Nightfall, by Richard B. Wright

From the the publisher’s website (many thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for the review copy of this new novel):

nightfall-9781476785370_hrFrom the acclaimed writer of the beloved Clara Callan comes a memorable new novel about first loves, love-after-love, and the end of things, set during summer in Quebec City.

James Hillyer, a retired university professor whose life was evocatively described in Wright’s novel October, is now barely existing after the death of his beloved daughter in her forties. On a whim, he tries to locate the woman he fell in love with so many years ago on a summer trip to Quebec and through the magic of the Internet he is able to find her. But Odette’s present existence seems to be haunted by ghosts from her own past, in particular, the tough ex-con Raoul, with his long-standing grievances and the beginnings of dementia. The collision of past and present leads to violence nobody could have predicted and alters the lives of James and Odette forever.

Nightfall skillfully captures the way in which our past is ever-present in our minds as we grow older, casting its spell of lost loves and the innocent joys of youth over the realities of aging and death. The novel is skillfully grounded in observation, propelled by unforgettable characters, and filled with wisdom about young love and old love. Drawing on the author’s profound understanding of the intimate bonds between men and women, Nightfall is classic Richard B. Wright. 

I found Nightfall to be a very thoughtful and contemplative novel.  I enjoyed the exploration of memory, and the perspective on life offered by both James’ and Odette’s arcs, and the idea that our past and present are never really that far away from one another.   I also found strength in Richard B. Wright‘s portrayal of starting over (and second chances) for his two characters, both who are in their 70s. They have come to their renewed relationship with a lifetime of experiences and hurts (so much baggage!), but also with a hope and optimism for love and happiness at a time when it had not really seemed possible.  (If you have ever experienced the joy of a wonderful summer crush/love, and wondered about that person years later, you might really enjoy the vicarious experience offered by this novel!)

5966127I would love to make one suggestion: if it is not fresh in your mind, or you have not previously read it,  check out Wright’s earlier book October first. It’s a terrific read and very connected to Nightfall!

While Nightfall does totally work as a stand alone read, thanks to the many excerpts from October, I feel I would have had a far deeper appreciation for Wright’s new novel had October been more fresh in my mind. Good intentions, and all that – I had planned a re-read of October, but things didn’t work out to allow me that time near enough to the publication of the new book.

At moments while I was reading Nightfall, I found myself thinking about Elena Ferrante, and her wonderful 4-book series, the Neapolitan Novels, which examines life in various stages, from childhood though adulthood.  It may seem an unusual comparison to some readers, but I feel Wright has the same keen observational skills and heightened sensitivity to the world around him. There are some truly beautiful moments in Nightfall.

Happy reading!

 

2015 Reading Challenge – Canadian Edition

Matilda, Roald Dahl; Illustration by Quentin Blake

 

Goal: diversify your reading!

While this challenge encourages you to ‘read Canadian’ (CanLit is fantastic!!), there are so many opportunities here to read beyond your comfort zones. New genres, new locations, new themes, new perspectives – each book you choose to read as part of this challenge has the potential to take you so many places, opening your minds in completely new ways. I would also like to encourage your to read diversely when choosing your authors and books.

The challenge is fairly straight–forward: find a book to read that fits each ‘task’.

With my own reading, I am not going to ‘double-dip’ (or triple-dip, etc.) my book choices. Meaning that I will not use one book for more than one task. Some people may prefer to mix-and-match the tasks, knocking off several tasks with one book. This is absolutely fine!! There are no rigid rules and no scorekeeping: the purpose is completely about having fun and enjoy your reading. You also do not have to complete every task, so please don’t feel any pressure on that front. I am offering 100 tasks (!!!)  in an attempt to provide you with a diversity of choices. With hope, you find many tasks that appeal to you!!

To note: If a task does not specify a Canadian content requirement, you may read any book that fits – a book, or author, from anywhere in the world. (Though it would be great if you tried to focus on Canadian books and authors as much as possible!)

I hope you discover some wonderful literary gems in 2015!

