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Best books from my bookshelves Part III: A sequel in three parts

The cover of Alexander Masters book
The cover of Alexander Masters book
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Welcome to the very last installment of best books from my bookshelves. Enclosed you will find nearly true stories, Nazis, ghosts, space comedy, and myths divided into the male and female perspective. Dig in and let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!


It must be pretty obvious by now that this article is named in homage to Douglas Adams’ The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Five Parts. If you are a fan of Adams’ work, than you will probably agree that more things should be named in homage to The Guide…including house pets and children. I figure, if you put the right inflection into it, the name “Towel” could really catch on for baby girls. Or puppies.

Baby names aside, this irreverent series follows the unfortunate travels of the last human being—Arthur—left alive after the world is destroyed by an alien construction crew who are building a new “hyperspatial express route” through Earth’s solar system. With a daring alien writer as his friend, a technologically advanced towel that can do pretty much anything, and a copy of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur finds his way to the end of the universe and back.

Don’t be fooled by the thin veneer of foolishness that rests upon the plots of Adams’ books. Indeed, a former professor of mine once said that the best comedians were those who most deeply felt human despair. Like any good comedian, Adams’ books use comedic absurdism to examine humanity’s failure to comprehend either their own condition or the universe around them and, dang it, he makes fun of us all for it. Touché, Mr. Adam, touché.


Like romance fiction, girly novels, and crime fiction, historical fiction is a genre that can either go terribly right or terribly wrong…and it often errs on the side of terribly wrong. Fellow Canadian Lilian Nattel, however, manages to give historical fiction a better name in her novel The River Midnight.

Set in 1894 Poland, A River Midnight follows a small Jewish community as Europe plunges into increased political tensions and upheavals. Despite the political overtones, this novel is strictly a look at the power of myths, the basics of human life, and the relationships between men and women. In fact, Nattel has gone so far as to divide the book in two halves: one from the feminine viewpoint and one from the male viewpoint. While such a division seems doomed to be boring, Nattel manages to keep everything fresh, interesting, and vibrant. If you are looking for one of those novels that are as deep and comforting as a river in high summer, than this is the book for you.


When the name Fiennes is mentioned, most people envision He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named…Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemart in Harry Potter. Yet, the Fiennes family name is responsible for more than just one dreamy actor. Indeed, despite his status as Lord Voldemart’s cousin, Ranulph Fiennes is one of the most interesting and adventurous men since Marco Polo. Check out an article that briefly outlines Ranulph Fiennes life accomplishments and drool over his adventures here:

In Fiennes’ nearly true novel, The Secret Hunters, we follow the story of Derek Jacob’s adult life after a harrowing Jewish childhood in Nazi Germany. Here we see Jacob become a secret Nazi hunter bent on reeking vengeance on the Nazi’s who killed his family and foiling the re-establishment of a fascist state. This novel is based on a real set of documents that Ranulph Fiennes found on one of his journeys in Antarctica. Riveting stuff!!


Like many people, I dream of champagne nights, expensive homes, fame, fortune, and all the things that come with it. Despite these dreams, I find biographies of the rich and famous to be insipid, boring, and a stunning incitement against consumerist culture. In fact, I am always fascinated by people who become what no one in the world wishes to be: homeless, drug addicts, or prostitutes. In Alexander Masters’ biography Stuart: A Life Lived Backwards, the partitions between homed and homeless are parted to reveal the effects of extreme childhood abuse, personality disorders, violence, addiction, and the inability to cope in a nine-to-five world.

While this novel is certainly not happy or filled with laughs, it is very informative. Every person, in fact, who judges homeless people as no good, lazy loafers should read about Stuart’s life story and ask themselves if they could escape homelessness had they faced the life that he faced.


Lastly, Hilary Mantel’s fascinating novel Beyond Black follows the story of a working British psychic who is haunted by both her visions and her past. This book shows great insight into the underground culture of psychic performers (for lack of a better term) and the struggles of a working class “freak” as she tries to improve her life. As a sane look into an insane world, Mantel’s book is interesting, insightful, and worth a gander if you like psychics.


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