#95books 2018-05-04T07:50:43+00:00

The #95books reading challenge is simple: commit to reading 95 books over 12 months.

You can start anytime (although most people start January 1, as a New Year’s resolution) and you can post about your reading using the hashtag #95books.

How did it begin? On Dec. 26, 2008, Karl Rove published an article titled “Bush is a Book Lover” in The Wall Street Journal. Furious on a good day, I read this and became enraged — at myself. I was sure Bush was out-reading me. What was my excuse? I wasn’t as busy as the president. I was a writer completing a PhD in literature!

As 2009 began, I enlisted my friend Ryan Fitzpatrick in a resolve to read 95 books that year. Like Rove and Bush, we’d make it a competition (that’s where we ended the Rove and Bush emulation, I promise … ). The winner would buy the loser sushi. Shockingly, I read 119 books that year. Ryan read 110. We continued the competition every year. Here are my reading totals:

2009: 119 books
2010: 128
2011: 140
2012: 112
2013: 95
2014: 109
2015: 95
2016: 78
2017: 95

Even the one time I failed (family emergency, new baby, pregnant wife), I read far more than I might have otherwise read. In 2018, I will to read #95books again. So can you.

Below, you can find book reviews from some of my past #95books reading.

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Dr. Jonathan Ball
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I cannot guarantee reviews, but I thank you for your interest.

The Logogryph (Thomas Wharton)

Something between a novel and a collection of short stories, The Logogryph is presented as a series of texts ranging from a brief survey of the literature of Atlantis to a tale of dueling margin-scribblers. [...]

The Scarborough (Michael Lista)

When Kenneth Goldsmith appeared on The Colbert Report to promote his book Seven American Deaths and Disasters, Stephen Colbert stated that reading the book (which consists of conceptual poems transcribing live news reports of events [...]

Sad Peninsula (Mark Sampson)

"Yet how would death come now, if Japan surrendered tomorrow? Or the day after that? Was time not running out for death to slip into her stall and carry her away?" This is the worry [...]

Fractal Economies (derek beaulieu)

derek beaulieu's Fractal Economies is less of a collection than a cross-section. It collects only a fragment of beaulieu's extensive forays into concrete poetry (poetry in which the physical form of the poem is foregrounded, [...]

Tell Them It Was Mozart (Angeline Schellenberg)

Angeline Schellenberg's Tell Them It Was Mozart, her debut collection of poetry, concerns raising children on the autism spectrum. The Winnipeg author explores broad topics such as the conflicting and complex emotions of parenthood and how [...]

Son of a Trickster (Eden Robinson)

The first book of a trilogy, Eden Robinson's Son of a Trickster focuses on the tumultuous everyday life of Jared, a sixteen-year-old struggling to survive his family. His parents are separated and strung out, and [...]

Harmonics (Jesse Patrick Ferguson)

Harmonics surprised me. I thought I knew Ferguson's work, from my time editing dandelion, where I published his visual poetry, some of which I used for one of the journal's more eye-catching covers. When a [...]

The Gap of Time (Jeanette Winterson)

2016 marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, and to celebrate his legacy the Hogarth Press commissioned novelists to reinvent Shakespeare's plays for the modern reader. Jeanette Winterson tackles The Winter's Tale, one of Shakespeare's [...]

Metatropolis (editor John Scalzi)

The most common misconception about science fiction is that it sets out to predict the future, when, in fact, although its stories might be set in future worlds, the best examples of the genre use [...]

Dead Girls (Nancy Lee)

Dead Girls is a notch above the average first-book short-story collection in a number of ways. It is much darker than most character-focused collections: many of the stories concern women or young girls driven or [...]

Journey with No Maps (Sandra Djwa)

The cult of author and artist P.K. Page grows ever larger with the appearance of Sandra Djwa's biography. As the first and only Page biography, Djwa's is by default the best, but often frustrating. By [...]

The Guardians (Andrew Pyper)

With The Guardians, Toronto's Andrew Pyper has produced a haunted house novel, a psychological thriller, and a coming-of-age story. With deft prose and pristine pacing, The Guardians is an intelligent and engrossing page-turner, despite some [...]

