Reading Round-Up: 16th July, 2016

June and July have been surprisingly good for reading material. Let me tell you about it!

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Elizabeth Hay — A Student of Weather

A better title for this book might have been A Lifetime of Small Disappointments, or perhaps The Most CanLit Book You’ll Ever Read. Hay is a fantastic writer who seems to make some bizarre rookie mistakes in her books (weird shifts in narrative positioning, segues that don’t amount to anything meaningful) but manages to pull them off. This book is one little CanLit bummer after another, from prairie austerity, to sexist propriety of the past, to quiet unrequited love. But the three principle characters are compelling (especially the main character), the development of these characters across the lifespan is convincing and nuanced, and in general Hay rewards the reader in every scene with evocative details of place and person. Overall, not as good as her Late Nights on Air, but that book was spectacular and would be hard to beat. Definitely worth a read.

 

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Jonathan Lethem — Chronic City

Full disclosure: there’s a distinct turning point in my thoughts on Lethem’s books. Motherless Brooklyn and everything before really enthralled me, as much in his ability to play as in the execution, but Fortress of Solitude onward have been consistently disappointing for me. As such, I had low expectations for this book and put off reading it for years. Turns out it’s pretty good! The premise sounds horrible on paper to me (former child star actor, with a doomed astronaut lover, languishes in New York and smokes a lot of weed), but the execution is sharp and often very funny. Lethem finds a way to make these characters’ marijuana-fueled hijinks as exciting and compelling for the reader, rather than placing the reader on the outside of the hot box. There’s also a hint of toying with reality throughout, a fantastic ambiguity, that I really enjoyed. Still not quite as satisfying as some of his early work, but a great surprise nonetheless.

 

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Harry Frankfurt — On Truth

I keep two books on my work desk at all times. One is Frankfurt’s On Bullshit, and the other is his On Truth. These two tiny treatises on the necessity of truth, in a world rife with bullshit and lies, are essential reading not only for my neuroscience career, but for my interpersonal life in general. Frankfurt’s argument—that truth is worth loving, that we should value it because it helps us become more ourselves—resonates with me and constantly reminds me to hold myself to a higher standard. The truth may be difficult to acknowledge, harder still to accept, and occasionally brutal to embody, but it is ultimately the best way to live. I read these two little books every year. I would recommend anyone I met to do the same.

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