Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reader's Diary #473- Lucy Maud Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables

Whew, I've reached book 13 for the Canadian Book Challenge, finally having read a book from each province and territory. I can now admit that I didn't want to use Montgomery for this challenge. While I recognize its place in Canadian literature, I really wanted to give another P.E.I. writer some recognition for a change. But, since I've been reading chapter books to my daughter lately, it was hard to avoid this one.

I'm glad I finally gave in. It turns out, to my surprise, that I'd not read the original before. I'd seen the movie and I now assume the version I'd read before, not as long and not nearly as great, was a condensed version.

It wasn't an easy book to read to a five year old, but it was worth the extra effort. As those of you who've read it know, Anne uses a LOT of big words. That, however, was just one reason the book encouraged a lot of conversations. Times have changed and wow, was Anne ahead of her time. In religion, artistic expression, and a whole lot more, my daughter and I found ourselves agreeing with Anne more than the adults around her. Importantly, she wasn't perfect. She was shallow about her red hair and her inability to forgive Gilbert Blythe was terrible. However, in doing so, Montgomery created a much more believable character, and I think it made Anne even more likable in the end.

I wasn't crazy about all the floral descriptions in the book, but that's more of a personal complaint. I don't have a green thumb at all, nor much an interest in botany. However, I'm sure many gardeners and plant enthusiasts, who would know these plants by name, would have found them described beautifully. They certainly didn't get in the way of our overall enjoyment.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Reader's Diary #472- Elizabeth Tallent: No One's A Mystery

This week's story came highly recommended by Eva last week, so I just had to give it a shot. "No One's A Mystery" by Elizabeth Tallent is a few brief moments between an 18 year old girl and her boyfriend, a married man named Jack.

Tallent has painted a very precise picture with amazing images; images that are as common as the very scenario she is describing. I love the details. My favourite part of the story comes from the Rosanne Cash song that plays on the radio. Not only does Cash entirely fit this picture, but Jack's question "Do you think she's getting famous because of who her daddy is or for herself?" captures so much of the story's motif, it's brilliant.

It's Jack's characteristic cynicism for sure, and though the girl ignores his question, the closing conversation suggests there is some similarity between Cash and the girl. Had Cash been a cynic like Jack, would she have tried? For now, the girl in this story is also optimistic. (Try not to pay attention to Cash's words if you want to keep the future a mystery.)

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

Sunday, March 29, 2009


So, I'm back in the colonies. England was just swell, but I started to miss the smell of jackpines and moose.

A few reflections: London is wildly entertaining. It's insanely busy. At times, everyone seemed to be coming at us at once as if someone turned on a people hose. We just held on to the kids like our hands were super-glued together and somehow we became a part of it all. On the plus side, there's so much stimulation. Lights and speed and history and modernity. We rode the London Eye and looked down on Big Ben. You could start the day with a full English breakfast (sausages, beans, eggs, etc) and have a grain-fed free-range chicken and organic avocado sandwich for lunch. And when you actually did talk to someone, they were surprisingly friendly. It'd be sad but not unfathomable that living that fast-paced lifestyle would make one distant or cold, but fortunately that wasn't the case. On the down side, there's so much stimulation. It's very commercial and trendy. Did you know I should be wearing a cardigan now? I think I'd look like Harry Weston from Empty Nest. And ladies, you need tight leggings. Floral patterns are also in. I looked at all the billboards and I thought of how lucky my kids are not to be bombarded with that here in Yellowknife. Then, who do you think were the ones that suddenly needed Cadbury chocolates because of a giant cartoon bunny? Perhaps those living amongst it became desensitized somewhat. The locals certainly weren't pointing at all the adverts and signs.

It was a lot of fun to see The Lion King, take a tour on the Thames, ride the Eye, go to the Hard Rock Cafe, visit Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum and the Sherlock Holmes museum, travel on a double decker bus and the tube, and so on. And it was also nice to leave London and see some of the countryside.

Our first non-London stop was Lowestoft, a town on the east coast. We enjoyed walking along the beach (believe it or not we didn't have a single day of rain on our entire trip) and touching the North Sea but the real reason we went there was its proximity to a tiny village called Mutford. We saw pretty much the entire village of Mutford in about an hour and a half, but took loads of pictures. Mutford was quaint and quiet and small-- the complete opposite of London.

