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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Books Read Lately: Boyd, Ondaatje, Atwood

In 2012 I was fortunate to have been able to read 27 books. This year I’d like to read more than 30; if I can read 35 I’ll be truly a happy reader, and better off for the challenge. While I’m not in this for some speed contest, I do make time each day to read, usually about 50 pages.

Here are my first three titles of the year. Oh – I should have dated this column from Jan 22nd, which is when I finished the third book (I always post in groups of 3 books read) but I’ve been busy writing my next novel, and generally occupied otherwise.

Any Human Heart by William Boyd

I didn’t want to like this book after I read the first 50 pages. All the events and coincidences seemed too pat. And then something happened: life wasn’t so cheery and easy after all. And that’s where this book makes its true mark. We readers sometimes forget that, in point of fact, we can put ourselves into the shoes of characters. In this book, it’s inevitable that you think about where your own life has tread, and where it’s headed.

Her tan is complete, opaque brown all over. She continues on without a glance at me, this old man in his cream suit. Two worlds collide at this moment, it seems to me — mine and the future. Who could have imagined that such an encounter would have been possible on a beach in my lifetime? I find it quite exhilarating: the old writer and the naked Dutch girl—perhaps we need a Rembrandt to do it full justice.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

There is a decidedly poet nature to this short novel that packs so much story into its fast-reading pages. I think the imagery helps fill out what one might think is “missing.” But beware, this story of a love affair (two or three, actually) demands that you peer closely at each scene. There is a world being built, one stone at a time.

Sometimes when she is able to spend the night with him they are wakened by the three minarets of the city beginning their prayers before dawn. he walks with her through the indigo markets that lie between South Cairo and her home. The beautiful songs of faith enter the air like arrows, one minaret answering another, as if passing on a rumour of the two of them as they walk through the cold morning air, the smell of charcoal and hemp already making the air profound. Sinners in a holy city.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

The notorious Grace Marks was convicted of killing two people outside Toronto in the 1840s. Her story was the topic of newspapers, magazines, books, and the public for months, even years. Just that minute portion of doubt regarding her full duplicity in the crimes saved her from the gallows. Her life of 28 years behind bars, and the days leading up to and after the crime, are chronicled by Atwood’s careful hand, inquisitive mind, and steady pacing.

The minister looked like a heron, with a pointed beak of a nose and a long skinny neck, and a tuft of hair sticking up from the top of his head. The sermon was on the subject of Divine Grace, and how we could be saved by it alone, and not through any efforts on our own part, or any good works we might do. But this did not mean we should stop making efforts, or doing good works; but we could not count on them, or be certain that we had been saved, just because we were respected for our efforts and good works; because Divine Grace was a mystery, and the recipients of it were known to God alone[.]


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

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