Sunday, May 31, 2015

The 8th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - May Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

How to add your link:
1. Click on the icon above
2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)
3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as John Mutford (Anne of Avonlea)
4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

Friday, May 22, 2015

Reader's Diary #1157- George Orwell: Animal Farm

I was a young teenager the first time I read George Orwell's Animal Farm and I loved it. I've since heard from some who never encountered the book until adulthood and of those, many who felt Orwell was a bit too obvious with his allegory. Rereading it again, I'll admit it's not the most subtle of books, but perfect for a young adult with awakening political awareness.

I decided this time around to read it to my daughter. She's younger than I was, but certainly more mature and smart than I was at her age ready, in other words, for Animal Farm. She enjoyed it, as did I again, but the experience was a little bittersweet.

As you've probably ascertained from my description of her above, I really don't need to be reading aloud to her anymore. She was more than capable of tackling this one on her own. But it took us forever. She's busy with her stuff right now. And I get that. But that also meant finding time for Animal Farm was hit or miss and when you've gone a while from it, it's a big hard to get back into. As the seven commandments began to be rewritten, some animals were suspicious— wasn't the rule slightly different before? The problem was, we too would often forget what the original rule was!

With that in mind, we agreed that this was probably the last bedtime read aloud. She's outgrown them. It's natural enough, I suppose (though I'm sure there are those out there that never give it up, and that's fine too), but it feels strange to have that part of our life over. We did agree though that since we both love reading and talking about books so much, we would still make an effort to read and discuss some of the same books— which I'm sure will be fine in its own right. But still...

If you're a parent, at what age did you stop the read-alouds? Or have you?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Reader's Diary #1156- Willow Dawson: Hyena in Petticoats

Earlier this year I read the Susan Hughes/ Willow Dawson collaboration No Girls Allowed and found myself underwhelmed. While I liked the premise of highlighting historical women who chose to dress as men and their range of reasons, I ultimately felt that the final product felt rushed. I'd have been more inclined to read an entire book on each woman and getting a better sense of their unique, complex identities.

With Hyena in Petticoats: The Story of Nellie McClung, Dawson has overcome most of those supposed shortcomings. Focusing entirely on one person for an entire book made McClung far more interesting and combined with the artwork, which this time around felt more adventurous and detailed, raised McClung above the level of simple facts. I enjoyed it far more.

That said, when it was all over I found myself comparing it to another famous Canadian graphic novel biography: Louis Riel by Chester Brown. I still felt that Louis Riel was the superior book, but it took me a while to put my finger on why. Was I simply more drawn to Louis Riel, the person, more than McClung? Maybe, but I didn't think so. I think the clue came in Dawson's afterword. Here she writes, in non-comic form, of additional information, including the controversial fact that McClung was a supporter of eugenics, sterilizing mentally-handicapped children. I think such information would have benefited the preceding story. Brown didn't shy away from the eyebrow raising details in Riel's life and wound up painting a more complete, compelling character; and ultimately more humanized. McClung, while certainly given a more in-depth treatment than the women in No Girls Allowed, nonetheless still felt black and white, but a hero for women's rights to be sure.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Reader's Diary #1155- Jill Sexsmith: Airplanes Couldn't be Happier in Turbulence


Before I'd progressed far into Jill Sexsmith's "Airplanes Couldn't be Happier in Turbulence," I started to wonder if it was meant to be satire. If you're wondering, that can't be good. The characters were just slightly... off, not entirely plausible, a little bit over-the-top. But also, not really that funny. Amusing, I suppose, if one was being generous, but certainly not hilarious. So was it just poorly done satire? And if so, what exactly did she mean to be satirizing? Mid-life crises? Gender roles? Marriage? Baby boomers?

That all said, it held my attention and I quite enjoyed how well the title described the main character's mindset. The story revolves around a woman named Madison who hasn't been the most adventurous, who's spent a large part of her life married to a statistic-wielding clod, and who's now desperate to shake things up in order to, paradoxically, gain back some sort of control.

This is the sort of quirky tale that I enjoy in short doses, but would be way too frustrated with if elaborated into an entire novel.

Jimmy the horse by katedubya, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License
   by  katedubya 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Reader's Diary #1154- Tom DeFalco (Writer) and Horacio Domingues (Art): Ant-Man

Ant-Man, had I been aware of him as a young boy, would likely have been my favourite superhero. I was an animal nut, and of all the creatures in the animal kingdom, insects were my favourite. It worked its way into everything I played. My imaginary ability was communicating with animals. My favourite He-Man figure was this guy. So, while the rest of the world may scoff at the silly premise of Ant-Man (i.e., a guy can shrink to the size of an ant and also communicate with his namesake kin), this still isn't a particularly hard sell to me. (And someone please explain why this is any dumber than Spider-Man?)

