Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Writer's Diary #9: Pumpkins

Hardly Poe, hardly finished, but at least it's time appropriate:


I don't know why you're
being so unreasonable.
We've all had our heads
cut open.......our brains pulled out
left with stupid grins
for someone else
and cheap amusement.

So what if
it is November?
You were enjoyed.

(In the "cut open" line, I meant to leave a space as a caesura, not the dots, but again blogger won't let me leave a space.)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Reader's Diary #180- Shannon Patrick Sullivan: The Dying Days (up to Chapter Two)

I'll begin by offending people:

The Newfoundland writing community, while large per capita, still isn't all that big. In many ways that could be a good thing. Authors can rely on each other for support and advice. But it can also be a bad thing. I think it makes it extremely difficult to get an honest review. Potentially, all an author needs to do is show up to a few open houses, a few artsy things at the LSPU Hall or The Rooms, befriend the handful of critics, and voila, their books are suddenly great. It's my cynical opinion.

So when Shannon Patrick Sullivan first commented on my blog, I was a little skeptical that maybe I was being played. A little friendly commentary, a little friendly review right?

Fortunately, I've been enjoying Sullivan's book so far. Authors are trying to make a living afterall, they're allowed to market their books, to try and make a few bucks- that doesn't mean their work is necessarily sub par.

There's a lot that I'm really impressed with about The Dying Days. It's very witty (though at times he relies a little on the one-liners that I'm not too fond of). In a scene where Christopher, the main character, sits at a bar trying for five minutes to think of something witty to say to the bartender, I laughed out loud at the drunken result.

Plus, The Dying Days has a great old-fashioned story-telling feel to it. Under each chapter is a little heading/summary, ex. "Chapter One- In which Unusual Sights are beheld". It's quirky and sets the tone of the book.

The Dying Days is a fantasy novel and I openly admit, I don't have a whole lot of experience with that genre. Though I will say I am enjoying Sullivan's pacing. At first set in the "normal" world of St. John's, the first supernatural element doesn't occur until the end of the first chapter. By that time, I've already grown connected to Christopher.

Finally, I'm enjoying the treatment of the setting. Placed in St. John's, it could be easy for Sullivan to pick his audience a little too selectively; geared towards Newfoundlanders who are familiar with place, or towards mainlanders who wouldn't know George Street from Bloor. However, he handles it gracefully so that anyone could pick up the book and place themselves there. He doesn't go overboard with map-like descriptions, yet he doesn't make faulty assumptions that every reader knows exactly what he's talking about.

I really hope it stays this good.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Reader's Diary #179- Anne Compton: Processional (FINISHED!!!)

Towards the end, some of the poems may have gotten better in terms of clarity. However, at that point I was too tired and too bitter about having wasted my time with the first half to care.

And because I have wasted so much time reading it, I'm not going to waste much more writing about it. I'll leave with this question:

What are the most confusing books you've ever read? My picks would be:

1. Next Episode- Hubert Aquin
2. Beautiful Losers- Leonard Cohen
3. Processional- Anne Compton
4. Selected Poems, 1966- 1987- Seamus Heaney

I haven't read James Joyce's Finnegans Wake yet, but from what I hear, that'll probably be up there as well.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Reader's Diary #178- Holy Bible: Numbers (FINISHED)

Long before Eddie Murphy, and even before Nester, there was Balaam's ass.

I had never heard of a talking donkey in the Bible before, and I must say, it was a welcome addition. Let's Disney this baby up a little, I say.

