Books that Excited Me: A List by Nancy Richler
The Far Euphrates by Aryeh Lev Stollman: A luminous coming of age novel set in Windsor Ontario in the fifties and sixties. Stollman writes about the most complicated and mysterious parts of life with a grace and beauty that is all the more powerful for its quietness. I’ve included it on my list because the emotional impact of it still resonates in me ten years after having read it for the first time.
The English Stories by Cynthia Flood: As a novelist, I am always in awe of writers who capture an entire world in a short story. Cynthia Flood is one such writer and each of the stories in The English Stories, her most recent offering , is a gem of concise, spare prose, compassionate observation and sly humour.
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry: This book is on my list simply because it is magnificent—rich, full, teeming with life. Mistry tells a vivid story of four characters whose lives intersect during the Emergency in India in 1975. His depiction of daily life at that time, the trials of that life and the small triumphs and pleasures, the injustices and the moments of compassion, the fine balance between hope and despair is seared permanently into my consciousness
End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee: This moving first novel portrays the conflicts between individual aspirations and family obligations across several generations in Vancouver Chinatown. It’s memorable and impressive both as a drama of family life and as a portrayal of the Chinese community in Vancouver from the 1910’s up to the present day. Lee depicts the poisonous racism of the larger white culture, the loneliness but also the camaraderie and support in the lives of her characters. This book opened a window onto experience very different from my own that changed the way I saw and inhabited Vancouver.
The Joyful Child by Norm Ravvin & Breathing the Page by Betsy Warland: These two books may seem, at first glance, an odd pairing. Ravvin’s The Joyful Child is a novel about the relationship between a father and his four year old son, while Warland’s Breathing the Page is a collection of essays about writing, language and the creative process. Several aspects, though, link them in my mind. They are both books about journeys—Ravvin’s book is, at its heart, an extended road trip, while Warland’s is a map of her creative quest. They are both informed by a deep musicality that is expressed in the content and also in the insistent rhythm of the writing itself.
Finally, and most of all, they share an appreciation of reading (and writing) as a tactile, multidimensional experience that is richer and deeper than the mere scanning of eyes across a flat surface. Ravvin’s book is so beautifully illustrated (by Melanie Boyle) designed and produced (by Gaspereau Press) that the joy of holding it your hand enriches the experience of reading it. Warland also pays careful attention to the layout and design of her words, and she explores the physical and sensual aspects of writing—the physical tools of writing, the alphabet, the space in which one writes—with the same probing curiosity and intelligence that she devotes to the more commonly addressed issues of writing such as character development and narrative line. The multidimensional vision of both these writers enriched and expanded my own experience of and perspective on the acts of reading and writing.
Retribution by Carmen Rodriguez: This moving novel about three generations of Chilean women tells the story of a family and a country. Rodriguez writes with beauty and honesty about the day- to-day life of ordinary Chileans before, during and after the Pinochet regime. She turns an unsparing eye on the harrowing history of her country but the dignity, love and hope of her characters always shines through. It’s on my list because Rodriguez chose a particularly difficult story to tell and she tells it particularly well.
Pulse by Lydia Kwa: Given the upheavals in the Canadian publishing landscape, many fine books have fallen out of print through no fault of the books or their authors. Lydia Kwa’s third novel, Pulse, was published by Key Porter just months before that publishing house went under, depriving readers of the many pleasures of this tautly written, gripping and unusual story. Kwa is a writer who trusts her readers’ intelligence and is unafraid to lead them into previously uncharted territory. This novel is about sexual abuse, sexual bondage and the ways that past experiences manifest themselves in our bodies and psyches. Set in Toronto and Singapore it is full of sensual description, psychological insight, lyrical writing and good, solid storytelling. It’s on my list because it was one of my favorite books of 2010 and I would like other readers to find their way to it.
Nancy Richler’s short fiction has been published in various American and Canadian literary journals, including Room, The New Quarterly, Prairie Fire, Another Chicago Magazine, and The Journey Prize Anthology. Her first novel Throwaway Angels was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel. Her second novel Your Mouth is Lovely won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for fiction and Italy’s Adei-Wizo Literary Prize. The book has been translated into seven languages. Born in Montreal, Nancy lived for many years in Vancouver, but has recently returned to her hometown.