Night Moves (Richard Van Camp)

Night Moves is Richard Van Camp's fourth short story collection (he also authored a novel, graphic novels, and children's books). Like his earlier collections, the stories focus on the fictional Northwest Territories community of Fort [...]

Little Theatres (Erín Moure)

Erín Moure's Little Theatres takes its name from the work of Elisa Sampedrín, who is quoted heavily in the text — supposedly. In reality, Sampedrín is Moure's heteronym (a pseudonym with a fully developed personality [...]

The Weather (Lisa Robertson)

In The Weather Lisa Robertson engages with the pastoral genre of poetry, in order to draw attention to its architecture. The pastoral in art refers to the romanticization of  rural life — particularly the lives [...]

The Pretended Asian (Michael Keevak)

Michael Keevak's The Pretended Asian is one of only three book-length studies of George Psalmanazar that I am aware of, the other two being Frederic J. Foley's The Great Formosan Imposter (1968) and Richard M. [...]

Cities of Refuge (Michael Helm)

Michael Helm's Cities of Refuge is a novel of precise characterization, muscled metaphors, and intelligent complexity. After 28-year-old Kim Lystrander suffers a brutal assault in downtown Toronto, she remains haunted by the apparent senselessness of the [...]

Float (Anne Carson)

Anne Carson's Float consists of 22 chapbooks of varying lengths floating inside of a transparent slipcase. Little unites them, except perhaps the overall theme of a desire to refuse boundaries and "float" free from the [...]

Against the Day (Thomas Pynchon)

Reading a novel by Thomas Pynchon is like trying to piece together a giant puzzle, only you don't know what the picture is supposed to be, and dump trucks keep stopping by to pour out [...]

Savage Love (Douglas Glover)

"What kind of story was this?" asks Lennart, one of Douglas Glover's many conflicted characters, concerning his overcomplicated life. Lennart has just learned from his frenemy Nedlinger, the celebrity forensic archaeologist, that the skeleton Nedlinger [...]

Downverse (Nikki Reimer)

The epigraph of Nikki Reimer's sophomore collection (a follow-up to her debut [sic]) reads as follows: I hated your poem. Your poem was so boring.         — inebriated audience member at a [...]

You Can Read #95BOOKS This Year

The following is an excerpt from my free eBook YOU CAN READ #95BOOKS THIS YEAR — sign up for the full eBook and consider joining the #95books challenge in 2018!!! I've also created a new [...]

Emergency Hallelujah (Jason Heroux)

For pseudo-surrealism at its elegant best, see Emergency Hallelujah. Jason Heroux's second collection is less raw and vivid than his first (Memoirs of an Alias, also published by Mansfield), but more accomplished and assured. Heroux [...]

The Book Collector (Tim Bowling)

It happens now. As, the businessman in the café declares "It's a new world," blowing on his green tea to display his globalism, it begins,  another salmon run to the Fraser River.  ("It Happens Now" [...]

Baldur's Song: A Saga (David Arnason)

David Arnason's third novel tells the story of Baldur, a young boy from Gimli who finds himself in Winnipeg during its boom-town days at the turn of the nineteenth century.  Baldur is something of a [...]

The Doll's Alphabet (Camilla Grudova)

The best touchstone for Camilla Grudova's debut collection of short stories is not the writing of her literary peers but the filmmaking of David Lynch, who is best known now for the television series Twin [...]

The Exiles' Gallery (Elise Partridge)

Elise Partridge’s The Exiles’ Gallery is her third and sadly final book, since Partridge passed away earlier this year. The collection sparkles with small treasures. The speaker of one poem thinks of the moon and sees [...]

Automatic World by Struan Sinclair

On Sept. 21, I advocated for Struan Sinclair's novel Automatic WorldAutomatic World at the Winnipeg Writers Festival during the "Manitoba Reads" event. I see now that Struan ended up in last place! Sorry, Struan. If [...]

125-128 (Catching up… and done!)

124. How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing (Paul Silvia) This is the best, most fact-based, practical book I've ever seen on writing productively, whether academically and creatively. I re-read [...]

