Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Great Wednesay Compare- John Steinbeck VERSUS William Faulkner

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (John Steinbeck Vs. Karl Marx), with a final score of 15-2, was John Steinbeck.

Okay, I promise you, I didn't intentionally hand it over to Steinback last week. While I didn't really think many would agree with Marx's politics, I suspected a lot of people would follow Myrthe's line of reasoning and vote for his, and his books' influence on political history. Politics, schmolitics. It seems to be all about the literature here.

Which brings us to what could very well be the last edition of the first Wednesday Compare. A win this week would bring Steinbeck's total wins to 5, meaning the next week would bring us two brand new contestants. How should I end this thing? (If it in fact ends at all.) I considered a few possibilities, but finally came down to Faulkner.

Faulkner, like Hemingway and Steinbeck himself, was both a Pulitzer Prize winner and a Nobel Prize winner. Like them or not, they were (and arguably still are) titans of American literature. Looking back on some of the past contenders, it seems mightily American biased. It would seem fitting to end on that note (the greatest American novelist is...) Then again, if Faulkner wins, maybe there's a Brit or two left to compete. It certainly won't be a Canadian- we haven't fared well at all!

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. (Feb 5, 2008), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Reader's Diary #326- Kate Sutherland: Cool

Short Story Monday

Kate Sutherland, the brains behind both the short story discussion blog A Curious Singularity and the Short Story Reading Challenge, already had my respect for championing this underrated form. Turns out (thankfully) that she's also quite skilled.

I chose "Cool," because it concerned dancing and my daughter had her very first ballet class recently. She shuffled about on her toes like a nervous faun, but man, was she cute.

The girls in "Cool" are not, however, four years old. And thanks in part to books like A Complicated Kindness and lullabies for little criminals, the myth of the innocent girl has long been eradicated.

Sutherland takes a slightly different approach. While also starting at the cusp of change (right up front you know this will be a coming of age story), she focuses on what otherwise might be a peripheral character.

"Everything started the day Eva walked into Miss Waverly’s School of Dance."

But this is not about Eva. I love when authors are able to pull this off. Sometimes I find that authors try too hard to approach a story from an unexpected perspective (John Bemrose's The Island Walkers comes to mind). Fortunately Sutherland seemed to know to keep Eva, who'd perhaps be the more obvious choice, close.

And that is perhaps the crux of the story: choices. What defines coming-of-age but having to make difficult choices, and hopefully learning from them? Just as Eva would have been the easier choice for Sutherland, she was the easier choice for Beth (the narrator) to follow-- she was, afterall, the cool one. But, as we all know, the easiest, and more obvious choice is not always the best. Sutherland seemed to know that from the get go, Beth learns as the story goes on.

I have but one small complaint: the very last sentence. It seems too much of a summary to please me, too much of a declaration of what I, the reader, should have taken from the story. Granted, it was accurate, just unnecessary and I think the conclusion would have been stronger without it.

1. Girls Just Want To Have Fun- Cyndi Lauper
2. Safety Dance- Men Without Hats
3. Devil Inside- INXS
4. Someone Who's Cool- The Odds
5. It's Cool To Love Your Family- Feist

Cross posted at The Short Story Reading Challenge)

Did you write a Short Story Monday Post? If so, add your link below!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Eva's Reading Meme

I usually reserve another blog for the occasional tag, but since this one is lit related, I decided to post it here. Thanks to Gautami throwing it this way via Eva, the culprit behind this wildly popular meme.

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

Anything by a Bronte. I'm convinced, perhaps unfairly, that I'll be put to sleep.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

Mortimer Griffin from Mordecai Richler's Cocksure, Sheilagh Feilding from The Colony of Unrequited Dreams (she was such a popular character that Wayne Johnston had a sequel revolving around her entitled The Custodian of Paradise. I haven't read it because I liked the first so much I'm afraid it'll be a disappointment) and Hamlet from...wait, what was the name of that play? As for the event, I'm going to say a reality show where we all have to live together. I can just imagine the testimonials. I'm afraid I'd be the first cast out.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can't die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it's past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

I know from experience that this will ruffle a few feathers, but Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I almost said Hardy's Tess of the D'Ubervilles but I didn't finish it. Perhaps there was a car chase at the end. Moby Dick is another contender, but I did learn how to de-blubber a whale and that should be worth something.

