Monday, March 31, 2008

Reader's Diary #340- Sean O' Faolain: The Trout

Short Story Monday

river Tweed brown trout released, Scotla by oddobjects, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  oddobjects
Sean O'Faolain's short story "The Trout" brought back an unexpected childhood memory for me. Julia, a twelve year old girl, is on summer vacation with her family when she happens to discover a secluded well, a well that holds a mystery trout.

Merits of the story aside for the moment, my father also used to keep a trout in our drinking well. It all came back to me as I read this: how he'd sometimes take the cover off and me and my sister would peer down into our silhouettes below and see who'd be the first to spy the little imprisoned fish. Why did he keep it there? No one in "The Trout" could come up with a satisfactory answer, and when I called to question my father about it today, he didn't really know either. "To catch the bugs," he supposed, but he'd no idea where the idea came from in the first place. Nor did the thought of fish poop seem to phase him. Anyway, when I tried the Internet to dig deeper into this bizarre tradition, all I could find was a few sites that mentioned other stories involving trouts in wells. According to one source, "These trout stories are common all over Ireland." Another told of a Scottish version of Snow White, in which a talking well trout replaces the magic mirror. Though my ancestry is British, I'm guessing similar tales influenced my father.

Sound cruel? Don't call PETA on my father just yet-- the trout has long been removed from his well. Julia was also bothered by the inhumanity. In fact, she couldn't get it off her mind and couldn't enjoy her vacation knowing it was there. This, perhaps predictably, leads to a decision to rescue the creature.

The version I've linked to is from "The Global Classroom" which provides a bit of background information (unfortunately it doesn't shed any light on why the fish in the well) and a few study questions. The question that caught my eye asked "What definition of maturity, or growing up, does the story convey?" I wondered about that one. Julia is twelve, and Faolain obviously picked an age at the cusp of adolescence for a reason. He remarks on several occasions what the age means; "...that age little girls are beginning to suspect most stories", "she knew that there are no such things as fairy godmothers" and so forth. But, these are lessons learned prior to the story and in that case, doesn't fit the bill for a coming-of-age story. Perhaps the only thing that could characterize it as such is Julia's final act, and I'm not sure even that is necessarily a defining decision.

But coming-of-age story or not, I enjoyed it. The story itself is simply told, rich in setting, and the characters are likable.

The Soundtrack:
1. Have You Fed The Fish?- Badly Drawn Boy
2. Tourist Trap- Bright Eyes
3. So Cruel- U2
4. Child of The Moon- The Rolling Stones
5. Running Down A Dream- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Cross posted at The Short Story Reading Challenge.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Poetry Friday/ Reader's Diary #339- Jeannette C. Armstrong and Lally Grauer (Editors): Native Poetry In Canada

The last time I was in Yellowknife I went to the Book Cellar which claims to be Canada's most northern independent book store. It's a small place, but it was packed-- not just with books, but with customers as well. Nice to see any independent book store doing so well.

It was here that I picked up the anthology Native Poetry in Canada, editted by Jeannette C. Armstrong and Lally Grauer.

This is a very well put together project. At 360 pages, complete with poet profiles, introductions from both editors, and the promise of both award winning recognized poets, alongside those that are probably under appreciated, from 1960 to the present, it was a great primer for those of us without much exposure, and a great collection for those who were already familiar with these poets.

Written in English, most of the poets acknowledge the influence their native languages had on their poetry. Likewise their cultures in general. Initially I was nervous that I would not "get it." I worried that if I didn't appreciate a particular poem, perhaps the problem lay not with the poem but with my ignorance. But then I thought about it, don't we do this whenever we read? When I read Pablo Neruda, is there something lost to me in translation? When I read Adrienne Rich, am I missing the connotations of being a female? When I read Enos Watts, does the fact that we had different parents matter? The answer to all of these is yes. Every reader brings their own background into the poem. But poets are bridge-builders and readers must decide whether or not to cross. Fortunately, I was able to span the divide in most of those found in Native Poetry in Canada.

