Friday, February 29, 2008

Poetry Friday- Writer's Diary #44

Lately when Poetry Friday comes around, I find myself scrambling for something to post. Then, just as I decide that it's okay to skip a week, inspiration strikes. Here's a little poem that came to me last night as I was drifting off to sleep. I know it probably seems amateurish to share a poem that's really only in it's infancy, but I like getting early drafts out there. Sometimes the feedback I get helps when I edit it later down the road, sometimes it just helps to see it up there on the screen. Plus, I like reading earlier drafts of poems- it gives the final product more life. So without further ado:

by John Mutford

"These peas taste fine,"
thought Mendel, returning
from another
laborious day at work.
Returning from
another laborious day
at work, Mendel thinks
"These peas taste fine."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Heroine Addiction

Today's BTT question:
Who is your favorite female lead character? And why? (And yes, of course, you can name more than one . . . I always have trouble narrowing down these things to one name, why should I force you to?)

I decided to use my old approach to multiple choice exams and use the first answers that came to mind.

1. Baby from Heather O'Neill's Lullabies For Little Criminals -Perhaps it's the father in me, but I just wanted to protect this girl. She's funny, tough and tragic.

2. Vanessa MacLeod from Margaret Laurence's Bird in the House - I admit that the character stuck with me more than her name and I had to look it up. I also had trouble choosing between her and Morag Gunn from another Laurence masterpiece The Diviners. Still, and I don't know what it says about me, but I relate to the females in Margaret Laurence novels and for that minor miracle I had to pick one.

3. Scout Finch from Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee achieved the nearly impossible with Scout: a story told from a child's perspective that doesn't dumb down the vocabulary yet makes it believable. I suspect this name will come up a lot amongst the BTT participants.

4. Sheilagh Fielding from Wayne Johnston's Colony of Unrequited Dreams - Sheilagh resonated with lots of readers apparently. So much so, Johnston wrote her a sequel. I haven't read Custodian of Paradise yet, but in Dreams at least, she was the perfect personification of independence.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Great Wednesday Compare 2: Terry Pratchett VERSUS Neil Gaiman

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Jack London vs. Terry Pratchett), with a final score of 8-3, was Terry Pratchett.

Finally back from my vacation in Newfoundland, I remembered once again something I realized a while ago: Canada is a great beautiful country, but traveling it's a bitch.

Speaking of Canada, as I was compiling my list of authors and books for the Canadian Book Challenge, I found myself stumped at Jack London. I was pretty sure Call of the Wild and White Fang were set in the Yukon, but I wasn't sure what his nationality was. Turns out London was from California, but I included his books anyway. This week we say good-bye to the honorary Canadian.

Now it's time for friend versus friend.

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. (March 4, 2008), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Short Story Monday- Kenneth J. Harvey: No better a house

Short Story Monday

Cross posted at The Short Story Reading Challenge.

I'm still in Newfoundland visiting family, so this post will once again be short. I picked today's story (Kenneth J. Harvey's No better a house) because it's by a Newfoundlander and certainly captures a lot of how I've felt this trip. It deals with change, resiliency, and the subjectivity of progress all at once. Unlike Leon Rooke's "Yellow House" which I wrote about a couple weeks back, the pacing here is less jarring. Whereas Rooke masterfully kept the intensity high with sudden and unexpected juxtapositions, Harvey employs a different tactic but with no less skill. Somehow this one felt more sneaky. At one point I realized my eyebrows had raised yet I had no idea when it happened.

The Soundtrack
1. Less Cities More Moving People- The Fixx
2. My Old Wooden Shack- Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers
3. Burning Down The House- Talking Heads
4. On The Real- Bottled Beats
5. I Shall Not Be Moved- Johnny Cash

Friday, February 22, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Great Wednesday Compare 2: Jack London VERSUS Terry Pratchett

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Farley Mowat vs. Jack London), with a final score of 11-6, was Jack London.

First off, sorry about the lack of postings recently. I'm visiting family in Newfoundland right now and I'm pretty exhausted from traveling. Plus, sometimes blogging plays second fiddle.

So, this week's will be short. Just a quick last word on Mowat though, I agree with the comment last week that it was pretty bold of him to downplay the importance of facts when it comes to a good story. I can even respect such a stance except that I believe it carried over into his supposedly non-fiction books as well. That, I think, is crossing a line.

