Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt

I'd heard of Helen DeWitt's Lightning Rods and was both intrigued and repelled by its premise. The scheme is to proactively address sexual harassment in the workplace by hiring specific women as sexual lightning rods for men. But then I saw it on Flavorwire's recent 50 Books that Define the Past Five Years in Literature, and spotted it on audio via Hoopla at the library, so I decided to give it a listen.

Joe is a salesman who couldn't sell encyclopedias, and then couldn't sell vacuum cleaners, and then was inspired by his lonely masturbation fantasies to come up with the lightning rods idea. It was a hit.

Audiobook narrator Dushko Petrovich [Dreamscape Media: 7.5 hours] delivers this audacious literary satire in a perfect deadpan. DeWitt has a great ear for language and the close third-person voice makes Joe very real.

"'Oh, you have the Encyclopaedia Britannica!' exclaimed Lucille.
As a former rep Joe had been able to get himself a good deal. It was a lot of money, but then you never know when you're going to need to look something up -- if you have a crazy schedule, you could do worse than just have a Britannica in the home. The Internet is a wonderful thing, but it multiplies a millionfold the dual hazards of creative reportage and fantasy enhancement; if you need the straight poop on some area of research which you have over-hastily sketched in for a client, the Britannica, with its team of accredited experts, will give you a wealth of bibliographical citations not easily refuted by casual recourse to the wackos at Wikipedia. In this type of eventuality focus is all-important; the apparent saving represented by an online subscription or CD, with the attendant opportunities for XXXX-rated distraction, may too easily prove a false economy."

It's edgy and thoughtful and funny and I loved it.

Readalikes: Worst. Person. Ever. (Douglas Coupland); The Blondes (Emily Schultz).

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Me, in a pub in Greymouth,
133 years later and just a
little north of Hokitika, the
setting of The Luminaries.
I most certainly agree with the judges of the Man Booker and the Canadian Governor General awards: Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries is a winner. Because of its size, I kept it at work and read it during my lunch and coffee breaks. It's taken nearly three weeks to get through it, but I looked forward to every moment spent within the world of the goldrush on New Zealand's South Island. It is a delightfully rewarding book.

The Luminaries is big in every way, not just in its 832 page count. There's a large cast of memorable characters, a devilishly complex plot, a great amount of dialogue (that charmed me with period language such as lucifers [early matches], spills [twists of paper for lighting fires], whatnots [small tables], and clews [metal loops]), and a setting made vivid with details.

I could imagine what it would be like in the gaolor's house:

"the gaoler ushered everyone from the room and pulled the door closed, causing the hallway to shiver. The interior walls of the gaoler's house were made of patterned calico that had been stretched tight and tacked to the building's frame, and when the timber creaked in the wind, or was disturbed by a heavy footfall or the sudden slam of a door, the walls all quivered and rippled, like the surface of a pool --"

A young man, when asked how he likes Hokitika, responds:

"I like it very well indeed. It's a perfect hive of contradictions! There is a newspaper, and no coffee house in which to read it; there is a druggist for prescriptions, but one can never find a doctor, and the hospital barely deserves its name. The store is always running out of either boots or socks, but never both at once, and all the hotels along Revell-street only serve breakfast, though they do so at all hours of the day!"

The entire narrative neatly balances opposites, creating a harmonious whole. I like it very well indeed.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

With too many other books currently on the go and a looming TBR, I nearly abandoned Claire of the Sea Light when I was about 30 pages in. But because I greatly admired another of Edwidge Danticat's novels, The Dew BreakerI persevered. I am so glad that I did, because it only took a little longer to get me totally hooked. Claire of the Sea Light is a radiant and worthy novel.

Claire is a girl who disappears on her seventh birthday in a small town in Haiti. Danticat starts there, then circles back and around in a way that imitates the singing game Claire played with other little girls on the beach that evening.

One character and then another steps to the middle of the story and we gradually get a sense of Claire's place within a larger, interconnected community. There is a gay storyline that is particularly heartbreaking, but also linked to the redemption in the final pages. Very rewarding.

Readalikes for those wanting entwined narratives: Is Just a Movie (Earl Lovelace); How to Paint a Dead Man (Sarah Hall); The Lighthouse (Alison Moore); Ghana Must Go (Taiye Selasi); Visitation Street (Ivy Pochoda); and The History of Love (Nicole Krauss).

