Friday, March 31, 2006

Reader's Diary #66- Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve (editors): In Fine Form (up to Couplets)

I've just completed the sections on ballads and blues. Before I get into that, I'd like to say how much I appreciate the layout of this book. Each section is devoted to a specific genre of form poetry and the introductions discuss what the particular form is and how to recognize it. More impressively, they summarize their inroduction with a very user-friendly reference with the headings:

1. Stanzas: which describes the number of and type of stanzas
2. Metre: basically describes the rhythm and stresses
3. Rhyme: Describes what rhyming scheme is used (ex. aab)
4. Repetition: Is repetition used and if so, how?
5. Distinguishing Features: Not always added as heading unless there are other features worthy of mention.

They are also careful to point out that many poets take a lot of liberties with these forms. As anyone familiar with Musicmatch Jukebox or Ipods know, a lot of music (ex., Signia, Tanya Tagaq, and William Orbit, etc, etc, etc) is very difficult to classify- likewise for poetry. But from my very limited perspective Braid and Shreve do an admirable job grouping these poems and if something skews very far from the form under which they have it listed, they usually defend their choices quite convincingly.

In terms of ballads, I realized quite quickly that it's not far from what most amateur poets try to write and do miserably. You know the ones; some embarrassing inlaw reads one at every wedding reception, "When your lovely bride was two/ she thought she'd take a stroll/ she wandered from her parents/ and on them it took a toll." Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. Cheesy. Awkward phrasing. And so forth. But it doesn't stop people from writing them (and in the case of Twillingater Jack May, even publishing similar drivel in the local newspaper). Except for Robert Service's "The Cremation of Sam McGee" (which is in this book minus the wonderful Ted Harrison artwork that has accompanied it in recent publications), I thought I didn't like this type of poetry. However, I did enjoy a lot of those included in this collection. Maybe I just don't like bad ballads. Asides from the aforementioned Service poem, Dennis Lee's "1838" stands out as a great. I didn't know any Dennis Lee poems except for the children's poems, "Alligator Pie", "Garbage Delight" and the now (needlessly) infamous collection "Alligator Stew". However, the best ballad (perhaps even better than "Sam McGee"), is E. J. Pratt's "The Lee Shore". This poem is genius. Ballad was the only form this poem could take and Pratt uses it masterfully. If you don't know it, follow the link and read it. You must.

The second section (which I knew as a genre of music but not poetry) is blues. And while I like some blues music (John Lee Hooker, Susan Tedeschi, and so forth), I don't think I'm a huge fan of it as poetry. At least not the ones chosen by Braid and Shreve. I didn't hate them but aside from the occasional smirk over not-so-subtle sexual innuendos (in particular, George Elliott Clarke's "King Bee Blues") they seem quite unremarkable. Plus, despite Braid and Shreve describing the characteristics of the traditional form , some of these were so far removed from the tradition that I don't even see how they fit. Especially "Blues" by Christine Wiesenthal. Except for the title and sexual content, I'm not convinced it fits in this classification. It's not a bad poem mind you, just not blues.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Reader's Diary #65- Lisa Moore: Alligator (up to p. 140)



Two more things I like about Alligator:
1. The setting. And not just because it's St. John's (the greatest city on Earth- well, that I've been to anyhow). One of the most memorable Canada Reads moments for me is when panelist Zsuzsi Gartner defended Barney's Version by saying books should not be hermetically sealed (it's a phrase she seems to enjoy spouting- but apt nonetheless). I agree with her conclusion and reading through Alligator, it's a pretty safe assumption that Moore does too. I'm practically in St. John's as I read this novel. George Street, the Ship, spanworms, Walmart, the Sundance, the Village Mall, Sobey's Square, MUN, etc all make brief cameos. In terms of the plot they're insignificant cameos for the most part, but in terms of painting a realistic setting, quite significant. Ah St. John's, I miss you. Spanworms and all. Hey, the more I think I think about it, Spanworms should have been the title of this book. They're more "S. John's" and while the "head in the alligator" metaphor is okay, an argument could be made for spanworms being a better metaphor for these characters' lives. Furthermore, think of the word "span" and then read on to my 2nd point...
2. Cross chapter similarities. While it is only in the most recent chapter that the lives of these characters are beginning to intertwine, Moore doesn't allow you to forget the other characters or chapters as she shifts from one perspective to the next. Subtly or not, she throws in references that remind you of what you have already read. For instance, Valentin's superstitious side (the number three is somehow significant) can easily be compared to superstitious beliefs of Beverly (birds in the house are omens, migraines are related to the supernatural). Likewise Isabel's spanworm infestation blends in with Frank's spanworm ordeal. Likewise Madeleine dwelling on her divorced husband Marty, is reminiscent of Beverly's preoccupation with her deceased husband, David. It's a very connected novel, there's a common thread (like that of a spanworm) that spans across it.
(tee-hee)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Reader's Diary #64- Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve (editors): In Fine Form (up to Ballad)


Regrettably I haven't taken any more than the mandatory first two English courses at MUN. And neither of those were poetry. I was never brave enough to pursue English (job prospects?)- which is unfortunate because I certainly love it.

That's why I've taken it upon myself to give myself an informal English education. And it's books like these that makes it fun. In Fine Form is a collection of Canadian form poems, complete with detailed criteria of what makes them so. From the table of contents I see that it covers forms that I'm somewhat familiar with (such as ballads, epigrams and haiku) and some I've never even heard of (such as triolets, palindromes and pantoums). It should be an enlightening read.

In the preface, P. K. Page attempts to sell form poetry on its merits of keeping a poem (and poet) in check, satisfying our expectations, and teaching readers how to read. They're all arguments that I've heard before and that I even agree with to some extent. But still, I read (and write) more free verse. It's just that there's more free verse around (at least if you're looking to read anything contemporary). If form poetry seems more dated, that's because it is. According to Braid and Shreve, "by the 1950's free verse had become the norm."One need only look at the 60s to see where people's heads were at, and maybe the poets led the way (Ginsberg?). Maybe it was time to rebel against constraints.

That said, there's something to be said for being able to create within confines. Without confines there'd surely be a lot less modern music around- blues for example, and if you consider poverty a confine, hip hop as well. But maybe "confines" isn't the right word for form poetry. For starters, it's self imposed. Also, as P. K. Page points out "form can even provide a poem with additional meaning." It's precisely that reason, modern form poems excite me. Unlike poets of the 16th century, for example who may have been writing "form" because it was the norm, modern poets have more artistic freedom to pick and choose; form or free verse, and if form- which form? If they do choose form, I would suspect they have a good reason for doing so.

