These books reviews include the following truths: I drastically underestimate The Fault in Our Stars, I accidentally get drunk while reading a book about alcoholics, I interview Jay Onrait at Chapters, and I finish “Push” in 3 hours while writing these reviews. All books are rated with a “pass” as in don’t waste your time, “ponder” as in it’s life-changing deep man, or “proceed” as in worth a read on a rainy day. “My Height in Books” reviews have reached the ribcage!
Under all circumstances, I will finish a book. Even if my eyes are bleeding and boredom is clawing at my brain like rats in an overturned tin bucket, I will finish simply because I need to know. However completing some of these next books was like traversing rocky terrain while dragging a corpse, and trying desperately not to get stuck on the jagged edges. Alas, I pushed forward, finished the mind marathon, and now with brain cells coated in iron, I can slice through the ramblings of any self absorbed Sedaris-inspired monologue. Speaking of…
1) Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – David Sedaris (PASS)
I tried, I tried really hard to like your writing David. Yes I read tales of how you killed endangered animals, never got the approval of your dad, wrote a racist rant and picked up trash from the streets, but what was the point of it all? Are you being insightful or funny, jaded or flippant? The problem is, I just couldn’t bring myself to care with whatever it was you were doing. “But he is SUPPOSED to be funny,” I would say to myself, “maybe YOU are the problem, maybe YOU just aren’t getting it.” And after some time I realized that is exactly it, I just don’t get your kind of funny. The books’ longer rants, such as having your passport stolen, are sluggish and void of meaning. David you are middle-aged and beginning to act like it, but instead of being the “Shit My Dad Says” kind of funny, you are being “When I was a kid, spanking was Kosher and look how I turned out” kind of unfunny. My friend Jen is quite upset with my disdain. “But have you read Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk?” she asks. “Okay well I’m going to get you to read one story in particular.” I guess that’s it then, my relationship with David is destined to get another go. So essentially, why read Sedaris? Because his unrelated titles are catchy for some, for others it’s that one story that caused a chuckle, but for most, it’s that people will hate you as much as David hates you if you don’t.
2) “It” by Stephen King (PROCEED with caution, and skip the middle)
I have always found that there is something magical about King’s writing that both works for him and against him. The good magic comes in his effortless weaving of terrifying imagery that doesn’t feel like it is affecting you at first, until the lights go out and the shadows take form. In this case it’s Pennywise the Clown dancing on the edges of the mind, the dead children in the sewers, or the dreadful paragraph about a puppy locked in a refrigerator that will haunt me forever. How does he even think of that stuff? Then, as with all King novels, the magic gets lost in the middle. It reminds me of what a movie would look like if the thousands of takes weren’t edited down to one. Yes you would still get the point of the movie, but not without the effort of mentally sifting through the nonsense. With more drone than the Middle East, it’s somewhere in that fateful middle that the porridge gets too cold. The book begins to drag by the weight of its own unnecessary detail, and bloated by boredom it hobbles along seeking purpose. I slogged through the trenches of King’s middle ground until I could see the comforting glow of the dénouement peeking through the drab. What occurred after the slowest 250 pages of backstory was some of the most fascinating work I have ever read. How…HOW did he manage to describe the entire universe and everything beyond using a spider and a turtle? The mind warp ventures further still when we become a billion year old consciousness that believes no force is greater than itself. It is belief that drives the story, the imagination, and the power of the mind both for evil and against evil. King says, “a stake was just a piece of wood until someone believed it could kill a vampire.” And as much as It is Pennywise the Clown, It is only so because you believe it to be the truth. Oddly, this is also its most vulnerable state, for a shape shifter must abide by the laws of the body it inhabits, while the mind can traverse space and time. It was like trying to understand the monstrosity of the universe by means of a human stepping over an ant hill. Or weirder yet, the great celestial unknown is just something a sick turtle vomited after a stomach ache the size of eternity. There are no limits, only space, no shapes, only perspective. And a bunch of kids crawling through the sewers towards a clown that is the entirety of evil since before the world, with no real body, only mind against mind.