Come on, we've all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you've read, when in fact you've been nowhere near it?

Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace. In my defense, I do this inadvertently by mixing it up with both Blind Assassin and The Robber Bride- both of which I have read.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to 'reread' it that you haven't? Which book?

Aside from the aforementioned Atwood book, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. I keep thinking that I must have read more Dickens than A Christmas Carol but I guess I haven't.

You've been appointed Book Advisor to a VIP (who's not a big reader). What's the first book you'd recommend and why? (if you feel like you'd have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP)

Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version. CanLit is often criticized for being dull... by people who haven't read Richler.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

Hmmm. Because it's one of Canada's official languages, I'd say French. Then again, I'd love to read some of the Russian classics in the original form. Still, I'll go with French.

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

Jose Saramago's Blindness. I plan on doing this anyway.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What's one bookish thing you 'discovered' from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

I've learned about a few authors- Neil Gaiman for one. I've also learned that everyone has gigantic TBR piles, with some pretty major works still sitting on it. That makes me feel much better.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she's granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

I'm not much of a book collector. I'm far too cheap frugal for that. Still I like holding onto poetry books, Newfoundland books and books about the Arctic.

I tag Barbara, Remi, August, Bookgal and Sam. I know most people say "no pressure" or "don't feel obligated" but if you don't do this one, I'll never read your stinkin' blogs ever again.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Poetry Friday/ Reader's Diary #325- Oscar Williams (Editor): Immortal Poems of the English Language (FINISHED)

Clocking in at 618 pages, there were many moments when I thought this book would end my love for poetry. But I'm glad persevered. I learned a little about myself and my tastes. In general, I still think 20th century poetry is better than most that came earlier. Immortal Poems of the English Language showcases poetry chronologically from the 1300s (Chaucer) right on up to the mid-1900s (Dylan Thomas).

Right up to the mid to late 1800s, I could barely distinguish one century's poetry with another. It had definitely gotten stale and repetitive. Excuse me for not lamenting the loss of "thou" from the English language.

I was also surprised by how oozing with sentimentality many of these classics were. Being overwrought seems to be one of the major criticisms of modern poetry, yet back then poets could get away with such lines as "If I have freedom in my love/ and in my soul am free..." While I'm sure people could defend Richard Lovelace, composer of the aforementioned lines, because when he wrote them in the 1600s when such grandiose philosophy was somewhat original, poets were still writing such nonsense 200 years afterwards. "O" was as annoyingly common a word as "thou." Progress has been slow, to be sure.

The only great examples of imagery from those times seemed to come from the longer, narrative ballads. But even of these, I could only tolerate a few (such as Coleridge's "The Tale of the Ancient Mariner"). It's probably a personal thing but I appreciate the ability of poetry to find truth in a few short lines. If it takes 5 pages or more, I tune out and quite frankly would rather read a short story. That's probably why short poems, like A. E. Housman's "Infant Innocence" stood out as real gems:

Infant Innocence
The Grizzly Bear is huge and wild;
He has devoured the infant child.
The infant child is not aware
It has been eaten by the bear.

But it's not just because of shortness, more specificity and imagery, or the absence of a few "O's" and "thous" that I like later poetry more, it's also the themes themselves. Nature, love, and especially God seemed to be the three most common sources of inspiration for hundreds and hundreds of years. It was nice to see a few other topics open up towards the 20th century. It's not to say that taboo issues such as sex weren't hinted at in some of the older poems, but it was nice to have the liberation manifest itself in poetry more frankly.

Of course, not enjoying older poetry is hardly an issue with the book. I'm sure many people love it. I did notice, however, that there were some pretty obvious omissions. There were several Edgar Allan Poe poems for example, but not "The Raven." To me, that's as criminal as highlighting his short stories without "The Tell-Tale Heart." Since most of the oversights that I picked up on were post-Poe, perhaps he began to run into copyright issues as he ventured out of public domain territory (the book was originally published in 1952).

On the positive side, the older poems did seem to implant the importance of rhythm in my brain. Not that I wasn't aware of its effect on poetry but I grew to appreciate even more the rise and fall of the words even when I'd tuned out from the meaning itself. Plus, it was nice to revisit lots of great poetry I'd come across in the past. I once read that to truly appreciate a poem, one must read it several times over. I don't always have the patience for that in one sitting, but even revisiting a poem several years later seems to make a difference.