Perhaps what I enjoyed most about the collection was the tension. Trying to reconcile the past with the present, natives with whites, urban living with rural traditions, cultural identities with stereotypes, and so forth didn't just provide fodder for individual poems, but allowed for a fascinating discourse between poems and between poets as well. Occasionally when poets like Beth Brant wrote, "Our work is considered 'too political' and we do not stay in our place-- the place that white North America deems acceptable" I worried that there'd be too much presumption. Would Brant presume the right speak on behalf of other poets? Of other Native people(s)? Would there be too much generalization? Fortunately, I didn't find a lot of that. And while many poems are indeed political and against racism, particularly from the white population, that did not preoccupy the book. In fact, just as many poems (including Brant's) were about sexual identity, domestic life, nature and more. As many poems were funny as were angry as were sad. In short, it was an anthology diverse as the poets themselves. The political poems were necessary, as were the rest. Armstrong and Grauer did a fantastic job balancing themes.

Speaking of Armstrong, her poems were perhaps my favourite in the collection. She is quoted as saying "I want to [...] work with poems that deconstruct linearity, the page." I can't tell you how exciting a concept that was to me. My wheels have been turning ever since. To give you an example as to what she's referring, take this section from her poem entitled "Green":

That's but one way she experimented with the line, for other examples you'll just have to pick up a copy of the book.

The only problem I had was the lack of Inuit poets. The Inuit make up such a large part of the native population in Canada, yet there wasn't a single representative poem to be found in the anthology. Why is this? Perhaps Armstrong and Grauer aren't to be judged too harshly. The last poet to be highlighted in the book was Randy Lundy who informs us that his poetry has appeared in literary periodicals "from coast to coast-- but not Nunavut, which seems to have a dearth of such publications." Sadly, this is true. A while ago I blogged about Eskimo Poems, a collection of Inuit poetry collected by Knud Rasmussen in the early 20th century and translated into English by Tom Lowenstein. Obviously such poems wouldn't fit under a contemporary anthology, but I certainly hope that wasn't the end.

The Soundtrack:
1. Dance Hall Blues- Digging Roots
2. Muskrat Blues- Big Joe Green
3. She's Still The Same Girl- Weaselhead
4. Common Goal- Leela Gilday
5. Coyote Dance- Robbie Robertson & The Red Road Ensemble

Native Poetry in Canada was published by Broadview Press, 2001.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Underneath the Covers

This week's BTT question comes from Julie:

While acknowledging that we can’t judge books by their covers, how much does the design of a book affect your reading enjoyment? Hardcover vs. softcover? Trade paperback vs. mass market paperback? Font? Illustrations? Etc.?

Wait a second? We can't judge a book by its cover? Oooops!

(Found at Picdit)

The design of a book for the most part doesn't affect my enjoyment. It's the story or the writing that accounts for 98% of my pleasure. Though, like anyone, I suppose, I'm not totally resistant to aesthetics.

I prefer my covers simple. Just the title and author's name will suffice. Perhaps one of my favorites is the cover for Saramago's Blindness.

Which, if you've read the book, has an additional cleverness. And though I haven't read it yet, the cover for the sequel seems appropriate as well.

Though, looking at these two covers, I'm reminded of two other beefs I have. Blurbs and stickers on the front

and when the author's name is supposed to be the selling point and it outsizes the title:

Perhaps most annoying was this:

which wasn't even written by Clancy!

Then there's this recent trend that I also despise:

(Wayne's Johnston's Custodian of Paradise, Betsy James' Long Night Dance and Kathryn Heyman's The Accomplice- as found on Books and Cooks and

As for hardcover versus softcover, I find it much easier to read a softcover. Though, if I was to collect books, I prefer to see hardcovers on a shelf (with the dustcovers banished to the garbage). As for e-Books and Kindles and the like, I haven't even ventured there yet. Then, I don't really know why TiVo is better than a VCR, so I'm getting a little old. And why doesn't my laptop ding when I get too far to the right?

Finally a word on font. My copy of Lolita has a page at the back that informs me it was "set in the classic typeface Baskerville and printed on acid-free, cream-wove paper with a sewn full cloth binding." Well, that sure made Humbert's sexual abuse a little easier to take, didn't it? Look, as long as it's not written in comic-sans and I don't need a microscope to see it, I don't really care.

But, lest I come across as a pretentious snob-- the Mr. Blackwell of books-- I reiterate: as long as the writing is good, all else is forgiven.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Great Wednesday Compare 2: F. Scott Fitzgerald VERSUS Harriet Beecher Stowe

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Douglas Coupland Vs. F. Scott Fitzgerald), with a final score of 10-9, was F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Though I consider myself a fan of Coupland, I was surprised when he beat out Neil Gaiman a couple weeks back. Either I'm naive about his popularity or it says something about my readership demographics. I say I'm a fan when in all honesty, I've only read two books by the guy (Generation X and Souvenir of Canada). But I enjoyed them both. I've still haven't caught jPod (the CBC series) yet either, but perhaps I should give it a shot. Just to clear things up a little, Coupland didn't coin the term "Generation X" but there's no arguing that he helped popularize it.