Actually, the reason I like it and the rest of Numbers, is how much I can see of modern fantasy books. There are of course the ubiquitous battles, but there are also giants (the Anakim), magic (a staff sprouts almonds), and of course the talking donkey. Plus, I loved the branch out into a secondary storyline, "The Misadventures of Balaam and Balak". It reminded me a little of The Lord of The Rings, with the addition of these characters. Again, as a novel (even of the fantasy variety) the Bible tends to get bogged down with details, prescription, and proscription, but it could be, and has been, a very inspirational book for writers.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Reader's Diary #177- Anne Compton: Processional (up to Q & A: She Talks To Herself)

While I actually gave credit to the Bible for being cryptic, I'm going to harp on Compton's Processional for the same reason. Except for a single poem, I can honestly say I haven't had the foggiest idea about what she's trying to say. Most of the metaphors are completely over my head, she throws in references of topics I have no clue about, and she's often vague beyond belief. In one particular poem, "The Store In Winter", she has a peculiar thing for math (using words such as "quadratics," "square", "factor," "figures", and "count"). The poem is a perfect example of what is wrong with this book. The poem itself is, on the surface, something to do with winter. How math ties in is anyone's guess. Poems shouldn't be easy, but they sure as hell shouldn't be guessing games either.

I had the same feeling reading Compton as I did when I read Heaney; that perhaps the problem lay with me, not with the poems themselves. But shag that. I've read enough poetry at this point to have an intelligent, informed opinion. And my opinion is this: if every poet wrote like Compton, I wouldn't be reading poetry. I couldn't care less that it won the Governor General's award- that speaks more of the judges than of the poems, as far as I'm concerned.

The one poem, the one and only poem, that I like even remotely is "The Waiting Room". It deals with the duality of life (and death) and is actually comprehensible. My guess is that Compton forgot to go back and cut out all the clues. It has a particularly witty line, "The heart though you cannot halve." There are traces of this wit in the other poems as well. Unfortunately the others aren't worthy of it.

I should have realized that anyone who's edited a compilation of Milton Acorn poems would not be up my alley. What irks me even more is the credit she is given. Books In Canada tries to pass off her often disjointed poems as "crafting the speaker's consciousness" and actually implies she is brave for "never bothering to establish clear connections." Please. If an unknown tried to pass off this s&*%, it'd never see the published light of day, let alone win an award.

(This just might be my meanest review ever. Even worse than my This Much Is True diatribe. I hate writing bad reviews, even more than reading bad books. Somehow I know, if and when I submit a poem for publication, Chaulk, Compton, Dyer and the ghost of Acorn will be co-editors. Oh well, I'll always have my credibility. Though it is entirely likely that my subconscious drives me to tear such people down- that way, if I don't get published I can blame my attacks on their work rather than the sucky quality of my own.)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Reader's Diary #176- Holy Bible: Numbers (up to Chapter 13)

No, I'm not slowly becoming the Christian Book Mine Set.

As part of my ongoing struggle to read through the Bible one book at a time, I find myself here, 4 books in, at the appropriately named Numbers.

Numbers deals primarily with a series of censuses that God asked Moses to do of the Israelites.

Again, as a novel, Numbers works and doesn't work. In terms of characters again, we get a little more insight into Moses. He might have been a prophet, but there are plenty of reminders that he is still human afterall. We see him break momentarily under the weight of the challenge of being a leader, and saying to God, "If you are going to treat me like this, have pity on me and kill me" (from the Good News Bible).

Yet, in terms of story-telling, Numbers falls flat. Yes, the basic plot continues on with the travels of the Israelites, but again we get bogged down with details; mostly, figures from Moses' censuses, but also more details of how the Levites were to take care of the worshipping tents, altars and the Ark of the Covenant (which at this point is reminding me of the SNL sketch regarding Al Gore's "Lock Box").

But as a religious text, it's perfect. While many knock the Bible for being hypocritical and too open to interpretation, it's that last point that makes it a great book to build a religion around. As a teacher, I always try to get my students to think critically. I think that's as important for religions as anything else. If the Bible was crystal clear, and people just had to follow the guidelines like sheep, then I'd have an issue with it (just as I have an issue with some churches that take all the thinking out of the equation and interpret for the people). Yes, God comes across as vengeful and even petty in the Old Testament, and through the words of Jesus in the New Testament, He is apparently full of love and forgiving. The Bible isn't always consistent, it's filled with pages upon pages of minute details, and plenty of things which seem contradictory to today's science and values- does that make it a terrible book? Not in my opinion. If people want to use the Bible, they need to work through it themselves, decide what they believe as truth or fiction, literal or figurative, important or insignificant. I'm not saying clergymen can't help people, I'm simply saying they can't do it for people. In the end, if and when people do have faith, it should truly be theirs and actually mean something.

