Friday, 30 December 2016

Dr. Haltiwanger's Top 7 Best Books of 2016

This is that time of year when every Tom, Dick, Harry and Fred, Cindy, Boris, Petunia and Ed,  Morton, Dorothy, Ludmilla and Oscar, Sydney, Mindy, Horsham and Mildred's cousin Mitzi Plotzman, like to publish their top-ten book lists for the past year and I felt, as an avid reader myself, there should be a Haltiwanger top-ten book list but I could only come up with seven, perhaps due to my unrestricted ingestion of Neo-Citran. Usually I fall asleep between putting on socks so that's a good indicator of how far I get with pages. Nevertheless, here are some of the best books of 2016 that I think I read.

The Voice-Thrower of Thornhill, Ontario by Milton Doiley and
Abigail Tundry

There are some contemporary Canadian novels that seem so steeped in a traditional sense of place that it’s as if you can smell the pine beetles and poutine drippings and loon droppings and wheat chafe and bowling alley shoe deodorant spray from a mile away. Some would claim that continuing to write such fiction is like trying to beat a carpet with a geoduck, and they wouldn’t be far off but there’s still something to say for a book that wears its maple leaf on its snot-covered sleeve, and this is such a book. The motifs tumble down like maple leaves on a blustery fall day only to be used by wandering bands of out-of-work hobo rodeo clowns as toilet paper after a ten-course dumpster buffet. Skip back to 1973. Thornhill is just beginning to become a burgeoning suburban bedroom community, a place where you can be friendly but still get lost, in the woods or rifling through your neighbour’s garbage, the perfect hideaway for Clyde Torkins and his wife, Tilly, on-the-run from police in Michigan for a series of bank robberies. It’s not long before Clyde becomes a top janitorial supply salesman and Tilly, following her life-long dream, is soon a popular local ventriloquist with her dummy, Mr. Dentalis, who she takes to visit schools to teach the children about good dental and other forms of hygiene. But beneath this perfect suburban façade lies a seething and strange world of unworldly desires with Tilly leading the charge as a paid-for-hire topless ventriloquist, performing for groups of slobbering married men in rec-rooms across the district. This novel is a beautiful and touching examination of the bonds of marriage tested in an oncoming new world where the old values are cast aside like burger wrappers out a car window and racy jokes around a rec-room bar become a plot for revenge and perhaps even murder. Not to mention a run for president of a balloon manufacturing company with links to some allegedly corrupt Rotary Club funds. The plot thickens like a stew left on the stove too long.

The Crimson Pistachio by Torrance Fippler

Remember when pistachios used to be dyed red? Then they stopped doing that for some reason that I know nothing about. Well this book delves into that mystery like a squirrel into a bag of nuts and holy smokes if you aren’t shocked by the results. A captivating read, like being chained to a radiator in a run-down motel. The book’s cover didn’t seem to have any designation whether the book was fiction or non-fiction but I’m erring on the side of non-fiction because it makes the plot, characters and pistachios all that more intriguing. Especially once the KGB become involved with an Iranian pistachio smuggling ring.

Pinsky Geltman’s Last Stand by Hamish Recondo

A great chess player is blown up while eating pickled herring in kosher restaurant in a Toronto strip-mall. On the other side of the world a young child wanders away from the family yurt and is flung into a world full of menace, malice and hailstones as big as gallstones. Then they turn out to be actual gallstones. In the neighbouring village the local butterfly collector finds a note in one of his killing jars. It’s a note from a Russian soldier semi-frozen in Siberia to his betrothed back in St. Petersburg. She’s already dumped him for another guy but he doesn’t know that as he freezes to death in a Siberian field blowing last kisses to her into the frigid air. Are these seemingly unconnected events part of a brilliant short story collection? No, they’re part of a brilliant novel that jumps around like head lice in an elementary school. If you can’t follow it, that’s your fault. Better luck next time, bub!

Heavy Snow In Vaagasraagard by Ilsa Oogaard

I’m not one for the fantasy genre but Ilsa Oogaard really hits it out of the fjord with this one. This novel has more characters than all the changes of underwear in a George Martin trilogy but they’re much more fully rounded because Ms. Oogaard has the good sense to incorporate their shoe sizes. It’s little things like that that really make their personalities pop and add an air of realism to the world of Gloogvarnishhooven. All I can say is that when Rankgnor, lord of Svenoorgorlogen discovers the magic lichen near his journey’s end and is then able to reverse time to bring his dead father back so he can pay him the three gold coins he owes him (about fifty bucks in today’s Canadian dollars), I wept like a baby seal lost on an ice floe. Then I went outside and chopped some wood and let my tears fall upon lumber that shed its own tears as I struck it over and over again with a potato peeler. It was going to be a long, cold winter.