For another take on contemporary life in Haiti, plus historical context, I suggest reading In Darkness (Nick Lake).

Friday, November 22, 2013

Is Just a Movie by Earl Lovelace

I knew I had to read Is Just a Movie after hearing Earl Lovelace at the Vancouver Writers Fest last month. He had the entire audience laughing. The story is narrated in the voice of a calypso singer, KingKala, and through him we get to know a wide assortment of individuals in a small town in 1970s Trinidad.

One of these is KingKala's friend Dorlene, who was pitied because her parents sent her away to get a better education in Port of Spain. KingKala's aunt is "sad for the girl who had grown up remote from our world. 'She will not know the bush teas and the songs and the dances. She will live on the edge of the world that is her world.'"

"When she left school, Dorlene would have loved to get a job in Port of Spain. Instead, the job she got was in the library in Arima seventeen miles away. The librarians there agreed that nice men did not read, and, in order to expose themselves to a wider pool of a suitable set of men, had organised a programme to invite poets to read their work in the library, calypsonians to sing, and John de John the novelist from Matura with thirty-five unpublished novels to read from his current novel, which he had been finishing for forever, Dorlene herself appearing on the programme playing the piano and beating the tenor pan. I was one of the calypsonians invited. It was a successful project. At the end of the series, one of the librarians was engaged to be married, one of them had moved in with a man, and a man moved in with one. Mabel, a girl who had started same time as Dorlene, was pregnant and Miss Trim the head librarian, who had been most sceptical of the idea had found romance."

I really enjoyed the circular motion of this novel. Lovelace introduces a new topic or character in the last line of one chapter and then springboards from there into the next chapter. Moments of everyday life are vividly evoked through a colourful cast of characters, while the larger cultural and political picture of Trinidad and Tobago comes slowly into focus. It's an uplifting novel infused with the magical spirit of Carnival. And it left me with a craving for calalloo and pepper sauce.

Readalikes: The Emperor of Paris (C.S. Richardson) has a similar circular style, even though it has a much different setting. Trinidadian classics to read: A House for Mr. Biswas (V.S. Naipaul) and Dream on Monkey Mountain (Derek Walcott).

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas by David Almond

In The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas, David Almond gently reminds us that a human being is an astonishing thing, and that we are part of "the wonderful and terrifying vastness of the universe." This is why Almond, who also wrote Skellig, is one of my very favourite authors.

His language is playful -- disgracious; the pea's knees; we must bite our time; the land of Rackanruwin -- and his characters speak the dialect of northern England -- how do; dun't know; wotch yer step; good for nowt.

Young Stanley is orphaned and then his uncle Ernie goes a bit nuts and turns their house into a fish canning factory, where Stanley's pet goldfish are no longer safe. So Stanley runs off to work in a travelling carnival, where he meets lots of different kinds of people, including adults who treat him as an equal.

"I'm Seabrook. What's your name and what's your poison?"
"Poison?" says Stan.
"Forgive me. You're new, aren't you? Seabrook's way is we have a drink and a chinwag, then we get down to business. I can do you water, fizzy water, or black pop."

I also love Almond's metafictional storytelling style.

"But, reader, let's leave this trio for a moment in their caravan. Let's have something like our own dream. Let's rise through the caravan roof and over this strange field filled with sideshows and rides and peculiar practices and magical moments and fires and chops and spuds and scorpions and fish and tents. Let's rise into the moonlight so that the fires shrink to the size of fireflies; the spinning waltzer becomes like a distant comet. [...] And let's look down, almost as if we were the moon itself, and see if we can see what has happened to the other fragments of our story. [...] How can we do this? you may well ask. But it's easy, isn't it? All it takes is a few words put into a few sentences, and a bit of imagination. We could go anywhere with words and our imaginations. We could leave this story altogether, in fact, and find some other story in some other part of the world, and start telling that one. But no. Maybe later. It's best not to leave our story scattered into fragments, so let's find them and start to gather them up."

And all of the parts are indeed gathered up into a wise and witty tale about courage and forgiveness. "The hearts of these people, despite all their faults and failings, are good and true." Yes, yes and yes.

Illustrations by Oliver Jeffers hit just the right whimsical note. Grade 4 and up, or all ages if read aloud.

Almond recently won the Eleanor Farjeon award for outstanding contribution to the world of children's books and I say YES! to that too.

