by Douglas Coupland (#23)
A while back, after I'd read Hey Nostradamus! and before I'd read JPod, I told DoppelSis that I think Douglas Coupland has at least one great novel waiting inside him. I don't mean a really good novel. I'm talking about a truly great novel, one that's destined to become a classic of Canadian literature. JPod is not that novel.
That doesn't mean I didn't devour JPod faster than a music pirate downloading tunes the eve before Napster was shut down. I did. But ultimately the story felt flat to me, particularly after my experience with Hey Nostradamus!
JPod is not a sequel to Coupland's 1996 novel Microserfs. Where Microserfs was all about the idealism and big thinking of the early days of the internet, JPod is a satirical follow-up that mocks the cynicism of the technology-saturated second rising of the tech bubble. While Microserfs followed a group of twentysomething programmers with a dream of re-imagining the world through Lego, JPod follows another group of twentysomething programmers with a dream of creating a videogame that embodies pure carnage through a subverted Ronald McDonald character. And whereas Microserfs is a moving, generous-hearted story, JPod sadly is not. Oh, it's funny and clever, ridiculously clever, and that cleverness fuels you through much of the book (and probably warrants it as a read despite my petty criticisms). But at around the halfway point, when I realized that the story wasn't going to offer me anything other than amusing send-ups of west-coast stereotypes (the main character's dad is a movie extra, his mom runs a grow-op, his brother's business partner brings illegal Asian immigrants to Vancouver in shipping containers, his former boss becomes a heroin addict), I wondered what the point of this novel is. I'm still wondering.
I haven't lost faith in Coupland. I still think he has that great novel in him. And lord knows, after writing Hey Nostradamus!, he can't be faulted for wanting to dab in goofier fare.
Blue Shoes and Happiness
by Alexander McCall Smith (#24)
After finishing JPod, I felt in need of a story with some soul to it, so despite the fact that I know I really should be pacing myself with the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels, I seem to have developed a quiet addiction to them. And since I had Blue Shoes just sitting on my shelf... well...
I don't really have anything new to say about these books. I've said it all here and here. I'll just mention that these books are getting better and better as McCall Smith develops the character of Precious Ramotswe -- her dignity, her generosity, her compassion, her humour, her innate sense of justice. There were a couple of points while reading this novel that I found myself moved almost to tears, something I would never have anticipated when I found myself slightly underwhelmed by the first novel in the series a couple of years ago.
If you haven't read any of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books yet, don't feel like you need to read all of them in a row, or even start at the beginning. They stand well alone, or read out of sequence. This is good news for me, because I think I've missed one, and now I've got to go back, figure out which one it is, get my hands on it, then manage not to read it right away. Pace yourself, Doppelganger. Pace yourself.
Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast
by Bill Richardson (#25)
I'm pretty pleased with myself. At the beginning of 2006, I told myself that I'd try to read as many new books as possible and cut down on the re-reads. I made an exception for The Rachel Papers, which I was happy to do because it's a really good novel, and I was equally happy to make an exception for The Bachelor Brothers, because it's a truly charming novel that deserves numerous visits.
Having known me all our lives and all, DoppelSis recommended this book to me years and years ago with the one hundred percent conviction that I'd love it. She was right. Told from the alternating perspectives of twin brothers
The book's chapters read a lot like blog entries, actually, as the brothers tell their shared history as well as talk about current goings-on in the valley. One of my favourite aspects of this book are (surprise!) the lists of recommended books that are interspersed between chapters, including "Virgil's List of Books for When You're Feeling Low" and "Hector's List of Favourite Authors for the Bath" and "The Top Ten Authors Over Ten Years at the Bachelor Brothers' B&B." Over the years, I've gleaned a number of recommendations from this novel -- everyone from A.S. Byatt to M.F.K. Fischer to Mavis Gallant.
There have been sequels -- Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast Pillow Book and Bachelor Brothers' Bedside Companion (now out of print) -- and while I've read them both, they veer into twee territory a little too much for my taste. Unlike the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, the first book in this series remains the best.
If you managed to read this entire post and not question my lucidity while writing it, I have only the blog gods to thank. My neighbours have been operating heavy machinery right outside my window as they remove the stucco from their house. I feel like there's a tiny jackhammer in my brain that's being operated by small talking Flintstones animals. This has been going on for days. Help me.