On to this week's challenge...

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. (April 1, 2008), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Reader's Diary #338- Maeve Binchy: The Phone-In

Short Story Monday

Another Irish short story, and following the Oscar Wilde tale from last week, another dud.

Like Wilde's story, "The Phone-In" had a strong opening and a disappointing ending marked by a fluffy, predictable moral. Unlike Wilde's story, it did at least have interesting characters.

It begins by slowly introducing us to Fiona, a radio talk-show host. Here I thought Binchy's pacing was superb. Bit by bit, through details of the radio show, I was able to glean some perceptions of Fiona as a person. It reminded me of watching paparazzi on t.v. rummaging through a person's trash to get the dirt on some poor unsuspecting actor.

Then the focus changes to Rory, a longtime fan of the show. Before long I sensed that he'd become a complete bore as a character except for one thing: his obsession with Fiona. Even dull Rory begins to worry if waiting outside her station makes him some sort of "nutter."

Thant angle could have led the story. It could have added some spice. Instead, Binchy turns it into a lesson about how nobody is really ordinary. Blah, blah, blah. Besides, if no one is ordinary, it's ordinary to be extraordinary, isn't it?

The Soundtrack:
1. Help!- The Beatles
2. I Miss You- Björk
3. Ordinary World- Duran Duran
4. Radio Show- Tragically Hip
5. Talk Show Host- Radiohead

Friday, March 21, 2008

Poetry Friday/ Reader's Diary #337- Eileen Spinelli and Eugenie Fernandes (Illustrations): Polar Bear, Arctic Hare

Polar Bear, Arctic Hare; Poems of the Frozen North by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes is the latest edition to my family's slow but steady growing collection of arctic-themed books.

Initially, I wasn't overly fond of this book. For one, Fernandes' illustrations didn't really appeal to me. For a book of poetry, I thought they were a little bland. The sketchy sort of style, with the canvas lines showing through, made them look dated. They lacked any interesting angles and everything seemed just too realistic. It's not that I wanted a walrus with three heads, but when poetry relies so heavily on figurative language and images, I think accompanying illustrations should make an equal effort.

Secondly, I thought Spinelli's poetry was a little too generic, too typical of poetry aimed at kids: an over-reliance on the ABCB rhyme scheme, a few similes here and there and a joke thrown in sporadically. Such books aren't bad to introduce children to a few basic poetic devices but are easily forgotten.

But then I liked the theme, and I thought the addition of "Arctic Facts" at the back was a good idea. Eventually I went back and realized I had generalized Spinelli's poetry a bit too much. She uses more styles than I at first gave her credit. In "Guess" she sets up the poem as a series of riddles, all designed to lead to the answer "the killer whale." In "Arctic Nursery Rhyme" she revamps "Mary, Mary Quite Contrary" to make it more northern. As a teacher, I think it would prove to be very useful for children to model Spinelli's creations.

Perhaps my favourite in the book is "Caribou":

Across the tundra
Caribou coming.
Racing and chasing
Caribou coming.
Thrumming and drumming
Caribou coming.
Romping and stomping
Caribou coming.
Hammering, clamouring
Caribou coming.
Thundering, rumbling
Caribou coming.
In waves, cascades
Caribou coming
   and coming
      and coming
         and coming
            and coming.

by Eileen Spinelli
(Used by permission)

Polar Bear, Arctic Hare (2007) is published by Wordsong, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Reader's Diary #336- Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita (FINISHED)

Reading this book was a difficult, embarrassing experience. Given the theme, which I, like most readers, was aware of long before actually picking up the book, I probably wouldn't have bothered-- except that it is Lolita, and it's one of the most discussed, and acclaimed, books of the 20th century. I couldn't understand why a book about paedophilia could be so praised. Then, I hadn't read it.

Perhaps the most difficult part, other than the obvious (i.e., cavalier references to rape), is enjoying the narrator's, Humbert Humbert's, style. Ever seen a Hitler painting?

I don't know about you, but it's hard for me to objectively judge the quality of a Hitler painting. Fortunately, Humbert is fictional and so I was able to put my contempt for the guy aside long enough to appreciate such lines as "She lit up and the smoke she exhaled from her nostrils was like a pair of tusks."

