Thursday April 17, 2014

Two opinions on best book of the year


What is the best book you read this year?

The Book of Fate

History, it has been said, is written by the victors. That axiomatic statement, often attributed to Winston Churchill, while tempting, is obviously ridiculous. History is written by people and rewritten from all kinds of different perspectives, as well as, in many different forms.

Some people dismiss fiction as a record of history, but for me, it often provides the all-important context and richness against which historical events play out.

Take the French Revolution, for example. Many excellent scholarly texts have been written about this seminal period of European history, but where would we be in appreciating the social fabric of those momentous best and worst of times without the great novels of Dickens, Hugo, Dumas and others.

The Book of Fate by Parinoush Saniee is such set against the backdrop of Iran spanning the 1960s to early 2000s when that country shifted from one oppressive regime to another. It is a novel that resonates with gravitas and, I believe, will endure and become a classic of literature. It is my pick for the best book I read this year.

The Book of Fate is the first-person narrative of Massoumeh, a progressive, but not altogether untraditional woman struggling to balance family, her own ambition and her second-class status as a female in a society torn by revolution.

This book is a compelling page-turner and beautifully written, or I should say, beautifully translated. I only wish I could read it in the original Persian.

Having grown up in the same time as the fictional Massoumeh, I am, of course, quite well-versed in the events of recent Iranian history, but this book gave me insight, sometimes heart-wrenching, other times hopeful, of at least one ordinary person who lived it, something I know very little about indeed.

The book was banned twice in Iran after its original publication in 2003—which, rightfully or wrongfully, lends it credibility in my eyes. It has since been approved, however, and become one of the best-selling books in Iranian history.

Despite my high regard for this story, picking it as my number one was not an easy decision. I read a great many books this year.

The other two that eventually made my shortlist were In One Person, by John Irving and 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.

In One Person is a frank and brave exploration of the plight of homosexuals from the oppressive 1940s through the AIDS crisis to present day. 12 Years a Slave is a harrowing, first-person true account of a free black abducted from New England and forced to toil on the plantations of the Louisiana bayous.

-Thom Barker


The best book I have read in 2013, should be a much harder topic. In my not so distant past I would have been going through 50 books in my mind to determine which one I enjoyed the most.

But the days of that much free time, or at least time dedicated to reading, has diminished significantly.

The job today is actually more time consuming than a decade ago. I now fish more. I have discovered disc golf which chews through an hour a day most days from the time Patrick Park Disc Golf Course is free of snow, until it’s just too cold to have fun.

And if the gang is able, I eagerly devote a night a week to gaming.

That all said, a good book is still hard to beat.

This year a couple of fishing books came to mind, The Trout Diaries: A year of fly-fishing in New Zealand by Derek Grzelewski, and Another Lousy Day In Paradise by John Gierach, but those books seem better suited to another writing effort in these pages.

I will cheat just a little here, since I read this book during the holidays last December, so technically it was not a 2013 read, but Krampus: The Yule Lord by Brom is such a fine book I have to share it with readers.

The book’s website details: “One Christmas Eve in a small hollow in Boone County, West Virginia, struggling songwriter Jesse Walker witnesses a strange spectacle: seven devilish figures chasing a man in a red suit toward a sleigh and eight reindeer. When the reindeer leap skyward taking the sleigh, devil men, and Santa into the clouds, screams follow. Moments later, a large sack plummets earthward, a magical sack that will thrust the down-on-his luck singer into the clutches of the terrifying Yule Lord, Krampus. But the lines between good and evil become blurred as Jesse’s new master reveals many dark secrets about the cherry-cheeked Santa Claus, and how half a millennium ago, the jolly old saint imprisoned Krampus and usurped his magic.

“Now Santa’s time is running short, for the Yule Lord is determined to have his retribution and reclaim Yuletide. If Jesse can survive this ancient feud, he might have the chance to redeem himself to his family, to save his own broken dreams... and help bring the magic of Yule to the impoverished folk of Boone County.”

I must say this book is one that would make my list of all-time favourites. The story gives readers a look at Krampus, part of the Yule traditions of many countries long before Coca-Cola popularized the cheery Santa we know today. There are still Krampus parades in Europe, which you can find with a search on YouTube, and they are a blast.

But back to the book, Brom caught my attention with his marvelous book Plucker, a tale highlighting some of his fantastic art intermingled with a great story.

Krampus was my second Brom read, and it held my attention and made me smile at times, and feel sad at times, and ultimately completely satisfied with the book.

I now have Brom’s The Child Thief in-hand to read, with expectations it could be my book of choice a year from now.

-Calvin Daniels



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