Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Murchie Plus Books: January 15th to 21st

I make my dog pose with everything I read, barring single issue comics. When he isn't up to this challenge, I call upon stand-ins.

The photos go live on Instagram as I edit them and usually appear here in digest form every Sunday, with descriptive alt tags and additional commentary. Sometimes life intervenes and they go up on Tuesday instead.

Last week’s Not Pictured selections included lots and lots and lots of X-Men comics. I hit UNCANNY #475, then zipped back in time to tackle some one-shots, Annual issues, and miniseries I’d missed. I also reread DEADLY GENESIS, which made a lot more sense with hundreds of issues of X-Men under my belt. It reaffirmed my belief that Professor X is the worst, too. Seriously, the dude may talk about building a happy world for everyone, but he’s way too quick to mess with peoples’ heads when it suits his purposes.

Mindwiping people is not appropriate behavior, Professor X. Not now, not ever.

A large-headed Funko Pop bobblehead of Baby Groot stands next to a white Kobo, propped upright in its grey case. The screen holds the cover of Food For Thought, which features a small black cat against a slurry of handwritten, sepia-toned pages.

I loved TRUTH IN THE DARK so much that I decided to squeeze in one last Amy Lane book before my Scribd membership ended. I combed through the catalogue in search of novellas and finally settled on FOOD FOR THOUGHT [Amazon | Scribd], in which Emmett, a closeted gay guy who longs for a family, learns families are a lot more variable than his life to date has led him to believe. When his sorta-adoptive mom gives him an old family cookbook, he gains some clarity by preparing one of the recipes with his neighbour/best friend/uber-crush.

The resulting novella is mostly very sweet, with moments of remembered sadness and one deeply upsetting incident involving Emmett's girlfriend, with whom he does not part ways before he embarks on his quest for clarity. I teared up.

A word of warning: the novella is much shorter than its presentation leads one to believe. The last 28% of it is ads for Lane's other books.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, burries his face behind a white Kobo with the cover of The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year Six on it. The cover features a cloaked figure staring at a massive, silver spaceship with clawed legs and its front broken off.

I thought my Scribd membership ended at midnight on the 14th, but it turned out I still had access to my account on the 15th as well. I took advantage of the opportunity to finish THE BEST OF BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES YEAR SIX [Amazon | Scribd], which I'd been picking away at for a few weeks and thought I'd have to finish online (the individual stories being available for free through the magazine's website).

On the whole, I connected with fewer of these stories than I have with any other BCS anthology, but the good ones were very good. My favourites include:

Murchie lies on a cow-shaped pillow. He wears an orange t-shirt and has his head raised and one paw extends before him. Propped upright behind him is a hardcover copy of Tommy Douglas. Its cover features a slightly abstracted drawing of a brown-haired white man wearing glasses.

One of my goals for 2017 is to read two volumes of Canadian nonfiction per month. I used THE PROMISE OF CANADA by Charlotte Gray as a jumping-off point to compile a library list that’s since expanded to include titles I discovered during random searches or via my local paper. My plan is to bounce around between parties and issues so I get a balanced view of where my country's been and where it's headed.

I started off with Vincent Lam's TOMMY DOUGLAS [Amazon], one of the biographies in the Extraordinary Canadians series. Douglas championed our healthcare system and many other social programs that Canadians now consider integral parts of our country, helped found the New Democratic Party, and was voted the Greatest Canadian during a 2004 poll. He struck me as an excellent and interesting place to begin, and I was right.

I've added Lam's other books to my list, too.

Murchie, dressed in a pink hoodie with white trim, peers at the view from behind a paperback copy of Multiple Choice. The book's cover is pale blue and modeled after a student notebook, with the options Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, All of the Above, and None of the Above in a white box in the centre.

Jenny pointed me towards Alejandro Zambra's MULTIPLE CHOICE [Amazon] when I went in search of more Chilean fiction. As the cover suggests, the book is a little bit fiction, a little bit poetry, and a little bit nonfiction. It takes the form of a Chilean standardized test, and for the most par it's impossible to complete. The questions become more complex as the book rolls along, shifting from word associations to sentence constructions to story constructions to reading comprehension tests. The format forces the reader to reflect on the circumstances under which we construct meaning and the outside forces that compel us to view information in a certain light. And as the test progresses, the questions become fully realized stories that challenge the format, making it increasingly difficult for the reader to reform them according to personal preference.

It's masterfully done. I'm gonna have to seek out more of Zambra's work.

Murchie pokes his head out of a red blanket cave, his nose lowered to touch his extended front paws. Propped up in front of him is a trade paperback copy of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Its cover features a white-haired girl silhouetted against a red sky, a bare tree arching above her.

