Monday, October 31, 2016

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - October Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

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")

And in prize news, Lisa has won a signed copy of Jeff Lemire's The Underwater Welder for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read a Canadian graphic novel. Congratulations, Lisa! (Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Reader's Diary #1401- Teva Harrison: In-Between Days

I complain a lot about the art in superhero comics and usually it's because it's too generic. One superhero comic tends to look like the rest. I will add, however, that most of this art is technically fine. A million times better than I could do. Interestingly, memoir comics often are not technically fine. Sometimes it's rough as all hell. Still, it makes artistic sense. A lot of these (Tangles, Rosalie Lightning, and Teva Harrison's In-Between Days) have cathartic intentions and that doesn't typically allow a lot of time for intricacies and edits. More curious is the fact that some of these artists have created something beautiful and poignant when it is looked at as a whole.

In-Between Days is a graphic memoir about living with metastatic breast cancer. If you are unclear about what that is, as I was, it's an incurable breast cancer; it will spread and kill you. Treatment is about prolonging a life as much as possible in as much comfort as possible. As one might imagine, the emotional toll this must take can be as rough as the physical.

There are, as you would expect, tremendously sad moments. I found a scene with Harrison going into an MRI incredibly lonely. There were doctors on the other side, but they were on the other side. There's another scene when she's lying awake beside her sleeping husband trying in vain to keep the negative thoughts away. But Harrison ultimately is upbeat, loving and appreciating life. That sleeping husband? Supportive, loving, and loved in return, beyond any doubt. There are even traces of humour in the unlikeliest of places.

One scene that stood out to me finds Harrison in a support group. "There are no atheists among the stage 4 cancer patients," she observes, then adding, "except for me." With an accompanying essay she elaborates by stating how she would like to believe in an afterlife, but just can't. I suppose I could chalk it up as another way cancer can make you lonely-- what if you can't even relate to your support group? But it actually made me admire her more and not out of some kinship to atheism, but because I appreciated how resilient she was, not allowing cancer to change her completely.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Reader's Diary #1400- Tom Stoppard: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

We live so much in our own heads that it's reasonable we'd consider ourselves the protagonists of our own stories. But what if we are minor, supporting characters in someone else's story?

Though Tom Stoppard's  Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead presents itself as an absurdist comedy, I have to say, when the fatalistic thought above occurred to me while reading the play, it clanged about in my head and bothered me more than it had any right.

Still, now that I'm done, I suppose it doesn't matter a hill of beans, so comedy was the way to go after all. Else it's all a little depressing, isn't it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Reader's Diary #1399- Devon Code: In a Mist

I don't read a lot of short story collections, but for the past many years I've been reading and reflecting upon a short story per week as part of Short Story Mondays and I consider myself a fan of the form. Perhaps that's why I bristle somewhat when someone, someone who has not adequately given the short story a chance, declares themselves uninterested with a nonsense excuse like short stories being incomplete or unrealized, not having enough space to fully develop both character and plot. And perhaps those people are why, when I come across a short story that doesn't make the best use of its condensed space, I am almost resentful.

That opening paragraph doesn't bode well for Devon Code's short story collection In a Mist.

However, I will say, on a positive note, that Code has a real knack for description. The places, each unique from story to story, felt authentic. The characters had depth and complex motivation. Still, I couldn't shake the feeling that the plots themselves were vague. And worse, vague masquerading as profound.

Tellingly, the one I remember and enjoyed the most from this collection, "Edgar and Morty," did seem to follow the more traditional conflict and resolution format.

But I'll also give the benefit of a doubt that as I'm not much of a re-reader (a downside to my one short story a week practice), maybe the plots in the rest of the stories were just buried a little bit deeper and required either a second read or at the very least, a slower, more considerate read. Still, I think it's fair to say that if you were not a fan of short stories before, In a Mist would not convert you.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Reader's Diary #1398- Pascal Chatterjee: annie96 is typing

When I was a teen, a buddy of mine called me up one night and asked what I was wearing. I thought at first he was joking. (You know, with fake "sexy" talk.) But I was game. "What do you think I'm wearing?" "Your purple shirt?"

Wait, how did he know that?

It turned out he'd just slowly awakened to find me playing me with his stereo. And yes, I was wearing a purple shirt. It was the early 90s, what can I say. But then he rubbed his eyes and poof, I was gone!

Nothing else creepier than that happened. And, if I'm being logical about the whole thing, I suppose I wore that shirt a lot so it wouldn't have been strange to dream of me wearing it. Still, it freaked it us a bit at the time.

