What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

August 2016

Gleebooks Bookshop - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

John: When I picked up a copy of Rick Moody’s new novel, Hotels of North America, and perused the pages my reaction was ‘What a great little book!’—and my opinion didn’t change on reading it. In this age where we can all be experts and share our well, or uninformed opinion on any topic, to share with anyone with access to the web, Moody tells the story of Reg Morse a fictional ‘road warrior’ who writes hotel reviews for rateyourlodging.com The story is told through a series of reviews that often reveal more about the reviewer than his lodgings. He also reveals much about our need to share and how we choose to see the world. Fabulous!

Andrew: I have been reading Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín. As with all of Tóibín’s work, it is a hard novel to fault; the prose is spare, seemingly unadorned, and yet so considered that it becomes profoundly moving—it is almost as if there is an alchemy at work. Nora Webster, recently widowed, is trying to move on in her upturned world; doggedly coping with her grief; her two young boys, and the deprivations of an impoverished middle-life. Tóibín’s wrought iron prose elevates the seemingly mundane to something Chekovian and wondrous. Whether it is the ritual humiliation of a first day at a new job, working to a imperious and arrogant woman who was once Nora’s underling; or the internal mortification of a hastily misjudged hairstyle—the observation is meticulous and the impact profound. Unlike current literary darling Hanya Yanigahara—whose hero is paraded around in his sufferings like a farmyard animal led by a nose chain at a country showground—Tóibín portrays a sadness in quietude; which is all the more devastating for it. It may not sound like it, but the wonder of this book is it is also immensely readable—as rich in deliciously observed everyday humour as it is in sadness.

Steve: Denali’s Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America’s Wildest Peak by Andy Hall. In July 1967, twelve young mountaineers attempted to climb Alaska’s Mt Denali (formerly Mt McKinley) at 6,190 m the highest peak in North America. This was the Summer of Love & these young men ‘wanted to get high on thin air... they wanted to climb because they enjoyed climbing. They were going on a big adventure and they wanted to test themselves.’ They reached the summit in two parties. The second group of seven climbers were engulfed in a ferocious seven day arctic blizzard that descended on the mountain, with winds reaching over 480 kph. All seven men perished on the mountain. Four of the seven simply vanished. Two were found 300m (1,000 ft) below the summit. One other was found in the remains of the expedition tent—holding onto a tent pole where he froze to death. Two of the survivors wrote accounts of the disaster and described the sometimes fractious dynamics of the co-joined mountaineering group. Author Andy Hall was five years old at the time, his father was one of the National Park rangers that helped lead the rescue mission. He believes the stories of conflict are exaggerated. He spent half a decade researching the disaster and resists the facile urge to lay blame.

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