The soundtrack:
1. Drawn To The Rhythm- Sarah McLachlan
2. O Come, O Come Emmanuel- Belle and Sebastian
3. Trapped In The Drive Thru- Weird Al Yankovic
4. The Times They Are A-Changin'- Bob Dylan
5. Long Time Running- The Tragically Hip

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Great Wednesday Compare: John Steinbeck VERSUS Karl Marx

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (John Steinbeck Vs. Carol Shields), with a final score of 13-6, was John Steinbeck.

Before I get into this week's challenge, I have a question about my blog layout. I managed to find internet service here at the hotel, but my blog looks HORRIBLE on it! The first post doesn't appear until way down the page, the center page is slightly off centered... just nasty! Has my home laptop been deceiving me? How does it appear on yours? Anyway...

Despite Rob's generous offer last week, Shields seems to be primarily a Canadian taste (with a few exceptions). Thanks to the recommendations, I now want to read Larry's Party. While I was expecting a few people to say they hadn't read her, I certainly wasn't expecting anyone to say they hadn't read any Steinbeck. Though there are some major authors I've skipped as well.

Some of the past contenders have written non-fiction (such as Carol Shields' Jane Austen biography), I haven't thrown in anyone known only for non-fiction. Which brings me to Karl Marx. Author of The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, can he compete with a novelist? And should he?

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose (including sex appeal if you want!), voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (Jan 29, 2008), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Spontaneous Yellowknife Trip

Not really, but I am away for a few days (house hunting actually) and so the Wednesday Compare may be late Wednesday night if not later...

Reader's Diary #324- Flannery O'Connor: A Good Man Is Hard To Find

Short Story Monday

(Cross posted at The Short Story Reading Challenge)

A couple Short Story Mondays ago, Nessie commented that she hadn't read many short stories and asked if I had a top ten essentials lists. I was flattered to have been asked. She then went on to say that she had read Flannery O'Connor and I think the assumption was that someone of O'Connor's stature was a given. I was deflated. I can't be much of a short story aficionado without having read any Flannery O'Connor, right? But we've had such discussions around these parts before and I think we can all agree, it's better to just fill such gaping holes than to whine about our ever-growing TBR piles.

All this, of course, leads me to this week's story "A Good Man Is Hard To Find." I had no idea what to expect going into it, but I'm somewhat glad I didn't. If you're as in the dark about O'Connor as I was, perhaps you should go read the story now and return here afterwards.

I really appreciated O'Connor's camaraderie as a story teller. She seemed to acknowledge my expectations and delivered them, yet almost miraculously I wouldn't say it's a predictable story. People behave almost like cliches: the meddling grandmother, the bratty kids, troubled villain, etc. Foreshadowing leads exactly where it told you it would. And it would all be quite annoying if not for feeling like a parable, in which case such formalities are almost necessary.

Like all parables, there's something to consider at the end. My impression was that it was meant to be a Christian message of forgiveness. As I went through the story forgiving the grandmother for her flaws, it pales in comparison to the forgiveness implicit in the grandmother's final statement. Yes, I saw a bit of a supernatural element in the ending, but thankfully it's open to a lot of interpretation. I had to go online and see what others had to say.

Plenty. Whereas I was thankful for the multiple possibilities, the ending has been quite troublesome for many scholars and rife with debate. It turns out that even despite O'Connor's declaration that it was indeed a parable (not that different from the message I read) people still argue about it. One of those in disagreement with the author herself was Stephen C. Bandy who calls upon an adage of D.H. Lawrence to "Never trust the artist. Trust the tale." I enjoyed his article but when he concludes that "to insist at this moment of mutual revelation [referring to the grandmother's last words] that [she] is transformed into the agent of God's grace is to do serious violence to the story" I am not convinced. The bulk of Bandy's argument seems to tear down the character of the grandmother in an attempt to prove she does not provide an adequate balance to the evil of "the misfit" to allow O'Connor's intentions be taken seriously. In fact, he pushes it further by saying that the grandmother is more like the villain than O'Connor would ever admit. Bandy does seem to enjoy the story (writing off those final words as further proof of the grandmother's selfishness), but not the author's own interpretation.

