Spain Remembers

Spain Remembers

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Best and Worst of My Reading in 2012 – Part 1.

Read a good book this year?  or many good books?  Share the titles.  Send your picks to and I'll post them on the blog.

This year, 2012, I read exactly 100 books, or I will if I finish Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan before twelve midnight, New Year’s Eve. 

As usual, I reread a few old friends including two novels by Willa Cather: My Antonia and Death Comes to the Archbishop. Wonderful Willa. She never disappoints and you are left wishing she had written more novels.  Next, I reread The Wind in the Willows, as delighted as ever to feel it reanimate the child-like side of my nature.

 I admire George Orwell, as a writer and a political thinker. I love his clear, straightforward prose style, but I found Homage to Catalonia a slog, perhaps because I have read so many war novels in a long life of reading, or perhaps because the dirty little secret of the Spanish Civil War, the fact that the Communists sabotaged the democratic forces which allowed the fascists to win, has been out in the open for a long time. A rereading of Orwell’s novel, A Clergyman’s Daughter, was also a slog, this time a didactic slog. It has aged poorly, much like the clergyman himself. On the other hand, Orwell’s famous essay, "Shooting an Elephant", is as luminous as ever, tying up the many strands of colonialism into one bundle of story. Orwell was a colonial administrator in Burma but unlike his British colleagues, who isolated themselves within their clubs and double gins, Orwell saw the reality behind the imperialist facade.
I read a lot of short stories this year, mostly in Canadian literary magazines but I also listened to a lot too.  Every morning, The New Yorker podcast of short stories helps me through my routine of physio exercises. As usual, I reread "The Dead" by James Joyce. I am not sure how many times. I think I have the thing almost memorized but even so, I still believe it is the greatest short story ever written.  However, I am now caught up in "The A&P" by John Updike, a story that sticks with you by means of that mystical glue all great stories possess.

Here is no particular order are ten of the best short stories from the many I read (or listened to) this year.

1. "Concerning the Body Guard," by Donald Barthelme.  This story is written as a series of questions which lead, interrogatively, to a menacing conclusion.

2. "Bluebell Meadow," by Benedict Keily. In the 1930’s Ireland, a Catholic girl and a Protestant boy are endangered by the talk in the town.

3. "City Lovers," by Nadine Gordimer. Apartheid South Africa and a European takes up with a coloured woman. In a viciously racist society, the lovers try to snatch a private life.

Nadine Gordimer

4. "Intimate Strangers," by Eve Joseph, from the Malahat Review.

5. "A Day," by William Trevor. A woman remembers the day she learned her husband was having an affair.  After the Great Alice, I believe Trevor is the best contemporary short story writer.

6. "God-damn Ranch," by Thomas McGuane  A cowboy works at a strange ranch.

7. "Something Else," by Grace Paley. A group of American sociologists visit Communist China.

8. "Eating Dirt," by Charlotte Gill. The life of a BC tree planter.

9. "Axis," by Alice Munro. A boyfriend visits his girl at her farm but her mother walks in during sex and he flees.  Then the author does her Magic Alice Dance, leading the reader through changes in time, place and point of view so smoothly that you, mesmerized, follow on.  Later you can go back and figure out how she does it.  Good luck.

10. "Violent Friday," by Ernest Hekkanen. Published in the New Orphic Review The first sentence starts: “The day began with a random act of violence.”  After an opening like that, your are hooked.

Earnest Hekkanen


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