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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday Word Play- Before and After Titles


In today's Saturday Word Play, I'll give you the last names of two authors. Can you combine two of their titles with a matching word? For instance, if I gave you Carroll/Williams you could combine Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass with Tennessee Williams's Glass Menagerie to get:

Through the Looking Glass Menagerie.

Got it? (Hint: the authors are in the correct order)

As always, feel free to do all 10 at home, but only answer one in the comment section. That way 10 people can play along.

1. Atwood/DiCamillo
2. White/Andrews
3. Montgomery/Bemrose
4. Woodward & Bernstein/Gray
5. Fielding/Frank
6. le Carre/Frazier
7. Mitchell/Grahame
8. Dickens/Dubus III
9. Ishiguro/Wyndham
10. MacLennan/King

Friday, February 27, 2009

Reader's Diary #461- Octavio Paz: Selected Poems


Reading Selected Poems of Octavio Paz brought back painful memories of reading Seamus Heaney's Selected Poems a couple years ago. Both won the Nobel Prize for Literature and both seem way out of my league. Accessibility is a fickle beast isn't it? Too accessible and it's like Top 40 mush, too inaccessible and no one except the Nobel judges claim to understand it. Actually, I have liked some Nobel winners, but Heaney and Paz just make me feel stupid.

Paz did give me pause for thought. (This could be a witty pun, but I'm not sure how you pronounce his name.) Unfortunately, it felt more like a surreal philosophy text than a book a poetry. One of the major themes running through many of the poems seemed to revolve around the stagnancy/fluidity of time. What is it with the surrealist crowd and their melting clocks? I must say, I short-circuited many brain cells trying to decide what the opposite of time is. (I've come up three possibilities so far: life, never, and God.) Another common theme seems to be the reality of imagination. Notice how I keep saying what the themes seem to be. In actuality, I have no idea. I repeat: Paz made me feel stupid.

As for the poetic merit, I couldn't find much. The poems felt like random trains of disjointed thought, I couldn't get a feel for any rhythm, the few good images were overwhelmed by high-falootin' Zen mantras, and well, I guess I'm not yet enlightened enough for Paz.

I did enjoy the Escher-esque way Paz presented images collapsing in on themselves, even if he did overdo that idea. This poem, one of the few accessible poems in the collection, has a nice, creepy Halloween feel just in case you don't pick up on the ideas of loneliness, identity confusion, etc:

The Street

A long and silent street.
I walk in blackness and I stumble and fall
and rise, and I walk blind, my feet
stepping on silent stones and dry leaves.
Someone behind me also stepping on stones, leaves:

if I slow down, he slows:
if I run, he runs. I turn: nobody.

Everything dark and doorless.
Turning and turning among these corners
which lead forever to the street
where I pursue a man who stumbles
and rises and says when he sees me: nobody


This version of "The Street" was translated by Muriel Rukeyser. Other translations in this volume were written by Paul Blackburn, William Carlos Williams, and the editor, Eliot Weinberger. Normally when I don't enjoy a book of translated poems, I give it the benefit of a doubt that something was lost in translation. However, when a whole team of translators can't convince me, I think I just have issues with the original poet.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reader's Diary #460- Marjane Satrapi: Persepolis


When I signed up for the Graphic Novels Challenge at the beginning of this year, I chose the smallest goal possible: 6 books. I'd not read a graphic novel before and had no idea how long each would take or if I'd even enjoy them. Here it is not even 2 months into the challenge, and I've already completed my 4th. Ranging from the 153 page Persepolis to the 612 page The Absolute Sandman, Vol.1 , none of these books have taken me more than a week. That's not bragging, I suspect it's just the nature of this genre. Add to that the pretty amazing storytelling and I just may be hooked. I must say, though, that I've enjoyed the black and white, artsy-fartsy ones (Persepolis, It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, and Louis Riel) better than the colour, comic-looking one (The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1). Just two months in, four books down and I'm already turning into a graphic novel snob.

Persepolis is also my third book about 20th century Iran. The first was Betty Mahmoody's Not Without My Daughter and the second was Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran. All memoirs, too. Anyone know any other Iranian books? Perhaps an Iranian challenge is in order. I only wish I could find one told from a male perspective for a change.

Persepolis is probably the funniest of the three Iranian books mentioned above. It's just as graphic (well, more so, I guess), but Satrapi's humour adds a much needed balance. Not only does it provide relief to the reader but reflects the fun times that had to break through all the oppression. When you set out to read books like this you always anticipate being disgusted with mankind ("how can one person do that to another?" etc) but time and time again they make me feel more optimistic than defeated. If the human spirit can be strong enough not only endure such hardships but actually have laughter as well, well that makes me feel all warm and giddy inside.

A favourite scene involves Satrapi being stopped by two women of the "Guardians of the Revolution" for wearing Nike shoes, denim, and a Michael Jackson button. There was a very real risk she'd be arrested and possibly whipped for her appearance. When questioned about the button, Satrapi says it's actually "Malcolm X, the leader of black Muslims in America." The caption at the bottom of the frame says, "Back then, Michael Jackson was still black."

