Cross Country Checkup

Christmas Booklist November 23, 1997

REX MURPHY'S Suggestions:

"Barney's Version" by Mordecai Richler (Knopf/Random House)
-Giller prize winner. Rex says he enjoys the laser eye and tiger heart of Richler.

"Broadsides: Reviews and Opinions" (Penguin)
-collection of Richler's Essays
-something about the manner of utterance of Richler ...he is capable at the same time of great vigour and great beauty ...with a steadiness of voice.

"The Collected Poems of Philip Larkin" (Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
-precision of mind, perfection of phrase and high obedience to the strictures of form ...sense of diction which is so calibrated and so fine ...also completely accessible ...not Elliot but first class.

"The Bend For Home" by Dermot Healey (Little Brown & Company)
-memoirs write so simply and produce such effect is remarkable ...the finest controlled pathetic -- not elegiac -- pathos-ridden writing to read.

"Who Has Seen the Wind?" by W.O. Mitchell (MacMillan, special edition)
Rex read it again recently and was reminded how fine the book is ...contains some of the greatest comic scenes ever done and ...the writing is impeccable from start to finish.

"Newfoundland and Labrador Days: Historic Notes, Oddities, Recipes, Daily Diary and Calendar for Any Year" by Howard Maxwell Harvey (Jesperson)

"American Pastoral" by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin)
-dark tale ...bit of an anatomy the story of Job ...schemata of the processes of America's decline ...gloomy reading that leads to that sweet joy for which the Germans have a much longer term.

Any travel book by S.J. Perlman


*Eleanor Wachtel is host of CBC Radio's "Writers & Company" and author of "Writers & Company" and "More Writers and Company" (Knopf)

"A Biographical Dictionary of Film" by David Thompson (Knopf)
-big book with over 1000 entries organized like a dictionary; Thompson is an Englishman living in San Francisco ...terrific writer ... lots of pithy opinion on producers, directors, writers, actors.

"The Emigrants" by W.G.Sebald, translated by Michael Hulse (New Directions)
-one of the most unusual and moving books Eleanor has read this year. The author writes in German an this is his first book translated into English. It's a novel based on real people ...about exile and displacement.

"The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature" 2nd edition (University of Toronto Press 1997) Editors: Eugene Benson & William Toye.
-good source ..informative ...each time Eleanor picks it up she finds herself reading a few extra entries.

"Angela's Ashes: A Memoir" by Frank McCourt (Scribner/Harper Collins)
-first book by Irish American author, also a high school teacher in New York ...sad, heart wrenching, memoir of growing up poor in Ireland.

"Errata: An Examined Life" by George Steiner (Douglas & McIntyre)
-short book by the great English critic and intellectual; one of Rex's heroes ...very persuasive writer ...liked the recollections of his five major teacher/mentors.

"A Visit to Don Octavio: A Traveller's Tale from Mexico" by Sybille Bedford (Hippocrene Books)
-first published as "A Sudden View." The re-issue is introduced by the late Bruce Chatwin ...beautifully written travel book with lovely adventures.

"The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant" (McClelland & Stewart, paperback 1997)
40 years of her short stories

"The Puttermesser Papers" by Cynthia Ozick (Random House)
-a series of stories written over 30 years about Ruth Puttermesser, lawyer for the city of New York. Rex says the writer has a bright, clever, rich mind.

ANNIE PROULX's suggestions:

*E. Annie Proulx is author of "The Shipping News" and of "Accordian Crimes"

Proulx describes Dermot Healy as an extraordinary, versatile writer, playwright, poet, novelist, short story writer. "His writing is intensely rich", she says, and she would recommend all of his books. Proulx compares Healy's writing to a dead blow hammer - a type of hammer designed to transfer all the power of the blow to the object being struck. Healy's writing is like that hammer - it transfers all its strength to the reader.

"A Goat's Song" by Dermot Healy (Little, Brown/Harper Collins)
-the story of the breakup of two lovers ...a Catholic and Protestant story, a story of Ireland itself - riven and torn in two - as well as the story of one man's addiction to alcohol ...all of these elements intertwined in an extremely beautiful and powerful story of loss.

