Search

Prickly Paper

Poking around the Toronto book scene

Category

Book Review

These are book reviews I’ve written. If I’m supposed to be a book expert, I figure I better read more books, and I better have something to say about them.

Mini Book Review: The Wind-Up Bird

15102081_10154791885199630_1602623494_o

Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird is dreamy — literally. After reading a chapter, you feel as if in a fog; you can’t decide what’s real or fiction. Murakami forces the reader to reconsider identity and linear time. Many of the characters seem to question who they really are, feeling as if they are stuck in another person’s body, or not fully connected to their own. Time lapses and overlaps and creates potholes in memory. Stories are told with a disregard to fact or with painful attention to detail.

Passing the border into the bizarre, this book can be disorienting, but ultimately it’s a striking piece of written work. One cannot deny how masterful the author is in creating a presence with his words, an atmosphere that envelopes the reader from beyond the pages.

Every character has an inexplicable aura. Supremely ordinary and yet casting an element of intrigue. The author seems to enjoy teasing his characters, but also cares deeply for them.

This novel may not be for everyone, there are graphic scenes and uncomfortable tensions, but I highly recommend this book for those who want to be cast into another world.

What’s up Toronto Book Scene?

What’s new with the Toronto book scene? Here are some October highlights:

  • Coach House book launch
  • Word on the Street
  • Toronto Book Awards
  • HIJ Reading Series
  • The Presidential Debate (ha, no.)
  • Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature

1. Coach House Books had a cozy setup at Studio Bar. I was awestruck by the words of Jordan Scott and by the warm tone of André Alexis. Laura Broadbent read one of her poems about Lao Tzu’s teacher application, which was charming and hilarious.

2. Books, books everywhere! I’ll admit, Word on the Street is basically a giant book sale. But, it can also be a great opportunity to check out the local book publishers, see what’s hot on the market, and find authors to sign your book.

3. Cordelia Strube won the Toronto Book Awards and the lit scene glimmered with excitement.

4. The Toronto-based publishing house BookThug hosts a regular reading series called HIJ. This month, guests heard snippets from the The Naturalist by Alissa York, a hilarious parrot scene from Gary Barwin’s book Yiddish for Parrots, and André Alexis tried reading some new work. Also, they serve pie… so much pie.

5. The reading community was startled by Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize win — Check out my post about that here: https://pricklypaper.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/are-lyrics-literature-is-bob-dylan-literary/  

Why the World Does Not Exist – Book Review

Why the World Does Not Exist

Markus Gabriel is a realistic man. His arguments are practical and locked in an actuality that many philosophers often diverge from. For example, he believes that if something is in your realm of sense, than it must exist. One cannot look at a water bottle on a desk and claim that perhaps it does not exit. One cannot progress through life and question time passing.

“When one honestly gets the idea that time does not pass while one is formulating one’s theory, something has obviously gone wrong” (51).

He does acknowledge that truths exist beyond that which we observe (just because we haven’t discovered the water bottle, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist), but Gabriel won’t dabble in alternate/multi-layer realities or internal vs. internal realities. But then, the title of the book seems rather misleading as he aims to show readers that the world does not exist.

These ideas can be summarized through a couple quotes I’ve identified to be the crux of his argument. First:

“The world is neither the entirety of objects or things nor the entirety of facts. It is the domain of all domains” (49).

Gabriel’s world is impossible to grasp because he wants to encompass all that the world holds, tangible and intangible. The world is not only made up of people, trees, and water bottles, it includes ideas, imagination, infrastructures, democracy, love. All of these elements are not necessarily connected but reside in their own (often connected) domains.

Second:

“An object that would have all possible properties cannot exist, however, or stand out against the mass of other objects. […] It could not stick out against a background, as it would have to encompass any possible background within itself” (55).

Nothing can encompass everything as a field of sense cannot also contain itself and an object cannot define itself. Therefore, the world does not exist as an all-encompassing entity of our life.

“Rather there are infinitely many worlds” (65). Or, in other words, the world is really only a fractal of many different domains.

Get it? You’ll have to read the book to understand the full scope. The book is carefully plot out. It is complex, but well explained and doesn’t leave much room for misinterpretation. He slowly layers his theories in order for the reader to grasp each step of his views on why, exactly, the world does not exist.

Markus has created a very accessible book. One need not have a grand philosophical background in order to understand the jargon of hi
s book; rather, he explains the world as he would to anyone willing to contemplate the existence of humans and their “world.” To really draw in a wide range of readers he uses a plethora of real-world examples that really bring his arguments to understanding. By the end of each step of his argument the reader cannot help but think what he’s said is reasonable.

I will go so far as to critique some of his humour. The funny examples are often good, but sometimes devalue the seriousness of the text and the quality of his writing.