Readalikes: The Several Lives of Orphan Jack (Sarah Ellis); Small Change for Stuart (Lissa Evans); Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire! (Polly Horvath); Flora and Ulysses (Kate DiCamillo).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo's children's stories keep getting funnier and more adorable. Holy bagumba! Flora and Ulysses had me laughing out loud. Flora is ten years old and a natural-born cynic. Ulysses is a squirrel who attains superpowers after a near-death encounter with a vacuum cleaner.

The vocabulary is rich with words like malfeasance, planetary dislocations, and existential terror. There are "astonishing acts of heroism" and a great many "unanticipated occurrences." I also loved the way that poetry is treated with due respect.

After vanquishing a vicious cat, Ulysses "was enormously, inordinately pleased with himself. He felt immensely powerful! He felt like writing a poem!"*

The waitress at the Giant Do-Nut had her name tag spelled out in all capital letters: RITA! "Flora narrowed her eyes. The exclamation point made Rita seem untrustworthy, or, at the very least, insincere."**

Flora and Ulysses is a rollicking and witty adventure that would make a fantastic family read-aloud, suitable for all ages.

Readalikes: Mr and Mrs Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire! (Polly Horvath); The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas (David Almond); The True Meaning of Smekday (Adam Rex)

*Coincidentally, in Thea Bowering's short story 'The Cannibals' (in Love at Last Sight), a modern-day little mermaid out for revenge is similarly inspired: "She had been trained to attack: when you find your mortal enemy, don't hesitate, close in quickly and write a poem."

**In yet another coincidence, this time in Worst. Person. Ever., Raymond has frustrating encounters with a airline lounge waitress wearing a name tag that says LACEY, and each time LACEY is mentioned in the text, her name is always presented like that: in all-caps and in a contrasting bold font.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

A remote island in Micronesia in the 1950s. A "lost tribe" who apparently lived for centuries. A doctor who won a Nobel prize in 1974 for his discovery of a syndrome of delayed aging that was related to eating a rare turtle. The same, never-married doctor, convicted of pedastry in 1997, after charges are brought against him by one of his own 43 (!) adopted children.

What a plot! Hanya Yanagihara has loosely based The People in the Trees on the real life drama surrounding Nobel prizewinner Dr. Gajdusek. Like other recent novels inspired by sensational news stories -- You Are One of Them (Elliott Holt) and Cartwheel (Jennifer duBois) -- it is very well executed.

The People in the Trees is framed as a memoir written by the imprisoned doctor Norton Perina, edited and with footnotes added by his one staunch supporter, Dr. Ronald Kubodera. NYTimes reviewer Carmela Ciuraru aptly compared them to a couple of characters from The Simpsons: [Kubodera] "serves as Smithers to Perina's Mr. Burns." (Except this book is not in any way a comedy.) In the audiobook [Dreamscape: 16.5 hr], the two men are narrated by Arthur Morey and William Roberts.

Perina is a fascinating character, a closeted gay man who seems nearly incapable of experiencing emotion. He writes of a time when he was a young man, travelling with his brother Owen (who is also gay):

"I can still recall, with a sort of odd, unpleasant clarity, that unfamiliar and inarticulable sensation I began experiencing, about halfway through the journey, whenever I gazed at Owen. I remember feeling something pressing against my chest at those times, substantial and insistent and yet not uncomfortable, not painful. After a few episodes, I deduced it was, for lack of a better word, love."

Later, Perina's distaste for women is a stumbling block when he considers that he might enjoy having children around.

"A wife! What would I discuss with her? I imagined days sitting around a plain white table and sawing away at a piece of meat burned crisp as toast, hearing the clop of her shoes as she walked across a shining linoleum floor, her hectoring conversations about money or the children or my job; I saw myself silent, listening to her drone on about her day and the laundry and whom she had seen at the store and what they had said." 

Perina's attitude towards children:

 "I have never found it difficult, as some do, to speak to children. All one has to do is pretend that they're some kind of intelligent farm animal: a pig, perhaps, or a horse. In fact, one should be much more intimidated by the prospect of speaking to a horse, since they can often be quite quick-witted and possessed of a great disdain for those they feel are not worthy of their attention."

