Recently read: ‘Sweet Affliction’

I picked up this collection of short stories in Montreal at Librarie Drawn and Quarterly, a lovely little book store in Mile End.

Sweet Affliction, Anna Leventhal

I came in looking specifically for books about Montreal, stories set in Montreal, and/or books by authors from Montreal. The staff was incredibly helpful. When I told them about my quest, the girl asked, “In French or English?” and then proceeded to pile book after book into my hands. I settled on Sweet Affliction by Anna Leventhal and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler.

Sweet Affliction was a wonderful collection to read while traveling alone in Montreal. I brought it with me everywhere so I could read a story and then reflect on it while enjoying a coffee or a beer. The tales ranged from sweet to sad to darkly comic to unusually uplifting, all with an undertone of sarcastic humor. The characters’ lives are interwoven through the stories as they go about their business in Montreal; as a reader I found it interesting and engaging to keep track of the various relationships.

One of my favorite stories was about Moving Day, something Leventhal portrays as ridiculous, and I didn’t even know existed. Another story of note was one of the shortest in the collection, ‘The Yoga Teachers,’ about a little girl who likes going to dance class even though she doesn’t fit in with the rest of the ballerinas.

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Recently read: ‘Serena’

Serena, by Ron Rash, is a book I didn’t want to put down, and now that it’s finished, I keep thinking about it. There’s plenty of murder, violence and greed, but the story is much more than that. There are so many parallels and intricacies in the plot that aren’t immediately apparent, and that’s what I truly enjoyed most about this novel. There’s a lot in the book for you to stew over long after it’s finished. When it comes to historical fiction based in the North Carolina mountains, this is right up there with Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.

Serena by Ron Rash

George and Serena Pemberton are the timber industry’s ruthless power couple. Driven by Serena’s cold-hearted determination to clear cut every tract of land in the mountains before moving on to Brazil, they cut down anyone standing in their way. When she suspects her husband of protecting the mother of his illegitimate child, things inevitably go bad. While Serena is a horrible person and, how do I put this delicately, a bitch, I couldn’t help admiring her for completely going against any gender norms of the early 1930s in rural western North Carolina. She does what she wants and doesn’t give a shit about what anyone else thinks.

I bought this book during my trip to Asheville at Malaprop’s Bookstore. Asheville and Malaprop’s are both awesome.

Recently read: ‘Tales of the City’

I started this series before my trip to San Francisco in August and I raced through it! Luckily, my small local library has all of the books in the series, as well as a few more by Armistead Maupin that I haven’t gotten to yet.

  • Tales of the City
  • More Tales of the City
  • Further Tales of the City
  • Babycakes
  • Significant Others
  • Sure of You

The books, originally published as serial novels in San Francisco newspapers, follow the lives of a group of people who live in the city through the 1970s and 80s.

San Francisco

The books touch on a little of everything: Love, loss, death, marriage, wealth, sex, gender, orientation. There were parts of the series I found a bit outlandish (a journalist with amnesia discovers a cult at the cathedral, for instance). I most enjoyed reading about the characters’ relationships and how they changed through the years. Friends fall out of touch, children are born, folks die and remarry – life moves on, and Tales of the City features strong and dynamic relationships, just like in reality.

I can’t remember the last time a book made me laugh out loud like these did, sometimes from a ridiculous situation or from a character’s snarky comment. I flew through this series and will probably move on to Maupin’s other books soon.

Links:

Armistead Maupin on Goodreads

Armistead Maupin’s website