A peek at The Cord staff bookshelf
At the recent Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa, our nation’s two newest astronauts were revealed to be Joshua Kutryk and Jennifer Sidey. Since I’ve always been interested in space exploration and the people involved in it, I took the time to read through interviews with the two new members of the Canadian Space Agency.
In one such interview with Joshua Kutryk, a former engineer and test pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, he was asked what his favorite book was. His answer? Endurance by Alfred Lansing, the true story of Ernest Shackleton and his crew’s against-all-odds fight for survival in the frigid waters off the coast of Antarctica.
I figured that if a survival story was so compelling as to be admired by an astronaut, then it would probably be worth checking out. And it was. The story of Shackleton’s determination through an incredibly stressful situation is nothing short of inspiring.
The story isn’t just compelling in virtue of the particular situation Shackleton and his men found themselves in. What makes Endurance fantastic is in how it details the way these men conducted themselves in the face of such perilous circumstances. Endurance puts on display the extremes of human resilience that I tend to admire, and shows the reader just what they may too be capable of.
The Nix by Nathan Hill
The Nix is worth reading because it’s an uncompromising, strangely focused and yet disparate collage of character studies.
The book opens with the too-familiar ‘writer who can’t write’ trope, but exhibits a series of far more interesting figures that even the author doesn’t seem to fully understand. The characters are shown through a distant, try-hard empathetic lens as the 700+ pages finally come to a crashing end.
It’s a novel that captures the heart of literature – what it means to be human – while spinning silly yarns of mysticism against the backdrop of hard, brutal reality.
More than the sum of its many pages, the book is more of a series of small, intimate threads woven by a self-consciously self-involved author set against a superficially political backdrop. If you dig characterization-heavy, artistically-intimate works like those of Jonathan Franzen, you’ll dig this.
L’Amour by Marguerite Duras
First published in 1971, L’Amour wasn’t translated to English until 2013. It’s a book that will linger on your mind long after you close it and it’s worth every second you spend on it. Some words that come to mind when I’m asked to describe the story are: awkward, unfamiliar, suffocating and illusory.
While L’Amour isn’t particularly long, it is a story that will challenge you. Duras takes familiar concepts, such as a beach shore, or a town, and twists it something surreal. The constant repetition and agonizingly slow pace makes it feel as if I was in a lucid dream.
The plot is uncanny and barely relevant. Instead, the focus is set onto three strange and fractured characters that seem to haunt each other. While reading L’Amour, there was a consistent diversity between misery, desire, anxiety, wanting and fear.
I only found relief from the tension formed throughout the novel when I reached the end of the book. I realized that the title L’Amour is almost like the punchline to an odd joke. I personally can’t think of its equivalence, between its language and tone. For me, L’Amour stands alone.
The Origins of Satan by Elaine Pagels
Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s not a novel and the last thing you probably want to read for fun is another non-fiction text. But this one is worth it.
If you have any interest in the occult at all, this book is worth picking up. It’s also worth picking up if you have any interest in religion, history, cultural studies or even just how our daily representation of Satan came to be.
It’s super informative, eye-opening and unbiased. Though it delves into Christian subject matter, it’s really just a historiographical account of how and why Satan managed to get such a big role in the New Testament, while “He” took a back seat in the Old Testament.
Best of all, it’s not a difficult read, especially if you already have a background in Christian theology.
The Origins of Satan is a book that I genuinely felt like I learned a lot reading and its satisfying knowing more than the movies like to tell you.
The Warriors by Sol Yurick
Sitting at the top of the book pile on my desk is a novel I have been meaning to crack open for years. I’ll take all the hate, but I’m not going to lie, I’m the kind of person who usually sees the movie first. Call me lazy but I like to know where things are going sometimes.
Whether or not that defeats the purpose of reading is beyond me, but as interested as I am in directorial interpretation, I feel like it’s somewhat justified.
Yurick’s tale reimagines the Greek classic, Anabasis by Xenophon, in a 1960’s New York setting, where gangs of teens run the streets at night wreaking havoc.
The story, in classic Greek fashion, recounts the journey of the Coney Island Dominators as they make their way home from a large gathering in the Bronx.
Of course, they are the targets of every other gang in the city, making their journey through the depths of New York’s numerous infamous subway stations and back alleys even more exciting.
The Warriors went from being my mom’s favourite movie, to one of my own favourite video games – via the creators of Grand Theft Auto – and so far it’s headed towards being a favourite book too.
Pillow Thoughts by Courtney Peppernell
Pillow Thoughts is a short book of prose that is becoming exceedingly popular, I think that Peppernell’s work is unique in comparison to many other short poetry and prose authors today. Peppernell, an Australian author, also brings a connection to the LGBTQ+ community to her poems.
For me, I think Peppernell’s work is extremely honest. It is easy to read and her poetry is clear and concise. The novel provides a large variety of poems in both length and topic. Peppernell’s novel is divided into numerous clear sections for readers looking to connect with poems catered to a specific emotion or topic.
For example, some sections include “If you miss someone,” “If you are falling in love,” “If you are lonely,” and more. Some of my favourite poems in the book are about simple moments which Peppernall reflects on after and explains how significant and important the simple things can be.
In fact, many of Peppernall’s poems about simple things and memories, I think, brings a different, unique perspective to her work.