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Archive for January, 2009

Go ahead, John

Like many booklovers around the world, I am saddened by the news that John Updike has passed away at 76 from lung cancer (see the New York Times obituary). He was my favourite modern author, one whose intricate fictions captured the spirit (the good, the bad, and the ugly) of the post-war American middle classes.

One thing that I admired about Updike was his excellence across so many genres. Not only was he a fine novelist, but he should also be remembered for his short stories, poetry, and criticism. In particular, I have always thought that his poetry deserved to be better known. As well, his prodigous output of book reviews, esssays, and art criticism (in magazines such as the NYRB and the New Yorker), which I have always looked forward to, will certainly be missed.

This is the first time that an author I have followed in print for so long (well over 15 years now) has died. I have come to feel like I know the man, and his passing ahead has (suprisingly) affected me in a more than trivial way. We have lost one of our greats. You will be missed, John!

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Another year of reading gone by! I have mixed feelings looking back on 2008. On the positive side, I was able to increase my reading over the previous year (even with the arrival of my second daughter) by finishing 50 books. Also, I am near completion of my project to read the complete Greek tragedies (all of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides). On the down side, and perhaps to be expected, I was unable to keep up with my ambitious schedule which called for about 100 books to be completed, and am especially disappointed at not being able to complete Herodotus and Thucydides.

It was difficult to choose my favorites for the year. The Greek tragedies had a profound impact on me, and I imagine re-reading many of them in the near future. In particular, the Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Sophocles’ Theban trilogy, and Euripides’ Trojan Women and Hecuba are standouts. My favourite non-classical reads for 2008 were Good To A Fault by Marina Endicott and The Origin of Species by Nino Ricci. Endicott’s novel, short-listed for the 2008 Giller prize, was a sublime examination of the notions of goodness and altruism, a novel of ideas presented around a fascinating cast of seemingly ordinary characters. It was a very pleasant surprise from a writer I did not previously know about. Ricci’s novel was a tour-de-force, a magnificent, sprawling, open-ended examination of life and death – a thought-provoking intellectual voyage. I’ll have more to say about these two soon.

The final list for 2008:

  1. Alberto Manguel (2007) – The City of Words: The 2007 Massey Lectures
  2. Jostein Gaarder (1995) – Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy
  3. Aeschylus (c. 472 BC) – Persians
  4. Aeschylus (c. 467 BC) – Seven Against Thebes
  5. Aeschylus (c. 470 BC) – Suppliants
  6. Will and Ariel Durant (1968) – The Lessons of History
  7. Al Purdy (1996) – Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets: Selected Poems 1962-1996
  8. Carlos Castenada (1968) – The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
  9. Robert Pirsig (1974) – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Enquiry into Values
  10. Sister Wendy Beckett (1996) – The Story of Painting
  11. Aeschylus (c. 458 BC) – Agamemnon
  12. Aeschylus (c. 485 BC) – Libation Bearers
  13. Aeschylus (c. 485 BC) – Eumenides
  14. M. Mitchell Waldrop (1992) – Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos
  15. Sophocles (c. 430 BC?) – Electra
  16. Euripides (c. 415 BC) – Electra
  17. Edna St. Vincent Millay, Nancy Milford (ed.) (2002) – The Collected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay
  18. Sophocles (c. 440 BC) – Ajax
  19. Will Durant (1935) – The Story of Civilization Volume 1: Our Oriental Heritage
  20. Sophocles (c. 442 BC) – Antigone
  21. Norman Ravvin (2002) – Hidden Canada: An Intimate Travelogue
  22. Sophocles (429 BC) – Oedipus the King
  23. Sophocles (401 BC) – Oedipus at Colonus
  24. John Schreiner (2005) – The Wines of Canada
  25. Sophocles (c. 431 BC) – Women of Trachis
  26. Euripides (414 BC) – Heracles
  27. Tom Wolfe (1981) – From Bauhaus to Our House
  28. Robert Bly (2004) – The Insanity of Empire: A Book of Poems Against the Iraq War
  29. John Steinbeck (1945) – Cannery Row
  30. Joseph Campbell (2004) – The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work
  31. Euripides (431 BC) – Medea
  32. Euripides (428 BC) – Hippolytus
  33. Romeo Dallaire (2004) – Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda
  34. Euripides (415 BC) – The Trojan Women
  35. Francis Bacon (1620) – Novum Organum
  36. Mary Swan (2008) – The Boys in the Trees
  37. Rawi Hage (2008) – Cockroach
  38. Mark Kingwell (2008) – Concrete Reveries: Consciousness and the City
  39. Euripides (424 BC) – Hecuba
  40. Anthony De Sa (2008) – Barnacle Love
  41. Rivka Galchen (2008) – Atmospheric Distrbances: A Novel
  42. Euripides (c. 408 BC) – Orestes
  43. Margaret Atwood (2008) – Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth
  44. Joseph Boyden (2008) – Through Black Spruce
  45. Pierre Berton (1974) – Drifting Home
  46. Bridget Stuchbury (2007) – Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing the World’s Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them
  47. Marina Endicott (2008) – Good to a Fault
  48. Nino Ricci (2008) – The Origin of Species
  49. Harold Bloom (2001) – How to Read and Why
  50. A.F. Moritz (2008) – The Sentinel: Poems

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