After a couple days in the Lowestoft/Mutford area we were off again to Birmingham, which was pretty much a pitstop on our way to Stratford-Upon-Avon. In Stratford-Upon-Avon we visited a huge castle in nearby Warwick that had some parts dating back to 1068. The recorded history of England on the whole was fascinating. I know, with our Native peoples, Canada's history goes back quite far as well; it's just too bad more of it wasn't as well preserved. I will say one thing about England's history, they seem to enjoy the dark stuff. Hey kids, this was where they hanged a guy, this was an axe used in decapitating people who may or may not have been innocent, etc-- all with a huge smile. I found it interesting that in their newspapers people seemed so appauled by "ghoul tourists" who wanted to go see Fritzl's house in Austria. I guess in a hundred years from now visiting his house would be acceptable?

Anyway, in Stratford-Upon-Avon we got to see Shakespeare's birthplace, grave, and a few more Shakespearean sites. Interesting stuff. It was capped off perfectly when we went back to London a few days later and toured the reproduction of the Globe Theatre. In London again, we also made a quick jaunt to Salisbury to visit Stonehenge (and saw one of Sting's houses) and then it was back to Canada.

But how can I forget the crisps (i.e., potato chips)? While we were in England, Walkers (their version of Frito-Lay) was having a contest to pick a new flavour. In the running were Fish and Chips, Builder's Breakfast (a.k.a full English breakfast, see above), Onion Bhaji, Crispy Duck Hoisin, Chilli and Chocolate and... Cajun Squirrel. Of course I tried them all. It's amazing how close some of the flavours are to the real thing. Fish and Chips (my favourite) actually tasted like battered cod and chips, complete with malt vinegar. Even the Builder's Breakfast somehow managed to capture an entire meal in a single crisp. I can only assume the squirrel is accurate, too. Oh you crazy Brits.

Anyway, there was more to the trip than cheap junkfood. I won't share all the photos, but since this is a litblog, I'll leave you with some of the more literary-themed pics.

Me and the bard spent a lot of time together on this trip. As you can tell, we became good friends:

Here's the Globe:

This was where he was born:

This was where he died. The inscription reads:
"Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones."

But of course, there was more than Shakespeare. Turns out Oscar wasn't so wilde after all. He had pretty shoes though:


And another fine literary character:

Guess who I ran into on Baker Street:

Shortly after, my fair lady knocked this down. We took the key and locked her up:

Oh, and this guy runs a litblog. He also owns a post office:

Starting to get tired, I turn to the Yellowknifer for news from home. (Geez, I hope they have the tainted meat taken care of by the time I get back...)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday Word Play- Hardee Har Har Reverse Word Make

In today's Saturday Word Play, I'm attempting a reverse on the old elementary school pasttime, "How many words can you make from the letters in ..." Perhaps you remember being given a word like apocalyptic and given the instructions to make as many words as you can from its letters. You'd find words like lip, cola, clip and so on and, in the end, the person who'd found the most words would win. This time I'm going to tell you the name of a comedian's book as well as words made from the letters of the comedian's name. I won't tell you all the possible words, but I'll give you enough so that all the letters you need will be there. Can you tell me the comedian, as well as three more possible words?

For example, if I gave you

Report: The Book- mire, mike, creme

You would tell me that the comedian is Rick Mercer, and three more words in his name are rim, ere, and rice. (We'll keep all words 3 letters or more.)

Got it?

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

1. I Am America (And So Can You)- tree, pest, hole, best, teen, core

2. When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops?- lion, rage, gag, care

3. Don't Stand Too Close To A Naked Man- lean, mill, late

4. The Pleasure of My Company- tame, sieve, near

5. Bad Golf My Way- sell, inn, seen

6. My Point... And I Do Have One- green, sled, eel

7. My Booky Wook- balls, sure, drab, land

8. How To Talk Dirty and Influence People- nun, cure, ruby, beer, rule

9. Book of Top Ten Lists and Zesty Lo-Cal Chicken Recipes- tater, meal, vile, dad, need

10. The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America- dice, rice, lice

Friday, March 27, 2009

Reader's Diary #471- Eric Miller: The Day In Moss

I'll preface this review by saying I was in a rotten mood when I read the book. I was on a nine hour flight back from England and my family was unlucky enough to be among the few passengers without working t.v. sets. Oh yes, what a fine sense of entitlement I have-- but come on, nine hours crammed into an economy seat? If you want, you can discredit my review since I don't have the good common sense to pretend my mood doesn't factor in. I'm so unprofessional.

