Best Books Read in 2019

Overview:

In all, I read 102 books in 2019.

Forty-one (41) non-fiction, sixty-one (61) fiction and poetry.

I thought the ratio would’ve been more evenly split, closer to 50-50, but I was wrong.

Only one author placed two entries on my personal “Best of…” list, Ben H. Winters, and a big shout out to that man and his unique imagination.

Here’s my roster of favorite reads during 2019—how does it compare to yours?

Fiction:

Their Lips Talk of Mischief by Alan Warner
Infinite Detail by Tim Maugham
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
The Emerald Light in the Air (stories) by Donald Antrim
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry
The Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown
Grand Opening by Jon Hassler
Benediction by Kent Haruf
Hystopia by David Means
Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan
Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds

Honorable Mentions:

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go
Money by Martin Amis
The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
The Masque of Mañana by Robert Sheckley

Worst novel read this year:  Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

Non-fiction:

Falter by Bill McKibben
Working by Robert Caro
Talking to My Daughter About the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis
Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism by Nadya Tolokonnikova
The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
The Wayfinders by Wade Davis
How Fascism Works by David Stanley
Utopia For Realists by Rutger Bregman

Honorable Mentions:

The Destiny Thief (essays) by Richard Russo
The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, A Revolution in Hollywood by W.K. Stratton
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Worst non-fiction book read this year:  Wolf At The Table by Augusten Burroughs

 

Boris, Unleashed

The people of the United Kingdom have spoken and revealed themselves to be even more ill-informed and gullible than I ever would’ve believed.

This was, for all intents and purposes, a second Brexit referendum and, guess what, the Leavers easily won the day, despite the so-called “youth quake” and every bit of “Momentum” they could muster.

Labour took a big hit but what is equally interesting is that the Liberal Democrats, pro-Remain and proud of it, were also swept from the electoral board. Take that, all you Labourites who insisted Jeremy Corbyn should have more aggressively stumped for the European Union while out on the hustings.

Ah, Jeremy Corbyn.

He’s finished, of course, and so is the Left wing of the Labour Party. Now Tony Blair and his minions will have all the ammunition they need to gut the party and return it to the golden days when they hugged the middle of the road like a near-sighted motorist. No more of this shite about “the many vs. the few” and shaking up the ruling hegemony. There are many affluent Labour members and supporters who were never comfortable with Corbyn’s intentions to redistribute wealth and shore up the “nanny state”. Cradle to grave medical coverage, free tuition, reinvesting in social services? Fuck that. The wealthy are happy to claim a progressive mantle as long as their interests aren’t threatened. Once that happens, they lose all trappings of liberalism and socialism, siding with their economic equals and peers. Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg called it over a hundred years ago and little has changed since.

It’s a class thing and nothing else matters once privilege is called into question.

Going to get very, very ugly, very, very fast in the U.K. but here are a few predictions for what lies ahead, and one doesn’t have to be a swami or mentalist to see this coming:

Boris Johnson’s star won’t be long in ascent. At heart, he’s a creep and compulsive liar and his true colors will be revealed in very short order.

The U.K. will sign a final Brexit deal…but will never escape the economic reach and power of the European Union. The final draft will be a huge eye-opener to the rabid Leave folks, Brussels setting the agenda and calling the shots, including a free movement of people across borders and many other clauses that kinda, sorta resemble the old agreement.

Scotland is gone. Independence, baby. The Scots are a wise people who know which way the wind is blowing. While the rest of the U.K. limps along, its power and influence much diminished, Scotland will cut a new deal with the E.U. and before long will be out-performing their Brit, northern Irish and Welsh counterparts.

The powers that be will double down on their control of the “free press”, learning to better manage the message. Despite a heavily biased news media (including the once-vaunted BBC), Labour was able to starkly depict the plight of the poor, disenfranchised, youth and precariously employed, exposing the underlying anger people are experiencing while suffering under the yolk of neo-liberal capitalism. That must be checked—can’t allow reality to defeat the carefully maintained illusion of a united, contented populace.

