January 2015: My month in books

This is the second of what will hopefully be a monthly instalment of what I read over the course of the month. In January I neglected this blog. I did quite a bit of photography but most of the pictures I took are still on SD cards. I hope to deal with them this month.

I have a Vancouver Public Library card now that I am a resident of the City of Vancouver. I can only take out ten books at a time for the first three months so that is a bit of a hassle. It means that I usually have to finish a book every time I pick up a book. I have decided to place fewer holds. It is hard but self-control is important.

Read

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

A Fairy Tale by Jonas Bengtsson

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Photobooth: A Biography by Meags Fitzgerald

A History of America in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps by Chris West

Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco by Gary Kamiya

Troop 142 by Mike Dawson

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke

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The first two books I read this month were Rory Gilmore reading challenge book club selections so I’m not going to go into great detail on them here. There has been a bit of a snafu in our reading that is causing a delay in discussing January’s books so it might be a while. My sister’s ereader was stolen and with them her books. We’ll see what the future holds. I will say that I liked both of them and had read both writers previously so I knew I was in for something good.

About a year ago I received a mysterious package. It had no return address on it and it looked distinctly like the boxes that books come in. Inside was A Fairy Tale by Jonas Bengtsson. I have no idea who sent it to me or why. Maybe I got on a list of reviewers. Maybe it was a Goodreads contest? Maybe the fates just knew it was the perfect book for someone like me. Since I had no idea where it came from I didn’t want to read it. I waited so it would be in good condition if they came looking for me or sent me an angry letter demanding it be returned.

After a year went by I decided it was safe. Whoever sent me this book doesn’t want it back and would probably prefer that I read it. If they come looking I’ll tell them to check Vancouver’s Little Free Libraries. It may be dog eared and water damaged. I’m glad that I ended up with A Fairy Tale. The name is ill suited to it. I think people might misjudge it or that it seems better in Danish. But like Fables there is more to this story than just knights and princesses. A whole lot more. There is a young boy and a brilliant but troubled father.

The story unfolds and grows. It was better when he was young before certain things happened, before he became a young man trying to sort through the mysteries of other people’s lives. So it goes. Bengtsson is a talented writer. I highly recommend reading A Fairy Tale.

I also loved that he is Danish and part of the story takes place in Copenhagen. When I was in Denmark I tried to find Danish writers to read. I picked up some Hans Christian Andersen (speaking of fairy tales) but couldn’t get into it. Better talked about and revered than read. I also got into Jo Nesbo but he is Norweigan not Danish. I’ve been searching for a good Danish writer.

It was nice to think about familiar names and places. The feel of things made sense and was comfortable. Maybe it’s been long enough that I could watch Borgen without getting really sad.

A Fairy Tale is Bengtsson’s third book but the only one that has been translated into English so far. Another has been translated into French and I am considering ordering it. It’s probably a little ambitious to read in French but it might be the only option for a while. Translators of Scandinavian writing take note: Bengtsson is too good to not be translated. I am waiting.

The next book I read was Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I got my copy from my father (and now plan to dutifully return it the next time I’m home instead of dumping it at the first book exchange I see, which is what I do with books that are my own). He is an introvert like me and enjoyed reading it. It’s been on my list for a while and I really enjoyed it.

It was well written and of course as an introvert and sensitive person I was like that’s me I so do that a lot of the time. I also thought about things like my internship where I would go sit in the telephone rooms and pretend I was interviewing someone when I desperately wanted to get away from my coworkers. There were over a hundred people in a wide open spaces with a few half walls dividing sections. I felt like there was no escape. Quiet was an interesting book and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.

I received Photobooth: A Biography by Meags Fitzgerald as a Christmas present. I am a fan of graphic novels and my thoughtful parents (I believe my father, I’m sorry if I’m wrong) got it for me after hearing about it on CBC. I’d been trying to hunt it down but couldn’t find it at the library so I was very excited to get a copy.