I’m pleased to report THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA [Amazon] is as wonderful as AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Robert Hack lean into the creepy factor in all the best ways. This ain’t the Sabrina I watched on TV when I was a kid. Everything’s dark and complicated and devilish, and I’ll look forward to the next volume.

A white iPod lies atop a partially-done puzzle of an anthropomorphic white rabbit wearing a crown of grapes. Its screen holds the cover of Homegoing, which features red bushes and blue waves stretching across a solid yellow background.

Yaa Gyasi’s HOMEGOING [Scribd Audio] has gotten a ton of buzz lately, and I’ll add my voice to those who've loved it. It’s a novel in extended vignettes, each of which highlights a different member of the same family. Gyasi begins in the eighteenth century with two half-sisters on the Ivory Coast, one of them married to a British slaver and one of them enslaved, then follows their descendants through the centuries. It’s powerful, affecting stuff, though in the early hours I was disappointed to spend so little time with each character. That became less of an issue as I adjusted to the book’s structure.

A very blurry Murchie sits behind a white Kobo with the cover of Shades In Shadow on it. Murchie wears his orange t-shirt. The cover features a heavy, circular piece of ironwork.

Orbit raised their Canadian prices a couple months back, which unfortunately made their ebook-only short fiction less accessible to me. Luckily, my library recently licensed a bunch of Orbit’s short stories and novellas for their e-reserve, so I was finally able to read N.K. Jemisin’s SHADES IN SHADOW [Amazon] last week. The book collects three short stories: one about Nahadoth, one about Ahad, and one about Glee. It felt great to be back in the Inheritance world again, if only for a tiny stretch of time.

Murchie curls up behind a white Kobo with the cover of The Blue Castle on it. The blue cover features a roundel of a stern-faced white woman wearing a white bonnet and a blue dress with a white fichu.

Then I decided I had to reread THE BLUE CASTLE by L.M. Montgomery [Feedbooks], restraint be damned.

You know about THE BLUE CASTLE, right? Because it’s everyone’s favourite LMM novel? Valancy’s a twenty-nine-year-old lady who’s spent her whole life in thrall to her ghastly relatives, so it’s almost a relief when a heart specialist tells her she’s got maybe a year to live. Eager to make the most of the time she’s got left, she cranks the snark into high gear, takes a job as a housekeeper-slash-companion to the friendly town drunk and his consumptive daughter, and asks the local reprobate with a Mysterious Past to marry her for no better reason than that she loves him.

It’s great, but I always forget how long it takes Valancy to actually break free of her awful family. (I once heard it said Jane Austen must’ve known a large number of disagreeable people, and characters like the Stirlings make me think the same is true of Montgomery.) I found those early chapters pretty slow this time through, but the latter chapters totally make up for it. Valancy has fun. She hangs out with people she actually likes, she spends a lot of time exploring the Ontario wilderness, she reads great books that nourish her soul, and she makes friends with two cats.

Plus she falls in love, and Barney Snaith is the best of Montgomery’s heroes because he also likes wandering around in the woods and petting cats and ignoring the awful things people say about him. Montgomery never totally loses interest in him, either, like she obviously did with Gilbert Blythe after he and Anne got engaged.

(Seriously, later-books Gilbert Blythe is Duncan Kane levels of boring. The hell, Montgomery?)

A pale hand holds a hardcover copy of Big Tent Politics up against a red bookshelf stuffed with books and topped with a plush red dragon. The book's cover features the flaps of a red tent drifting open to reveal a pure black space.

I heard about R. Kenneth Carty’s BIG TENT POLITICS [Amazon] in my local paper, requested it under the impression I’d have to wait a while because it was clear everyone else had also read the article that mentioned it, and ended up receiving it in no time flat. And so it became Canadian Nonfiction Pick #2.

BIG TENT POLITICS began as a series of lectures on the Liberal party, initially delivered in 2008 and later revised to reflect the party’s major defeats in 2008 and 2011. Despite the Liberal focus, the book reads like an examination of how democracy works in Canada. Carty delves into brokerage parties here and abroad, the electoral mechanisms in play, the different levels of party membership and engagement, reinvention in the face of a changing electorate, and more. It’s fascinating stuff, and it’s far more readable than I expected--which is probably why it landed on my holds shelf so quickly. I probably finished it on Monday night.


  1. I screamed joyfully about you liking Multiple Choice, and then I screamed joyfully again over The Blue Castle. What great books those are. You are making A+ choices, my friend. I just reread A Tangled Web, and I still cherish it even though many elements of it are just the WORST, like Jesus Christ LM Montgomery, I know we are all products of our time but GET A GRIP.

    1. A TANGLED WEB is one of the ones I haven't read, and I'm now both intrigued and a little scared of it.

  2. I wish I could get Big Tent Politics. Maybe I will see if I can get it through interlibrary loan...

    1. It's definitely worth keeping an eye out for.