...climbing down from my soapbox...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Reader's Diary #175- Vek Huong Taing: Ordeal In Cambodia (FINISHED)

I feel at least a little more informed now about Cambodia and what people went through under the brutal regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I'm fortunate enough to have my own afterword to the story, through the travels of friends of mine a couple of years ago.

Ordeal In Cambodia was published in 1980. It ends with the escape of the Taing's, the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese, and a glimmer of hope.

However, I know the repercussions are still being felt. People still lack a workable government (apparently the government and police force are still corrupt and known for bribery and threats), medical help is woefully deficient and people are suffering the consequences, and you can buy "happy pizzas" at local diners on which toppings include ecstasy and LSD.

But back to the story. As I wrote earlier, I did appreciate the Christian perspective. It was nice to see how some people coped emotionally with the atrocities surrounding them. Furthermore, it was contrasted interestingly with communism. While communism is not a religion, it is like Christianity in that it is a frame of mind, an ideology. To be fair, Taing compared an incorrupt version of Christianity with corrupt politics, so the conclusion that one is better cannot be proven (at least with this particular text). That is, it would be more fair to compare Christianity when it is not working with the corrupt politics. Still, the comparison (albeit indirect) made the book more thought-provoking than I had anticipated, which was nice. Are the two ideas, by their very nature mutually exclusive? Both Taing (a Christian) and the Khmer Rouge (who killed Christians) left the impression that they would think so, but others are not so sure.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Reader's Diary #174- Jim Green: North Book (FINISHED)

One of the best things about poetry books is their size. A mere 55 pages and you're done! Ready to take on the next one...

I wasn't crazy about Jim Green's poems. For the most part he seemed to over-rely on merely cataloguing the images around him. While I do appreciate good imagery, I found that too many of these poems tried to pass off lists of scenery without offering much in the way of emotion or mood.

Also, he had a thing for caesuras. I don't have anything against these per se, but he threw them in a little too often and most always I couldn't rationalize why. For example,

inside a snug tent
on a dark (space*) windwhipped
day of rain.

-from Netsiksiuvik

But it would be a rare collection indeed if I couldn't find one poem to salvage, and Green's book is no exception. A great one is "The Fish Eye Poem". Here his imagery is masterful as he retells an experience that occurred during an ice-fishing expedition. His prize catch is laying upon the ice and he turns around to see a local boy pop out the eye and eat it. The poem ends with the narrator (Green, I assume) staring into the vacant socket. I think he completely captured the idea of shock in that single image.

*There is an actual space in the above line, but blogger won't allow me to leave one for some annoying reason. Anyone know how to code it?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Reader's Diary #173- Vek Huong Taing: Ordeal In Cambodia (up to "The New Cambodia")

A couple of years ago some close friends of mine traveled to Cambodia, somewhat for a visit, but mostly to help provide medical attention.

When they came back they had a slide show and explained all about the devastation left behind by the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. Appalling stuff.

But what's also appalling, is my ignorance of any of it. Until their trip, I would have assumed Khmer Rouge was something found in a French Crayola box.

During the 70s and 80s between 1.5 to 3 million people were killed by the brutal regime. A fraction yes, of the lives taken during WWII, but this was during my lifetime. I was ashamed to be so uninformed.

So through these friends, I tried to learn more. And when I came across this book in a used book store, I thought it too, might get up to speed.

Ordeal in Cambodia is the story of one family's fight to survive during those bleak times. Simply written, it's a easy book to fly through yet it still provides a lot of food for thought (I'm a little heavy on the cliches tonight, I know).

