I’m writing this as the Santa Claus Parade is going by a block away. I can hear Mums and Dads hooting their horns as they jockey for parking positions. It would seem the holiday season is almost upon us. Not sure how that happened. This year seems to have passed exceedingly quickly. Yet, at the same time, it’s been a year of major upheavals and catastrophes, so in some respects, it’ll be a good year to have over and done with. Time to start making holiday plans, baking and perhaps buying gifts for friends and family. Looking for a good book? Here are some of my recent finds.
The most exiting writer I stumbled upon this year, was British author Kate Atkinson. As so often happens, someone else found her first. My friend Peter bought me a copy of Emotionally Weird and told me I had to read it. It’s the wittiest, most intelligent, most intriguing, most closely observed book I’ve read in a very long time. I’ve since read Human Croquet, which I didn’t think was quite as good. I have yet to read Behind the Scenes at the Museum, her Whitbread Award winning first novel. The “Wonderful Unofficial Kate Atkinson Website” is available at: www.geocities.com/kateatkinson14/ Click on Texts to find blurbs on all her books or get a taste of her work by following the links to Not the End of the World, her new short story collection, and read “Tunnel of Fish.” Even her titles give you some sense of what she’s playing with.
Of course I also read the new Tom Robbins, Villa Incognito, with great pleasure. Although I think it’s his strongest work to date in many ways, this book got mixed reviews. Notably, Canadian critics loved it, while some American critics were really harsh. Mr. Robbins has always been one to speak his mind in his work and here, the gloves are definitely off. He’s pushed a lot of buttons in the American consciousness and I’m sure made a lot of people very uncomfortable. As I said to someone after reading it, he’s probably got the CIA or FBI or somebody camped on his doorstep. But we figured he’s probably used to that by now. Authentic writers say what they need to say, what they feel compelled to say, and damn the consequences (which is why we need organizations like PEN). Mr. Robbins is completely authentic, gutsy and incredible fun! He gets my deepest respect and loudest laughs every time.
I recently had the pleasure of being selected to do a reading along with Andrew Pyper. I was taken with the whole idea of The Trade Mission (cyber-nerds meet harsh reality in the Amazon jungle). It’s near the top of my reading pile and I’m hoping to get to it during the holiday lull.
In poetry, I highly recommend sub rosa, the new collection by Stan Rogal, with full colour graphics by Jacquie Jacobs. A multi-layered marriage of word and image, this book is a creative, evocative hybrid, which washes over the reader. A very successful experiment!
On the children’s book front, I recently picked up Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, a book about a little girl who enters an alternative universe with an alternative Mum and Dad. How to find her way back to her own reality when this set of parents wants to keep her in their universe? I have a feeling it’s going to have very interesting psychological overtones. Neil Gaiman, of Sandman comic fame, has been writing novels for the past few years, some more successful than others. My favourite is still Bad Omens, the project he undertook with Terry Pratchet (of Discworld fame). It’s a cheery little book about the end of the world. I first read it when I was feeling somewhat depressed and found it utterly uplifting. It’s one of those rare books that can radically adjust one’s perspective.
I’m also looking forward to The Morning Star, the third installment of Nick Bantock’s Gryphon & Sabine trilogy. His work never fails to intrigue me. It’s such an amazing synthesis of imagination, visual invention and compilation of artifacts from around the world. Transporting in a way that most picture books don’t manage.
With the plethora of books that are written and published each year, I’m sure there are many more out there that I’d really enjoy, that I’ve missed. They’ll find their way to me if and when they’re meant to and I’ll get to them as time allows. Please support your local independent bookstore throughout the year.
Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Bodhi Gaya, Eid ul-Fitr, Lux Mundi, Saturnalia, Mother Night, Winter Solstice, Yule, Kwanzaa, (sorry if I missed your holiday of choice) or quiet day off in your jammies and fuzzy slippers to read a good book. Wishing you safe travel, much joy and peace. I think we’ve earned it this year.
© Catherine Jenkins, 2003