I also enjoyed the artwork, especially the scenes in which she stressed repetition: soldiers, groups of girls covered in veils, protesters and the dead. Virtually cloning the people, Satrapi was able to make many strong statements using one single technique.

The real highlight of the book, however, was the precociousness of child Satrapi. She is such a lovable, smart, and melodramatic little girl that I wonder if the sequel, featuring a teenage Satrapi, will be as appealing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #3- José Saramago VERSUS Franz Kafka


The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (José Saramago Vs. M.G. Vassanji) with a final score of 4-2 was José Saramago.

Notice that last week's contest had the exact same score.

Not even canuck pride could save Vassanji last week. I guess 2 Giller Prizes don't equal one Nobel Prize. Oh well, he can always fall back on his doctorate in nuclear physics if the writing doesn't pan out. Sheesh. Why does talent have to be like wealth--unevenly distributed?

I've only read one Vassanji novel, The Book of Secrets. I don't remember much about it or liking it all that much.

We move on.

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. (Mar. 3, 2009), and if you want your author to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who's better?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reader's Diary #459- Mark Fremmerlid: What Became of Sigvald, Anyway?

When I first dabbled in genealogy, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a relative had already done much of the research. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Finally I did.

I was able to identify a few mistakes here or there, but I was still appreciative of all the hard work he'd put into the project. What bothered me more was his insistence on trying to connect the Mutfords to someone famous or of reputation. I understand the appeal it must have for someone working on their family tree to suddenly see Attila the Hun or Louis Pasteur pop up. In our case it was former mayor of St. John's (and power-mongering loony) Andy Wells, and a member of the mutinous HMS Bounty crew. Neither of these theories amounted to much except for frustration for some (and relief for others).

With this background, you can understand my skepticism as I began Mark Fremmerlid's theory that the Mad Trapper was really his great uncle Sigvald from Norway.

The Mad Trapper, though his murderous exploits are now close to 80 years old, still manages to capture headlines in Canada. Most recently, a DNA test on the man who called himself Albert Johnson, revealed that he was probably of American or Scandanavian descent. On May 21st, Discovery Channel Canada will air a documentary about the exhuming and analyzing of the trapper's remains.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story of the Mad Trapper, Fremmerlid's book provides a great synopsis of the tale. Furthermore, his enthusiasm might help explain why the mystery surrounding Johnson's true identity is still a topic of conversation.

What Became of Sigvald, Anyway? is a short book at only 30 pages (67 including appendix and postscript), but manages to educate about the Mad Trapper's story as well as present Fremmerlid's case that Albert Johnson was really his great uncle. It helps that it's also well-written.

In the end, I'm not convinced that Sigvald and Johnson were the same man. Much of what Fremmerlid presents is circumstantial evidence. However, everything he says does seem entirely plausible. Combined with the DNA support of the recent research, Fremmerlid's thesis is even stronger. I'm not convinced that Sigvald and Johnson weren't the same man, either.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Reader's Diary #458- Jessica Grant: Humanesque


I'm waiting patiently for the arrival of Jessica Grant's novel Come, Thou Tortoise in the mail. Well, not too patiently. I had to go online and see what I could find to tide me over. I found "Humanesque," a short story published at Brindle & Glass.

The beauty of "Humanesque" comes from its enigmatic narrator. At first I think she's perfectly normal, then I start to believe she's crazy, and finally I'm not sure. She's undeniably eccentric.

She also saves the story from its lack of plot. She goes from one seemingly unrelated story to the next but then manages to go back and relate them. And that's part of the appeal. However, it's like she begins by laying down random numbers, but then you notice she's added dots. Ah, it's going to be a Connect-The-Dots. That's cool. You take out your pencil and start connecting things up but in the end the picture comes out like this:

I don't know. Maybe a few more reads and I'll get it, or maybe I was never supposed to. At least there's some fun in trying.

Have you written a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave your link below!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Reader's Diary #457- Grace Slick (with Andrea Cagan): Somebody To Love


I find it hard enough to pull myself away from a bargain bin, but when I'm confronted by a free pile, there's no telling what junk I'll be hauling home. There's always something salvageable underneath The NWT Forestry Policy 1966-1967 and The Atkins Diet Cookbook.

Voila une Grace Slick autobiography.

I was never big on Jefferson Airplane. I had one of their greatest hits cds once upon a time, and I salvaged four or five songs from it as mp3s, but they're not a band I ever went gaga for. Still, most of us have heard about Slick's excesses and she seemed to be the stereotypical 60s rocker, so I thought it might be interesting to indulge a little.

What was I thinking? Why would a stereotype be interesting? With all due respect for Slick, all her talk of individuality is a bit of a joke. Except for getting some names wrong, and maybe throwing in a traumatic childhood event (Slick's was trauma free), I could have written her biography with almost no research. Basically she fit into what ever decade she was living in and did whatever it is aging rockstars do. She takes a lot of drugs and performs at Woodstock in the 60s. She takes a lot of drugs and buys a lot of things in the 70s. She goes to rehab and sells out in the 80s. She takes on animal rights causes in the 90s. Haven't we seen this a thousand times already?