Yet, saying "I liked Lolita, except for all the paedophilia" is like saying you like pizza without the dough, sauce, pepperoni and cheese. What else is there? Nabakov preyed on the reader's discomfort expertly. I'll grant that Humbert is hard to turn away from. He's witty, he's complex, and he's conniving and psychotic. There are so many contradictions in the man, yet somehow Nabokov makes him believable.

For all Nabokov's instigation, I didn't resent him that. I'm not a big fan of shock art anymore. Too often the need for attention supersedes any philosophical point the artist was trying to make and I'm quickly bored with their antics. For such a risque topic, and the bluntness (not to be confused with detail) in which Nabokov approached it, it was obvious early on that shock was not the intent. As Humbert tries (futilely, one hopes!) to rationalize his actions to the reader, there are many larger issues to explore and in essence it digs further into the the cerebrum than shock artists ever even hope to delve.

The only time I did feel contempt for Nabokov was at the death of Lolita's mother. It's not so much that the author suddenly seemed to conspire with his narrator, it's that I've never felt an author play God as blatantly. Of course they all do, but as Humbert goes on and on about "Fate," I felt like shouting at him, "It's not fate! It's Nabakov! He's behind this!" And just as many other victims have done when struck with a catastrophe, I turned on God Nabokov. It was all important to the master plan, of course, but that doesn't make it any easier to accept.

I respect Lolita. I respect Nabakov. It was a brilliant book. He was a brilliant author. But...I didn't like the book-- it was about paedophilia afterall.

The Soundtrack
1. Thank Heaven For Little Girls- Maurice Chevalier
2. Great Balls of Fire- Jerry Lee Lewis
3. I'm on Fire (Bruce Springsteen cover)- Johnny Cash
4. Lolita- Martha Wainwright
5. Breaking The Girl- Red Hot Chili Peppers

Cross-posted at The Russian Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Great Wednesday Compare 2: Douglas Coupland VERSUS F. Scott Fitzgerald

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Neil Gaiman Vs. Douglas Coupland), with a final score of 9-6, was Douglas Coupland.

If the blogging community has introduced me to any author, it's been Neil Gaiman. I totally respect the enthusiasm in which people write about him. I still haven't read any more than a single short story by the guy, but I am intrigued enough to explore his work further. For all you Gaiman fans who take last week's loss hard, comfort yourself by leaving a Gaiman recommendation below.

As well, don't forget to leave your current vote. This week's new contender almost made a visit to the GWC's the first time around. Alas, it seemed too predictible to put him up against Steinbeck or Hemmingway.

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 25, 2008), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Writer's Diary #46- The Arctic Explorer Calls It A Night

I usually don't edit so quickly, but this one's been eating at me. There's a slight addition to the end. Feel free to compare to the earlier edition I posted just a few days ago.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Reader's Diary #335- Oscar Wilde: The Model Millionaire

Short Story Monday

A few years ago I read The Picture of Dorian Gray after hearing Ron Hynes sing a song of the same name. I enjoyed both a great deal and I looked forward to reading a short story by Wilde, looked forward to more of that legendary wit and social commentary.

Sadly, I found little of both in "The Model Millionaire."

It started off strong, introducing the reader to Hughie Erskine who, despite being a decent and likable fellow, isn't all that well off financially. And as Wilde lets us know up front, "Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow."

To make matters worse, Hughie has fallen in love with Laura Merton whose retired Colonel father will not consent him to marry until he has 10 000 pounds to his credit.
Enter the painter friend Trevor (who reminded me of the aforementioned novel) and his beggar-model.

All of this seemed like an interesting premise, but the hackneyed finale destroyed it all. Recently on her blog, Chris lamented the loss of the happy ending (albeit she restricted her diagnosis to Canadian Literature). I agreed with her, but I renege if it means we go back to such endings as found in "The Model Millionaire."

The Soundtrack:
1. I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got- Sinéad O'Connor
2. Oh! The Breeches Full of Stitches- The Chieftains
3. Only If... - Enya
4. Lonesome Highway- Rory Gallagher
5. The Lucky One- Paddy Casey

Friday, March 14, 2008

Poetry Friday/ Writer's Diary #45

Over at Jama's edition of Poetry Friday, she's asked that we share our favourite Bob Dylan lyrics. Despite having 50 or so of his tracks in my iTunes, I don't feel like I yet know his music well. On that note, I'll go with a predictible choice and pick the opening verse of "The Times They Are A-Changin'":

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

I'd also like to leave you with a northern lights poem I'm working on called "The Arctic Explorer Calls It A Night":

by John Mutford

Thursday, March 13, 2008


This question was my suggestion. The last time my idea was used I unintentionally snubbed the BTT crowd and didn't even respond! Time to make amends.