"The Bend for Home" by Dermot Healy (Little, Brown Canada)
-as wrenching as "A Goat's Song" ...about Healey's own life and the slow disintegration and death of his mother ...a story with a tragi-comic edge. (Rex recommended this book last year and couldn't resist recommending it again...)

"Last Night's Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music" by Ciaran Carson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/ North Point Press/Random House)
-delightful book, pure pleasure to read, a tease to the imagination ...your foot taps, you laugh and you think of a dozen wonderful private things that only you know but which this book brings out of you.

"Belfast Confetti" by Ciaran Carson (Wake Forest University Press)
-a book of moving and disturbing poetry about the author's home town of Belfast

"The Star Factory" by Ciaran Carson -his newest book

Proulx says she first came across David Foster's writing when she happened on "Dog Rock" in a bookstore. When she opened the book, the first sentence she saw was "...Owen Evans was found disembowelled in a urinal..." and so on ....and that was how Proulx says she "stumbled on one of the best comic figures in contemporary literature". A brilliant funny, amusing, savage piece of work!

"Dog Rock: A Postal Pastoral" by David Foster (Penguin Books)

"Pale Blue Crocheted Coat Hanger" by David Foster

"The Glade Within the Grove" by David Foster (Random House/Vintage)
-all three of these books by Foster feature a recurring character (Darcy Doliveris) and this book offers his final adventure - a masterpiece that bowled Proulx over. Won the Australian equivalent of the Governor General's award or U.S. Pulitizer prize.

JOE FIORITO'S suggestions:

*Joe Fiorito is author of "Tango on the Main" and of "Comfort Me With Apples" (Editions Nuage)

"Picture" by Lillian Ross, (A Modern Library Hardcover 1952)
-it's as clear as water to read - prose is really pure, provides a journalistic account of the making of "The Red Badge of Courage" with sharp insights on director John Huston, actor Audie Murphy and Hollywood's "studio system."

"Up in the Old Hotel" by Joseph Mitchell (Vintage/Random House)
-he is to New York what "Dubliners" is to Dublin, makes 40's New York and her many eccentric characters come alive, a good picture of how New York works and what it is. Mitchell was said to have written the "finest declarative sentence in the english language", Mitchell never wrote another word after that high praise in 1964 - stayed on staff at New Yorker until his death in 1995, but never wrote another word.

"My Dark Places: An LA Crime Memoir" by James Elroy (Princeton Review/Random House)
-his mother was murdered when he was ten years old; in the book he confronted the fact of her murder and even found the original detective on the case. The book both repelled and attracted Joe Fiorito - powerful, pretty close to "In Cold Blood". Fiorito calls this book Elroy's masterpiece.

"Jacob's Ladder" by Joel Yanofsky (Porcupine's Quill)

SHAUN SMITH'S suggestions:

*Shaun Smith is a bookseller with Nicholas Hoare in Toronto.

"Every Man for Himself" by Beryl Bainbridge (Caroll & Graf)
-fictionalized version of the story of the sinking of the Titanic ...terrifying Evelyn Waugh ...1996 Booker nominee.

"The Odyssey" by Homer; translated by Robert Fagles; introduction by Bernard Knox (Viking Penguin)
-very good translation of a classic that loses none of the story.

"The Iliad" by Homer; translated by Robert Fagles; introduction by Bernard Knox (Viking Penguin)


"Captain Corelli's Mandolin" by Louis DeBerniers (Minerva/Reed Books)
-wonderful book by a charming man ...historical book about the Italian occupation of a Greek island. Full of wit, charm, poignancy ...romantic with great characters.

"Night Spirits: The Relocation of the Sayisi Dene" by Ila Bussidor & Eustan Raynard (University of Manitoba Press)
-story of a group of native people "re-located" in 1956

"The Sinews of Survival: The Living Legacy of Inuit Clothing" by Betty Kobayashi-Issenman (University of British Columbia Press)
-about the clothing and survival of circumpolar Inuit.

"Walking the Dog" by Bernard MacLaverty (Norton Paperback Fiction)
-book of short stories by the Northern Irish writer of "Cal" ... ironic tales. Latest novel "Gracenotes", shortlisted for Booker.