Add to that a LOT OF UNNECESSARY CAPS, the F word in ample doses, and lame jokes, and it all made for a rather annoying read. Damned freebie.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday Word Play- Quotable Wordles


I once said, "I like books. They're like sandwiches with paper coldcuts." Okay, so I'll never be quoted. Fortunately, the authors below are much wittier and elegant than I. Their quotes have been entered into that miracle of creation known as Wordle. I'll give you the author, you tell me the correct quote. A word of caution: sometimes it's not as simple as unscrambling the quote. The repeated words of each quote (should there be any) appear only once in the Wordle.

As usual, feel free to do all ten at home. However, please answer only one in the comment section. That way, 9 others will have a chance to play along.

1. Douglas Adams
Wordle: Douglas Adams Quote

2. W. Somerset Maugham
Wordle: W. Somerset Maugham Quote

3. Oscar Wilde
Wordle: Oscar Wilde Quote

4. Moliere
Wordle: Moliere Quote

5. Margaret Atwood
Wordle: Atwood Quote

6. Mark Twain
Wordle: Mark Twain Quote

7. Aldous Huxley
Wordle: Aldous Huxley Quote

8. Henry David Thoreau
Wordle: Thoreau Quote

9. Stephen Colbert
Wordle: Colbert Quote

10. Gore Vidal
Wordle: Vidal Quote

Friday, February 20, 2009

Reader's Diary #456- Sara Holbrook and Allan Wolf: More Than Friends

In More Than Friends Holbrook and Wolf respectively adopt the voice of a teenage girl and boy as they become "more than friends." Told in various form poems and free verse, the production goes the extra mile by adding notes about the forms (unobtrusively) at the end.

It is a short book, but then, so are most teenage romances. However, the poets are able to pack a lot of emotion and "typical" teenage drama into the pages. It's not Degrassi-esque; AIDS, suicide, drugs, pregnancy, etc don't fill every other page, but the authors are careful not to patronize or trivialize the love story. Even if you've never had a highschool sweetheart, there are moments here almost anyone could relate to.

Of course, there are other moments that some people surely can't relate to. It's a Westernized slant on teenage love, on teenage heterosexual love, on teenage middleclass heterosexual love... and while I could go on categorizing this couple, what would be the point? Every book has its biases and besides, they never pretend to be every couple, just a couple. I stick by my assessment that there's at least a moment or two that anyone who's ever been smitten, or in love or whatever you want to call it, can relate to. Take one of the strongest poems in the book, "Veggie Panini Is The Answer To Everything" in which the girl's simple answer to what she's eating isn't an everyday sandwich, it's a veggie panini:

"A veggie what?" I ask and smile
as wide as a door on well-oiled hinges.
And you smile back the same and answer,
"Paah-NEE-nee. Paah-NEE-nee. A veggie panini."
  In English class I even look it up.

"Paah-NEE-nee. Paah-NEE-nee. A veggie panini."
I whisper it into the electric air and picture
your lips, your smile, your look, your lunch, your hair.
I mutter it all the way home:
"Veggie panini. Veggie panini."
I hug my mom (first time in like a year).
"And how was your day?" my mother asks.
"Veggie paah-NEE-nee" is my answer.


(Read the entire poem here.)

Yes, it's told as through an adolescent's lips, but we've all convinced ourselves that veggie paninis are more than just sandwiches, haven't we?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reader's Diary #455- Chester Brown: Louis Riel, A Comic Strip Biography

I'd already read a biography of Louis Riel and I came pretty close to skipping over this one in favour of any other Chester Brown graphic novel. However, it was this book that first drew my attention to Brown and in all honesty, I remembered little from the other biography. So, when I found this one at the local library I grabbed it.

Apparently Brown and Seth (It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken) are friends. I'm not sure then if one's art influenced the other or if they came together out of respect for one another's art because both are very similar: black and white drawings with bold, simple lines. However, there are some differences: Brown seems to use more detailed lines in the background shading, and his characters seem more stylized. At first I thought Brown was using caricature. John A. MacDonald's nose, for instance, is drawn like a half-filled balloon. However, Louis Riel, A Comic Biography isn't remotely funny. I question if satirical drawings would fit. Also some aberrations are too consistent across characters to be merely an exaggerated attribute of one individual. The most common of these include the boxy bodies and over-sized hands. Had such a feature been isolated in one person, I'd guess Brown was merely poking fun. However, everyone was drawn that way and I figure it's just Brown's style. It took more getting used to than Seth's art, but I still enjoyed it.

I also enjoyed Brown's story-telling. Though he admits to misrepresenting facts at times, he is careful to point out inaccuracies in notes at the end. Some of these are done for dramatic effect, but the essence is the same. For example, in the opening scene John A MacDonald is shown in London negotiating with the Hudson's Bay Company. In reality, he had sent along representatives to do the negotiating. Small points like these are just fine with me.