The Tasks:

Settings:
1. Read a book set in British Columbia
2. Read a book set in Alberta
3. Read a book set in Saskatchewan
4. Read a book set in Manitoba
5. Read a book set in Ontario
6. Read a book set in Quebec
7. Read a book set in Nova Scotia
8. Read a book set in New Brunswick
9. Read a book set in Prince Edward Island
10. Read a book set in Newfoundland
11. Read a book set in Nunavut, Yukon, or Northwest Territories
12. Read a book set in an urban centre
13. Read a book with a rural setting
14. Read a book set outside of North America

Book Awards/Events:
15. Read a book which has been nominated for the Giller Prize
16. Read a book which has been nominated Governor General’s Fiction Award
17. Read a book which has been nominated Governor General’s Nonfiction Award
18. Read a book which has been nominated for the Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize
19. Read a book which has been nominated for the Writer’s Trust Nonfiction Prize (Weston Prize)
20. Read a book which has been nominated for RBC Taylor Prize (formerly The Charles Taylor Prize) for Literary Nonfiction
21. Read a book which has been nominated for the Stephen Leacock Medal For Humour
22. Read a book which has been nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize)
23. Read a book which has been nominated for the Commonwealth Prize
24. Read a book which has been nominated for the Booker Prize
25. Read a book that has featured in the The Morning News’ annual ‘Tournament of Books’
26. Read a book that has been featured on Canada Reads
27. Read a book which has been nominated for a National Book Award
28. Read a book by an author who has won a Nobel Prize

Subjects:
29. Read a book which features a Canadian immigration experience
30. Read a book authored by a First Nations writer
31. Read a book that features First Nations experiences
32. Read a book that is considered a Canadian Classic
33. Read a book by a Canadian author
34. Read a book featuring an animal
35. Read a book published by an independent (indie) publishing house
36. Read a book originally published in a language you do not speak.
37. Read a ‘big book’ – a book over 600 pages
38. Read a book you discovered in a Canadian Newspaper
39. Read a book you discovered in a Canadian Magazine
40. Read a book you discovered on 49th Shelf
41. Read a book recommended to you by a Canadian
42. Read a book that features hockey
43. Read a book that features music or musicians
44. Read a book written by an author under the age of 30
45. Read a book written by an author over the age of 65
46. Read a book that features an LGBTQ character
47. Read a book written by an author who identifies as LGBTQ
48. Read a book about family
49. Read a book that has been banned
50. Read a book by an author who is also (or has been) a journalist
51. Read a book that has been a Canadian bestseller
52. Read a book about survival
53. Read a book that has been on your bookshelf for a very long time
54. Read a book published in 2015
55. Read a book published in the 1800s
56. Read a book published in the 1900s
57. Read a book published in the 2000s
58. Read a book set in the future
59. Read a book set in the past
60. Read a book that has been adapted for TV, or the big screen
61. Read the first book in a series
62. Read a book in a series you have already begun
63. Read a book that you think has a beautiful cover design
64. Read a book written by a man, featuring a female main character
65. Read a book written by a woman, featuring a male main character
66. Read a book recommended to you by a friend, or family member
67. Read a book published in the year of your birth
68. Read a book by one of you favourite authors
69. Read a book by an author you have never read before
70. Read a novel that is a coming of age story
71. Read a book that was noted on any 2014 ‘best books of the year’ list
72. Read a book that features illness or disability

Genres:
73. Read a book that is a mystery, or features crime
74. Read a science fiction novel
75. Read a fantasy novel
76. Read a novel which is considered ‘YA’ (published for young adults)
77. Read a poetry collection
78. Read a play
79. Read a book that crosses genres
80. Read a graphic novel, or graphic memoir
81. Read a book about food or drink
82. Read a biography or memoir
83. Read a love story
84. Read a book featuring travel
85. Read a collection of short stories
86. Read a book of essays
87. Read a book of narrative nonfiction
88. Read an epistolary novel, or a nonfiction collection of letters

Seven Basic Plots:
89. Read a book that deals with overcoming the monster
90. Read a book that features a rags to riches story
91. Read a book about a quest
92. Read a book featuring a voyage and return
93. Read a comedy
94. Read a tragedy
95. Read a story about rebirth

Narrators:
96. Read a novel with a first-person narrative
97. Read a novel with a second-person narrative
98. Read a novel with a third-person narrative
99. Read a book that has an unreliable narrator
100. Read a book that features alternating narration

To access a Google Doc. version of this challenge, click here.

