Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: KevinfromCanada

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers and other bookish bods to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is erudite blogger KevinfromCanada.

I first noticed Kevin’s comments appearing on many of the same book blogs I was visiting in 2008. At the time he didn’t have a blog of his own, but I was itching to know more about this chap because he sounded so knowledgeable — and opinionated — about literature.

When he did start his own blog, in 2009, I admit I didn’t exactly leap in and leave comments; I lurked for quite some time. And then one day Kevin emailed me (and a handful of other British-based book bloggers) out of the blue to discuss the ethics of reviewing free books. And a correspondence ensued. Which is how I found out he had once been a journalist and therefore we had quite a bit in common…

In fact, Kevin spent his career in newspapers. As well as being a journalist, he had been editor (of various departments), editor-in-chief and later publisher of the Calgary Herald in Canada. He left the Herald at the end of 1995, because, he jokes, “Conrad Black and I got sick of each other at about the same time.”

He then did some communications consulting work, lived in Pittsburgh for three years and then returned to Calgary in 2005.

“Since then, reading has been my main (pre)occupation and I started blogging as KevinfromCanada in January 2009 when I realised I was cluttering up a lot of other people’s blogs with comments,” he tells me.

Here’s Kevin’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections:


AFineBalance A favourite book: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

The novel is set in the India of Indira Ghandi and contrasts the terror of her repression with the joy and hope of two tailors (and a host of supporting characters) who somehow find their way through the morass that surrounds them. It is a long book, some 600-plus pages, but rewards that with an extensive cast of fully-developed characters and almost as long a list of equally well-done sub-plots.

The novel was the second winner of Canada’s Giller Prize (in 1995) and shortlisted for the Booker in 1996.

A book that changed my world

So many books have changed me that I would not even try to name a handful, let alone any single title. A couple of years ago, I did do a list of 10 “books for the island” for the website that is probably as close as anything to a short list.

TwoStrandRiver A book that deserves a wider audience: Two Strand River by Keith Maillard

A haunting, short novel, set in British Columbia, it features a pair of androgynous central characters who, understandably, are alienated from the world around them and then takes off (literally) into a shaman-led experience. The book is out of print, but versions are available on most of the second-hand websites (including Abebooks).

Actually, I’d put Maillard forward as “most overlooked author”. Born in Wheeling, West Virginia, he came to Canada in 1970 and has been here ever since (I’ve always assumed that was Vietnam War-related). He is best known for his Raysburg books, set in and around a fictional community that is a thinly-veiled Wheeling (which is an industrial steel mill town in the rust belt, if you don’t know it). For my money, I can think of no author who did a better job of detailing the generation that grew up in the America of the post-War period (most of his novels do centre on younger people). A number are available at the Book Depository.

Thanks, Kevin, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!

I’ve made a mental note to read A Fine Balance very soon, because I’ve heard so many great recommendations about this book in the past couple of years. Oh, and don’t forget to visit Kevin’s blog for further good reading recommendations if you haven’t already visited before…

What do you think of Kevin’s choices? Have you read any of these books?

28 thoughts on “Triple Choice Tuesday: KevinfromCanada”

  1. I’m a lurker on Kevin’s blog too (thanks to noticing him commenting on your posts) although I did de-lurk recently for a little discussion.
    A Fine Balance is a devastating read but worth it. Jackie and I had a little debate a few weeks ago over whether it was ultimately hopeful and she more or less convinced me that it is.


  2. LOL Claire. When I discussed A fine balance in a bookgroup years ago – it’s a favourite of mine too – one of the main issues was whether it was ultimately hopeful. Some thought it was so sad (and it is) that they couldn’t see any hope, while some others like me did. I’m not a great one for remembering lines from books but I do remember a line from this one: “The secret of survival is to embrace change and adapt”. That’s what the characters who remain at the end are doing and it made me smile – desperate though their survival was.
    Thanks Kevin – this is a book that is in my top 10. But, I haven’t heard of Maillard. I should check him out.


  3. I have A Fine Balance on my bookshelf and keep picking it up and then putting it down. I swear I am scared of books of 400+ pages. I did read A Suitable Boy this summer and loved it, so I really should get over my fear and do it.
    Thanks for the top 10 books list, Kevin. I’ve got a few of them on my shelf and will read them one day (especially the beautiful Virago hardback of War and Peace)but the prices on…yikes, it made me remember just how expensive books are in Canada.