121. Sum (David Eagleman)

Subtitled "Forty Tales from the Afterlife," Sum compiles 40 visions of the afterlife, making it structurally similar to Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams, and Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, and *ahem* my own Clockfire. The premise contains [...]

119. Seven Nights (Jorge Luis Borges)

An excellent, slim volume collecting seven stunning lectures by Borges. Borges is an astute and complex reader, ranging widely within a single essay while staying on point. He defends Dante from Nietzsche's remark that "Dante [...]

118. Neighbour Procedure (Rachel Zolf)

Although in some way I prefer Human Resources, Zolf's newest book is a stunning examination of the language in and around the Israel/Palestine conflict. Notable not only for its depth and complexity, but also for [...]

117. Unleashed (Sina Queyras)

I'm a fan of Sina and her poetry, but I'm not sold on Unleashed, which collects blog entries from a previous incarnation of her site Lemon Hound. I'm not convinced that blog entries ever need [...]

116. Catching the Big Fish (David Lynch)

A series of short meditations on film and artmaking and, unfortunately, meditation itself. Lynch might very well be the greatest living filmmaker, but he's undoubtably lost his mind insofar as he's joined the cult of [...]

114. The Certainty Dream (Kate Hall)

Surrealistic and lyrical, Hall's poems are dreamlike and startling at their best. Line after line, Hall crafts fresh, sparkling images. My predilection is for bird poems, and Hall doesn't disappoint: a crow-bird held another bird [...]

The Logogryph (Thomas Wharton)

[Previously published online in Prairie Fire Review of Books.] The Logogryph is Thomas Wharton’s third book, and establishes Wharton as one of Canada’s best and most imaginative prose writers. Something between a novel and a [...]

The Pretended Asian (Michael Keevak)

[Previous publication: “The Pretended Asian: George Psalmanazar’s Eighteenth-Century Formosan Hoax by Michael Keevak.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature (Jan. 2007): 133-35. Print.] Michael Keevak. The Pretended Asian: George Psalmanazar’s Eighteenth-Century Formosan Hoax. Detroit: [...]

113. Bigfoot (Pascal Girard)

A coming of age story about youthful love and relationships wound around the tale of a possible Sasquatch sighting, starring poor "Disco Jimmy" (reluctant/unfortunate YouTube star). Extremely well-developed characters, especially Uncle Pierre, who's obsessed with [...]

112. Wilson (Daniel Clowes)

Clowes paints Wilson in broad strokes, through a series of distinct strips (each page is a self-contained comic, with culminating "gag") that together tell a continuing story (Wilson's attempt to reconnect with his old lover [...]

111. Masque (Rachel Zolf)

Although the least interesting of Zolf's books, Masque remains an intriguing take on a tired genre -- the "autobiographical novel" -- as Zolf arranges fragmentary lines into a dramatic script for a family in crisis. [...]

109. Mindscan (Robert J. Sawyer)

Mindscan is one of the best Sawyer books I've read -- an intellectual courtroom drama that examines complex issues surrounding personhood, concerns which become material after Jacob Sullivan has his consciousness copied into a mechanical [...]

108. Torontology (Stephen Cain)

Compared to Cain's other work, I found this book a tough slog. I much prefer the later American Standard/Canada Dry. The density of the lines here is forbidding, and the poems can be frustratingly humourless, [...]

107. Fieldnotes, a forensic (Kate Eichhorn)

Eichhorn's previous book, Fond, impressed me, but Fieldnotes moves far beyond it in both language and concept. Combining fragmentary, disjunctive phrases with a fractured narrative and parodies of television procedurals like Bones (that's right!), this [...]

106. R's Boat (Lisa Robertson)

Robertson may be the greatest Canadian poet working today. The incantatory rhythm of her sentences here, their patterns and repetitions, is intoxictating and hypnotic. Her more concrete, visual lines impress much more than her more [...]

105. Rag & Bone Shop (Earle Birney)

An uneven 1971 collection by Birney. Still, admirable in its range -- Birney's experiments with form and style intrigue, and on occasion inspire. I grow weary of collections like this, which seem dilettantish. But I [...]

