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Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Reader's Diary #2149- Ebony Flowers: Hot Comb

In the very first story in Ebony Flowers's Hot Comb, she recounts getting a perm as a young girl. It made me remember getting a perm as a young boy, probably around 11 or 12. My mom had been taking a hairdressing class and I was her guinea pig. It was hysterically bad as my wife, who has since seen the pictures, likes to remind me.

It's natural, I suppose, as readers to make such personal connections to a text. But Ebony Flowers' Hot Comb is a memoir of how her hair, and in broader terms how black women's hair, has had an impact on her life. It's an experience that I, as a white male, can only begin to appreciate thanks to stories like these.

These were engaging, funny, sometimes sad or infuriating, and like any collection of short stories, I felt some were more fully realized than others. The art was interesting, very stylistic and in the use of thick, curvy black lines, I wondered if it was a conscious choice to draw in a way reminiscent of hair or if this was just a coincidence.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Reader's Diary #2148- Ernest Hemingway: Chapter V


My verdict on Ernest Hemingway is still out. I really hated The Old Man and The Sea. And I thought I loved his incredibly short (and oft parodied) story "Baby Shoes" but there's debate about whether or not he actually penned that. But he did write the flash fiction "Chapter V" and okay, so I liked it.

The story of six cabinet ministers facing a firing squad, it's the somewhat strange way its told that really sells this story for me. The sentences are short and repetitive but it all adds to the tension and impact. It ricochets around in my head.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Reader's Diary #2147- Jim DeFede: The Day the World Came To Town

I read Jim DeFede's The Day the World Came to Town during my most recent vacation to Barbados. The plan was to visit New York City after Barbados and see Come From Away on Broadway. Both, of course, are based on the stranding of international flights in Gander, Newfoundland after 9/11 and the hospitality received by the passengers.

Our trip to New York didn't wind up happening. With Covid-19 hitting North America, Broadway closed down and we followed Trudeau's advice to Canadians abroad to get the hell home. Borders were closing and flights were being cancelled. It was stressful.

And not that two events are really comparable, but perhaps that played a part in my emotional reaction to Jim DeFede's book. I'd heard the stories many times and though I'm a voracious reader, I don't usually have strong, immediate feelings about a book. (Most books that really resonate with me have a slow-burn effect and I think about them long after the fact.) For The Day the World Came to Town though, I choked up. A lot. Sometimes it was over something sad (a passenger worrying about the status of a loved one who may have been at the Twin Towers that day), sometimes it was over something touching (a small, but thoughtful gesture by a Newfoundlander trying to make someone's impromptu and inconvenient stop a little more bearable).

Of course, I'd be remiss not to give some credit to Jim DeFede for the connection I made to the book. Despite hundreds of travelers and helpful locals, he managed to take just the right amount and right assortment of stories and characters to focus on. And the way he revisited and intertwined these stories throughout each chapter was handled superbly. It could have easily been a confusing mess but instead I felt like I got a real sense of individuals. That makes all the difference.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Reader's Diary #2146- Andrea Warner: Buffy Sainte-Marie

Anyone who follows me on other social media, likely knows that my other pop-culture love, outside of books, is rock music. And very specifically, I'm a bit of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame junky. Like other followers of that institution, I have my list of snubs that should be in but I'd not given much thought Buffy Sainte-Marie before and honestly it's just simply that I hadn't been exposed enough to her, her music, or her legacy.

After reading Andrea Warner's biography though, I've filled up my phone with Sainte-Marie's songs I need to listen to, realize that a large part of the reason I'm so in the dark about her music is by design (it's revealed that she was blacklisted from much tv and radio just as her career should have been exploding largely due to her race, gender, and activism), and that Buffy Sainte-Marie belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I should also say that Warner's biography is one of the best I've read, regardless of the subject. Too often I've read biographies that pretend they're not biased when they're really about either exposing a bad side or promoting an artist. Warner is upfront that she's a fan. But she's not a fawning fan. She analyzes Saint-Marie's work with critical depth and uses Sainte-Marie's own words to push the narrative forward (as close to an autobiography as you could get without being one). It's balanced, enlightening, inspiring, and engaging. I really felt I got a sense of Buffy Sainte-Marie and her music even without yet having a chance to go back and explore her music more fully.

One of the biggest surprises for me personally were the the number of musicians that covered her songs, especially back in the 60s, including the likes of Cher and Elvis Presley, though even Hole covered one of her songs in the 90s. I think this in itself shows how much of an influence and how great a songwriter she was.

Of course, beyond that, her tireless activism, especially for the rights and recognition of indigenous peoples are even more of a reason she should be in the Rock Hall (which is also in dire need of more diversity).


Monday, March 30, 2020

Reader's Diary #2145- Kate Mosse: The House on the Hill


There's a delicate balance in creating a classic ghost story vibe and something original. On the one hand, you know certain elements have become entrenched in readers' minds as creepy and you'd be a fool not to rely on some of them. On the other hand, if you're just going to throw out one horror story trope after another it loses its appeal after a while.

Unfortunately, Kate Mosse's "The House on the Hill" does not find the balance and is a colour-by-numbers horror story. The most annoying detail is a dollhouse, a miniature version of a haunted house, which has a mysterious light inside just like the real one. My god, how many times have we seen that.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Reader's Diary #2145- Mark Manson: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

I hardly ever read self-help books and didn't go looking one for one this time around for any big reason; I began it before the Covid-19 craziness and I'm more content in my life now than I've ever been, but a couple of guy friends mentioned this book to me in passing recently and as books don't often come up amongst my guy friends, I decided to see what drew them to it.

While I've read a few positive reviews of the book written by women, the book very much felt like a book for guys: the course language (it's not actually gratuitous as the title much suggest though), the no-nonsense, tone. And to further generalize, it's also from the perspective of a straight, white, middle-class male. So while I did agree personally with a lot of his insights and arguments, I'm not entirely sure those not in his demographic would agree or find it useful. I mean the gist of his argument is that we'd be happier if we took the hard times in life as opportunities and if we refocused our values, so maybe those concepts are universal. Who am I to say? It's still pretty entertaining though even if one doesn't take away any profound life changes.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Reader's Diary #2144- Arthur C. Clarke: Quarantine


I enjoy a lot of short stories with an unexpected twist or reveal at the end. Arthur C. Clarke's "Quarantine" is not one of them.

 The premise up to that point is fine: organic, artificial intelligent satellites (ahead of his time on that!), have to be quarantined as they've picked up a virus of sorts, an unsolvable problem that has rendered them useless and in danger of infecting other satellites. The reveal though is quite stupid.