What might turn some readers off from the book, is actually a selling point for me: it's told from a Christian perspective. Those who might be turned off would probably balk at getting Christian propaganda rather than an informative text. However, as devout as Taing appears to be, he still gets the story across and even delves into some of the political reasons behind the horror. And when he does get into his beliefs, it's still compelling. There's a second story being told that intertwines with the first; how one family's faith in Jesus got them through an insanely difficult time. What makes it so compelling to me is his way of interpreting events. Some would have looked on such times as proof that God had forsaken them, or even of a nonexistence, but instead Taing held on to his belief that whatever happened was in God's plan and even if that included death, he'd welcome it because he'd be in heaven. I'm not preaching here- people can make all the guesses they want about my own personal beliefs, I ain't sharing- but I do like having a spin on a straight-forward escape story, no matter what it is.

Writer's Diary #8: Pie

It's late, I can't sleep, and other than lambasting myself for things that should have been done, I'm haunted by late-night poems (which in the morning are about as coherent as stoner poems). Enjoy.


At the edge of the night
crusts turn crispy
(by a sun)
and the sky, star-poked
for ventilation,
holds what I assume to be

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Reader's Diary #172- Jane Jacobs: Dark Age Ahead (FINISHED!)

This book will mark my first foray into a real bookclub (not the internet version). I'm a little nervous as to how it will go.

I don't have things underlined. I don't have pages marked or dog-eared. And with the exception of the three blog posts, I haven't made a whole lot of notes. I hope they're forgiving of the newbie. Hey, at least I read it.

I also hope there aren't many fans of the book amongst them. That could be a little uncomfortable. As you may have gathered, I'm not a fan.

Overall, I found the book terribly uninspiring. Jacobs focused almost all of her insight on cities and cars. Occasionally she broke away from such topics (especially with the "Credentialing Versus Educating" chapter, which was pretty good) but I found it hard to care, as callous as that may sound. I guess a lot of the problem might have been my expectations going into it. I was hoping to gather some knowledge or a new perspective on the dying cultures of minority groups such as the Inuit or Newfoundlanders, but she offered very little in the way of such peoples.

While she claimed in the opening chapter that it is "both a gloomy and hopeful" book, she seemed to have skimped on the "hopeful". It's not an uncommon complaint of her writing, as far as I've discovered, and it's bothersome. She took on such an air of superiority about the mistakes of the past yet her solutions seemed wishy-washy at best. Asides from preaching that we should learn from the past (which in itself is not a novel idea), she states that we, as a society, need to be self aware. Without much elaboration on her part, it seemed like a pretty hollow solution as far as I'm concerned. Jacobs, at least in this particular book, seemed to be all hindsight, and very little foresight.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Reader's Diary #171: Sandy Shreve: Bewildered Rituals (FINISHED)

For those out there who don't read a whole lot of poetry (I'm looking in your direction, Barbara), this would be a great starter.

Bewildered Rituals offers great poetry. There's a healthy smattering of form poems (with a short glossary at the back to explain the forms) thrown amongst the freer poems. There's wit. There's a balance of political poems (correct me if I'm wrong, but it's John Crosbie she's referring to in "Object Lesson" right?) with light-hearted poems. There's irony, alliteration, imagery, rhyme, and basically, if you learned about it in high school english, it's in there. These poems are instantly enjoyable, but the more you explore, the more you find.

Plus, there's nothing too lengthy-even the longer poems such as "Writer's Block" are broken up into more manageable sections. The book itself is a mere 69 pages.

And best of all, no references to Greek mythology.

I am a HUGE fan.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Reader's Diary #170- Jane Jacobs: Dark Age Ahead (up to "Unwinding vicious Spirals")

Books can work me up quite easily. After reading No Logo I loathed Nike. After reading Fast Food Nation I put the kibosh on MacDonalds (for a while anyway). Heck, even after My Life as a 10 Year Old Boy I could be found ranting about the bitchiness of Elizabeth Taylor.