What can we take away from this book? Well, what can we take away from any book of philosophy? The world cannot be explained by science alone (that is but one domain in our field of sense!) Thinkers such as Gabriel give us the tools to attempt glimpsing the many worlds that make up existence.

mini review: Martin Luther King, Jr.: a life by Marshall Frady

“The arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends towards justice.”

“We will soon wear you down by our capacity to suffer.”


MLK

deckled-edges.tumblr.com

Was very pleased with this Martin Luther King biography. Marshall Frady is a fantastic writer. When a good book, poem, or movie is finished, the tone of that work will linger for days. Suddenly all thoughts are framed in the same character as that of the movie, or writing mirrors the style of the poem that’s been read because their work has so strongly resonated.

During his life and research, Frady must have felt immersed in the world of King, because his words reflect that crooning yet powerful tone, creating the essence of the time with his words and the words of MLK.

I must thank this book for inspiring a nonfiction/biography kick! Any literary biography recommendations?

Upcoming Book Review!

bookreview

Received my ARC of Why the World Does Not Exist by Markus Gabriel. Review is coming soon!

I’m only a few pages in, but it looks promising.

Book Review: The End of War by John Horgan

endofwar

John Horgan is trying to make an argument against the need for combat between nations in his book, The End of War. It is the author’s goal for readers to be able to advocate for peace and reject the necessity of war without being met with condescension. Rather than a telling of the author’s own research, Horgan’s book is a survey of research previously conducted around the subject of war, giving the book more of a long-form article style.

The End of War begins with the argument that war can and will end, if people choose to end it. War is not biologically innate—it’s not evolutionary unavoidable; we choose war, and we can just as easily turn against it. He follows this argument by analyzing research on non-human primates, charting their development, and relating it to that of humans. After establishing that there is no link between our biological identity and our need for war or violence, he digs extensively into research conducted to understand war. A dialectical argument ensues through the rest of the text, which passes between the causes, effects, and necessities of war.

With each theory that Horgan introduces, he is quick to present more research that debunks the previous work. Doing so seems to highlight the fallibility of faulty research methods and bias. The dips and turns between each view has the reader delve into a variety of hypotheses in an attempt to understand what brings about war, and Horgan addresses as many as possible—the predominance of male aggression, scarcity of land, distrust of different nations, the ability for politicians and the media to rally the masses against others, and more. Much of the research he presents is compelling, but it is often nulled by conflicting theories and only leads to more questions. In the midst of this parlay, the back and forth can lead to contradiction. On one page there is the impression that war is still valued, particularly by the American people:

We [Americans] keep spending more on preparations for war and finding new reasons to fight. In 2011, the Pentagon announced that it reserves the right to respond with bullets and bombs to ‘cyber war …’ We revel in our victories over the bullies like Hitler and Saddam Hussein. We cheer the news of the assassination of Osama bin Laden. We Americans glorify past wars […] Far from reviling our veterans, for the most part we honour them. (153)

But, on the very next page, he states,

Far from being a temporary, statistical anomaly, like a quiescent hurricane season, the decline of war reflects our growing aversion to war. (154)

War is declining overall, yet we find more reasons to wage war. This paradox makes it difficult to gauge how American culture responds to conflict. At other times, the author’s tone appears exasperated by the endless paradox of war itself. Some of the research he’s gathered claims war is caused by resource scarcity, but it is also found that resource scarcity is a cause of war, which would suggest an endless cycle. Then there are those that believe that fighting is a necessity to gaining peace, but research shows that fighting war can be conducive to more war.

After shifting between the merits and faults of different researchers and their work, the reader is forced to accept that there is no black-and-white answer to what causes war. And in this, the conclusion emerges that there is a multitude of causes, conditions, contexts, and more that cater to the engagement of warfare ranging from the desire for peace, to the practice of war itself (which can bring upon more violence), economic disparity, the media, and more. Looking at the words of political scientist J. David Singer, the author summarizes:

Wars break out at random, without conforming to any laws or patterns. Singer concludes that we are “soft-wired” for war. The problem, he writes, is not our innate aggression so much as our propensity for deferring to authority and embracing our culture’s values, including militaristic ones.

This raises the question: How do we end war? Horgan shares at the very beginning of the book that he has faith that his children, “Mac and Skye will live to see a world without war” (21). This seems extremely idealistic, and the book does not argue its plausibility. Whether or not people are culturally repelled by war, for war to end within the next generation or less seems unlikely.

Horgan agrees with the argument that people choose war; therefore, the solution is to find an alternate option for people to choose so that war does not seem like the best or perceived “only” choice. There have to be alternate, non-violent options that are used whenever possible and the goal when in combat should always be to minimize casualties. These tactics and the advocacy for democracy are what to strive for. It’s still hard to believe that these methods will lead to the end of war within this lifetime.