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 26, 2008), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Poetry Friday/ Reader's Diary #330- Zachariah Wells: Unsettled (FINISHED)

After interviewing poet Zachariah Wells for Poetry Friday a couple months back, I had a response from his editor which simply said, "Okay, so buy Zach's book already."

I bought it. You should too.

Whenever one writes a review, that the author might read your opinions has to cross your mind. It's happened here before, and given the fact that I've already had correspondence with the guy, it's almost a given this time around. But if Wells claims to have "a borderline-autistic inability to observe social niceties and keep [his] mouth shut" then certainly I've also had similar symptoms from time to time. When Wells said it, however, it made nervous about eventually reading his book. Would it come across overly opinionated? I like when poets (or any authors) share their truth with us, but also don't like it when people claim their truth is universal (free free to argue the philosophy of truth) or worse, try to cram it down our throats. It's a fine balance and perhaps a lot to expect.

Fortunately, Wells was up to the task. For the most part, he keeps the poems local and personal by using individuals as characters rather than entire populations. This is important to me. His observations, and more importantly, the global relevance can be deciphered by me, the reader. Compare how less arrogant this poem seems:

Under midnight sun

A bored raven picks white bones
At the garbage dump.
A white man selects a dark
Mate outside the screaming bar.

than the opening stanza of "Nomads":

Nomads stumble in from the jobless
east, one rock island to another, uprooted
easy as hydroponic cucumbers, grumbling

Fortunately, the first is more representative of the poems in the book. The first, while dealing with two defined scenes and individuals, speaks volumes to me of man's nature. That is, I can generalize from the specific. In the latter, while the argument can be made that Wells talks about a specific situation (immigration to the North), it is still a generalization (of Newfoundlanders especially) that readers are not in control of, feels less intimate and therefore weaker. Note, this is not a problem of politics (I am, you should note, one of those rock to rock folks). I think the observations he made with "Nomads" are just as astute as the first poem, but I liked his story telling better than his finger pointing.

Occasionally, some readers might have a problem with the localism. I've done my share of bitching about obscure Greek references in poetry, arguing that readers shouldn't have to get a degree in mythology to understand a poem. While I understood most of the references in Unsettled (I even work with some of the people he mentions), I don't feel non-Iqaluimmiut would be at a major loss. For one thing, most unfamiliar words, people and locales can probably be understood (at least as well as the poet probably intended) through context. Still, a small glossary or appendix at the back wouldn't have hurt. How many of you know what maqtaq is? Or to what Wells was referring to with the hydroponic cucumbers line above?

In all though, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Not only does he give an accurate portrayal of a life here, the poems were very well written. Take this stanza from "Stacking Boxes in the Belly of a Flying Whale" in which Wells recalls his cargo handling days, stuffing freight inside a 727:

Everything must be flat: no curves, odd angles, gaps;
Hit it squarely, waste no space, make every box fit,
Even if you've got to crush it a bit,
Squeeze out all the air, chink every crack.
I love the sound of this so much; how well the almost rhyming assonance in the first line (flat, gaps) emulates the boxes that won'; how well the commas in the second line conjure up the pace; how well the hard sounds of "chink every crack" represents the physical struggle of the task. Absolutely wonderful.

The Soundtrack:
1. This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)- Talking Heads
2. Sixteen Tons- Tennessee Ernie Ford
3. Legion Nights- Errol Fletcher
4. January- Ravens & Chimes
5. Northwest Passage- Stan Rogers