"The Salterton Trilogy" by Robertson Davies (Penguin or Oxford)
"Tempest Tost" -first book in trilogy ...satire about a amateur theatre group who try to mount Shakespeare's Tempest ...hilarious use of language.
"The Cornish Trilogy" by Roberston Davies (Penguin)
"Fifth Business" by Robertson Davies (Viking/Penguin)

"Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel In Monthly Installments, With Recipes, Romances & Home Remedies" by Laura Esquivel (Doubleday)

"Grey Seas Under" by Farley Mowat (Bantam)
-stories about Canadians & Americans who worked on a Salvage tug in N. Atlantic during WWII.

"A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder" by James De Mille (Carleton University Press/McClelland & Stewart)
-Canadian Novel originally published in 1888 - adventure, suspense, romance, philosophy, most un-put-downable novel ...about a group of men who go out fishing and hook a copper cylinder.

"Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" by Mario Vargas Llosa, (Peruvian writer who ran against Alberto Fujimori for the Peruvian presidency) translated by Helen Lane (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Penguin)
-a very funny book about a TV soap opera scriptwriter who goes crazy and gets his characters all mixed up.

"In Another Place, Not Here" by Dionne Brand (Grove Atlantic)
-author with "lyrical, flowing style that just drags you in" -Rex describes Brand's poetry as "a very eloquent, rhetorical style of verse"

"The Crying Jesus" by Rod McIntyre (Thistledown Press/Random House)
-third book, second collection of short stories about young people, teenagers ...gifted, talented writer who is highly underrated ...gifted insight into the way people and kids relate and how they think ...incredibly funny.

"Kings in Grass Castles" by Mary Durack (British)
-biography of author's grandfather ...he was a pioneer in the Northern Australia region intriging story which parallels stories of American pioneers. Story begins during the 1800's in Ireland, around the time of the potato famine and follows the Irish family's journey over thousands of miles in Australia. Wonderful style, well researched, includes letters and documents from her family.

"The Law of Love" by Laura Esquival (Three Rivers Press/Random House)
-multimedia version of her book - includes pictures and music CD ...beautifully written, beautiful pictures and music.

"Tahdees-E-Naimad" (phonetic spelling of Urdu for "A Blessing Re-Stated") by Justice Sara Mohammed Zafrullah Khan 1873-1986
-an autobiography by the 1st foreign minister of Pakistan, judge at the Hague, president of 17th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

"Larry's Party" by Carol Shields (Viking/Penguin/Knopf)

"Blind Pursuit" by Matthew F. Jones (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
-mystery, writes as well as P.D.James at her finest ...characterization excellent, story well-detailed, good attention to secondary characters and description of physical environment ...more than a page turner.

"Writers & Company" by Eleanor Wachtel (Random House/Knopf)
"More Writers & Company" by Eleanor Wachtel (Random House/Knopf)
-interviews with authors as broadcast on the radio show.

"How the Mind Works" by Steven Pinker (W.W.Norton & Company)
-neuropsychology; cognitive neuroscience

"The House of Wooden Santas" by Kevin Major (Red Deer College Press)
-about the spirit of Christmas, set up in advent calendar style. Story about 9-year-old boy Jesse and his mother, who is a wood carver. The carvings of Imelda George, a Nova Scotia carver illustrate the book.

"Low Water Slack" by Tim Bowling (Nightwood Editions/Harbour Publishing)
-author from Gibson's, B.C., his writing reminds the caller of Norman MacLean, author of "A River Runs Through It" - written for an ordinary person.

"Elephant Winter" by Kim Echlin (Viking/Penguin)
-non-stop read, transported by the novel, it addressed all the important things worth talking about - death to birth, communication & relationships, plus it invents a glossary of elephant language ...a story about mothers and daughters.

"Morality Play" by Barry Unsworth (N.A. Talese/W.W.Norton/Penguin)
-works on three levels - strong mystery story, historical novel set in medieval England, philosophical level ...asking questions about history of drama, about death & morality ...beautifully controlled novel, elegant prose.

"Rule of the Bone" by Russell Banks (Knopf/HarperCollins/Vintage)
-great for young readers ...narrator is 14-year-old street kid ..a modern-day Huckleberry Finn.

"The Book of Eve" by Constance Beresford-Howe (Macmillan/McClelland & Stewart, 1973)
-about 65-ish women in Montreal who walks out on her husband of 40 years, funny and thoughtful also wrote "A Population of One" and "The Marriage Bed."