How about a chance to play editor-in-chief? Fill in the blanks:
__________ would have been a much better book if ______________________.

Every time a reviewer, self-included, writes something negative about a book, we essentially do this. However, before anyone thinks it's a bit presumptuous or egotistical to suggest we could do better, I acknowledge that everyone has different tastes, and my suggestions might only work for me. In the case of the one I'm picking today, I know I'm out of line. After all, the ratio of Tolkien to Mutford booksales is about a gazillion to zero. Still...

The Lord of The Rings trilogy would have been much better if he'd cut out all the songs.

I didn't find them charming, I didn't find they added anything and essentially they weighed the books down. You might disagree but Peter Jackson had the good sense to leave them out of the movies.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

And The Winner Is...


Thanks to Cormorant Books for donating Bruce MacDonald's Coureurs De Bois to the Canadian Book Challenge. Congrats, Chris!

The Great Wednesday Compare 2: Neil Gaiman VERSUS Douglas Coupland

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Neil Gaiman Vs. Cormac McCarthy), with a final score of 9-4, was Neil Gaiman.

I can't really comment on Gaiman's win much, as I've only ever read a short story by the guy. That's part of the problem with me trying out modern writers in the Wednesday Compares-- they're less likely to be read. I have, however, read a novel by McCarthy. While I can't say The Road deserved the Pulitzer or all the hype from the Oprah-machine, I did enjoy it a great deal. I agree with Remi last week on McCarthy's punctuation, "he most definitely knows how to use [it]."

I'm hoping a few more people have read this week's new challenger...

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 18, 2008), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Reader's Diary #334- Frank O'Connor: The First Confession

Short Story Monday

Cross posted at The Short Story Reading Challenge.

In case you haven't noticed, this is my 2nd Irish Short Story Monday in a row. I mean, faith and begorrah, why'd'ya be wroitin about da oirish agin for? (Sorry, had to get that out of my system.) It's all in honour of St. Patrick's Day, which falls on the 17th of this month.

Frank O'Connor's "The First Confession" could serve as a prototype of Irish lit: funny, nostalgic, and full of the usual Catholic, potato-loving, booze-swilling, violent characters we love so much. Perhaps the one character who doesn't behave like a stereotype is the priest who, along with the narrator (who wins us over with his charm), makes this story worth reading. It's not perhaps as dark as Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, but it reminded me of it nonetheless. O'Connor excels at capturing the child's perspective.

The Soundtrack:
Ode To My Family- The Cranberries
Friel's Kitchen- The Chieftains
Numb- U2
Saints & Sinners- Paddy Casey
Did Ye Get Healed?- Van Morrison

Friday, March 07, 2008

Poetry Friday: Everything I Need To Know I Learned Through The Simpsons

Maybe not. But it's vastly increased my trivia knowledge. I can't think of any topic worth mentioning that hasn't been at least touched on in their 20 years on the air. Poetry has been no exception. Funny that a show many consider crass would explore a subject that crass people would consider too highbrow. mentioned the "fast paced references to Keats, Poe, Shakespeare, and Ginsberg [that] make poetry-lovers’ ears perk up" so I looked to find a catalogue of such references. Not having found one, I decided to compile them myself. It may or may not be complete as most relied on memory. If you know of more, leave me a note. Also, some are more tangential than others...

Maya Angelou from I Don't Wanna Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (could also be considered a reference to Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "Sympathy" from which Maya Angelou took the title "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings")

Anonymous from Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo "I once knew a man from Nantucket... Let's just say the stories about him are greatly exaggerated."

Basho from Little Girl in the Big Ten "Basho/ He named himself 'Banana Tree'" This line is actually from a Pinsky poem (see below). As he reads it, a bunch of jock-types with B-A-S-H-O across their chests stand up and cheer.

Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac from Moe'N'a Lisa "Moe, which writer has influenced you? Jack Kerouac? Chuck Bukowski? Me, Tom Wolfe?" This episode revolves around the poetry of Moe.

Robert Burns from The Trouble With Trillions "Auld Lang Syne" is played. I know this one is probably in every sitcom that has a New Year's Eve episode.

Lewis Carroll from A Hunka Hunka Burns In Love "Callooh, Callay!"