 

Happy reading to you all!! Please let me know how your reading goes this year. I would love to know about any wonderful books you discover because of this challenge.

 

Illustration by Jane Mount, Ideal Bookshelf

 

Father’s Day Book Recommendations

Book Shop

I have been compiling a list of excellent books that would make wonderful gifts for Father’s Day. I think there is something on this big list for every reading father, or father-figure, in your life. (If you are stuck on what to get someone who says they are not a reader, you could always try to show them the bookish light! I have had success giving nonfiction books to people who claim to not be readers and it has been met with great success!)

Anyway, here…the giant list:

Fiction Recommendations:

Classic Literature:

  • My Antonía, by Willa Cather
  • East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
  • Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes – this Edith Grossman translation, as linked, is excellent!
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley – this Penguin edition I have linked is awesome.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas (pére)
  • Moby Dick, by Herman Melville – Yes, seriously! And, again, advocating for this particular edition to which I have linked you.

Contemporary Literature:

Canadian Literature:

Graphic Novels:

Nonfiction:

So – as you can see, it’s a huge list. I do hope you find something of interest here and would love to know about the books you plan to give as gifts.

If you would like a personal recommendation, I would be happy to make one for you. Just give me three books you (or your dad) love(s) and I will offer an excellent suggestion. Or two. Or three. You can post your request in the comments below. 🙂

I have linked all the above books to Goodreads. It is a great place to read book descriptions, and see what others think. When it comes time to buy, I encourage you all to visit an independent bookseller for all your book shopping. These stores are vital parts of our communities and it would be wonderful for you to support a local business. (If you need a recommendation here, I would be pleased to help.)

Happy Father’s Day, and happy reading to you all!

My Favourite Reads of 2013

 

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

~ T.S. Eliot, (from: Little Gidding)

While I am definitely thinking about all of the great reading ahead in 2014, I very much wanted to share with you my favourite reads from 2013. Lists are always subjective…I recognize this, but I read some truly wonderful books last year and I wanted to record these stand-outs. Maybe this list will help you discover some new reads, or prompt some interesting conversations; I hope it will do both!

I have broken out my list into four categories (but the books are not listed in any particular order):

  • Literary Fiction Published in 2013;
  • Contemporary Literature.;
  • Classic Literature; and
  • Nonfiction.

I. Literary Fiction Published in 2013:

1. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler. This is a wonderful novel of historical fiction. It is well-researched and Fowler has beautifully imagined (and, maybe, at moments recreated certain aspects of) the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, beyond just the wife of the famous/infamous F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fowler show Zelda forging her own identity while fighting her own personal demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it.

2. Kicking the Sky, by Anthony De Sa. I read this book in October, 2013, and shared my thoughts at that time. Three months later, I still find myself thinking about this story and wowed by De Sa’s talent.

3. The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner. This was my first time reading Kushner, and she blew my mind. I loved everything about this novel – it was tough, edgy and sensitive.

4. The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan.  This novel ticked all the boxes for me: ballet, belle époque Paris, Degas, Zola, La Figaro.  While fictional, I loved the way Buchanan wove the history of the real events throughout this story. I read the book quickly – two very late-night reading sessions that kept me up way, waaaay past bedtime. The subsequent daytime sleepiness was well worth it though.

5. The Crooked Maid, by Dan Vyleta. The Crooked Maid is many things – historical fiction, mystery, literary fiction, homage. Vyleta’s doing a lot with this novel, which could be a worry – but it’s very good, and Vyleta can really write. His ability with description is pretty stellar.

6. The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert. The only word that keeps rolling around in my brain, concerning Gilbert’s new novel, is: LUSH – this book is so lush and enveloping. It was pretty delightful from start to finish. And if you know me, you know I don’t really use the word ‘delightful’! This novel may have been my most surprising read this year.

II. Contemporary Literature:

1. Indian Horse (2012), by Richard Wagamese. I managed a 5 word review, after I read this novel in February, 2013: “Stunning. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Required reading.” Wagamese’s book affected me very deeply. For all its heartbreak, it was also very much a hopeful story. This is a book that can, and should, be read by everyone.

