Tag Archives: Book Reviews

2017 in Books

Another year, another collection of books.

I missed putting together my 2016 year in books so here’s a quick round up courtesy of my Goodreads account:

  1. I read a lot of Deadpool comics.
  2. I read more women writers.
  3. I read two books of poetry (Czeslaw Milowsz and Leonard Cohen)
  4. I discovered a new (to me) mystery writer and series: Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce.
  5. I reread part of the Harry Potter series.
  6. In total I read 61 books, flying past my goal of 50. I credit the comics for a large part of that.

My goals were:

  • I would like to read more female writers. (24/61)
  • I’d also like to read more poetry. Poetry is like cake. It has to be savored. (Mmm, I guess I’m not very partial to cake? I read two books of poetry.)
  • I’d like to continue mining the classics, such as Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens. (Henry James, Robertson Davies, L.M. Montgomery, William Faulkner, Edith Wharton, Simone de Beauvoir, and Virginia Woolf all graced my 2016 shelves, so yes, I did that.)
  • I’d like to read more musical biographies/autobiographies. (3 – Patti Smith, Carole King, and Amanda Palmer.)
  • I’d like to read 50 books, surpassing my 44 of this year. (61/50!)

Since I did not have any new goals for 2017, I’m going to take the same lens I used for 2016 to review who and what I read in 2017.

  • I read 40/50 books in 2017. Less comics.
  • 6/40 I did not finish. Some I intend to return to because I own them.
  • 17/40 were written by women.
  • 24/40 were fiction.
  • 2 were classics.
  • 7 were memoirs or autobiographies, but zero were musical.
  • 0 poetry.

Most Notable

Although the memoirs I read were not musical, they were all fascinating in their own right. The one I’ve recommended most of all has been Hillary Rodham Clinton’s What Happened, which was written in a plain, beautiful language that points a lot of fingers and doesn’t fail to provide context to the craziest American election campaign ever.

I learned that if I’m going to review a book on the Internet, take the time to get the writer’s name right. Worst person’s name to mess up? Scaachi Koul, who’s One Day We’ll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, was awesome. To be fair, I’m not the only one who has messed up her name. She’s even written about it on Buzzfeed.

I was loaned a copy of The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk and I zipped through those 600+ pages of that post-apocalyptic utopian egrarian matriarchal universe and then wished it really did exist. Except for the part where there’s still societies that want to take all of that away.

Russell Brand’s Revolution is a great read, but he spoke to exactly one female expert. His entire thesis is based on the ideas of male thinkers and I think there’s a serious flaw in that. I like the idea that revolution can come from love, but how can you conceive of that idea and then completely ignore an entire section of humanity that bases almost all of their life choices on love? I mean, hello!

Finally, I think this thought that I tweeted out a few days ago sums up my experience of 2017 best:

To that end, I’m making a few new challenges for 2018.

2018 Reading Goals

  1. Read 50 books.
  2. Only women.
  3. Half pre-2000, half-post.
  4. Review them on the Punnery.

We’ll see how well this goes! Happy 2018, everyone! Wishing you all happiness, health, success, and joy, plus some time to read 🙂

Previous years: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012

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Book Review: One Day We’ll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

One Day We'll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Khoul

One Day We’ll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

Despite the title’s grimness, Scaachi Koul’s memoir is not as morose as one would assume. And that’s probably why the title is actually a clever visual trick. It cheekily tells you that Koul might seem like a typical apathetic Millennial writer, but she has real feelings and they’re deeply rooted in legacy and the places where we come from.

In her stories,  we learn about her Indian roots, from the lessons of her parents to the grueling process of a typical Indian wedding. I have to confess, I’m one of those lily-white idiots who’s casually articulated more than once that she’d love to go to an Indian wedding, having no idea how long the ceremony is (days) or how difficult it is for the bride (very).

I would categorize Koul’s writing as “hashtag life goals”. She’s just so good at turning a phrase. She’s funny and cavalier, but never annoying, which is a place many writers end up when they’re trying to be funny and cavalier. See Jian Ghomeshi’s “1982”. Or don’t. I couldn’t get past the first chapter.

Although Koul’s life experience is not the same as mine – she grew up in Calgary in an Indian family, while I grew up in Toronto and Hamilton in a Polish family, there are echoes of my own that makes it relatable. We both went to post-secondary in Toronto; her memories of the Dance Cave are mirror images of my own. And we are both the products of immigration, although every immigrant story is different.

One of the most poignant features of her book are the email exchanges with her father that bookend each chapter. It reminded me to look up my correspondence with my own father. Koul is lucky to still have her parents – and she worries about the day when she will no longer have them. As someone who has already experienced that tragedy (and I can honestly tell you that there is no experience that can hurt you as much as the death of a parent), it made me like Koul even more for including these imperfect exchanges with someone who’s influenced your life so much.

My father and I mostly emailed about our life updates and most, sadly, were written after he was diagnosed and in the process of fighting cancer. Before then we would often exchange a few sentences over the phone. I didn’t know how much I would come to wish more written exchanges with him until his memorial service when my sister read from her own emails with Tata.

This came from one of our few conversations. It was written before he was sick, when my parents were settling into their new life in Perth, Ontario. Tata was training to get his truck driver’s license (at the age of sixty!) It perfectly encapsulates my dad’s way of embellishing and building a phrase that so many people loved.