But Dark Age Ahead hasn't roused any strong emotions yet. Unless slight annoyance counts.

"Science Abandoned" is probably the worst chapter in the book thus far. Maybe you have to be living in a major city to get this one because Jacobs seems to have taken most of her angst out on traffic engineers. Really? A book about the decay of western culture and she points her finger at traffic engineers? I can buy that perhaps they generally do a lousy job. Heck, I can even believe that maybe it really is a pseudo-science, as she said. But I don't know, traffic engineers don't make for compelling reading. And as a catalyst for social change, they're not likely to gain many recruits- for or against.

Furthermore, Jacobs' rant against this particular profession seemed a little hypocritical to me. In her argument, she accused them of not using science. In her examples, she implied that they do little more than guess work and next to no experimentation. Fine. That could be a solid point. But what did Jacobs back up her defence with? Research? Statistics? Expert opinion? No. Instead, she seemed to think that anecdotes would suffice, rambling on and on about her experiences in New York and Toronto.

I get that Jacobs was intelligent, despite earning a university degree. I also get that many of those with university degrees are not intelligent. This was at the crux of her "Credentialing Versus Educating" chapter. However, the "Science Abandoned" chapter was handled poorly. If she wanted the reader to take her word over the university trained traffic engineers, then she pretty well make sure to have some solid arguments to back it up. Most books such as these require some leap of faith, some trust. Who has the time to double check all of the sources, all the research and all of the methodology used? Not me. But if I am going to put my trust in something, I'd like a little more substance than an anecdote.

I'm not saying I believe Jacobs to be wrong with her assessment of traffic engineers. I am, however, saying I don't believe she's necessarily correct. I feel as in the dark on the subject now, as I did before I opened the book. The difference is, I hadn't given it a whole lot of thought before. I guess that's something.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Reader's Diary #169- Sandy Shreve: Bewildered Rituals (up to "Eye Contact")

That's not the book cover, it's the author. I don't have a scanner and since the book is out of print, I couldn't pull the cover from the internet anywhere! It's unfortunate that poetry collections go out of print so dang quick. I know why, it's just sad. Thank goodness for libraries.

This isn't the first time I blogged about Shreve. A while back I blogged about In Fine Form, an anthology of Canadian form poetry put together by Sandy Shreve and Kate Braid.

Is there an opposite to the "familiarity breeds contempt" idiom?
Whatever that opposite is, I want it said about poetry.

I'm the first to admit that I sometimes don't take my time reading. A poem really needs to catch my eye the first time around for me to review it. Often they do, and that's great. But then, at other times, I miss perfectly fine poems. But I don't stress it too much. More often than not, I come across the same poems in other anthologies or collections and my second reading, albeit delayed, is when I appreciate it. That's what has happened now.

Bewildered Rituals is an assortment of poem types- free and form. It's the form ones, the ones that she contributed to In Fine Form, that I've enjoyed the most so far. "Dance", a palindrome, is a beautiful poem about a fight of all things. The effect of having two stanzas repeat one another shows the symmetry and similarities of the two combatants and the unexpected tone of respect is wonderful. "Making Love" is a triolet and, with it's repeated lines, really captures the rhythm and complements the phrase "I feel/ my body wrap around the earth." There are other forms used, as well. What I like most is her ability to know which forms to use and when, and how to manipulate them if necessary. Triolets and pantoums, for example, typically have a rhyme scheme but Shreve only needed their patterns in order for her poems to work, not the rhymes.

A great free form poem is "Green Tea". Oddly, when I first plucked this book from the library shelf and opened it at random, "Green Tea" was the poem I was faced with. Odd because I loved it immediately, and after reading the others, it remains one of my favourite.