2. The Wreckage (2005), by Michael Crummey. My love for Michael Crummey’s writing runs fairly deep – I think he is brilliant. He wowed me again with The Wreckage. Reading this novel made me want to spend some time in Crummey’s brain…or, at the very least, take a writing class with him.

3. Sweetness in the Belly (2005), by Camilla Gibb. I read this book for the third time in 2013, and man, it’s great!  Gibb is a fantastic storyteller and through her prose I could truly see, hear, smell and touch the places she created in this book – Lilly’s life in Harare, and her life in London were both so vivid.

4. A Complicated Kindness,(2004) by Miriam Toews.  Another third reading. (2013 was unusual in that regard, I don’t generally re-read much at all.) I LOVE THIS NOVEL SO HARD!  I think this books gets better with each reading. The way Toews captures the voice of 16-year-old Nomi is incredible. Sure she’s wise and precocious, but she’s also still a kid and Toews gets her voice so right.

5. The Round House, (2012) by Louise Erdrich. What a great novel! It’s evocative and hard but using a 13-year-old boy as the protagonist adds a layer of nuance that would be missing in an older main character (I think – given the arc of Joe’s story.) I really loved Erdrich’s perspective on family, love and justice. The supporting characters are all very interesting and well developed, and served to make this a very tightly woven novel.

6. Arcadia (2011), by Lauren Groff. I loved Arcadia a lot. i viscerally responded to the settings and people Groff created here, and i am kinda floored by Groff’s talent. I was totally caught up in Bit’s life. I loved the timeline and following him along life’s path.

7. The Snow Child (2012), by Eowyn Ivey. What a fantastic debut novel! It’s a magical and sometimes heartbreaking story, perfectly set for a wonderful winter read.

8. The Savage Detectives (1998), by Roberto Bolaño.

bolañover

bow-lah-nyoh-verr;  noun

1. weird physical and emotional effects caused by reading the works of Roberto Bolaño. symptoms may include: confusion; anger; awe; dry eyes; headache; idolatry; exhaustion; the strong desire for alcohol, drugs or both; feelings of filthiness and the need to shower to remove the grit; wonder; sadness; curiosity; the unexplained urge to pimp out a 1970s impala. symptoms may ease with time or they may worsen.

2. a thing that has survived from the past.

III. Classic Literature:

1. Two Solitudes (1945), by Hugh MacLennan. What a dense, wonderful important novel. This was a re-read for me, but I had lost so many details over the years it was like a new experience. Following the strands of story arcs concerning ‘two solitudes’, through this novel was amazing. MacLennan wrote about so many important issues and brought heart and humanity to the telling. Certainly a canadian classic, and a book that should continue to resonate for generations to come.

2. Persuasion (1818), by Jane Austen. Late in the book there is this quote:

“Minutiae which, even with every advantage of taste and delicacy which good Mrs. Musgrove could not give, could be properly interesting only to the principals.”

And when I read that line it made me think of the details in Austen’s writing and how, in fact, the minutiae present with her manner of storytelling sucks me right in every time. But…with Persuasion I feel this is very much a novel of Anne’s restraint and resolve, as much as it is a tale of different persuasions. So given Anne’s nature, though we aren’t privy to her inner workings in great detail, I was seeing everything through her eyes and completely immersed in her world.

3. The Grapes of Wrath (1939), by John Steinbeck. Oh for the love of humanity — is there any family as hard done by as the Joads??? The Joads’ humanity and hope, in the face of utter hopelessness, is incredible. And the way Steinbeck conveyed this balance throughout the novel is brilliant. The man was a genius. But i don’t really know what I could possibly say here that hasn’t been said earlier, and better, by others? Read it! Do it!

4. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), by Harper Lee. I made it all the way to page 317 without crying…even though I felt like I could a couple of times earlier on. But page 317 did me in, the bastard! Heh. (I am not really a person who cries while reading – though Grapes of Wrath last week (see above) and this book tonight are turning me into a liarface on this front.) Now, I am all teary and soppy, and I ugly-cried and I got the hiccups and I have to try and write something here that conveys how brilliant this book is to me. So how about this: Harper Lee is so freaking amazing she will make you ugly-cry!  Yeah? Cool!