At the book’s end, there are still many threads left untied. The discussion of war at the national level must include power struggles, money, culture, and territory. This only demonstrates that the topic of war is a loaded one, and worth discussion. Horgan has succeeded in continuing and encouraging the push for an era of peace. And in this, I wholly agree with the author and his efforts. War is not necessary; rather, it is archaic and brutish.

John Horgan
The End of War
August 2014
San Francisco, USA
McSweeney’s
224 pages
$13.00
ISBN-13: 9781938073120

posted on: Nomadic Press

Book Review: A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam

beautiful truth

A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam follows the life of Judy and Walt Ribke, a couple who, after Judy has an operation, are unable to have children on their own. The secondary plot follows the research of Dr. David Kennedy, who studies chimpanzees at the Girdish Institute for primate research.

The novel’s seemingly silly plotline slowly develops into an irresistible love for Judy and Walt’s chimp Looee, and the chimpanzees’ culture as demonstrated by Dr. David’s observations. The story is told from the perspective of the couple and Dave; as well as, from the perspective of the primates.

Quoted dialogue is entirely absent from the text, which illustrates the chimpanzees’ wordlessness and highlights the development of an unspoken communication. The characters are able to grow through their relationships with the primates without words, suggesting there must be a way to learn from one another without speaking. It leaves the reader questioning what in the book is actually spoken, and what is thought; what is understood and what is misconstrued.

McAdam’s text reads as if it is from a place of distant memories. Reading the thoughts of the characters is like listening to a story that took place long ago. It is not simply a story about primates—it is about the way creatures grow and learn about themselves, about success and regret, and the progression of life as beings age and become weary.

The chimpanzees are a blank slate upon which the characters are reflected. They are simultaneously described as intelligent, powerful, stupid, childish, innocent, good, aggressive, old, and young. They are ageless—with the appearance of an old man, the dexterity of an adolescent, and the mind of a child. By observing the primates, the characters can see each stage of their own lives—and in doing so become self-aware of their own development.

In one scene David is sitting with Mr. Ghoul, one of the apes at the institute, and it unravels the intent of A Beautiful Truth:

It was time to move away from language, and away from trials which set out to show how like us they might be. […] Perhaps his work boiled down to an attempt to redress the unspeakable loneliness of humans. Perhaps it was just a recognition that sometimes one ape needs another to show him who he is. […] He looked at Ghoul and saw an old-looking, wise-looking, restless but composed hairy teenager, a perpetual but time-worn child… […] David pointed at the lexigram for friend. Mr. Ghoul thought Dave had pointed at the picture for milk, and waited. (171)

McAdam does not paint an unrealistic picture of what the primates can comprehend. In the end they are always animals: intelligent, understanding, and feeling animals—but animals nonetheless.

What adds to the calibre of A Beautiful Truth is McAdam’s ability to keep his narrator’s perspective opaque. Throughout the novel, there are few hints as to whether the reader should be feeling empathetic, angry, or condescending. As a result, the reader is forced to come to their own conclusion, and ultimately find that there is no clear answer.

Not simply a story about the life of a family and their chimp, the book slowly progresses into a profound analysis of man, animal, and the unnerving similarities and differences between them.

posted on: thenewspaper.ca

Poetry Review: The Anatomy of Being by Shinji Moon

anatomyofbeing anatomyofbeing1

Shinji Moon turns the body into art with her words.

Using the body as the force behind her imagery, Shinji Moon’s latest book of poetry The Anatomy of Being elicits a physical response from her readers. The prose is not only understood; it is felt.

Her words are immaculately chosen, so that simple quotations provoke strong responses:

“I look at you and see all the ways a soul can bruise, and I wish I could sink my hands into your flesh and light lanterns along your spine so you know there’s nothing but light when I see you.”

The words bruise, skin, flesh, and spine hold a weight that carries beyond the page; they probe the reader’s own body.

As is becoming more commonplace, The Anatomy of Being was self-published by the now 19-year-old poet. Moon decided to take success into her own hands. She created and gained significant readership through her tumblr account among social media users.

An editor would likely have eliminated the selection of Moon’s poems that are more youthful, but it is exactly these poems of early love and growing up that resonate with her younger audiences, and have subsequently bolstered her popularity. The role of the editor is a controversial one, particularly in the genre of poetry in which one is supposed to be most free with their words. She represents the modern day poet.

Although emerging in a technological era, she portrays a beauty in human connection known and felt for ages.

“A woman will kiss you and you’ll think her lips are two petals rubbing against your mouth.”

Her poetry is the kind you want to wrap yourself up in on a rainy day. Her voice lulls, it is never spoken with force. There is quietness to her tone that makes you want to curl up and sleep. Her poetry explores the relationship between emotions and their physical response, and reminds readers of a love beyond words,

“I would shred open my flesh so that you could see what I hold inside of me; to show you all the light I swallowed from your love.”

