The Decafnation lists its favorite books read during 2017

The Decafnation lists its favorite books read during 2017

On January 1 every year, the Decafnation presents its annual collective Book Report. Thanks to everyone who took the time to share short reviews of books they enjoyed during the past year. You can read last year’s Book Report here.

Mary LeeWhat on Earth am I here For? by Rick Warren. Why? To find the answer to the ultimate question.

Arzeena HamirStation 11 by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s a glimpse at a post-apocalyptic Canada

Ken AdneyHow We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. And I’m currently re-reading Robert Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers, which holds up as a simple introduction to economic thought (and the economists).

Brent ReidBarbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. In this Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Finnegan portrays his lifelong obsession with surfing the most challenging beaches in the world–some of them previously undiscovered. His descriptions of his fellow surfers, the code they follow, the magnificent beaches and breaks they find, and the death-defying rides they take are fascinating.

Maingon Loys — Defending Giants by Darren Frederick Speece was a pretty illuminating read. It is a history of the Redwood Wars, very useful insights. It makes a very good case exposing how conservation strategy is only transitory — somewhere human beings have to re-evaluate their priorities

Joe ScuderiMan’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankel. It’s short but profound. Hillbilly Elegy was also excellent.

Kim SlenoA Column of Fire by Ken Follett. Read the first of this trilogy Christmas Day 1989. As a lover of history it gave me a glimpse of the past.

Jessie KerrI Was Told To Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad by Souad Mekhennet. The story of a German Muslim reporter who traveled to interview several ISIS leaders. She reported for a major German daily, The Washington Post and the NY Times. Because she produced balanced stories, those leaders agreed to talk to her. Oddly, I found her stories heartening because she explores her own and other Muslim citizens’ interest in understanding the motivation behind the often violent solutions pursued by these extreme Jihadist groups. I heard her interviewed on CBC’s The Current; I knew then that I must read her book.

Jodi Le MasurierInto the Magic Shop by James Doty

Gordon MasonThe Shadow of Kilimanjaro, on foot across east Africa by Rick Ridgeway. A wonderful journey through a fascinating area in Kenya, Tsavo National Park. An incredible journey on foot from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro to the Indian Ocean, offering a rare view of East Africa as it is today and how it once was before the inclusion of European civilization.

Dennis Crockford — All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr … wonderful description of the growing characters. And a very different writing style … flipping between the two characters every few pages … off-putting to some but I really enjoyed it.

Wayne Bradley — Ravensong by Lee MaracleMaybe its best because I read it last, who knows? I realize that I am very late for the Lee Maracle party, but I loved Ravensong! Great writing style with good character development, and chalk full of First Nations perspectives. Written i early 1990s, I think, but with perspectives on First Nations / settler relations that are startlingly relevant today.

Bill Morrison — The Boys in the Boat by James Brown. An epic rowing story about the struggle for gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics by an unknown Washington team.

Brad Morgan — Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. A mix of American history, spirituality and allegorical surrealism out of a story about Abraham Lincoln’s grief over the death of his 11-year-old son.

Richard Schmidt — Sing, Unburied, Sin By Jesmyn Ward. A story about the love-hate tensions between races as a black woman and her children take a road trip through Mississippi to pick up her white husband from prison.

Allison Grey — Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. A wonderful love story about how place can affect the heart.

Bobbi Ellison — Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. A WWII-era tale about connecting disparate stories about a father’s disappearance and the rise of a mobster and the host of larger issues this journey reveals.

John Vernon — The Future is History by Masha Gessen. Why post-Soviet Russia rejected democracy for Putin and the threat he poses.

Marcia Sorenson — Hunger by Roxane Gay. How an early-life sexual assault shaped this woman’s body image for life.

George Le MasurierThe Force by Don Winslow. Fictional but insightful peek into the shady world of “dirty” cops in the NYPD. It makes “Serpico,” “The Departed” and “Donnie Brasco” seem tame and shallow by comparison.


The abstract expressionism of painter Angel Matamoros

The abstract expressionism of painter Angel Matamoros

(Editor’s note: I worked with Angel “Fred” Matamoros at The News Tribune and The Olympian in Washington state, and he designed the Decafnation logo. I follow his work, both in graphic design and painting, and asked Tony Martin for a short review of Fred’s latest series of paintings.)


The first thing I should mention is a quote by British artist and Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry: “artists should never be compared to other artists in a review”, something like that.

But I can’t help comparing the latest paintings by Angel Matamoros to the late Richard Diebenkorn, West Coast’s most revered artist.

In his day job, Matamoros is an award-winning graphic designer who has worked for major newspapers and design houses. Away from work, he’s an abstract expressionist painter represented by galleries in Louisiana and Texas.

Although I have never seen his actual paintings — only his portfolio online — his excellent sense of design and colour comes through. I too am a former graphic designer turned painter, so I recognize where Matamoros is coming from.

My reference to Diebenkorn is to offer an opportunity to check him out online. He is a perfect example of what abstract expressionism is all about and it’s a North American phenomenon. Abstract Expressionism is a post-World War ll art movement in American painting, developed in New York in the 1940s.

It was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York City at the centre of the western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris.

While Diebenkorn and Paul Klee, among others, have influenced his work, Matamoros is inspired by artists from his native Costa Rica, such as Rafael Angel Garcia and Francisco Zuniga.

The abstracts by Matamoros take snippets of text from poems that he loves, and combines them with heavy, textural colors and forms.

