Friday, April 20, 2012

Books I Read During Exams

Here's what I read while rushing through exams and final papers this month...
  • Running the Books by Avi Steinberg
    • Published: October 2011
    • Genre: Non-fiction/auto-biography
    • Why I picked it up: Read a review, sounded interesting
    • Rating: 3 stars
    • My Thoughts:
      • I read this book for something a bit lighter than The Dodecahedron (see below). Not a whole lot to say.
      • The subject matter was interesting, but I'm not sure if I was a big fan of the structure of the book. Lots and lots and lots of snippets and anecdotes and little stories. It did feel somewhat disjointed at times, and when I was only halfway through the book (~150 pages) I felt like I had read a lot and how could there be another 150 pages to go? 
      • But like I said, the subject matter was interesting. I know very little about prison life, so i twas interesting to read a book from the perspective a young Jewish college grad running the prison library. (My favourite part of this book was imagining the author in the scenarios he described. Just take a look at his author pic...a very cute guy but picture him in a prison! Hee. This is something touched upon quite a bit in the book but once you see his photo it really comes to life. :P )
      • Worth a read if you've got any interest in prison libraries, but otherwise don't worry too much if you miss this one.
  • The Dodecahedron by Paul Glennon
    • Published: September 2005
    • Genre: Conceptual fiction
    • Why I picked it up: Read a blogger's review, sounded interesting
    • Rating: 4 stars
    • My Thoughts:
      • Sometime in late 2010, probably in December, I discovered book blogging. I went browsing through a lot of blogs, trying to find the ones that appealed to me. One of the blogs I looked at reviewed Canadian fiction, something I feel obliged to read more of since I am a Canadian (unfortunately that doesn't mean I actually do read more Canadian real rule is read whatever the heck I want). Anyhow. I can't remember the blog and I can't remember what the review said, but it made me take note of this book. I finally got around to reading it over the last couple of weeks!
      • I believe this is the first conceptual novel I have ever read. Most conceptual fiction I've encountered has been through university courses, where we looked at a text that was a list of alphabetical answers to a Rorschach test. For me, conceptual fiction was something totally abstract and out there, so I was impressed by the readability of The Dodecahedron. I mean, I didn't even remember it was a conceptual book at heart until I signed it out from the library and took a closer look at it. The novel is made up of twelve short stories, all told in distinctive styles from distinctive perspectives. A variety of themes/motifs carry throughout the book - the title of the novel refers to number of stories and the points at which each connects - each story shares five points with another, some extremely subtle (I don't think I noticed all five connections in any story) and others more obvious (the early exploration of America). I absolutely love things like this. That feeling you get when you realize you've read about that before, when you realize how the stories are connected. I think it was a really neat concept that was executed well.
        • A reader on GoodReads shared this fantastic chart which might perhaps defeat the whole purpose of the novel - after all, I think the reader should piece these things together on their own, see how things work, through multiple readings if necessary. But honestly, it would be pretty impressive for anyone to map out all connections on their own and, what the heck, I'm a sucker for reading 'supplement's like this. Pretty neat! 
      • It took a little bit for me to get into this book, but once I understood how it 'works' and what to expect, I settled in no problem.
      • Most of the stories were intriguing and well-written, despite the variety of genres and styles. One of my favourites was 'The Polygamist'. I forgot I was reading a collection of short stories and I was getting pulled into this character's story so much so that I was disappointed when it ended. I wanted to read his whole story! (Er, 'whole' is not the appropriate term here. I wanted to read more of his tale.) The following couple of stories fell flat for me, but I can't say whether that was in comparison to the story I adored so much or because of their own nature. 
      • Another favourite was 'The Last Story' which was, coincidentally, the last story - Glennon notes that the collection-cum-novel could have started with any tale. The end of the story had me laughing out loud at the post-modernity of it all - could Glennon actually have asked for those stories in an airport and gotten such an answers/
      • Other favourites: 'In My Father's Library', 'Why Are There No Penguins?' and  'Kepler's Orbit - Chapter 1: The Interrogation'. 
      • A final closing note: I wanted to purchase this book so I when I was near the bookstore, I popped in to check if it was on the shelf but no luck. When I was at a used bookstore a few days later, looking for something else, I walked past the Canadian Literature section and thought 'What the heck, I might as well check if they have it' and surprisingly they did! :) I was able to purchase it for $10; I walked out of the store very happy (I never find the books I need at used bookstores XP). 

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