Definitely an author I would recommend, and foresee as a poet who will continue to blossom

 posted on: thenewspaper.ca

Book Review: The Blue Girl by Laurie Foos

bluegirl

Reading Laurie Foos’ The Blue Girl is like peering into someone else’s dream. There is a slowness to the story that makes it feel surreal, like wading through water. The story navigates through the obstacles of female interiority—insecurity, motherhood, relationships, care taking, and secrecy.

The narration is shared between the perspectives of three women and their respective daughters. The girls live with their families in a remote beach town where vacationers come and go, though to the mothers, the setting is always painfully the same.

One day while at the beach, one daughter, Audrey, jumps into the lake to save a drowning child— a girl with shockingly blue skin. The women are mesmerized and fearful of the cerulean girl, but conceal their trauma, spurring a ripple of tension that emphasizes the lack of communication between these women and underpins the secrecy that preoccupies each character. After the event, the women find solace from the mediocrity of their lives and from the weight of their secrets by feeding the blue girl recovering in a house in the woods. Together, the mothers begin the tradition of bringing the blue girl creamy moon pies.

“When I stir the chocolate, I imagine each dark brown bubble absorbing my secrets, one at a time” (46). The women store their secrets in these treats, to be eaten by the blue girl who craves their confections with a ravenous hunger.

These mothers desperately want to connect with their daughters and one another, yet are unwilling to share their feelings with anything but their own cakes. So they deflect their increasingly heavy secrets onto the blue girl. However, by using her as an outlet, she becomes a silencer, exacerbating their secrets and insecurities by allowing them to solely rely on her for relief. But the reality is that there are no secrets. The characters understand and perceive one another better than they let on, so they burden themselves by holding onto secrets that their family would empathize with, if only they communicated.

When dropping her daughter off at school, Irene dreams of reaching out to her daughter:

“I want to tell her that I know where she’s been and that I have been there too. […] Before she turns away [ … ] I open my mouth to sing out her name as I watch her move away, but as I do, I feel my throat turn thick with sadness that will not allow me to speak.” (125–126)

And then, in the very next chapter her daughter shares:

“My mother knows. I can see it just by looking at her, the way she stares at me, the way she came in my room last night and stood there like I didn’t know what she wanted. When she said good-bye to me in the car, I think of just saying it to her. I think of telling her…” (129).

Both know what is on the other’s mind; yet, they create their own stress by choosing not to speak to each other.

This novel deeply understands what it is to be a woman struggling with her role as a wife and mother. The characters feel isolated in worrying about raising children, relating to their husbands, and coping with a life that falls short of their dreams, and all share these uncertainties and regrets, yet refuse to communicate them, thus turning them into moon pies.

This novel impresses on its readers the strength that a secret can tangibly and physically carry—enough weight to make up an ingredient in a cake. This burden is passed from generation to generation as the voice of the deceased mothers of Irene, Libby, and Magda, all of whom often plague the thoughts and actions of not only themselves, but their daughters. The weight of it emerges from the fact that the young girls not only hold their own insecurities but those of their mothers and grandmothers, as well. It is more than the blue girl can bear as she physically eats their secrets away. It reveals how impressionable and perceptive children are to the environment created by their parents.

The novel seems to suggest that women shoulder the brunt of this burden. The fathers and sons in the story are hardly addressed. Instead, they remain on the sidelines, and the reader will never really know their turmoil. Arguably, their troubles are made pointedly foreign compared to those of the women, as many of the men in this novel have a physical or mental disability.

Indeed, Laurie Foos skillfully touches on the challenging theme of mental illness and disability. Typically, stories of mental or physical need are a form of the recently pegged “sympathy porn,” in which those with special needs are strategically placed in a position to elicit feelings of awe and admiration, for despite their trials and tribulations, they manage to persevere. Rather, this is a brutally honest account of how mental illness can break a person and a family, and, according to one mother, leaves people a broken form of his or herself. Perhaps this is insensitive, but it’s also honest.

“… I used to imagine myself fixing his brain from the inside.” (178)

What remains puzzling at the story’s end is what the blue girl really represents. It is difficult to pinpoint why the women are inspired to reveal their burdens to an alien-like creature in the woods. How is she more relatable than the other women in their community, and why is the blue girl compliant in sustaining herself off of their secrets? Foos’ dreamlike writing style allows for these uncertainties by creating an entrancing experience. This story is not about what’s said, but about reading into the inner workings of each woman’s mind. The daughters are perceptive and thought-provoking, and the mothers are frustratingly relatable.

Laurie Foos
The Blue Girl
July 2015
Minneapolis, MN
Coffee House Press
220 pages
$15.95
ISBN-13: 9781566893992

posted on: Nomadic Press

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