Friday Round-up: what some of us at Shelf Life Books are into right now…

Karlene: More than anything – more than fashion, displacement, class, Italy – this novel is about two men circling each other, stilted mirror reflections too vague & aloof in their drifting purposelessness to truly meet. Ie: “I want to tell him, here in the quiet of his apartment, that I recognize this in him. But as I try to begin, in tone more than words, he pretends not to know what I’m talking about, all the while looking at me with the most understanding eyes. His eyes alone seem proof of the existence of this secret world of making which we could share. But he refuses to vocally indulge me. I don’t know what to do.” This man seeks himself beneath the constructed & elaborate sheen of another man, obsessively, with no way of breaking it, no desire to break it, only to secretly/guiltily see through: “It’s clear, after that afternoon in his flat, our first proper meeting, that he doesn’t want me as a friend. From what he says it is clear that any new friends would be completely superfluous to his needs. I decide I have to change my tack if I want to stay close to him. I don’t want him to confess himself to me anyway. I think.”
See review by Jarrett Kobek (Atta).

Igor: This 1929 novel takes place in an unspecified time between the mid to late 19th century, first in a colonized Jamaica and then on the high seas. The choice of Henry Darger artwork on the cover is perfect for the atmosphere of this novel – a combination of playful, cartoony mayhem and humour with startling, dark and bizzare undertones. The flow of the story and the various unexpected plot turns give it a feel of delirium and create a feeling of unease throughout, even during seemingly innocent and benign scenes. However, Hughes’ visceral tongue-in-cheek narration makes the novel highly readable and enjoyable throughout. It is full of deep, nuanced insight into childhood, including an unsentimental exploration of its darker, more primal elements. He addresses his readers directly and accessibly, giving the impression of a clever friend in on the joke of it all and guiding you through the absurdity of the events. The overall effect is a unique and fascinating literary experience, which often ends up being true to life in strange ways.

Karlene: This book is from the mind behind The Mountain Goats. If forced to sum up this entire complicated novel in one word, it would be: escapism. Nominated for the 2014 National Book Award, fiction. Read a summation here and an excerpt here.

Will: Enjoying and impressed as always by local author Fred Stenson’s upcoming release Who By Fire. Lucky to get an advance copy (so not allowed to say much) and excited to hear him speak/read at his book launch here on the 25th.
Caroline Adderson on Fred Stenson: “On the page Stenson is like Frank Sinatra in a stetson – smooth and pitch perfect. And if details give literature its staying power, Stenson is writing for the ages” (The Globe and Mail).

Karlene: Just started Beginning to See the Light: Sex, Hope and Rock-and-Roll by Ellen Willis, collected essays/articles from late 60s-80s. While the sister collection No More Nice Girls (as named her 1970s pro-choice protest group) contains more of Willis’ counterculture feminist writing, outlining a clear shift in her views from the 80s to the 90s, Beginning to See the Light focuses on music reviews, topical issues (a rape case, the abortion debate), cultural crit & bio pieces, all carried by the rebellious spirit of the era. In the 2nd introduction, Willis writes that to her, these essays “reflect the tension between my belief in the possibilities the sixties had opened up and my life in a society that was closing down.” Willis died in 2006, though remains an important figure in political feminism, activism & music criticism.