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Summer Reading List

June 20, 1999

Rex Murphy's Suggestions
Host of Cross Country Checkup on CBC Radio One.

All Too Human: A Political Education by George Stephanopoulos. Little Brown & Company, 1999.
A window into what happens when you evacuate moral purpose and seriousness and enter politics merely for the enhancement of ego...It's a book that's naked of any single large thought. Rex also mentioned Monica’s Story by Andrew Morton. Saint Martin Press, Inc. 1999, which he called tedious beyond belief ...Morton can’t write at all but this is intellectual compared to Stephanopolous.

Death on the Ice by Cassie Brown. Prentice-Hall Canada, 1988.
The story of a sealing disaster. Another of many great adventure stories set in cold and hard places.

The Lure of the Labrador Wild by Dillon Wallace. Breakwater Books, 1994.
The real-life story of a man who explores a river in Labrador and takes a wrong turn. A miserable tale...a gripping adventure.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Random House of Canada, 1992.
The most arresting of McCarthy's distinctively flavoured and poetic works. It is the figure of The Judge however, more than the signature stylistics, that makes Blood Meridian so emphatic an achievement. The creation, ex nihilo, of character is the supreme test of novelistic art. The Judge is in Ahab territory.

The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry by Walter Pater. Oxford World’s Classics, 1998.
...so majestically crafted, the rhythms are so certain and confident. There's so much thought, it's almost possible to believe when you read Walter Pater closely that you're reading something that's close to music.

Caught in the Web of Words: James A.H. Murray and the "Oxford English Dictionary" by K.M. Murray. Yale University Press, 1995.
...probably the best anecdotal account of the construction of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Narcissus Leaves the Pool: Familiar Essays by Joseph Epstein. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.
A delicacy of tone that belongs to the older craft of essay writing. Epstein is one of the few that remain who take the drama out of the story and engage merely by voice and temperament so that the subject doesn't become that important.

White Goddess by Robert Graves, Faber & Faber, 1948.
A marvelous book even if the thesis he puts forward is totally mad. So many contingent values that it’s irrelevant whether or not the central premise is right. Fiercely interesting.

 

Eleanor Wachtel's Suggestions
Host of Writers & Company and the Arts Today on CBC Radio One. She has published two books of her interviews: Writers & Company and More Writers & Company, Knopf Canada.

The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett. W. W. Norton & Company, 1998.
The most vivid re-creation of being stuck in an ice flow in the North. Barrett brings a late 20th century sensibility to 19th century science, particularly natural history.

Temples of Delight by Barbara Trapido. Penguin Books, 1991. Also by the same author, Juggling (1995) and Brother of the More Famous Jack (1998) and The Travelling Horn Player (1999).
Trapido’s novels combine wit, erudition and good story-telling. Quirky, original, with a wide-ranging knowledge and intelligence.

Black Dogs by Ian McEwan, Doubleday, 1998. Also by same author, Amsterdam (1999), Enduring Love (1998), The Innocent (1998), A Child in Time (1988).
McEwan writes with terrific elegance...a beautiful writer...famous for the way he juxtaposes the ordinary with the bizarre.

Panther in the Basement by Amos Oz. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1998.
Explores the gap between an idealistic Zionist dream and the harsh realities of Israeli life. Often his characters are baffled and bruised and disillusioned but recently he's tapped a gentler vane.

 

Joseph Epstein's Suggestions
Joseph Epstein is a premier essayist and literary critic and most recently author of Narcissus Leaves The Pool: Familiar Essays. Houghton Mifflin, 1999. He is also professor of literature at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and former editor of the American Scholar magazine.

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, with translation by C.K. Scott-Moncrieff and revised translation by Terence Kilmartin. Random House, 1982.
A voluminous work, and like all the really great large works, one that the reader never feels he or she has taken possession of. Wildly funny.

And Even Now by Max Beerbhom, William Heinmann, 1920. Out of print.
Beerbhom just seems to get smarter and smarter after several reads...sheer hedonistic pleasure...such a delight to be with such an interesting mind.

The Mind-Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein. Penguin Books Canada, 1993.
Filled with pleasant insights...among others the fact that academics dress worse the closer they seem to be to the truth.

 

Robert Everett-Green’s Suggestions
Robert Everett-Green is the music critic for the Globe and Mail newspaper.

Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning and the First World War by Jonathan Vance. University of British Columbia Press, 1997.
The First World War as a cultural event and something that had to be digested, defined and interpreted by Canadians during and after the War. Examines everything from amateur verse to popular songs.

Collected Poems by Philip Larkin, Faber & Faber, 1990.
It's a kind of quality of thinking associated with John Donne which is sometimes summed up in the phrase "metaphysical poetry". He'll pick an idea and work out a very intricate and beautiful and meaningful elaboration of that idea. Rex called Larkin the most accessible of the fine English poets ...poetry that is not abandoned in experiment.

Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World by Stephen Greenblatt. University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Probes into the minds of world famous explorers and their pre-set notions of what they were going to find.

 

Katherine Barber's Suggestions
Katherine Barber is the Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Oxford Univ. Press, 1998.

Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, 1989.
Endlessly entertaining, endlessly fascinating. Embodies the whole history of the language...a treasure trove of information. Rex says the OED illustrates the history of a word and its development over time by sighting authors starting around the time of Chaucer. It's simply the widest anthology (after Johnson's) of English expression at its highest level.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens,
Dickens has such a wonderful vocabulary, sense of humour and vividness of characters.

Object Lessons by Anna Quidlan. Random House of Canada Limited, 1997.
A "coming of age" story. There's a strong affection in Quidlan’s writing for the people she depicts, as in this story of an Irish Catholic family.

 

Cross Country Checkup’s Callers’ Suggestions

The Secret Book of Grazia Dei Rossi by Jacqueline Park, Simon & Schuster Trade, 1998.
An historical novel about Renaissance Italy that reminds us of how much that period still influences our lives. A wonderful story about how a Jewish woman copes after her fiance’s attention turns to another.

A Conversation With God: An Uncommon Dialogue by Neale Donald Walsch. Macmillan Library Reference, 1997.
Not a book about religion but a clear explanation in simplistic and concise detail about how to transform oneself and one's life into a life desired as opposed to a life wanted.

Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson. Doubleday Canada, 1998.
This book makes you laugh out loud... Bryson is novel, insightful and delivers important messages with humour and subtlety.

The Englishman's Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe. New Canadian Library, 1997.
One of the great pieces of North American literature...a footnote in history is brought to full dramatic potential...It’s brilliantly evocative...I was knocked out by it!

The Spirit Cabinet by Paul Quarrington. Random House Canada, 1999.
An amusing, vivid and delightful book. About magic in the non-magical world in which we live.

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel. Penguin Books Canada, 1996.
A wonderful story about a battle between two schools of science in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Intriguing, beautifully written and beautifully bound. A delight to hold.

The Professor and The Madman by Simon Winchester. Harper Collins Publishers, 1998.
A powerful story of how two men’s lives are intertwined in the development of an English dictionary.

Michigan Madman by E.J. Potter. Self-published. (Write to P. O. Box 968 Vero Beach, Florida 32961).
An autobiography of a Michigan farm boy who used Yankee know-how to tinker with engines in his own backyard and made a living performing stunts while touring England and the U.S.A.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres. Random House of Canada, 1995.
Great use of language, characters are drawn beautifully. It will make you laugh and cry.

Broken Ground by Jack Hodgins. McClelland & Stewart.
Quintessentially Canadian....about the search for identity and community. A compelling story with terrific language, powerful narrative and wonderfully developed characters.

Livingstone of the Arctic by Dudley Copland. (out of print, self-published Ottawa 1967)
About Livingstone’s journeys in the Arctic in the 1920s. He was a Hudson's Bay trader in the Arctic for 18 years before joining the RCAF. Gives an understanding of the Inuit in the North. He’s an early observer of the idea that Inuit were better off living on the land than in settlements.

The Monkey's Wrench by Primo Levi. Translated by Ruth Feldman. Penguin Books Canada, 1995.
One man’s stories of various rigging sites around the world...explores the joys people find in work.

The Rise of the Image the Fall of the Word by Mitchell Stephens. Oxford University Press, 1998.
Written by a journalist who’s dead-set for books but explores the possibilities of video and the Internet.

Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks. Harper Collins Canada, 1997.
Beautiful art and poetry that you can read over and over again...both intellectual and philosophical.

There’ll Be Another by David McFadden. Talonbooks Limited, 1997.
Conversational, narrative poetry. It's funny, zany on occasion, and also very moving ...the perfect thing to take to the beach.

Debbie: An Epic by Lisa Robertson. New Star Books, 1997.
Very funny, very brave poet with long form and current themes.

The Wars by Timothy Findley, Penguin Books Canada, 1996.
Worth many reads...One of the best indictments of war.

Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels, McClelland & Stewart, 1996.
To add to her three previous volumes of poetry, Ann Michaels has published a fourth with this novel that reads like poetry.

The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way. Hearst Book Group of Canada, 1991.

God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7 1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth by Brother Ty. Harper Collins Canada, Limited, 1999.
A take-off on self-help books, very entertaining.

Eminence by Morris West. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1998.
A wonderful story about the election of a new Pope. Something we're likely to live through in the next few years.

Father Elijah: An Apocalypse by Michael O'Brien, Ignatius Press, 1997.
Tracks Father Elijah through many countries of Europe where he confronts elements of his own past...A prolonged reflection on the contemporary cultural situation from the point of view of fates and modernity.

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word & Image by Leonard Shlain, Viking/Penguin,1998.
A story of how the rise of alphabet literacy is linked to social development and the way humans behave.

Diary of a Wilderness Dweller by Chris Czajkowski. Orca Books, 1997.
The true story of a self-sufficient woman who builds two cabins in the coastal range of British Columbia.

Elizabeth The Queen by Alison Weir. Century Publishing.
Highly-readable...Everything fits together like an elegantly-placed jigsaw puzzle.

Memoir from Antproof Case by Mark Helprin. Avon Books, 1996.
Particularly poignant and unusual...funny and satirical. Helprin runs the gambit in style.


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