Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The 8th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - September 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, September 29, 2014

Reader's Diary #1071- Chuck Palahniuk: Guts

I was surprised to realize, after stumbling upon "Guts," that I'd never read anything by Chuck Palahniuk before. I saw and enjoyed the Fight Club movie adaptation years back, but for some oversight, I never explored his actual writing.

I can't therefore say whether "Guts" is representational of his larger body of work, but the content didn't come as a shock to me. I've long heard that he likes to dive into the muck and the mire and with a masculine sense of humour. Plus, this story first appeared on the pages of Playboy, so I wasn't expecting Pride and Prejudice. That said, it's still an odd choice for Playboy. By the end of the story, I can't imagine feeling any unsexier. I don't think the original intent of that publication was to leave their regular readers squeamish or even repulsed.

But I still enjoyed it. He goes for the gross-out, for sure, but the build-up is great. It has a dark comedy feel at first but develops an urban legend vibe as the story progresses. Apparently Palahniuk likes to claim that the number of listeners who've fainted as he reads it aloud continues to grow. I'm not sure if I believe that, but it certainly adds to its fun urban legend appeal.

June 2004 - Pool by m01229, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License
   by  m01229 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Reader's Diary #1070- Yoss, translated by David Frye: A Planet for Rent

I don't feel that I read a lot of sci-fi. About a 3rd of the free online short stories I find online are sci-fi, so I get some exposure that way I suppose, but I still feel that I only have a basic familiarity. I can name some sci-fi authors, books, and movies that have gone mainstream, but that's about it. That's probably why, when reading Yoss's "A Planet for Rent" I drew comparisons to Star Wars' Mos Eisley Cantina (mainstream sci-fi) and to the 1980s comedy All of Me (starring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin). What I'm saying is, I don't have an extensive background from which to draw comparisons.

I have read enough though to realize that there are very different levels of sci-fi literature. There's the easily accessible stuff that even newcomers to the genre can feel comfortable with and the stuff that just seems so out there that newcomers are left scratching their heads feeling unwelcome. If these were two ends of a scale, "A Planet for Rent" is nearer the latter.

It's not so much a criticism as it a warning so as others might know what to expect. Actually, I kind of think sci-fi should be this unapologetic. If you dropped me into the world described in Yoss's story, I'd likely be just as confused and intimidated. It doesn't seem like the kind of place where a welcoming committee would be assigned, and it's supposed to be the reality- nothing strange at all to those living it.

But like the good sci-fi I've read (and keep in mind that that's limited), there are lots of good themes explored in "A Planet for Rent" that hold relevancy in our present time and place: war, dominance, and exploitation... you've just got to get past those polypy aliens.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Reader's Diary #1069- Cory Doctorow: Little Brother

I'll chalk this one up as one of the biggest disappointments I've read this year. I enjoyed parts of Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, I usually find his contributions to BoingBoing interesting, and I even support many of his politics. So, his best-known novel, and an allusion to 1984 no less, should have been a clear winner.

Alas, I really, really, really did not like Little Brother. It started out okay. There was a lot of cyber-jargon at the beginning but I thought I was holding my own (though a lot of credit for that comes from an Evolving and Emerging Technology course I took recently) and the plot of some teens being held on terrorism suspicions by the Department of Homeland Security certainly had promise. But eventually the jargon became too much. As did every other computer science, political science, underground culture, nerd culture, and history lesson. The story, when it occasionally managed to break through, felt contrived and even silly. Marcus, the central character, quotes a passage from the Declaration of Independence about half a dozen times. Little Brother is not clever, it's annoying and didactic.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Reader's Diary #1068- Sheila Watson: The Double Hook

Sheila Watson's The Double Hook reminded me somewhat of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Some, I'm sure, would take that to be a good thing.

I found it difficult and oddly offensive. For one, the perspective kept changing. Third person omniscient perspective never sits well with me, but when it even changes without warning one paragraph to the next, I'm confused. For the other, I found the portrayal of small townsfolk to be like someone trying to suggest that there's "something poignant in their stupid words." The problem, clearly, is that this do-gooder attitude rests on an air of condescension. Characters all talk like they've experienced some brain-damaging trauma and yet also in vague and weirdly angular thoughts, so that a reader might suspect they've actually been profound.

Furthermore, the whole "deep" message of the book, that you hook the darkness when you catch the light, is lost when there's too much focus on the darkness. It's also no more high-fallootin' an idea than a certain sitcom theme song, "you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and then you have, the Facts of Life..."

In the afterword at the end, F. T. Flahiff discusses the trouble Watson had finding a publisher and an early negative review. While the reviewer got some of the facts wrong, I think s/he was nonetheless accurate by calling the book "difficult" (which may have led to him/her getting some details incorrect) and "permeated by an odd atmosphere of unreality."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reader's Diary #1067- Sofi Papamarko: The Pollinators

I admit being one of those people a little too preoccupied with the end of the world. It's not that I want it to happen, but I find that I need to remind myself of that when I find reading about doomsday scenarios morbidly fun. What's next? Ebola? World War 3? It's not fun of course. For those in Liberia, Syria, or the Ukraine, such concerns probably conjure up much realer connotations than a Suzanne Collins novel.

So why do those of us living in relative comfort obsess over such things? The obvious answer is that we are afraid of losing those comforts, but that doesn't explain the "fun" factor. Given the success of apocalyptic books, movies, and so on, I know I'm not the only one. Clearly we're all naive, but I thing a larger part of the answer lies in the fact that it provides a distraction from the mundane and/or personal stressors of life. Who needs to worry about a 13% increase in their electricity bills when the world is about to end? Global concerns are so much more exciting. We can pretend to be concerned about that stuff because deep down we know the likelihood is still pretty slim.

In Sofi Papamarko's "The Pollinators" a dinner table conversation about such lighthearted fare becomes a bit of a cautionary tale about neglecting the smaller issues, leading to the death of much smaller, but no less significant worlds. The tension that underlies this story is brilliant and the release, while not fun at all, is just as explosive as an Ebola outbreak.

Dead bees found outside the hive in earl by Shawn Caza, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License
   by  Shawn Caza 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reader's Diary #1066- Michael Ian Black (writer), Debbie Ridpath Ohi (illustrator):

Written by Michael Ian Black, who is also a comedian, actor, and director, I'm Bored actually was presented to me because of its Canadian connection: illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Based out of Toronto, this was her first children's book collaboration, though she's since done another book with Black as well as updates of Judy Blume classics.

My hat's off to the publishers who saw the potential in Black's script. About a girl who tries her best to convince a potato (yes, a potato), that she's anything but boring, I could have perhaps foreseen potential to have irreverent humour and strong themes of imagination, but the text is so minimal I think I'd have either rejected it outright or else sent Black back with instructions to flesh out the story more. Both would have been a mistake. The secret, as the publisher knew, was finding the right illustrator to capture it's simplistic, fun spirit and add a little in the process. With Ohi, the book strikes the perfect balance in a picture book and the result is more than the sum of its parts.

Scraggly and basic, Ohi's cartooning is nonetheless stylish, inventive, and expressive. She also adds to the story with muted blue pastels expressing the imagination of the girl with more detail than provided by Black's text. The end result is charming and amusing package.