104. BRICKBRICKBRICK (Mark Laliberte)

[I'm actually up to book 124 right now -- beating last year's 119. So my reviews will be short, because I'm pressed for time these days, but want to catch up on my posting.]In BRICKBRICKBRICK, [...]

Hard Core Logo (Michael Turner)

I'm a fan of Michael Turner, but I can't say that I was terribly impressed by Hard Core Logo. As poetry it's not exciting, and the plot is rather bland. The characters are well-drawn but [...]

Wittgenstein's Mistress (David Markson)

A master-work that anticipates Markson's later fragmentary novels, Wittgenstein's Mistress is the story of a woman who believes she is the last living thing on the planet, and whose madness is apparent in every sentence [...]

A Moveable Feast (Ernest Hemingway)

Hemingway draws out the dark fascination that readers like myself have with authors, great authors, especially the mythic figures of the so-called Modern age. In a preface he writes that “this book may be regarded [...]

Hump (Ariel Gordon)

A first poetry collection organized around the poet's pregnancy, Hump could move in a lot of lousy directions but Gordon reigns in the sentimentality as much as possible to produce a set of clever and [...]

The Hawkline Monster (Richard Brautigan)

Brautigan is the Hawaii of American novelists, an anomolous island floating off the main body of the nation. Every one of his novels is utterly unique. Subtitled "A Gothic Western," this novel is a cross [...]

Curious Men (Frank Buckland)

Curious Men contains selected journalism by Frank Buckland, a Victorian writer who reported on various oddities -- waxworks, two-headed people, petrifications, and so on. Buckland is a lively and engaging reporter and this is a [...]

Declining America (Rob Budde)

This book contains its own best review, in a line of poetry: "A cubist CT scan of the american body." The strongest book I've read by Budde, very KSW-influenced, capped with a particularly strong poem/essay [...]

My Angie Dickinson (Michael Magee)

Magee captures some of the energy and verve of Dickinson's best poetry, using Internet searches to more or less re-construct her work. Imagine Dickinson as a 21st-century flarfist. Here's Magee's poem "142": Baby has ripped [...]

Mainstream (Michael Magee)

This is a flarf book, and like most flarf it's very uneven. There are some excellent poems -- many of the "Fascist Fairytales" stand out and the long poem "The Story of In Sip" is [...]

M (Jon J Muth)

This is a graphic novel adaptation of the classic Fritz Lang film. The visuals are stunning, but the pacing of the story is off. It is a fairly straightforward adaptation, which begs the question: Why [...]

Meow, Baby! (Jason)

Jason is the most brilliant and entertaining figure in comics today. This book collects his shorter works, all of which feature classic monsters (vampires, mummies, zombies, etc.; also some cavemen and Elvis) in strange and [...]

What Stirs (Margaret Christakos)

Although I felt that the early sections of this book were a bit underdeveloped, the last half is exceptional, especially the lengthy poem "(I Really Don't Think You're) Strong Enough." Christakos is particularly adept at [...]

The Turn of the Screw (Henry James)

A question the writer of narrative must always ask is this: What does the reader want? You ask the question because your job is to identify what the reader wants and refuse to give it [...]

Antwerp (Roberto Bolaño)

Antwerp is a difficult book to write about, because it so aggressively pushes out -- at times to triumph in its rejection of novelistic convention, at times to announce its own failure as fiction. The [...]

Hypoderm (Weyman Chan)

Hypoderm is Chan's third collection of poetry, and while I preferred the poems in Noise from the Laundry, which I felt were crisper and tighter, the poems here are a little more playful, philosophical, and [...]

Fatal Strategies (Jean Baudrillard)

My basic position regarding Jean Baudrillard is that he is best read not as a theorist but as a literary author -- and it is in this light that his ideas achieve great significance and [...]

Notes from Underground (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

The Underground Man is the original emo kid, a snivelling and hopelessly pathetic figure -- but there is something disturbing and off-putting about his character and presence in this novel. Dostoevsky prefaces the book with [...]

