Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Baker and Van Booy: Two reviews

I have a few more books I would like to review before the end of the year; there are some that I've really enjoyed and want to share before year end and all the wrap-up that comes along with that. Plus I will be putting up my Challenge post very soon! I have quite a few challenges that I want to participate in next year, though never as many as Eva dares to do. :) Completely unrelated to the value of each of these books but kind of randomly strange - they are both 256 pages long.

The first that I liked a lot was the short story collection Love begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy. [HarperCollins, c2009. 256 p.]

I read it a while ago, but didn't know how to talk about it -- it is so fabulous! It's a collection of five short stories, set in different places around the world. The first story opens in Quebec, a place close to my heart, though it doesn't stay there for the entire length of the tale. Van Booy captures the fragile emotional states of his characters so well, and encapsulates a whole life in a moment. His writing is elegant and accomplished and enjoyable to read. My favourite story had to be "The Missing Statues", in which a man who sees an empty spot in a row of statues while in Rome breaks down, weeping, recalling a childhood moment in Las Vegas. The images from that story have stayed with me, and the childhood emotion was powerful and moving. I enjoyed this collection greatly - but wish I would have posted about it sooner! (I should also mention that this collection won the Frank O'Connor prize for short fiction, a prestigious award worth quite a bit. Nice work.)

Other views:

Gavin at Page 247 found it "dreamy and lyrical ... perfect for dark rainy afternoons curled up with a hot cup of tea."

Caribousmom says that "Van Booy’s prose is a bit like listening to a complicated musical performance – at once beautiful and elusive."

Bookfool over at Bookfoolery & Babble states that "I don't think I'm ever going to have any trouble at all with that promise I made to myself to read absolutely everything the man ever writes."

Another book I enjoyed recently was Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist. [Simon & Schuster, c2009. 256 p.]

It features Paul Chowder, a poet who has been given the job of writing an introduction to a poetry anthology -- but can not do it. He has a terrible case of writers block; it is so bad that his girlfriend has left him because of his inability to do anything. The book consists of a long disquisition on first, his own personal situation, but secondly and perhaps most importantly, on the state of poetry itself. Paul Chowder is a lecturer, and he gives us lessons throughout the book on rhyme, meter, the horrors of enjambment, the role of music in poetry and so on. It is utterly captivating, and unexpectedly funny. The narrator's voice is entertaining and absolutely convincing, and there were so many really funny bits that I read it with great enjoyment, finding it hard to put down between reading times. It is a quick read but also one with some elements to ponder, and if you like poetry at all I think you will really love this. If you aren't a big poetry fan, you will also enjoy it, as the character of Paul Chowder and his descriptions of the poetry world have enough drama and humour to keep your interest. Will his girlfriend come back to him? Will he ever finish the introduction he is supposed to be writing? These questions lead us forward but are almost incidental to the wave of poetic philosophy that Paul is sharing with us throughout. A wonderful book that I am recommending to many people!

And here is quite a wonderful essay by John Crowley on this book!


  1. glad you enjoyed Van Booy's collection. He is an amazing writer, isn't he? Thanks for the link and quote from my review :)

  2. It's not nice to mock addicts. ;)

  3. Wendy - seeing you talk about it was one of the reasons it ended up on my TBR! It was amazing.

    Eva - the first step is admitting you have a problem... ;)

  4. I almost bought Love Begins in Winter earlier this I'm regretting the decision not to buy.

    Of course, there's nothing stopping me from ordering it!

  5. softdrink - I've been so lucky at the library this year - the vast majority of my reads were ones I brought home with me from work.

  6. Oh, I am so glad I tempted you to read it, Melanie :) And especially glad you liked it so well (I always get nervous when someone says they are going to read a book because I loved it...what if they hate it?!??! *laughs*)

  7. I'm always so happy to hear that yet another reader has discovered the joy of Simon Van Booy's writing. Isn't it amazing? "The Missing Statues" is one of my favorites, but I can't just choose one.

  8. These both sound great. I have the Baker in my TBR pile somewhere and will get to it eventually :)

  9. Wendy - I fell the same way when recommending a book! :)

    Bookfool - yes, he is an amazing writer! What a discovery.

    Stefanie - I really enjoyed them both. I was surprised by how entertaining the Baker book was - great fun. Hope you enjoy it when you get to it!


Thanks for stopping by ~ I always enjoy hearing your comments so please feel free to leave some!