"How We Die" by Sherwin B. Nuland (Vintage Book/Random House)
-professor of surgery & history of Medicine at Yale ...engrossing ... he believes death is no longer part of life, now put behind a veil -- we refer to it through euphemisms. Author outlines the common ways we die with a clarity of writing ...moving and uplifting ...makes it all so easy to understand ...felt a reverence in reading the book; almost philosophical won National Book Award.
-Rex suggests Thomas Browne's meditation on mortality "Hydriotaphia/ (Urne Buriall & The Garden of Cyrus)" edited by Frank L. Huntley (Crofts Classics/Harlan Davidson Inc.

"Fugitive Pieces" by Anne Michaels

"The Radiant Way: A Novel" by Margaret Drabble (McClelland & Stewart/ Ivy Books)
-seasonal book but not about Christmas per se ...more a New Year's Eve taking stock ... unflinching, witty doesn't date ...more interesting as caller ages ...says something new to her each time she reads it.

"Big Girls Don't Cry" by Connie Briscoe (HarperCollins)
-about a shy, insecure, sheltered, innocent young girl from the African American perspective ...uplifting story, character goes through lots of despair ...comes from the realization that strength must come from within ...captures the voice of the character ...started out sounding like a "junior novel" but grows with the character's age.

"Through Footless Halls of Air: Stories of a Few of the Many Who Failed to Return" by Floyd Williston (General Store Publishing)
-meditation on the lives of young men, mostly Maritimers, who went into the Air Force in the Second World War and never came back ...insight into why young men would go up in less than safe airplanes ...densely written, not for everyone, but for those who have a particular interest, it is worthwhile.


"Juliana & the Medicine Fish" by Jake MacDonald (Great Plains Publications)
-first "children's" book by the will appeal to readers aged 9 to 90...story of a girl's struggle to land a 72-inch muskie and the decision she faces once she lands it. With an appreciation of "the lake, rocks, moss, birch and pines of the Canadian Shield" and "an acknowledgement of native peoples' respect for the wildlife and wild country" at Lake of the Woods, Kenora, ON.

"The Seven Mysteries of Life: An Exploration in Science and Philosophy" by Guy Murchie (Houghton Mifflin)
-selected "to add a little science to the book list". Author took 17 years to write this book, starting with biology and then incorporating other branches of science, in an exploration of life on earth and beyond. Described as "lyrically lucid" by Buckminster Fuller.

"Places of Grace" by David Elias (Coteau Books)
-direct and simple prose. A book that will take the reader out of the city and into the '50s era lives of the people of rural, southern Manitoba and places "filled with fascinating characters and turns of events - a warm, funny, heartbreaking and deeply satisfying read" recommended for anyone of any age.

"The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem" by Deborah Meier (Beacon Press)
-described by a Los Angeles Times reviewer as "a lively manifesto ... for the salvation of public education".

"Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China" by Jung Chang (Doubleday Canada)
-highly recommended, especially for anyone looking for an insight into China and the "Mao" years. A gripping family story told by one of the daughters.

"Parade on an Empty Street" by Margaret Drury Gane (Clarke Irwin, 1978)
-an insightful look at what it was like to grow up in Canada during the Second World War. Canadian novel...touching authenticity and humour. It so mirrored the experience of the person recommending this book that she/he bought copies for his/her adult children "so they'd have a better idea of the times and history that shaped me".

"Wake of the Invercauld" by Madelene Ferguson Allen (McGill-Queens)
-author is from Lennoxville, Quebec. Her great-grandfather survived the shipwreck of the "Invercauld" off the Auckland Islands in 1864. He was one of only three men to survive for 12 months and ten days "on one of the most inhospitable places on earth". The author went back to that island and the result was "two exciting stories of events which occurred 130 years apart". Wonderful book, beautifully presented.

"Fall on Your Knees" by Ann Marie MacDonald
-a story of several generations of one family, set on Cape Breton Island...lyrical and disturbing.

"This Weather of the Hangman" by Sylvia Adams (The General Store Publishing House)
-fictionalized account of the murder of three members of a family near Smiths Falls in 1892, for which one of the family's sons was hanged...explores the prevailing attitudes of rural Ontario at the time and suggests the conviction might have fallen upon the wrong man..extremely well written, in a language and style in keeping with the Canadian character...a gripping story.

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