"Green Tea" is the declaration of a smoker that she is not going to quit, not for all the dire packaging or warnings from friends. Instead, she is going to put her faith in the cancer fighting properties of green tea. It's darkly humourous, especially with the self mocking found in the word "green" (i.e., naive). Also, this poem illustrates another of Shreve's fantastic skills as a poet; her attention to sounds. "Green Tea" has great examples of alliteration: "...the latest possibility/ that pots and pots of green tea" and "breath/ between incessant bites"- the labial "p" and "b" sounds repeated are perfect illustrations of a smoker's exhalation. There are also excellent examples of consonance, especially those that echo that ugly hard "c" sound as in the beginning of "cancer". Her word choice includes "pack", "sac", "sucking", "cajole", "smoking", "campaigns", "caveats", "concrete", and "nicotine". It's an insanely well thought-out poem, and her efforts is the reader's reward (should that be "is" or "are"?). Anyway, I'll hold this poem as an example of something I hope to achieve someday.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Reader's Diary #168- Jane Jacobs: Dark Age Ahead (up to "Science Abandoned")

Dark Age Ahead draws on a lifetime of astute observation to identify factors such as the erosion of community and family and the lack of public fiscal accountability as the true harbingers of an unhealthy cultural base. - from

The historical landscape is littered with dead civilizations, and this suggests the historian is to some degree a pathologist. Besides describing the character, res gestae and organization of societies, historians must account for the manner of their collapse, and seek for pathogens common to the demise of them all. Thus Gibbon hypothesises the "triumph of barbarism and religion" as the cause of Rome's doom; Spengler in his Decline of the West equates civilizations with organisms, both being subject to the same inevitable decay; Toynbee argues that societies break down when their ideologies cannot accommodate invasive moral or religious practices; while Kennedy speculates (in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers) that great states expand to a stage where they become financially and militarily overstretched (a historian's version of the Peter Principle).
This attempt to understand the entropy of civilization is by no means a mere academic exercise, according to Jane Jacobs in her recent book, Dark Age Ahead. -
from Nicholas Maes (Books In Canada)

Would you choose to read this book based on these blurbs? Against my votes, our book club did. My only hope was from a brief (and ironic) statement that said Jacobs wrote with an "elegant, plain-language prose."

Turns out, she does.

Needless to say, I was intimidated, especially by that jargon-filled, fact-spewing crap Books In Canada tried to pass off as a review. Fortunately Nicholas Maes did not write this book, and it's easy to follow.

Jane Jacobs presents her case as to how we've gone wrong as a society and are currently at risk for living in a cultural abyss known as a "dark age". It's intriguing stuff and backed up with examples that seem eerily close to historical precedents of past dark ages.

So far, however, it's a little too pessimistic for my liking. When she talks about the automobile industry haven taken over North America and its dire consequences for our culture, it's almost as if she's dropped the "Ahead" part of the title and is insisting that it's already too late. To be fair, I'm not at the end yet and maybe it'll turn around.

It can also be too much of an editorial cliche at times. Phrases like "neoconservative think-tank" are more annoying than effective. However...

I am enjoying it. As I've said before, it's written in a clear, accessible manner and as Maes proved, that's not a small feat considering the topics. Also, while Jacobs seems to be focused on a broad western hemisphere culture, I've found myself considering Newfoundland and Nunavut. At times, it seems as if people are placing bets to see who will lose their culture the fastest and I'm hoping Jacobs' book will help shed some light.

Finally, reading books such as these make me feel somehow more responsible. I know that probably sounds cheesy and even moronic if I'm not prepared to act afterwards. However, when I read so much fiction, it's nice sometimes to take the time to reflect on the state of the world, even if I don't agree with everything the author has to say.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Reader's Diary #167- Robert Service: The Best Of (FINISHED)

I still love "The Cremation of Sam McGee" and "The Shooting of Dan McGrew". I even found a few new Service poems that I really like, "Unforgotten" and "The Ballad of The Black Fox Skin."

But all in all, I discovered that I'm not a huge fan. I've already aired my beef about the gratuitous use of the word "Oh". Asides from that, there are a few other complaints.