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day Break Up

Today's BTT question comes from Chris:
Here’s something for Valentine’s Day:
Have you ever fallen out of love with a favorite author? Was the last book you read by the author so bad, you broke up with them and haven’t read their work since? Could they ever lure you back?
Hate to steal from Chris's answer but Stephen King certainly comes to mind. I do occasionally go back to the guy, but it's more out of a sense of obligation (at one point, I had actually caught up with him, now I'm guessing there's over a dozen that I've missed). My biggest problem with King is the Gunslinger series, which is very unfortunate since I loved those at one point. Then those characters and worlds started intruding on every other book he wrote and it became overkill. Plus the whole Emerald City bit in Wizard and Glass was the jump-the-shark moment for me.
Then there's Jean M. Auel. I'll admit to liking Clan of the Cave Bear. Valley of the Horses I thought was a decent sequel. Then the gratuitous sex actually grew boring and Ayla, the super cave woman, invented everything from universal health care to microwaveable popcorn and I couldn't handle it anymore. The last one I read was Plains of Passage and I don't think I'll bother with Shelters of Stone.
I had the opposite reaction to Wayne Johnston. I had to read The Story of Bobby O'Malley in university and despised it (I thought it was depressing and his attempts to lighten it up with slapstick only made it more so). I vowed not to read him again but picked up Colony of Unrequited Dreams when it was up for Canada Reads and it's become one of my favourite books.
I'm sure there are plenty others who I remember enjoying that I probably wouldn't like today due to maturity, changes in preferences, etc just as I'm sure there were plenty books I disliked back in the day that I'd be all over now. It'll be interesting to look back and see how my tastes change in another 15 years or so.
Good question Chris!
(When is Blogger ever going to get spell chek fixed?!)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Great Wednesday Compare 2: Farley Mowat VERSUS Jack London

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Robert Munsch Vs. Farley Mowat), with a final score of 9-8, was Farley Mowat.

Once again, you kind folks have left a tie in my hands. What is this, Father's Day? (A little middle-aged humour there.) Mowat people can thank me. Munsch people, throw stones if you wish. To defend my choice, I'll address some of the comments from last week:

Kookiejar: I've seen a few photos around with Munsch sporting a beard as well. Fortunately, for the Mowat fans, I couldn't find any of those online.

Nicola: I haven't heard Munsch live. I have, however, heard him on CD. And I'm not a fan. He puts bizarre intonations into his stories, sounding slightly deranged, and worse, for any kid trying to follow along in the book, he throws in words that aren't there. Granted, he does sound enthusiatic and no doubt that would be infectious... in person. As for your arguments for Mowat, I agree that he's shown much more diversity.

Raidergirl: I'll agree that The Paperbag Princess is great. I will, however, defy your claim that Love You Forever will make any parent tear up. I've always found the mom...well, psychotic! Granted 15 000 000 other people agree with you (including Joey from Friends). I also find the book overly sentimental, and that kids don't have anywhere near the same reaction to it as their parents. Nor am I fussy on the illustrations, but Munsch shouldn't be held responsible for Sheila McGraw's art. (Again, people seem to disagree with me on that point, too.)

Bookgal: I'm taking a year off from teaching this year, and while I admit that kids I've taught love Munsch, I still think there are much better picture books out there.

Melanie: I think my problem is that I've read too many Munsch books as well. After a while they start to seem formulaic. Of course, I have my favourites Get Out of Bed! and Alligator Baby, plus he had a lot of respect from me for collaborating with Nunavut children's author Michael Kusugak in A Promise is a Promise. Though he lost that credit by calling it Nunavit. Shame, shame. Then again, a lot of locals in the North call Farley Mowat "Hardly Knowit" so I guess I shouldn't get all hung up on facts. Still, the Canadiana that one could gather from either author's books is quite impressive.

Remi: I've read Mowat again as an adult and like Munsch, find him hit-or-miss. Lost In The Barrens (also called Two Against The North) I heard for the first time in grade four, I think. I absolutely loved it. More than anything else I've read since by him (including Never Cry Wolf), or by Munsch and it probably helped tipped the scale.

So who's fair competition for Farley Mowat this week? I'm hoping Jack London.

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 19, 2008), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Reader's Diary #329- William Shakespeare: The Third Part of Henry The Sixth (FINISHED)

Classy cover, don't you think?

Shakespeare was one of those rare breeds to make the third installment of a trilogy the best.

Unlike the first two parts, the third seems more streamlined. The plot still revolves around challenges to King Henry's throne, but all the subplots of earlier have pretty much subsided. Instead there seems to be much more interest in exploring themes of male roles in the family, especially in terms of inheritance and power.

Not to make it entirely a masculine story, Queen Margaret almost steals the show once again with her wickedness. After giving the Duke of York the news that his son has been murdered, she offers him a napkin stained with the son's blood to wipe away his tears. Then she has the duke decapitated and sticks his head upon the gates of York so that "York may overlook the town of York."