Without having read O'Connor's full essay I can't say fully whether I agree with her or not. I can certainly relate to Bandy finding meaning in writing (especially poetry) that was not intended, but I don't think I'd ever be as bold as to say the author was wrong. I've always had the view that reading is far too personal for a single explanation. In this case, I don't necessarily see the grandmother as having redeemed herself spiritually. In fact I'm not convinced she was even herself at the end. I agree that she wasn't a polar opposite of the villain, but I think that was the point. As a sliding scale, O'Connor asks how far we can push our forgiveness. I think the "good man" to which the title refers is Jesus, who O'Connor suggests, forgives all. So what if I can, as a reader, forgive the trespasses of the grandmother. If I really wanted to test myself, I should try forgiving the Misfit. And did the grandmother really forgive him or was it Jesus speaking through her? This is my reading: not that she was the agent of God's grace, but the channel.

Regardless of your religious orientation, this is a great story. You may not agree with O'Connor, Bandy, or me (gasp!), but I'm sure it'll make you think.

The soundtrack:
1. A Good Man Is Hard To Find- Tom Waits
2. The Good In Everyone- Sloan
3. Shines Right Through- Great Big Sea
4. Forgive Them Father- Lauryn Hill
5. Jesus Christ Pose- Soundgarden

If you've written a Short Story Monday post, please leave a link below.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Poetry Friday/ Writer's Diary #40

This is my attempt at an epigram. However, since I used "slendering" which turns out not to be real word, the wit has gone right out the window. Oh well. I'll defend it by saying that I was going for a sort of advertisement feel and that those ad-agency people seem to make up words all the time. But, the truth is, I just didn't realize it wasn't a real word until after the fact.

First a bit of background knowledge is needed for the non-Newfoundlanders among you. "Scrunchins" are small chunks of fried salted pork fat. As Jembeth wrote at "Nobody ever said that Newfoundland cooking was low fat, low cholesterol or low sodium." Most commonly scrunchins are used to top another Newfoundland dish fish and brewis, but can accompany any number of meals. To add to the artery clogging goodness, they are often served in the oil that remains when they are fried out.

Newfoundland Diet PSA
Avoid munchin’
the fatty scrunchin!
Picture yourself slendering...
Now do without the rendering.

--by John Mutford

Find all the day's Poetry Friday posts at Becky's (another Canadian!)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Great Wednesday Compare: John Steinbeck VERSUS Carol Shields

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (John Steinbeck Vs. Ernest Hemingway), with a final score of 16-7 (plus 1 vote for Jane Austen and 2 who abstained out of boredom), was John Steinbeck.

I'm pleased with the results. The Old Man and The Sea is one of, if not the only, adult novel I've reread. The first time it was as a teenager, the second as an adult. Both times I disliked it (though for almost completely different reasons.) That said, last year Gentle Reader introduced me to Hemingway's legendary six word story and I loved it.

Interestingly, as I was trying to decide who should compete this week, I came across this old post from Bybee... So as not to risk being sued for plagiarizing her idea, it's probably best I don't use F. Scott Fitzgerald this week.

Instead I'm going to give in to my own curiosity and try Carol Shields. She's one of those who I think is recognized and appreciated world wide, but of whom I also fear my patriotic side blinds my judgement (though she did have dual citizenship).

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. (Jan 22, 2008), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Coolest Reading Spot in Canada...

I was driving around with my kids today when we spotted this little guy near the Frobisher Hotel: Quickly we went home, grabbed our snow pants and camera, and also a prop so I could at least make it somehow applicable to a litblog:

(Thanks to the photography skills of my four year old, you now know what the inside of an igloo looks like. Assuming, you didn't already.)

Finally, we made use of the scrapped blocks and built an inuksuk on the side. Not a bad addition, if I do say so myself:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Reader's Diary #323- Mark Antony Jarman: The Cougar

Short Story Monday

Thanks to Pooker for recommending Mark Jarman's short stories to me.

Fortunately I was able to find one of his short stories online: "The Cougar" (and it's about an actual cougar, not Demi Moore or Kylie Minogue).

It took me a few paragraphs to warm to this story. It's filled with sentence fragments alongside run-on sentences, slang words, and pop-culture references. It smacked of someone trying too hard to be cool. Actually, I thought he was trying to be a modern-day Canadian beatnik.

"Then in the woods a sleek cougar nearly takes my head off, but I said ix-nay."

