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Christmas Reading List

December 13, 1998

Rex Murphy’s Suggestions:

Acres and Pains (1995), Eastward Ha! (1998) and Westward Ha!: Or Around the World in Eight Clichés (1998) by S.J. Perelman. Illustrations by Ralph Steadman. Published by Burford Books. Distributed in Canada by National Book Network.
Here’s Perelman in just the right size chunks. His diction and idiom is expansive beyond the reach of most high artists and his humour is lasting.

Life Sentences: Literary Essays by Joseph Epstein.W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1997. Distributed by Penguin Books Canada.
Epstein is generally a cultivated, cultured sort without being either manically academic or profoundly earnest. A well-stocked mind that’s talking very, very fluently and very very skillfully about books and their pleasures.

Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge. Carroll & Graf Publishers Inc. 1998. Distributed by Publishers Group West.
It has the atmospherics of a very playful detective story with a kind of spirited, macabre overtone. Intelligent, enjoyable and skillful.

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom. Riverhead Books/Putnam Publishing Group, 1998.
Bloom is one of those in a truly long tradition of very wise heads and extremely well-read ones. A digest of considerable wisdom.

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. Random House of Canada, Ltd. 1998.
The way the characters intersect, usually randomly and coincidently, happens to be the way that it also occurs in life.

Eleanor Wachtel’s Suggestions:

*Host of CBC Radio’s “Writers and Company” and “The Arts Today”

Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire by David Remnick. Random House of Canada, 1993.
Remnick is the new editor of the New Yorker magazine and former Russia correspondent for the Washington Post in the 1980s.

Also by David Remnick -- Resurrection: The Struggle for a New Russia, Random House of Canada, 1998.

Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski Random House, Inc. 1995.
A sharp-eyed adventure of literary reportage of this Polish writer’s travels through Russia between 1989 and 1991. A British paper once said if you like your journalists played by Bogart and Mitchum, then Kapuscinski is your man.

The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro. McClelland & Stewart, 1998.
It’s Alice Munro at the top of her form.

Birds of America: Stories by Lorrie Moore. Knopf Canada, 1998.
Wise and witty writer...these stories are darker and deeper.

Jigsaw: On Unsentimental Education by Sybille Bedford. Published by Hamish Hamilton, 1989. Distributed by Penguin Books Canada.
Impoverished childhood on a country estate in Germany. Writes with the most affable honesty The story of 20 years of Bedford’s own life. It’s the old cliché, but I didn’t want it to end.

Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge. Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. 1997. Distributed by Publishers Group West.
About the sinking of the Titanic. It’s amazing in terms of what Bainbridge can do in scarcely over two hundred pages. She manages to inhabit an historic moment and does it with elegance and emotion.

Handwriting by Michael Ondaatje. McClelland & Stewart, 1998.
A collection of poetry that is sensuous, evocative, elegiac. It’s a book that invites or maybe even requires re-reading as you absorb the languages and the images.

Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje. New Canadian Library Series. McClelland & Stewart, 1993.
Probably one of his most accessible books. Family stories, myths. Funny. Both set in his birth place Sri Lanka. Quite lovely to read them together.

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable 15th Edition. By Ivor H. Evans. Edited by Adrian Room. Harper Collins Canada 1995.
Tells you everything you ever wanted to know. Great for a present.

Anna Makolkin’s Suggestions:

*author and research fellow at the University of Toronto, specializing in comparative literature and semiotics.

Despair by Vladimir Nabokov. Random House of Canada, Ltd., 1989.
Encapsulates the human condition of the 20th Century man and culture...with the sense of despair, loneliness, isolation.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Random House of Canada, Ltd., 1995.
Documents a crisis of communism under Stalin and its impact on society, the human condition and the dissection of the “I”. Still one of the best examples of the documentary or diary novel in the 20th Century.

Anti-Semite & Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate by Jean-Paul Sartre. Schocken Books, 1995. Distributed in Canada by Random House.
This is not just a book about anti-Semitism, it’s a profound characterization of the spirit of cruelty and intolerance of this century. One of the best books of the 20th Century.

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood. Doubleday & Company, 1998. In Canada, McClelland and Stewart, 1989.