It goes over a history of chemical photobooths and Fitzgerald’s personal obsession with them. Chemical photobooths are becoming a thing of the past as digital photobooths replace them. I can’t say I care whether my photobooths are digital or chemical so long as I can still go to them.

I’ve always loved photobooths and have strips from junior high and trips. My sister and I have some from when I visited her in London. I have a set that turned out well from when I was in Copenhagen. After arriving it seemed like everyone wanted me to have an id sized photo so I took to carrying around some that I got from a photobooth in Norreport. There was a set that turned out really well that I still have.

Not only did I like the story but I appreciated that Fitzgerald is from a similar background to me. I often feel like there aren’t enough Canadian writers out there. We hear about New York and LA on TV but not about our streets and our experiences. It’s a huge problem. Fitzgerald grew up in Edmonton before moving to Calgary to attend ACAD. Like me she did French immersion. I loved her little comments about speaking French when she was in France. It’s the first time I’ve read somebody who has the same experience with the language as I do. Me and my friends from school just assume people grew up speaking French even though it’s odd in the anglophone prairies. I wanted to hug Fitzgerald and in my mind refer to her by Meags instead of her last name. It reminds me that Canadian stories and places matter. Writing grants are money well spent.

I actually received A History of America in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps by Chris West for free and I knew to expect it — I won it through Goodreads. In exchange for press copies you post reviews. Because of my housing situation I had it sent to Calgary and couldn’t collect it until Christmas. I wanted to read it so that I could post the expected review and keep the chance to win other books in the future if I wanted to.

I was worried it might be hopelessly nerdy and it was but in a good way. The postage stamps were used as metaphors for different periods in American history. It was a good framework for an overview of different historical periods. It also provided useful information about the US postal system like how it worked, how it changed and who held important posts (a lot of former presidents were employed by the postal service).

It was a really cool book and I am lobbying for him to write a version about Canada. Apparently our market is too small. Well Mr. West you’re too small.

I took Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá out of the library because I am trying to get through some of the graphic novels listed as to read on my Goodreads — I use it both a repository of things I want to read and as a massive overwhelming list that tells me I can’t read everything. Graphic novels are the easiest thing to bite off and return quickly to the library so I’m going for some of them. Daytripper was a beautiful story that was somewhat confusing. He dies at the end of each section but in reality is an old man.

It was about dreams and life and disappointment and joy and friends who disappear from your life unexpectedly. All those things we all go through especially if you want to be a writer.

It took me a while to get through Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco by Gary Kamiya. I had it out as an ebook quite a few times but never managed to get through it before it stopped working. The last time I wrote down my spot and decided to get it as a physical book. It was better that way, especially with the sketches at the beginning of each chapter.

I really like Cool Gray City of Love. It’s the type of book I could see myself writing one day as I collect and appreciate different bits of my city. I’ve been to San Fran so I’d seen parts of where he went. His account blended the small and the personal, and the general very well. He showed how interesting cities can be if you get to know them.

Troop 142 by Mike Dawson was another part of my graphic novel mission. It was good but a little depressing. My summer camp experience was much better than that and no one was really mean. Apparently the Boy Scouts can be a terrible place (not surprising given their homophobic policies). Troop 142 tell the story of a summer spent at scout camp. Dawson is the father and his two sons are there. They all have their misadventures and shenanigans.

I started reading the Richard Stark’s Parker series because I’d heard it was good. I’ve read Darwyn Cooke before and had very positive feeling. The Hunter is the first of four (I’ve now finished all of them but read three in February so not sure where they fit into all this). They are well done like you would expect from Cooke.

Parker is a criminal with a new face and a revenge mission. He’s badass and all that. A classic comic book theme. I wish I felt more or had more to say but I don’t. They’re fun and pretty and clever. There’s not much more to it than that.

Update: My father was the one who gave me Photobooth. It was after hearing this interview on CKUA, not on CBC.

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