Spring 2018, In My Reading Log

Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2008)

I thought the footnotes would make it fun (like in a Steven Haywood short story); I was more focussed on the ‘wondrous’ than the warning of brevity.

In fact, Oscar’s life emerges from dictatorship and constricted choices, and you know from the beginning (as with Raziel Reid’s 2014 coming-of-age novel When Everything Feels Like the Movies) that this life story is being told after death.

What makes the story remarkable is the glimpse into multiple generations of a Dominican Republic family; what makes it interesting is the zigzaggy structure which connects past and present; what makes it shine is Oscar’s relentless pursuit of wonder. I read this with Danielle and that kept us both reading.

“It had the density of a dwarf-motherfucking-star and at times he was a hundred percent sure it would drive him mad. The only thing that came close was how he felt about his books; only the combined love he had for everything he’d read and everything he hoped to write came even close.”

Rishma Dunlop’s Reading Like a Girl (2004)

When I first read this poetry collection in 2011, I marked completely different passages.

Then, I was struck by Lector in Fabula: “I am reading in a school of dreams, / a lost girl in a night’s tale, wandering through / a jardin d’essais, underfoot, the crunch of pale / green lichen on the forest floor.”

Now, I scribble down these lines from the same poem: “Tonight, I’ll turn the pages of the book again / my hands inside the spine, reading the places / where memory doesn’t work.”

Then, I marked some verses which I read through quickly now. Now, I copy lines from “Saccade”: “Everything stories you. You take Rilke at his word. / Take it everywhere. Wonderland signs.”

And, so, I know that I can reread this one many more times, marvelling at different parts of each journey.

Kevin Irie’s Angel Blood: The Tess Poems (2004)

I first learned of Irie’s poems when Viewing Tom Thomson: A Minority Report was nominated for the 2013 Toronto Book Award.

But because I had found Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) such a memorable story, it was this early book of his poems which I yearned to read.

This shaping of self, shaping of solitude: it’s a beautiful volume and a striking homage to a powerful novel.

This story of “[a] woman gone missing / from her own life”.

Rabindranath Maharaj’s Homer in Flight (1997)

“All artists are strugglers.”

Homer has arrived in Canada, desperate for a sense of promise, absent for him in his homeland, Trinidad.

Whether his duties in the workplace, his ragtag assembly of home furnishings, his fledgling and established relationships (friendships or romances) in Toronto, the writing is exacting and detailed.

Readers ride the bus with Homer in the mornings and share his sleepless nights as well, coming to understand the peculiar kind of racism exhibited in Canada, struggling to balance that with his overwhelming desire to belong.

Marcelino Truong’s Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (2015; Translated by David Homel, 2017)

A follow-up to Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, this volume’s format is consistent although innocence fades as the children grow.

In London, they are Frogs and they look too Chinese, but their mother is more stable away from Vietnam but their Vietnamese father is uncomfortable with his political work.

But, the Beatles.

Readers glimpse the subtleties of the conflict-simmering-beneath-the-conflict back in Vietnam, with news exchanged between their father’s remaining family members and the new Londoners, the conflict always present but, strangely, far away too.

An abrupt summary in the final pages is unsatisfying (and sad); I would have rather had more volumes instead.

Just a sampling of my reading this spring. Is there a book which you’ve read this year which you haven’t gotten around to posting about yet, but which you do not want to forget?



  1. The Reading Life June 29, 2018 at 11:23 pm - Reply

    I read Juan Diaz’s novel about 12 years ago. Over The Last few years I have read a number of his Short stories, mostly about Domincans in New York.

    • Buried In Print July 10, 2018 at 4:50 pm - Reply

      I was hoping to get to his short stories this month, but have had to push them into August. I’ve read (and appreciated) the odd one in TNY over the years, but I’ve yet to read a complete collection.

  2. Wendy June 13, 2018 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    I’ve added wondrous life to my to read list . Thanks

    • Buried In Print June 15, 2018 at 8:52 am - Reply

      It’s certainly a worthwhile read, but the structure requires concentration; for much of it, I felt as though I was “enduring” and wincing a lot, with only occasional moments of connection with character(s), and it wasn’t until about the 3/4 mark that I felt like I was thoroughly invested in Oscar (then, only to lose him).

      • Wendy June 15, 2018 at 9:36 am - Reply

        Now I’m curious – might be a good selection for the dark cold days of January …more likely to concentrate

  3. Naomi June 13, 2018 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    I will have to tell them! 😉

  4. Liz Dexter June 10, 2018 at 10:37 am - Reply

    I really didn’t get on with Oscar Wao and you’re the second blogger in my Feedly feed to mention him – oh dear! I like the look of Homer in Flight most out of those.

    And when I’ve done a review in a little while I will be all caught up, however, however much I think I review everything, there’s always something I know I’ve read but when I go back to search, I can’t find a review on my blog!

    • Buried In Print June 12, 2018 at 11:28 am - Reply

      Didn’t get on with him like couldn’t get into the story, or didn’t get on with him like struggled through it but never connected? I’m interested in trying one of his story collections now. But I know stories aren’t really your thing either.

      That happens to me too! I wonder if there are files buried somewhere on our computers with half-written-blog-posts about all those books that we were sure we’d posted about sometime “back then”?!

      • Liz Dexter June 17, 2018 at 11:19 am - Reply

        Just couldn’t get into it or engage somehow – I was on holiday, too! I think my husband finished it.

