As the cold weather descends, I increasingly find myself wanting to brew warm drinks, light candles and curl up with a good book. The books I read come from all over the place: I'm intermittently consumed with trying to read as many of the classics as I can get my hands on; I pull recommendations from literary allusions in T.V. and movies; I read books I hear good things about on podcasts. But mostly, I take recommendations from friends whose taste I trust. So for my own edification, and perhaps yours, I've asked my bibliophilic friends to open up their homes and libraries to me. Throughout the colder months, you can look forward to photos of their beautiful spaces alongside recommendations on their favourite reads.
First up, we have Aaron Boissonneault. When Aaron's not whizzing around the city as a bike courier for Natural Cycle, you can find him helping patrons of the Millennium Library downtown. Although his collection has been culled over several moves in the past years, the shelves of his Exchange District apartment are crowded with well loved tomes, while library books are strewn in neat stacks across the apartment. He laughingly tells me that he carries a book "like a security blanket." Here are two of his favourites:
The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
While waiting for my laundry to dry, I was spotted reading this outside Spin City by some passerby who called out “Fucking boring.” I gave a terse but polite acknowledgment, and then returned to my book.
The book is absolutely about the chemical elements, yet there is more poetry in them then one would ever expect. I thought I was reading a memoir of a Jewish chemist living through fascist Italy and in no way did I reconcile it with that so-called "fucking boring" chart of numbers and symbols to be memorized for a chem test. Yet there is a unique character to each chemical element that Levi illuminates through his personal and historical experience - pairing a particular element with a personal anecdote, exploring such themes as attraction and bonding, stability and volatility, purity and impurity. The Periodic Table is a book about life: it explores the physical truths as well as the moral, and though it deals with some of the most wrenching of historical circumstances, it is ultimately a positive one.
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
This book subverts the expectations of the science-fiction genre. Like many, my first encounter with Solaris was through the Tarkovsky film. Beautiful and mysterious, the film is more an exploration of personal neuroses than an alien ocean planet. But whereas the film explores the inner lives of human beings, the novel's focus is more on the limits of human intelligence to communicate with, and even comprehend a truly alien being. It's a first contact story, one with maturity and skepticism and profound otherness, instead of the standard technophilic positivism of a space fantasy adventure. The real kicker for me was the inversion of the homo-centric premise of first contact and what happens when a conscious entity encounters the absolute New of the deeply complex and diverse psyche that is a human being. It's practically gothic-romanceish, where in the haunted castle of their space station, the characters are forced to confront themselves and the very monsters of the oceans of their own subconscious.
A hearty thank you to Aaron for his fascinating recommendations. You can look forward to more from "Reading with Friends" in the coming months. Feel free to use the comments below to add recommendations of your own, or if you'd like to propose a well-read Winnipeger for me to interview, please comment or email.