I'm looking forward to discovering new forms, more Canadian poetry and I hope to be inspired along the way. I've feared writing form poetry before, though I'm not sure why. Free verse isn't exactly easy either. Perhaps this book will help abate some of those fears.

I'm curious. Do you prefer free verse over form poetry? Or form poetry over free verse? Or have no preference at all?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Reader's Diary #63- Lisa Moore: Alligator (up to p.94)


Up to now I've been gushing about Alligator's merits. So much so, I was beginning to mistrust my own opinions! After all, it's a rare book that's perfect.

On that note, I may have found a flaw in Alligator. May have. The proposed problem that perplexes me (okay, I'll stop) is the character of Valentin. Valentin is from Russia and has every stereotype you can think of as a Russian. My first reaction to this was "why not?". I mean, some people fit stereotypes, good ones or bad ones. Just because it's not politically correct doesn't mean that some black people aren't great dancers, some Newfoundlanders aren't stupid or some Russians aren't heavy drinking, chess-playing, high cheekboned villains. It just yanked my attention away from the story a bit- it's pretty over-the-top stereotyping. And to some extent other characters are cliched versions as well. Colleen, for example, is a disgruntled teenager. That's not exactly original either. But no character is as blatantly pinned to a stereotype as Valentin. I began to think that maybe Moore had something up her sleeve, some point she might be trying to make...

But then I thought, if Tom Clancy or Dan Brown had such a character, I'd be the first to complain. So maybe I'm giving too much credit to Moore. Why? I don't know. Subconscious reasons perhaps; she's a Newfoundlander, the book has gotten a lot of critical praise, etc? I'd like to think I'm above those sort of influences, but maybe deep down I'm not.

I guess all I can say is that the verdict is still out. Did Moore create an overly stereotyped character for some literary point? Or was it bad writing? Am I an unbiased reader who thinks for himself? Or am I a blindly patriotic sycophant? I'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Reader's Diary #62- Al Pittman (author)/ Veselina Tomova (illustrator): On A Wing and A Wish


On A Wing and A Wish was Al Pittman's third and final children's book (the previous being One Wonderful Fine Day For A Sculpin Named Sam and of course, Down By Jim Long's Stage). As far as I'm concerned On A Wing and A Wish was also his best.

Like Down By Jim Long's Stage which revolved around various Newfoundland fish, the poems in this collection revolve around Newfoundland sea birds. They are delightful humour-filled poems, with enough Mother Goose rhymes (AABA, etc), couplets, and alliteration to keep any child's attention- I know, I know, go to a child and say "this book is filled with wonderful couplets!" and she's likely to beat you with it, but the rhythm and rhyme will hold their attention, trust me. There's also enough wit and subtle jabs at human folly to make the book entertaining for adults.

Veselina Tomova's illustrations are also outstanding. The bold watercolours, like the poems themselves, personify the sea birds, often making them ludicrous and always making them appealing.

At the end of the book, there's a glossary of sorts that gives the globally accepted names of the birds versus the local names which were used in the poems. A"turr", for instance, is an Atlantic common murre.

While I know that informational books have their place and value, books such as On A Wing and A Wish make learning about Newfoundland culture and its wildlife fun and meaningful. We need more of these.

Reader's Diary #61- Lisa Moore: Alligator (up to p.44)


According to Sure b'y, reviewers of Alligator have commented about its "non-linear narrative". I found this term in reference to to her collection of short stories, Degrees of Nakedness but not to Alligator. In either case, when I think of what that term must mean, I guess it could be applied to Alligator as well to some extent. However, nonlinear storytelling is becoming the norm in Canadian literature so it's hardly a selling point. But the way Moore handles it, it's hardly a drawback either.

So far I've read seven chapters, each revolving around specific characters. While a there isn't a discernible overall plot yet, each chapter has its own subplot and, fittingly for Moore, they could almost be read as short stories.

What I like most about these stories is the way she captures thought. In many stories that I've read, the characters either have an almost unnatural ability to focus on the issue at hand without letting their mind wander at all, or else they get so caught up in a flashback that I, as a reader, am lost entirely as to what is going on. With Moore's writing, I don't feel lost despite the many meanderings. For instance, in the first chapter that follows Frank, the story was more or less about the suicide of an Inuit guy that lived in his boarding house. However, it is through details of Frank's hot dog business, his desire for a waterbed and his mom's cancer that the story of the unnamed Inuit guy's death is told. It's an interesting interplay between the chapters and novel. It's almost as if they work symbiotically with one another. But saying that, I hope I don't come across as one of those reviewers Sure b'y seemed to be complaining about!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Reader's Diary #60- Lisa Moore: Alligator (up to p. 10)

I find it incredibly hard keeping up with newly published books. I'd like to have read more that were published in the last year, but they're hard to come by. The local library doesn't get many new books, and hardcovers are just too expensive to buy. Even the paperback versions which come so much later are often too highly priced. Lisa Moore's Alligator is probably the most recently published book that you'll find in my blogged archives, and even it is getting a bit old to a lot people. I'd like just once to hit on that one book that's just been released and has everyone talking. But since Alligator has already won the regional Commonwealth award, been shortlisted for both the 2006 Commonwealth Award and the Giller award, and was mysteriously overlooked for the Winterset, most conversation about Alligator has probably come and gone. But better late than never I guess.

My first reaction to the book is puzzlement over the title. I'm curious as to what a book set in contemporary St. John's could have to do with any reptile other than the occasional giant turtle that's washed up on our shores. So far I've only read the first chapter, and I must say it certainly grabbed me (much like putting my head in an alligator's mouth). In the cover jacket biography of Lisa Moore, it says she's a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. It shows. Scenes are described very stylistically and she seems to have a very acute ability to paint a picture in words that's both vivid and surreal. Ugly scenes. The opening chapter is being told from Colleen's (a seventeen year old) point of view. Right from the get go, we see Newfoundland in a light I have not yet seen in Newfoundland literature. Instead of the fishing/fairy/Beothuk story we're so used to here, we see Newfoundland as a part of the world at large. This placement of Newfoundland in the larger global context is accomplished both in reality and in Moore's novel via the media- and many of us are shocked by the ugliness and drawn to it at the same time. Like in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, the internet is a large part of this window to the often cruel world (and perhaps to ourselves). We see kids at party in Mount Pearl watching a "bum fight" they downloaded, a St. John's teen who habitually watches beheadings, etc. Moore brilliantly clips these (f)ugly images together, slips in the occasional incongruous image (it's from a pink room with a pink canopy bed that Colleen looks at beheadings over the internet) and all the while she is creating a collage of Colleen, an intriguing character who seems somewhat jaded but likeable nonetheless (she turns away from the beheadings at the last moment, feeling it's important the victim not be "alone").