That all said, I was still let down by DeFalco and Domingues' Ant-Man reboot comic, setting his origin story in more modern times. It seems like they thought making it modern simply meant throwing in some contemporary science terms and drawing a computer in the background. What I love about modern superhero stories is their take on current society concerns. Like I mentioned Robert Kirkman saying regarding the best zombie stories not being so much about horror and gore but about social commentary, I likewise feel the best superhero stories aren't so much about violence and absurd science fiction.

And they had such an opportunity with Ant-Man. Hank Pym is supposedly wrestling with mental illness when he acquires his new abilities. What an angle that could have been! What a chance to explore the prejudices and the struggles and myths surrounding mental illness, to shed some light on something that only now seems to be making progress away from being something previously mocked or hushed-up. But instead, it just becomes another excuse to put him in a cliched straightjacket and Hannibal Lecter mask. Sadly, this is the most complex in the book. The rest are even more cartoonish and flat.

Domingues' art is slightly better, with some subtle hints of manga influence (especially in character expressions), but otherwise generic.

To be honest, the whole thing feels dated; out of touch with modern comic book stories. It's fun, sure, but in a stupid way. My insect-loving 8 year old self would have loved it, but 30 years later, I kind of wanted more.

(I hope the movie is better!)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Reader's Diary #1153- Zora Neale Hurston: Sweat


A couple of week's back I read Ann Petry's "Like a Winding Sheet" and was impressed at the great number of themes being explored: race, gender, class. And though I didn't set out to pick such a story, this week I found myself stumbling upon yet another story with those exact same themes. Granted, I would suggest that it's gender that dominates the discussion with Zora Neale Hurston's "Sweat."

It tells a story of a washerwoman named Delia married to an abusive, cheating, free-loading husband. We find Delia at such a point in her life that she's had enough. Readers would likely be relieved at that, of course, but it's not as easy to get away as they wish it was, and a bad situation just gets worse. Fortunately, a bit of luck finally goes her way (or rather, a bit of bad luck goes her husband's way).

It's interesting that Dexter got so much credit for toying with our moral compass, making us root for a bad guy because he punishes other bad guys, but really it's not an entirely new premise. Yes, in real life we frown on things like capital punishment, but when despicable characters in literature, movies, and music have gotten their comeuppance, we not so secretly cheer on their demise. Delia is no Dexter mind you, but...

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake by Photomatt28, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License
   by  Photomatt28 

Friday, May 08, 2015

Reader's Diary #1152- Dave Olesen: Kinds of Winter

It's been years since I read Thoreau's Walden and if I were pressed to recall any details, or even how I felt about it, I'd have said that I have no idea. I don't recall having strong feelings about it one way or another, nothing specific, nothing except having read it. I'd have assumed that it had little impact on me. Yet not far into Dave Olesen's Kinds of Winter: Four Solo Journeys by Dogteam in Canada's Northwest Territories I started to think, "you know, this reminds of Thoreau."

And it turned out I was right! Very shortly after, Olesen reveals that he reads Thoreau often and continues to drop his name or a quote on what seems like every other page. And that's not a bad thing. Those familiar with Walden will know to expect a lot of nature and introspection, but not the fancy existential stuff, more the philosophical musings that derive organically from solitude but never losing site of the practical side of life (it's hard, for example, to wax too poetically about a frostbitten dog penis-- which, as it turns out, can become a very serious issue.)

Olsen set out every year for four years for a long solo journey in the four cardinal compass directions. The directions, or rather the choice to go in these directions, was somewhat arbitrary, as was the point on each journey when he'd decide to turn back. Likewise were his choice of materials brought on the journey. While a winter journey in the north has the potential for much peril, Olesen was no amateur and doesn't romanticize the idea-- in fact even warning against it for the ill-prepared. Still, he acknowledges that none of this "needs" to be done now. He calls his trip "selfish" at one point, referring to the fact that for these trips he was abandoning his daughters to the full responsibility of his wife. He also eschews too many creature comforts yet is cognizant of the remaining "luxuries" on his trip (which, from my perspective, still weren't many). It was at such times, and his reflections on the limits we put on ourselves, that I was most enraptured by Olesen's writing. For creatures that claim to value freedom, there's a paradox in the fact that we often use that freedom to live by our own rules.

In some ways, reading the book reminded me of a long dog sledding journey. There were periods when it felt slow going, monotonous even. But oddly, I felt myself embracing such moments, as it seems Olesen did some days on the back of a sled. Life was slowed down and the mind could just wander. Of course, there were other times when it was more difficult to compare his journeys to reading. When he's worried that his worn runners are not going to last? Getting his feet wet? Okay, then I'm thankful that reading doesn't have such life-or-death moments. What's the worst that could happen when you're reading? Paper cut? Still, I wouldn't have wanted my mind wandering all the time and I was thankful for the dramatic moments that popped up, the unfamiliar details of dogsledding, and Olesen's grand take on it all.