Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Equations of Love - Ethel Wilson

The Basics: The Equations of Love, Ethel Wilson, 1952, 263 pages, paperback

How I found it: I've read some of Ethel Wilson's other books and enjoyed them. I was in line to check out books at my local public library and happened to see this one on the paperback rack. I had never heard of it, but picked it up on the spur of the moment anyway.

What's it about?: This is really two books in one; it is two novellas. "Tuesday and Wednesday" tells the story of two (important) days in the life of Myrtle and Mort Johnson. "Lilly's Story" follows a young woman who goes to incredible lengths to protect her daughter and give her the life she wished she had had. Both are about love, but in very different ways, which I suppose explains the title of the collection.

Did I like it?: Disappointingly, I didn't like either novella at all. They were well written, as is characteristic of Wilson's work, but they just didn't interest me. In particular, I found the protagonists in both works to be unlikeable and didn't relate to them at all. I found Myrtle to be a despicable person, and Mort to be a sad sack lazy guy. I found Lilly to be delusional to the point of feeling sorry for her. As usual hower, Greater Vancouver plays a part in the story, and Wilson's descriptions of the city and its surroundings in the earlier part of the 19th century were fascinating.

Will you like it?: I'm sad to say that this one is not recommended. I've said before the Ethel Wilson is possible the most underrated Canadian female fiction author, and it's true. However, this is not her finest work. Check out Swamp Angel first.

But don't take my word for it: The usual info from amazon and her wikipedia page are all I could find.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Anonymous Lawyer - Jeremy Blachman

The Basics: Anonymous Lawyer, Jeremy Blachman, 2006, 276 pages, hardcover

How I found it: As a law student, I occasionally read law blogs. The only one I find consistently interesting and funny is the Anonymous Lawyer blog. Thankfully, it's author has turned it into a novel.

What's it about?: A big shot asshole hiring partner at a big law firm decides to start an anonymous blog about life at his firm the way he sees it. He's self-important, arrogant and generally hilarious. He is the ultimate caricature. The book is told in the form of blog entries and emails - how modern. The format works as we are able to see both the public image that anonymous lawyer projects of himself on his blog, and the reality that he shares with those that he is closer to in his private emails.

Did I like it?: The public persona of anonymous lawyer from his blog entries is hilarious and I loved him. He is unabashedly a jerk, and that's what makes him great. I loved those portions of the book. However, when we get to see the private side of anonymous lawyer as Blachman adds a third dimension to the character and makes him a real person, we see that anonymous lawyer is just like the rest of us - he is full of self-doubt and anxious to succeed. For me a lot of the humour and enjoyment went out of the book as soon as the more personal side was revealed. However, it would not be a novel without this personal side - it would just be a collection of blog entries.

Will you like it?: This is a fluff book, and if you have ever had any contact with the legal world, you'll probably find the stereotype of anonymous lawyer to be at least mildly amusing. However, the amusement is at its best when anonymous lawyer is at his worst (so to speak) and he is at his worst on his real blogspot blog. Check him out there before you bother to pick up this book.

But don't take my word for it: The usual info from amazon, a collection of reviews from the official website, a review from USA Today, one from the student blog Three Years of Hell, and another from Pop Matters.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Beyond the Horizon: The Great Race to Finish the First Human-Powered Circumnavigation of the Planet - Colin Angus

The Basics: Beyond the Horizon: The Great Race to Finish the First Human-Powered Circumnavigation of the Planet, Colin Angus, 2007, 374 pages, hardcover

How I found it: In undergrad I was introduced to Colin Angus' short films through a UBC Geography film night. I subsequently read his other books and have been following his progress ever since. Last spring I attended a screening of his film Beyond the Horizon and listened to him and his fiance speak about their journey.

What's it about?: Angus began a human powered attempt to travel from Vancouver to Moscow via foot, bicycle, rowboat, and skis in 2004. His partner, Tim Harvey wrote a series of articles about the trip for The Vancouver Sun. Their plan was to try to get to Moscow, then announce their plan to the world of continuing on back to Vancouver by human power. Unfortunately, Angus and Harvey didn't get along as well as planned, the expedition was under-funded and partially unplanned, and the two eventually parted ways in Siberia. Angus ended up finishing the adventure with his fiance, Julie Wafaei. Throughout his journey, Angus and Harvey engaged in a brutal he-said, he-said in the media.

