Tag Archives: Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

A Review: The Antagonist by Lynn Coady

 

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A Review:

The Antagonist by Lynn Coady

02.24.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Lynn Coady

Format: Hardcover, 337 pages

Publisher: House of Anansi Books

ISBN: 978-0-88784-296-2

Pub Date: September 3, 2011

Giller Prize Short List Finalist

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The Antagonist by Lynn Coady was a short listed book finalist for the prestigious Canadian Giller Prize for 2011. So, when I opened the book, I approached it as such and expected a literary eloquence in narrative, details of landscape in setting, and a myriad of complex characters in an elaborate plot that speaks to a high order of the privileged few about its philosophy on the potential downfall or evolution of society. (Insert breath, here.) Yeah, one of those books. A book that is heavier than my hand in writing this first paragraph. Because heavy-handed is not a place a writer wants to be, nor does a reader. I know. I’m both.

So, it was much to my relief that this book surprised me (but, only after the fact, because really, I don’t like it when an author initially says in his or her writing, “Ha! And you expected Northrop Frye!”). So much for what I know.

Northrop Frye. (c) Photo by Andrew Danson

From:  http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/northrop-frye

It’s said you “shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” but the lesson learned here, too, is you shouldn’t judge a book by its seal of award nominations – long-listed or short.

That’s not to say it was a poorly written novel, unworthy of its shortlist Giller acclaim. It’s not. It’s a deceptively simple narrative, a confessional collection of email written by the main character, Gord Rankin Jr., also known as Rank, in response to his best friend’s (Adam) book publication in which he discovers he is the star and central character.

But, star is too kind a word for the “antagonistic” email-writer who resents being fictionalized in a novel without first granting his explicit permission, if not disclosing the full “truth” behind its story – his story. Thus, an onslaught of daily conversational rants becomes the collective essence of the book, which through its dialogue reveals the true nature of its hulking giant and his overly scrutinized temperament.

Gord Rankin Jr., as Rank, a name he imposed on himself, has but, one main identity flaw: he is big. Big for his age, bigger than his friends, and feels the pressure associated with his bulk as a weight to act out a premature manhood that he has not yet emotionally identified with, and yet has unexpectedly manifested itself into his overgrown body.

Most pre-pubescent boys wish for such a growth spurt, rushing forward into their futures searching for elusive manhood explained to them as something innately measured by the size of their biceps, the abundance of their hair growth, their sexual promiscuity and prowess with women, and the bravado of adrenalin and aggression readily exhibited in sport. At least this is the stereotype.

And Rank is the victim of such stereotypical branding. Unfortunately, not only is he unprepared to fully understand the magnification of his own strength, this stereotype, which trapped him as a child has also led him to its full supplication. He was simply too big in his own mind and others around him that he succumbed to living out a lifestyle that pegged him as an uneducated, muscle-bound brute.

But, it wasn’t just size that he battled against in his upbringing. It was his own animosity towards his brash-mouthed, brazen father and the loss of his idyllic, “saintly” mother. This kind of burden coupled with a readily instilled, hot temper coupled with physical dominance is bound to erupt in some form of violence whether it be unintended or not. And the outcome can be traumatic.

And so, it is through this therapeutic email writing that Rank slowly discloses to the reader as well as to his friend, Adam, his version of the story that has been, according to Rank, superficially immortalized in a book.

Subordinate characters in the story include a quick-tempered father, a drug-pushing thug, a judgemental constable, a college fraternity of friends, an alcoholic bouncer, a Born-Again girlfriend, and an empathetic counsellor and hockey coach—all catalysts to a larger story to the bulk of Rank, himself.

It is an easy, quick read. At times the writing is self-absorbed, but then how can it not be, considering the email writing is one-sided and self-reflective? This book is as much an internal dialogue as it is long-winded. It has to be. It’s email—in all its technological-acronym-glory of OMGs and modern, street-dialogue including the word, fuck. But, there is brash wit and a hidden intelligence in Rank’s dialogue that lets you know that he’s no “dumb jock.”

The friendship between Adam and himself, though not fully articulated, is one of polar opposites, where Rank, the broad-shouldered, meat-eating, alcohol-partying guy finds a confidence in the quiet assurance and watchfulness of his academic peer and counterpart, Adam.

It’s a story about strength and the lack of it; about family and friendship; and the power of the fist as much as it is about men and the fragility of their egos—as well as their hearts.