Metamoros has left print media to work as the principal graphic designer at Hazen and Sawyer in San Diego, a group of environmental engineers and scientists.

About his painting, he says: “I am drawn to surfaces, the power of colour, texture and energetic gestures. My work disassembles and re-arranges images inspired by places I have a special connection with, poems, books I’ve read as well as nature. While I give the paintings titles, it’s my hope that people will connect with the art in reflection of their own story.”

You may view his paintings at or check out Saatchi Gallery’s web site.

Tony Martin is the former Director/Curator of the Comox Valley Art Gallery. He currently lives and works in Nanaimo. You can see his own work here.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Book reports from the DecafNation — 2016

Book reports from the DecafNation — 2016

On Jan. 1 every year, the DecafNation presents its annual collective Book Report. I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, this is the first time I’ve seen this Book Report.” You’re right, because the DecafNation didn’t exist on Jan. 1, 2016. But we plan to make this an annual tradition.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to share short reports of books they enjoyed reading during the past year. First off, submissions from some Facebook Friends.

Jackie Barrett Sharar
Capital Dames by Cokie Roberts — It’s a history of women (both sides) in DC before during and at the end of the Civil War. Illuminating.

Tony Hazarian
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen — My teenage working-class hero explores his darkest moments and provides a ray of hope in what’s sure to be a very challenging period of American history. Master storyteller.

Sue Finnernon
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara — One of the best books I have ever read. The characterization is incredible.

Joe Ingoglia
I second this (A Little Life). Best book I’ve read in years. Very emotional. really appreciated how, over many years, it portrays love between four young men — sometimes platonic, sometime brotherly, sometimes romantic. It was difficult to read at times because of the raw emotionality of it, but ultimately rang very true for me. The relationships feel like actual relationships — with highs, lows, anger, sadness, joy and love.

Colleen Madden
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah — The less explored perspective of women during wartime (WWII occupied France). How easy it is to misunderstand motivation-your own, your family, your country. Sacrifice, enduring, love. Finding meaning and fully committing to that, in ways small and large, regardless of the possible cost.

Mike Leonard
A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron — As a dog lover with a new Lab puppy teaching me how to be her servant, I was drawn to this book. I am intrigued by the thought of a dog’s reincarnation.

Dave Kent
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner — A thoughtful study of happiness defined by happy places around the world. Eric travels to all parts of the globe trying to understand what makes people happy. Educational, very fun writing and your left with your thoughts about … what creates an environment for bliss.

Linda Liestman
Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman —  I am not usually drawn to books of this type. It was loaned to me for a post-Christmas vacation read last year, and I couldn’t put it down. I found every aspect of Huguette’s eccentricity and the amazing life of her wealthy wild-west father endlessly fascinating. I could say more, but do not want to spoil it for anyone.

SK Pepper
Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant — Grant is originally from U.K. and a travel writer. He buys a large farm home in the Mississippi Delta, sharing real stories about the folk there that seem unreal, and they are true. He captures the culture of this place so vividly.

Michael Colello
Danube by Claudio Magris –During the Cold War’s final years Magris followed the legendary river from its source in the Black Forest to its terminus at the Black Sea. Fusing reportage and personal recollections with musings on history, philosophy, and the arts, Magris’s account is an erudite and stunningly written portrait of Mitteleuropa. I found it wildly informative, professionally inspiring and packed with gorgeous prose. A gem.

Bill Burns
The Remnants by Robert Hill — For the last year of unending politics spiraling downward, it was comforting to find an enjoyable, easy-read novel about the lives of aging citizens of a dying town near Somewhere, USA.
Robert Hill’s prose rambles from hilarious to sly to clever, and then doubles back so it can dive right off into beautiful, heartsick, and poignant. A standout story with unbelievably effective prose. An enjoyable read.

Robert Martin
Being Mortal, Medicine and what matters in life by Atul Gawande — This book is written for both physician and patient. I wish I had read it when I was a 30-year-old physician. Gives some practical advice about how all of us should approach the end of our life.

And here’s a few more from other friends.

Ben Maynard
Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson — The author believes the human race is on a path toward catastrophe, and probable extinction. But he’s an optimist, and proposes a solution to save our planet. There’s enough of the Earth’s natural ecosystem and biodiversity left to sustain  the planet and the modern lifestyle of humans. He suggests breaking the planet down into spheres, leaving areas such as the Amazon, the Pacific Northwest forests, Antarctica, the oceans etc. undisturbed in their natural state, while humans live in the remaining sphere and take a custodian role. Of course, (my comment) this will require some serious population controls.

Alison Brown
Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein — The struggle for women’s rights is not over, and may intensify during the Drumpf presidency. But this book goes deeper, suggesting that (American) people generally have no understanding of women’s sexuality. Technology, images and marketing present young women with new, perhaps greater challenges.

James Washington
A Rap on Race by James Baldwin and Margaret Mead — This is not a new book, but I reread most of it this year to recall all of its insights on race, immigration, gender and other questions that people think we’ve resolved, but remain just as troubling today.

And, finally, my contribution to this list.

A Voice in the Night by Andrea Camilleri — This is the 20th installment of the 91-year-old Italian author’s Inspector Montalbano series, but not the best. I chose this book, however, to alert others to this series of humorous and poignant mysteries by a little-known writer. Start at the beginning of the series with “The Shape of Water” to follow the threads that weave through the life of a mustachioed, short-tempered and food-obsessed police detective. I particularly enjoy the translator’s notes at the back of each book explaining the Italian nuances and references. There are four more Montalbano novels yet to be translated.