If you only enjoy reading about characters that you like, you will want to stay away from The People in the Trees. It was weird that I found myself with concurrent books starring misogynists in the South Pacific. (See Worst. Person. Ever.) To have them both reference the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati) was also a surprise. On top of that, the Tuskegee syphilis study is mentioned in The People in the Trees as well as in another book I've got on the go, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Another odd coincidence. Anyway, The People in the Trees audiobook held me spellbound.

Readalikes: State of Wonder (Ann Patchett); I was also reminded of the creepy yet erudite narrative voice in By Blood (Ellen Ullman); and the anthropological field study that makes up a large part of The People in the Trees has echoes of Coming of Age in Samoa (Margaret Mead).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

My 10 Favourite Books

I'm on a new team at the Edmonton Public Library: the Great Stuff Crew. Our job is to promote the great content we've got in the library collection -- books, movies, music, games, digital delights -- the whole breadth and depth of it. We'll be doing this primarily online, via the EPL website.

As a way of introducing ourselves to the public, crew members have been asked to come up with a list of our ten favourite books (or other materials). Only ten? Impossible!

This is my list of three dozen, in alphabetical order by title, leaving out many, many, many favourites. I've included links to my reviews on this blog.

The 10 PM Question. Kate De Goldi
Autobiography of Red. Anne Carson
Better Living Through Plastic Explosives: Stories. Zsuzsi Gartner
The Botany of Desire. Michael Pollan
Carry the One. Carol Anshaw
Cereus Blooms at Night. Shani Mootoo
Chime. Franny Billingsley
A Country Year: Living the Questions. Sue Hubbell
I'm reading something by China Mieville here... which
reminds me that the audiobook of his City and the City
(narrated by John Lee) is another favourite. Oh dear!
Exit Wounds. Rutu Modan
Fall on Your Knees. Ann-Marie MacDonald
Fugitive Pieces. Anne Michaels
Fun Home. Alison Bechdel
How I Live Now. Meg Rosoff
How to Heal a Broken Wing. Bob Graham
I Want My Hat Back. Jon Klassen
Jinx. Margaret Wild
The Lesser Blessed. Richard Van Camp
Lighthousekeeping. Jeanette Winterson
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches. Gaetan Soucy
The Lost Garden. Helen Humphreys
Monkey Beach. Eden Robinson
Mr and Mrs Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire. Polly Horvath
Packing for Mars. Mary Roach
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Annie Dillard
The Pull of the Ocean. Jean-Claude Mourlevat
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. Susan Cain
Skellig. David Almond
Skim. Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Stitches. David Small
Someday this Pain Will Be Useful to You. Peter Cameron
The Summer Book. Tove Jansson
There But For The. Ali Smith
True Grit. Charles Portis. audiobook narrated by Donna Tartt
A Visit from the Goon Squad. Jennifer Egan
West Wind. Mary Oliver
When Women Were Birds. Terry Tempest Williams
Why We Broke Up. Daniel Handler

Some of my most favourite authors -- Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland, Carol Ann Duffy, John Green, Sonya Hartnett, A.S. King, Margo Lanagan, Alice Munro and Michael Ondaatje (that's another ten right there) -- aren't on this list because it was too hard to choose only one of their books. How could I ever only pick ten?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland

Worst. Person. Ever. is Douglas Coupland's demented and satirical new novel. The man of the title is Raymond Gunt, a British cameraman hired to film an American Survivor-style reality TV show in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati. He's a boorish horndog adept at offending and alienating everyone around him. Worst. Person. Ever. is as outrageous as it is hilarious.

Imagine every obnoxious person you've ever met, all rolled into one, and you've got the greatest anti-hero ever. I even found myself agreeing with Raymond sometimes, like when he describes processed foods as "overpackaged chemical goatfuckings manufactured in the same factories that make dildos and pesticides." (Not the particular phrasing I would have chosen, but I'm sympathetic to the sentiment.)