Now, go and punch something for not buying this book sooner.

No?

Good.

Better to just go and read this book instead.

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Zara’s Rating

       

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A special thank you to the House of Anansi for providing me with a media copy of the book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

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Zara’s Book Giveaway #1 – Black History Month (Feb)

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

And the winner is…

Lindsay (at Turning the Pages)

Valentine’s Day has come and gone. It was a day for wearing red and your heart on your sleeve, plus a chance to enjoy some chocolate goodness, and perhaps receive a card or small token of love.

But, at the Bibliotaphe’s Closet, love for books never end.

If you’ve been following my blog or know me well, you’d know that I’m somewhat of a book giveaway contest junkie. I love winning books to add to my closet collection almost as much as I love reading them. And my lucky reading stars have been with me—but, I trust it has more to do with my tenacity and the kindness of the giveaway hosts.

It’s also February (well, almost the end of February) and in affirmation of this month as Black History Month and a time to provide an opportunity to learn more about and be inspired by the history of African Canadians and Americans, it can also be a time to recommit ourselves in continuing to build an inclusive place to live. I believe that’s something we should do everyday of every month!

In celebration of all this post-Valentine’s and book-giveaway love, as well as February as Black History Month, I’ve decided to host a book giveaway!

So, what does the lucky winner get?

The 1937 classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. This is a brand new, unread copy!

Although race is a significant motif in the book, it is not, by any means, a central theme. It is also a book about the protagonist’s own personal journey to independence and emancipation, plus her acknowledgement of a full relationship as one that is based on reciprocal love and respect. My kind of book.

Some facts about the author:

  1. Zora and I share almost the same name.
  2. The author’s birthday on January 7, is a day after mine.
  3. She is the fifth of eight children.
  4.  Her university’s (Howard University) literary magazine published her first story in 1921.
  5. In 1926, she collaborated with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman to organize the literary journal Fire!
  6. Zora Neale Hurston was also criticized for refusing to bow to gender conventions during her time.
  7. She fell into obscurity for a number of years in the 1940’s.
  8. After she died on January 28, 1960, she was buried in an unmarked grave.

What can we learn from this?

  1. For one thing, it never hurts to publish in your university’s literary magazine. Be sure to support your school’s literary journals and events.
  2. As an aspiring writer, it helps to surround yourself with friends and peers who share your passion for the craft. You never know where this might lead you.
  3. Be yourself, even if it means society may frown upon your personal conventions or writing style. New, creative genius usually meets with hesitation and harsh judgement.
  4. Though you may be “unknown” author now, well-crafted work can find itself becoming one of the most important works in a generation or an all-time classic.

Giveaway Rules:

  1. This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada only. You must have a valid email and mailing address to qualify. No P.O. Box addresses accepted.
  2. You must be 15 years old or older to enter.
  3. You must follow my blog by email to enter. Click on the widget on the right-hand side of my blog and let me know in your comments that you’ve done this.
  4. You must leave a meaningful comment that answers the contest questions in order to qualify for the giveaway.
  5. Only one entry per person, excluding extra-earned entries.
  6. Winner must respond to notification within 48 hours to claim prize. If winner fails to claim prize, a new winner will be chosen.

To enter:

1. Leave a meaningful comment on this post by answering these questions: What book did you love that you have read recently that has helped you grow in understanding of a culture that is different from yours? How? AND When is my birthday? (You can find the answer to the second question by reading my post.) – Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact you.

2. Follow me on Twitter for an extra entry (+1). Click on my Twitter widget on the right-hand side of my blog. Let me know in your comments that you’ve done this.

3. Tweet about this giveaway on Twitter for three extra entries (+3). Copy & paste your link of the tweet in your comments. You may tweet once per day, everyday until the contest closes. Please be sure to include link to the giveaway. Your tweet can look something like this:

Enter to win a book #giveaway at The Bibliotaphe’s Closet!  Ends March 2. www.zaralexis.wordpress.com

4. Be my friend on Goodreads for an extra entry (+1). Click the Goodreads widget on the right-hand side of my blog. Let me know in your comments that you’ve done this.

5. Giveaway contest deadline: Friday, March 2, 2012 at 9:00 p.m. EST

Good luck! And happy reading!