For me, the biggest strength of the book was in Brown's compelling depictions of three characters in particular: Riel, John A. MacDonald, and Gabriel Dumont. Riel, though shown as wise and honourable, sometimes made some bad decisions out of trust or confusion (likely delusions). John A. MacDonald is shown as a calculating liar. And I thought Dumont was perhaps the wisest of all, except for his one mistake: letting Riel talk him out of using guerrilla warfare. Brown's portrayal seems to show Dumont of being more the type of person that the Canadian government tried to make Riel out to be, eventually hanging Riel and giving Dumont amnesty.

It's a phenomenal historical graphic novel, and a biography of Riel that, this time, I won't forget.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compar3 #3- José Saramago VERSUS M.G. Vassanji


The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Gabriel García Márquez Vs. José Saramago) with a final score of 4-2 was José Saramago.

Since I first threw Márquez into the Great Wednesday Compare a few weeks ago, I've finally been able to read something of his. Not One Hundred Years of Solitude, not Love in the Time of Cholera, actually nothing that was ever popular: I read his short story "Eva is Inside Her Cat." With a title like that you'd be correct in assuming it's magical realism. While I've read other books and stories that might fit that classification, this was the first time I'd paid attention to it. I'm perpexed as to whether or not I enjoy the genre, let alone the story of Eva. For all I know "Eva is Inside Her Cat" might be a great example of magical realism or it might be a terrible representation. In any case, I've had a few people suggest Marquez's non-magical realism writing. But, since One Hundred Years of Solitude is currently sitting on my bookshelf, I'll probably just read that. But not for a while.

This week we head back to Canada.

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. 24, 2009), and if you want your author to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who's better?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reader's Diary #454- The Good News Bible: Chronicles 2

While Chronicles 2 doesn't have all the "begats" that bogged down the 1st Chronicles, it also doesn't have as many major miracles as some of the earlier books of the Bible. But just because it isn't as flashy, doesn't mean there aren't interesting parts.

A couple things that caught my eye:

1. All the numbers- Granted numbers are definitely not unique to this book, but it was only now that I noticed how similar the writing is to all those word problems thrown at school kids in their math classes:
They made ten gold lampstands according to the usual pattern, and ten tables, and placed them in the main room of the Temple, five lampstands and five tables on each side. They also made a hundred bowls.
Such specifics seem only necessary when there's a follow-up question: How many items did they make in all? If the bowls also had to be divided equally, how many would be placed on each table? How many were going to St. Ives?

2. The other gods and goddesses- This time around Baal and Asherah seemed to be the bane of the Jews. Time and time again, they'd have one king or another forsaking God for one of these deities. I'm not sure why I find these intriguing. Then again, all the Greek, Roman and Norse gods are also pretty interesting characters, so I guess these shouldn't be much different. It's just a curiosity on my part. I'm surprised, seeing as there never seems to be a shortage of people trying to find the newest fad faith or cult, that someone or group hasn't tried to revisit some of those.

Insert concluding paragraph here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Reader's Diary #453- Gabriel García Márquez: Eva Is Inside Her Cat

Though I consider myself an avid and well-rounded reader, I still get a little lost by all the classifications: epistolary fiction, speculative fiction, ecotopian fiction, fan fiction, historical fiction, gothic, inspirational romance... It's getting so I can hardly keep up. Recently I was reading about Gabriel García Márquez and he was credited with popularizing magical realism. Oh boy. It was back to the books again.

"Eva is Inside Her Cat" is my crash course in magical realism and Gabriel García Márquez's writing. It is the story of Eva who suffers from beauty and insomnia. She dies at some point in the story and her spirit searches for an appropriate person or animal to plant itself in. I think.

So new am I to magical realism that I don't know if it's a good fit for me or not. I did find it poetic at times, and I like poetry, but is this the point? Am I supposed to be taking it as an allegory? Are the insects metaphorical? Maybe I'm supposed to believe in the supernatural elements, not interpret them in another way. Or maybe the confusion is the intent. I don't know.

I do know that I didn't hate it. Didn't love it either. But I will explore this magical realism further. Maybe someday you'll see my thoughts hung like drying kelp on the piano wire that shoots from my temples. Or maybe not.

Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave your link below.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Reader's Diary #452- Jodi Picoult: My Sister's Keeper

Two major authors introduced to me through the litblogging community are Jodi Picoult and Neil Gaiman. In hindsight I must have been living under a rock not to have heard of them before, but in any case, I, too, jumped on the bandwagon with a couple of Gaiman's works under my belt, and now, finally, Picoult.

I know she has her share of fans, but I'd call this one a recommenDUD. About halfway through I found myself comparing it to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. I guess I should really be glad I read Brown's book; I've used it in so many reviews now that I've lost track. However, I usually use it as a benchmark of sorts and when you see his name pop up on my blog, it's rarely a good sign.

For me, Brown is the epitome of a great premise ruined by shoddy writing. While I didn't dislike My Sister's Keeper as much as The Da Vinci Code, I thought it suffered the same fate.

My Sister's Keeper is the story of a daughter conceived with the intention of being her sister's lifesaver. Anna was essentially created in a lab as a perfect genetic match to donate bone marrow to her sister Kate who suffers from a rare form of leukemia. As Kate relapses time and time again, Anna finds herself poked and prodded right along with her. At thirteen her parents decide that Anna will donate a kidney to Kate and that's where Anna draws the line; she sues her parents for medical emancipation.

