Sunday, July 09, 2017

A cornucopia of holiday reading

One of the many joys of train travel is having plenty of time to curl up with a good book (or three, or seven). On our recent trip to Oregon and Canada Andrew and I read heaps of books! I took a fully-stocked Kindle with me and also purchased a couple of Canadian books along the way.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I'd heard the author interviewed on ABC Radio National and was eager to learn more of his story. J.D. Vance grew up 'dirt poor' in Kentucky and Ohio, in a dysfunctional family, yet managed eventually to attend Yale University and qualify in law. The book has been praised by conservatives and (in some cases) panned by liberals; I find this odd as my politics definitely lean to the left yet I really liked it. It had a personal resonance for me: I've often felt embarrassed to be the first (indeed, only) person in my family to have fought for a university education and pursued a professional career. Hillbilly Elegy reminded me to be proud of my achievements.

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee. This novel is set in Vancouver and I bought the book in Montreal. It was compelling. The book tells the story of Jessica, a social worker, who is sorting through her dead mother's possessions when she finds two bodies at the bottom of a chest freezer. The author skilfully moves between past and present. The topics in the book are confronting but it was very well written and hard to put down.

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan. Loved this book! It is the third novel by Kevin Kwan to follow the lives of the uber-rich Young and Shang families; his previous books Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend were similarly hilarious. Just read 'em. They're great fun.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo. I'd been hearing about this book for ages and finally got around to reading it. As a bit of a minimalist already I don't think it'll change my life dramatically, but I did find its no-nonsense advice on what to keep, what to discard and how to store things useful. One thing the author doesn't address  and I wish she would  is the importance of simply not buying clutter we don't need. The environment would be cleaner, and people's bank balances healthier, if we just bought less crap. (IMHO.)

Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant. I bought this book from a cute wee bookshop in Halifax, Nova Scotia and didn't realise, ahem, that it was more geared to the young adult market till I started reading. Anyway ... it was fun! Set in Halifax, it is a mixture of mystery story and romance, with plenty of quirky characters and plot twists. Ideal reading while waiting for a plane.

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. An oldie but a goodie. First published in 1873, this is a delightfully crafted and very funny tale. It was interesting to get a glimpse into the attitudes and social mores of ~150 years ago, not to mention to reflect on how much easier it is to get from A to B in the jet age.

And in a first for this blog, we have a guest post from my partner Andrew. Among many other books, newspapers, brochures, signs, etc. etc. he read on our journey, he enjoyed The National Dream by Pierre Berton. He bought a second-hand copy of the book from a tiny bookshop at Lake Louise.

He says: The foundation story of the Canadian Pacific Railway is in essence also the foundation story of Canada. If it hadn't been for John A. Macdonald's completely bonkers promise to connect British Columbia to the Eastern Provinces within 10 years in 1871 Canada may never have reached further west than Ontario and the United States would have stretched from California through the Canadian Prairies to Alaska. What is most interesting about the story of the CPR is the fact that it was ever finished; the level of corruption and incompetence is eye-watering. Be prepared for a story of politicians 'fixing' voters, wage clerks stealing workers' pay, towns fighting towns, contractors gaming the tendering system, money wasted on unneeded surveys, penny pinching on supplies to the point of starvation, politically appointed incompetents, and the discovery of the joys of building a railway across the muskeg and granite of the Canadian Shield.

(Thanks Andrew!)

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