Before long I began to appreciate it. While the voice doesn't come across as belonging to someone I'd necessarily like or have much in common with, it fit the narrator's character. I'm curious about Jarman's other stories-- are they all written in the same sort of voice? If so, the fact that it worked so well this particular time around was but a lucky coincidence. Or are they all written in different voices unique to the particular protagonist? If so, it's impressive that Jarman goes beyond simply using character appropriate vocabulary and makes even style (i.e., sentence fragments) a part of the vernacular. Jarman has piqued my interest in his other stories, for sure.

(Cross posted at The Short Story Reading Challenge)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Poetry Friday- The Host

Welcome everyone to Poetry Friday! Since the partcipants will be providing the main course, I'll simply provide the appetizers.

Here's a little fun with the thesaurus:

Sir, I abide by your comprehensive authority,
That each bard is a buffoon,
However you yourself may assist to display it,
That each buffoon is not a bard.

Can you identify the original poem, i.e., before I butchered it?

And while I'm being juvenile, here's a site which tries to help you write MadLibs poems. It could have been more fun, but there are loads of problems with the grammar, plus they only use two poems as templates. Here's my creation (and I use that term lightly):

blue decision's blue decision

quickly i have never creep, sluggishly beyond
any ocean, your faucet have their aqua:
in your most turquoise chef are things which pop me,
or which i cannot saute because they are too icily

your watery look intensely will unflambe me
though i have boil myself as bathtub,
you broil always candle by candle myself as crayon taste
(freezeing immortally, ideally) her liquid box

or if your fox be to defrost me, i and
my socks will pounce very imaginatively, inwardly,
as when the honey of this ocean braise
the bunny decisively everywhere timeing;

nothing which we are to sort in this gum wonder
the snail of your runny tiger: whose pimple
chop me with the icicle of its racetrack,
melting pot and stove with each swiming

(i do not fry what it is about you that fly
and catch; only something in me hunt
the burner of your faucet is slothlike than all crayon)
dial, not even the oven, has such cheetah-like fan

- John Mutford &
e.e. cummings

Hopefully today's participants will offer up something more substantial!

Update: Looks like a potluck! Where else could you find Dickinson alongside Oscar the Grouch, or Walt Whitman next to the Veggie Tales Gang? Lots of great posts. I suggest you first read the comments below to get more of a description for each post. Look around, have fun, leave comments...

Cloudscome- a sonnet by John Donne

Karen Edminsten- Richard Wilbur’s “The Writer

Suzanne- Elizabeth Coatsworth’s “January

Wizards Wireless – Susan R. Makin’s Kilimanjaro Poems

Mary Lee- a found poem

Literacy Teacher- Bruce Lansky’s “Blow Your Nose

Stacey- Stacey’s “Debacles

Writer2b- Denise Levertov “St. Peter and the Angel

Laura Salas- Various- 15 Words or Less Poems and William Carlos Williams’ “Winter Trees

Sara Lewis Holmes- Sarah Lewis Holmes’ “Flower in Tibet

Liz In Ink - Sylvia Plath's “Metaphors

Jama Rattigan- A few thoughts on beat poetry, and of course, soup

Shelf Elf- Joyce Sidman’s anthology of dog poems “The World According to Dog

Miss Rumphius- Louis May Alcott’s “A Song From the Suds

Mitali Perkins- Marge Piercey’s “For The Young Who Want To

Chicken Spaghetti- Howard Nemerov’s “Storm Windows

Kelly- Czeslaw Milosz’s “Ars Poetica

Little Willow- Hannah Teter’s “Wise Eyes

Jenny- Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing

TadMack- Charles Bukowski’s “Fame

Jennie- Marge Piercy’s “Why Marry At All

Crispus Attucks- Forrest Hamer’s “A Poem About Whiteness

Becky- The Veggie Tales Gang “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything

Kelly Fineman- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls

HipWriterMama- Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Youth and Age

The Simple and The Ordinary- Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Katherine

Ruth- Dr. Bacchus’s “Chai” (Poems about Kenya)

The Well Read Child- Oscar The Grouch “Knock Three Times

Wild Rose Reader- Elaine Magliaro’s winter poems

3M- Michelle M’s “Cat’s Eye

Blue Rose Girls- Eve Mirriam’s “How To Eat A Poem” and Mark Strand’s “Eating Poetry”

