long and sometimes repetitive, but, like de Sa’s novel, Kushner captures so well a lost sort of innocence, when kids roamed freely outside and they — and their parents –thought nothing of it.

And…on a totally different subject, I’m also reading The Genius of Birds, a new book of natural history by Jennifer Ackerman.

It’s a great read and I’m learning a lot. Our suburban New York balcony is in the tree-tops and we’re happily surrounded by birds, so I’m very curious to learn more about them.

We have swallows fluttering past each morning and evening, hear jays and robins and woodpeckers and crows — and once even had a red-tailed hawk land on our balcony railing. It was amazing!

Last year’s favorite book, by far?

The Goldfinch, a work of fiction by Donna Tartt, which I received as a birthday gift. MUST read that book, (and yes it drags at the end.)

 

What are you reading right now?

 

Anything we should pick up?

30 thoughts on “Some of my recent reading…and yours?

  1. I read during my lunch breaks these days, and I’ve gotten through a couple of books that way. A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin, HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (very creepy, see my review on my blog), and right now I’m reading The Remains by Vincent Zandri, which I’m on the fence about.
    I also recommend the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown who likes really well thought-out and well-written science fiction. Believe me, that trilogy is absolutely addicting.

  2. Hey Caitlin, Thanks for the recommendations. A native Montrealer, I too lived in Toronto for a few years, curiously enough – given your recommendation – in little Portugal. Though I’ve not lived there for years, my immersion in that culture and neighborhood remains a sweet memory. The de Sa book is on my list of must-reads! (Ohlin’s too, due to the Montreal connection; I do love revisiting cities from my past through other author’s writing)

  3. I’ve read THREE “sliding doors” type novels (a decision which changes the course of a life, or people who are born again and again with the chance to change the events of their life) in the last couple of months – Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North and My Real Children by Jo Walton. All thought provoking and I especially loved the alterations to history in the latter two. My Real Children was the most intimate of the stories and was my favourite. I also recently read The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown about the US coxed 8 rowing crew at the 1936 Olympics. Great study of a sport, and the character and determination it takes to make it in that sport, but also an in-depth look at what was happening in Germany and the US at that time. I read The Goldfinch and whilst I couldn’t put it down, it was a bit like watching a car crash happen in slow motion so I don’t know if I really liked it. My other wonderful read at the moment is a Canadian author, Guy Gavriel Kay, who writes so beautifully. His latest novel is Children of Earth and Sky, an historical feeling fantasy novel set in an analogue of Renaissance Europe. It is less fantasy than historical if that makes sense and his characters are astonishing.

    1. Hey…so good to hear from you again! 🙂

      I love that you’re reading on a theme (it’s such a neat way to immerse yourself.) I picked up an Atkinson book but it didn’t grab me enough. I just watched a fantastic documentary on the Boys in the Boat and am now finally intrigued enough to want to read it…it was preceded (on PBS here) by a documentary about the Nazi Olympics — which cost the equivalent of $450m (!!) in today’s $$$. It was so chilling to watch Hitler descending the stairs and to see everyone saluting him in that venue.

      I’ve heard of GGKay and this sounds like a lovely one…Thanks for all these!!

  4. I’m reading Chris Gerrib’s ‘The Mars Run’ which is light and fairly fluffy. I also just finished re-reading ‘The Record Breakers’ by Leo Villa – the mechanic for Malcolm and Donald Campbell’s land and water speed records. Old book I’ve had for years and rediscovered in a box of books. What drew me was reverse-engineering the styling. It was ghost written by a journalist from interview tapes with Villa, and is marvellously styled to emulate spoken English in the written form. A real example of the art of writing at one of its highest technical levels.

    1. Thanks! It’s one of reasons I read so much (usually non-fiction) to see how other writers do it — well or not. I’m surprised sometimes by how little I like some of the HUGE best-sellers here (like Behind all the Beautiful Forevers) by Katherine Boo; the authorial voice put me off within the first few pages.

      I love the idea of hearing from the man behind the champions.

  5. I think one should always have several books on the go at once. Currently I have a couple of Kindle freebies – one on a short history of Russia and another on blogging tips! But proper hand held paper books are the best. Gut by Giulia Enders is terrifically informative. Inferno by Dan Brown I am persevering with for the sake of finishing it – a poor read in my view full of cliches and trite historical facts. Ouspensky -In Search of the Miraculous is my “dip into” right now

    1. So true! The other library book I have (and only 7 days left to finish both!) is Ben Ratliff’s new book about music, “Every Song Ever”; he was a NYT music critic for years (just left the paper).

      Is there such a thing as a short history of Russia?! 🙂

      I rarely read popular fiction just because there are so many classics I still haven’t opened…

  6. We read aloud in the evenings, and our current book is ‘The Outsider’, the autobiography of Frederick Forsyth, who wrote ‘The Day of the Jackal’, ‘The Odessa File’, ‘The Dogs of War’, and ‘The Kill List’.
    He has had an astoundingly eventful life. He was repeatedly in the middle of major world events. He is a superb writer, with the self-discipline to leave out a lot of interesting material, leaving in only the VERY interesting material. The result is a page-turner that sheds a great deal of light on many of the major events of the second half of the twentieth century. He also has novel insights into the personalities of people who you are fortunate not to have met.

  7. i have not read a thing for a few weeks, other than maps and road signs, but i plan to read bill bryson’s new book starting next week and so looking forward to picking up a book again )

    1. Loved your Irish posts! When we were in Ireland last June, we spent a lot of time looking at maps — and grateful ours were bilingual when we were in the Gaeltacht!

      Looks like you went almost everywhere.

  8. I’m not a huge fan of crime/murder books, although I will read books with violent content if it’s based on real historical events. I read a lot about the Russian Revolution at one point — Russian literature can be great but very bleak!

    “Inside” sounds like a book that I would like. And the birds one sounds good too. Thinking of birds, I recently read an excellent novel, “The Atomic Weight of Love”, which had an ornithological theme. Set in the 1940s-60s, it follows an ambitious academic woman who gets married to one of her professors, envisioning an intellectual partnership as she pursues her PhD in the behaviour of crows. But she soon finds out that he (and the society of the time) expects differently… I plan to post a full review on my blog soon.

      1. The book is filled with terrific stories. I had a student (!) who told the class about crows he befriended who used to bring him gifts. Other students scoffed but I didn’t, knowing how crows can behave.

  9. I love your book recommendation posts. I’m about halfway through A Little Life, and I just finished Edward Unspooled by Craig Lancaster. The Edward books are wonderful. Start with 600 Hours of Edward, if you haven’t read them. The audio versions are excellent.

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