Friday, September 11, 2015

Book Bingo, Second Card, Sixth Line

My book bingo card is now complete, but I'm going to separate the final two lines into two separate posts, just to keep it manageable. It took me so long to get the last few squares that I managed to read additional titles for several other categories in the meantime.

ABOUT A DISEASE: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe [Books on Tape: 9 hr 37 min: narrated by Jeff Harding]. Bonus title: On Immunity by Eula Biss.
(Intersection. See previous book bingo post here.)

A COLLECTION OF ESSAYS: A Bone to Pick: The Good and Bad News about Food, with Wisdom and Advice on Diets, Food Safety, GMOs, Farming, and More by Mark Bittman [Books on Tape: 8 hr 42 min: narrated by Robert Fass.

Social justice, public health and the environment are all addressed in Bittman's passion about food issues. This collection of about 60 short articles was originally written for his column in the New York Times. The subtitle is a good indication of the breadth of topics, as are the subheadings in the table of contents: Big Ag, Sustainability, and What's in Between; What's Wrong with Meat?; What Is Food? And What Is Not?; The Truth About Diet(s); The Broken Food Chain; and Legislating and Labeling. Thought-provoking and entertaining.

Bonus title: Selfish, Shallow and Self Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum.

I already knew and loved Meghan Daum's writing and now I know that she's great at getting other writers to contribute to an anthology on a controversial topic. It is top notch! Here's just one example, from Geoff Dyer, in 'Over and Out':

"To be middle-aged and childless is to elicit one of two responses. The first: pity because you are unable to have kids. This is fine by me. I'm always on the lookout for pity, will accept it from anyone or, if no one is around, from myself. I crave pity the way other men crave admiration or respect. So if my wife or I are asked if we have kids, one of us will reply, 'No, we've not been blessed with children.' We do it totally deadpan, shaking our heads wistfully, looking as forlorn as a couple of empty beer glasses." (The second response is "horror, because by choosing not to have children, you are declining full membership in the human race.")

Selfish, Shallow and Self Absorbed would make an excellent book club choice, because there are many different views expressed and it's a hot-button topic.

SPORTS-RELATED: Lost Canyon by Nina Revoyr.

This was one of the three final categories that snagged my progress. I had it on my first card, where it also created a hindrance, until I read a great nonfiction book about soccer. It took me a while to realize that I could count Nina Revoyr's brand new novel, Lost Canyon, for this category. It's about four people who know each other only through their trainer at a Los Angeles gym, and their planned four-day backpacking trip through strenuous mountain terrain.

As it happens, I've had an advance electronic copy of it since mid-June, thanks to Akashic Books. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the pdf to open in the reading app on my iPod. Every time I wanted to read it, I had to scroll to the message in my email, open the pdf, and then advance page by page to my last stopping point. Quite a nuisance... until I came to a point in the narrative where the hiking adventure went completely sideways and the story switched gears into thriller mode. I didn't stop again until I was finished. (Format problem solved.)

The viewpoint in Lost Canyon rotates between the multi-ethnic cast of believable protagonists. If you are familiar with Revoyr's previous work, you won't be surprised that issues of race and class are explored within a compelling plot. Lost Canyon is her most adrenalin-fueled novel to date.

HISTORICAL FICTION: Graffiti Knight by Karen Bass.
(Intersection. See previous book bingo post here.)

AT LEAST 800 PAGES: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Louise Maude and Aylmer Maude - 880 pages [Blackstone Audio: 33 hr 34 min: narrated by Wanda McCaddon].

Audio is my favourite way to experience classic literature. Skillful audiobook narrators make complex sentence structure easy to understand. In the past three years, I've had the immense pleasure of listening to works by Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte, Edith Wharton, Jack Kerouac, Chinua Achebe, Beryl Markham, Ann Petry, E.M. Forster, P.G. Wodehouse, Wilkie Collins and George Eliot. Another great thing about audio is having someone else do the work of pronouncing unfamiliar names, of which there are plenty in Tolstoy.

My choice of this particular version of Anna Karenina was all about the voice narrator, Wanda McCaddon, and not about the translators. McCaddon, who also records under the names Donada Peters and Nadia May, is a sure bet. I did find some interesting articles online, however, that made me aware of the linguistic differences I would have encountered if I had listened to a different translation. (See examples in The Guardian and the New York Times.)

As with pretty much any novel that uses a person's name as the title, Anna Karenina is character-based. I didn't have a lot of patience for Anna. Her tragic romance bored me, although I felt some sympathy for the societal restrictions placed upon Tolstoy's women strictly because of their gender. My favourite character is definitely Konstantin Levin. I adored the descriptive passages about the Russian countryside and found the ideas about social, agricultural and educational reforms intellectually engaging.

One thing that still mystifies me is why the men would be so keen to shoot snipes rather than ducks. Are snipes so much tastier? Are they a more challenging target because they are smaller? If you know the answer, please tell me!

Bonus title: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson - 861 pages.

After I'd read (listened to) Anna Karenina, someone gave me a raised eyebrow about counting it for this category, since an audiobook technically has no pages at all. I still think it counts, and Ann and Michael of BOTNS concur, but since then I've read another long book, and this time it was proper paper door-stop.

Seveneves begins in the near-future, when something collides with Earth's moon and causes it to break up into seven large chunks. This in turn has a big effect on our planet. One of the most memorable points in the book is the line that begins: "Five thousand years later..." An impressive narrative leap! Some parts were a little too science-explainy but that didn't stop me from loving this overall.

Coming up next: Black Out! My final book bingo post for 2015.

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