If all of the characters are this compelling, I'm in for one heck of a read.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Reader's Diary #59: Exodus (FINISHED)


Does anyone know if anyone's attempted publishing a Bible-like book in recent years? I'm not talking about a Bible spoof, but an epic collection of stories told in a Bible-esque style. The reason I ask is because I don't think it would work. Not because it would be too controversial- that would work in its favour as far as sales are concerned- but because a true-to-form book styled after the Bible would be just too boring and disconjointed to read. Before lightning strikes me down and it seems like I'm passing judgment on the Bible, I'd like to clear up that it's more of a comment on publishers than the Bible.

Could you imagine someone bringing in the Exodus manuscript to a publisher today? "Let's see, the descriptions of the Ark of the Covenant? Way too long- it really consumes the latter half of the book- all this talk about cubits and golden rings. And Aaron-we don't get a real sense of who he is, do we? I know he's a peripheral character but maybe we could add in a little more pizazz- maybe even create more of a sibling rivalry there. And how about a love interest for Moses- I'm a little afraid people are going to find him too untouchable, let's humanize him a bit shall we?"

But I can't really hold that against publishers. Because really, would readers like the Bible if it was just another novel? Probably not. Even if someone wrote (as I proposed above) a fantasy epic and wrote it in a style to mimic the Bible, the novelty of that would also wear off. Let's say, J.K. Rowling had four chapters in a row on the description of, oh, I don't know- a doorknocker for Hogwarts or something. There'd be page after page describing the ring being made of brass with a gryphon head made of gold and eyes made of chiseled emeralds from the shores of Lake Gemmalaigh...and you get the idea; Bible satire or not, it'd get pretty boring.

But lest it seem that I'm thinly disguising my own critique of the Bible in an effort to "play it safe", I understand that saying the Bible doesn't make a good novel is much like saying a cat doesn't make a good dog. But that doesn't mean it can't make for an interesting conversation.

And I'd like to end by saying there was a very novel-like moment in Exodus. When God gets annoyed by the Israelites for worshipping the golden calf and so forth, Moses pleads with him not to smite his people, reminding Him of past promises to protect them. If one didn't know the story, there'd be some real suspense there. Is God going to listen to the pleas of this mere mortal? Will He smite the Israelites or won't He? Cut to commercial...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Reader's Diary #58- Greg Cook: Love From Backfields (FINISHED)


After finishing Greg Cook's Love From Backfields I feel somewhat refreshed. It wasn't memorable poetry per se (with the exception of two poems), but I hope his style will rub off a little. I had to reread the bio of Greg Cook on the back cover to remind myself he was an older writer. I'm not saying his writing is juvenile, but he seemed to take chances with his poetry unlike many other established poets who seem set in their ways. While I liked Mary Dalton's Merrybegot for instance, most of her poems were similar to one another in feel. It wouldn't be hard to sense Dalton, or at least a common thread, in every poem. However, Cook's style seems more erratic. At first I found it a little jarring and it seemed at times like he was just trying on hats so to speak. But towards the end, I came to appreciate the unpredictability.

In some poems he tried a narrative approach, in others he went for short epigrams, he changed the perspectives from poem to poem, played with repetition, alliteration and all of those fun devices that poets know but instead settle on using just a few to suit their self-imposed, restrictive styles. Cook's writing is more like your grandma's soup when she adds all of the things in her pantry and one batch is always different than the last.

But on that note, I do want to make clear that despite my praise, there weren't many poems in this collection that will stick with me- in other words I think Cook was on to something, but didn't quite live up to it with Love From Backfields. The two that appealed the most to me were "Love Moving Through Backfields" (as I had mentioned in an earlier posting) and "The Builder and the Trees". The latter is one of the best "happy" poems I have come across in a long time (at least, that's my interpretation of it). It seemed to be an homage to a great step-father and when the definition of family has changed so dramatically over the last 50 years or so, it's nice to see an optimistic look. Heck, it's nice to see an optimistic look at anything in contemporary poetry! Can anyone suggest another example?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Reader's Diary #57- Exodus (up to Ch. 22)


It's getting increasingly difficult to read the Bible as a novel, as I have set out to do- primarily because I've been trying to look it at as another piece of literature not as... well, as the Bible. I think the biggest barrier is my practice of looking for symbolism, metaphors and the like in other books that I read. If I do that with the Bible, I'm getting into theology territory and I didn't want to do that this time around. But if I don't do that I'm not reading it as I would a novel. A catch-22?

It's also getting increasingly difficult to write about the Bible as a novel. Not that I don't have plenty to say, it's just that I'm trying very hard not to offend anyone. That's not my intention- I've no interest in being an antagonist, especially over matters people care so strongly about. So I'll add the disclaimer that people are still free to voice their opinions and that I suggest simply turning away if something really rubs you the wrong way.

In my last posting I mentioned how comic book superheroes have similarities with Moses and the book of Exodus. I'm not trying to make light of the Bible, it's just that it reiterates a point I made earlier: it's such a familiar book because one can find so many similarities in these stories with so much in today's world. Since I last wrote, I have started to find similarities with God and more contemporary characters. Take the Godfather for instance. I think Puzo was hinting more at man's desire for God's power and influence rather than the "birth sponsor" definition. And it's not just literary characters that I see connections with. It's seems that many others aim for God-like in their quest for power. I'm sure everyone's familiar with doctors and their "God complexes", but with Exodus I see more of a connection to rock stars and God. And no, no, no I'm not saying that Clapton is God or anything that'll get me accused of blasphemy, but the story of God's demands to Moses and the Israelites, ex. "your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year" and so on, made me think of rock stars and their often over-the-top riders. I'm not saying that God's request that the Israelites eat unleavened bread for seven days is as unreasonable as Van Halen asking that the brown M & M's be removed but I'm saying that God has become the ultimate symbol of power and as such, the closer people get to believing in their own superiority, the closer they try to act like Him. The difference (like I need to point this out) is that while the rock star's motives are painfully clear (ego boost), God's are not. Despite any attempts to find character building of God in Exodus, He becomes more of an enigma.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Reader's Diary #56- Greg Cook: Love From Backfields (up to "An Altar For Loneliness")


Again, I'm about to say the hell with my counter and pick a book most of my potential readers have probably never heard of. According to the fine print on the inside cover Love From Backfields was a limited edition of 1000 copies, by Breakwater in 1980. I hadn't even heard of Greg Cook before, let alone this book. However, the library at the school I teach in was giving away discarded books and I'm a sucker for poetry, especially Canadian poetry, especially Atlantic Canadian poetry.

