Summer flies by so fast and we are almost at the end of August. So what have we been reading this summer at the Law Society Libraries? We’re excited to share some of the books we’ve been reading.
When I was in university, I bonded with my favourite professor over our shared love of John Barth. This professor was a baby boomer and he recalled that, when he was growing up, all the cool kids would read any new novel by John Barth or Kurt Vonnegut. While Vonnegut is still widely read and widely praised, Barth has remained somewhat lesser known and, in my opinion, inadequately appreciated.
The Sot-Weed Factor (read: tobacco farmer) is a lengthy but highly entertaining satire of the picaresque genre, detailing the adventures of Ebenezer Cooke, who travels from England to America in the late seventeenth century. He encounters pirates, bears, Jesuits, Quakers, tavern-keepers, prostitutes, the landed gentry, millers, farmers, members of various Indian tribes, and a particularly cunning confidence artist. There are political machinations, reunions of long-lost relatives, secrets and devastating revelations. There is truly never a dull moment.
Among the remarkable coincidences and unbelievable twists that characterize such adventure stories, actual historical figures appear, including Charles Calvert, 3rd Lord Baltimore. Despite the implausibility of the events depicted, the reader comes away from the story having caught intriguing glimpses of the early days of the American colonies, and of Barth’s home, Maryland, in particular.
Some of The Sot-Weed Factor’s passages might – and indeed, ought to – offend the reader if taken out of context. However, Barth’s treatment of Indigenous characters is ultimately sympathetic. He does not excuse colonialism or downplay its deleterious effect on the native population.
Be aware that this is an oftentimes salty book. In one highly entertaining passage, two women exchange one-word insults for five whole pages, one in French, the other in English. Anyone looking for synonyms for “sex worker” (a term I personally find offensive) need look no further than this.
There are elements of the book that make the reader conscious of how much society has changed, not just since 1700 but since 1960. In spite of this, The Sot-Weed Factor is both hilarious and satisfying, and I recommend it wholeheartedly, particularly to anyone looking to unplug and get lost in a fictional world before summer is over.
If 17th-century white men’s voices and Ciceronean style do not appeal, The Break could be the novel for you. The Break is an intergenerational story of Indigenous women and girls in Winnipeg’s north end, delivered in a gorgeous and immediate plain style.
The title refers to a narrow, isolated strip of land that runs through the neighbourhood: “It’s Hydro land, was likely set aside in the days before anything was out there. When all that low land on the west side of the Red River was only tall grasses and rabbits, some bush in clusters, all the way to the lake in the north. The neighbourhood rose up around it.” As the novel opens, one of the main characters witnesses a scene of violence on the Break. The rest of the novel, narrated by various characters, provide the backstory leading up to that incident.
The Break‘s subject matter challenges the reader, but the complexity of the characters and the immediacy of the dialogue are undeniably compelling. Set aside a few hours, depending on how quickly you read, because you will be tempted to read all 350 pages in one sitting.
The Break could not be more of a contrast to The Sot-Weed Factor. It is serious and quick to read, its plot true to life and current. Canada needs more books like this one, and Canadians of all backgrounds need to read The Break.
Numerous reviewers on Goodreads contend that this book should have won CBC’s Canada Reads. A few disagree, protesting that if they wanted to be depressed, they could read stories like this in the news. That is simply false. Vermette goes deeper than any news reporter could, forcing the reader to come face to face with the legacy of colonialism that continues to haunt our country and simultaneously celebrating the strength and love of the people who survive, despite being treated as second-class citizens.
I have decided that I want to re-live my childhood excitement of reading the Harry Potter series once again. The series was my introduction to a lifelong love of reading and always filled me with a sense of wonderment. I have gotten more into audiobooks lately and have always heard that the audio version of the Harry Potter books was very well done, and that is true because Jim Dale beautifully narrates the series. I can’t wait to hear him narrate my favourite of the series, the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Harry Potter is returning to Hogwarts for his third year at the school of witchcraft and wizardry but a prisoner has escaped from Azkaban, the wizarding prison, and is said to be coming after Harry to finish the job he started when Harry was a child. Harry must delve into his parents’ history to discover what truly happened when he was a child.
In anticipation of the upcoming movie I have picked up A Wrinkle in Time again, one of my favourite science fantasy novels written by Madeleine L’Engle. It was very uncommon in the 1960s to have a female protagonist in a science fiction novel, but it was wildly popular and has won numerous awards since it was first published in 1963.
Meg Murray’s father is missing and it is up to her, her younger brother Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin to save him. With the help of three mysterious entities, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Witch, they will travel through the fifth dimension and fight the forces of evil.
On the recommendation of a co-worker I have downloaded the audiobook of one of George R. R. Martin’s less known novels, Fevre Dream, through our local public library. I haven’t heard much about this novel but I trust it will be as elaborate and well written as the Game of Thrones novels and I’m excited to see how Martin portrays vampires as characters.
Abner Marsh, a riverboat captain who has lost almost his entire fleet, has been offered a partnership with the strange and mysterious Joshua York to travel the Mississippi by steamboat. Marsh accepts on the condition that York helps him build his dream boat, the Fevre Dream. Narrated by Ron Donachie, this intricate novel really comes to life and almost makes you feel like you’re on a riverboat in the 1850’s.
While the Nazi party was being condemned by much of the world for burning books, they were already hard at work perpetrating an even greater literary crime. Through extensive new research that included records saved by the Monuments Men themselves—Anders Rydell tells the untold story of Nazi book theft, as he himself joins the effort to return the stolen books. When the Nazi soldiers ransacked Europe’s libraries and bookshops, large and small, the books they stole were not burned. Instead, the Nazis began to compile a library of their own that they could use to wage an intellectual war on literature and history. In this secret war, the libraries of Jews, Communists, Liberal politicians, LGBT activists, Catholics, Freemasons, and many other opposition groups were appropriated for Nazi research, and used as an intellectual weapon against their owners. But when the war was over, most of the books were never returned. Instead many found their way into the public library system, where they remain to this day.
Now, Rydell finds himself entrusted with one of these stolen volumes, setting out to return it to its rightful owner. It was passed to him by the small team of heroic librarians who have begun the monumental task of combing through Berlin’s public libraries to identify the looted books and reunite them with the families of their original owners. For those who lost relatives in the Holocaust, these books are often the only remaining possession of their relatives they have ever held. And as Rydell travels to return the volume he was given, he shows just how much a single book can mean to those who own it.
(Description from Penguin Random House)
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances.
In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the “Phantom Terror,” roamed—many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.
(Description from Penguin Random House)