Book Review: This Will Be Difficult to Explain and Other Stories by Joanna Skibsrud

Book Review:

This Will Be Difficult to Explain by Johanna Skibsrud

02.14.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Johanna Skibsrud

Format: Hardcover, 170 pages

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

ISBN: 978-067-0066-308

Pub Date: September 20, 2011

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The title of Johanna Skibsrud’s collection of stories is how I felt in describing it for this review. She’s that good of a writer. You can’t just slap on a few pretty adjectives, assess the narrative, the characters, the plot, and be done with it. Which is probably why I’ve delayed writing anything down about the book even though I finished it days ago. You need to take a step back. A big step.

Because what you think her story may be about will make you do a 360-degree turn for being as confident and obnoxious a reader you may usually be with other books. This was obviously my error in reading her work. Though I was reminded and readily affirmed that yes, Ms. Skibsrud, did win The Giller Prize in 2010 for her first unknown novel, The Sentimentalists. The Giller Effect obviously did not hurt the author’s writing, nor did it leave her paralyzed by pressure in writing another good book.

Don’t be misled by the value of the short story. Most people under-value its worth simply because it’s short , rather than a 400-page novel. It would be wrong to do so. In many ways, a short story is more difficult to write, what with its word count restriction. The writer must be able to say something of significance in so little space. And Johanna Skibsrud does this.

Her stories are subtle and multi-layered and motivated by elusive characters who are flawed, thoughtful, and deeply affected by their circumstances. You may ask, “Well, aren’t all characters like that?”

Not really. Because these characters are unaware of it almost as much as the readers are. Stories will leave the reader questioning what really happened and what is the true meaning of what just occurred because once the story ends, what remains is merely a sense, a feeling.

This uncertainty allows for possibility, which also leaves characters open to some form of salvation or hope. Or not. Either way, the narrative becomes an intimate window in the character’s life. A moment, really, in a string of moments that are written in a clear and real way that the reader has no choice, but to empathize, appreciate, and care for the characters’ world.

Johanna Skribsrud is able to write her characters’ dialogue and thought process in such a way that makes them not only believable, but honest and true. But written with such inexplicable giftedness that the author’s writing prowess is not only creative, fresh, and new, but powerful enough that any writer (or reader) can only wish he or she had thought of it first. Or in my case, “How did she do that?”

This book of nine stories is written by a new author, but a mature one. She is subtle, but assured, and her craft is perfect.

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Zara’s Rating

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What’s your favourite short story?

Who’s your favourite short story writer?

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Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Book Review:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

02.05.2012

By Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Author: Erin Morgenstern
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pub Date: September 13, 2011

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The Night Circus is an intricate tale of creativity with a rich cast of characters who, with their specific gifts and talents help showcase the magical realism that moves throughout the book.

It is about Le Cirque des Rêves aptly translated as The Circus of Dreams not only because of its hours of operation that only takes place nocturnally in the evening until dawn, but also because of its dreamlike and fantastical effect on its patrons.

A circus is usually attributed to magic and feats of wonder as a form of entertainment. This circus, rather than only a collection of good showmanship skills of deception and tricks that audiences can enjoy simply as voyeurs, instead becomes an organic house of multiple tents, pathways, and magic that invites and seduces its patrons to not only visit, but also participate in and experience.

Image from:     http://matchbookclub.blogspot.com/2011/10/enchanted.html

So much so, there are those avid followers of the circus in the book who themselves become a cultist group of lifetime worshippers, a secret society that dubbed its name from the whisperings of rumour later known as the réveurs. The réveurs, a fanatical, creative group reveal themselves to each other by a colour coded uniform: black, white, grey, and a “splash of red” in honour of Le Cirque des Rêves’ own colour theme throughout its grounds: black, white, and black and white stripes.

Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/b-randy/6327494925/

But the story goes further than providing simple entertainment to its patrons or to its readers. The true premise of the night circus as a venue is its stage for a duel competition between two gifted adversaries, Celia Bowen, daughter of famous and renowned illusionist, Prospero the Enchanter, and Marco, orphan-turned-student to The Man in the Grey Suit, Alexander H.

Together, they simultaneously study under the tutelage of their magician masters, honing in on strengthening their natural gifts—Celia, who is able to move, dismantle, and return objects to their natural form, and Marco, who is able to create illusions within the minds of his chosen audience—until each in turn must learn to outdo the other in the competition of their lives.