Early into the book, I found myself having loads of moral and ethical discussions with my wife. It's a heavy, emotional topic and conversations like ours are bound to be the norm. However, early on I began to have my reservations with the characters.

Beginning with Anna, I suspected that someone with her experiences would be more knowledgeable than the typical adolescent about medicine. I suppose with the turmoil she'd faced, it would also be a fair to assume she'd be a little more mature than her peers. But, when she thinks that her lawyer's name (Campbell Alexander) "sounds like a bar drink that costs too much, or a brokerage firm," I'm not going to accept that one. Maybe Drew Barrymore was able to reference cocktails and brokerage firms at age thirteen, but it doesn't seem credible for Anna.

Told from various characters' perspectives, the font changes with each person. It's a small annoyance, as if readers aren't smart enough to understand on their own that having "Sara," "Brian," "Campbell," etc written at the top of each chapter means that particular person is now telling the story. But that's a small issue, which I suspect was a publisher's issue. My major beefs were with the caricatures that were supposed to serve as characters.

Kate and Anna's older brother Jesse suffers the worst under Picoult's cliched pen, portrayed as the troubled teen who curses, thinks about sex a lot, and likes to get hammered with one substance or another. He also serves to illustrate another complaint of mine: the cheesy sentimentality. After a run of arson, Jessie is caught by his father (a firefighter, of course) and his father, Brian, chalks it up to Jessie's concern over his two younger sisters. Brian ponders, "How does someone go from thinking that if he cannot rescue, he must destroy?" With a first-year psychology course, Brian.

Then there's the tacked on love story between Anna's lawyer and her court appointed guardian ad litem (which, oddly, no one seems to think is a conflict of interest), the annoying bit about the lawyer's mysterious service dog, and the ending...

I disliked this book a lot. Even more now that I've gotten some of my thoughts down. But I won't spoil the ending. Rest assured, the ending spoils itself.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Saturday Word Play: How Do I Love Thee Hidden Words

Happy Valentine's Day! Today's Saturday Word Play brings you Elizabeth Barrett Browning's classic poem "How Do I Love Thee?" However, some of the letters are missing. The clues below can be plugged somewhere into the poem. Solve a clue and tell me into which word it fits.

As always feel free to do all ten at home, but only answer one in the comment section to allow nine others to play along.

How Do I Love Thee?
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and b----th and height
My soul can r----, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and --eal Grace.
I love thee to the l---l of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men might strive for ---ht;
I love thee pu----, as they t--- from Praise.
I love thee with the p---ion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
S----s, t----, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.


1. Children's author Bunting
2. Mark Antony's request to his friends, Romans, and countrymen
3. Paul Coffey walks a green one
4. John Keats wrote an ode to a Grecian one
5. Allan Ahlberg's picture book ____ Peach Pear Plum
6. Kevin Smith's autobiography My Boring ___ Life
7. A litblog that ranks books by caterpillars: Books I Done ____
8. Saul Bellow quote, "I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to ____ on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, 'To hell with you.'"
9. Don McTavish nonfiction book: Big ___
10. Comic created by Johnny Hart and Brant Parker: The Wizard of __

Friday, February 13, 2009

Reader's Diary #451- Yvonne Trainer: Tom Three Persons

Last year I read Randall's Maggs' brilliant poetic biography of hockey great Terry Sawchuk (Night Work). This time I look at the life of another Canadian sports legend, again told in verse: Yvonne Trainer's Tom Three Persons.

Is it too early to decide that biographies should always be told in verse?

While Tom Three Persons doesn't match Maggs' achievement, I quite enjoyed it. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Three Persons, his claim to fame was becoming the world's bucking horse champion at the very first Calgary Stampede in 1912. As a Blood Indian, he also became an inspiration to his people.

Although based on historical facts, Trainer is careful not to destroy his status as a legend. Compare the story behind his name as told by the Alberta Online Encyclopedia and by Trainer:

Tom Three Persons is perhaps best described as Alberta’s most famous cowboy. Born in March 1888 to Ayakohtseniki, Double Talker, a Blood woman, his natural father was a white trader and bootlegger by the name of Fred Pace. When Pace left Ayakohtseniki prior to the birth of their son, she soon married Three Persons, a young widower from her tribe. Tom Three Persons was originally given the name Mutsi-i-kitstuki, or Handsome Offering, and baptized as Moses Three Persons but known to all as Tom.
--
- Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Tom Three Persons
My name is Tom Three Persons
I’m no relation to the American
Tom Three Persons
named because he killed three men
I never killed anyone
nor robbed a bank
nor anything like that
I was named because of three women
mother saw walking past the door
the moment of my birth
Father claimed there were no women
The door was closed
I am not even sure there was a door
I may have been born in a teepee

I was named because we’re all named
Because Bloods believe
names float in air


(by Yvonne Trainer, read the rest here.)

Trainer depicts Tom Three Persons as somewhat quiet but aware. Told as if from Tom's perspective, he knows exactly where he fits in, despite the recognition he's been given. In "Praise" he states, "I know the horses I've ridden/ I know the ones I haven't."