While that last line might seem like a throwaway, really not all that clever when you consider he was only named the Duke of York after the town, making the wordplay not all that playful, it was clever as a symbol. While Margaret is delighting in her own sinfulness, Shakespeare seemed to be toying with the idea of a sinister, or at least doomed, reflection. Fathers pass down legacies of revenge to their sons, brothers plot against one another, all the while having the same blood. He takes this up more blatantly later on in the play having two briefly appearing characters simply named A Son That Has Kill'd His Father and A Father That Has Kill'd His Son.

While the King Henry The Sixth trilogy ends here, I'm relieved for the first time that there'll be more to the story. King Richard the Third takes up where this one left off (fortunately with Queen Margaret still alive and kicking).

The Soundtrack:
1. Hand Me Down World- The Guess Who
2. Off With Your Head- Sleater-Kinney
3. Evil Woman- Electric Light Orchestra
4. Brother Down- Sam Roberts
5. Kings and Queens- Aerosmith

Cross posted at BiblioShakespeare.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Reader's Diary #328- Leon Rooke: Yellow House

Short Story Monday

Cross posted at The Short Story Reading Challenge.

There's a lot about Leon Rooke's "Yellow House" that I'd call relentless. The tone is relentless, the pace is relentless, the mystery is relentless, the symbolism is relentless and the contrasts are relentless.

For all of that, I held on as if I had no choice. If you're seasick in the middle of the Atlantic, you either get over it or prepare for a long, vomit-filled journey back to the nearest pharmacy and precious Gravol.

For all of that-- and this is where the seasick analogy falls overboard-- I enjoyed it. Immensely. Even the bizarre, fishy ending that I still can't quite figure out (along with what the heck affliction they were suffering from and just who were those Geeks anyway?) And if I have a question within parentheses within a statement, does a period follow the closing bracket?

I often use short stories to gauge whether or not I should read a longer piece by a particular author. I'll definitely be reading more by Rooke.

The Soundtrack:
1. Soon One Mornin' (Death Come A-Creepin' In My Room)- Mississippi Fred McDowell
2. Shiny Happy People- R.E.M.
3. Woe- Tom Waits
4. Peaches- Presidents of the United States of America
5. Hope You're Feeling Better- Santana

Did you write a Short Story Monday post? Feel free to leave a link below:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Books, Books Everywhere Nor Any Word To Read (The 123 Meme)

Chris tagged me with this little ditty today...

1). Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages)
2). Open the book to page 123
3). Find the fifth sentence
4). Post the next three sentences
5). Tag five people

I once read Che Guevara's biography and was enthralled by his upbringing. Apparently his family members were voracious readers and visitors would have to clear books off chairs just to find a place to sit. Despite being pretty adamant about not stacking up a huge collection, my house is pretty much like that. If it's not one of the kid's picture books, it's one of my novels, or my wife's textbooks (she's working on her Masters in Literacy). It's the latter that was nearest me for this meme...

From Literacy in American Lives by Deborah Brandt, comes the following five sentences, found on page 123:

The church remains one of the important channels within African American society to provide what larger political systems withhold and to offer conscious alternatives to the hospitality and negativity that those larger sytems often deliver.

This chapter will continue to seek the presence of African American self-help institutions of long standing as they appear as enabling agents-- directly and indirectly-- in the literacy learning of ordinary African Americans. As we will see, the values of persistence and keeping whole-- which function as both practical and spiritual necessities-- favor some of the oldest aspects of literacy's historical development.

As for the five people I tag:
1. Jerry Supiran
2. Dick Christie
3. Marla Pennington
4. Tiffany Brissette
5. Emily Schulman

Saturday, February 09, 2008

And The Winner Is...


Congrats to Bookgal who won a copy of Kathleen Molloy's Dining With Death. Many of you correctly answered last week's quiz (T, F, F, F, T) but unfortunately there could only be one winner and Bookgal's name was picked from the tuque. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Also thanks to Kathleen once again for donating her book.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Poetry Friday- WIlliam Carlos Williams: The Red Wheelbarrow

I've had such a love/hate relationship with William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow" poem over the years. You know the one:

so much depends

a red wheel
glazed with rain

beside the white
My first and longest lasting opinion was that it was a private joke. Williams, I suggested, was just wanting to see what he could get published and still have people contemplate, when in actuality the poem is nothing. I even resented him a little for it. I loved "This Is Just To Say" so much, how could he pull such a nasty trick on his readers?