Did I like it?: I was interested to read this book since Angus came across so poorly in media accounts. I was interested to hear his side of the story and to better understand what went wrong between him and Harvey. Angus has commented many times that it is sad that his achievement has been overshadowed by the battles between Harvey and himself, and its true - I was more interested in the Harvey aspect than anything else when I picked up this book. As well, when I attended Angus' talk and film last spring, he glossed over his problems with Harvey and Harvey's involvement in the journey. At the time I thought it was unfair, given how well Harvey came across in the media - basically, it appeared that Harvey was deeply wronged by the selfish Angus and that Angus didn't care. However, after reading the book and hearing Angus' version of events, I think that Angus was being a gentleman by refusing to get into the horrible things that happened between the two of them; he refused to air their dirty laundry. In the book, Angus comes across as the bigger man, although he still does come across as quite selfish. However, I think that his side of the story makes for a very compelling read - whether you are familiar with his journey's history or not. Don't be fooled into thinking that this book is about reducing carbon-impact or raising awareness though. Angus insisted that was the purpose of his journey, but due to his continued reliance on assistance from fueled forms of transport for logistics, it's clear that is not the case. His goal was simply to be the first to get around the globe on human-power - a worthy objective in any case.

Will you like it?: If you followed Angus and Harvey's journey at all, this is a must read so that you can get both sides of the story and decide who to believe. Otherwise, if you like adventure travel stories, this one is pretty good, and it covers a journey that had never been done before.

But don't take my word for it: The usual product info and reader reviews from Amazon, a review from Geist, one from journalist Joe Wiebe, and the book's official webpage.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean - Trevor Corson

The Basics: The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustaceans, Trevor Corson, 2004, 289 pages, hardcover

How I found it: After I read The Sushi Economy and was looking for reviews of that book, I noticed that many of the reviews mentioned another sushi book called The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson. Since my local library doesn't have The Zen of Fish yet, and I live in the lobstering region of Canada, I decided to read Corson's other book on lobsters.

What's it about?: The book explores scientific research on lobster behaviour. Apparently, up until a few decades ago, scientists had no idea what lobsters were up to underwater, or even where they lived or why. The book also examines the contribution of lobster fishermen to this research. The book could also be called the secret lives of lobstermen since it deals with the struggles lobster fishermen have faced and how they have contributed to the conservation effort.

Did I like it?: I loved this book. I learned so much about lobsters that I didn't even know I wanted to learn. The secret life of lobsters is really an underwater soap opera, and I was fascinated by it. This book is really well written and presents the scientific information in an easy to understand and compelling manner. Like the Sushi Economy, this book also made me really hungry for lobster.

Will you like it?: If you like non-fiction at all, this is a great book to read. You'll learn so much about lobsters and even if you thought you weren't interested in lobsters, you will be by the time you finish the book. I can't recommend this book enough.

But don't take my word for it: The usual product info and reader reviews from Amazon, a review from Maine's The Working Waterfront, one from, another from Pop Matters, one from someone at Brown University, and a selection of reviews from

Friday, September 14, 2007

Catwatching - Desmond Morris

The Basics: Catwatching, Desmond Morris, 1986, 105 pages, hardcover

How I found it: After repeatedly wondering why exactly my cat was doing something, I went in search of a book on cat behaviour at my local public library. This seemed the most informative option, so I picked it up.

What's it about?: The book is written in question and answer form. Each question asks something that people typically want to know about cats, such as 'Why do cats purr?' Basic cat behaviour is covered, as is mating, fighting, kitten-rearing, and the origins of cat-related phrases, such as 'raining cats and dogs'.

Did I like it?: I had previously spent some time on the internet generally, and on wikipedia, trying to find info about cat behaviour. I hadn't found much. This book answered most of the questions I had about cats. I found it really informative. Though I read the whole book cover-to-cover, it would also be a good resource to have around if you just wanted to know a few particular things about cat behaviour.

Will you like it?: If you own a cat or spend time with cats, this is a must read. If don't care for cats, it might still explain a bit about why they act the way they do.