So far I'm enjoying it a little. It's got a lot of themes that I can only describe as "innocent cruelty" which I find interesting. "Backyard History" is probably the best example of this, especially in its descriptions of kids torturing animals sometimes just for kicks. It's real- probably too real for some- and he doesn't seem to judge the kids as much as humanity itself.

At times, Cook relies heavily on stock responses. Occasionally this doesn't work and to me, the poems come off just chiched; for example, in "Bad Name" he sets up the poem as being about indian reservations and then at the end uses "reservation" to refer to a reluctance. I appreciate that "reservation" has different meanings but for me his exploration of it seems a little insulting to a reader- a condescending implication that had Cook not pointed out the alternate meanings, readers would not have gotten it.

However, sometimes his poems are cliched with good reason. For instance, in "Love Moving Through Backfields" he needs us to have some familiarity (and nostalgia for) such childhood experiences as holding a buttercup to someone's chin, or demanding that a grasshopper gives you molasses. Without stock responses to these "memories" we wouldn't really understand the motive behind the love-making that ensues later. The couple seems so happy to be recapturing their youth that their happiness spills over into each other.

It's poems like "Love Moving Though Backfields" that makes me wish I had a poetry discussion group, because I can't quite decide if I like the ending or not. After spending a day together making dandelion chains, plucking "she loves me/ she loves me not" petals from daisies and so forth, a couple makes loves to one another amongst the pine needles and the poem ends with the lines "The burdock dentist knows no distance/ greater than the purple sob." While I didn't get the "burdock dentist" I thought "purple sob" surely described ejaculation and with such word choice as "sob" and "distance", I thought it was Cook's way of pinpointing when the moment was effectively ruined. Suddenly, with the finality of their "adult" act, they are aware of their distance from their youth. Though, I still wasn't fussy on the lines. The whole "purple sob" to me seemed a little too much like frat-house humour- almost like a missing line from Monty Python's "The Penis Song". I don't know, maybe the word "purple" itself is just too silly sounding a word to be used in a serious poem. Looking up the word "burdock" it becomes clear that "purple" is used to describe the literal setting as well, but as for the "dentist" I'm at a complete loss. Any takers?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Reader's Diary #55- Exodus (up to Ch. 11)


Exodus seems to be the original superhero story. It's so easy to draw comparisons with Moses to Superman, Spiderman, Batman and even the X-Men to some extent.

Now I'm not a comic book nut by any stretch, but I'm at least familiar enough to be able to see similarities in Moses' story and the aforementioned heroes. I'll start with Superman. Remember how Superman was sent to Earth in that Matrix thingy? It seems a little bit like the whole Moses in the basket story only sci-fied up a bit.

I also like the presentation of Moses' character. The fact that three of the world's major religions look up to Moses, says something about his appeal. Without a doubt he's a quintessential man's man (no wonder Heston played him)- he quite often uses violence and/or threats to take care of business. But for all that, he's not shown as some perfect vigilante who knows exactly how to handle a situation. I liked for example, how Moses complains to God that he won't be able to convince the pharaoh to let his people go because he's not able to speak eloquently. While people sometimes make similar comments about Clark Kent- I think the average guy award goes to Spiderman's alter ego, Peter Parker. It's the human side of Spiderman that appeals to such critics as Roger Ebert and I think a parallel can be found in Moses.

While Bruce Wayne isn't exactly the average Joe that Peter Parker and Moses are, there are still similarities to be found in the stories of Moses and Batman as well. Most striking in its similarity is not Batman himself, but Robin. Moses was blessed with the original sidekick, i.e., Aaron, and while it might be a stretch to say Robin and Aaron were alike- the whole idea of a sidekick is.

Finally, X-Men. No Moses wasn't a mutant. But like Storm he did control the weather- causing a hailstorm to fall upon Egypt for instance. And certainly a case can be made that the mutants were cast aside and persecuted by society much like the Israelites. But try as I might, I can't really make a case for Charles Xavier being God-like. At least not through the story of Exodus. Charles Xavier wants peace amongst humans and mutants, but God (in the story of Exodus anyway) seems to heavily favour the Israelites over the Egyptians. Of course, that's the beauty of God's character in Exodus. He maintains much more mystique than Moses or the pharaoh and no great surprise, is very complex. I love how He converses with Moses and tells him what to do, yet He is presented as omnipotent (referring to times when He hardened the pharaoh's heart) and omniscient (referring to times when He tells Moses ahead of time that the pharaoh will still refuse to let them go). As a reader you grasp the whole idea of a master plan, when you realize that He's not only calling the "good" shots but the "bad" ones as well. Very intriguing, wouldn't you say?

Finally, I'd like to comment on the pharaoh as a supervillain. While he's hard to like as a person, as a character he's friggin' awesome. He's got to be one of the vilest and most stubborn characters in literature. Plague after plague (I almost wrote a posting comparing Exodus to modern disaster movies instead of comic book heroes) and the pharaoh still doesn't relent. Occasionally he says "Okay, okay I give up, your people can go" and then he basically says, "Sike!" What a bad-ass! Like I say, he's a pretty despicable person as a historical figure but as a literary character he's a pretty good read.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Reader's Diary #54- David Adams Richards: Hockey Dreams (FINISHED!)


I finished this book a few days ago actually and it made so little impact on me that it was only today that I realized I hadn't blogged about it since. In the end, I haven't changed my views on hockey one way or the other; I'm still ambivalent.

Reading this book is much like listening to any debate in which arguments revolve around overly sentimental anecdotes. At times it was slightly entertaining in the same way any of those nostalgic for the 60s things go (cue Joe Cocker), but the book wasn't a memoir as such- it was more of an essay on why hockey is so important to Canadians and why we should care that it remains so. The gist of his argument seems to me summed up by the sub-title, "memories of a man that couldn't play". What he really means is play on an organized team. And the "man" that couldn't play was an icon; an icon who represented David who was kept off teams because of a limp, his friend Stafford who was almost losing his eyesight via diabetes, another who was looked down upon because of poverty, another because she was female, and so on. At the end we are supposed to see some significance in the fact that not only did they play anyway (in their own games on the Miramachi) but they also held unto their dreams of hockey superstardom. I think we are subtly being told that as Canadians we should do the same, even when our National teams fail miserably at the Olympics (not you Women's team- you did great). But blah, blah, blah. If people want to keep Canada's identity as a nation of Hockey playing youth, go ahead. Maybe my own children will join them- maybe they won't. It'll be their choice, not mine and definitely not David Adams Richards'.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Reader's Diary #53- Exodus (Up to Ch. 7)


So here I am. Giving a literary critique of the Bible. Brave, or what?

