book reports

Eight weeks into it, I’m happy to report I’m still enjoying my job at the library. It’s nice to get a regular paycheque, of course, and I get a kick out of people-watching, as always. It’s been a while since I worked with the general public and I’d forgotten people come in so many flavours. Every day is an interesting mix of the super-nice, the occasional super-snotty, the outright crazy, the harmless but clueless, the totally frazzled and the sickeningly entitled. I enjoy them all because they add to my mental database of character traits to be used, hopefully, in future writing. This is the nice thing about writing: everything is potential material. Even giant needles in the neck.

But the best thing about working at the library are the books. Books books books everywhere. It’s hard to not get all slobbery around them. I know perfectly well I don’t have time to read a fraction of what I’m slobbering over but still. It’s nice to dream. It’s also nice to come across books I wouldn’t necessarily have ever heard about otherwise. Books like this:

 Hole in My Life, by Jack Gantos. From the cover: “In the summer of 1971, Jack Gantos was an aspiring writer looking for adventure, cash for college tuition, and a way out of a dead-end job. For ten thousand dollars, he agreed to help sail a sixty-foot yacht loaded with a ton of hashish from the Virgin Islands to New York City, setting sail on an expedition that eventually landed him in federal prison.”

Although this biography is for young adults, I really enjoyed it. Gantos is remarkably honest about his bad decisions and never makes excuses or asks the reader for pity. His tales of life in prison are just as interesting, if not more so, than the crime that got him there in the first place. Very entertaining.

Here’s another good one:

Lovesongs of Emmanuel Taggart by Syr Ruus. From the cover: “Things no longer look the same for 45-year-old Emmanuel Taggart. Thinking he has the flu, he leaves the office to embark on a road of self-discovery. Although nothing is medically wrong, Emmanuel becomes convinced that he has an undiagnosed terminal disease. Dispossessed of his normal sense of reality, Emmanuel begins to examine his own existence with unexpected consequences.”

I read this while I had the stomach flu last month and it says good things about the book that I was able to enjoy it despite feeling horrible. Emmanuel is a perfectly drawn character: he loves his family, but is astonishingly self-centred; he demands constant sympathy and attention, but is impatient and emotionally stingy with others; he tells himself he is searching for meaning in his life, but is too lazy to put in the mental effort required and instead mopes around feeling sorry for himself. Emmanuel has a whole lot of really annoying traits, but Ruus is skilled enough that he never becomes overwhelming. Very good book.

Another good one. Kind of. Depressing/good:

On South Mountain: The Dark Secrets of the Goler Clan by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths. From the cover: “The Annapolis Valley is one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth. Apple blossoms, lush farms and lovely, secluded beaches have graced photographs and postcards without number…Overlooking the Valley is South Mountain, a long ridge of hills covered by dense forests which conceal tiny hamlets and isolated clusters of shacks set in small clearings…(F)or most of the last two centuries it has been home to the “Clans” – thirty or so tight family groupings, living in their various Mountain enclaves. Many of them have survived the kind of poverty and deprivation associated only with the world’s poorest nations…Then one day, a fourteen-year-old Mountain girl told authorities that her father had been ‘using her as a wife.’ This revelation sparked a massive investigation which revealed a horrific tale of incest, sexual and physical abuse and psychological torture.”

I was attracted to this book because it’s a true story that took place in my stomping grounds, but hoo boy, I’ll bet long-time residents were not thrilled with its publication because nobody comes out looking good. Not the police, not the lawyers, not the judges, not the teachers or the doctors or the government or the residents of Wolfville or the residents of the Mountain – nobody. Huge failings all around. An awful subject, but well-written and quite gripping.

What have you read lately? Any recommendations?

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