But throughout the years, I started to give him the benefit of a doubt. It then became my theory that it was Williams' intention to make this a private piece, but not one void of a point that the public could take away. Perhaps, I proposed, it's his way of saying that symbols are dependent on the individual. No he doesn't provide us with context, no we don't really know why the red wheelbarrow is so bloody important, but it's obvious that the narrator does.

But is my love for "This Is Just To Say" clouding my judgement? Am I giving Williams too much credit? Am I falling into the trap I accused him of setting in the first place? There's lots of great thoughts on this particular poem over at Wikipedia, what are yours?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Booking Through Thursday- But Enough About Books

Last week the Booking Through Thursday participants were kind enough to answer a question I had posed a while back, and what did I do? Ignore them. I was so busy with work that I simply forgot all about it. To make amends, not only will I finally get around to that question but I'll answer this week's as well.

1st: Sometimes I find eccentric characters quirky and fun, other times I find them too unbelievable and annoying. What are some of the more outrageous characters you’ve read, and how do you feel about them?

If the book is satirical, I love over-the-top characters (like those in Mordecai Richler's Cocksure). For some reason, I also think I'm much more tolerable of eccentric villains (Shakespearean villains are great as was Zenia of Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride).

At the risk of offending so their fans, I could just barely stand the characters in John Irving's The World According To Garp and Robertson Davies' Fifth Business. I didn't find them believable at all, but fortunately the stories were interesting enough to forgive them.

There are also those who infuse their books with wild names. In real life I'd love to meet people named Gravytrain or Dromedary. On the interesting scale, it doesn't get much duller than John. But when every other character in a novel is given a bizarre name, it's distracting and rings false. Those in Ami McKay's The Birth House and Frances Itani's Deafening are perfect examples.

Then there are those characters which are so forced in their idiosyncrasies that I just can't enjoy the book at all, no matter what the story line. Jeanette Winterson’s Lighthousekeeping was one of those books.

2nd: Okay, even I can’t read ALL the time, so I’m guessing that you folks might voluntarily shut the covers from time to time as well… What else do you do with your leisure to pass the time? Walk the dog? Knit? Run marathons? Construct grandfather clocks? Collect eggshells?

I also write, but not as often as I should (except for blogging, which we all know isn't real writing). I always manage to find 1000 excuses not to. It's like exercising, except I actually like to write. I used to blame TV, but now with the writer's strike and absence of The Office, I have no one to point the finger at except myself. I'm also part of a local theatre group, but I've yet to be in any play. Mostly we do workshops and improv (which I'm quickly realizing I suck at). I also enjoy bike riding, listening to music and taking long walks on the beach (okay that last one was just thrown in there for comedic purposes, but it is true). Friday nights are usually reserved for friends and a nerdy-sounding but oh so fun board game called Cities and Knights of Catan. Finally, I just like hanging out with my kids-- the ones I'm currently neglecting to write this post.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Great Wednesday Compare 2: Robert Munsch VERSUS Farley Mowat

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (John Steinbeck Vs. William Faulkner), with a final score of 9-8, was John Steinbeck.

As much as I wanted a tie in past debates, I really didn't want the 1st round of Great Wednesday Compares to end on my vote. But here we are, and I assure you my tie-breaking vote for Steinbeck was honest. I've read only one Faulkner book (As I Lay Dying) and don't care to read another. I found it confusing, yet dull. A few people voting in Faulkner's favour last week suggested that his books caused them to think and work harder, but they found the effort worth it. Perhaps had I studied Faulkner in a group setting or in a class, I'd appreciate the complexities. My first exposure to Steinbeck was in a classroom (The Pearl) and I reject the notion that there was anything less to think about or consider. Steinbeck's messages are at least packaged in a more straightforward story. If I wanted to delve deeper, I could. With Faulkner I didn't feel I had any choice.

Before I get into the first contenders for the 2nd Round, let's have a look back...