5. Twelfth Night (1602), by William Shakespeare. A re-read (again with the re-reads!!) after many years, and still as great as I remember it to be. Shakespeare can be lots of fun.

IV. Nonfiction:

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012), by Susan Cain. I am an introvert. But I am not shy. So I have been trying to explain the difference to people for years. Instead, I should just carry around copies of Cain’s great, great book. Being an introvert and having a good and thoughtful understanding of what this means, I still learned a lot from Quiet. Cain’s research seems very well done (and so interesting), and her style is very engaging. I think this is one of those books that everyone should read as it will likely help open some eyes and minds, and allow people to better understand and respect one another.

2. The Truth About Luck (2013), by Iain Reid. Sometimes you read a book and it becomes something you connect with so personally and deeply that it becomes nearly impossible to detach from it to assess or review it constructively. That happened with this amazing book by Iain Reid. But, I  thought about it for quite a while, and i think – my personal attachment aside – the strength of Reid’s writing, the flow of the story, and his ability to make us care about what he and his grandma are up to make this book totally worth its 5-star rating. (I wrote about the book in more detail, in March, 2013.)

3. Belonging: Home Away From Home (2003), by Isabel Huggan. This book is wonderful – and was my #1 favourite read for 2013! The majority of the book is a memoir of place – the search for home. Not just the physical: the location and the structure, but also the feeling. Feeling one is home is a big deal. At least it is to me, anyway. And it’s something I have been hoping to find my whole life.  Huggan gives voice to this search, this sensation, and does it so beautifully and naturally. There’s a lot of excavation of memory that goes on in the telling, and it felt very much like I was just listening to Huggan in conversation. Also contained in the story are small snippets of Huggan’s writing life, something I really appreciated.

4. The Arctic Grail (1988), by Pierre Berton. What a great book!!! Pierre Berton is an excellent storyteller and, it would seem, he is also an impeccable researcher. But that’s not really a surprise!! Shamefully, this is the first time I have read a Berton book. OOPS!! He definitely came up during my time in elementary and secondary school, but we were never actually given any of his books to read/study. Weird, right?? I was so amazed by the overwhelming lack of preparedness with which the majority of the expeditions undertook their quests. The British expeditions were stubbornly and fatally wrong-headed in not learning from their inuit contacts, and judging the Inuit, while useful to them, ‘savages’ and ‘unintelligent’.

5. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997), by David Foster Wallace.  Each essay in this collection has its own strength (and each is fairly brilliant), but overwhelmingly evident, when taken as a whole, is DFW’s ability to assess and read people, and analyze a situation or instance in the context of a bigger picture. It’s uncanny, really.

6. My Ideal Bookshelf (2013), by Jane Mount & Thessaly La Force. Or, as I like to call it, porn for book lovers! This is just a beautiful book to look at, and it also gives great satisfaction on the ‘snooping the bookshelves’ front.

7. Bottomfeeder (2007), by Taras Grescoe.  LOVE THIS BOOK!! Seriously; it’s fantastic. It should be required reading for everyone. Grescoe has a wonderful ability with delivering the facts and science in a very engaging and approachable way. The structure of the book is fantastic: each chapter is like a little case study. A species is examined – the supply, the demand, the problems and the science – and explained. Grescoe travelled the world while researching this book and is clearly very passionate about the seafood industry, and about the choices he makes for his diet.

***************

So, there you have it – all of the absolute stand out books I had the pleasure of reading in 2013.  Altogether, I read 121 books last year. This was definitely not usual. Generally, I average somewhere between 60 and 70 books per year. I am not really clear on what happened in 2013 to cause my pace to double, but it was quite the adventure and I will look back fondly on ‘that one crazy reading year’.

A few stats:

  • Total books read: 121
  • Total pages read: 41,839
  • 71 female writers
  • 49 male writers
  • And 1 collection featuring male and female writers
  • 12 works in translation

You can view my full reading list on Goodreads.

Thank you for visiting Literal Life, and continuing to be interested in the books I am reading and talking about.

As always – please feel free to share your favourite reads with me – I would love to hear about them

Happy reading!