Actually, I'm not going to get heavy into a critique of the Bible's literary merits. And I'm definitely not getting into a debate about religion. I used to debate such topics quite a lot, but I'm done with that, thank-you very much. I'll be keeping my beliefs to myself as best I can. What I really aim to do is simply read through the Bible and comment upon it (one book at a time) as if it were a novel, but with the understanding that it is much more; that is has a cultural and literary significance that few other books can compare. I'm presently at Exodus (and I find it hard not to hear that word without singing "Movement of Jah people"). I've already read Genesis and this is my method of getting through the book- one at a time with ample space in between.

To begin, I'll state the obvious. The Bible is a hard book to read. All those "begats" and family trees might make an interesting study for some, but for the casual reader (casual Bible reader- that's an oxymoron if I ever heard one) it's hard not to zone out during those parts. On the other hand, it's a familiar book and as such, not an impossible read. What do I mean by "familiar"? Well, it's like the first time I saw Casablanca. Without having seen the movie in its entirety before, I felt myself almost able to quote verbatim all of the dialogue. The movie has become such a part of pop-culture that you don't even realize all of the references that you missed until you sit down and watch it start to finish. Now magnify that feeling by about 1 000 000, and that's what reading through the Bible is like.

Secondly, the Bible doesn't read like a novel, a nonfiction book, or any other book for that matter. And I guess that was never the intention. Reading through the story of Moses, there's a lot of action and little character building. So, is it more Grisham than Shields? Not even close. For sure there's a lot more moralizing (not as blatant as some people might claim- but that's getting into territory I just finished saying I wouldn't get into), and it's obviously epic.

Yet for all of it's grandeur, I find myself thus far dwelling on trivial things. For instance, why did names like Aaron and Jacob become popular, but Uzziel and Shiphrah are virtually nonexistent? And what's with the seemingly erratic choice of italicized words? For example, "And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God." -Exodus Ch. 5, verse 8.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Reader's Diary #52: Mary Dalton: Merrybegot (FINISHED!)


Earlier I had criticized the publishers for not mentioning the Dictionary of Newfoundland English website until the end. But after completing the book, I can now see an argument for its placement in an afterword.

Working backwards myself, I'll make my argument with the title. As I've said before, "Merrybegot" means bastard. However, if one didn't know this, it might bring up connotations of something happier, "merrier". If one was to run to the dictionary right away and not reflect upon the connotations brought about by the sound of the word, the essence of this collection might be missed. It seems to me that the title is an excellent representation of the poems in this book, which are in turn excellent representations of life in Newfoundland. Just like "merrybegot" masquerades as a prettier word, these poems wear their own masks. Some are tragedies masquerading as comedies and some are comedies masquerading as tragedies. And as our mummering heritage would indicate, we love a good masquerade.

The title is also significant in its meaning. Plenty other words in this book are prettier or funnier sounding than the meaning would suggest, but the "bastard" reference is often applied to Newfoundland's English. And while some might cringe at Newfoundland's English being called "bastardized English" I would question why even the term "bastard" by itself would make anyone cringe in this day and age. The whole "born out of wedlock" thing is exactly one of those pseudo-tragedies mentioned above.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Reader's Diary #51: David Adams Richards: Hockey Dreams (up to p. 175- Ch. 13)

I'll do my best to keep this one reasonably short. I feel the need to comment on an analogy (or is it a metaphor- please someone explain the difference) that Richards uses that helps clarify his point.

At the beginning of Chapter 8, he mentions a song he once heard by a black man, a blues man, from the Mississippi delta. Richards had been more familiar with a later version of the song by some white rockabilly singer of the 60s. As most people were.

Upon hearing the original for the first time, he was sort of taken aback. It wasn't what he'd been used to. But then he considered the history of the song. Record moguls knew the song had something, some je ne sais quoi, but couldn't sell it as it was. They had to make it friendly to the masses, package it in a way that would get the appealing- but superficial- aesthetic across without the underlying roots of the music; the cultural significance and emotion.

Unfortunately, Richards doesn't commit to the analogy. After going on about it for a couple of pages he writes,
"What does this have to do with my hockey book? I don't know. It's just
something I thought I'd mention."
I may not know hockey, but I do have a reasonable knowledge of music, and it was finally an analogy I could grasp. Of course, Canadian hockey is like the old Mississippi blues, and the Americanized (or globalized) ice hockey (to use Richards' terminology), is like rock and roll. Not a perfect analogy to be sure, but one that makes sense. Too bad Richards didn't try to own it. Unless this is that hard-to-grasp sense of humour of his.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Reader's Diary #50- Mary Dalton: Merrybegot (up to "Merrybegot")


I've been asking myself if these poems would stand up as poems if old Newfoundland vernacular was no different than modern words, words that are part of everyday Canadian vocabulary. That is, I've questioned if the word choice is just an interesting gimmick that masks poor quality poems?

A silly, hypothetical question really. It's almost akin to asking if "Jabberwocky" would be poetic if Carroll had used real words. Word choice is the point.

But is a study of old Newfoundland words and phrases the only thing these poems have to offer? I'd have to say it depends on the particular poem. Poems such as "Down The Bay" are little more than doggerels as far as I'm concerned. And occasionally I come across a poem that I think lacks consistency. The best (or worse) example I can think of is "The Cross-Handed Bed". In this particular poem the speaker says that his wife had a waist "like a wasp" and sang like a "wren". Towards the end he (the speaker) says their four-poster bed's "all reefs and sunkers". I'd like any of these images on their own but all jumbled up in a 15 line poem, they seem erratic and don't allow the reader to get "into" the poem.