In the premiere edition, Stephen King took on J. K. Rowling beating her (though not all the way to the bank) 15-5 . Quickly though we found that the true king of horror was Edgar Allan Poe, who beat him 17-5. Poe, however, was no match for Jane Austen, who slaughtered him 48-8. Then in the first all-female edition, Austen was the first author to win two weeks in a row, taking down Lucy Maud Montgomery 38-13. But her winning streak wouldn't end there, she took on Kurt Vonnegut the next week and gutted him 22-10. Which literary genius finally proved superior to Austen? Dr. Suess 23-21. His rhymes struck a chord with people and Seuss was able to win a 2nd match, this time against Narnia creator C. S. Lewis 15-14. But, rhymes are one thing and poetry is quite another. Who took out Seuss, I think I know...Robert Frost 21-4. Frost is cool, but no match for the Canadian winter. Margaret Atwood took over 18-6. And though she professed her admiration for Toni Morrison, there's no room for niceties here. Toni Morrison wasn't much beloved at all, losing 15-2. Atwood could not, however, tie Austen's 3 week winning streak. According to Garp fans, John Irving is better 9-8. Irving continued on, without any care for atonement, beating Ian McEwan 10-4. But the time for phoniness had passed and J. D. Salinger put down Irving 9-5. Salinger then cast out William Goulding 9-3. Again with no one seeming able to tie Austen's record of three, Salinger lost to Ray Bradbury 12-2. Then, in a sci-fi showdown, Bradbury took out Isaac Asimov 6-2 (a pretty sad number of votes!) Again reliving our childhoods, Bradbury lost out to E. B. White 10-2. Next E. B. White proved that caterpillars are no match for spiders, getting rid of Eric Carle 21-4. Then, perhaps proving we were all a little tired of juvenile fiction, Agatha Christie took the lead, killing off White 10-6. Who's the better sleuth master? No mystery here: Arthur Conan Doyle 8-6. The following week not even Halloween could save Bram Stoker. Sherlock thrust the stake through his heart 13-4. Then Harper Lee took out Doyle 17-5. In my first cold-war match-up Lee lost to Tolstoy, 8-7. Tolstoy then returned to his own country and offered punishment to Fyodor Dostoevsky 9-7. Tolstoy is good, but George Orwell is better 8-6. And Leonard Cohen? Orwell took him down to that place near the river 9-8. Next it was the best of times for Charles Dickens who beat Orwell 14-4. Dickens then went on to beat Mark Twain 10-9 and Virginia Woolf 9-8, finally tying Austen's record. But the record was not to be beat until Steinbeck came along. Immediately he set his wrath upon Dickens 12-8, Ernest Hemingway 16-7, Carol Shields 13-6, Karl Marx 15-2, and finally William Faulkner 9-8, bringing his total wins to five, which was the magic number to end the first round and declare John Steinbeck the first champion.

For the second round, I've decided to start off with a couple Canadians (actually I believe Munsch has dual citizenship with the U.S.). I've not yet had an all-Canadian match-up and since I'm hosting the Canadian Book Challenge, I figured it was as good a time as any to promote that. Not to worry though, upcoming week's will see the compares going global once more.

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 12, 2008), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Reader's Diary #327- Pierre Berton: The National Dream (FINISHED!)

A few years ago I read Pierre Berton's The Arctic Grail and was thoroughly impressed. It was amazing how what was essentially a history book read like a novel. The arctic explorers were every bit as compelling as any fictional characters I had come across in other books. At the beginning of The National Dream Berton again presents us with a "cast of characters". Let the drama unfold...

Oh. Political drama.

I don't have an aversion to politics per se. I'm actually finding all the Obama/Clinton stuff in the States quite interesting right now. But reading 400+ pages of political history was more than I really needed.

And more than I expected. I understand that no discussion on the Canadian Pacific Railway could exist without some background into the politics and bureaucracy involved. Afterall, the whole existence of the country as we know it depended on it. British Columbia only agreed to join if it was connected to Manitoba, Ontario and the rest of Canada by a railway. Plus all the land in between was under serious threat of being usurped by those scary people south of the border.