Shannon- gathas, an original gatha by Nona

Amoxcalli- Herberto Helder’s “Someone opens an orange in silence

Anamaria- Gwendolyn Brooks’ Bronzeville Boys and Girls

Becky at Farm School- Emily Dickinson’s “No. 668, c1863

Sheila- Tu Fu’s “Snow Storm

7-Imp- Galway Kinnell’s “The Correspondence-School Instructor Says Good-Bye to His Poetry Students

S/V Mari Hal-O-Jen- Mary Oliver's "The Hermit Crab"

Tiel Aisha Ansari's "Why I Don't Make New Year's Resolutions"

Andrea's "Roar of a Snore" Podcast

Web- Jay M. Harris's The Moon Is La Luna

Erin- Billy Collins's "Days"

*The thesaurusized poem above was originally by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and went like this:

Sir, I admit your general rule,
That every poet is a fool,
But you yourself may serve to show it,
That every fool is not a poet.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Great Wednesday Compare- John Steinbeck VERSUS Ernest Hemingway

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Charles Dickens Vs. John Steinbeck), with a final score of 12-8, was John Steinbeck.

When I first decided to pit these next two against each other, I thought I had the world series on my hands. But on second thought, I personally wouldn't have a difficult time deciding between these two. Maybe it's not such a challenge afterall. I used to get the two authors confused (it didn't help that one wrote East of Eden while the other wrote The Garden of Eden). Then I started reading...

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose (including sex appeal if you want!), voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (Jan 15, 2008), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Reader's Diary #322- Alexander Pushkin: The Snow Storm

Short Story Monday

Before getting into this week's short story, I'd like to inform everyone of Kate's Short Story Reading Challenge. She has a lot of options available from simply reading 10 short stories to reading 10 collections of short stories over the span of a year. Not surprising to anyone who knows my love for the genre, I'm participating. I've said before that I'm keeping my challenges to a minimum, but seeing as I read a short story each week, it's simply a matter of signing up. I won't pick my stories ahead of time, but I will say that all of my selections will be ones found available online.

Speaking of challenges, this week's story also fulfills 1/4 of my Russian Reading Challenge. Along with my Canadian Book Challenge and Historia's Shakespeare Challenge (another one of those that I'd read anyway), that makes 4... 4 Reading Challenges aa-aa-aa (sorry, I've been watching Sesame Street with the kids lately).
Often considered one of the greatest Russian poets and founder of Russian literature, it's hard to go into a Pushkin story without high expectations. I found "The Snow Storm," or "The Blizzard" as it is sometimes translated, to be a pleasant enough read but it probably won't stick with me.
I certainly enjoyed that narration style found so often in Russian fiction: a slight detachment from the story itself, but endearing to the reader. The best illustration of this comes from the segues between character plots: "Having intrusted the young lady to the care of fate, and to the skill of Tereshka the coachman, we will return to our young lover."
I also appreciated the satirical barbs which again seem to characterize most Russian literature I've read: "Maria Gavrilovna had been brought up on French novels and consequently was in love."
The storm itself was quite interesting, as well. I think perhaps Pushkin was using it as a metaphor for love, or at least the kind of naive infatuation that's often mistaken for love.
My only problem lies with the ending which feels almost unbelievable in the vein of 70s sitcoms.
So, credit Pushkin for Gogol, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy but also for Three's Company.
(Cross-posted at the Russian Reading Challenge and The Short Story Reading Challenge)

And the winner is...

Congratulations to Pooker for correctly matching all 5 blurbs, books, and bloggers. The correct answers were:

1. What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies as reviewed by Steve

2. The Culprits by Robert Hough as reviewed by Leo

3. Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop as reviewed by Remi

4. Where is the Voice Coming From? by Rudy Weibe as reviewed by August

5. Effigy by Alissa York as reviewed by Pooker

Pooker will receive a copy of Gil Adamson's The Outlander courtesy of Anansi Press.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Reader's Diary #321- Ami McKay: The Birth House (FINISHED!!)

In 2003 my daughter was born with the aid of midwives in Rankin Inlet. They were godsends (and have become lifelong friends in the process). It was my first education into the world of midwifery and my wife and I are fully in support of the resurgence. It would stand to reason that I'd be drawn to Ami McKay's the birth house, which tells the story of a fictional midwife in early 1900s Nova Scotia.