Samuel Taylor Coleridge from Boy Scoutz N The Hood "Water, water everywhere, so let's all have a drink."

Emily Dickinson from The Secret War of Lisa Simpson "Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known... then went crazy as a loon."

John Donne from Marge Be Not Proud

T. S Eliot from Little Girl in the Big Ten "April is the cruelest month"

Robert Frost from I Love Lisa "Hey Frostie, want some snow, man?" (as Krusty dumps snow on Robert Frost's head)

Allen Ginsberg from Bart vs. Thanksgiving "I saw the best meals of my generation/ destroyed by the madness of my brother"

Homer from Homer's Odyssey and Tales From The Public Domain "Hey, is this about that minivan I bought?"

AE Housman from The Last Temptation of Krust Krusty recites some of "To an Athlete Dying Young"

Langston Hughes from Moe Baby Blues "A dream deferred is a dream denied"

John Keats from The Secret War of Lisa Simpson Lisa's class is studying "Ode On a Grecian Urn"

Rudyard Kipling from Old Money "You'll be a man, my son."

Henry Wadworth Longfellow from Homer The Great "Have you ever noticed that the 'crossing the desert' is a lot like the 'unblinking eye', and is exactly like 'The Wreck of the Hesperus?'"

John Gillespie Magee, Jr from She of Little Faith "Son, we are about the break the surly bonds of gravity"

John McCrae from When Flanders Failed

John Milton from Bart the Genius "Paradise Lost" is on the book shelf in Bart's classroom.

Pablo Neruda from Bart Sells His Soul "I am familar with the works of Pablo Neruda"

George Plimpton (One of the founding editors of The Paris Review) from I'm Spelling As Fast As I Can "I don't know whether the weather will improve." (When he's asked to use the word in a sentence at a spelling bee.)

Robert Pinsky from Little Girl in the Big Ten "Open your mind to the Coltrane of the quatrain"

Sylvia Plath from Lady Bouvier's Lover Grampa: Who were your friends? Jackie: Oh, Zelda Fitzgerald, Frances Farmer, and little Sylvia Plath.

Edgar Allan Poe from Treehouse of Horror "Lisa, that wasn't scary. Not even for a poem."

Sir Walter Raleigh from The Regina Monologues Homer attempts escaping the Tower of London by using a secret tunnel built by Sir Walter Raleigh. However, it leads to the Queen's bedroom.

William Shakespeare from Treehouse of Horror III "Is this the end of zombie Shakespeare?"

Shel Silverstein from The Bart Wants What it Wants "The Giving Tree is not a chump" (Blackboard gag)

Walt Whitman from Mother Simpson Homer mistakenly believes Walt Whitman's grave is his mother's.

Lisa Simpson's Meditations on Turning 8:
I had a cat named Snowball...
She died!
She died!
Mom said she was sleeping...
She lied!
She lied!
Why oh why is my cat dead?
Couldn't that Chrysler hit me instead?

Marge Simpson's To My Husband:
The blackened clouds are forming...
Soon the rain will fall.
My dear one is departing.
But first, please heed this call...
That always will I love you,
My all.

Homer Simpson's Rapping Tomato:
There once was a rapping tomato
That's right, I said, "rapping tomato."
He rapped all day
From April to May
And also, guess what, it was me

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Reader's Diary #333- Rudy Wiebe: Temptations of Big Bear (FINISHED)

Reading through an introduction written by Allan Bevan (not the edition shown in the picture), I wasn't sure I was going to like this book. At the first mention of Wiebe's "great number of narrative techniques" my curiosity was piqued. I love it when authors take risks and aren't afraid to shake it up a bit. Then, I'm also put off when authors take on too many characters. Worse, Bevan goes on to say that some of the internal monologues are "presented in an involved, stream-of-consciousness prose, reminiscent of..." dare I say it, "Faulkner." Oh no! I want to like stream-of-consciousness writing, I really do. From an artistic point of view, I like the idea of capturing the fluidity and randomness of thought. From a reader's point of view, I find it sooo hard to follow along. While it mightn't necessarily be as realistic, I like when authors decipher or translate a character's thoughts in a clear, precise manner.

And Temptations of Big Bear was confusing. However, all cannot be blamed on stream-of-consciousness. It also has a dizzying abundance of characters, most of which have names like He Speaks Our Tongue, Little Bad Man and Four Sky Thunder which, from a white reader's perspective, took a lot of getting used to. And it's long (415 pages).

