Winner of 2017 Giller Prize

Winner of 2017 Giller Prize
Michael Redhill for his novel Bellevue Square

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reading on the Road




Reading on the Road

 A five-day drive requires a lot of reading decisions. This was not the first time I have driven due south through the heartland of the USA.  Freeway driving means passing near many small towns along the way and stopping overnight at motels. Newspapers of any kind are getting harder and harder to find in mid America. Few motels provide newspapers any more or have a newspaper box outside. None of the gas stations carried newspapers.  When I asked one motel clerk about newspapers, she said, “go on line.”  

Bookstores are tough to find too. So I had to stock the vehicle with reading material before I left. What to take? I love audio books and when travelling in the States they help when MPR fades and only preachers, church services and vile right wing commentators remain.

I brought along a Michael Connelly police procedural called Angel’s Flight. The miles flew by. Connelly is a strong writer, straightforward, and a master plotter.  A Connelly plot twists but always makes sense. In this genre, the crimes are just backdrop to the story of the cop and his relationships in and out of the force. LAPD Harry Bosch is typical: a nuisance to his superiors, a failure in love and an ex-smoker who is forever pulled back to the weed.

For reading in the dim light of the motel bedside lamp, and in the equally dim but much noisier breakfast room, I chose the following:

Margaret Atwood’s new book of short stories, Stone Mattress. Great choice! She calls her stories tales and says they are based on fairy tales but I found this claim a bit ingenuous. Atwood’s fantastic imagination and her strong prose carry each story effortlessly. I read one or two stores at night and thought about them the next day as I drove along. You don’t easily forget an Atwood story. And yes, Zenia, from The Robber Bride, does reappear.    

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese. A ne’er-do-well drunken father and his very different son set out on a final trip, the medicine walk, the journey towards death.  I was with the pair every step of the way.  A powerful book.


Pushkin’s Short Stories. I have read many of them before but still, a master is a master. In typical Victorian fashion, they start with a man saying to the unknown reader, in effect, “let me tell you this strange thing that happened to me.”After a few paragraphs on childhood, we are in, journeying into a card room where one man always wins, or journeying across the steppes to a military garrison where love and death await. Pushikin is the master of the telling detail. Each character is introduced with a few descriptive phrases and we effortlessly take the newcomer into the tale. Pushkin often puts a duel into a story; ironically, he himself died in a duel. Too bad. 

When I visited his house in St. Petersburg, I was in tears listening to his fate on the headphones. The Russian women guides rushed over to comfort me, patting me on the back and handing me tissues.  In true Russian fashion, they did not find my emotion embarrassing but completely normal. “Too young,” one said, squeezing my hand. “He left us too young.”

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