I’m in grieving mode today, distraught that ordinary, hard-working people had an opportunity to take a sober, second look at Brexit and remake their society into a fairer, more sustainable and democratic dominion where everyone is treated equally.

This was a chance for real, generational change, a revolution from below.

It’s over and won’t come again in my life time.

The good guys have lost and now the U.K. is at the mercy of a black-hearted bunch of bastards who are going to loot the public purse, secret the proceeds of their crimes in tax havens, while having a bloody good laugh at the expense of the stupid proles who put them in power, voting (yet again) against their own interests, deserving of nothing but contempt.

“The worst slavery is that of heavily indoctrinated happy morons who adore their chains and cannot wait to thank their masters for the joy of their subservience.”

Yanis Varoufakis

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

H.L. Mencken

 

 

Telus “World of Science” (Edmonton, Alberta)

Decided to check out the Telus “World of Science” when we were in Edmonton recently.

Unfortunately, the price of admission—$35, including a surcharge for the ridiculous Marvel Comics feature exhibit (and that has what to do with science, exactly?)—was a complete ripoff so I decided to wait in the foyer while the folks I was with ponied up the necessary coin.

To add insult to injury, the Telus folks have created a scale model of a new building they’d like to construct, with the help of public donations. Folks, Telus are the arseholes who are over-charging you for your cell phone service and making billions at your expense.  They could easily fund the entire facility, while asking only a nominal fee for admission, but that is not part of their mentality.

These corporate sponsorships are a joke, advertising for companies that are socially irresponsible, capitalistic, greedy and self-serving. They pay low taxes, while earning all the benefits of the infrastructure we’ve paid for out of our pockets.

Here’s what I wrote as I waited for the group I was with to finish their tour:

When you commodify the sciences and arts, charge a fee to access records of our shared achievements, whose agenda is served and whose interests ignored?

The corporate mindset is not generous or benevolent, it exacts a price for its puny tithes and refuses to acknowledge the public ownership of knowledge or the common good served by true acts of charity.

“Peasants were never permitted within the gardens of Versailles
their presence an affront to the beauty residing there;
Only the wealthy could produce the price of admission,
only they had license to piss on its manicured grounds.”

Free Flow Dance Company, Saskatoon

I have been privileged to have Jackie Latendresse and her Free Flow Dance company use numerous pieces of my music in their performances. I treasure that relationship and am always amazed by the interpretations and insight they bring to my work.

Later this week, they’ll be presenting to the public and if you’re in the Saskatoon area, I hope you’ll attend. Modern dance has never been more entertaining and impressive. Give it a chance and support a wonderful, original company of dancers and choreographers.

Justin Trudeau in “Black Face” is not the issue

Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with me is aware that I despise mealy-mouthed liberals in general and Justin Trudeau in particular.

For nearly two decades I have regarded Trudeau, Jr. as a prime example of the kind of vapid, insufferable personality that has made a home on the centre-Left of the political spectrum. The sheer hypocrisy of these people is something to behold. They’re in favor of all the grand social causes of the day, any issue that doesn’t endanger their personal interests or cause them to lose their privileged status. They call themselves “progressives” because it makes them feel better, but their political activism comes to a screeching halt when their bank accounts and vacation homes are threatened or if their kids can no longer attend elite private schools that help prep them for life among the one-percenters.

J.T. is the embodiment of a “on one hand this, on the other hand that” breed of people that can utter contradictory positions without realizing (or caring about) the intellectual and ideological cowardice of their stance. Look at the way he championed the notion of proportional representation before the last federal election, abandoning it as soon as he had secured a comfortable majority in the House of Commons. He can bemoan the poor state of the environment, offer his support to the Kyoto Protocol and other climate accords, yet spend billions of taxpayer $$$ on new pipelines that, if Canada aggressively pursued alternative energy strategies and technologies, will be obsolete in a decade. He and his office personally intervened on behalf of SNC-Lavalin, trying to ensure that corruption-plagued company would receive special treatment from our judicial system, a lenient slap on the wrist for consorting with despicable regimes, bribing their way into the good books of the likes of Muammar Gaddafi.