Rewrite Right! (Jan Venolia)

This is another book I'm reading for teaching/research purposes -- wondering if I should adopt an editing text for my writing classes. If I do, it might be this book. It's brief, concise, and clear, [...]

The Gunslinger (Stephen King)

  Now that I’ve progressed far enough in the 95 Books challenge to feel confident I can read 95 books before the year is out, I decided to take on a sub-challenge: completing Stephen King’s lengthy [...]

Four Stories (Sheila Watson)

Sheila Watson is best known as the author of the Canadian classic The Double Hook -- one of the few "Canadian classics" that is not a chore to read. Watson only ever published two novels [...]

Ways of Seeing (John Berger)

Ways of Seeing is a modern critical classic in which Berger proceeds from ideas expressed in Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" to discuss the history of painting, oil [...]

On Writing Horror (Ed. Mort Castle)

Natalee Caple keeps calling me a "slipstream" writer, so I've been trying to learn more about genre writing -- I like the idea of existing where Chabon situated himself in his book I read earlier [...]

Pocket Pantheon (Alain Badiou)

Since graduating from the Ph.D. programme, I haven't read many theory books -- when you work in academia you find yourself often reading sections of books, or single essays, much more often than you find [...]

Face (Melissa Buzzeo)

A compelling suite of prose-poetry with some similarity to the work of Nathalie Stephens (who provides an insertable, loose page) and Nicole Brossard (who provides a blurb). Well worth reading although I found myself wanting [...]

The Invisible Man (H. G. Wells)

Extremely uneven --- maybe it's a side effect of time, or maybe it's an experiment by Wells, but the first half of this book is a slapstick comedy, and the latter half is an SF [...]

The Time Machine (H. G. Wells)

This book doesn't hold up as well as The War of the Worlds or The Island of Dr. Moreau, but there are some astonishing moments, as when the Time Traveller passes forward to observe the [...]

Orwell (Raymond Williams)

This is a revised edition with an afterword, "Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984." Williams does an excellent job of tracing Orwell's political development and how it connects to his literary development and makes a compelling case [...]

Social Acupuncture (Darren O'Donnell)

This book contains a lengthy essay on O'Donnell's vision of a politically and socially engaged theatrical experience, which for O'Donnell is best achieved through an audience-involved, non-narrative theatre. He makes an impassioned call for artists [...]

Golden Fleece (Robert J. Sawyer)

I'm becoming quite the fan of SF author Robert J. Sawyer. Golden Fleece, his first book, is convincingly written from the perspective of an artificial consciousness, JASON, the ship computer aboard the Argo. Think 2001 [...]

Anthropy (Ray Hsu)

I'm impressed by the range of this book -- Hsu scatters his attentions without coming across as dilettantish and displays a wide variety of influences. More poetry needs to exist in this liminal space between [...]

Teethmarks (Sina Queyras)

More to my fancy than Slip -- this book pushes more, ranges wide, and is a solid precursor to Sina's later work. I especially enjoyed the very fractured series "Dizzy, or, My Mother's Life as [...]

Ur (Stephen King)

This is a "novella" and I don't exactly know how long it is, because I read it on the iPhone's Kindle app. It took about as long to read as a short book so I [...]

Slip (Sina Queyras)

Queyras is an excellent writer, but this book didn't do much for me, because I'm just fundamentally disinterested in poems about love and/or lust. The poems are also relatively straightforward and lack the panache of [...]

Flashforward (Robert J. Sawyer)

This novel was the basis for the television series of the same name (back on the air now), but the differences between the two are numerous. The main similarity is the machine of the novel's [...]

House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski)

At 709 pages, this is the longest book I've read for the 95 Books Challenge. House of Leaves is a fascinating, flawed, and ambitious novel. Most of the novel concerns a mise en abyme story-within-a-story [...]

Man Ray / Surrealist Photography (Photofile)

I am counting these two books as one for no good reason. Photofile produces nice little photograph-reproduction books with short introductory essays that are not extensive but decent overviews of the subject. These are good, [...]

stone poems (Stephen Scobie)

stone poems was written 1967-1969 and published in 1973 by Talonbooks as a small box containing loose square pages. The poems are bpNichol-esque, minimalist poems. The book reads very much like an imitation of Nichol [...]