But in Wiebe's defense, I travelled across the country with two small kids while trying to read through this book. I battled flu. I had a lot of distractions. Charlotte's Web would have presented a challenge.

Yet despite it all, I enjoyed it. Sometimes the confusion even added to the atmosphere. When the Cree people were dancing and involved in their ceremonies, it was mesmerizing. No, I may not have understood it all, but perhaps I wasn't meant to.

And despite all the characters, Big Bear alone provided enough of a focus. Temptations of Big Bear is historical fiction and, according to the intro, Wiebe kept as close to fact as possible. If he succeeded in portraying Big Bear as true to life, he was one compelling character. Strong-willed, Big Bear stuck to his ideas and principles despite the pressures on either side. When the government insisted on signing up for reserve land, Big Bear held out for a better deal. When his People insisted on using violence against the whites, Big Bear resisted that as well.

It was a shocking, difficult time in Canada. As the whites moved west, they told the Cree and other native groups, "The land was and is the Queen's. She has allowed you to use it." Add starvation (from the eradication of the buffalo) and new diseases, it's no wonder native groups thought they had only two choices: try to collect on promises of meagre food and shelter while settling on reserves, or fight. Big Bear seemed to have a third option in mind: to organize his People and try diplomacy. But whether it was out of desperation or racism, no one allowed him that chance.

The Soundtrack:
1. Earth Intruders- Björk
2. Hunger Strike- Temple of the Dog
3. Words of Fire, Deeds of Blood- Robbie Robertson and the Red River Ensemble
4. Land Rights- Xavier Rudd
5. One Drum- Leela Gilday

This marks my 9th book for the Canadian Book Challenge, covering Saskatchewan (Wiebe's birth province).

Hero Sandwich

Perhaps I should have seen this week's BTT question coming and prepared something...

Who is your favorite Male lead character? And why?

1. Barney from Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version- Is Barney my hero, or is Mordecai? I get them confused. Cantankerous, sarcastic and politically incorrect but oh-so-lovable.

2. Atticus Finch from Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird- How does a character this saintly manage to not be annoying?

3. Iago from Shakespeare's Othello- Pure evil. But delightfully so.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Great Wednesday Compare 2: Neil Gaiman VERSUS Cormac McCarthy

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Terry Pratchett vs. Neil Gaiman), with a final score of 7-5, was Neil Gaiman.

I expected this win to be a larger margin than it was. I've only read one Pratchett novel and I really didn't enjoy it. But while I'm not a fan, I appreciate that others are and for them, and for Pratchett himself, I was truly sorry for this piece of news.

Moving on to yet another contemporary, this week both contenders had movie versions of their books released last year: Stardust and No Country For Old Men.

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 11, 2008), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Reader's Diary #332- James Joyce: Araby

Short Story Monday

Cross posted at The Short Story Reading Challenge.

James Joyce's "Araby" from his collection The Dubliners, is a brilliant coming-of-age story. How does Joyce manage to do this convincingly in a few short pages when it takes some novelists an entire book? Such stories detail the transition from adolescence to adulthood, and the length depends on whether or not the author can prove this happens over a course of events or can be learned through a single lesson.

In "Araby," Joyce asserts that the crucial lesson is the realization that fantasies don't, or at least they rarely, measure up to reality. This moral comes suddenly at the end, and at first I was taken aback by the abruptness. But, after contemplating it a little more, I think that made it more effective. It not only captures the intensity of the new awareness, it also parallels ejaculation. Joyce not-so-subtly hints at masturbation several times throughout this story and what is that but the ultimate symbol of fantasy versus reality?

The Soundtrack:
1. I Go Blind- 54-40
2. I Touch Myself (Divinyls cover)- Scala Choir
3. Catch The Wind (Donovan choir)- The Irish Descendants
4. The Sheik of Araby- The Beatles
5. Wake Up- Arcade Fire

In other short story news, my micro story "Straight Flush" appears at Six Sentences. I made one small edit since submitting it and the most recent version appeared here on my own blog a few weeks back.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Canadian Book Challenge- 5th Update

We're rounding the bend, readers! Good job to everyone still chugging through. Incidentally, I've noticed that a few participants seem to have gone AWOL. I've decided to leave their completed books in the standings though- their reviews are still great additions to the challenge. Perhaps 13 was proving too much for some folks in such a short time. Hopefully the 2nd edition of the challenge will be a little less stressful, but more on that later...

In the meantime, congratulations to Nicola and Steve who definitely did not stall. They join Leo and August in the all-ready-completed ranks.

