Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Canada Reads 2007- Day Three

Down with Children! Down with Children!

This has been the best day of the debates so far. Intelligent conversations, no one panelist or book monopolized the discussion, Bill Richardson didn't try to influence the votes, and most importantly, people were honest without being petty. Plus, Children of My Heart was eliminated.

This, as you may remember, was the first book I predicted to go. I even foresaw Denise Bombardier's argument that the other books were too trendy. I shouldn't crow too loudly though. On the Canada Reads site last night I switched from my earlier stance and guessed that Stanley Park would be getting the boot today. It just goes to show; in a multiple choice test you should always go with your initial instincts.

I have to hand it to Bombardier today. She took the loss well. She had anticipated that her book didn't have a great chance and while she did accuse the others of being too trendy, it wasn't said with a lot of bitterness. She might have a point. Each year the good people at Canada Reads post the question, "If you could defend a book at Canada Reads, which book would it be?" (Like they'd ever let an average Joe John have a chance). One book I'd consider is Allistair MacLeod's No Great Mischief. My reluctance would be the same as Bombardier's; it's probably not hip enough. And a book needn't be trendy to be good, she's right about that. However, it's not fair to say that every book needs to feel dated either- and Children of My Heart did. A book is always a product of its time. The trick is making it relevant to whatever time it is, or will be, read. I think Lullabies, Kahunsha, and Natasha will accomplish this. It's hard to say of course, but I think they'll at least be as relevant 30 years from now as what Children is today.

Bombardier should also be commended for speaking her mind about Kahunsha not being Canadian enough in her mind. To say such a thing nowadays is pretty brave- even if you don't agree with her. I can see where she's coming from. I find it funny how Canadians (and I know I'm generalizing) cling to and claim anyone who's ever passed through, as long as they've accomplished anything noteworthy. That said, Anosh Irani is here now and the book was written here, so it's Canadian enough for me. Like Donna Morrissey said (in a surprisingly well-put defense), the themes in the book are universal. Plus, for us Canadians who aren't of Indian descent, why not learn a little bit about another culture? That's pretty Canadian isn't it?

Last year I remember my wife feeling that Cocksure didn't feel Canadian enough for Canada Reads (it was primarily set in Europe). It all comes down to what Canada Reads is to you, the listener (or if you're famous enough, the panelist). When I first started listening to the program a few years ago, I was bothered by the fact that it had no mandate. I complained (loudly enough so that Zsuzsi Gardner took a cheap shot at me- what the hell's the Spicer commission anyway?) that they had no direction, no unified reason that "Every Canadian should read this book." Since then the lack of focus has become one of the reasons that I appreciate the program so much. Some panelists choose because they think it's time Canadians read a funny book, to expose a relatively unknown author, in order to raise the awareness that there are actual poets amongst us, or simply because they like the story. So if Bombardier, or my wife, feels that a book should be set in Canada, or written by someone born here, that's their prerogative. They should just be fair warned that others might have differing opinions.

It was a nail biter today, wasn't it? The first four votes were revealed and there was absolutely no consensus. It was all up to John K. Samson. He stuck to his alliance with Morrissey however, and Children of My Heart was no more.

Jim Cuddy voted for Natasha again. He didn't feel short stories should be competing with novels. I'm not sure why Page hasn't made the argument that Natasha doesn't feel like a collection of short stories. Even if it did though, I disagree with Cuddy. It's okay of course not to like short stories, as is Donna Morrissey's case. Everyone is entitled to their tastes and preferences. But to say they shouldn't even be allowed to compete isn't fair. Hell, I say they should open the contest to non-fiction, religious texts, and even shopping lists as well if someone is crazy enough to defend them.

Another surprise came from Bombardier when she called Stanley Park boring. It is boring, she's right about that, but I had thought she would be Cuddy's only hope. None of the other four panelists have spoken in favour of his book (though Samson had a good point when he said Stanley Park was ambitious). I'm curious now as to which book she will be supporting. The only one I can see is Natasha. She did say something about it having "Jewish wit". Yet Cuddy and Morrissey don't seem keen on it. Once again Samson might be the deciding vote. I love it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Canada Reads 2007- Day Two

Where to begin. I guess with an apology (of sorts) to Steven Page and Jim Cuddy. I said that Page's performance yesterday was passive aggressive. Upon reading other comments that yesterday was somehow gentle or cordial, I questioned my sensitivities. I (as I've already written) didn't feel that way at all. I'm reminded of a comment made by Denise Bombardier today. In response to Donna Morrissey's attack on Roy's book, Bombardier stated "I don't recognize the book when you're talking." That's fair. As Morrissey pointed out yesterday, the readers bring their own personalities and values to the book and likewise, draw their own conclusions. I guess I made my own impressions about yesterday's debate. Anyway, today's another day and I thought Steven Page was much more subdued, yet more honest and direct. I suspect that when he got back to his hotel room last night, he reflected long and hard about improving his performance.

Jim Cuddy. I've been pretty mean spirited where Cuddy is concerned. However, I will say this: he seems very passionate about his book. I have to respect that he isn't trying to sneak it through. Lying low often works, and I can't say I wouldn't try it, but Cuddy's flag waving for Stanley Park is pretty convincing. If I hadn't read it, I think I'd be persuaded to read it based on the strength of his convictions. I'd be disappointed mind you, but that's another issue. I do wish he (and others) could be a little more open minded to short stories (and poetry and...).

So Page and Cuddy polished up their act. How about the others? Today started off very polite. Every insult was delivered a la Mary Poppins, i.e., with a spoonful of sugar. "You're book was beautiful but...". Fortunately, the teeth came out before long.

I know people will be critical of the spat between Morrissey and Bombardier. It did get childish and petty, I admit. When a book debate gets reduced to "you don't know nothing about me" people need to step back a little. Yet, given the choice between being choked with butterflies or strangled with boas, I'd pick the snakes. Quicker, and far more natural.

Morrissey, who I quoted from above, isn't the most graceful is she? I'm not just talking about under pressure either (Bombardier deserved much of what she got). What I mean is, she doesn't come across as all that great with words. Did she really mean "paternalistic" when referring to Children of My Heart? She talked about how she felt like she was on a sugar high while reading it and quoted overwrought descriptors of the children. To me, that is more reflective of maternalism. A funnier example; earlier in the program she used the word "arousion" when she surely meant "arousal". But my favourite example; "I read 587 books. I could have chose 800 of those." It makes me all the more curious to read one of her books. On the one hand, she has a great taste in literature. Her books are usually well received by the critics and she was even asked to be a judge for the Governor General award. On the other hand, she sounds just about as smart as George W. when she speaks.

Tomorrow's outcome will be interesting. Morrissey and Samson seemed to have formed an alliance since yesterday's show, and Steven Page also made a comment about having lots of issues with Stanley Park. Jim Cuddy and Denise Bombardier seem like they're out to get Lullabies. If Morrissey didn't let her feelings about the episode with Bombardier cloud her judgement, I think Stanley Park will go tomorrow. Does anyone know how, since they're a day late with the first vote off, the show will wrap up? Will the panelists have to pick the winner out of three?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Canada Reads 2007- Day One

Day one of Canada Reads is never the high point. But, despite the absence of a castaway, it does give us a indication of what sort of debate it's going to be- conniving? polite? vindictive?

This year's verdict? Conniving.

Steven Page and Jim Cuddy definitely set the tone. Polite Canadians- yeah right. Page started with a passive aggressive swipe at Lullabies and Song of Kahunsha. After hearing a clip of author Bezmozgis stating that a child's voice needs to believable, Page pounced. Well, sort of. Instead of risking alienation from the other panelists, we're left with a "I didn't quite believe the child's voice in the other books" sort of comment. The other books? Let's be specific. But to his credit, he did make a good point about his own book. He said that books that are too rich in imagery often reveal the authorship (arguably even more so in a book about children), and the simple, almost sparse style of Natasha was refreshing.

And while I'm not a fan of Bill Richardson's interjections, he did make the point that Kahunsha is told in the third person. Furthermore, Lullabies is told upon reflection from some unspecified point in the future. The "lack of believability in a child's voice" comment is almost irrelevant. Yet Jim Cuddy saw an opening and went for it. He dwelt upon the unspecific frame of reflection in Lullabies. Potentially, I could see this being a valid point. Yet even assuming this is a flaw, compare it with the vast number of flaws in Stanley Park and it's very forgivable. No wonder the man is trying so hard. Then he moved onto Kahunsha. About Chamdi's love for Guddi, Cuddy said, "He pursues love with dedication and understanding that was hard for me to buy in a 10 year old." I think that illustrates the fundamental problem with the day's entire debate. Adults are all assuming to be experts on children and what's going on their heads. To me, I would think dedicated love is far more common in children. But Cuddy continues, "His love for Guddi is so pure, he's so aware when he's disappointed her, and I had trouble with that." Would pure love amongst adults be more believable? Forgive my cynicism on that point. I'm not saying I'm any more of an expert on children (though I am a teacher and a parent), but Cuddy took on a child psychologist persona that was incredibly annoying.

Sampson and Morrissey did an okay job fending off their attackers, but I didn't get the impression that the attackers were listening (no "good points" or "well saids" were audible). Towards the end the conversation did turn towards Stanley Park but unfortunately they ran out of time. And I was hoping there'd be more talk about Children of My Heart. In fact, in my earlier predictions I had thought it would be the first to go. Looks like my track record this year won't be any better than the last.

I'm not even sure a book will be thrown out tomorrow. In Bill Richardson's first day write-up (on the Canada Reads site) he says that they've "arranged a little surprise for [the panelists], a wee deviation from the norm, something they won't be suspecting." Then at the end of today's program the panelists were not asked to vote out a book. Nor did they say that they would do so tomorrow. I'm a little nervous that all 5 books will make it to the end and all the voting will be done on the final day. If they do it this way, they've screwed up royally. Hearing which book gets reshelved each day is the best part of tuning in! My fingers are crossed that they haven't completely lost their minds.

(Btw, readers will note that I'm still in Iqaluit. The good people at CBC didn't take me up on my not-so-subtle request to visit the studio during these debates- I just want to watch quietly from behind the glass, is that so unreasonable? Geez. Number 1 fan has no privileges. Feel free to email them on my behalf- I can still make it for Friday's finale!)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Reader's Diary #235- Mary Lawson: Crow Lake (up to p. 50)

This is another book club pick that I didn't vote for. It had been on my wishlist for a while but since my wife gave me Lawson's latest, The Other Side of The Bridge for Christmas, I'd rather be reading that right now. I'm always so behind in current literature, I didn't see why we had to do Crow Lake. Anyway, in the interest in democracy, I checked it out of the library and yes, I am enjoying it.

The book so far is told in a friendly, storytelling voice. That's been making me question my own writing. My biggest problem, I'm the first to admit, is simply that I don't. I find too many excuses, procrastinate, and end up getting nothing written. Asides from that, and what Crow Lake has reminded me, is that I don't know how I want to write. Often when I read things like Crow Lake, I think, "Great, no bullshit, no overly flowery language that no one understands, just simple, good old fashioned storytelling at its best. This is how I should write." Then I pick up another book with eccentric characters, non-chronological storyline, symbolism and switches in voice and perspective and so forth and I think, "great, someone who's not afraid to take risks, fun experimentation and it challenges me. This is how I should write."

Maybe my problems are related to one other. Maybe if I wrote more I'd know which style best suited me. Or maybe I'd see that I didn't have to pick one over the other. I definitely need to be more disciplined. I know what that means though; I need to read less. My obsession with reading was born out of wanting to write. I didn't feel I could write unless I read more, understood poetry, and so forth. Now, it's time to cut back and I can't. Books, sadly, don't come with methadone.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Reader's Diary #234- Bronwen Wallace: Common Magic (FINISHED)

Oddly, this book made me think of my son's Magnadoodle. The way Wallace describes relationships, how we connect to people -almost magically- is a Magnadoodle picture. They come to us like iron filings on a magnetic pen and leave a picture that seems permanent. But then along comes life and swipes the board clean. The picture could be redrawn, but you know it isn't going to be the same- for better or for worse.

Three such relationships drawn by Wallace are with her sister, her husband, and her son. In the first, the picture of two sisters, the swipe comes from the revelation that Wallace's sister was in an abusive relationship and had been keeping it from her. As the picture is redrawn, one suspects the bond between the two will be stronger despite the painful memories that linger.

With the husband, the swipe comes from stress and the realization that they have grown apart. Unlike a lot of divorced couples, Wallace picked up the Magnadoodle pen and drew another picture: that of an acquaintance with whom she once shared a life.

The last, and probably one of those I found most difficult, was about her son. The swipe in this case comes from the realization that her son is (and has been) slowly growing into himself, and thus becoming independent of her. In keeping with the analogy, it's as if Wallace suddenly found herself on the other side of the Magnadoodle watching her son's hands reach for the swipe. This last one seems a little too "half-empty" gazing for my taste, but then it's told from a mother's perspective and as Wallace reminds me, mothers start saying goodbye the moment they say hello.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Canada Reads 2007- One Week Away!!!

Just one week from now the entire nation will be shushing their kids, pulling over in their cars, and buying batteries for their radios in case there's a power outage. Canada Reads 2007. I've bought a giant foam finger with "Lullabies #1!!!" scrawled across the front.

Maybe not. Nor will I be having a Canada Reads pre-game party. I found only 4 people who had read all 5 contenders and we would have to have met this past weekend. One of those 4 came down with the flu, and let's face it, four's pretty sad for a party. Three's even sadder. (Maybe having a Canada Reads party in the first place is saddest of all- but then, what do I care?). And now, one of the readers has up and gone to Costa Rica. Didn't they hear the memo on This Hour Has 22 Minutes? The day the dates were set, we were all supposed to cancel our vacation plans.

But even without the party, I'm still psyched. Due in part to the Canada Reads site and the CBC Words At Large site. On the first, there's a letter from a friend of mine who's read all 5 books and given her predictions (the only difference from mine is picking Kahunsha over Lullabies). Plus, there's a response to me from Heather O'Neill (which is pretty cool!).

I've also passed along a couple of suggestions to post on the "Your Say" section. I'll offer them here as well, in case they don't use them. Design a 10 song playlist for this year's debates (keeping in mind all 5 books and panelists). And, design a menu (same considerations).

Finally, the Words at Large site. Their pre-Canada Reads stuff is fantastic. They have interviews with the authors, the panelists, and interviews of the authors by the panelists! It's great for geeks like me who just can't wait.

And now that I've plugged the CBC relentlessly, where the heck's my trip to Toronto?

Reader's Diary #233- Dillon Wallace: Lure of the Labrador Wild (FINISHED)

With the premiere of Amazing Race 11 last night and children's ear infections tonight, I was starting to think I might never blog again. But now that the night is drawing to a close, I need to unwind. So damn the pigsty that is the kitchen, I'm not going to write just one post, I'm going to make it a two-poster night!

First, let me just say, the following comments are hypothetical (lest any descendants of Wallace stumble upon this blog).

It occurred to me as I neared the end of the book that the whole thing could have been a ruse. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, in those days before C.S.I. Goose Bay first aired, Wallace could have offed Hubbard himself. Who knows? As the book version goes, Hubbard is starving to death so Wallace and George leave him in a last ditch effort to get help. As they came across some mouldy flour they had cached earlier, Wallace tries to take it back to Hubbard while George continues on. In the end, their efforts were in vain. Wallace never found Hubbard. Instead, rescuers (sent back by George) found Wallace and later tracked down the body of Hubbard.'s entirely possible that as George went off to get help, Wallace found Hubbard rather quickly and smothered him, then moved on and pretended never to have found him at all. Why, what motive? Let's see... Maybe to put him out of his misery. Maybe reciprocated love (okay, that one is really unsubstantiated!). Maybe to get the book deal himself. I really don't have anything to base any of this on except for the praise Wallace heaped on Wallace posthumously. It seemed a bit much, almost forced, as someone might do who is feeling guilty and/or trying to avoid suspicion. Besides, I just wanted to throw the scenario out there to comment on how far we've come in terms of criminal investigations. I say smothered, by the way, because the discoverers surely would have noticed had Wallace shot, bludgeoned, or stabbed Hubbard to death, but I doubt they would have had the expertise to recognize smothering and in the end, they quickly jumped to the most logical conclusion. As far as I know, the matter has never been questioned. Inquiry! Inquiry, I say!

Asides from that, the only additional comment I'd like to make is on the character of George. As I mentioned before, this book is (or was) taught in high schools all across Newfoundland and Labrador. Because I dodged that experience under mysterious circumstances, I don't know how teachers approach this task. However, if they don't do character comparisons, I'd be very surprised. I found myself doing this quite often. Unintentionally (this is nonfiction after all), George provided much needed comic relief and grounding. As Hubbard and Wallace quoted Kipling and philosophized about loneliness, George shook his head and killed grouse. Discuss the theme of practicality versus romanticism as it is represented through Hubbard, Wallace, and George (10 pts)...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Reader's Diary #232- Dillon Wallace: The Lure of The Labrador Wild (up to "The Parting")

I'm not sure if the the title was an editor's suggestion or not, but I don't think it fits. "Lure" seems to imply that readers will be getting a tourist brochure treatment of the place- not so (unless said tourists think starving to death is a great way to spend a vacation). The only way the title could be perceived as appropriate is in the sense that the Labrador wild could lure a person to an untimely demise.
And that's what makes the book so compelling. Very early on Wallace lets the reader know that a tragedy is imminent, yet oddly that doesn't spoil the book. In fact it becomes a study of death and how its threat affects minds and actions. If that doesn't appeal to your morbid fascinations than I don't know what will. Actually, that's not true. Saw III this is not. But it's interesting nonetheless.
The two most telling indications that the ordeal is taking its toll on the travelling trio is the conversations about literature and about food. As the trip begins, Hubbard often quotes Kipling, Wallace is reminded of Poe poems, and such literary references show their frame of mind; the still have a romanticized view of Labrador and of the adventure. But as starvation sets in and they become weak and face death, poetry is replaced with the Bible. The men are trying to find peace and trying to make sense of their hardships and, like many do, they turn to religion. It's fascinating to see that as the men devise one last plan of escape and allow themselves another moment of hope, Hubbard turns back to literature and quotes an optimistic Longfellow line, "Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;/Behind the clouds is the sun still shining."
Food plays a vital part in the tale as well. In fact, hunger itself is pretty much the fourth companion and the most dominating one at that. As lack of food takes its toll and the men live almost solely on the chance of getting a few grouse or trout, the men reminisce about past meals and plan on restaurants they will visit when they make it out. It's a great book to compare to Stanley Park actually. Whereas that book was preoccupied with food based on the protagonist being a chef, this one views food as a necessity. Yet both books revolve around country food.
And before I forget... I made a comment in my last Labrador posting about the men bumbling through the woods, I may have been a bit unfair. While yes, they got lost on more than one occasion, ripped their clothing many times, and so on, they are far more capable than I and I am often amazed with their knack of finding food and enduring all of the hardships (even if the trip was ill-conceived in the first place).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Reader's Diary #231- Bronwen Wallace: Common Magic (up to "Dreams of Rescue")

Believe it or not, I did not set out to make this "Wallace Month" or anything. The fact that I'm concurrently reading Dillon Wallace and Bronwen Wallace is pure coincidence (in fact, I didn't even realize it until I sat down to write this posting). Magic? Nah.

If I had blogged about this book just 4 or 5 poems ago, my review probably would have seemed harsher. It's not that the poems are suddenly getting better, I'm just now adapting to her writing and seeing that they aren't bad. In fact their quite good. My only problem is

Wait, before I get to that, I should let you know. I'm not a bag fan of The Sound Of Music. And before anyone suggests that it's one of those movies you either love or hate, you're wrong. I thought it was okay, just too long. Personally, I thought it should have ended when Maria finally kissed the Captain in the gazebo. The rest, the part with the nazis, was good too, but could have been The Sound of Music, Part II or something. So now that my opinions can be written off as those of a complete and utter moron, I shall get back to Wallace's Common Magic...

Wallace's poems like The Sound of Music, are simply too long. On a few occasions, I found myself getting to the end of a page thinking, "Brilliant!". But then I'd turned the page. The poem, it seemed, kept going. The latter halves, more often than not, just didn't seem to add anything.

Still it is a good read. Written in a very personal voice, it could be very comforting book for anyone at a self-analyzing stage in thon life. But more importantly, there's a lot of great imagery. Lately I've been lucky to find very strong imagery in the poems I've read and Wallace is no exception. Written as a woman who works with troubled, delinquent boys, she says they remind her
"[...]of that game she used to play
at the cottage, in August, when there was nothing
left to do: hauling waterlogged wood
out of the bay, to push it
over the edge of the dock,
watch it sink again
into the thick, dull water."

What a great image to represent her sense of deflation and being stuck in a rut without saying she was deflated and stuck in a rut. Thick, dull, waterlogged- the sounds, the connotations, all come together to represent her impression and emotions better than any literal essay could. This is what poetry is about and why it can be a fantastic art form.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Reader's Diary #230- Dillon Wallace: The Lure Of The Labrador Wild (up to "Michikamau Or Bust")

Newfoundlanders, at least those from my generation, all have a slightly different high school and junior high experience from the rest of the country. Like most Canadians, we studied Shakespeare, Lord of The Flies and Anne Frank: Diary of A Young Girl. But there were a handful of books common only to us; Cassie Brown's Death On The Ice, Harold Horwood's Bartlett: The Great Explorer, and Dillon Wallace's The Lure Of The Labrador Wild. Yet oddly, I missed that last one. I don't remember if I had gotten sick, if the teacher simply ran out of time in the school year, or what exactly happened, but I missed it. So 13 years out of high school, it's time to catch up.

To be honest, I had forgotten about this book. It was only when The Woman Who Mapped Labrador: The Life and Expedition Diary of Mina Hubbard was nominated for the province's prestigious Winterset Award that I had heard of it in years (Mina was the wife of Leonidas Hubbard, the explorer featured in Lure of The Labrador Wild). I decided then that I'd go back and read Leonidas' story before tackling the other.

Written by one of Hubbard's travelling companions, Dillon Wallace, this is the story of three men as they set off to map and explore the interior of Labrador back in the early 1900s. Having been written back then as well, the book shows its age; sometimes the vocabulary and even grammar seem dated. However, the language is not archaic by any means and I think most people would still consider it an easy read.

For the most part, I am enjoying it. Hubbard and Wallace were from New York (the third was George Elson, an outdoorsman from James Bay) and to read about a couple of men so compelled and intrigued by the province is interesting to say the least. Though I can't help but feel at times like I'm siding with nature when it comes to their struggle. It's hard, I admit, for me to get into the heads of these early ecotourists. The people of Labrador at the time, rarely (if at all) travelled to the parts to which they were headed. The Labradorians lived where they did out of necessity, not in such pursuits of these two men. In fact, they avoided those spots out of necessity as well, they were dangerous. The idea that they were there to map the area comes across as merely a guise, an excuse to set forth (and get financing for) a rather ill-conceived adventure.

It's also a little hard to find a lot of sympathy when Wallace pompously derides some of the people living along the coastline:

"Steve was a characteristic livyere, shiftless and ambitionless."

While this particular individual may have indeed been shiftless and ambitionless, it felt unfair that Wallace seemed to making generalizations, generalizations which I suspected were based more on his (Wallace's) values than on truth. My theory was confirmed a little later upon reading Wallace and Hubbard's meeting Joe Lloyd. Joe Lloyd, as he is described, was an intelligent Englishman who chose not to return to Europe after apprenticing aboard a fishing vessel.
"At last he married an Eskimo woman and bound himself fast to the cold rocks of
Labrador, where he will spend the rest of his life, eking out a miserable
existence, a lonely exile from his native England."
Joe apparently had made the mistake of asking of news about England. This request impressed upon Wallace so much that he could think of few things "more pathetic than that old man's life up there on that isolated and desolate island [Big black Island]". The thought that this man chose to live in Labrador and may have found true love, didn't occur to Wallace. He asked about England, surely this proved how meaningless his life had become.

Such comments have thus far made it hard to sympathize for these characters as they bumble through the woods, getting lost and tortured by black flies. This doesn't mean that I'd not care about people dying simply because they were offensive, but so far in the book, death hasn't really made it's presence felt (though I am aware of the tragic ending). Once things are looking bleaker, I'm sure I'll be rooting for them, but for now bring on the bugs.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Canada Reads 2007- Predictions and Hopes

Since my abysmal skill at predicting last year's winner, I vowed never to look into my crystal ball ever again (actually, I vowed to read a Tom Clancy book if I was wrong- and that hasn't happened either). But nuts to resolutions, predicting is fun.

So here we go, the losers and winner of Canada Reads 2007:

Day Two: Children of My Heart will stop beating. Personally, I think it and Stanley Park are the long shots. I don't think either one is all that great, and Roy is too big of a name. Plus, for some reason I don't think its defender, Denise Bombardier will fit in well with the rockstars.

Day Three: Lullabies For Little Criminals will say "Good Night"- The big shocker. It probably poses the biggest threat. It's deals with children, which is a major aspect of three of the books, but unlike the others it's funny and somewhat hopeful. Most importantly, it's being defended by John K. Samson. He's the most recent winner and therefore, the biggest target. Bombardier will say it's too trendy, Donna Morrissey will say the ending feels too unbelievable. The real reason it'll go this early? It's the best book. No one wants to compete against it.

Day Four: This will mark "the end" of Natasha and Other Stories- Steven Page will be this book's biggest enemy. He's going to push too hard and offend the others (maybe declaring that he didn't even read the other selections perhaps?). The other panelists won't blame him outright however. Given reasons will include: it was lacklustre, it was not as good as the two remaining books, and the voting was just strategic.

This will leave just Stanley Park and The Song of Kahunsha. Today, Morrissey will do some damage to her defense. She'll insist, despite quite aggressive insistence otherwise, that Kahunsha is hopeful. As much I like this book, it is not optimistic, and though I'd love to hear otherwise, I think her argument will be unconvincing. Cuddy on the other hand will suggest that Stanley Park on the other hand, is a hopeful book (he'll spot the weakness of his prey and pounce). Furthermore, he'll make an appeal that as artists, everyone on the panel should be able to relate to the trials of Jeremy, the artistic chef from his book. Adding one of his trademark "subtleties", host Bill Richardson will end the show by reminding everyone that rockstars always win. But...

Day Five: Stanley Park will be hit with a cold, almost winterlike truth- Really, the only reason it will make it this far is because it never really stood a chance (sadly, this is what happened to Al Purdy's book last year). Bombardier will say it was too trendy and Morrissey will say it was too dull. Samson will say that he really enjoyed the "surprise ending" and declare that The Song of Kahunsha was still too bleak (and apologize profusely to Morrissey, even offering to take her out for dinner to make it up to her). Of course that means the voting will be 2-2 (Cuddy isn't going to pull a Trudeau and vote against his own book). Page will now be providing the "nail-biting" suspense. He'll ramble on (perhaps with the insistence of a director in his headset), trying to make us think that he'd actually for one second considered Stanley Park, but in the end he'll pick

Winner- Canada Reads 2007!!!
And I won't be disappointed. It's often been the case in the past that my second favourite book has won the debates. But, if I could pick, my list would go, from worst (5) to best (1)-
5. Stanley Park-Timothy Taylor
4. Children Of My Heart- Gabrielle Roy
3. Natasha and Other Stories- David Bezmozgis
2. The Song Of Kahunsha- Anosh Irani
1. Lullabies For Little Criminals- Heather O'Neill

Writer's Diary #17- Play Idea

I got an email last night from the local theatre group (which I was supposed to be part of, but haven't been yet). In it they said they were considering working with the local writing group (which I am a part of) in coming up with an original play. I'm very excited about the possibility even though I've never written a play before, and have only seen or read a few. But I think with everyone working together, it could come together. My idea, which I'm going to present them with this Monday, is only that, an idea. The story itself will still need to be worked out. Loosely inspired by the Scoobius Pip song "Angles" and a recent Argentinian political ad I saw on YouTube, here's my idea:

The first scene opens at centre stage. Two people are involved in a violent conflict in which someone gets hurt or even killed. From that point on, the stage and scenes are divided, left and right. On the left scenes will work backwards, showing events which led up to the conflict. On the right, alternating scenes will work forwards, showing events which arose as a consequence of the conflict. As scenes alternate left and right, the other side will be darkened. This will continue until the final scene(s) in which both sides are lit, and the two scenes will be identical, even having lines delivered in unison.

The premise, or point I'm trying to get across, is that history is cyclical, repetitive. Not an entirely original idea of course, but delivered in an interesting way. I know traditionally stories work forward (with occasional flashbacks) and I also know it's been trendy (or faddish) to show stories working backward lately, so why not combined the two?

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Reader's Diary #229- Gabrielle Roy: Children of My Heart (FINISHED!) defines sentimentality as mawkishness; falsely emotional in a maudlin way; extravagant or affected feeling or emotion.

"...he asked, 'There's mystery everywhere, don't you think?'
Silently my lips formed the only words that came to my heart: Oh Mederic, Mederic!"
- Gabrielle Roy, Children of My Heart (a teacher reflects on a moment shared with a student- who has just thrown flowers to her threw a moving train window, by the way)

"The time came to separate for good from these children whom I held as close to my heart as if they had been my own. But what am I saying! They were mine, and would be mine even when I had forgotten their names and faces, remaining a part of me as I would a part of them, by virtue of the most mysterious possessive force in existence, one that sometimes even surpasses the bond of blood."
- Gabrielle Roy, Children of My Heart (as a teacher prepares to say goodbye to her students)

Yet when I listened to Canada Reads panelist Denise Bombardier discuss this book with McGill prof Jane Everett, I was gobsmacked. Had they read the same book as I? One of the strengths of the book, according to these great pillars of knowledge, is its lack of sentimentality, Roy's avoidance of being overly nostalgic! Say what?!

Unfortunately it's comments like those which almost make me dislike the book more. But really, if I'm being fair, it does has it's strong points, especially with the last story. Basically it's a story about a teacher falling for a student. Oddly, Roy doesn't present this a perversely as our 21st century minds might think. In this case the teacher is 18, the student is 14, and the feelings are never acted upon in a physical way, nor are they even revealed blatantly to one another. What's more compelling than the plot, is several uses of animals as symbols. Specifically, I love that Meredic's horse Gaspard is an extension of his character. Also, there's a nice scene with the two main characters at a trout pool:

"Meredic and I knew the most innocent of joys when we thought these timid creatures were tamed within our hands and taking pleasure in our company."

Roy is most likely not talking about the fish at all. I loved when Roy reached out poetically rather than using emotional hyperbole.

But so as not to leave the impression that my feelings for the book were half and half, I do have another beef; Roy's use of weather. This is where her writing seems dated, almost like those old black and white movies which insisted on showing the female lead in a frosty, unearthly glow. Thanks in part to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), we're all quite aware of the impact the environment can have on our moods, and even actions. But why did the authors of years gone (especially the Canadian ones) seem to think that the weather was also affected by the moods and actions of us mere mortals? Meredic's father offends him and his teacher and suddenly a blizzard shows up. Likewise when they are happy, the sun seems to come out. If presented the other way around this would be fine, otherwise it feels a little too convenient, and fictional.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Reader's Diary #228- Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd: Goodnight Moon

A while ago, another blogger, offended by some of my comments suggested that I go back and read Goodnight Moon. Great suggestion.
As many children and parents have come to understand, Goodnight Moon is a great book. My wife thinks it's a little overrated, and to some extent she's probably right. I think maybe parents, out of nostalgia, push their childhood favourites on their kids. I remember one parent telling me how their daughter loves Dick and Jane books, and is even learning to read because of them (they're making a resurgence, in case you didn't know). At least the ends justify the means because I'm not a big fan of those books. Furthermore, I felt like saying, "if you'd only shown that much enthusiasm for other, BETTER books...!" but anyway, I didn't and to get back on topic, even if Goodnight Moon lives on mostly because our parents (or grandparents) liked it, it's still a good book.

What I like most (and this will reveal the teacher in me) is how great of a "learning to read" tool it can be. While children seem to like it for the rhymes, the relaxing, almost soothing text, and possibly the illustrations (which I'll discuss later), I like it for how well the text matches the pictures and for the repetition. Also, it's an easy book to memorize and while parents sometimes scoff at kids reading merely by memorization, I welcome it. It builds confidence and I think they absorb more that way than we realize.

The illustrations are not my favourite. I do like how time passes in each picture (they room gets slightly darker, the moon rises, and the clock changes), but they don't seem terribly creative to me, nor do I think they have much of a recognizable or unique style.

An interesting sidenote to the book revolves around illustrator Clement Hurd and his picture inside the back cover. I only noticed the other day, as I had finished reading it to my little girl, that he is shown with a cigarette in his hand! (Probably old news to many of you). Anyway I took it as a time to discuss what smoking was and why it isn't healthy and she hasn't mentioned it since. But looking it up on the Internet, I see that we must own an older edition because HarperCollins digitally altered the picture in 2005 to remove the cigarette. Of course, this leaves Clement in a rather silly pose and I came across this really funny site which had fun with the whole thing, called "Goodnight Photoshoppers Everywhere".

Photos from The New York Times showing the previous and altered photos.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Reader's Diary #227- Julie Bruck: The Woman Downstairs (FINISHED)

The other day I was listening to Johnny Cash do a rendition of "He Stopped Loving Her Today" (the George Jones standard). It hadn't occurred to me until then how perfect of a country song it was. Now, I'm not a huge country fan by any means. In fact, I'm probably more discriminatory with my tastes in that genre than any other. My favourites have misleadingly simple stories set in the everyday, blue collar life with just a dash of poetry. Unfortunately, what we usually get today is a bunch of cliches that would embarrass MeatLoaf.

Why all this talk about country music? Julie Bruck's A Woman Downstairs reminded me of good country music. Most of the poems can be enjoyed as small snippets of stories, stories of everyday life. Actually, more like the minimovies you might take with a digital camera. And they're real. Something about the way she throws in references to toasters, Camaros and Colonel Sanders keeps them from flying off into that dreaded poetsphere. But still, they are poetic. Beautifully so.

"On day I'll forget to unplug the block-heater,
drive away and pull the house down.
In the rear-view mirror, the mountains, sky,
the whole gourmet display
will tumble and break apart,
becoming light as confetti
thrown at a wedding,
a fistful of coloured ash"

- from Julie Bruck's "Connection"

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Reader's Diary #226- Gabrielle Roy: Children of My Heart (up to part II)

If the title of this book seems a little sentimental, it's a good representation of the stories within. While Roy does touch upon a few weighty issues, Children of My Heart still seems like Chicken Soup for The Teacher's Soul. As a teacher, I do appreciate these stories on one level. I've been faced with similar situations; parents who are a little less than understanding, a lot less helpful, and students who are challenging to say the least. I've also had wonderful moments; students revealing hidden talents, breakthroughs when something suddenly clicks, and simple notes telling me I'm appreciated. For all of that, Roy's prose undersells these moments with dribble. Maybe a non-teacher would be grateful to be let in to this world. Maybe those middle-aged cardigan wearing, wooden apple-pinned teachers would tear up at Roy's words. Maybe the Canada Reads panelists will decide it's a great homage to the nation's educators. For me though, it feels old-fashioned, slightly boring, and overwrought.

Friday, February 02, 2007

"Whooo... are... YOU?" - The Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland

I read about this quiz at Allison's blog, who read it from a friend and so on. I've never posted these thingies before, but it's book related and I like my results so much (one of my favourite books of all time!!!) that I had to print it. I especially love the line I've highlighted in red below- it's very true for me. As for the "all fours" bit, I have no comment. Anyway, what book are you?

You're Animal Farm!

by George Orwell

You are living proof that power corrupts and whoever leads you will
become just as bad as the past leaders. You're quite conflicted about this emotionally
and waver from hopelessly idealistic to tragically jaded. Ultimately, you know you can't
trust pigs. Your best moments are when you're down on all fours.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.