I guess a lot of the problem was expectations. I had wanted more about the building of the railroad. I've heard a little about the Chinese workers and their horrible conditions working on the railroad, but Berton doesn't explore that angle at least in this book. I only realized after the fact that those issues are discussed in the sequel The Last Spike. For now all I got were pre-construction debates, bickering between the liberals and the conservatives, scandals, and pretty much the same crap that's still going on today. Perhaps the ability to look back and see how similar things were back then was interesting, but just for a while. Big business, by the way, is not a new phenomenom.

Unfortunately it wasn't only the topic that soured me on the book. Surprisingly, I even felt that Berton's writing was annoying. Most problematic was his constant references to old portraits. It was astounding how much he seemed to think one could surmise from a mere picture. Refering to a photo of Sir Hugh Allan, for example, Berton writes that he "looks like the prototype of the nineteenth-century robber baron. He is seen taking a pace forward as if to lunge upon the hapless photographer..." It was enough to write about the activities of these individuals (the drinking of Sir John A. MacDonald, the wild excursion of Donald Smith from Labrador to Montreal, etc) to get a sense of who these people were. The constant portrait personality profiling seemed cheap and sensational. I don't remember having that issue with The Arctic Grail. Perhaps my memory is faulty, perhaps an editor stepped in, or perhaps Berton finally realized that pictures aren't always worth a thousand words.

This was my 8th book for the Canadian Reading Challenge and, though it had nothing to do with the Yukon, was my choice for that territory since Berton is probably their most well-known and prolific authors. And if you're Canadian I know you've all seen this a million times. If not, it caused quite a stir at the end of Berton's relatively controversy-free life...

What have your literary icons been up to?

The Soundtrack:
1. At The Hundredth Meridian by the Tragically Hip
2. The Locomotion by Grand Funk Railroad
3. Go West by The Cult
4. The Monorail Song by The Simpsons
5. Money Talks by Rubella Ballet

Monday, February 04, 2008

Writer's Diary #42

Short Story Monday

Straight Flush
by John Mutford

I’ve got cancer.” Gerry throws this out like a confession, right in the middle of the third round.

Craig looks at his hand; 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 - heart, heart, heart, heart, heart. “Shitty luck, man,” someone says.

Craig puts down his cards. He looks at Gerry and stops playing.

Did you write a Short Story Monday post? If so, leave a link below:

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Canadian Book Challenge- 4th Update

Looks like we're at the half way point!

And while many of us have stalled, a big congratulations to Leo and August for finishing already (applause, applause). Not only that, but we've had still more brave souls join. Good luck! Here are the standings so far:

The Grosbeaks (13 Books)

- Garcia's Heart by Liam Durcan*
- October by Richard B. Wright*
- Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles*
- The Bone Sharps by Tim Bowling*
- Helpless by Barbara Gowdy*
- 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

- Fits Like A Rubber Dress by Roxanne Ward*
- Flesh and Gold by Phyllis Gotlieb*
- Yellowknife by Steve Zipp*
- Home Movies by Ray Robertson*
- In The Place of Last Things by Michael Helm*
- The Dakest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay*
- The Wandering Fire by Guy Gavriel Kay*
- The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay*
- The Love of A Good Woman by Alice Munro*
- Dead Man's Float by Nicholas Maes*
- Where Is The Voice Coming From? by Rudy Wiebe
- Fat Woman by Leon Rooke
- The Republic of Love by Carol Shields

The Canada Geese (12 Books)

The Snowy Owls (11 Books)

- High Spirits: A Collection of Ghost Stories by Robertson Davies*
- The Serpent's Egg by J. Fitzgerald McCurdy*
- Sunwing by Kenneth Oppel*
- 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

- King of Russian by Dave King*
- Fatal Passage by Ken McGoogan*
- 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 Green Loons (10 Books)

The Osprey (9 Books)

- Salamander by Thomas Warton*
- Mercy Among The Children by David Adams Richards*
- Airborn by Kenneth Oppel*
- 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 Kingfishers (8 Books)

The Polar Bears (7 Books)

- The Birth House by Amy McKay*
- 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 Loons (6 Books)

- The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler*
- 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

- La Sagouine by Antonine Maillet*
- The Island Means Minago by Milton Acorn*
- Yellowknife by Steve Zipp
- A Hard Witching by Jacqueline Baker
- Smuggling Donkeys by David Helwig
- Covenant of Salt by Martine Desjardins

