Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The 8th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - March 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")

Monday, March 02, 2015

Reader's Diary #1125- Jo Senior: The Green Suitcase


I can get behind the low octane, slice of life story. I think Lynn Coady does these very well. For me the secret lies in is making it not too long; mundane but not boring. Jo Senior's "The Green Suitcase" works perfectly. Astute observations and an authentic, complex character-- just what these sort of stories usually excel at.

The plot, as you may have guessed, does not involve robots having an orgy in the back of a speeding Hummer. It's about an elderly lady who just discovers that the airline has lost her luggage. To her, it's not just any piece of luggage, but something that's been with her forever. I think it could have been easy to be cynical with such a story. Attaching emotional significance to objects is often something mocked. It's too materialistic. It brings up images of hoarding. Etc. But Senior ignores all that and there's something simple, beautiful, and sad about it.

I loved that it was an elderly character as well, because the loss of the suitcase, in her mind, seems tied so much to memories and the end of it all.

Texture Green No. 54 by Elné, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License
   by  Elné 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The 8th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - February 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")

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Reader's Diary #1124- Carmen Aguirre: Something Fierce

Sometimes I'll read something by someone from the opposite side of the Earth, someone who grew up in the most foreign locale and in circumstances unimaginable to me, and yet still find some unforeseen common ground, some unexpectedly familiar viewpoint or value that will make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, happy that that underneath it all we're all the same. Something Fierce is not one of those books.

This is not to say I didn't enjoy Aguirre's memoirs of growing up in troubled political times in South America it was probably the unfamiliarity of her life that kept me interested— but even down to the familial level, down to the personal level, I found nothing, nothing, about Aguirre that I could relate to. Even the few scenes back in Canada were foreign, and fascinating, to me. Traveling from Vancouver to attend a Rebel Youth Brigade in Edmonton? That couldn't be more removed from my teenage years— skipping school to go off Ski-dooing with my buddy— than had she written about poaching gorillas in Rwanda. There were Rebel Youth Brigade meetings in Edmonton?!

Eventually, however, some of the unfamiliarity became overwhelming. She crisscrossed across South America so often, running into or away from so many various conflicts (or variations on the same conflict), that I lost track. Still, I enjoyed the book— a fact I had to remind myself of several times, mostly when considering all of the positive praise the book has gotten that I don't necessarily agree with. The blurb on the front of my copy, from the Globe and Mail for instance, refers to the book as "courageously honest and funny." Courageously honest, I'll give her. But funny? Every moment wasn't serious, and it had amusing moments here or there, but I really think "funny" sends the wrong message and most people picking up the book expecting to laugh out loud will be sorely disappointed. As for a Canada Reads win? That, to me, seems a bit much. It was good and all, but I'd be reluctant to say great.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Reader's Diary #1123- Edmundo Paz Soldán, translated by Kirk Nesset: The Legend of Wei Li and the Emperor's Palace


Edmundo Paz Soldán's wry flash fiction story, "The Legend of Wei Li and the Emperor's Palace," about an elderly man who gets summoned to the emperor's palace, reminded me initially of the fable by the old Native American in Natural Born Killers:
Once upon a time, a woman was picking up firewood. She came upon a poisonous snake frozen in the snow. She took the snake home and nursed it back to health. One day the snake bit her on the cheek. As she lay dying, she asked the snake, "Why have you done this to me?" And the snake answered, "Look, bitch, you knew I was a snake."

But rereading Soldán's story a couple of times (that's the beauty of flash fiction), I began to think that the lessons were somewhat different. I suspect the key to understanding Soldán's story is that the way the officer in the story describes the Emperor's palace is similar to the way some people talk about God (i.e., that He's everywhere). The message, I think, is not that the palace isn't everywhere (or that God isn't everywhere), but that we shouldn't necessarily trust the supposed experts.

If this is not what Soldán intended, it was what I took away in any case, and I enjoyed it. But if you take my word on it and your head is found fixed on a pole in the village square, don't blame me!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Reader's Diary #1122- Mara Feeney: Rankin Inlet

Mara Feeney's Rankin Inlet is epistolary novel made up of diary entries, letters, reports, and emails. The first entry is 1970 and the last is in 1999, two years before my wife and I moved to the very real Nunavut community from which the book draws its name. I could have really used this book back then. I'm not sure what we expecting. We bundled up a ridiculous amount of quilts and blankets, for example, because we figured it would be cold and... we'd be sleeping outside? In hindsight, our naivete was more amusing than anything else but we learned a lot in our four years there and look back on our time there and the friends we made quite fondly. Feeney's book could have provided a crash course that might have sped up the process a bit more.

Helpful perhaps, but far from perfect. It's barely got any narrative flow. To be sure, there's still a lot going on, mostly interesting stuff, so that didn't bother me greatly. More problematic were the excess of characters. While the central character is definitely Allison, a nurse from England who moves there and falls in love, she's still but one of many who have a say. Some, as a result, are underdeveloped and unnecessary, such as Ian, a Settlement Manager, who writes a few bleak reports and then leaves. A case could be made that in a transient community like Rankin there are plenty of those ephemeral voices, but that sounds like a post hoc justification. Rankin Inlet also tries too hard to educate. I was not surprised to read that Feeney was an anthropology student when she first went North because some characters (Nikmak, the Inuk elder in particular) seemed overly generalized; more researched and accurate than stereotypes, but still like composite characters.

Nonetheless, once I adjusted to the plethora of voices, the lack of a singular story arc, and the occasional "teaching" interruptions, I started to feel for the characters. That's a lot to ask, perhaps, and I attributed my overcoming it on being nostalgic for the place. However, I should point out that having a Rankin connection does not seem to be a prerequisite for enjoying the book.

(Special thanks to Debbie Viel, the closest lifelong friend we made in Rankin, who gave me this book for Christmas!)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Reader's Diary #1121- Aimee Bender: The Rememberer


In Aimee Bender's"The Rememberer" a woman named Annie wakes up one morning to find that her boyfriend has turned into an ape. Actually, there's a bit more of a build up than that and it's probably relevant that the last thing he says to her in human form is that people think too much and there isn't enough heart in the world.

It's also relevant, I suppose, to note that he doesn't stop at ape, but continues to rapidly devolve into supposedly lesser animals. Needless to stay it's a fascinating story. I developed a few theories as I went through. It's a metaphor for being loving someone who descends into madness, it's a metaphor for hanging onto the idealized person you thought you fell in love with but eventually have to admit they weren't that person at all, it's... I'm not sure what it is. It's a Life of Pi scenario though: any realistic explanation I come up with isn't going to be as the beautifully magical original version.