Powerful stuff.

My biggest complaint is that it wasn't long enough. Trainer seems to rush through his life from the stampede onward and more than details are lost in the gaps. It would appear that she was trying to emphasize the number three, perhaps as an attempt at symbolism. This is not a surprising angle seeing as Tom was named Three Persons and also ended up married three times. But Trainer pushes it even further when she presents Tom on his deathbed, surrounded by three nuns. As they fade into the shadows, Tom mistakes them for his past wives. Obviously a literary invention, the wives didn't really stick out enough in the preceding poems to give them the significance Trainer seems to have wanted in this final scene.

Otherwise, fine biographical poetry. Or is it a poetic biography? I'm not sure.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

100,000 Hits

(Poor Pat Benatar.)

Sometime late Tuesday night, according to the ol' Stats Counter, I marked my 100, 000th hit. I don't quite know how to celebrate such an occasion except with excessive navel gazing.

So here you go. Have at it:

Now that you've got citric acid in your eye, thank-you (especially all you regular visitors).

So, hit me with your best shot. Any favourite Book Mine Set memories/posts? (Of course, if this is all a little too self-congratulatory, a simple gift basket will do.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #3- Gabriel García Márquez VERSUS José Saramago


The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (John Updike Vs. Gabriel García Márquez) with a final score of 6-0 was Gabriel García Márquez.

The first shut-out in a while. It makes me question the previous week's results when Updike beat Wilde. Perhaps some sympathy came in to play? Perhaps some people were merely sick of Wilde? In any case, I've only read one thing by Updike: his short story "A & P," which I reviewed here a few weeks ago. It was fine, but certainly not enough for me to judge how a feel about him as an author.

Moving on.

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. 17, 2009), and if you want your author to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who's better?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reader's Diary #450- David Bergen: The Retreat

Last year, my Manitoba book for the Canadian Book Challenge was David Bergen's The Time In Between. This year, I decided to follow it up with his latest novel, the Retreat.

I think a large part of my attraction to The Time In Between was because I hadn't been familiar with Bergen's writing style. He seems to get a lot of credit for writing in spare prose, avoiding overly flowery language. I'd agree with that for the most part. There are details, but they're told in a matter of fact way that often seem written only to set the scene. In this way, he reminds me of Stephen King. However, occasionally he throws in a more substantial sentence that you might miss if you're not paying attention. In this way, he reminds me of Brueghel's "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus."

However, as much as that impressed me the first time around, this time around I was able to focus on the story more. Unfortunately the story came up short.

The Retreat had a lot of great story fragments, but none seemed to get the focus they deserved. Just after finishing the book, I heard Bergen being interviewed on the CBC and he referred to Lizzy as the main character. Certainly she gets more of the spotlight than the other characters, but why I'm not sure. She's no more compelling than the others. She was also probably the least believable. Falling in love with a native boy, I understand that she's supposed to be more open- minded than some of the other characters, especially those that told her she could do better. However, that she never questions a future with him, let alone consider the resistance they will surely face from an obviously racist society, feels beyond naivete; it feels fake. Additional plots, with much more interesting characters, started to pop up, but all fizzled or were left up in the air at the end.

It was a good book, but with some tightening up, could have been a great book.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Reader's Diary #449- George Saunders: Jon

Last week Eva's contribution to Short Story Monday was a review of the Jeffrey Eugenides edited My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead, an anthology of "love stories from Checkov to Munro." Since Valentine's Day is this week, I figured I'd try to find one of those stories online and review it for this week's SSM. Fortunately, I was able to find George Saunder's "Jon" in The New Yorker archives.

In many ways, "Jon" reminded me of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. At first I thought both were set in the very near future, certainly both make contemporary references and deal with modern concerns. In hindsight, however, I'm not as convinced that Saunders story is meant to be the future, or simply a group of people living in the present in a sort of secret society.

"Jon" is the story of a group of teens that appear to have been raised as a focus group, owned either by a super conglomerate or advertising agency. Interwoven with the social commentary, is a love story. Jon, who has never questioned the great life inside the facility, falls in love with Carolyn who has decided that life inside is not "authentic" and wants out. Jon, of course, must decide whether he will accompany Carolyn or not.

A few years ago when Oryx and Crake was a Canada Reads contender, its defender Olivia Chow tried to make the case that it was a love story. As much as I enjoyed that book, I didn't, couldn't, see it as a love story. "Jon," however, I do. It's also a critique on society, but love is crucial to the plot. Love represents an escape from the plastic, generic world of advertising. It might be a flawed blade of grass but it's beauty in its purest, individualized form.

I really, really enjoyed this story. Any author that can write "Which I was like, Dude, who thought this shit up?" and not lose me entirely, must be doing something right.

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

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Saturday Word Play- Cookbooks, 1 Step Forward 2 Steps Back



In this week's Saturday Word Play, we look at popular cookbooks. I'll give you the title, you tell me the chef. To help you out, I've given you letters either one ahead or two behind in the chef's last name. For instance if I gave you:

New New Orleans Cooking - KCIZRUG

You could figure out that it's (Emeril) LAGASSE. "K" one step forward to give you "L," "C" two steps back to give you "A," "I" two steps back to give you "G," "Z" one step forward to give you "A," and so forth.