Yet instead of being continually raked over the coals for these cynical ploys, today J.T. finds himself vilified for photos and video from the distant past, the politically correct posse baying for blood. Remember, apologizing and showing remorse isn’t enough for these arbiters of decency and morality, they want your existence permanently expunged from the record, the very mention of your name subject to boos and hisses from the peanut gallery.

Some of the wisest words ever uttered are: “Let those without sin be the first to cast stones”. How many of us have something to hide, some indiscretion, ill-advised joke, stupid quip we’re ashamed of? Have you never behaved badly or caused distress to someone else, deliberately or inadvertently? Well, then, you’re among a very tiny minority and good for you. And, by the way, you’re also a big, fat liar, liar, pants on fire.

Folks, the reason our politicians suck these days, why we have difficulty convincing thoughtful individuals to run for public office, is because of the ridiculous standards we impose on them, insisting that everything they’ve done in their lives either be above reproach or so well concealed they never have a chance of seeing the light of day. If you happened to fart in church back in 2003 and wish to run for mayor, town dogcatcher or, God help you, member of Parliament, well, someone is bound to bring it up and use it against you. Never mind your genuine desire to serve others—less fortunate people who have (rightfully) become disenchanted with the candidates they’ve been offered and would like to see a politician possessing new, exciting ideas and the mettle to carry them through.

How many of our best leaders and statesmen, men and women who made their mark on history, could bear the kind of scrutiny they’d be subjected to today? How many would be denied the opportunity to contribute their unique gifts and visions to the world? Mackenzie King talked to ghosts, JFK was a serial philanderer, Lincoln famously stated that if given a choice between preserving the union and outlawing slavery, he would choose the former option.

And Jesus Christ, we’re told, regularly hung around with whores and tax-collectors (shame on him!).

We get the kind of government we deserve and if the self-appointed poobahs of righteousness and virtue have their way democracy will suffer grievously…and we will continue to be represented by officials unstained by scandal, but lacking any of the passion and fire required to enact real change in our unequal, superficial, broken society.

Getting caught with your pants down is one thing—being exposed for lack of conviction, duplicity, a paucity of empathy and compassion, wanton disregard for democratic institutions and values is something quite different.

It’s perfectly okay to be a Justin Trudeau hater…just make sure you’re hating him for all the right reasons.

 

 

Tribute to a Classic Monster

Kong

Skull Island wasn’t the same without him. The indigenous inhabitants, denied their traditional object of veneration and sacrifice, disintegrated into sects and internecine squabbling, nearly eradicating themselves. Survivors fell victim to the missionaries who inevitably follow in the wake of white explorers, displacing pagan idols, substituting ones more to their liking.

Robbed of its apex predator, the jungle lost coherence and structure, descending into chaos. And then came invasive species, animals and plants foreign to the closed ecosystem, devastating the pristine wilderness.

It wasn’t long before a consortium of Far Eastern financiers and venture capitalists bought the beachfront and lagoon for the equivalent of some beads and hand mirrors, evicting the natives, erecting exclusive vacation resorts catering to jet-setting millionaires and trust fund slackers.

Gift shops featuring statuettes, t-shirts and keepsakes commemorating the Island’s most famous denizen did brisk business, affluent tourists sporting colorful gear celebrating a fearsome creature once dubbed “the Eighth Wonder of the World”.

Descendants of the original islanders toiled in service industry roles, existing precariously, pining for the days when their god still lived and breathed, uprooting trees, bellowing his defiance, exacting regular tribute for the privilege of viewing divinity in the flesh.

Poem of the day

Homegrown Terror

The people who walk down back alleys
must have something to hide
subversives, if not terrorists
avoiding prying eyes

They seem poor and tired
but that could be just a front
they’re probably a sleeper cell
dreaming of martyrdom