  4. Thanks to everyone for the kind words and special thanks to Kim for recognizing and promoting my blog. People who have not read A Fine Balance should be reassured that a near universal experience is that at about page 500 the reaction is “I don’t want this to end”. And as tragic as various aspects of it are, you can put me in the “hopeful” camp — those two tailors are among the most special characters in all of fiction.
    Finally, Kinga, Canadian books aren’t as expensive as my list would seem to indicate — I picked the most expensive version for the picture with each title. Given that almost all 10 are classics that usually meant some kind of special edition — there are certainly cheaper versions available.
    Again thanks for the comments about KevinfromCanada. And comments on the site are certainly welcome for those who have only lurked so far.


  5. A Fine Balance is not one of my favourite books because it was so sad and depressing, but it’s probably one of the best books I’ve read. Mistry’s prose was so vivid that it took me ages to leave the story behind. I read it just before Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy (which I also liked), but A Fine Balance has always been the book that I remember from that summer. I’m off to check out Kevin’s other recommendations now.


  6. Sakura: I’m afraid you are going to find them a very predictable mix of classic titles that almost everyone has read — but they are still my favorites. I have also read A Suitable Boy and think that A Fine Balance is a much better book. Having said that, however, I absolutely love Seth’s An Equal Music — it would easily make my list of top 10 contemporary novels. I think I have convinced kimbofo to read it (since she did not know that so much of it is set right in her part of the world). It is one of my “go-to” novels — I put Schubert on the iPod and crack it open, yet again. A wonderful study of a) music b) love c) London and d) tragedy. I think I have read A Fine Balance six times; I’m willing to bet that I have read An Equal Music even more (since it can be completed in one extended reading session).
    In fact, once the current pile gets a little smaller, I may read it and blog it — I haven’t read it since starting the blog. I love Kim’s “random” library feature and am thinking that a “return” read of my favorites might be in order.


  7. You really, really, really, really should. It is one of the best books of the last three decades. Although, to get the full experience, you should check out the schedules for Wigmore Hall and the Royal Albert. If there is a performance of the Trout Quintet scheduled in the next year, build your reading of this book around it. If not, there is a wonderful pub behind the RA (just a block or two away from the park — it is on Queen’s Gate and is kind of modern) where the minor players gather as the evening goes on. A night there would also put you in the right mood.


  8. Its not the Queens Arms, is it, on Queens Gate Mews??? If so, that is a favourite haunt… often take o/s guests there. In fact, took some New York-based relatives there just two weeks ago…


  9. That does sound right, Kim. My hotel on that visit was at the corner of Cromwell Road and Gloucester Road and all I remember was walking towards the Royal Albert Hall and finding a wonderful pub (so that fits — and all this was 30 years ago, so there is a reason why memory might be a little obscure). The strongest memory was that halfway through the evening, a number of people in tails, carrying instruments, would show up and have a great time.


  10. You’re lucky that pub is still there… They’re closing pubs down left, right and centre all over London and the UK. No-one has the money to drink in pubs these days, especially when you can buy a six-pack of lager from the supermarket for less than a tenner. The average price of a pint in London is £3.50!!


  11. If you need a quick read, that has a wonderful love story, and speaks to your part of the world, with some tragic consequences, read An Equal Music first.
    If you are up to an epic story that centres on two very ordinary people, and then drags in a veritable host of others, read A Fine Balance.
    From my point of view, you cannot go wrong either way. These are two of the best novels that have ever been written, as different as they are.


  12. Kevin,
    That’s a very good point. There were some beautiful editions in that list and they were, therefore, quite pricey. But I find book-buying in Canada (not that I’m there that often) really hard-hitting on my bank balance. There aren’t any 3-for-2 deals usually and the books that are marked down are generally not my cup of tea.
    And don’t even get me started on the GST.


  13. It is true that browsing buyers in bookstores in Canada face high prices (since most of the buyers are members of loyalty programs and get the discount). And the system is definitely set up to promote online buying. I ordered six of the eight IMPAC finalists this week (I already have Home and Netherland) to be delivered to the door for $100 (about 60 pounds) which is not excessive by my standards. Then again, I am not price sensitive when it comes to books. And the GST is just another name for VAT (and if you save your receipts on your purchases you can file for a refund when you leave the country).