1. The Joy of Cooking- TQLACTGQ
2. Company's Coming series- RCQD
3. Deceptively Delicious- RDHPHGNC
4. Fast Food: Recipes From The F Word- TZLUZX
5. The Naked Chef- NNHXDT
6. Mastering The Art of French Cooking- BGKKC
7. The Moosewood Cookbook- JCVBDM
8. How To Cook Everything- AKSSOCM
9. The Frugal Gourmet- UOKVJ
10. Pizza, Pasta and More- OTEM

Friday, February 06, 2009

Reader's Diary #448- Domenico Capilongo: I thought elvis was italian


My only issue with Domenico Capilongo's I thought Elvis was italian is the cover. Something about the quirkiness of the title and the 4 velvet Elvises in karate stances led me to believe it would be a collection of funny poems. While there are witty poems, and a few smiles here and there, they are generally more contemplative than quirky. However, there are a lot of poems about Italians and karate, so it's not entirely a false impression.

One of the first things that struck me about Capilongo's poetry is the amount of body imagery he uses. I can pretty much open the book at random and find references to some body part:

"like the hands of a roman caligrapher"

"the pain shooting from my calves"

"your chest heaving"

It was a welcome sensation, sort of allowing me to "feel" the poem rather than simply visualizing it. I was curious as to where it came from. Perhaps, as a karate student, Capilongo is more in tune with the body. Or maybe it's something in his Italian-Canadian heritage. He does mention something about Italians talking with their hands. Though I admit I know very little about Italian culture. Growing up in outport Newfoundland, the only Italians I knew liked to jump on turtles and throw barrels at gorillas.

There's a vein of humility, curiosity, imagination and discovery that runs through the book and it's all quite charming.

One of my favourites from the book is the title poem. To me, it speaks of the power of belief:

I Thought Elvis Was Italian
by Domenico Capilongo

pictures of my father slick-haired & sideburned
my uncles had all his albums
older cousins played the hawaii concert
whenever I was over
thought he had to change his name
like dean martin did

the leather
the rings & gold chains
the way he moved his hips
his lips
the leather
the sicilian black of his hair
the way he borrowed the tune of “o sole mio”
for his song “it’s now or never”
his best friend named esposito
the leather
his fixation with cars
the way he looked at women
the way he put on weight
how close he was to his mother
the leather
the black velvet posters in everyone’s basement
movies dubbed in italian
he was played at weddings after tarantellas
the leather
the rings
gold chains

if he’s still alive he’s in his 70s
eyeing his blood pressure
sitting in the courtyard of his villa
in some tiny southern italian village
deserted by emigration
a new graceland

talking sideways since the stroke
he sometimes plays the mandolin
sings in an ancient dialect
known only to farmers
he smiles at chickens
who peck at his feet
cats dance in the shade
his eyes moving slowly
under a mediterranean sun


2008, Domenico Capilongo
published by Wolsak and Wynn
Used with permission

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Reader's Diary #447- Neil Gaiman: The Absolute Sandman, Volume 1


I'm only on my 2nd book for the Graphic Novel Challenge and already I'm departing from my original list. It's been much harder to find my first choices at the local library.

I read Gaiman's short story "I Cthulhu" a couple years back and enjoyed it enough to promise exploring him further. It's taken me this long to come round to him again, but when I saw the massive Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1 (612 pages, comprised of the first 19 issues of Gaiman's Sandman comics first published in 1989), it refreshed my memory.

My first Graphic Novel Challenge book was Seth's It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, and the two books couldn't be more different. Where Seth's art had simplistic lines with white, black and shades of gray, Gaiman, who didn't draw himself, had a team of artists (including Sam Kieth, Michael Dringenberg, Chris Bachalo, Colleen Doran and others), who drew with lots of hatching, cross-hatching and general scratches for detail and worked in colour. But the differences didn't just exist in art. Whereas Seth's story was realistic, slow-paced, and tame, Gaiman's was surreal, fast-paced, and often pretty horrific. The Sandman (a.k.a. Morpheus, The Lord of Dreams, and a few other names) is supposed to be the anthropomorphic personification of dreams. With a description like that, you'd be correct in assuming he's a little more cerebral than Freddy Krueger.

I definitely prefer Seth's book, but after a while, I also came to enjoy Gaiman's. At the beginning I was enjoying the story but was distracted and unimpressed with the artwork. It reminded me of the style of Tales From The Crypt and seemed too stereotypically comic book (which for some readers might be a good thing.) Plus, I wasn't crazy about the Sandman's look. Resembling the unholy love child of Alice Cooper and the Cure's Robert Smith couldn't possibly be a good thing, but it was made even worse when the artists couldn't decide on a consistent head size. Eventually I either got used to it or Sam Keith's departure (after the first five stories) made the subtle difference. Towards the middle I thought it came together really well. Then, at the end, I thought Gaiman was stretching for story ideas. The Sandman's siblings started to get bigger roles, there was a whole story devoted to cats (apparently a popular issue with the fans), and while I enjoy Shakespeare, and although it's the one Gaiman won a World Fantasy Award for, I really didn't like the 19th Sandman story, "A Midsummer Night's Dream." It seemed silly and felt out of place with the rest of the collection, hardly having anything to do with dreams. I hope those last few stories are not representative of the later volumes because I'd still like to continue on with the series.