The Rocking Horse Winner by D.H. Lawrence. Out of print.

Adrian Johns’ Suggestions:

*author of “The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making.” University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Areopagitica by John Milton. Edited by Richard C. Jebb, published by AMS Press, Inc. (Note, he does not recommend the version edited by Ash called Areopagitica: Freedom of the Press).
The origin of almost all modern arguments for freedom of the press. Beautifully written, both passionate and logically exacting.

Memoirs by Hector Berlioz. Dover Publications, Inc. 1990. Distributed in Canada by General Publishing.
An extraordinarily passionate and highly partial account of the life of this 19th Century French composer who struggled to make a name for himself in the Romantic period.

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. Bantam, 1996.
A future world in which none of the technology works and the fashion becomes a return to Victorian morality. Profound and funny reflections on the nature of knowledge and how we learn.

Callers’ Suggestions:

The Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Doubleday, 1998.
The first in a series of four novels about a nurse serving in the second World War who goes back in time to Jacobite Scotland. Captures the idiosyncracies of the nature of Scottish people.

Bitter Harvest by Ann Rule. Pocket Books, February 1999. Distributed in Canada by Distican.
True crime writing depicting how cruel people can be to each other. You don’t always know people who are even close to you.

Dead By Sunset: Perfect Husband, Perfect Killer? by Ann Rule. Pocket Books, 1996.

If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow by Cooper Edens. Distican, Inc. 1991.
A whimsical, hopeful collection of what “ifs” (for both children and adults).

All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg. Random House of Canada, Ltd., 1998.
A well-written biography about growing up in a poor family in the southern United States with a strong mother and an alcoholic father.

Young Torless by Robert Musil. New American Library, 1964. Translated from German by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser. Out of print.
A book about young men who are taught to conform to a very rigid idea about what people should be all about.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare. Houghton Mifflin Trade, 1997.
A book about a boy living at the time when the Romans conquered Palestine. His father was crucified and his mother died of grief. He took a vow to take vengeance and eliminate the Romans.

Code Red at the Supermall by Eric Wilson. Harper Collins Canada, Ltd., 1996. (And other mysteries by Eric Wilson).

The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. William Morrow Company, Inc., 1988. Distributed in Canada by the Hearst Book Group of Canada.
Probably the best written, tightest story with the best character development I’ve ever read. The theme of brotherhood comes out through chivalry. It feels so Canadian...but with lances and swords.

Satrus by Matt Finlayson. To be published in next few years.
Fantasy writing but more of a social commentary along the lines of Planet of the Apes. From an up and coming writer at Acadia University.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Ballantine Books, Inc., 1997.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer. Doubleday Canada, Ltd., 1998.
Gripping.

Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C. S. Lewis by Terry W. Glaspey. GCB Publishing Group, 1997. Edited by George Grant.
One of the most concise and comprehensive introductions to Lewis’s life and his contribution to thought in this century.

All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C. S. Lewis, 1922-1927 by C.S. Lewis. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1992. Edited by Walter Hooper and Owen Barfield.

Best Stories Of by Walter de la Mare. Faber and Faber, 1983.
The plots of the stories are almost incidental, but the character development and the whole feel are just wonderful.

About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior by David Hackworth and Julie Sherman. Distican, Inc., 1990.
A highly-decorated soldier in the U.S. Army, Hackworth reveals his disillusionment with the Vietnam War.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro. Random House of Canada, 1975.
A Rhodes Scholar, genius and a workaholic engineer, Moses learned how to get power and protect his job and went on to build major landmarks in New York City.

Hitler and Stalin by Alan L. Bullock.. McClelland & Stewart, 1993.
Covers their lives from birth to death in five-year parallels.

Let Me Make Myself Plain by Catherine Cookson. Douglas & McIntyre, 1997. Out of print.
A display of her paintings, vignettes and poetry. Shows her wisdom and humanity.

Bad Jobs: Or My Last Shift at Albert Wong’s Pagoda and Other Ugly Tales of the Workplace edited by Carelling Brooks. Arsenal Pulp Press, 1998.
A collection of anecdotes and essays about life on the job. Very Canadian, very funny.