But those poems, fortunately aren't the most representative of the book. The majority (or so I'm finding) are intelligent and well written. Two favourites "Elt" and "Fairy-Struck" are especially interesting because they come one after the other (as I mentioned before, the poems are arranged alphabetically) and seem like retellings of the same story from two different perspectives. I'm not sure if we're supposed to link the two, but it seems like in "Elt" the speaker is describing a troublemaking man that took advantage of his daughter, while in "Fairy Struck" it seems that the speaker is the daughter and she's describing how she was taken advantage of and her realization. It's interesting to contrast the two poems. The father seems to ridicule the man as a trickster and basically a good-for-nothing, while the daughter paints the man with a more supernatural evil. It says a lot about the characters themselves and is probably realistic. Any father would probably feel somewhat like they've seen this sort of man before and distrust him immensely, but for the daughter who needs to save face and not appear naive she would want to make it seem like he had some sort of spell over her. It's an extremely clever couple of poems.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Reader's Diary #49: David Adams Richards: Hockey Dreams (up to p. 116)


If anyone's taken notice, I've used the word "hyperbole" a lot on my blog. No, I'm not under contract to the good people at Hyperbole.com to give a shout out in every second posting, nor am I trying to prove that I've learned a new word. It's just that I've come across an awful lot of it lately.

Hyperbole is the most common type of humour found in Richards' Hockey Dreams. At least I hope it's humour. It's hard to tell sometimes. When Richards pictures his nuclear family as southern rebels, complete with beards (even his mother), and his extended family as yanks, the humour is obviously intentional. However, when he compares his feelings about Canada losing a hockey game to those of the Romans after being defeated by Hannibal or when he compares the fires they'd light near the Miramachi river as they played hockey to the fires at Waterloo when Wellington defeated Napoleon, you want to believe this hyperbole is done in jest. But it doesn't always come off that way- or I just don't get Richards' comedic stylings.

Asides from that, the other problem I have with this book is the insane number of flashbacks or flashforwards. I can never keep track of which point in history I am supposed to be and it's a little confusing to say the least. Take for example the following paragraphs;
"When we lost the Canada Cup to the Russians in 1981 I refused to watch
hockey... until we won it back in 1984. This was somehow how I felt back then in
the early winter of 1961.
Or worse. I actually felt worse on both occasions than
I can ever describe. I felt like I was to feel after the first game in
1972."
Huh? So when are we now? The whole book is very disjointed and seems to have no chronological anchor. Could it be intentional?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Reader's Diary #48- Bud Davidge (Text)/ Ian Wallace (Illustrations): The Mummer's Song


In P.E.I. one summer I picked up a copy of a children's book called Hockey Night Tonight. It was Stompin' Tom's "Hockey Song" with illustrations aimed at children. I thought it worked great- the folkish quality of the song, with simple rhymes and subject matter seemed in hindsight, destined for a children's book. Newfoundland folk songs could easily be adapted for such a purpose as well if someone was to take up the project. While "The Mummer's Song" probably wouldn't be my first choice for a children's book (for reasons I'll get into later), it works. And yes, I know this is a Christmas book but when your daughter is 2, you find yourself reading such books in March.

While I'm not a particular fan of nostalgic books for children, or of coloured pencil illustrations, in this case both are forgivable. While Newfoundland parents might be nostalgic for the subject matter, children will just be interested in the bizarre costumes and partying customs of the mummers. Non-Newfoundlanders should find the whole thing intriguing. The text is taken straight (almost) from Bud Davidge's "The Mummer's Song" recorded by Simani and has enough rhymes (or near rhymes), rhythms, and silliness to keep all ages entertained.

Ian Wallace does an amazing job with the illustrations. While I usually view coloured pencil illustrations for children's book as good in theory only, this one pulls it off. Dawn Baker has a Newfoundland Alphabet for instance, that because it is done in coloured pencils, pales in comparison to Kevin Major's Canadian abecedarium Eh to Zed. I guess the theory behind choosing colouring pencils is that it's a medium that any child can relate to and it might even inspire them to create their own coloured pencil masterpieces. Unfortunately, the end result is too often a washed-out looking picture that simply bores children. Wallace makes you forget that it's colouring pencils. His attention to detail is uncanny. It's hard to believe that he didn't grow up in Newfoundland. He also chooses very interesting angles- especially in the scenes with the dancing mummers. He captures the pure chaos of the moment showing on a single page, multiple frames of a lamp at various angles (accompanying the text "Be careful the lamp and hold unto the stove.") There's another particularly well done scene at the end with a mummer in the foreground and Granny's house looking peaceful once again in the background. However, there is one picture that I have a small problem with near the beginning; there's a mummer at the children's bedroom window rapping on the pane with a stick. While I do remember that half of the charm of seeing mummers as a kid was being slightly scared of their boisterousness, having them at my bedroom window would have given me nightmares up to the present. It's unfortunate that Wallace chose this bizarre and unrealistic scene because it seems to be the focus of some critiques I have read. For instance, Ruth K. MacDonald (from School Library Journal) refers to the scenes as "scary", "hellish", and "nightmarish". I think MacDonald is being unfair, because with the exception of the one scene I've already described, the book isn't frightening and it does capture the essence of mummering quite well.

I had thought that the publisher's would have made the book a little more p.c. and edited a couple of the original lines. I'm sure there are those out there who would have problem of the mention of "home brew" or saying, "My God, how hot is it?" but I'm glad it was kept in. If I was writing a children's book, I'd probably avoid topics that might get me banned from school libraries (though I haven't heard of this one getting any heat) but that's not why this book was originally written. It was a song first, and so the the text should be true to the original lyrics. Furthermore, home brew was a popular drink of choice for mummers, like it or not. However, so was "alchy" and that's where the book's one attempt at censoring comes in. As far as I know (correct me if I'm wrong) the original line goes "Don't 'spose you fine Mummers will turn down a drop/ No home brew, nor alchy whatever you got" but in this book "alchy" has been changed to "syrup". I realize that syrup is a big Newfoundland tradition too, but the change was unnecessary. While offering NABs to the mummers is a nice gesture, it wasn't the original lyric and I doubt it'll improve the book to those who are offended by "alchy" anyway- afterall "home brew" was left in. Furthermore, if you were a person who was attracted to this book- out of nostalgia- I think you know that mummering involves drinking anyway and reading a book about it to your children is a choice you'd make on your own.

A few last comments about the book's special features; the afterward is written by Kevin Major and is especially good for mainlanders buying the book out of some cultural curiousity. It details what Newfoundland mummering is (was) all about. Also, it has the notation for anyone who wishes to "plank-er down."

Friday, March 10, 2006

Reader's Diary #47- David Adams Richards: Hockey Dreams (up to p. 66)

I'm still enjoying Richards' easy style and often funny memoirs- though since a little book called A Million Little Pieces I'm skeptical that some of the humour was played up a little, not that I'd care much with this particular book.