What a colossal disappointment. Lately it seems that I've been drawn to a lot of stories that reveal the underside and complexities of small town life (in particular To Kill a Mockingbird and Dogville). At the beginning of the birth house it appeared that I'd be treated to another one of these tales:
"Men wagered their lives with the sea for the honour of these vessels."

"As the men bargained with the elements, the women tended to matters at

"When husbands, fathers and sons were kept out in the fog longer than was safe, the women stood at their windows, holding their lamps..."

The problem was McKay never really got beyond this stereotypical view of maritime life, whereas the aforementioned stories excelled by stripping away the layers. In a lot of ways the birth house reminded me of E. Annie Proulx's faulted presentation of Newfoundland.

One exception was protagonist, Dora Rare. Another annoyance: McKay's ridiculous names. Had this read like a fable perhaps she could have gotten away with such silliness, but anchoring the story in such real-life events as the Halifax explosion and the 1st World War prevented any surreal experience she may have been going for. The Rares haven't had a male born in 5 generations, which makes Dora even more rare- wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Then there's Experience Ketch who had to put up with a drunken, abusive husband for years- imagine all that she's experienced- you get it? Oh and let's not forget the name of the ship that captain Bigelow sailed to the West Indies, never again to return to his wife... the Fidelity. Where's a rim-shot when you really need one?

Such intrusions of McKay trying desperately to be funny merely distracted from the story. Another prime example: the vibrator incident. After a doctor prescribes...ahem...vibration therapy, Dora mail-orders a vibrator of her very own to avoid him. In her diary she writes, "With the arrival of this 'medical marvel,' I feel hopeful..." My issue- petty as it might seem- is those tiny little quotation marks around medical marvel. Sure, it could be argued that Dora was simply quoting from the magazine ad, but doesn't it seem like McKay is throwing it in to joke with us, the modern readers? As in, "Can you believe how silly things were back then?" Yechh. The rest of the novel just got more and more obvious that it was a 21st century author casting modern knowledge and values backwards and expecting me to believe it.

I could go on (predictable, sexist, etc), but I'm just so exhausted with it all.

This is my 7th book for the Canadian Book Challenge and was my Nova Scotia selection. So far I've covered Newfoundland and Labrador (Out of the Sea), Manitoba (the Time In Between), British Columbia (Love: A Book of Remembrances), Ontario (Uncommon Prayer), Nunavut (One Woman's Arctic), and Quebec (Harpoon of the Hunter).

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Great Wednesday Compare- Charles Dickens VERSUS John Steinbeck

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Charles Dickens Vs. Virginia Woolf), with a final score of 9-8, was Charles Dickens. This marked the 2nd week in a row in which the tie-breaking vote fell to me. Watch out, I'm on a power-trip. This time, while I admit I wasn't all that taken with Mrs. Dalloway, my vote was based instead on Jane Austen. "She wasn't even a contender!" you might be saying. The thing is, Austen has held the Wednesday Compare record for too long. Now she must share. And as I said back then, any contender winning five matches will be retired. (I must admit, I'm looking forward to starting all over with two brand new contenders-- though I shouldn't get ahead of myself, Dickens still needs to win the next two challenges).

In the meantime, take a look at the list of past contenders in the sidebar. In theory, it should be that Dickens is better than everyone else below. But I'm also sure there have been many weeks that voting hasn't gone your way. At which point- starting from the bottom and working your way up- would you disagree with the ladder?

And as always, who's better this week?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Canadian Book Challenge- 3rd Update

Happy New Year!!!

First off, welcome to all those who joined the challenge in December. And to those who planned on starting in January..start your engines!

There's been a great selection of books read so far-- a mix of classics along with some newer authors, fiction and non-fiction, and even varying reviews on the same book. I'm really enjoying reading all the reviews, as I hope you all take the time to do as well. Here is the current progress:

The Grosbeaks (13 Books)

The Canada Geese (12 Books)

The Snowy Owls (11 Books)

The Green Loons (10 Books)

The Osprey (9 Books)
- Alligator by Lisa Moore
- Sailing to Saratanium by Guy Gavriel Kay
- Spook Country by William Gibson
- And No Birds Sang by Farley Mowat
- Uninvited Guest by John Degen
- Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
- Badlands by Robert Kroetsch*
- Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop*
- What's Bred In The Bone by Robertson Davies*