Rhapsodomancy (kevin mcpherson eckhoff)

Rhapsodomancy is by my good friend and sometime co-conspirator kevin mcpherson eckhoff, and will be published by Coach House Books shortly (I read the book in manuscript years ago and re-read it today). It's the [...]

Crow Planet (Lyanda Lynn Haupt)

I read this book because I thought it would be more about crows than about urban naturalism, and although I learned enough useful information (for my novel-in-progress, which concerns crows to strange degrees) to consider [...]

Point Omega (Don DeLillo)

Point Omega is DeLillo's newest novel, a slim but powerful book. It's hard to pin down a book like this, which is deceptively simple at first blush but rather complex when one looks closely. DeLillo [...]

The Anger Scale (Katie Degentesh)

(Great minds think alike, Ryan, even outside of classes...)Degentesh has taken select questions from the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), “a psychological test consisting of 566 true/false questions that has been the benchmark for determining [...]

The Career Novelist (Donald Maass)

I read this book because I wanted to know more about the genre publishing industry, not that I intend to do anything with that knowledge but because I’m (re)writing a novel featuring a character who [...]

Rollback (Robert J. Sawyer)

So many people on this site are reading science fiction that I've been peer-pressured into it! Actually, I noticed last year that the blind spot in my reading was science fiction, so I've tried to [...]

Half World (Hiromi Goto)

Half World is a young adult fantasy that in many respects can be considered a horror novel. In one of the novel's first scenes, a woman bites off the finger of her lover as a [...]

The Island of Doctor Moreau (H.G. Wells)

Wells wrote this book long before genetics was understood to any degree, and so the science of creating humanoid beast-men is predicated on vivisection and surgical manipulation, but of course the book is now read [...]

The Case of Lena S. (David Bergen)

I don't read much realism. I don't enjoy it -- it tends to lack structure, to lack ideas, to lack style, to lack panache. It's predictable, formulaic, bland, and (to borrow a term from my [...]

Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)

Heart of Darkness is one of the more controversial classics, its politics hotly debated, particularly in the wake of Chinua Achebe's scathing condemnation. The book is a complicated beast and I'm not sure where I [...]

Adaptation (Charlie Kaufman)

The shooting script for the film Adaptation contains a few interesting appendices -- an interview with Kaufman and Spike Jonze and short responses to the film by Susan Orlean (whose book The Orchid Thief is [...]

The Age of Spiritual Machines (Ray Kurzweil)

Kurzweil's book is a fascinating, thought-provoking volume, although in general too optimistic for my blood. One of the basic flaws of Kurzweil's thinking, and a flaw of most "futurist" thinking, is the assumption that superior [...]

The Book of Tea (Kakuzo Okakura)

Okakura wrote this book to introduce the ways of tea-drinking, and Japanese thought in a general sense, to Westerners. I love tea but what I enjoy about this book is the way Okakura writes—his is [...]

Child of God (Cormac McCarthy)

Cormac McCarthy makes me joyous and angry, inspired and depressed at the same time. His throwaway lines are better than anything I've ever written. Even when nothing is happening, the prose engrosses. His style is [...]

On Love and Death (Patrick Süskind)

On Love and Death is a slim volume consisting of a single essay by Süskind, who is better known as the author of Perfume. The essay is a throwback to the kind of straightforward, reader-friendly [...]

This Way Out (Carmine Starnino)

My joke, when I'm asked why I don't write poetry about my feelings, is that as a straight, white male, aged 18-35, I feel my life is adequately represented in the culture. Starnino's one of [...]

Gutted (Evie Christie)

One of my frequent complaints about poetry is that so much of it feels "bloodless" -- the poems may be beautiful, well-written, precise, and well-structured, but lack a certain life, a rawness to which I [...]

George W. Bush reviews his own book

"I'm going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written at least there's an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened." --George W. Bush, on what he hopes to [...]

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