3) Kasher in the Rye – Moshe Kasher (PROCEED)
This book came into my possession on the bottom floor of the Shaw building. In this land of lost books I gravitated towards the obscure, like a collection of obituaries. And then, tucked away beneath boxes of books accumulated over years of author interviews on The Rush with Fiona Forbes, I found this gem. I picked it up because I thought it was “Catcher in the Rye.” I kept it because it wasn’t. All the books I gained that day have “Thanks for the great interview Finny” written on the inside flap, but I pretend they are addressed to me, only me. The blunt humor, from the cover to the last page, kept me hooked. I mean how could you not love this lead up: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16. Kasher takes some seriously convoluted and destructive situations and turns them into hilarious reflections. If I didn’t know he turned out okay in the end (hint: he published a book) then I would have had some serious doubts. Critics have said that it moves along too fast from “my life sucks” to “surprise I’m a recovered drug addict!” But maybe that’s how his addiction worked, first it consumed him, ate him alive, chewed him up, discarded him like waste. Then when he fought back, it was so sudden, recovery was quick, but it took years. I recommended this read to my once cynical gay friend (think repressed and angry) who has found love for the first time. Not because it reminded me of him, but because I think this book reflects a life seen through a fog of shit until you finally figure out how to flush. Or accept that you love men. Giving up drugs or finding love, may our lives be forever better because of it.
4) Anchorboy – Jay Onrait (PROCEED – if you are MANLY and like SPORTS and are CANADIAN)
People are eternally fascinated by nobody’s who became somebody’s, and how they did it. This point A to point B book is an easy, entertaining and humorous read that meanders through the life of one of Canada’s most beloved sportscasters, as he ventures from prairie pusher to semi-famous. The release of “Anchorboy” is the perfect ending to a chapter in Onrait’s life as he moves from TSN to Fox1 in America. This book is almost always funny, with light-hearted tales of toilets, the genuine glee of a man in a unitard, and sweating up the streets of Vancouver running towards a golden ticket. Then, sometimes it’s muffled, as if he can’t quite say the whole truth without risking a backlash. It is tough to write with all honesty when you still need a job, I get it. Because of this, it is but a glimpse into what must have been an arduous journey, and while his struggle is documented, I feel that somehow it’s lacking. This is coming from a female reader however, someone who wants to hear about the late nights spent doubting his talent, the disbanding of his first marriage, and how he fell in love again. For a man, it’s all SPORTS and HUMOUR and POO, so it’s essentially perfect. I had the pleasure of meeting Onrait and I will never forget the kindness he brought to the interview. More than that, the interest he took in my career path when we were both there to talk about him. His honesty, humility and advice allowed me to bring many tidbits back to the hungry men of the news room, like chunks of meat straight from the heart of the beast. Before “Anchorboy” risks getting into the territory of seeming one dimensional, he shares his colossal failure of a show similar to The Soup. It’s a very “don’t you see, my life isn’t always easy” strategy, and it works. For what it is, and who he is, I look forward to the next book. Above all, I commend him for having the courage to write this one.
5) The Fault in Our Stars – John Green (PROCEED with tissue)
My friend Monique would kill me if I ever said anything negative about John Green. The end.
This is a book about cancer, no that’s wrong. This is a book about the person the cancer infects, and who the cancer affects. No, that’s wrong too. This is a book about love.
6) Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol (PASS – use money for beer)
This book gave me nothing I didn’t already know. I read this book to better understand the world around me, and instead found myself with a martini in hand waiting for a reason to put it down. No such reason came. Award-winning journalist Anne Dowsett Johnston pads the pages with statistics, quotes from interviews with experts, research studies, conversations with recovering alcoholics and personal anecdotes.The subject matter is important, I just don’t know if the book itself is important. I found the most interesting and refreshing part of the book was when it ventured behind the scenes of marketing companies battling it out for attention. Corporations have developed strategies targeting women specifically, including wine by the name of Girls’ Night Out, MommyJuice and Mommy’s Time Out, as well as berry-flavoured vodkas and fruit coolers. Brilliant! Tell me more. Then comes her downfall: attempting to tackle this “epidemic” of alcohol consumption in women in such short chapters that it feels unfulfilled. I’m glad that among the research were Anne’s personal truths about her struggle as an alcoholic, without that, it would have been void of all human substance. The book as a whole felt out of touch, such as discussing the importance of avoiding drinking while pregnant, and (gasp) how women in college are binge drinking. Tell me something I don’t know, show me something new when I look in the mirror or look at my mother. In this, the message is only half way there, and the glass is half empty.
7) Push – Sapphire (PONDER – you think you’ve got problems?)
The opening line says it all: “I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby for my fahver.” The deliberately poor grammar, the unfathomable situation of a child molested by her father, the fact that it led to a baby and then finally utter and empty abandonment. Push is written in the voice of a poor, illiterate, fat black teenage girl living in Harlem. I found her, and the characters that followed, effective in their individual messages. They aren’t supposed to be complicated because their minds are in survival mode, it’s simple. Do what it takes to make it through the day, write in notebook; poems about stealing fried chicken and riding public transit through the slums, minimize pain, make money. At times vulgar, but always honest, the character’s suffering was never concluded – such is life.