A Taste of CanLit

During my grand detour, I picked up a few CanLit reads from my two favorite bookstores, Bakka-Phoenix Books and Indigo. I couldn’t purchase too many because (1) I had (and still have) a large pile of books to be read; and (2) I couldn’t fit too many books in my luggage. I ended up a total of four books, and I loved them all. Slightly wish I could have picked up more, but luggage restrictions did not permit…

A lot of the CanLit books on Indigo’s We the North shelf touched on immigration. This wasn’t too surprising, and it reminded me of the new immigrant welcome-ish posters I used to see around Toronto. Anyway, a disclaimer: the We the North shelf was not big enough to accommodate all CanLit works. I also looked for (what I thought were) less mainstream books since I wanted to broaden my scope. The ones I picked up only cover a small portion of CanLit.

Here’s my list of CanLit reads in order of date read.

Cocktails at Seven, Apocalypse at Eight

Thank you, Don Bassingthwaite, for bringing us Derby Cavendish. Cocktails at Seven, Apocalypse at Eight (see: Short Bites: Special) is a short story collection that features Toronto’s LGBT community, with Derby Cavendish and friends saving Church Street’s butt every holiday.

Radicalized

Another story collection, Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized (see: Novel Reactions: Radicalized) touched on a lot of what if scenarios. This one didn’t seem to be set in Canada (or exclusively in any state), but it was a great read nonetheless.

Children of the Moon

Children of the Moon (see Novel Reactions: Children of the Moon) is an immigrant story of sorts. It focuses on the hardships faced by two characters, both of whom have reached old age by the time they were recounting their stories. It was quite the emotional read, so be ready to decompress after finishing this book.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club

The Saturday Night Ghost Club surprised me. I’m still not over it. Based on the title, I was expecting the story to be more along the lines of Goosebumps (remember that?), but it was totally different. I loved it so much that if I could only recommend one among the four books, I would pick this in a heartbeat.

Novel Reactions: Radicalized

Wow, never has science fiction felt so real to me. Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized is a collection of four stories—all “what if?” scenarios people have probably thought to themselves at some point:

  • What if we take the internet of things too far?
  • What if our favorite superhero clashes with our justice system?
  • What if regular people finally crack?
  • What if the world goes into turmoil?

Of course, all of the stories stretch things (a little) too far, but, to be fair, they’re not too far from what we can imagine. All of the themes are current and familiar, and the social commentary is spot on: if these situations actually happened today, the stories in Radicalize portray potential reactions pretty well. How unfortunate.

The stories are longer than the typical short story, but each one can still be read in one sitting. I limited myself to one story each time I picked up this book because …well, it is a little chilling. Also, Cory Doctorow wrote the characters so well that, even if I didn’t love them, I understood them. Society can be crazy sometimes.

Radicalized is a very timely and worthwhile read, and I have super glad I picked it up at the bookstore. I would definitely recommend this to anyone, even to my friends who don’t really venture into sci-fi.

Novel Reactions: 99 Percent Mine

I am more or less a mood reader. I switch off to lighter romantic reads when I’m on vacation or when I’m too pooped from numerous sad endings. So this is where 99 Percent Mine comes in: I needed a source of entertainment during a time when Netflix wasn’t a good option.

The story is simple, and it was enough to keep me entertained. So… it served its purpose, but will I recommend it to anyone? Nah. I’m not a fan.

The story isn’t that special. The main girl (Darcy) is in love with her childhood friend (Tom), who is also her brother’s (Jamie’s) best friend. Additionally, the childhood friend is pretty much family and is doing the siblings a favor. (Said favor is renovating their grandmother’s cottage.)

Darcy and Tom are obviously going to get together, and it’s not the predictability that put me off. (My guilty pleasure is reading/watching romantic comedies; I always know they end well.)

Here, in more detail than people who hate spoilers will like, are my reasons for feeling meh:

  1. The main characters are not likable. Darcy is incredibly selfish. She has zero self-control and cannot accept responsibility for her actions. She thinks she’s all that (not in the way that she would brag about her work but in the way that she would always try to protect Tom). Also, Tom is not even that great. He’s placed on too high a pedestal, but he’s really just there as a brooding, juicy piece of meat.
  2. It seems like the writer needed an excuse to bring the two in extremely close quarters, so for some reason, Tom (childhood friend/contractor) camps out at the project site while Darcy lives somewhere there. Excuse me? How ridiculous is that? I get that it’s fiction, and writers can invent things, but at least let these things make sense! A lot of safety precautions have to be taken at construction sites. People cannot just come and go as they please, and contractors do not just let their inexperienced clients do manual labor on their sites. I am baffled.
  3. How can a new business owner with so much to prove skip town for two months and then take credit for all of the work done in their absence? Yes, everyone needs to take a personal day or two (been there) at some point, but to take two months without consequences? Given Tom’s background, I expected more hustle from him. I get that this is supposed to be for dramatic effect, but it would have given off the same effect and still have been more acceptable if this disappearance was cut short.

I’ve read better romantic novels. I came in looking for a fun read—to be entertained without having to think too much (basically, I needed an alternative to tv shows). It was just ok, I guess. Actually, no, it wasn’t very satisfying. Perhaps I should have read something else.

Short Bites: A Visit

In Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine, Kevin Wilson’s “A Visit” is a homecoming kind of story in which a dutiful daughter rushes to her mother’s aid. You guessed it—the circumstances of their reunion aren’t so great, but what can you expect when there’s a sudden need for any child to come home?

I felt like the story gave me a sneak peek of what it would have been like to grow up in the US South. I like the strong community feeling—growing up having so-and-so’s kid around or knowing you can easily ask neighbors for a cup of sugar when you’ve run out. Also, there’s nothing like a good parent-child story to make you feel like the world isn’t so bad.

So, I liked it just fine.

Novel Reactions: How to Stop Time

In Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, we meet Tom Hazard, who is a really old man but just doesn’t look it. He’s lived through a lot of tough times over the centuries and consequently carries a lot of weight on his shoulders. He’s a pretty broken man. I didn’t love Tom, but I did find myself rooting for him as he struggled to survive.

Nothing is truly surprising with the plot. As the story unfolded, I found myself thinking “yes, this makes sense” and never “wow, what a plot twist!!!” Despite this, the story is still quite gripping, and I enjoyed reading all the way through. What made it particularly interesting for me was how Matt Haig portrayed Tom’s past lives. No, Tom was not a big deal in any time period; he always kept to the background, but he was there witnessing key points of history. (And I do love history.)

Overall, it was a pleasant read. There is some comfort that this was a somewhat predictable story because then it felt simple and familiar and not at all intimidating. But that’s not all there is to this book. The writing was great. There was never a dull moment in How to Stop Time, and the story moved at a manageable pace. To me, this is one of the books in which the incorporation of clichés was well executed. In case anyone’s wondering: yes, I’d recommend this to anyone looking for an easy read. And to history enthusiasts.