Though I am a little bothered by Richards' paranoia about the non-hockeyphiles such as myself. He's pretty adamant that nonhockey fans are out to destroy the game or at the very least downplay its significance. And while this might be true with a few people, I'm very doubtful many feel this way. I certainly don't. I respect hockey's role in Canada's culture and our identity. And while I might like Canadians to be known for something as well, I wouldn't wish it in lieu of hockey.

I'd like to see this book be rereleased with a new preface or afterward from Richards' on his view of last year's strike. In commenting on the number of U.S. teams versus the number of Canadian teams, he makes the comment that big business is to blame. Well, I'd go even further since the strike. If anything destroys hockey's place as one of our two national sports, it'll be big business. If I were a satirical cartoonist, I'd put one here with let's say the "Grim Reaper" with a dollar sign in the hood, and a large scythe swinging and lopping the heads of a hockey player, a rockstar and a chef- just three of the latest victims of capitalism. If you wish to join the communist party please send a SASE to...just kidding (about the last part anyway).

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Reader's Diary #46- Mary Dalton: Merrybegot (Up to Conkerbells)


When I enrolled in my second required English course, back in my first year at MUN, at had no idea I was about to be educated by greatness. At the end of the semester, I still hadn't known.

Greatness in this case, was Mary Dalton. Compared to my very first English prof, Win Mellor who was fun, effervescent and made English exciting, I found Dalton dull, melancholy and tiresome. Now, I'm willing to concede that maybe a lot of this perception was my own teenage shallowness. Still only 18, I looked at her, her long gray hair, and perpetual baggy black sweaters and ankle length skirts as a tired old glump with a depressing syllabus. I had no idea of her accomplishments at the time and at the time I'm not sure if it would have mattered anyway.

But since then I've adapted my view on Dalton, or at least I am open to the idea that I was wrong. I'll tell myself that it's not because I found out she was a "somebody" that I've seen her in a different light. I think it's because I've had a few more glimpses into who Mary Dalton is since then that weren't apparent to me before. A friend and colleague of mine told me how she mentored him and others in the MUN Poetry Society and found her to be approachable and helpful. Hmmm. And then I've checked out some of her poetry I've found online. Not stuffy or depressing. Hmmm again. Plus she's successful (there I said it- I'm such a sycophant).

Anyway, Merrybegot is so far charming and intelligent and most surprising for me- fun. The poems (seemingly compiled by no other system than alphabetical) are heavily salted with old Newfoundland words and idioms. At first I thought this would be off-putting. Like my frequent complaint about Greek mythology references, I was prepared to slam this book for not being accessible to anyone without a Dictionary Of Newfoundland English- but that isn't the case. While my upbringing in an outport gives me some advantage I guess (I do know what "all mops and brooms" means) a lot of these words went out of fashion a while ago (which I imagine is much of the rationale behind the book). However, instead of rushing out and buying the dictionary (which while I'm told is quite good- I just can't afford right now) it's been a pleasure to try and get these words out of context- and when I'm not able to do that, I've actually had some luck through the internet. For example, the title Merrybegot means bastard, "conkerbells" means poop, and "raffish" means characterized by vulgarity or crudeness. As you can tell by these meanings, there's a certain michievious quality about the poems, and this is part of the reason the poems are so fun (especially when you've had the impression of Dalton that I've had). It's the kind of humour I think Newfoundlanders generally do so well, and that I suspect that the Hatching, Matching and Dispatching crowd are trying to capitalize on (poorly). Many of the words also have a fantastic aesthetic quality to them- sort of a lilt that makes me think of a jig. How very Newfoundland.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Reader's Diary #45- David Adams Richards: Hockey Dreams (up to p. 15)


To some of you, me choosing to read a book about hockey isn't all that shocking, but for a certain few (i.e., those that know me) the idea of me reading about hockey is like the pope reading Da Vinci Code. Okay, so that's an example of hyperbole. But my point is, I'm not exactly known for my love of (or skill in) hockey.

That's not to say I dislike the sport. I'm ambivalent for the most part (despite Richards' assertion that "no one is indifferent to hockey in our country."). This either says a lot about me or the sport itself, because I'd have plenty of reason to resent the game if I was the sort of person who went around resenting games- I'm looking in your direction Scotland Yard.) It was bad enough having a sport being a source of discord between me and my father, but there were times growing up in Canada when I felt like he had the entire country on his side. Oh I tried to like it, I really did. When my cousin got drafted into the NHL (which apparently is a big deal- who knew?) I cut out clipping after clipping of Calgary Flames stories and statistics from the Hockey News and pasted them in a scrapbook entitled the Life of Gary Roberts -or something to that effect (my apologies to my many other cousins who have yet to earn their own scrapbook). But alas, cutting and pasting didn't work. Hockey never really did it for me, maybe because I'm a horrible skater- but maybe I'm a horrible skater because I never liked hockey. Anyway, all that's behind the reasoning I chose Hockey Dreams. It is subtitled "Memories of A Man Who Couldn't Play" and I took this to mean (mistakenly) that David Richard Adams was perhaps some sort of kindred spirit, reflecting on being ice-challenged in a pro-hockey culture. But when the book arrived from Amazon, I quickly figured out that wasn't the case. While I haven't yet figured out what is meant by the subtitle, it is clear that Adams played hockey and is in love with the sport. But I've come to terms with my eccentricity as a non-hockey-worshipping Canadian and even "get it" to some extent. I remember going into a Chinese restaurant in downtown Calgary and being wrapped up in the excitement with all the businessmen/cowboys while they hooted and hollered for the men's Olympic team during the Salt Lake City games. I respect anything that demands that much respect even if I myself don't understand it, get it? (Why does that sound like something Chrissy Snow would say?). And I'm a little interested in Adams' writing because he doesn't seem to fit the mold of author- especially a Giller Prize winning author. Why is it that arts and athletics seem so far apart? I like it when exceptions come along, even if I, personally wouldn't be such an exception.

As you'll notice I haven't commented much on the book this time around. That's because I'm only 15 pages in, and I felt perhaps a little explanation was in order (perhaps as much for myself as for anyone else). But I will say that so far I like his style; conversational, witty, and elegantly put. A favourite line so far is, "The snowflakes were as big as sugar cookies."

So what if the book is about hockey? It's a part of this country and if I can't enjoy it, at least I can try to understand it a little more.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Reader's Diary #44- Margaret Atwood: Selected Poems II (FINISHED!)


