Friday, August 11, 2006

Reader's Diary #136- Carl Sharpe: Memories The Life of A Twillingate Man (up to Chapter 9)

I read a book review in the Nunatsiaq News the other day (yes, we're in Iqaluit finally) that ripped a book to shreds. John Thompson compared the Robert Billard's From Within to a building calling it "structurally unsound" and at the end of the article said that the next time around, Billard should think of hiring an editor. You see, From Within was self-published and it showed. According to Thompson, it was full of punctuation problems, spelling mistakes, and general typos. The same could be said for Carl Sharpe's Memories- In The Life Of A Twillingate Man. However, unlike the Nunatsiaq reporter, I'm going to be a little more forgiving. Why so nice? It's not because of any recent self-reflection. It's primarily because my grandparents enjoyed it. I know I'm allowed to find fault with things that my grandparents like, but Carl Sharpe's book was obviously intended for such people, not for young gaffers like me. That's not to say I'm not enjoying it. One of the things I've enjoyed most as an adult (and one of the things I'll miss the most now that I've moved away again) is having a glass of Old Sam with my nan and pop and listen to them reflect on the old days and share all of those anecdotes with me. Without the rum their "good ol' days" syndrome makes them lecturers of the "anything modern = bad" variety. But with the rum, they make a convincing case. Carl Sharpe's book feels like I've just downed a shot. I love that he acknowledges that everything wasn't a Newfoundland version of a Norman Rockwell painting. He acknowledges the poverty of the thirties, the hardships of fishing, and so on, yet he doesn't dwell on them either. Instead, he dwells on the good times like Sunday School picnics that were community events, listening to Wilf Carter on the radio and so forth. It's humbling to see how people enjoyed themselves yet had so little. Yet most interesting and compelling about the book is that it is about my hometown (there's even a story about how my great grandfather lost an eye) yet it might as well be about someplace on the other side of the globe for all I can recognize. If they ever get the kinks of time travel worked out, there's a booming tourism industry waiting to happen. How life has changed in a mere 50 years or so is amazing. And it's more than a little unsettling that in another mere 50 years my own memoires could be equally as foreign to the next generations. For instance, my wife and I were talking the other day about how bizarre it is that our own kids will not know life without the internet. Sharpe's memoirs, though heavy in mistakes, have made me reflect as well. Unlike Robert Billard who seems to have wanted to write the next best-selling thriller, Sharpe only wanted to keep a certain way of life, a certain time period alive, and he succeeded. The added bonus is that he had the ability to connect with readers, however few they might be.


chuck said...


"These are the 'good old days'."

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Yay!!!! John's back!!!!

I think Sharpe's book sounds utterly charming. The same thing about spelling and grammar mistakes can be said about many smaller newspapers, but I always enjoy them, for their quaintness, although maybe that just shows that I am a snob.
However, Sharpe has an obvious affection for the stories he is telling and that, in my opinion, is gold.
So glad you guys have made it safely to your new home and I hope the adjustment isn't too hard on you.

John Mutford said...

You made me think- will I look back at these times like that? It's true that I'm loving every second, but I hope that I'll love the future just as much.

The move is going fantastic. The kids, young as they are, travelled amazingly well. For the first time in history, Air Canada didn't lose any luggage (and we had a LOT), and our new place is stunning. Plus Iqaluit has everything we hoped it would have and more. I'm sure people who come here from larger centres (such as Calgary!) might find the change in size to be jarring, but it was a step up from the tiny town in Newfoundland that we came from. And with the larger size comes conveniences that we've sorely missed- a playground with more than a rusty slide, a library with (gasp) a poetry section, restaurants, movie theatre, swimming, great stores (though the prices are steep to say the least), a multicutural atmosphere, high speed internet, and we've also met so many nice people. Of course it hasn't been all roses (or purple saxifrage as the case might be); the movers (not Air Canada) lost my mountain bike, and we can't seem to find anyone to install our satellite dish, but the pros outweigh the cons.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I read the Nunatsiaq News reporter's review of Robert Billard's From Within and it was pretty harsh. I bought the book at his signing and actually was able to look past the gramatical stuf (which the author told me were going to be fixed in the reprint with a new cover...)and I thought it was great. It was action packed and really insightful. News North did a review of it too and called it "Chilling". I think you have to read the book before you can review it though, right? I mean the Nunatsiaq only read 88 pages...

- James Mitchfield

John Mutford said...

James, I agree that the critic should have read beyond 88 pages and I wouldn't decide on reading it or not based on Thompson's review. I'll admit that he's raised my skepticism of the book, but I've disagreed with plenty of critics before!