First, the whole "rugged outdoorsman is superior" motif gets a bit old, both in the chronological sense and the tiresome sense. It seems like poems that might have been found in Boy Scout manual in the 50s (though I don't ever remember a "poetry badge.") At times it almost seemed as if Service had been hired by the Yukon Department of Tourism. What irked me most was the assumption all of these poems seemed based on; city men are unhappy. While I'm sure that might be true for some, it's not for all and that great old life of nature and toil ain't for everyone.

Second, occasionally Service worked so hard fitting in a rhyme in that he sacrificed realistic grammar. The best example, and perhaps the worst poem in the entire collection, is "The Hat." The opening stanza:

In city shop a hat I saw
That so my fancy seemed to strike,
I gave my wages to buy the straw
And make myself a one the like.

In city shop a hat I saw? Who the heck talks like that? I caught myself trying to find a poetic justification, but stopped myself short. Sometimes, especially when I like a particular author, I tend to find arguments to defend what is probably just a shoddy piece. Not this time. That's pretty putrid.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

November is "Read A Ballycumber Month"!!! defines a ballycumber as one of the six half-read books lying somewhere in your bed. I won't be that specific. My aim for "Read A Ballycumber Month" is for people to read any book (doesn't have to be one from your bed) that wasn't finished the first time around. And if such a book doesn't exist, to read a book that's just been taking up space on the shelf, that is, a book that was bought or received as a present and has taken forever to get around to reading. I've a few candidates in each category but I'll let you know what I decide on come November.

If you have no books in either category, I'll recommend dedicating your November to the National Novel Writing Month. (If you're really ambitious, you could try both!)

In any case, you'll improve yourself.

Pass the word along!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Reader's Diary #166- Toni Morrison: Beloved (FINISHED)

Despite my initial tirade on this book, it grew on me. I'm not sure I "get it" to its fullest extent, but like a poem, it probably has a few acceptable interpretations and warrants a few additional readings.

It's heavy, yes. Also potentially confusing. And so, it's not a book I'd recommend to just anyone. However, I did enjoy it.

Often, it read like a poem. Or at the very least Morrison had taken risks- and risks like these I usually associate with poets rather than novelists.

In one chapter, Morrison almost completely avoided using any periods. In another chapter she begins seven paragraphs with the sentence/word "But." And there are plenty more literary experiments that could be debated (as to why she used them, if they were effective, and so forth). It's this reason (and that it's enjoyable) that I'm okay with all of the aforementioned accolades and awards.

While far from my favourite book, I'd appreciate covering this book in a high school or university setting. There's a ton of fodder in here to last at least a couple of months discussion if not even an entire semester. It, as I've said above, takes a lot of risks, has amazingly rich characters, sociological overtones, a complex plot, and oozes symbolism.

Speaking of which, I wonder if it was Morrison's intention to do a feminine take on the Holy Trinity. It occurred to me at one point that instead of the "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" she had written about the "Mother, Daughter and Holy(?) Ghost". It's yet another one of those theories that would require a reread. I'm not prepared to do that right away, but I will reshelve it...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Reader's Diary #165- Robert Service: The Best Of (up to "The Joy of Being Poor")

Oh, Robert Service, Oh, why do you insist on having "oh" in oh, so many of your poems? Oh, I suspect it's your way of maintaining your rhythm but oh, by golly, it can get oh, so annoying at times.

"Oh, we were happy, were we not?"
"Oh, foul or fair he's always there"
"Oh, it set my blood a-boilin'"

And oh, so many more...

Oh, I know when you read the "best of" or "collected works of " any individual poet, you run the risk of getting sick of a style or gimmick you liked when you had read a poem or two in isolation. I almost got sick of e.e. cummings after reading his 100 Selected Poems and that's probably the case here, but oh, my heavens, one more "Oh" and he's about to top Meg Ryan's performance in When Harry Met Sally.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Reader's Diary #164- Toni Morrison: Beloved (up to p. 175)

I know a lot of readers would suggest taking one's time with a novel, savouring each word, phrase and so on, but there's something to be said for rushing through.