Though I found the romantic dialogue and narrative to be somewhat exaggerated, I believe the author was attempting to showcase the lovers’ passion and strong connection to one another through their magic. It is highly unrealistic, but then what story of deep, passionate love ever is? The two lovers are intrinsically a different type of breed altogether.

Image from: http://manbehindthecurtain.ie/2012/01/22/carnival-of-fear/

As the gifts of the competitors strengthen and expand, so does the complication of the circus. The characters that belong to or are involved with the circus are:

  •  Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre, a wealthy eccentric gifted in hosting elaborate parties called Midnight Dinners, who also has an inherent talent with knife-throwing.
  • Mme. Ana Padva, a retired Romanian prima ballerina with an impeccable sense of style who is revered for her fashion design and seamstress skills.
  • Mr. Ethan W. Barris, a gifted engineer and architect.
  • The Burgess twins, Tara and Lainie, dancers, actresses, who provide consultation on various subjects due to their keen sense of observation.
  • Alexander H., the man in the grey suit who is best known to wear a top hat and carry a cane.
  • Tsukiko, the tattooed contortionist.
  • Herr Friedrick Thiessen, a gifted artisan and clockmaker commissioned to create a showcase piece for the circus.
  • Isobel Martin, tarot reader and fortuneteller.
  • Bailey Alden Clarke, a young circus enthusiast.
  • Winston Aiden Murray nicknamed Widget, a twin born on the opening night of Le Cirque des Rêves.
  • Penelope Aislin Murray called Poppet, the second of the twins to be born on opening night.

As these characters become more deeply embedded in the circus’ magic and its danger, the effects on its members and its patrons, as well as its own magic, slowly becomes darker.

As fantastical and wondrous as magic can be, there is always an undercurrent of dark that runs within it because its mysteries are not readily understood, accepted, revealed, nor practiced. An array of magical practice is showcased in the book as homage to the art of the occult.

Image from: http://pinterest.com/wovendumpster/the-night-circus/

Yet, they far stretch the limits of what we normally understand as magic. Erin Morgenstern has moved beyond the boundaries of what we are familiar with and has created a new world of richly, imaginative ideas.

The beauty of this book is in the literal magic that takes place within its pages. Where our imagination has failed to carry us further than what we yearn to experience and understand, Morgenstern has supplied a richly imaginative story, plot, and magical realism that inspires us to believe not only in her authoritative writing powers, but also her fantastic and creative imagination.

Image from: http://pinterest.com/pin/18577417182599118/

Reprinned by Morgan Koch

If Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is deemed a rich classic, Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus is its modern and magical counterpart.

Image from: http://geoffarcher.wordpress.com/

The cover design is intelligently made to match the colour themes found in the book from its starlit front cover, to its black and white striped first pages, right down to its red stitched hardcover binding.

It’s a wondrous, intoxicating book that needs to be thoroughly read more than once, over and over. A naturally born skeptic myself, Erin Morgenstern has been able to magically convert me to becoming one of her night circus’ devoted rèveurs. The mysterious pages of the book continue to be turned in Friedrick Thiessen’s clock: tick, tock, tick, tock…and poof!

Image from: http://homeiswheretheboatis.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/the-night-circus/

For the addicted réveur, it will always become dawn too soon.

Where will you be when Le Cirque des Rêves comes to the outskirts of your town?

As for me, I’ll be in the black and white striped tent wearing my blood-red scarf, looking out for The Man in the Grey Suit in the shadows, Prospero the Enchanter amongst the stain-glass windows, and Celia and Marco in the Ice Garden, bound by magic and love. 

Image from: http://pinterest.com/pin/18577417182602219/

Pinned by Linda D.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to Random House Canada for providing me with a signed copy of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for review.

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A Review: Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

A Review:

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

01.30.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Esi Edugyan

Format: Hardcover, 304 pages

Publisher: Thomas Allen Publishers

ISBN: 978-0887-6274-15

Pub Date: August 25, 2011

Winner of the 2012 Giller Prize

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 I could say I finished this “gem” of a book, but to call it that would do it an injustice. This jazzy, soulful novel isn’t a gem; it’s a whole lot of gems in a truckload—a mine. Hell, I wept at key parts (that if you’ve read it, will know exactly which parts I’m referring to) and I’m no crying type…well, not really.