Errata: An Examined Life by George Steiner.Yale University Press, 1998.
A memoir by a towering intellect touching on Western cultural history and reflections on the nature of evil using the Second World War as a template.

Lines of Country: An Atlas of Railway and Waterway History in Canada by Christopher Andreae Boston Mills Press, 1997.
A well-written history of how the country was first settled by rail and canals with drawings of actual constructions.

Phantom Immigrants by Jiro Nitta. Translated from the Japanese by David Sulz, a Canadian. Self published.
A different perspective on the Japanese-Canadian experience -- takes place in BC and Japan at turn of century. David Sulz can be reached at sulzd@hotmail.com, or 1112 Cheeke Rd. RR#2 Cobble Hill, BC, V0R 1L0.

Mamie’s Children: Three Generations of Prairie Women by Judy Schultz. Red Deer College Press, 1997.
Marvelously researched but also made more rich by its speculation. It will touch your heart.

Earth by David Brin. Bantam Books, 1991.
It became a part of me and permeated my entire existence as it led me through a path of discovery about the interconnectedness of our social systems.

Hemingway’s Chair by Michael Palin. St. Martin’s Press, 1998.
A story about an ordinary young postal worker in England who loses his job and turns to his passion for Hemingway. He faces off with a visiting teacher who is a critic of Hemingway.

Confessions of an Igloo Dweller: The Story of the Man Who Brought Inuit Art to the Outside World by James Houston. McClelland & Stewart, 1995.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. Harper Collins Children’s Books, 1998.
How a curse is put on Cinderella, forcing her to be obedient. Better than the original! (children)

The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. Del Ray, 1998. Includes Dragonflight, Dragonquest, The White Dragon.
A trilogy sci-fiction adventure about a group of humans who voyage to a distant planet, losing contact with earth. (children)

Kaddish by Leon Wieseltier. Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.
The author’s journey through a year of mourning his father, saying the prayer kaddish. Written almost as aphorisms.

Lord Nelson’s Tavern by Ray Smith. McClelland & Stewart, 1974.
A post-modern novel that will have you seeing and meeting the characters of the book in your daily life.

Hatha Yoga -- The Hidden Language: Symbols, Secrets and Metaphors by Swami Sivananda. Timeless Canada. 1987.
Takes yoga from a physical exercise to understanding the importance of what’s behind what our bodies are doing.

Can You Listen to a Woman: A Man’s Journey to the Heart by David Forsee.Timeless Canada, 1998.
Elevates the feminine, offering hope to both men and women about how to go about spiritual development.

Glimpses of a Mystical Affair: Spiritual Experiences of Swami Sivananda Radha by Julie Mackay. Timeless Canada, 1996.
A playful, imaginative book that looks at the meaning of dreams. It made me laugh and cry.

The Last Best Place: Lost in the Heart of Nova Scotia by John Demont. Doubleday Canada, Ltd., 1998.
It’s about people’s sense of “place” and home. Historical and lyrically written.

Quality Pasture: How to Create It, Manage It and Profit From It by Allan Nation. Green Park Press, 1995.
This is the technical manual on pasture management but unconsciously transcends that and becomes a take on the farm life and the different ways to run a business that becomes a lifestyle.

Note: Rex recommends The Third Policeman by Flan O’Brien. Harper Collins Canada, Ltd., 1988. He says it’s similar to the above suggestion, but skip the part about bicycles and go straight to the section on sheep!

The Circus at the Edge of the Earth: Travels with the Great Wallenda Circus by Charles Wilkins. McClelland & Stewart, 1998.
A writer’s account of life on the road with the circus through Northwestern Ontario and Manitoba during the Red River flood. Great characters.

Death on the Ice by Cassie Brown.Prentice-Hall Canada, Inc., 1988.
A magnificent book about the misery of the human condition of those who laboured on the ice fields in early 20th Century Newfoundland.

The Crystal Desert: Summers in Antarctica by David Campbell. Houghton Mifflin Trade, 1992.
A beautifully written description of the history -- both natural and human -- of Antarctica.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs, illus. by Edward Gorey. Penguin, 1993.
One of a series that is a literate substitute for R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. (children)


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