Monday, December 19, 2011

My little round-up

I did more roofing this year than reading, but looking back these were some of the books that most impressed me...

Dave McGowan, Inside the LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation

McGowan's disturbing revisionist history of Laurel Canyon, birthplace of the Peace and Love Generation, begins with a series of stupefying revelations linking just about every sixties' rock icon to US military intelligence. Had he extended his search to England and investigated the role of MI5 in setting up the EMI recording label, he could have added Mick Jagger et al. to the list of rock stars whose careers were engineered in Cold War laboratories. He goes on to dissect the peculiar influence of mass murderer Charles Manson on key figures of the hippie aristocracy that sprang up overnight like magic mushrooms along Laurel Canyon Boulevard, which had a top secret military laboratory hidden away at the top of it. McGowan is an impeccable researcher and a superb ironist, which makes Inside the LC hard to put down, although it's still missing a final chapter.

I'm not even sure if I liked it more than Wagging the Moondoggie, McGowan's hilarious exposé of the Apollo Space Program, which made me scream with laughter, something I rarely do when reading conspiracy literature. By the end, I could not believe I had actually been fooled into thinking the moon landings were real.This is at least partly due to McGowan's exceptional skills as a satirist, but also to the absurdly faked appearance of the lunar landing module, the mystery of millions of photos gone missing, and other strange anomalies that he brings to light.

Kevin Annett, Unrepentant: Disrobing the Emperor

A young United Church minister, hired to bring the word of God to a remote community on Vancouver Island, startles his white congregation by reaching out to native people in the community. Opening the doors of his church to them, and listening to their stories, he begins to stumble on graves of murdered children. The church officials order him to stop. He follows his conscience, reaps the whirlwind, loses wife, children, reputation, career, prospects.Soon he has nowhere to go but downtown to Vancouver’s Lower East Side, where Canada’s victims gather. Kevin Annett’s UNREPENTANT: DISROBING THE EMPEROR is a sequel to his earlier memoir, LOVE AND DEATH IN THE VALLEY. Both are beautifully written, extremely gripping and unforgettable. Readers may notice haunting echoes of Russell Banks: opening scene of small-town innocence in pristine wilderness/ quick dissolve and deep descent into hell.

My other favourite reads of 2011 were in French:

LA CONSTELLATION DU LYNX, by Louis Hamelin, a partly fictionalized account published on the 40th anniversary of the 1970 October Crisis which revisits the events of that strangely under-investigated drama that led to martial law. Mostly based on interviews with major and minor players, it fills in background and draws links which were hidden at the time, and seem to prove that the FLQ kidnapping and the murder of Pierre Laporte were engineered from high echelons of the Canadian military, and carried out by an assortment of brainwashed punks, petty crooks and police informers, who were helped every step of the way by the authorities. Much more fulfilling than the official story, and also much scarier. Everyone really should make an attempt to read this and digest its stunning implications, although Anglos might have to struggle with the Québécois humour and some of the dialect. I actually read this in November-December 2010, but could not stop thinking about it through most of 2011.

WIERA GRAN, L'ACCUSÉE, by Agata Tuszynska, translated from Polish by Isabelle Jannès-Kalinowski. I went to a reading by the Polish author who came to the Salon du Livre this past November. Wiera Gran was a famous Polish-Jewish singer, who escaped the Warsaw Ghetto and after the war found herself accused (by none other than Wladyslaw Szpilman, the pianist of Roman Polanski's award-winning film) of having collaborated with the Gestapo. Well into her 90s, and living in Paris, she was still trying to prove her innocence. Fascinating.

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