(Cross posted at the Graphic Novels Challenge blog.)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #3- John Updike VERSUS Gabriel García Márquez


The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Oscar Wilde Vs. John Updike) with a final score of 4-3 was John Updike.

I have to admit, I thought Oscar Wilde was going to finish off the 3rd Wednesday Compare (for those of you new to these shenanigans, a five week winner means everything starts anew). Alas, it was not meant to be. However, I enjoyed reading the comments about Wilde; a lot of very polarized discussion. Is he the "love him or hate him" sort of author? For me, it depends. My introduction to Wilde was with his one and only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Had someone asked me after that, I'd have said I was a fan. However, it's always folly to say you're a fan after just one book and so last year I also tried one of his short stories, "The Model Millionaire." I really didn't enjoy that one at all. Now it's hard to say where I stand. Lukewarm, maybe.

This week we move on to another author I've not yet read.

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. 10, 2009), and if you want your author to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who's better?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Reader's Diary #446- Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Bad Beginning

Last August I learned the importance of checking those picture books a little more carefully before checking them out of the library and taking them home to my kids. Fine lesson to learn I suppose, but what about chapter books? Should I stay there for six hours, meticulously scanning over every page?

I guess all this implies that I had reservations about The Bad Beginning, book the first of the Series of Unfortunate Events. I admit that certain scenes were uncomfortable to read to my five year old, especially when Count Olaf strikes Klaus across the face, causing a bruise that lasts the whole week following. However, we ended up having a lot of great talks. After the particularly abusive episode reference above, the Baudelaire orphans went to Mr. Poe, one of the few other adults in their life, and told him what happened, requesting his help. Mr. Poe coughed during the part about the physical abuse and the children were never quite sure if he'd heard them or not. In any case, Poe didn't come to their rescue. At this point we talked about the importance of getting help. Lesson? If you're in trouble and need an adult's help, keep trying every adult you can until someone pulls through. Me and my daughter were both frustrated that they didn't repeat themselves or go to another adult. It's unfortunate that children sometimes need to be their own advocates, but that may be the only way they end up getting help.

An important lesson to learn, but would I have tackled a book that featured physical abuse with my five year old had I known about it ahead of time? Probably not. In Snicket's defense, I was given as much warning as possible without having all the details spilled out ahead of time. On the back cover, he writes, "there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing." With such a tone, I expected it to be a dark comedy for kids. And it was a dark comedy for kids, just darker than I'd expected. But I don't regret reading it. A little discomfort can be a good thing. I trod lightly, reading just a chapter a night to make sure we'd have time to talk about those weightier issues and to cut it short should she start having Count Olaf nightmares. She didn't.

We both enjoyed the book immensely. I especially enjoyed the tone (very Edward Gorey) and the way he introduced definitions:
...their parents gave them permission to ride a rickety trolley-- the word, "rickety," you probably know, here means "unsteady" or "likely to collapse"-- alone to the seashore...
My daughter was drawn to Sunny Baudelaire, the gibberish talking baby with an over enthusiastic biting habit.

We're looking forward to the next in the series.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Reader's Diary #445- John Updike: A & P


Unfortunately it took his dying for me to finally get around to reading anything by John Updike. He's been one of those names on my radar for sometime, but I never seemed to make his books a priority.

I found a copy of his short story "A & P" online, and so, out of respect for Updike, I read it. It's a major relief that I also enjoyed it.

"A & P" is the story of Sammy, an eighteen year old grocery store clerk, who watches a trio of girls (presumably his age or slightly younger) as they walk through the aisles in their bathing suits.

Though the story is told through Sammy's perspective, his words betray him somewhat and that's what makes the story so interesting. While the story looks simple on the surface, with its everyday vernacular and easy-to-follow plot, there are greater complexities beneath the surface. Conversely, Sammy seems to imply that his actions are value based and of a higher ideal, when I suspect the reality would be much simpler. I believe that the girls are merely a catalyst for Sammy and what happened at the end would have happened sooner or later anyway.

Could Updike have been playing with the coming-of-age story? An eighteen year old who tires of his job and the establishment around him seems like a perfect candidate for such a story and at first glance, "A & P" might be mistaken for one. I, however, think it's a "staying-of-age" story. What do you think?

Participating in Short Story Mondays this week:
1. Ali- Ron Carlson's "The Clicker At Tips"
2. April- H.G. Wells' "The Door In The Wall"
3. Eva- My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead (an anthology editted by Jeffrey Eugenides)
4. Book Psmith- P.G. Wodehouse's "Up From The Depths"
5. Reading Derby- Julianna Baggott's "Five"
6. Lynda- Ye Mi's "Love's Labor"
7. J. S. Peyton- Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"