The novel rockets along from one misadventure to another. It's entirely in dialogue, counting Raymond's first-person narration.
"I like to think of myself as a giving, caring person who really does think about the modern world -- someone who tries to improve the planet, even though it seems pretty much doomed. As a consequence, maybe I'm not fully qualified to pass judgment on the diet of most Americans. But as I stood there staring at the shit-coated guano logs and repulsive cans of room-temperature weasel piss in the airport vending machines, I was appalled. 'Come on, America, you're living creatures, not science experiments.'
'Ray, I don't think there's anything in there we could actually put in our bodies.'
Still we scanned the grids of toxins wrapped in bright paper and the cans of sugary blight.
'Look!' Neal was pointing, with a heartbreaking note of hope in his voice. 'Look at that bar there -- it's got peanuts in it. That's food.'
'Probably tastes like a pocket calculator garnished with dried herpes juice flakes.'"
I don't think other readers will have wishy-washy reactions -- you'll either love it or hate it. I loved it.
Sporks and knoons are among the newfangled
cutlery featured in Worst. Person. Ever.
(Image from the flyleaf,
Random House Canada edition.)

Readalike (minus the profanity): Beauty Queens (Libba Bray).

See also other books by Coupland that I've reviewed: Generation A; Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People; and Eleanor Rigby.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fools by Joan Silber

The six finely-crafted stories in Joan Silber's Fools are about anarchists, our better natures and our worst. New York Marxists in the 1920s, conscientious objectors imprisoned during WWII, the Occupy Wall Street movement -- I love the way they are all loosely interconnected, with characters and places from one story popping up tangentially in another.

The stories are around 40 pages long, enough time to really get into the characters, their lives, and the many possibilities there are for learning from one's folly.

The title story opens with these lines:

" A lot of people thought anarchists were fools. I finished high school in 1924, and even during my girlhood, when the fiercest wing of anarchists still believed in "propaganda by deed" and threw bombs and shot at world leaders, people thought they did it out of a bloody kind of sappiness, a laughable naivete. All this laughing, I came to think, ignored the number of things a person could be a fool for in this life -- a fool for love, a fool for Christ, a fool for admiration. I had friends who were all of these, as it turned out. But I took my own route."

What struggles we have in making our actions congruent with our ideals. Fools is an enthralling collection.

Readalikes: Runaway (Alice Munro); Bobcat (Rebecca Lee); The Imperfectionists (Tom Rachman).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

I love this cover.
I listened to the latest Book Riot podcast this morning (episode 26, That's Verbatim, Baby) and heard Rebecca Schinsky talk about a book that made her weep uncontrollably on an airplane (The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien). It reminded me that last month I listened to A House in the Sky, a memoir co-written by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett. If you haven't already heard about her, Lindhout was kidnapped while working as a freelance journalist in Somalia and held captive for 15 months.

I'm not loving the Midwest Tape
audio edition cover. I wouldn't
have picked it up if I hadn't already
heard about the book and knew
I wanted to read it.
On the eve of my departure for the Vancouver Writers Fest, I realized that I had only about 45 minutes left before the end of the audiobook [Simon & Schuster: 13 hours total: read by Lindhout herself]. I considered saving it for the waiting lounge, as it would be about the right length of time, and then I could start a new book once the plane was in the air and the restriction on using electronic devices was lifted. I'm glad that I decided instead to finish it at home before I left, because the most harrowing parts are in that final section. I cried. I was glad that I was not in a public place.

The earlier parts of the book explain why Lindhout was in Somalia in the first place. Her motivations start with her childhood in Sylvan Lake, Alberta, where she escaped her dysfunctional family situation by reading secondhand National Geographic magazines. She moved to Calgary after high school and worked as a waitress until she had enough money to travel for the first time. Lindhout was hooked on travel to exotic locations and repeatedly returned to work in Calgary only long enough to save for another extended trip. I also love to travel, so I was sympathetic, even though I would never choose to go anywhere near a war zone or other dangerous places.

Lindhout maintained her sanity through 460 days of captivity in Somalia. It is a remarkable and memorable story.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

My garden today, Nov 4 2013.
(Photo by Laurie MacFayden)
We've just had our first big snow in Edmonton, so the atmosphere here is right for a historical mystery set in Iceland. Australian author Hannah Kent based her debut novel, Burial Rites, on historical fact. In 1830, Agnes Magnusdottir was the last person to be executed in Iceland.

After being convicted of murder and sentenced to have her head chopped off, Agnes spends more than a year waiting for her execution. A farm family is assigned the responsibility of keeping her while she waits. Agnes shares their tiny croft for many months, working side by side with uneasy family members. She is frequently visited by a young priest whose task is to bring her to God before she dies.