The Coats of Arms (5 Books)

- Along The Shore by Lucy Maud Montgomery*
- A Secret Between Us by Daniel Poliquin*
- Rick Mercer Report: The Book by Rick Mercer
-The Hunter's Moon by Orla Melling
-Against The Odds by Lucy Maud Montgomery

- The Secret World of Og by Pierre Berton*
- The Morningside World of Stuart McLean*
- A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
- Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast by Bill Richardson
- Them Times by David Weale

- Rene Angelil Unauthorized Biography by Jean Beaunoyer*
- 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 Garneau Block by Todd Babiak*
- Timbit Nation by John Stackhouse*
- Kanada by Eve Wiseman*
- The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood*
- Curling For Dummies by Bob Weeks*

- Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast by Bill Richardson*
- Brown Girl In The Ring by Nalo Hopkinson*
- King Leary by Paul Quarrington*
- Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
- Effigy by Allisa York

The Caribou (4 Books)

- The Torontonians by Phyllis Brett Young*
- Lost In The Barrens by Farley Mowat*
- Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing by Tomson Highway*
- Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop

- The Outlander by Gil Adamson*
- I Married The Klondike by Laura Beatrice Berton*
- Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay*
- My Name is Bosnia by Madeleine Gagnon*

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

- Brown Girl In The Ring by Nalo Hopkinson*
- Big Man Coming Down The Road by Brad Smith*
- Houdini's Shadow by Leo Brent Robillard
- The Culprits by Robert Hough

The Bluenoses (3 Books)

- Voyages of Hope by Peter Johnson*
- Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
- Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

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

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

- By The Time You Read This by Giles Blunt*
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel
-A Touch of Panic by L.R. Wright

- The Bird Artist by Howard Norman*
- Wonderful Strange by Dale Jarvis
- The Long Run by Leo Furey

- Bloodletting and Other Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam*
- The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
- No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod

- Larry's Party by Carol Shields*
- Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery
- The Long Stretch by Linden MacIntyre

- Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine*
- Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood*
- Not An Easy Choice: Re-Examining Abortion by Kathleen McDonnell

- Brown Girl In The Ring by Nalo Hopkinson*
- Mercy Among The Children by David Adams Richards*
- The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Teddy Rose
- Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King*
- Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen*
- Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa*

Brown Paper
- The Assassin's Song by M. G. Vassanji*
- No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod*
- Obasan by Joy Kogowa*

- 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

Dahlia and Balu
- Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje*
-Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood*

Sam Lamb
- Consumption by Kevin Patterson*
- The Extraordinary Garden by Francois Gravel*

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

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

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

The Maple Leaves (1 Book)

-Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

-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! This time it's Kathleen Molloy's Dining With Death. Kathleen, who seems to get my schtick, was nice enough to insert a Canadian Tire money bookmark, as well as a note that read "I hope my style of kinky socio-political critique amuses more than it offends..." You know you're curious. If you wish to own a copy, answer true or false to the following statements:

1. The narrator for Mercy Among The Children is Lyle Henderson.
2. The first line of Consumption is "Storms are disease."
3. The Garneau Block is set in an Ottawa suburb.
4. Larry Weller is the protagonist in Alice Munro's The Love of a Good Woman.
5. Brown Girl In The Ring is a 2008 Canada Reads selection.

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 Kathleen Molloy for donating this book!)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Poetry Friday/ Writer's Diary #41

I almost didn't post this. Not only is it an early draft (I'm definitely going to do something with the line breaks), but if misunderstood I'll be lynched. There may also be a lot of localism going on here, so I apologize up front if the some of the issues and references are unfamiliar, but feel free to ask questions.

Island Preservations

Newfies finds the Rock
slippery as sin. They slides off the sea
weed into Canada, and finds it right wicked
they got to spend $40 on a tub
of salt meat-- neverminding the fact
they can find it at all. And mispronounce
their province and bys o bys,
you’ll never get ‘em crankier than that.

Yes, I came to Baffin for the money.
But more than that. I wanted to
sleep in an igloo, dogsled, and perhaps
try some delicacies. But nevermind
the cached walrus. It stinks like sin.
And I’m sorry I’m not
an eskimo, but how am I supposed
to pronounce Nunavut?