Dear Margaret, I love your lovable lunatic ways and even your zany Canadarm Pen, but it's time we parted ways for a little while.
It's me, not you. So don't beat yourself up over this. I'm a terrible reader of poems. I'm lazy- I rush through. I don't research the Greek myths. So me liking one of your poems is mostly up to chance, likewise me disliking them, likewise me understanding them.

I know you hate when I do this, but an ex of mine once said, "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." Well, it's just that your truth sometimes feels completely flipped over on its ass. No, no that's harsh. It's me, I'm missing something when you say things like
"The hookworm, in the eye of/ the universe, which is the unsteady gaze/ of eternity maybe, is beloved." - from Three Praises
Perhaps we're just from different worlds, you and I. And no, it's not the werewolf thing.*

I want you to know though that I did cherish some of our poems together. Squaw Lilies was a gem. I really respected your views on human interpretation and our nasty habit of labeling- even though I wonder what choice we have. And I swear I wasn't turned off by fear of getting older. Honestly. Though three Aging Female Poet poems may have been a bit much. I'm just saying.

If we're being perfectly honest with one another, there were times when I thought you were a little self-centered. The Words Continue Their Journey, Aging Female Poet Reads Little Magazines and well, we don't have to rehash this. I think I've hurt you enough already.

And I'll look back fondly at the time we shared on Georgia Beach, being in A Boat with you, and especially when we took the Bus to Alliston together. I can only hope that you will remember me as well.

Let's stay in touch,
John

(* The werewolf thing:

Exhibit L: "...in the watery moonlight..." - from The Robber Bridegroom

Exhibit M: "...the moon pours out its beauty..." - from No Name

Exhibit N: Interlunar

Exhibit O: "...moonstruck treetrunks..." - from (Brace yourself!) Werewolf Movies

Exhibit P: "...the moon to a disc you could aim at..." - from Machine. Gun. Nest.

Exhibit Q: "...and the new moon sheds grace..." - from Galianio Coast

Exhibit R: Not The Moon

I rest my case.)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Reader's Diary #43- Terry Pratchett: Carpe Jugulum (FINISHED!)


Ah to be done this book. Sigh of relief. Mostly because I won't have to stress about offending Scotty again after this final post. Ever had a friend recommend a book or movie to you that you just didn't like? It's awkward. Especially when you're expected to give critiques of said book or movie. I'd like to take this as a lesson not to take recommendations from people I know, but I know I will. In fact, I'll even go looking for them again. Even from you Scotty! (If you'll even bother speaking to me again!)

For a brief moment during this book, I felt like Agnes. For those unfamiliar with Carpe Jugulum, Agnes is a witch with two personalities. At times I was so torn with the book- do I like it or not?- that I considered giving my opposing sides names. But in an effort to avoid going bonkers, I decided against that. And in the long run, I also decided that I didn't like it. So die-hard Discworld fans, the rest of this posting will be anti-Pratchett- so either toddle off or read-on and write me an angry comment or two (just be forewarned that I'll be deleting anything with foul language or hexes on me or my kin.)

This book is a mess. It has so many subplots going on that it's hard to even keep track of what the main one is supposed to be. There's Hodgesaargh and his phoenix finding mission, Agnes and Vlad's near lovestory, Verence's bizarre abduction by the Smurfs, Granny's lost party-invitation sulking fit, Oats' religion-crisis, Lancre's Vampire coup, and Igor's mistreatment by his marthters. To name a few. Most of these were only barely resolved at the end and in such a way that it felt like Pratchett had simply grown tired of the book (I can relate).

Furthermore, the characters were grating. I wasn't expecting a lot of character building, it is afterall the 23rd in the series. I imagine the character building is done overtime. But the supposed icon of the series is Granny Weatherwax, head witch. You wouldn't know it from this book. Sure she saves the day, but until that point she's hardly even a presence. Certainly not enough to get anyone new to Pratchett's writing under her spell. And Nanny's whole schtick seems to be that she's a crass old lady. Oh how droll. Magrat is supposed to be a working mom, and dealing "comically" with her competing roles as witch, queen and motherhood but you can tell by my use of quotation marks how funny I thought her character truly was. Agnes/Perdita I did like. She (They) held my attention and was entertaining. The vampires had an interesting twist. And I liked Oats' character somewhat, just not when Pratchett seemed to "preach" through him.

Will I ever read another Pratchett? Maybe in time. I'm coming across a little harsher perhaps than I really am. I can see the entertainment value of such a book. And while the humour may not be my cup of tea, it certainly isn't braindead American Pie humour and many people obviously enjoy it. Furthermore, fans who started at the beginning may be more enthralled with the characters than I was. It says on Pratchett's site that "generally the books are written to be accessible at any point to anyone" and I paraphrased that in an earlier posting- though now I'm not too sure. I'm definitely not willing to go back and read the first 22 books to find out.

So again, my apologies to Pratchett aficionados- especially Scotty and Rebecca.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Book That Got Away

I'm a pretty stubborn reader. Once I start, I finish- no matter how bad. Except for one book; Thomas Hardy's Tess of the Dubervilles. It doesn't haunt me at night or anything, but I know that someday, when I'm ready, I'm going to scratch the bugger off my list. So why didn't I finish it? I'm not sure. I don't think I was as stubborn in my younger days I guess, because really despite being a little dull I don't think it was a horrendous book. What about you? Any memorable books that got away? Why? And do you ever plan on returning to it?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Reader's Diary #42- Terry Pratchett: Carpe Juglum (up to p. 170)


I feel like I keep flip-flopping on this book. But I'd like to complain once again. This time it's about the character or Mightily Oats.

This should be an interesting character. After a all, he's a priest who's filled with doubts, trying to fend off vampires, and one of the few whose mind doesn't succumb to the vampires for some (as of yet) unknown reason. But Pratchett too often sinks the character in not-so-funny satire. Some of Pratchett's satire works, no doubt about it. As I mentioned in my last posting on this novel, when he satirizes the goth-vampire culture of the 90s it's funny and well done. But when he satirizes world religions (especially Christianity) through Mightily Oats, it's not funny. And please don't let this be misconstrued as me taking offense- I don't offend easily, especially over topics such as these. Nor does Pratchett seem bent on offending (I have no idea what his religious beliefs are). But whatever the case, it's just not funny. First of all it's a little too serious of a topic anyway in such a silly book filled with puns and slapstick. It's like the writers of Gilligan's Island trying to write for This Hour Has 22 minutes. Okay, so it's not that bad. Pratchett's obviously not an idiot. He could probably write for both shows successfully- except for the occasional time that he'd forget which one he was working on at the present.