Here are the standings so far:

The Grosbeaks (13 Books)

- Empress of Asia by Adam Lewis Schroeder*
- Keturah & Lord Death by Martine Leavitt*
- 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

- The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood*
- Burden of Desire by Robert MacNeil*
- King of Russia 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

- 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)

- Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather*
- I Married the Klondike by Laura Beatrice Berton*
- 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 Green Loons (10 Books)

The Osprey (9 Books)

The Kingfishers (8 Books)

- The National Dream by Pierre Berton*
- The Birth House by Ami 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

- All in Together Girls by Kate Sutherland*
- Lorelei by Lori Derby Bingley*
- 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

The Polar Bears (7 Books)

- The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland*
- Punch Line by Joey Slinger*
- At a Loss For Words by Diane Schoemperlen*
- 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

- Icefields by Thomas Wharton*
- Sitting in the Club Car Drinking Rum and Karma-Kola by Paulette Jiles*
- 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 Little Country by Charles de Lint*
- The Alberta Fact Book by Mark Zuehlke*
- 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

The Loons (6 Books)

- Spanish Fly by Will Ferguson*
- 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

- Consolation by Michael Redhill*
- 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

- King Leary by Paul Quarrington*
- Adultery by Richard B. Wright*
- 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

Teddy Rose
- The End of The Alphabet by CS Richardson*
- The Time In Between by David Bergen*
- Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery*
- Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King
- Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
- Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa

- 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)

- Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay*
- Widdershins by Charles de Lint*
- By The Time You Read This by Giles Blunt
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel
-A Touch of Panic by L.R. Wright

- Fall On Your Knees by Anne Marie MacDonald*
- Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle*
- All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland*
- A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews*
- Scoundrels and Scallywags by Brian Brennan

- After River by Donna Milner*
- 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

- 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

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

- The Wild Wood by Charles de Lint*
- Random Passage by Bernice Morgan*
- Birds In Fall by Brad Kessler
- Latitudes of Melt by Joan Clark
- The Word For Home by Joan Clark

The Caribou (4 Books)

- Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock*
- Bloodletting and Other Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam
- The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
- No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod

- The Butterfly Plague by Timothy Findley*
- Voyages of Hope by Peter Johnson
- Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
- Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Geranium Cat
- Selected Tales by Ouhanderfoule Jacques Ferron*
- The Honeyman Festival by Marian Engel
- A Deathful Ridge by J. A. Wainwright
- Latitudes of Melt by Joan Clark

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

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

Sam Lamb
- The Tree Tattoo by Karen Rivers*
- An Audience of Chairs by Joan Clark*
- Consumption by Kevin Patterson
- The Extraordinary Garden by Francois Gravel

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

The Bluenoses (3 Books)

- Smart-Opedia by Maple-Tree Press*
- There Will Be Wolves by Karleen Bradford*
- The Library Book by Maureen Saw

- King Leary by Paul Quarrington*
- Atonement by Gaetan Soucy
- The Big Why by Michael Winter

- Sitting Practice by Caroline Anderson*
- Mad Shadows by Marie-Claire Blais
- The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

- 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

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

The Beavers (2 Books)

- Piano Man's Daughter by Timothy Findley (No review)*
- Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

- Not Wanted On The Voyage by Timothy Findley*
- Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood*

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

The Maple Leaves (1 Book)

- Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland*

-Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

-Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

(*Indicates new reviews. 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 Bruce MacDonald's Coureurs De Bois. Author and Canadian Book Challenge participant Leo Brent Robillard reviewed this one back in December and had plenty of good things to say about it. If you wish to decide for yourself, I have a copy kindly donated by Cormorant Books up for grabs. This time, I'll drop the pretence of a quiz and simply ask you to comment on someone else's review. Then simply copy your comment and leave it in my comment section below, with a note on where you left it. Please try to pick different blogs! (And for those blogs that don't allow comments, simply leave a few words for the owner here.) Open to non-challenge participants.

Now may I propose the Canadian Book Challenge 2008-2009 edition? The premiere edition has proven very popular and successful but since it was late to begin, some people expressed reluctance to attempt 13 books in 9 months. The 2008-2009 edition will span from Canada Day 2008 to Canada Day 2009. 13 books in 12 months should be much more manageable. If you are interested in participating, let me know. As well, a large part of the success of the first one has been the generous prizes donated by authors and publishers. Therefore, I'm requesting any help in this area as possible. If you can help spread the word, pull a few favours, anything, I'd be very grateful.