In which I stack equal numbers of books into piles and hope that nobody notices that I have maxed out the loans on my library card.
But, I hasten to add, I am still reading from my own shelves too. Anyway, all of these are long-time shelf-sitters or TBR-list occupants, with the exception of Ben Philippe’s book, which landed in the stack because it’s reputed to be funny.
Hilarity is much valued because there’s a whole lot of struggle in the rest of these stories.
John Marlyn’s Under the Ribs of Death (1957)
Part of the New Canadian Library of classic fiction, this one is discussed a few times in Margaret Atwood’s classic text on Canadian literature, Survival. Harry is a lot like Duddy Kravitz (a boy you might know from an early Mordecai Richler novel, also reprinted in the NCL series): scrappy and ambitious, well-intentioned but mis-informed.
Mavis Gallant’s Overhead in a Balloon (1984)
Soaring past the halfway mark in my Mavis Gallant reading with a particularly delightful collection of stories, all set in Paris and linked (the first two stories are about a gallery owner and his assistant, and what fun to get such different perspectives on each man’s experience of the world). One story a week until the end of August, In Transit in October.
Timothy Findley’s You Went Away (1996) and The Stillborn Lover (1993)
My annual reading of the remaining Findley works, with this novella and the play pictured at the bottom of the stack. The play I have already begun: a story of an ambassador and his wife and daughter, brought to a safe house, where two government men have questions for them. I know from the flap that a body has been discovered and there is a secret.
Iris Murdoch’s Nuns and Soldiers (1980)
It’s described as a story about “honour and innocence, lost and found, and about the vicissitudes of a deep friendship between two women”. Initially, however, we are plunged into the world of a dying man and a reluctant bedside visitor. You might think this sounds rather dull, but just picking it up to check the cover for this description, I read ten pages of it.
Marcelo Figueras’s Kamchatka (2003; Trans. Frank Wynne, 2011)
Some of this is light: “People say Shakespeare’s soliloquies are contrived but what’s the difference between Hamlet talking to a skull and papá talking to the TV?” But it’s set during the coup in Argentina. And even though our ten-year-old narrator has no opinion about politics (like “a sport that was as loud as it was pointless, a bit like football”, so much happens.
Alaa Al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building (2002; Trans. Humphrey Davies, 2004)
Constructed in 1934, it has “ten lofty stories in the high classical European style, the balconies decorated with Greek faces carved in stone, the columns, steps, and corridors all of natural marble, and the latest model of elevator by Schindler”: the Yacoubian building is a prized address. On the roof, there are small units designed for storage, which become another world.
Eshkol Nevo’s Three Floors Up (2015; Trans. Sondra Silverston 2017)
The inner flap speaks of the “grinding effects of social and political ills played out in the psyches of his flawed, compelling characters, in often unexpected and explosive ways” and the back cover has Roddy Doyle talking about beauty and wisdom and humour: that’s a lot. Then, consider that there are three interwoven narratives (one character on each floor). Neat, right?
Ben Philippe’s The Field Guide to the North American Teenager (2019)
The story of Norris Kaplan, a black French Canadian moving to Austin, Texas immediately piqued my interest. Flipping through, I spotted quips about there being something in the water here (fluoride and neediness) and a description of a character which included the detail that he wears headphones with nothing playing. So this might be close to home in more than one way.
Manil Suri’s The Death of Vishnu (2001)
Jim Crace says it is “tender, caustic, witty, and inspired”; Andrea Barrett calls it “penetrating, comic, and moving” and she speaks about how it “draws on the best storytelling traditions of both east and west”. (This goes back to her Ship Fever days.) When I first added this to my TBR, it was his debut novel: if I like this, it will add books to my TBR rather than draw one off it.