But don't take my word for it: The usual editorial and reader reviews from Amazon and the author's web page were really all I could find.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The End of East - Jen Sookfong Lee

The Basics: The End of East, Jen Sookfong Lee, 2007, 245 pages, hardcover

How I found it: I remembered reading an interview with Lee in the Tyee this summer, and then picked up her book during some random browsing at Chapters.

What's it about?: The narrator is university-aged Samantha (Sammy) Chan who flees her troubled personal life in Montreal to return home to care for her aging mother after her old sister moves out. The story isn't really that much about Sammy though - it is more about her memories of her parents and grandparents. Sammy's portions of the story are told in first person, but much of the book is focuses on Sammy's parents and grandparents and their early days in Canada after arriving from China. These portions are told in the third person. In general, the plot revolves around the struggles of three generations of Chans: the struggles to make a life in Canada, to have positive relationships with their family members, and to have positive relationships with themselves. All of the Chans say that they feel that Vancouver's Chinatown is a part of them, so much so that they could walk its streets blindfolded after not having visited in years. Similarly, Vancouver's Chinatown is a part of this book - Lee has tried to capture the essence of Chinatown in a novel.

Did I like it?: I really enjoyed this book since Lee is an amazing writer. This is her first novel, and it is a great debut. Previously, Lee was known as a celebrated poet, and it shows in her writing. Her words are carefully chosen, which makes the story flow so well, and really brings it to life for the reader. Lee gives the book an undertone of melancholy and of things left unsaid, which is both beautiful and depressing. The amount of emotion that she is able to coax out of seemingly stoic characters is fabulous. The only thing that bothered me a bit about the book is that we didn't learn enough about Sammy and her journey. Perhaps Lee will have to write several other companion books as Wayson Choy did to tell the rest of the story of this Vancouver Chinatown family.

Will you like it?: This is a great book - good story, excellent writing. It really sucks you in and I was upset when it was over. If you like quality fiction, you'll like this book. Its a great one for bookclubs as well.

But don't take my word for it: Glowing editorial and reader reviews from Amazon, a review from Vancouver alternative weekly The Georgia Straight, one from the blog Lotus Reads, another from January Magazine, and a collection of review links from Vancouver's Toddish McWong of Gung Haggis Fat Choy fame.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy - Sasha Isenberg

The Basics: The Sushi Economy, Sasha Issenberg, 2007, 323 pages, hardcover.

How I found it: Random browsing at Chapters.

What's it about?: This book purports to be about the economy of sushi, but really it is about the economy of sushi grade tuna. Tuna is the quintessential sushi fish, and the rise in popularity of sushi had profound effects on the global tuna fishing (and ranching) industries. Issenberg explains why and how tuna became so popular, and what the global effects of sushi have been on tuna. He uses examples of fishermen, tuna ranchers, sushi chefs, and Japanese fish wholesalers in Tokyo's famous Tsukiji fish market to elaborate various points. However, not much of the book actually talks about sushi. The title implies that you will learn about why and how sushi became popular, but the book doesn't deliver. There are a few pages about this topic, but really, the book is about tuna.

Did I like it?: I found most of this book fairly interesting. As a huge, sushi fan, it was good to learn more about the history of sushi, and how my meal gets to the table. I was disappointed in the focus on tuna. I come from the salmon dominated sushi centre of Vancouver, where tuna is popular, but certainly not the focus. Apparently this is the reverse from everywhere else in the sushi-eating world. In general, the book was largely informative, but sometimes dry.

Will you like it?: If you eat sushi, or even if you just eat fish, this is an interesting book as it explains the complicated logistics of getting fresh fish to you. It also if very telling, as it acknowledges the prof0und changes we have seen in fishing in the last few decades and the globalization of seafood production. Just don't expect this book to talk too much about sushi itself. A nice glossy cookbook with lots of pictures, or a visit to a good sushi restaurant will be far more satisfying to a sushi aficionado than reading this book (although I was constantly hungry while reading it).

But don't take my word for it: A collection of positive reviews from the book's official website, a review from the trend-spotting website, one from Washington Monthly, another from Christian Science Monitor, one from the Financial Times, a New York Times review that comes it to Trevor Corson's The Zen of Fish (which is on my list of things to read), and finally, another one from a fellow book blogger.