Thursday, July 8, 2010

On genre reading

I'm just not that much of a genre reader. There, I admitted it. I find most mysteries too formulaic for my taste, and aside from some fantasy (and steampunk, which is really sort of alternate history), I don't stray any further afield. OK, fine, I have read The Pink Carnation (do not visit that link. It's like something pink threw up on the page. Sorry! I still like you, Lauren Willig!) and others in the series, but then I got tired of those a bit, too.

I certainly keep up with what's coming out, and I dip into the occasional title. Most of the time, a few genre novels a year are enough, especially since I have to read 50-odd titles, many quite formulaic, for BOYCA.

That being said, I think I am sort of hooked on Kathy Reichs. OK, I had already read one (Bones to ashes) but recently I picked up another and couldn't put it down - as in, literally, could not put it down. Perhaps I was just in the mood. But Reichs is certainly an excellent writer, revealing and concealing clues, balancing description and action, managing dialogue in a way that isn't too hokey (Ryan borders on it, but I am just trying to visualise it as campy more than lame).

Maybe it's just too damn hot to read anything else.

That being said, I picked up Death du jour (worst. title. ever.) because I had read somewhere that several scenes are set in Birks Building, and I thought, yes, I need some nostalgia. I forgive Reichs for spelling Université as Universitie. Sigh. Editors.

So now I must share some descriptions with all of you.

My earliest memories of Birks are going to the library with my mum as a small child, being awed by the wood and the sun streaming through the windows, and the creaky floors. My father performed a wedding ceremony when I was eight or so in Birks' chapel, which I remember vividly because the chapel is so lovely, and also because the bride's name was Willa, and I had just finished all the Anne books, and was enamoured with Rilla. I wanted to be Willa so I could be glamourous, and get married at the university (in the end, I very nearly did, but ended up in City Hall), and have a name that sounded like Rilla.

Later, of course, I came to Birks as a student, spending interminable hours daydreaming out the window of the main classroom during tedious early Church history classes (I had to take at least one as part of my minor in World Religions, even though I was far more interested in "feminist" Christianity, Hinduism and Islam). I loved the winter shoe-removal ritual in the lobby, an effort to protect the marble staircase that also made the whole building feel sort of more like your own home. I loved climbing the creaky stairs to the airy third floor offices to visit with Patricia. I loved the faculty room with dusty pink wing-backed chairs, and trips to the washroom extended so I could read the banns published for this month's chapel weddings (almost all of them students or faculty, and most inter-denominational or inter-faith).

Writes Reichs (heh heh. That rhymes):

"Birks is from another time, with its Gothic exterior, carved oak walls and furniture, and enormous cathedral windows. It is a place that inspires whispering, not the chatting and swapping of notes that occurs in most university buildings. The first-floor lobby is cavernous, its walls hung with portraits of grave men looking down in scholarly self-importance.

I added my boots to the row of footwear trickling melted snow onto the marble floor, and stepped over for a closer look at the august artworks. [...] I climbed a winding staircase, past two sets of wooden doors on the second floor, one to the chapel, the other to the library, and continued to the third."

Reichs also talks about McLennan, although with less love. Any library school graduate can surely attest to the following:

"There are records identifying the coldest spot on earth, the driest, the lowest. The gloomiest is without doubt the serials and microform department of McGill's McLennan Library. It is a long narrow room on the second floor done in poured cement and fluorescent lighting, set of smartly by a bloodred floor."

Happy summer reading. I'll be pursuing the Reichs backlist.


  1. The earlier Reichs books are fun in that they are set (at least in part) in Montreal and I always get a kick out of reading about a place and knowing exactly where it is. I can't remember which one talked a lot about the Faubourg Ste-Catherine but I was working at Concordia at the time so I found it quite amusing.

  2. yeah, there was one that talked about Westmount, too... I think it may have been Bones to ashes...