Canada Reads 2020 Postponed

Due to the rising concerns on the COVID-19 virus, Canada Reads 2020 has been cancelled.

Due to the rising concerns on the COVID-19 virus, Canada Reads 2020 has been cancelled. While I’m happy to have more time finish the books I am also surprised. I think the debates could have easily gone forward without a live audience but maybe it’s the debaters themselves as they might have some travel history that would require self-quarantine during the time of the debates.  There is no word on when the debates will resume.

Things here in Hong Kong are starting to calm as the virus here passed. Toilet paper, sanitiser and cleaning supplies are in ample stock here again. Now the rest of the world is going through the same panic. Hong Kong measures, based on past experiences with SARS, have proved effective in keeping numbers of the virus down to a minimum. I used to scoff at the idea of wearing a face mask but with literally everyone in Hong Kong wearing them and generally keeping to themselves with proper hand hygiene we’ve managed to keep our germs to ourselves.

Stay vigilant and healthy!

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 362 pages.
Read from December 29, 2019 to December 30, 2019.

Dammit, dammit, dammit. I have read this series out of order. I thought this was number three in The Rat series but it turns out it’s the fourth. While I wasn’t a big fan of Pinball or Hear The Wind Sing I like to read everything that Murakami has to offer and this book was an improvement on the previous two. Apparently, the third book of the four is actually A Wild Sheep Chase which I’m still on the waiting list for at the library.

The unnamed protagonist of this story, after waking from a dream, suddenly feels beckoned to return to the seedy Dolphin Hotel where he once stayed with a woman he cared about in his past, a call-girl named Kiki.  His writing gig allows him a lot of flexibility so he decides he is going to book in for a few nights. He discovers that the hotel itself has been demolished and a new one has been built on top of it yet it still retains the same name. While at the hotel he tries to enquire about the previous owner but the staff all try to avoid his questions. He has dreams about a sheep man and Kiki being murdered by one of his old classmates that has become a famous actor. Along the way, the protagonist gets friendly with one of the hotel staff members in which she speaks of getting trapped in the darkness after coming out of the elevator on floor seventeen and be terrified after coming in contact with a presence there. The protagonist also helps out a teen girl who gets left behind at the hotel by her whose absent mother, a famous artist who gets wrapped up in her work. The interlinking of all of these lives and strange occurrences all lead back to the Sheep Man, presumably the figure on floor seventeen of the Dolphin Hotel.

How much of this story was in the mind of the protagonist? How much of it was actually real for him? These are answers that are left for the reader to determine. The book seems to focus on the protagonists’ issues in connecting with people and of course with those that he has lost as a result of it.  Like most Murakami books, nothing ends or is wrapped up nicely for you. Again though, I think that is one of the strange major appeals for me with Murakami. Did I fully grasp the story and what and why everything happened? Nope. But I still enjoyed the journey.  There was a serious lack of cats in this story, which, was disappointing. There are just somethings you come to expect when you read Murakami! Cats are one of them.

While I suppose it’s not essential to read this series in order, the characters do repeat and somewhat develop even if the storyline seems confusing. If you’re a first time Murakami reader, I would not start with this book or this series for that matter.  Stick with the Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

 

Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

“She was forty-five minutes late to work that day, but she had toast for breakfast. Goddamnit.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from February 18, 2020 to February 28 2020.

I guess I scheduled this wrong? Sorry it’s late! This is book number three for me of the five finalists from this year’s Canada Reads 2020. Radicalized is the one novel of four short stories in the final five this year. I better hurry up with the last two as the debates are approaching fast!

Each story in this novel is based around the characters doing something ‘radical’ in a futuristic or dystopian setting, hence the title. It’s an interesting look into what being radicalized means in our current society and political atmosphere.

Unauthorized Bread:  4/5 stars
A highly unique refugee story that highlights the difficulties of making it in a new country that doesn’t really want you. What makes this story so interesting is that in this futuristic setting, companies that make basic home appliances have patents on what can be used in them. For example, a toaster that can only process bread from the same company. A group of immigrants starts jailbreaking their appliances when the company goes bankrupt so that they continue to use them which could, in turn, result in them getting kicked out of the public housing tower that they worked so hard to get into. I really enjoyed the flow of this story and the development of the main character. The focus on the toaster and the ridiculous premise of only being able to use branded bread is not only entertaining but highlights some of the circumstances and frustrations that are not easily obvious to others or escapable for refugees.

Model Minority – 2/5 stars
A superhero story with a twist. Imagine that Superman started getting involved in some of the deep-seated racial issues between police and people of colour and then realising his help isn’t wanted. The white people don’t want him interfering with their system and some of the black people that he tries to help see him as someone who tries to do good but makes things worse. A great concept but I felt it wasn’t executed very well.

Radicalized – 5/5
This story was the one that really impressed me and would get me to read more by Doctorow. A normal family of three is devasted with the news that the wife has cancer. Despite paying a decent amount of money for health insurance the insurance company denies a treatment that might save her. The husband joins a Facebook group for people in a similar scenario to get some support as he struggles to cope. Miraculously, his wife goes into spontaneous remission and is completely cleared of her cancer. The husband continues to help and maintain the support group that helped him in his darkest hours. Unfortunately, as frustration and numbers in the group grow,  members of the group become radicalised and start bombing insurance offices. The man tries his best to stop members from committing the acts but also does nothing to report the acts he can see coming. This story really grabs you as you truly feel the plight of the family as you really lean towards the decisions that they make.

Masque of the Red Death –  3/5 stars
A rich dude builds the ultimate apocalypse bunker and carefully selects the people he wants to join him. A certain set of single women and people with other assets and connections. He enjoys building the bunker and treats the whole thing as a bit of a game as he strives to have the group see him as the ultimate leader. He has one rule for his group of people and it’s that they can bring no others. This, of course, will backfire on him.

I think what I liked most about this selection is that it touched on a variety of interesting issues and subjects, making it, in my opinion, one of best contenders to meet the 2020 Canada Reads theme of one book to bring Canada into focus. The book touches on some hot Canadian topics involving race, immigration, refugees, privilege, classism and privatized health care while also making for an engaging read. Out of the three books from the finalists I’ve read, this one is my current favourite. We will see how it stacks up against the last two.