        • Buried In Print June 20, 2018 at 9:55 am - Reply

          Somehow I prefer that idea, rather than that you truly and properly met him, read through, and couldn’t sympathize/empathize with his story. 🙂

  5. Naomi June 8, 2018 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Since you asked, I have read a few books that haven’t appeared on my blog, mostly because sometimes I just run out of time. I’m sure no one else has that problem. 😉
    I didn’t ever write about Small Island, even though I LOVED it – I think I just felt satisfied with our own little discussion about it. And The Mercy Journals, which had to go back to the library – but I’m glad I finally read it. I also recently read New Year’s Eve by Endicott and The Eskimo Solution by Pascal Garnier. Both were short little books that I picked up at the library (New Year’s Eve was recommended by you!) and read just for fun. Because sometimes I like to read just for fun. But not for long… I soon start itching to take notes again!

    • Buried In Print June 12, 2018 at 11:22 am - Reply

      Wasn’t New Year’s Eve a satisfying story? I really found the interplay between the characters interesting. It felt a little like one of Alice Munro’s simpler stories (the ones where time doesn’t spiral so much, just settles into characters’ stories) and made me want to know what was next for them. (But I wonder just how many people will read it – it looks like a novel but reads like a story. And I suspect many readers who are new to reading in English would find it a little inward-looking to keep up the effort of reading in a new language – given that the series is designed to support literacy I believe?) And, yes, I felt like discussing Small Island was like writing a blog post. Wasn’t I supposed to read The Eskimo Solution? I’ve been thinking that there was some skinny little Canlit volume I was supposed to be requesting…and I think that’s the one. Was it the one with the weird ending or something discussion-worthy-ish?

      • Naomi June 12, 2018 at 12:02 pm - Reply

        I wondered the exact same thing about New Year’s Eve… will it appeal to the QuickReads audience? I liked it, for sure – I love getting to know characters – it doesn’t matter to me if there’s little action. And I want to know more about what happens in their marriage! It’s so interesting that she keeps going back and forth about whether she wants to leave him or not.

        The Eskimo Solution is the one that I wondered if the author was interested in having any female fans, because of something that happens in the book. Definitely discussion-worthy! But not Canadian.

        • Buried In Print June 12, 2018 at 4:12 pm - Reply

          Oh, right! I think it’s French (and I had originally assumed Quebecois, but apparently not)? I see it’s at a branch that I am heading to sometime within the next month, so I’ll have a look! Well, I suppose there are all kinds of people learning new languages or improving skills, some like us who enjoy quiet stories, but I am an impatient reader in French – I need far more plot than I need in English. All those words when all anyone is doing is thinking? Sheesh. It all seems so unnecessary suddenly. grins

          • Naomi June 13, 2018 at 10:31 am - Reply

            I can barely make it through all the school notices and e-mails!

  6. Rebecca Anthony June 8, 2018 at 7:29 am - Reply

    Poor Oscar Wao is still languishing way down in my library book stack! I’m very interested in the two poetry collections you feature here, and I intend to return to my first book by Truong (The Book of Salt) soon.

    • Buried In Print June 8, 2018 at 10:22 am - Reply

      giggles Oh my: I was wondering about poor Oscar, when I saw that he was absent from your last Library Loot post, but I didn’t want to ask, in case he had been summarily dismissed (whispers returned, unread). But it’s hard, isn’t it? With these older books? When you don’t read them “with everyone else”, there is always another, newer book vying for your attention later. That’s Monique Truong, I think, that you have in your current stack? Rather than Marcelino? I’ve had The Book of Salt from the library and never got around to reading it, and I also get it confused with Martha Southgate’s novel, The Taste of Salt, which I also have left to read. Hmmm, now I feel a Salt project coming on. And just when I was getting my library stack tidy once more…

      • Rebecca Foster June 8, 2018 at 10:47 am - Reply

        Oh of course, how silly of me. I saw M. Truong and just presumed it was the same author. I, in my turn, get The Book of Salt confused with The Price of Salt (aka Patricia Highsmith’s Carol) all the time!

        I tend not to even mention the university library books I have out because they can be renewed pretty much indefinitely (which means something else will always be more pressing). I should have tried to read Oscar Wao alongside you or Laura T. recently.

        • Buried In Print June 12, 2018 at 11:18 am - Reply

          Oh, thank you: I’d been meaning to check out which of Highsmith’s novels that movie was based on (I thought it might be that one) and now I know! And I still feel a “salt” project coming on.

          Company makes all the difference with those lingering modern-canon-ish choices, I find. You don’t even have to say much about it, you just have to know that someone else is setting aside “new” books to make time for a backlist title, and then everything’s good somehow. 🙂

  7. iliana June 7, 2018 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    Saigon Calling sounds so interesting. It’s a shame it wasn’t a great conclusion but sounds like still a worthy read. Great variety of books!

    • Buried In Print June 7, 2018 at 4:54 pm - Reply

      Well, I suppose it’s the best kind of complaint for an author, to hear that a reader wanted more; both books are informative and interesting and definitely worth reading, despite my whining on that matter.

  8. annelogan17 June 7, 2018 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    Oh wow, I’m impressed by your breadth of books this spring! I would love to read Rab’s 1997 book, I’ve heard really good things about this newer stuff but I think this would really resonate too.

    • Buried In Print June 7, 2018 at 4:49 pm - Reply

      He landed on my MRE (MustReadEverything) list with The Amazing Absorbing Boy (for the mix of compassion and humour, sense-of-place and straight-talk), so I pick him up whenever I can. I’m super excited about Adjacentland, which sounds like a departure in some ways, but I have two other older ones here that I want to read first because they’ve been waiting so patiently. But you know how hard it is to make time for older books…

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