I usually come at a book as a ruthless editor and a fair, but brutally honest, sometimes brash reviewer. But this Giller beauty has earned every penny and glory worth its acclaimed prize.It’s a little rough at the beginning, and by that, I don’t mean poor in writing, but brittle in narrative that forces you as the reader to realize how you read, think, and speak.

The dialogue, like the story, grows on you until our very thoughts mimic its language and tone. I was easily and unnoticeably transported to pre-war Berlin, but not just any Berlin, but its underbelly: its hot spots, its seedy bars, its jazz-crooning, smooth-wiling ways. Its nightlife—no, the potency of its life—its jazz as a tangible, organic thing.

While reading, I wished I could literally “hear” the music being played, the essence of it reverberating off the pages. As the band of brothers, these soulful jazz creators, worshipped Louis Armstrong, jazz, and the life of jazz itself, I, too, became infatuated with its dinginess, its raw energy, its powerful hypnosis on the band, their listeners, and on the readers of the novel.

The heart of “real” jazz seemed to be expressed as an impromptu blending, a magic that cannot be duplicated, or created by imitation, perfection, or musical scores—but could be invoked by the players themselves in their individual talent, their feel and unit as a group, and their own layers of interpretation and surprise.

Jazz, the music, a fundamental thread in the book, by that definition, spoke of the players’ unstructured, chaotic, and unexpected lives.

Like the band of men, Paul, Fritz, Sid, Chip, Hiero Falk—the joy, melancholy, suffering, pain, and redemption they experience in the life force of the music they play and vice versa.

What is achingly beautiful about this book is how interconnected the characters are to jazz, the music, jazz, the life, their compulsion for it, their gifts in creating it, their arduous love and respect towards it—and to each other.

But, it’s not just about jazz. It’s also a book about territory, war, “racial cleansing.” The music, too, is an ostracized, rebellious sibling to its classical counterparts that goes under attack. The very freedom of creativity, art, music, and brotherhood is under fire.

But, even through distinct and separate fates, the men are bonded by their love and passion for the music they create. It’s alive in them.

The book is self-prophetic in saying,

“Blues…blues wasn’t ever bout the cords.” p. 275

Half-Blood Blues will croon you into empathy for a group of men who has had to survive their haunted pasts, the cruelty of a mad-made war, the betrayal and endurance of their friends, and the weaknesses and strengths of their own natural talent.

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Zara’s Rating

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50 Book Pledge for 2012

The savvy readers at The Savvy Reader have motivated hundreds of book lovers again this year by calling out a 50-Book Pledge in 2012.

This is my first time pledging to anything other than my marriage vows ten years ago, so as you can see, I mean business.

50-books kinda business.

Here are my 50 hopefuls for this year:

1. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – COMPLETED January 9, 2012

2. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

3. The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay – COMPLETED January 21, 2012

4. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

5. The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – COMPLETED February 4, 2012

7. Tell It to the Trees by Anita Rau Badami

8. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

9. The Antagonist by Lynn Coady

10. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

11. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

12. The Free World by David Bezmozgis

13. In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood

14. Mordecai: The Life & Times by Charles Foran

15. Killdeer by Phil Hall

16. The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

17. The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq

18.  An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy

19. Why Men Lie by Linden MacIntyre

20. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

21. American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar

22. Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers

23. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

24. The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

25. Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki

26. Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner

27. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

28. When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

29. Some Ether by Nick Flynn

30. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

31. The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories by Don Delillo

32. The Best American Poetry 2011 ed. David Lehman

33. Printmaker’s Daughter by Katherine Govier

34. An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer

35. Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

36. The Flowers of War by Geling Yan

37.  The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

38. Floating Like the Dead: Stories by Yasuko Thanh

39. History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason

40.  The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

41. Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

42. The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol

43. The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy

44. The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

45.  Swamplandia! By Karen Russell

46. The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

47.  All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson

48.  The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam

49. Folk by Jacob MacArthur Mooney

50. Ossuaries by Dionne Brand

It’s a list. It’s a start. Why don’t you join me and countless others in our quest toward 50 books by the end of 2012?

Time to make a hot cup of tea or coffee, wrap yourself up in a cozy blanket, put on those ugly, fuzzy slippers Aunt Suzy gave you last year, make sure your reading lamp is on, the children are in bed, and the phone is disconnected. Time to bend that binded beauty.

Ready?

Let’s go!

(c) Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez