Friday, November 30, 2007

Poetry Friday- Writer's Diary #39

Most poetry buffs have finally made peace with the whole form versus free verse debate. The way I look at it, free verse and form are equally difficult to write well. Composing free verse is like going on a road trip without a map: it's very easy to get lost. Writing form poetry is like buying a map but not realizing how very detailed and complicated it is until you start driving.

A short while ago I mentioned that I'm slowly getting through the anthology Immortal Poems of the English Language. Written in chronological order, I'm still only up to the late 1600s and the freer verse of Walt Whitman is still two centuries away. It started me thinking- I often try my hand at free verse, but don't often attempt form poetry. No time like the present, as they say.

This time around I've tried to go with the triplet (like a couplet, but one more line following an aaa pattern). The rhythm and meter for such poems is consistent across the lines of an individual poem, but can vary from different poems. I've tried to use, as my map, George Herbert's "Paradise:"

I bless thee, Lord, because I grow
Among the trees, which in a row
To thee both fruit and order owe

What open force, or hidden charm
Can blast my fruit, or bring me harm,
While the inclosure is thine arm?

Inclose me still for fear I start;
Be to me rather sharp and tart,
Than let me want they hand and art.

When thou dost greater judgements spare,
And with thy knife but prune and pare,
Even fruitful trees more fruitful are:

Such sharpness shows the sweetest friend,
Such cuttings rather heal than rend,
And such beginnings touch their end.

Before getting into my own creation, I should note that Herbert's poem didn't really stick out to me (though I appreciate the rather clever thing he did with the end words- and I won't attempt anything that fancy yet!), I've used it primarily because I liked the form itself. Please keep in mind that this is a first attempt, and I might come back to this one a year from now and either scrap it entirely or edit the hell out of it.

Fisherman’s Lament (or To Fish or Not To Fish)
(by John Mutford)

At work I only caught the germ
Forever hooked, I dared not squirm
But hankered for the taste of worm.

No wind, no waves, no sound, no thought
No care for fish, for none are caught
Two bites were all I ever got.

My shadow sits upon the sea
I cast my line and it casts me
Hung by the sun, and never free.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Great Wednesday Compare #25- Leo Tolstoy VERSUS George Orwell

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Leo Tolstoy Vs. Fyodor Dostoevsky), with a final score of 9-7, was Leo Tolstoy.

When I first I tallied up the scores I made a mistake and thought there was another tie. I got all excited and thought I'd get to cast a vote again. Alas, it wasn't to be. It would have been for Dostoevsky, though I am okay with the result. Had I actually read Anna Karenina, perhaps I'd feel differently (or at least have some insight into Carrie K's life), but I have to rely on Crime and Punishment and War and Peace to make my comparisons and I simply enjoyed Crime and Punishment more. While I enjoyed War and Peace, I lost track of many characters and plots along the way. By the way, did you know that the original title was War: What Is It Good For?

Moving on, let's try a new approach.

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (Dec. 4), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Reader's Diary #314- The Good News Bible: The Book Of Ruth (FINISHED)

It has been said that the Book of Ruth was originally part of the Book of Judges. After reading Ruth, I wasn't surprised to see it removed and instead chosen to follow Judges. Whereas Judges was a violent gorefest, Ruth is much more subdued and even uplifting.

Ruth is one of two Moabite women who marry two Israelite brothers. After their husbands die, Ruth alone stays by her mother-in-law's side and ends up marrying one of her deceased husband's relatives. She goes on to worship the Israelite God and becomes part of the lineage that leads to King David (which many Christians believe leads to Jesus).

Ruth has been one of the more intriguing characters I've come across. While there are subtle hints that she should somehow be praised for for sticking by her mother-in-law (for instance, my version calls it "uncommon loyalty"), I found it a more than a little strange. Orpah, the other daughter-in-law,originally offers to stay but gives into the mother-in-law who recommends that they turn back. Honestly, I think most people would do the same and would choose to return to their biological families. To be fair, Orpah doesn't seem to be judged too harshly.

Like the short story I read yesterday, often what's not said is the most compelling of all. Was Ruth's decision to stay a mere case of loyalty, or had it something to do with her past, with her birth family perhaps? My suspicions- for right or for wrong- ended up drawing me more to her out of sympathy and so, when she remarries and finds prosperity among the Israelites and their God, I couldn't help but feel happy for her- even though it may have been based on the assumption of an unhappy upbringing that may have been false!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Reader's Diary #313- Sarah Monette: A Light in Troy

Short Story Monday

Sarah Monette came to my attention via Poodlerat. I don't often read fantasy and so I pretty much have to go on the recommendations of others.

"A Light In Troy," is a great story regardless of genre. Personally, I like short stories that leave a little to the imagination, written by authors who realize that readers don't necessarily need all the background information to enjoy a story. In this case, the unsaid added to the ambiance and drew me into her dark world.

But dark as it might be, the title suggested optimism and I wasn't let down. It bugs me a little when people balk at happy endings when what they're really against is convenient or over-the-top endings. Monette is careful to leave the conclusion just short of a fairy-tale ending and I think most readers would be content as to where it leaves off.

Perhaps what I enjoyed most about Monette's tale is the emotion that is evoked. I haven't read a lot of fantasy before, but I definitely haven't seen characters this wrought with inner turmoil. Just read the imagery in the first paragraph and try not to care about the protagonist. Heck, I even ended up feeling for her locust master. Yes, I said locust master. You'll just have to read it to know what I mean.

Thanks to Poodlerat for pointing me in her direction!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Reader's Diary #312- Scott O'Dell: Island of the Blue Dolphins (FINISHED)

Back in August I posted what I felt were the top 20 glaring omissions in my "have read" list. Since then I've managed to knock off two of those: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and now Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins. Fortunately, I enjoyed O'Dell's book much more than the Austen one (though I seem to be slipping Austen references into every other post for some reason).

The story of a girl all alone on an island in the Pacific, I was expecting a female version of Robinson Crusoe. Oddly, it reminded me just as much of Ayla from the Earth's Children Series (minus the gratuitous sex scenes). Whereas Robinson Crusoe was shipwrecked, Karana (of the Island of the Blue Dolphins) already had a familiarity with the place (she was deserted) and so Crusoe's dilemmas were often quite different. Ayla, on the other hand, shares a similar plot of breaking away from assigned gender roles in order to survive.

One aspect of this book nagged at me quite a bit: the cavalier way Karana reacts to the murder of her father. As her brother screams and screams and the women weep, Karana simply looks at his body in the water and says thinks "I knew he should not have told Captain Orlov his secret name." And while she says that the following night was "the most terrible time," I felt she was almost unbearably constrained in her account. Likewise, I found but a single sentence explaining her absent mother ("A few years ago my mother had died..."). Initially, I had three theories about Karana's perceived coldness:

1. It was O'Dell's writing style
2. It was meant to be a cultural aspect of Karana's tribe
3. It was meant to be a personality trait

Since Island of the Blue Dolphins is supposed to be Karana's first hand account, the first theory is hard to separate from the third. At first much of the tale seems to be rushed and skimmed over, not delving too much into emotions. Not having read any other works by O'Dell (I hadn't even heard of the sequel before), I didn't know how he typically treated events I'd classify as traumatic.

As for being a cultural attribute, there seems to be evidence both for and against this. That the women weeped and the brother screamed seemed to suggest that Karana was unique in her near nonchalance. Then again, that the people of the island never returned for her, seems to imply an indifference, or at the very least, a practical look at the value of human life. The story she is told later is that the ship sank shortly after landing in America and they were unable to find one suitable to return. Originally when they leave, Karana is onboard and notices that her brother was inadvertently left behind. She demands to go back but a storm is brewing and the others try to reassure her that they will return once the storm has passed. Karana jumps overboard and swims to the island. Why the boat goes all the way to America, instead of waiting out the storm, is never really explained.

Finally, most evidence pointed towards it simply being Karana. At the beginning she corrects her brother on his imagination, which seems to suggest she is not one given to emotions. Likely, this practical side helped her survive the lonely days on the island (once her brother is killed by wild dogs). Finally, and perhaps the most supportive argument comes from the change in her character. Jumping overboard is the first time she is shown to have any real connection to others and eventually more and more of this side comes through. After years of solitude, she makes friends with animals on the island (most notably one of the dogs), an Aleutian girl who visits the island with hunters, and is even shown to reminisce about her sister who left with the others; all a far cry from the indifferent girl at the beginning.

Despite never having a clear answer, the mystery gave the reading experience something extra, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Poetry Friday- Writer's Diary #38

Written Up: A Novice Poet Down On Paper

He was showy-
often wearing purple pants
and other loud colours.
and they were all rejected.
e. e. cummings did all
lowercase, what was wrong
with CAPS? He didn't care.
Most people assumed
he was gay.

His poems ran the gamut
of emotions but were "low
on imagery and heft" as
one particularly gray letter
put it. And anyway
was he happy?

God only knew. He did
sleep with men, btw-
but for the experience.
Just as he slept with
women and for what
it's worth, the answer
is no.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Russian Reading Challenge- I'm in!

Why do I feel that participating in a 2nd challenge is the beginning of a very slippery slope? Oh well, I'll make sure to wax the toboggan and enjoy the ride.

Yesterday, after putting Dostoevsky up against Tolstoy in the Great Wednesday Compare, I explored the Russian Reading Challenge more thoroughly and decided it was one I could -and wanted to- do. Heck, at only 4 books (or short stories, poems, etc) over a twelve month span (Jan 1 - Dec 31, 2008), I probably met the requirements this year. Anyway, my picks- which are subject to change- are:

1. Vladimir Nabokov- Lolita
2. Alexander Pushkin- "The Snowstorm" (Short story)
3. Ivan Turgenev- Fathers and Sons
4. Maxim Gorky- "Creatures That Once Were Men" (Short story)

Wish me luck! Or as they say in Russia...oh wait, what do they say in Russia?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Great Wednesday Compare #24- Leo Tolstoy VERSUS Fyodor Dostoevsky

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Harper Lee vs. Leo Tolstoy), with a final score of 8-7, was Leo Tolstoy.

Actually, there was a tie at first, but as I've specified in the rules before, the only time I personally get to vote is in the event of a tie. Sorry to all the Harper Lee fans, but I can't vote for an author I haven't read- yet. To Kill A Mockingbird has been nagging at me for some time now, so I promise to read it soon! (It was even the answer for tonight's final Jeopardy!)

But not only did choose Tolstoy because I've read him (just War and Peace, not Anna Karenina or any others though), I also wanted to put Russian against Russian. Hey, maybe I can even convince the Russian Reading Challenge participants to vote.

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (Nov. 27), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

International Children's Day- Variations On A Theme: Unconditional Love

In honour of International Children's Day and Children's Book Week I've decided to blog about not one, not two, but THREE children's books. Not to worry, there is a common ground. Essentially I've chosen three books that have unconditional love as a theme: Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd, Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse and illustrated by Barbara Lavallee, and I Love You, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt and illustrated by Cyd Moore.

Basically, the plot of all three stories is a child questioning the extent of his/her mother's love. In Runaway Bunny, the son comes up with hypothetical ways to escape his mother's love, but the response is always the same: she'll find him and continue to love him. He suggests he'll turn into a crocus, to which his mother responds she'll become a gardener. He also threatens to become a fish, to which his mom responds she'll become a fisherman. You get the gist. Reading the Amazon reviews, some on the negative side suggest that the mother is a little too possessive. To me, the tone is light enough to suggest otherwise, and in any case she's not as neurotic as the mother in Robert Munsch's Love You Forever.

Written and illustrated by the same team as Goodnight Moon, I prefer Runaway Bunny. While I'm not a fan of Clement Hurd's illustrations, they are at least more creative this time around as he blends the images of bunnies with clouds, sailboats and so forth. I'm not keen on the fact that every second page is black and white, but I'm assuming that was the decision of a overly frugal publisher trying to save on ink.
Still better than Runaway Bunny is Mama, Do You Love Me? It probably isn't surprising that I'd have a penchant for books with a Northern flair, but really I'm intrigued by any story with an unexpected setting, especially when the setting doesn't override the story itself. In this case, the mother's love is challenged by the threat of misbehaviour. "What if I put salmon in your parka?" Again, the response is the same: she'd love her regardless. The illustrations are much better than Runaway Bunny; bolder and more stylistic. Apparently Joosse has a sequel entitled Papa, Do You Love Me about a Maasai father and son. I haven't read it yet, but it's about time a father's been represented!
Finally, and perhaps my favourite of the three, is I Love You, Stinky Face. In this case, a child asks for reassurance that his mother would love him/her regardless of who s/he was. As you can tell, the gender of the child isn't specified and this is skilfully complemented by Cyd Moore who has drawn a neutral child that doesn't come across as a younger version of Pat. "What if I were a super smelly skunk?" the child asks, and the mom replies, "Ew, gross. I could never love you then!" Just kidding. She responds of course, how you'd expect, and while some of you are probably gagging on the sweetness overload, I think I Love You, Stinky Face, keeps it at a fun level with more kid-friendly humour infused throughout. And while the illustrations are not perhaps as technically accomplished as Mama, Do You Love Me? they are quite interesting to explore. I really appreciated that as the child gets recreated as a martian, a skunk, a swamp monster and so forth, s/he continues to wear the same striped orange and yellow pyjamas. Nice detail. Apparently there are many sequels to this book as well, including Merry Christmas, Stinky Face and It's Time For School, Stinky Face. I haven't read these and while I hope they recapture some of the charm of the original, I'm more than a little nervous that she's overkilling the thing.

Anyway, perhaps you know some other books about unconditional love? If so, please share. And happy Children's Day.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Reader's Diary #311- Elizabeth Taylor: Miss A and Miss M

Short Story Monday

Over at A Curious Singularity we voted (yes, me too) on Elizabeth Taylor's "Miss A and Miss M" for our November short story discussion. No, it's not that Elizabeth Taylor. Too bad really. It probably wouldn't have been so dull. Nutty perhaps, but not dull.

Speaking of dull, I might as well do the predictable and compare her to Jane Austen. Sort of. In case you don't remember, I referred to the language of Pride and Prejudice as stilted. In Austen's defence though, I also went on to to call it "dated." And while many Austenites may not take too much comfort in that, it does give her the edge over Elizabeth Taylor, of whom I also immediately drew similarities. While Austen's writing- whether you like it or not- can be attributed to her time and place, Taylor's simply comes across as stodgy. For example:

Down one of those slopes below St. Margaret's streamed the Cherry Orchard, a vast delight in summer of marjoram and thyme. An unfrequented footpath led through it, and every step was aromatic.

hucgncoawn42TG4YCB4GXGBNAKGH...oh, I'm sorry. I fell asleep on my keyboard. Seriously though, was this written in the 1900s?

It's not as if I didn't give it a chance. I tried to follow what I first perceived to be a slight homoerotic plot between the title women and the narrator, but it didn't amount to anything. I thought maybe Miss Alliot's cruelty might add some much needed spice, but herbs were all I got. Simply put, I wanted something, ANYthing more than Taylor delivered.

Is it too late to change my vote?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Poetry Friday- Samuel Daniel and William Shakespeare

I have to admit, as much as I enjoy Poetry Friday, I don't often spend a lot of time on those entries which offer up really old (read: public domain) poetry. I don't know where this aversion comes from, but I know it's a problem and I'm working on it. Right now I'm reading Immortal Poems of the English Language which was compiled by Oscar Williams and spans from the 1300s to the mid-1900s. Happily, I've been able to enjoy some so far. In particular, these two stuck out:

Care-charmer Sleep
by Samuel Daniel

Care-charmer Sleep, son of the sable Night,
Brother to Death, in silent darkness born:
Relieve my languish, and restore the light,
With dark forgetting of my cares, return;
And let the day be time enough to mourn
The shipwreck of my ill-adventur'd youth:
Let waking eyes suffice to wail their scorn,
Without the torment of the night's untruth.
Cease dreams, th' imagery of our day-desires,
To model forth the passions of the morrow;
Never let rising sun approve you liars,
To add more grief to aggravate my sorrow.
Still let me sleep, embracing clouds in vain;
And never wake to feel the day's disdain.

My Mistress' Eyes
by William Shakespeare

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

(For my regular readers, I'll be out until Monday. Headed to Yellowknife for the weekend. Yay!)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Great Wednesday Compare #23- Harper Lee VERSUS Leo Tolstoy

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Arthur Conan Doyle vs. Harper Lee), with a final score of 17-5 (or maybe 16-6- sorry, Elzey, I didn't get your reference!), was Harper Lee.

A while ago Jane Austen seemed to have similarly strong support as Harper Lee had last week. Coincidentally, I hadn't read Austen at the time and I haven't read Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird either. I know it was compulsory reading in many high schools across the U.S. and even Canada, but it wasn't at my school. I have, however, read War and Peace.

At the risk of setting off another Cold War (because I have delusions of grandeur like that)...

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (Nov. 20), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reader's Diary #310- Richard Connell: The Most Dangerous Game

Short Story Monday
The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell, is a good story that may have been great when it was first written. But until now I've only been familiar with the parodies and remakes, so at first it came across as cliched and even funny. That's not really fair to the original, but you can blame Jean-Claude Van Damme for that.

(Jean Claude Van-Damme in Hard Target, one of my top 10 worst movies ever.)

But fortunately I continued, and ended up appreciating it. The premise is one that hasn't grown old; man hunting man. With wars, genocide, serial killers, and other violence in the world, it's not unfathomable that such a practice would go on. But that's not the only way "The Most Dangerous Game" (written in 1929) was ahead of its time. Early on there's a dialogue that goes,

"...Great sport, hunting."
"The best sport in the world," agreed Rainsford.
"For the hunter," amended Whitney. "Not for the jaguar."
"Don't talk rot, Whitney," said Rainsford. "You're a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?"
"Perhaps the jaguar does," observed Whitney.

Seems like something you'd read on a PETA ad, doesn't it? Likewise, the whole idea of the villain being a Cossack, and the protagonist being an American seems like something out of the Cold War era.
And I certainly enjoyed the wit as well. A favourite part went
"Ivan is an incredibly strong fellow," remarked the general, "but he has the
misfortune to be deaf and dumb. A simple fellow, but, I'm afraid, like all his race, a bit of a savage."
"Is he Russian?"
"He is a Cossack," said the general, and his smile showed red lips and pointed teeth. "So am I."
Pretty sinister stuff.
Finally I liked how subtly the tables turned and the hunter becomes the hunted. It ends with such a squeamish feeling that history may repeat itself.
(Have you written anything for Short Story Monday? If so, leave your link below. If you'd like to host next week, just let me know.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reader's Diary #309- David Bergen: The Time In Between (FINISHED)

This marks my fourth book for the Canadian Book Challenge, and my pick for Manitoba (I'm reading one from each province and territory).

At first, The Time In Between didn't appear to be a very Canadian book. Asides from hearing of the occasional draft dodger, I thought that most of us were pretty uninvolved with the Vietnam War. This book deals with the repercussions of that war. However, Charles Boatman, around whom the book revolves, moved to Canada after the war, as I'm sure is the case with many real Canadians. We're a country with a large population of immigrants, but while I'm used to reading books about other new-Canadians; ex-Americans are rare to come across in the books I've read (when in actuality they're among our largest groups of immigrants). But their history becomes a part of our history, and so, this book, while maybe not as Canadian as Anne of Green Gables (it's primarily set in Vietnam, not P.E.I. after all), is canuck enough for me.

In any case, it's a great novel. Charles Boatman, an ex-soldier, returns to Vietnam after 29 years, but doesn't know why except perhaps to wrestle with his proverbial demons. But, he is never really able to articulate what how he plans to do it, and therein lies the plot. Yes, it's a depressing theme but it's explored wonderfully through Bergman's matter-of-fact descriptions. I loved how scenes are painted like landscapes; no abstraction but beautiful nonetheless. Reader's can decide for themselves what details have symbolic significance and which to chalk up purely as setting. This is not to imply Bergman throws out details willy-nilly. He does use his characters and moods to attend to certain details, but he's skimpy on the figurative language. Still, there are times when the writing is poetic. One thing which really struck me was the retelling of the incident during that war that continued to haunt Boatman. Specific details appear several times throughout the book but instead of feeling repetitive, I was able to feel how Boatman must have felt: like these memories would not go away.

It's not a book I'd recommend to everyone. As I said above, it's pretty depressing. Plus, some would say there's another sure way of knowing it's a Canadian novel: the resolution is pretty ambiguous. While I agree it has become tiresome in our literature, it fits the message that I took away: that if you're going to go searching for answers, you'd best have a question in mind.

Perhaps one of the few things I didn't enjoy was all the dream sequences. Here I felt Bergen was a little to pushy with his imagery. Admittedly, I find dreams in most novels a little too obvious, so perhaps this is a fault of my own.

Overall though, I enjoyed The Time In Between and will probably look for more of Bergen's work.

And the winner is...

Congratulations to Raidergirl, winner of Zachariah Wells's Unsettled. The answers to the questions from last week's quiz are as follows:

1. Crow Lake
2. Anne of the Island
3. Latitudes of Melt
4. Uninvited Guests
5. Love: A Book of Remembrances
6. A Hard Witching
7. Elijah of Buxton
8. Lost Salt Gift of Blood
9. Life of Pi
10. Miss O

To those of you that didn't win this time around, thanks for participating and there'll be more quizzes and hopefully more prizes to come!

In an unrelated note, the coffeehouse poetry reading went pretty good. There was a smaller audience than usual (maybe they heard there'd be a poet performing!) but they seemed receptive to my poems. And best of all, I wasn't overcome by nervousness.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Poetry Friday- Writer's Diary #37

I've signed up to read some of my poetry tomorrow night at a coffeehouse. It's a big step for me to share my poems this way, but one I feel is necessary if I'm going to get any exposure and to "hone my craft" (if I'm to get all pretentious up in here). They're mostly musical events but I have seen a few other acts (including story telling and break dancing, believe it or not). I've asked not to be a specific act as such but to read during the set-ups for other acts. Maybe this isn't a wise idea as undoubtedly this is when people normally get up and get their coffees, so I may not have an overly attentive audience. We'll see. My logic was that I only have a few that I'd care to share and reading them individually, with other acts in between, would highlight each one a little more. It'll be a learning experience one way or another.

I've decided upon four poems:

1. Capelin- I figured I'd start with something I've actually published (to lend me some credibility- I hope!) Plus, Iqaluit has a large Newfoundland population who can probably relate.

2. Spider of the Jar- The first one is a little more sombre, but I think this one- though a little depressing in theme- will be a little more fun since it's a mashup poem. Speaking of which, I'll probably introduce it by reading the originals first.

3. The Enlightenment of Sammy Lowe- With a Northern population, I'm going to assume that most people there will be familiar with Robert Service's "Cremation of Sam McGee" of which my poem is in homage. Plus, it deals with Inuit folklore so there's a potential local interest.

4. An untitled coffee poem- It is a coffeehouse afterall! This is a poem I've been working on here for over a year. This is my latest draft:

Taking a break
from my coffee,
sipping you mourn
last night's sleep

You’re bitter but I
have to admire
the persistently dark outlook-
so we could meet

What’s wrong
with (last night and)
a perfectly empty cup?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Reader's Diary #308- Jan Brett: The Three Snow Bears

There's been a lot of fractured fairy tales in recent years. For the uninitiated, these are altered versions of the classics and have been all the rage in primary classrooms (though I wish teachers would familiarize kids with the originals first). With such a huge trend, there are bound to be lots of hits (The Three Little Wolves and The Big Bad Pig) and misses (Cinderella Penguin). I think Jan Brett's Arctic take on Goldilocks and The Three Bears should be considered a hit.

As usual, Brett's artwork in The Three Snow Bears is stunning. Vibrant and highly detailed, they have so much going on that upon multiple readings, my kids and I still discover more. Yet amazingly, she avoids making the pictures overly busy. In typical Brett fashion she frames the main picture on each page and leaves additional pictures (often with a second related story) in the margins.

To research for this book, Brett traveled first to Iqaluit and then to Pangnirtung, a smaller town of about 1300 people even further North. She should be commended not only for her dedication but also for her attention to detail.

This is the story of an Inuk girl named Aloo-ki who looks for her lost dog team and stumbles upon an igloo belonging to three absent polar bears. Similar to the original version, she tastes their three bowls of soup, tries on their boots (kamiik) and falls asleep in their furs. But the real abundance of culture comes from the illustrations.

Apparently one of the things that struck Brett about a lot of the Inuit art was seeing all the Northern animals dressed in traditional clothing. Deciding to use that idea herself, she (perhaps wisely) chose not to try to mimic their style but kept to her own. We are treated to rich illustrations of ravens in amautis (parkas with a pouch for carrying a baby in the back), walruses in parkas, hares in kamiik and so on. The detail she puts into these garments is so very authentic, it's hard to believe Brett was only a brief visitor. She either took lots of pictures or has a photographic memory.

Two minor editing points that I suspect will be fixed in subsequent printings: It opens with Come back!" missing the opening quotation marks, and on the inside cover there's a picture of a hat that reads "Pangirtung" which, if you'll notice above, is spelled wrong.

Still, it's an excellent book. The idea of transporting fairy tales to different cultures is a great addition to the fractured fairy tale genre, and needless to say I'm thrilled that it's written about my home.

(In other news, I'm very excited and pleased to report that today I was appointed to the Nunavut Literacy Council!)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Great Wednesday Compare #22- Arthur Conan Doyle VERSUS Harper Lee

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Arthur Conan Doyle vs. Bram Stoker), with a final score of 13-4, was Arthur Conan Doyle.

Kudos to Kookiejar for continuously promoting these comparisons and for hosting her own zombie version last week which pitted past runners Asimov and Vonnegut against one another. I voted for Vonnegut and the last time I checked he was in the lead, but you'll have to go there for the official results. Now back to mine...

A couple of things I've tried to do is to keep my own biases out of the equation and to make it as fair a contest as possible. Last week, however, I felt that I had perhaps given Stoker the upper hand by throwing him in on Halloween. I needn't have worried. Doyle won easily.

I've said this many times, but I've never found a vampire book that I've actually liked despite finding the concept of them quite intriguing. Salem's Lot, Interview With A Vampire and yes, even Dracula let me down. I found Stoker's novel too silly at times. It seemed as if every time he'd get Dracula backed into a corner, he'd invent some convenient new superpower to allow him an escape (he could turn into fog?!) Oh well, Stoker got a stake through to the heart last week and that means it's time for a new contestant.

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (Nov. 13), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Reader's Diary #307- Gloria Sawai: The Day I Sat With Jesus On The Sun Deck And A Wind Came Up And Blew My Kimono Open And He Saw My Breasts

Short Story Monday

Okay, so if that title doesn't grab you, I'm not sure what would. But, provocative as that title appears at first glance, it doesn't make for a great story.

This blend of whimsy and religion has apparently convinced many people that it is somehow clever. I'm not sure why exactly, but for me it falls flat.

It starts off quite strong. It promises a pretty bizarre occurrence, yet begins with prosaic details of cooking Cream of Wheat for her children and other general doldrums of domestic life. It's a great contrast. You just can't wait for the bearded guy to show up.

Finally he does and his casual demeanour adds to the surreal experience. Suddenly a wind comes up, her breasts are exposed and Jesus simply remarks, "You have nice breasts."

