Tempus fugit, etc.

October 1, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

The fall book season is now well underway and true to form, the preponderance of book festivals, awards lists, launches, and other noisy ephemera of the literary world serve only to emphasize how much I haven’t read. Practically daily, I’m asked if I’ve read the latest buzz book, or some obscure outrider from a small Norwegian publisher, and my answer is almost always a strained, “No.” This is inevitably accompanied by downcast eyes and a shameful countenance, despite the fact that no single human being could possibly read even a fraction of the books that get published in a given year.

Writing in Maclean’s, Sarah Weinman suggests that this year’s crop of fall fiction is less impressive than 2009’s, “which featured new books by awards regulars such as Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, A.S. Byatt, Jonathan Lethem, and John Irving. By comparison, this year’s slate seems a bit thin.” All I can say in response is that if my to-read pile (a.k.a. the “wishful thinking” pile or the “Hail Mary” pile) is any indication, there is a veritable cornucopia of interesting fiction out now or forthcoming in the next few weeks.

Here is a short list of titles I’m looking forward to reading, presuming I ever get the chance:

C by Tom McCarthy: Zadie Smith called McCarthy’s debut novel, 2005’s Remainder, “one of the great English novels of the past 10 years.” The new book is an historical novel set at the turn of the 20th century and focusing on Serge Carrefax, the son of an inventor who runs a school for deaf children. Carrefax suffers from “black bile,” competes with Marconi to develop wireless technology, and travels to an archeological dig in Egypt. The Guardian calls the book, which is the odds-on favourite to win this year’s Man Booker Prize, “a 1960s-style anti-novel that’s fundamentally hostile to the notion of character and dramatises, or encodes, a set of ideas concerning subjectivity.”

Sourland by Joyce Carol Oates: John Gardner famously referred to “that alarming phenomenon Joyce Carol Oates,” and in a career that has spanned close to five decades, she has done her best to live up to this description. Now in her seventies, Oates still averages two to three books each year; even her most devoted fans find it difficult to keep abreast of her astonishing literary output. Sourland, her latest collection of short stories, was described in The New York Times as “angry and tough and deeply, viscerally unsettling.”

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: Well, come on.

When Fenlon Falls by Dorothy Ellen Palmer: Set during the summer of 1969, this debut novel from Canadian author Palmer tells the story of Jordan May March, a 14-year-old adoptee who was conceived during Hurricane Hazel and concocts a diary in which she imagines different circumstances for her conception. The metafictional narrative involves the CHUM Top 30 hit parade, JFK, Queen Elizabeth, and a caged, butter-tart-eating bear named Yogi.

Room by Emma Donoghue: Loosely based on the real-life case of Josef Fritzl, an Austrian who kept his daughter imprisoned for 24 years and fathered several children by her, Donoghue’s novel was overlooked by this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize jury but has received glowing accolades both here and abroad and has landed a spot on the 2010 Man Booker Prize shortlist. Narrated in the voice of five-year-old Jack, the book is split into two halves: the first taking place within the small room that has been his only home since birth, the second following his release with his mother, and centred on the new set of perils he must navigate in the outside world.

Nemesis by Philip Roth: Also in his seventies, Roth is not quite as prolific as Oates, but has been averaging one book a year for the last four years or so. His new novel, set in 1944, tells the story of Bucky Cantor, a polio victim whose ill health and bad eyesight have kept him out of the war. As the polio epidemic begins to inflict the small Jewish enclave of Weequahic, New Jersey, writes Tim Martin in the Telegraph, “Cantor finds himself pinned between desire and duty, and – since this is late Roth, after all – being dragged, grimly and inexorably, under life’s steamroller.”

I’m a Registered Nurse Not a Whore by Anne Perdue: I was on the jury that awarded Anne Perdue the Marina Nemat Award for creative writing from the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, and couldn’t be happier to see her first book of short fiction making an appearance with Insomniac Press. Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall says that Perdue’s “voice is just as convincing in the body of a teenage dish-pig, an alcoholic grandmother, or a raging suburban dad. Her characters feel as real as anyone you’ve ever met; they’re scared and scarred, with wells of kindness pooling beneath the skin. And the universe they inhabit is much like ours – a cracked one, where fury, joy, madness, or molten lava could burst through the surface at any moment.”

The Hair Wreath and Other Stories by Halli Villegas: The publisher of Toronto-based Tightrope Books has a new collection of dark fantasy stories out with ChiZine Publications, a small press that is also publishing new work by Craig Davidson and Tony Burgess this season. So, basically, I want to read ChiZine’s entire fall list.

And there you have it. Books that command my attention this fall, if I can manage to tear myself away from the rest of my life for long enough to get to them. Stay tuned.


3 Responses to “Tempus fugit, etc.”
  1. Rob in Victoria says:


  2. Nathan says:

    I just KNEW you’d show up here, Rob.

    Hey, at least you have a book out this fall. *sniff*

  3. August says:

    “Writing in Maclean’s…”

    Well *there’s* your problem.