Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Weekend Book Pages and My Ever-Expanding TBR List

I began my day with what was, during a less frenetic time in my life, a Saturday morning ritual: reading the Globe and Mail’s weekend books section cover to cover. Here’s what caught my attention this morning:

Conan Doyle: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes by Andrew Lycett (reviewed by Clifford Goldfarb): I’ve long been intrigued by Arthur Conan Doyle’s early life in Edinburgh but, due to a dearth of documentation, previous biographies have had little to say about it. The situation has changed thanks to several hundred letters by Conan Doyle which have only recently been made available to scholars. Apparently Andrew Lycett has taken full advantage producing what Goldfarb pronounces “the best biography we have had” of Conan Doyle. I may have to dash to the bookstore immediately for this one.

Zugzwang by Ronan Bennett (reviewed by Charles Foran): Certainly I’ve heard of Ronan Bennett but I have not yet read any of his novels. According to Charles Foran this latest novel doesn’t measure up to the best of his previous ones, but the description he provides of Zugzwang has me keen to read it all the same:

     With his latest, the setting is Russia in 1914. Dr. Otto Spethmann is a St. Petersburg psychoanalyst drawn against his every instinct into anti-czarist intrigue involving a cast of revolutionaries and reactionaries, along with their various henchmen. A high-profile Jew in a gleefully anti-Semitic society, Spethmann is vulnerable to attack even before he opens his office door to the patients seeking relief from their torments.
     Through that door walk Anna Petrovna, a beauty from the St. Petersburg aristocracy with a powerful shadowy father, the damaged Bolshevik leader Petrov, rakish Polish pianist Kopelzon and unstable chess genius Rozental, as well as various undercover cops and state assassins. Additionally, the widower Spethmann has a fiery teenager daughter, whose dalliance with a poet has gotten her father involved in the mess.

There’s no way I can resist psychoanalysis and poetry and chess in Russia in 1914.

Falsework by Gary Geddes (reviewed by George Murray): Although I’m a keen reader of poetry, my knowledge of the form is not very broad, and I always learn something from George Murray’s reviews, particularly from the deft fashion in which he sets each work in context. In this review, Murray assesses Gary Geddes’ Falsework as an example of the book-length sequence of poems, and also against Geddes own previous work. It’s not a rave review, but it’s piqued my interest all the same. Here’s the description that precedes the critical analysis:

Mixing verse and prose, Falsework presents a patchwork of character voices and narrative exposition that revisits the mid-construction collapse of Vancouver's Second Narrows Bridge in 1958, a disaster that killed 18 workers and left a traumatic scar on the psyche of the city, the province and the young poet himself.

André Alexis on Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: This is the second instalment in a year-long series for which the Globe and Mail has assembled an international panel of experts to select “the 50 Greatest Books ever written.” This was my introduction to the series as I somehow missed the first instalment last week (though I quickly flipped back to last week’s edition to check it out: Martin Levin (Globe Books Editor) on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). I don’t put much stock in such lists, but I do enjoy the discussion and controversy that attempts to compile them generate. And what I find particularly appealing about this rendition is the slow unfolding of the list over the course of a year in the form of a detailed exploration of each book. One of the limitations of newspaper books sections that is often remarked upon in the litblogosphere is their nearly exclusive focus on newly published books. I’m very much looking forward to the prospect of seeing half a page of the Globe books section devoted to a classic work, often from the distant past, each week. I will be following the series with interest throughout the year.

More reviews of small press short story collections: I did not fail to notice that this is the second week in a row that the Globe has featured group reviews of small press short story collections (this week A Grave in the Air by Stephen Henighan and Incidental Music by Carol Matthews reviewed by Marianne Ackerman, and last week three collections reviewed by Cathy Stonehouse, a link to which is unfortunately no longer available). I’m always happy to see more review ink devoted to small presses and short fiction. Of course, I’d be even happier if it was my short story collection being reviewed in the Globe and Mail, but you can’t have everything!

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my Saturday morning. Did the weekend book pages prompt you to add any new titles to your TBR list this week?

1 comment:

Litlove said...

I've just read the Sunday Times books section and found absolutely nothing in it that interested me. Your list, however, Kate, is very tempting! Particularly the Ronan Bennett and the book on Conan Doyle.