Saturday, March 11, 2017


I don't normally jump heavily onto the Canada Reads bandwagon, but this year the short list really interested me.  Fifteen Dogs by Andrei Alexis is on the short list, which in my opinion means that the competition had better be pretty amazing to remotely compete.  Plus two of the short listed books are science fiction, which intrigued me as well.  I currently have three of the other four books on the short list (I don't currently have The Break by Katherena Vermette), and I will make a valiant effort to read the three of them before the debates at the end of the month.  So first up is Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji, which I will freely admit was the most intriguing of the remaining four books to me.

Nostalgia takes place in the future.  Humans have found a way to prolong their bodies pretty much indefinitely.  But along with a new body, you have to get a new life.  Your old memories are buried and a new, fictitious life is built for you, complete with brand new memories.  But sometimes memories of your old life resurface.  Left unchecked, they will destroy your mind.  But that's where the nostalgia doctors come in.  These doctors specialize in sealing those memories away. 

Dr. Frank Sina is one such doctor.  But when he is visited by a strange-looking patient named Presley Smith who has begun to have these memories surface, Dr. Sina finds himself obsessed with this patient.  Who was Presley Smith, and why does he have such an effect on the doctor?

Nostalgia was a bit hard to get into, even with this very intriguing concept.  The beginning of the book didn't really speak to me the way I really felt it should have.  But I'm thinking it had a bit of a slow start to it.  The back of the book promised irreparable cracks in Dr. Sina's own fiction emerging as a result of his interactions with Presley Smith.  But that doesn't really happen until the latter half of the book. But once it happens, wow does Nostalgia start to shine.  It takes what appeared to be very differing narratives, including the fictions Dr. Sina writes about a kidnapped journalist and his own suppositions on what Presley Smith must have been like before, and weaves it into a very compelling narrative that examines what happens when the elderly continue to live indefinitely (and take their resources and jobs with them while simultaneously completely leaving their families behind) and how the post-Colonial world is built in many ways upon the less fortunate people who just happen to have the bad luck of being born elsewhere in the world.  Nostalgia leaves you with a lot of food for thought, and I am very glad to have read it.

That being said though, my vote for what should win Canada Reads this year still goes to Fifteen Dogs.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls was recommended by an author I interviewed at work. I borrowed the book from the library. I was admittedly put off by it - I'd been told that A Monster Calls was a graphic novel. That is a factual statement in that it is a novel with pictures. But it's not a graphic novel in the way I think of them (like a collected edition of comic books). Nevertheless I decided to give it a shot and started reading.

I will admit though, I had a really hard time getting into the book.

A Monster Calls is about Conor O'Malley, who is visited at night by a monstrous yew tree. As scary as this monster is, it's not the one he was expecting, the monster who hunts in his terrible nightmare, the one Conor won't tell anyone about. The yew monster says it will tell Conor three true stories, and that in return, Conor will tell it one. The monster wants Conor to tell it the truth about the nightmare. But how will Conor ever be able to do that?

Meanwhile in the waking world, Conor must deal with school, being bullied, both his grandmother and father coming to visit, all the while coping with his mother's rapidly deteriorating health. 

I may have had a hard time getting into the book, but by the end I was balling my eyes out. Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls is a brilliant look at coping with the impending loss of a loved one. 

With that said, I am definitely going to read what I hope will be a happier book next. Between this and The Lovely Bones, I feel like I've been reading too much sadness so far this year!