Alcoholic Dogs by Clayton Tononoclot

Here’s another one I’m not sure is fiction or non-fiction but hot damn if it isn’t a great read either way. This is a poignant book that challenges you to, if not change your life, at least change your socks occasionally. Many books have titles that are misleading but for this book not to worry. Alcoholic dogs galore are pouring from the pages, stumbling about in the alleyways, sprawled out on the sidewalk, on the couch, vomiting on favorite chew toys…no sirree, it’s not a pretty sight. But then Psychiatrist Bob shows up and Mitzi Tobogner from the women’s auxillary at Dapson Falls First Penetcostal Church and even with a roving band of distempered alcoholic dogs unwilling to sit down with Psychiatrist Bob to really get at the root of their problems, the town never gives up hope. It’s a piquant narrative, like accidentally sucking a red pepper flake up your nasal cavity, but is able to portray the grey areas of moral dilemmas, such as taking a pair of hockey gloves out of a community centre lost and found box even though they’re not yours, filling them with luncheon meat and then putting them back, with great subtlety (and by that I mean both the sneaking of the hockey gloves and the insertion of the luncheon meat). A story of love, redemption, of alcoholic dogs puking on your carpeting and most of all, families and their pets and the co-mingling of their hairy parts during normal day-to-day and evening activities.

The Upholsterer by Lesley Melby

Who is the Upholsterer? Hitman, world renowned artist, or maybe both? Who knows, and by the end of this fabulous novel that breaks so many novel-breaking rules some reviewers have described it as The James Joyce Semen Express ejaculating through the glory hole of the death of language itself, you’ll feel like you’ve been slapped upside the head with your own scrotum (for those who don’t own a scrotum you can substitute frozen peas thawed in a plastic sandwich bag, or for those with a scrotum but are unable to slap themselves in the head with it, no problem, the book actually comes with a realistic plastic scrotum shrink-wrapped to the cover so you can whap yourself silly with it each time the text prompts you to do so), and be all the much wiser for it. But it’s not all just slappy scrotums and cat-scratched sofas dragged into the upholstery shop. Beneath the slapdash barrage of words lies deep underlying ideas about arts and culture in a society that values money and jumbo shrimp that have been successfully transplanted with human heads, above all else that is decent and worthy of a mall kiosk or even grandmothers spoon-feeding baby lizards while navigating a mine field in Eastern Europe. The main character, an upholstery artist, literally nail-guns her way up through the swanky ranks of the New York art world with her performance pieces where she refinishes a sofa while teaching an incontinent parrot to talk or enlists the aide of genuine hoboes to smash up Louis IV furniture to use as firewood to heat up their cans of pork and beans on the rooftop of the Guggenheim. But that’s just a teaser to the places this novel will take you and all I can say, after finishing this book my teats were sore for weeks and I had hoof and mouth disease for six months. The power of words is not to be underestimated. This novel is also an homage to the world of upholstery and the toll it takes on those who practice this demanding and dark art.

Tungsten! By Dr. Jamon Jambon

You thought you knew everything about this wonderful metal but think again. By the time you finish the first page of this fascinating book you’ll have to rethink everything you’ve ever thought about tungsten steel. From its discovery to its rare properties to even its very name (in German it means ‘wolf cream’ or ‘wolf froth’ stemming from a time back in the 16th century when rabid wolves wandered the countryside dragging off babies and ham hocks for sustenance and strudel-bakers’ wives for mating with), tungsten will never be the same old reliable metal you once knew it to be. In the end though your eyes will be opened to new insights, only to be closed again by burning ingots of smelted steel shooting out from an arc furnace that these words will construct in your cranium. The next time you mention tungsten and someone nods their head dismissively, you’ll know now to act quickly and deliver them a swift kick to the shin and yell “Tungsten!” at the top of your lungs to snap them back to reality so that they can fully understand and appreciate the precarious position of tungsten in the world today, whether it be the global marketplace or down-and-out in a scrapyard in New Jersey.

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