You'll perhaps understand why I bring that memory up after reading Pascal Chatterjee's very uniquely told "annie96 is typing." While I link to it here, it's best that you read it on a phone. Trust me on this. Told in a "found footage" scenario of an archived text chat, you'll need to click your way through the story. Sound gimmicky? Sure, it is. But the gimmick works wonderfully here and what could be a pretty generic horror story is made all the more creepy the way you force it to unfold before your very eyes, seemingly in real time.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Reader's Diary #1397- Richard Van Camp (writer), Scott B. Henderson (artist): A Blanket of Butterflies

One of the more quirky mysteries in the north is how and why a suit of Samurai armour wound up in a Fort Smith museum. Richard Van Camp, who also hails from Fort Smith, has fun with this fact while composing a quick action story with a few loftier themes.

The Eisner Award nominated graphic novel A Blanket of Butterflies tells the story of Shinobu who has traveled to Fort Smith to return the ancestral suit along with a family sword. The sword, unfortunately, is not being held at the museum but a notorious local group led by "Benny the Bank." They are not as willing to hand it over.

After some intense fight scenes, it is an elder woman who saves the day through her powerful storytelling. She is able to get to the root of and deflate the anger. Soon the sword, too, is back in its rightful hands.

Clearly the healing power of stories is a theme, but I also enjoyed the parallels between Shinobu's struggles to reclaim familial artifacts and the struggles that many First Nations have had in reclaiming their ancestral artifacts from museums.

I appreciated Henderson's art, especially the montage of fight scenes. He uses a lot of hatching and cross-hatching to achieve shadow and enhance expression that could have gotten lost had they chosen to go with colour, but fortunately it's done in black and white. Also, of course, black and white lends a historical vibe which is perfect for a story such as this, one entrenched in history.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Reader's Diary #1396 - Bill Watterson: Yukon Ho!

A few months back I posted a list of cartoons, comics, and graphic novels by province/territory. As you would predict this proved harder the smaller and more sparsely populated the place. For Yukon, I was surprised to find a collection of Calvin and Hobbes comics called Yukon Ho!

Now, after having read it, I'm not entirely comfortable with its inclusion on the list as the connection to Canada's smallest territory is minor at best. Like a lot of these strip collections, there's not much of a rhyme or reason behind the chosen material and a title does not imply a running theme.

Or does it?

This collection is prefaced by a poem by Watterson called The Yukon Song. With its simple rhyme  scheme (akin to Robert Service, one might say) and rhythm, it's not very good. It does however, accurately reflect Calvin's childish brand of imagination and idealism. Ignorant about all but the basic fact of Yukon, that it is cold and there is wildlife, Calvin supposes it to be a land of freedom, a place where he wouldn't have to go to school (he would), where he could yell and cuss (maybe, but not in school), and where the wolves would be his friend (they wouldn't). Partway through the book, the context of this daydream is provided: Calvin has had it up to hear with parental and school rules and plans to runaway to the Yukon to live in a lawless freedom.

Besides the fact that this idealistic naivete is the theme that runs through all Calvin and Hobbes strips (and therefore, not a bad choice for a collection title after all), I think it also pretty accurately reflects the North as imagined by many, adults included, who have never set foot north of 60. Before I came here 15 years ago, I too was pretty ignorant. Granted, I was the opposite of Calvin, instead of romanticizing the freedom and adventure, I was needlessly terrified for the cold and isolation. (For better or worse, I am proof that one can live a pretty happy and pampered life in the north.) So, for its ability to make me reflect on the difference between the idealized north and the real north, I'm happier to include Yukon Ho! on the list of Canadian comics and graphic novels. (And yes, I'm well aware that Watterson is American.)

Question of Canadian relevance aside, I cannot say I fell in love with this collection, nor Calvin and Hobbes strips, of which I'd never really paid much attention until now.  I don't know if it's Watterson's reclusive nature that has ramped up the allure or not, but there seems to be a hipster-cult following of Calvin and Hobbes and so I was expecting something more, something cooler or smarter. Really, I didn't see how it stood out among the rest of the Sunday funnies crowd and it's certainly more Garfield than The Far Side. Basically the theme I discussed above (i.e., Calvin uses his imagination to escape the doldrums and pressures of real life) is explored ad nauseum.

This is not to say that there weren't some gems, some examples when Watterson took a little more time in the art or commentary. I especially enjoyed the strips about Christmas and felt that he took a risk away from his typically innocuous fare. In one of these Calvin is beginning to have doubts about Santa, questioning the meaning of it all, and then applying that same logic to religion in general, "[...]Actually, I've got the same questions about God." In another, he's challenged by Hobbes after stating that Calvin will believe in Santa after all, as he doesn't want to risk not getting presents. After Hobbes charges that it is a "cynically enterprising" approach to take, Calvin rebuts, "It's the spirit of Christmas." Regardless of whether or not I agree with Watterson or whether it's even all that funny, I was thrilled for these rare moments when the comic was actually about something.