But depending on where your sensitivities lie, there doesn't seem to be any blasphemous intent at all. Nor does there seem to be any message about sexuality and religion co-existing. To be quite honest, there doesn't seem to be much of a message at all!

I'm sure plenty of people would argue that the expectation of a moral or epiphany is my own fault. But, in my defense, I think Sawai unfairly implies there is something more going on (I say unfairly because if a message was indeed included, I think she shrouded it way too much). Constant reflections back to her own religious upbringing, the mention of several breasts, ridiculous and confusing scenes of a magpie disappearing into Jesus's chest and a floating Japanese lady (was the narrator supposed to be dreaming or drunk or something?), all seemed to suggest symbolism, or some profound lesson. It's like she picked topics with heavy connotations purely to fool the reader into questioning what it all means when really it meant nothing.

Is that the message? That religion and sexuality might be as mundane as preparing breakfast? A good theory- except that she begins by calling it an "extraordinary event" and the mere act of choosing this story to tell implies it meant more to the person telling it.

"The Day I Sat With Jesus On The Sun Deck And A Wind Came Up And Blew My Kimono Open And He Saw My Breasts" doesn't live up to it's title, it deflates it.

(Short Story Monday is being hosted Raidergirl today. I will host again next week. Any takers for the following weeks?)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Canadian Book Challenge- 1st Update

We're off to an excellent start! 24 participants so far and there's always room for more. Below are the books that have been read so far as well as the current progress. You'll notice I've organized them by Canadian currency, sort of. I needed something with 13 components and since they did away with the thousand dollar bill, I had to go back a few years for the paper money. Anyway, make sure to visit and comment on these wonderful posts. (Participants, please let me know if the count is not accurate.)

The Maple Leaves (1 Book)
- The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Geranium Cat
- Latitudes of Melt by Joan Clark

- Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery

The Beavers (2 Books)
- A Hard Witching by Jacqueline Baker
- Smuggling Donkeys by David Helwig

- The Lost Salt Gift of Blood by Alistair MacLeod
- The Inuk Mountie Adventure by Eric Wilson

Gautami Tripathy
- Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
- The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

- One Red Paper Clip by Kyle MacDonald
- Miss O by Betty Oliphant

- Uninvited Guest by John Degen
- Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

The Bluenoses (3 Books)
- Love: A Book of Remembrances by bpNichol
- Out of the Sea by Victor Kendall and Victor G. Kendall
- Uncommon Prayer by Susan McMaster

The Caribou (4 Books)

- The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy
- The Alchemist's Dream by John Wilson
- Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Gemini Summer by Iain Lawrence

The Coats of Arms (5 Books)

The Loons (6 Books)

The Polar Bears (7 Books)

The Kingfishers (8 Books)

The Osprey (9 Books)

The Green Loons (10 Books)

The Snowy Owls (11 Books)

The Canada Geese (12 Books)

The Grosbeaks (13 Books)

Now, pop quiz! (Don't you just hate that?) Below are 10 questions about the books above. Send your answers to me (please don't put them in the comments!) via email jmutford [at] hotmail [dot] com. Next Saturday I'll be randomly drawing a winner from all those who get the answers right. The prize? An autographed copy of Zachariah Wells' book of Arctic inspired poetry, Unsettled. (Contest is open to non-participants!)

1. Which book revolves around the Morrisons and the Pyes?

2. Which book gives an instructional on how to kill a cat?

3. Which book features a mysterious character named Aurora?

4. Which book concerns a Romanian-born Stanley Cup winner?

5. Which book has a selection of visual poetry?

6. Which book won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, the City of Edmonton Book Prize and the Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Fiction?

7. Which book is set in Ontario, 1859?

8. Which book offers short stories set in Nova Scotia?

9. Which book is the adventure of Piscine Patel?

10. Which book is the biography of the founder of the National Ballet School?

Also, thanks to Steve Zipp, Canadian Book Challenge participant and author, for donating copies of his novel Yellowknife to those of us he's been able to contact.

If you haven't started yet, don't worry, there's still plenty of time!