As I've mentioned in an earlier post, I've joined a book club. My first meeting comes up at the beginning of November and it looks like a bit of a heavy read. I can't very well go to my first bookclub meeting unprepared, and I can't very well drop Beloved halfway through. Therefore, I'm rushing it.

But surprise, surprise it's increased my enjoyment. I think this novel in particular has the potential to get confusing- forgetting characters and plot intricacies from one night to the next would only make matters worse. Reading it as fast as possible (without cheating and just skipping pages) hasn't allowed me to forget much and I'm able to stay on top.

One night, just as I was drifting off to sleep, I think I came close to understanding the Beloved character. I think instead of being a ghost of some sort, she's actually a manifestation of Sethe's love wall. For lack of a better term (mine, not Morrison's), a love wall is a defense someone puts up to keep from maximally loving someone else, or to keep others from loving them. While Morrison keeps leaving clues that it is actually the ghost of her dead daughter, the love wall theory still holds up. The gruesome and tragic story of that daughter's death is one of the reasons Sethe holds her love back. Looking at Beloved in this light has also made me enjoy the book more. It's a theory sure, and even if it doesn't pan out, the exploration is fun.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Writer's Club

(I will not make lame Fight Club references.
I will not make lame Fight club references.
I will not make lame Fight Club references.
I will not make lame Fight Club references.)

So last night we had our first Writer's Club meeting.

It was great. While only 7 (out of the 30 or so that had signed up) showed, that number worked for me. It's a very informal, intimate setting and it's a great mix. Despite the small number, it's amazing how diverse we are. In terms of experiences and interests, there's a lyricist, someone who's published nonfiction, a fantasy/sci-fi fan, and a range from those who have hardly written before to those who have unpublished novels under their belt.

Of course being the first meeting, we had to get housework taken care of (how often we wish to meet, what we want from the club, etc). But then we moved onto the whole reason I was there- to share work and get feedback. Only I and another person did so this week. And C, being more familiar with the Club, fortunately went first.

After she shared her poem, we went around the room and said what we liked, didn't like, or just wanted to ask about. It was great to see from the ones who had been club members in years past, the relaxed approach. Feelings didn't seem to get hurt and people were constructive rather than picky or mean. And best of all, they were specific.

Then I shared a poem of mine- my as of yet untitled coffee poem- and was greatly pleased (and relieved) to see that most liked it, or at least parts of it. While I didn't end up agreeing with the suggestions of one member in particular, it was still nice to get the feedback and I think it will force me to be a better writer in the long run. If I'm going to have to justify why I wrote things a certain way, it'll make me a more critical writer for sure.

Man, I love this place.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Reader's Diary #163- Robert Service: The Best Of (up to "The Mountain And The Lake")

When I was in Rankin Inlet I made an effort to read more Northern themed books. Then I moved back to Newfoundland and so, I upped my Newfoundland quota. Now I'm back in the North and well, you know the drill.

The thing is, Robert Service writes primarily about the Yukon. And comparing the Yukon to Nunavut is only slightly more reasonable than comparing Newfoundland to B.C.. Yukon has all the gold rush history, Nunavut has Northwest passage history. The Yukon has trees, Nunavut has inuksuit- and don't underestimate the cultural impact a tree has until you live in a place void of them. The differences are plenty.

Yet a stanza from one of Service's poems in particular resonated with me. From "The Ballad of The Black Fox Skin":

The bluffs uprear and grimly peer far over Dawson town;
They see its lights a blaze o' nights and harshly they look down;
They mock the plan and plot of man with grim, ironic frown.

If you've ever flown into a Nunavut town, especially in the winter, you know the feeling. They just seem so small and literally in the middle of nowhere that they don't have any business being there at all. It's an overwhelming feeling for sure. Trust me, nature is bigger here and it makes its presence known.