The narrative shifts comfortably between different points of view, but Agnes is the only character given first-person voice. According to the author's note, "many of the letters, documents and extracts presented at the beginning of each chapter have been translated and adapted from original sources." I was struck by one in particular, in which the district commissioner protests the unforeseen cost of the executioner's axe -- nearly six times higher than expected -- and the resulting strain on his budget.

The events leading up to the night of the double murder and arson, and what role Agnes played in it, are slowly revealed. Along the way, we get to know some fascinating people and their way of life. (A glass of whey, anyone? How about some pickled whale? Don't mind all that dirt on the bed; it's just that our sod walls are crumbling.)

I really enjoyed Burial Rites. It also made me thankful for central heating.

Readalikes: The Colour of Milk (Nell Leyshon); The Tenderness of Wolves (Stef Penney); Alias Grace (Margaret Atwood).

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel by David Rakoff

David Rakoff's Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die; Cherish, Perish juggles an impressive cast of characters while sweeping across the history and landscape of the USA. It is playfully -- and concisely -- written in rhyming couplets.

On top of all that, the book design is striking. It's a collectible artifact designed by Chip Kidd. Diecut holes in a thick board cover reveal the title printed on the page underneath. The text is illustrated with full-page art by Seth. It's an inspired match. Seth's portraits have a double edge -- cartoonish, yet sombre -- that works perfectly with Rakoff's campy style and his luckless characters.

Here's a sample from one of the sections about Susan/Sloan/Shulamit, who keeps reinventing herself over time:

A maximal, turbo-charged, top-drawer milieu --
Appealed to a moneyed crowd of locals who
Insisted on only the toppest of drawers,
Weddings befitting of Louis Quatorze.

Clifford is also followed across the years, from childhood through to his death on the vanguard of the AIDS epidemic. Knowing that Rakoff was dying of cancer when he wrote this book added poignancy as I read his words:

A new fierce attachment to all of this world
Now pierced him, it stabbed like a deity-hurled
Lightning bolt lancing him, sent from above,
Left him giddy and tearful. It felt like young love.

LDMDCP was published posthumously. (I reviewed Half Empty when Rakoff died last year.) Rakoff was a warm and funny writer and I am sad that he is gone.

Readalikes: The Wild Party (Joseph Moncure March and Art Spiegelman); George Sprott (Seth); Building Stories (Chris Ware); and maybe Tales of the City (Armistead Maupin) as well.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Wormholes (not the science fiction kind)

There may be wormholes
in this sculpture that I saw
in Slovakia, but even if
there aren't, I thought it
would be more appealing
than an image of worms.
Three different passages about wormholes in three different literary novels in one week. Weird! Wormholes show up fairly often in books and films about space travel but I can't remember encountering them in literary fiction before. Must have been a space-time convergence in my reading world.

These are the relevant passages:

"When I came in, my mother was on her knees next to the kitchen table, in her underwear, intent on photographing a hole that the woodworms had left in our table." (P 13, 70% Acrylic 30% Wool, Viola Di Grado.)

"bookworms had begun to consume the paper and I would be set to tracing the wormholes to get rid of the pests" (P 33, The Ghost Bride, Yangsze Choo.)

"I invent private exercises, count the holes the woodworms have worm-eaten out of the window frames over the centuries and centuries, amen, so the hours go by faster." (Chapter 2, The First True Lie, Marina Mander, from advance review e-book access thanks to Hogarth, the publisher; I'll review it in January when the book is released.)

Don't you love this kind of synchronicity? Anyone else have examples of wormholes in literary fiction?

Note added November 3, 2013. More woodworms, this time in non-fiction.  I'm going to quote a longish passage because it is so odd:

"In 1499 some sparrows were excommunicated for depositing droppings on the pews in St Vincent, in France. In 1546 a band of weevils were tried for damaging church vineyards in St Julien. Such trials were rife in the sixteenth century, and the distinguished French lawyer Bartholomew Chassenee rose to fame as an advocate for animals. His work is commemorated in Julian Barnes's mischievous short story 'The Wars of Religion,' in which excommunication is sought for a colony of woodworm which had gnawed away the supporting legs of the Bishop of Besancon's throne, causing him to be 'hurled against his will into a state of imbecility.' Chassenee negotiates a gentler outcome for the insects. They are excused punishment, provided the local inhabitants 'set aside for the said bestioles alternative pasture, where they may graze peacefully without future harm to the church of St Michel." (P 70, Weeds by Richard Mabey.)