The Kingfishers (8 Books)

- Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock
- Kanada by Eva Wiseman
- 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
- Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel*
- Dust by Arthur Slade*

- The Culprits by Robert Hough*
- The End of The Alphabet by CS Richardson*
- The Outlander by Gil Adamson*
- Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall*
- The Reckoning of Boston Jim by Claire Mulligan*
- Coureurs De Bois
by Bruce MacDonald*
- As Good As Dead
by Stan Rogal*
- Woman in Bronze
by Antanas Silieka*

The Polar Bears (7 Books)

The Loons (6 Books)
- The Time In Between by David Bergen
- Love: A Book of Remembrances by bpNichol
- Out of the Sea by Victor Kendall and Victor G. Kendall
- Uncommon Prayer by Susan McMaster
- One Woman's Arctic by Sheila Burnford*
- Harpoon of the Hunter by Markoosie*

- The Story Girl by Lucy Maud Montgomery
- Birds in Fall by Brad Kessler*
- The White Dawn by James Houston*
- Crow Lake by Mary Lawson*
- Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast Pillow Book by Bill Richardson*
- Latitude of Melt by Joan Clark*

The Coats of Arms (5 Books)

- Hockey Dreams by David Adams Richards
- A Boy of Good Breeding by Miriam Toews
- The Lost Salt Gift of Blood by Alistair MacLeod
- The Inuk Mountie Adventure by Eric Wilson
-Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam*

The Caribou (4 Books)

- Yellowknife by Steve Zipp
- A Hard Witching by Jacqueline Baker
- Smuggling Donkeys by David Helwig
- Covenant of Salt by Martine Desjardins*

- Starting Out by Pierre Berton
- A Nurse's Story by Tilda Shalof
- One Red Paper Clip by Kyle MacDonald
- Miss O by Betty Oliphant

The Bluenoses (3 Books)

- Birds In Fall by Brad Kessler
- Latitudes of Melt by Joan Clark
- The Word For Home by Joan Clark*

- Where Is The Voice Coming From? by Rudy Wiebe*
- Fat Woman by Leon Rooke*
- The Republic of Love by Carol Shields*

Geranium Cat
- The Honeyman Festival by Marian Engel
- A Deathful Ridge by J. A. Wainwright
- Latitudes of Melt by Joan Clark

- Unless by Carol Shields
- The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
- The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

- A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
- Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast by Bill Richardson*
- Them Times by David Weale*

- Rick Mercer Report: The Book by Rick Mercer
-The Hunter's Moon by Orla Melling
-Against The Odds by Lucy Maud Montgomery*

- Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
- Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen*
- Kanada by Eve Wiseman*

The Beavers (2 Books)

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

- Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood*
- Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood*

- The Library Book by Maureen Saw
- fake id by Hazel Edwards

- Mad Shadows by Marie-Claire Blais
- The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx*

- Houdini's Shadow by Leo Brent Robillard
- The Culprits by Robert Hough*

- Life of Pi by Yann Martel
-A Touch of Panic by L.R. Wright*

- Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay*
- Effigy by Allisa York*

- The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx*
- No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod*

- Wonderful Strange by Dale Jarvis*
- The Long Run by Leo Furey*

-Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery
- The Long Stretch by Linden MacIntyre*

- Atonement by Gaetan Soucy
- The Big Why by Michael Winter*

The Maple Leaves (1 Book)
-Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

- Not An Easy Choice: Re-Examining Abortion by Kathleen McDonnell*

- Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop*

- The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill*

-Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery*

- Fifth Business by Robertson Davies*

(If this update is not accurate, please let me know in the comment section and I'll edit it.)

Now, it's prize time! To win a copy of Gil Adamson's The Outlander, identify these blogger blurbs with the correct book (hint: blurbs are only taken from December reviews, identified with an asterisks above):

1. " old-fashioned morality tale, gracefully told, full of wit and humour"
2. "this novel juggles the madcap with the sober, the tragic with the comic"
3. "a book for book obsessives, an in-joke that does not fall flat"
4. "of all thirteen of these stories, only and handful were worth reading at all"
5. "It's worth every penny of its cover price."

Email your answers to jmutford (at) hotmail (dot) com. From all those who enter, I will randomly draw one name and post the winner next Saturday. Please don't post your answer in the comments.

(Special thanks to Anansi Press for donating this book!)