Here, in the woods, everything looks serene, I am in the middle of heavy truck combat training, will end and hopefully graduate on Sep. 8th. Yesterday I had an interview for lone ranger position in Scouts Canada camp on south side of Lake Christie. It went soooooo well, that today, I’ve got a phone call, with invitation for second interview. It may end with job offer, who knows?

For the record, he got the job. The Scout Camp was so good to my father, even after he was diagnosed shortly after taking the job. They supported him through his medical leave and my mother after his passing.

Both Koul and I admit that we owe a lot to our fathers. One day this will matter is the truth. Simple things like an email back and forth between you may not mean a lot now, but one day it may mean the world.

Book Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

born a crime trevor noahTrevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle. –-penguinrandomhouse.com

I have to keep reminding myself that this memoir is written by someone the same age as me. Born in 1984, Trevor Noah’s only a year older than me. I’ve never read a memoir written by contemporary before. I guess I’d better get used to it because now is the time when these things start happening. We’re all old enough now to have a few stories under our belt.

Hell, I’ve filled the Punnery with enough stories now that I’m beginning to revisit them, picking through them to see what I can elaborate on, turn into bigger and better things. Much like this memoir. Many of the stories in Born a Crime started off as jokes in Trevor’s stand-up act, like recounting the tail of feeling like “a bag of weed” whenever his parents walked past police because his father would cross the street and his mother would drop his hand.

Trevor and I were listening to Montel Jordan at the same time together. I, too, wanted to wear a ankle-length leather duster like Neo from The Matrix. We were both set free by the Internet. He sold bootleg CDs. I learned how to build websites so I could write whatever, where ever, I wanted.

While he was running through the streets of Johannesburg, I was living in Toronto with my family, completely unaware of what life might be like in post-apartheid South Africa. I knew it existed, but had no idea what it was.

In 1998, when I was about twelve years old, Nelson Mandela visited Toronto. My class went to the Skydome to hear him speak. I don’t remember a single thing about that trip, other than I know I was there.

I didn’t know what the hell apartheid really was as twelve year old sitting in the nosebleed section of the Skydome, watching a golf cart inch through the crowds on the astroturf below. Much like the end of Communism it was messy and confusing and it left a vaccuum in its wake that created chaos. That’s what Trevor Noah lived in, while I lived in Canada. While I was in Canada, watching Nelson Mandela speak on a Jumbotron, my family in Poland was dealing with the economic fall-out of post-Communist life in Poland.

I’ve already mentioned this part of the book:

“People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.”

I often wonder what would have happened if my family stayed in Poland. My father’s love of language likely would have still been passed on to me and my sister and my curiousity for the world would have likely led me to move to England, like thousands of other Poles my generation. Brexit would have a bigger impact in my life. Instead I am here in Canada. Would I have received the same fishing poles in that life? Impossible to tell because that life doesn’t exist. And as someone quite recently told me, our souls learn things in the time that they are given to us. We can’t speculate on what could have been done differently, because it’s all been done as it should have been done. And I value the fishing poles I’ve already been given in my life.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about life in South Africa post-apartheid, in the nineties and early oughts.

Book Review: The Hunger Games Series

Reviewing The Hunger Games series is a bit like spitting into the rain.

There’s already a billion opinions on it (most of them positive.)

I feel like I should at least note something about the series now that I’ve completed the books. At least so I can keep it in my Swiss cheese brain for a little while longer.

Violence is beautiful, poetic and often necessary when it comes to war. Casualties are not easy to take, nor should they be. Collins’ series has a lot of them. People you don’t expect to die, but then again, you never really expect to see that golden thread snapped in a novel, do you? If this were the Harry Potter series, I’d be bawling through the third novel. However, because I haven’t built a decade long relationship with these characters that has spanned fanfiction, fanart, a little bit of online RPGing (don’t you judge me) and a giving the first copy of the last novel out in our local Chapters, I didn’t. I felt misty, for sure, but I didn’t cry.

And it’d been an emotional day for sure: I read the last third of MOCKINGJAY in the OR waiting room while my father had surgery.

I digress.

What can I say about these novels? There’s a lot of internal conflict in the character of Katniss Everdeen. She’s a reluctant revolutionary, and yes, there are parts of the book that surprised me. The ending was alright. I wasn’t sure how the love triangle would work out in the end and Collins left me sated if not satisfied. Sated in that I didn’t really want to know more and what she divulged in the epilogue was just enough information. The only drawback to the Potter series (I’m sorry for continuing to compare but I must!) was the epilogue; it felt strange to know so much. Even in the film it looked weird to see Harry, Hermione, Ron and Draco twenty-plus years later with thinning hair, blazers and children. Collins just gives us a glimpse, and a really beautiful and poignant one at that, into the future that gives the reader a sense of peace at the end of all of the chaos.

It’s a good series. You should already know that, though. Would I give it to my own twelve year old daughter to read? (My twelve year old niece lent the series to my mother, who I’m visiting this week.) Er, there’s a lot of violence in it. There’s no sex in it, quite a bit of romanticism, but mostly it’s just bloody and violent. I don’t know. My niece is a voracious reader, just like I (and her mother) have been all of our lives. I suppose if my child should grow to be a reader too (and I hope she or he will!) then I can’t deny them a book, but I’ll warn them that it’s a gory one.

Series rating: 3/5