  14. £60 for 6 books seems expensive to me… books are so cheap in the UK. I almost fell over backwards when I went to Australia at Christmas and saw that the average price for a paperback was twice, if not three times, the British equivalent. Factor in the woeful exchange rate, and I had to really grit my teeth when I made any bookish purchases. Mind you, books in the UK do not attract VAT (or GST), because why should you tax people for reading and, in turn, educating themselves?
    I guess that means you’re planning on reading the IMPAC longlist?


  15. Thanks for your comment… interesting to see people’s take on this book. Everyone seems in agreement that it’s a brilliant book, but there is one camp who says it’s depressing and another that says it’s hopeful. I guess I’ll just have to read it to see which camp I fall into.


  16. Agree with Kim that £60 for 6 books is expensive and that’s bought online. I just checked and 5 of the 6 books (In Zodiac Light was out of stock) would set you back £43.38 (that’s with free worldwide delivery) and all 6 would cost you £36.45 (before shipping) on These were paperbacks, though. Maybe you’re partial to hardcovers?
    I find it frustrating when I go back to Canada to even find a bookstore close to my parents. There are some, but the selection is never fantastic and I’ve noticed a decrease in the selection and in the number of bookstores since I left Canada 11 years ago. It’s a shame. Unless I know which books I definitely want and desire and can’t live without, I still prefer to shop in a bookshop rather than online. Shopping, like reading, is a physical sensation for me: the smell of the pages, the weight of the book in my hands, the quality of the paper, the strength and yield of the spine…oooh…that’s got me all excited. 🙂
    It’s a shame, it really is, as most Canadians I know still read a lot but they tend to visit libraries. But when I walk into a UK bookstore, I immediately make a beeline for the 3 for 2 table and then explore the rest of the shelves (by which point, I’ve got at least 3 books in my hands). In Canada, I just don’t get as excited and when I do, the price usually calms me down (while I mutter “HOW MUCH?”).
    How healthy is the Canadian publishing industry? I know it’s hard everywhere these days, but are Candadian publishers and Canadian offices of UK and US publishers doing ok?


  17. It is true that I prefer hard cover books (three of the six on the IMPAC order I mentioned)– and my experience is that prices are roughly equivalent in the UK, US and Canada. It is equally true that the UK does have much more attractively priced paperbacks down the line (my impression is that the first release is about the same cost, but the one after that — which we tend not to get in Canada because the market is so small — is a real bargain).
    As for Canadian bookstores, I’m afraid that Chapters/Indigo has changed that world forever and most of the independents have gone out of business (there is perhaps one per city and that is not much). The upside is that the general reader, who heads to the megastores, has a much better selection available — the downside is that those quirky stores with knowledgable owners are almost all gone. I’ll admit that a combination of blogs and more conventional online sources means that I pretty much know what books I want (and I don’t like shopping) so virtually all of my buying is done online.
    As for the Canadian publishing industry, the publishers are complaining but I would say that the biggest issue is still that too many books get published. The federal government and all the provinces have subsidy programs (to protect us from the American giant next door) which means that there are a lot of small publishers — books get printed, but distribution is a different issue. And I would say that we have an excellent selection of US and UK works since the market is small enough that we end up getting access to one of those editions rather than waiting for Canadian rights. I have not placed a US order in months — I do use the Book Depository to get early access to UK works since we often end up getting the American edition.
    And yes Kim I am going to read the IMPAC shortlist (and KevinfromCanada is running a contest). I’ve read Home (didn’t like it) and Netherland (liked it but not ecstatic). Barbery, Raisin and Heller were all on my radar; the two translated works look very interesting and the cover of Edric’s perked my interest. I enjoyed reading the shortlist last year and look forward to this one as well. I know a bunch of these books have been around the prize well for a while, but I quite like that it is libraries who make the original nomination. IMPAC is a bit of a “time-delayed” competition but, as the research both you and Kinga did shows, it also features novels that are readily available at a very decent price. In many ways, I think it is both the most populist and accessible of the various prize competitions — truly international. Then again, the final decision sometimes looks like a “most overlooked book” choice, but that is just me being grumpy again. I do think this year’s shortlist contains a number of very good, very different, books.


  18. Really? There’s a CD? It sounds like one of those naff cookbooks that come with “music to cook by” which were all the rage in the early 1990s (when I worked in book stores). LOL.
    Interesting to hear it’s a favourite book of yours, too. I plan on reading it next week when I head off on a week’s holiday.


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