Here's what's on my reading list
By Julio Gomes
In the newspaper business, the Book Review is like an unloved stepchild. Cloistered in the back pages, sometimes of a back section, it’s an odd creature. The Book Review demands a commitment that isn’t typical of a reporter’s life: research, then hours and days of trekking through a new release, then an article that aims to be timely and illuminating.
By contrast there’s the carefree sibling: the Music Review. A new CD arrives, you plunk it in your home stereo or car, and you spend an hour with it for a few days and then fire off a short review. No fuss, no muss (at least it was until digital downloading blew up the traditional business model).
Ah, the unappreciated, slightly highbrow Book Review and the lonely toil it engenders — just ask Chronicle-Journal contributors Deborah de Bakker and Hubert O’Hearn. Only one who has tackled this line of work can appreciate the struggles they endure. It’s not for everyone and many take a pass on the challenge, myself included.
That’s not to say I’m not a book lover. I obviously am (if you’re employed in the newspaper business, then you love words). But staying abreast of the newest releases is a mug’s game. Walk into the Chapters store and prepare to be staggered by the stacks of new offerings. It’s overwhelming. Since I don’t have unlimited hours in a day, I stick to the classics (Moby Dick) and newer works that have passed muster with critics (The Brothers Sisters).
Which raises another issue. Why can’t a book review be about something that isn’t hot off the press? Why can’t we train the spotlight on something that has aged more than that fruity merlot you just picked up at the liquor store? After all, if my tastes veer between the offbeat and the tried and true, isn’t that the case for most book readers?
Here, then, the first installment of an occasional series we’ll call My Reading List. This is what I’ve read in 2012 and the impressions they’ve made on me. Please enjoy.
• War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy (translation by Andrew Bromfield, 2007)
a meticulous 50-year effort to re-construct Tolstoy’s first version of his sprawling work; consider it an appetizer for the 1,500-page standard edition (!)
• The Western Canon: the Books and School of the Ages, by Harold Bloom (1994)
the Harvard University dean surveys 26 of the leading lights of Western literature; of course, everything and everyone is permeated by that guy from Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare!)
• Three Stations, by Martin Cruz Smith (2010)
the further adventures of rumpled Moscow investigator Arkady Renko makes for a breezy if not wholly compelling thriller
• Strange Pilgrims, Twelve Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1993)
a dozen intriguing offerings from the master of magic realism, dating from 1976-92
• Cold North Killers: Canadian Serial Murder, by Lee Mellor (2012)
(see full review from March 25, 2012 at chroniclejournal.com)
• The Family Arsenal, by Paul Theroux (1976)
a book that’s sat on my book shelf for decades: a laudable effort from Theroux, but too oblique and an ending that mystifies but does not satisfy
• Life of Pi, by Yann Martel (2001)
• Beatrice & Virgil, by Yann Martel (2010)
after the exquisite, exotic five-course culinary delight of Life of Pi, B & V, while substantial, goes down like an order of “filet mignon” plucked off a truck-stop restaurant menu
• The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass (translation by Breon Mitchell, 2009)
50th anniversary re-issue of Grass’s post-war fever dream: three-year-old Oskar, his red-and-white lacquered drum, Nazi evil worming into bourgeois hearts, and the struggle to emerge from the darkness
• The Rough Guide to Led Zeppelin, by Nigel Williamson (2007)
overview of the career and recordings of the seminal ‘heavy’ band — just for a change of pace
• Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman (2011)
coming-of-age novel told by 11-year-old Ghanian immigrant living in London housing projects; whimsical and endearingly naïve, our narrator straddles the great divide between adolescent wonder and the mean streets of adulthood
(A life-long book reader, Julio Gomes is managing editor of The Chronicle-Journal.)