I usually avoid the En Route Magazine that Air Canada stuffs into the pockets of each seat because I find it to be too pretentious and elitist, obviously aimed at those people in the La-Z Boy recliners being spoon-fed certified organic caviar behind the curtain near the front of the aircraft. But, at only two pages into Miller's The Day In The Moss, I came across these lines:
[...]Nevertheless, the wind in the
willow sings Te Deum laudamus.

Into the liquid shadow of the river willow, Heraclitus slips,
as into a processional shoe[...]
and I considered picking up the En Route after all.

Not quite that desperate, I trudged on...

"the wind, absconds,/ eloping with abysmal azure"

Can I say that I love poetry but I hate words? Eloping with abysmal azure? What the hell is that?

The Day in Moss is full of the usual Greek crap, pseudo-poetic words like "guano" when "shit" would do just fine, and hippie-ish nature worship that uses silly questions to pose as philosophy.

In the first verse of "Diving" he almost had me,

Tilted you stood so long you accrued
the look of a landmark, a conviction held
at once to make and break the horizon.
Pondering your leap as though intent
had to mean more than any event,
like a cairn you balanced your life
or a crouched trunk, temporizing, with an air of eternity,
over whether to topple or not,
surrender antiquity to dissolution.

Okay so that last line's iffy, but I can live with it...

The thought of cold water delayed
your plunge, postponed your changed
as strongly as hands that might restrain you,
a presentiment of shock as hard as stone
yet as penetrable as the light-hearted clouds, all
convertible, with risk, with patience, to pleasure
after the shock of aqueous apotheosis passes.

Gee, which words in that last line do you think I take issue with? Such a shame. Here I was, finally being drawn in, then suddenly I'm hoping the lake is filled with piranhas. Alas, a few stanzas later and still none have shown up.

If I could salvage any poem from the book it would be "Niagara." Like "Diving" it has more of a narrative bent and this seems to keep the thesaurus abuse to a bare minimum. It begins

A diarist relates that, one summer afternoon, in 1793, cruelty
assuming its usual form, human, strolling
along the shore of the Niagara River, loosed
from a dock the canoe in which a Mohawk
slept. It appeared to be an instance of straightforward, mocking
murder and the one that undid the knot never
was detected.

One decent poem out of 75 pages? Good thing I had my memories of an awesome vacation to help with the remainder of the flight. If you're interested, I'll be sharing some of those, along with photos, sometime in the next few days.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tell me where to go

I should be back home tonight. While I sit back and try to recover from jet lag, I'm looking forward to sitting back with a glass of wine, hopefully reading over comments from all the posts I painstakingly prepared in advance for my absence, and seeing what happened in the blogging community. I'll have been gone for a week and a half. What have I missed? Link me to one your favourite blogposts that read in that time-- it might be from someone else's blog, it might be one of your own. I just want to catch-up!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #3- Used Books VERSUS New Books

I should be back in Canada today, but not back home in Yellowknife tomorrow...

The Franz Kafka versus Laura Ingalls Wilder debate is still going on until April 1st. So, if you haven't voted yet, head there to do so. But to tide you over until then, feel free to vote on something different.

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 1st, 2009), and if you want your choice to get more votes, feel free to promote it here or on your blog!

Who's better?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Honeymoon's Over

Have you ever read a book you were so smitten with that you pronounced yourself a fan of that author right then and there? Have you then gone to subsequent books by that author and disliked them so much that you question your earlier judgement? I know I loved Pierre Berton's The Arctic Grail so much that I was pretty confident I'd enjoy every other word he'd ever written. Alas, I was very disappointed with The National Dream and The Secret World of Og. I haven't given up on him entirely, but I'm not rushing to read him again anytime soon. Any similar experiences?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reader's Diary #470- George Gissing: A Victim of Circumstances

Trying to find a short story by Charles Dickens online, I stumbled upon a story by one of Dickens' supporting critics, George Gissing. I'd not heard of Gissing before so I decided to read his instead. Am I ever glad I did.

"A Victim of Circumstances" is the story of the Castledines, a couple of artists living in rural England in the latter half of the 19th century. The catch is that they have put their energies behind the husband, Horace's, career when clearly it is the wife, Hilda, who has the most talent.

I've often wondered how it is that couples pursuing the same artistic endeavours survive. How does Tabitha King, for instance, deal with her husband's success? And I have to wonder if Graeme Gibson didn't give up writing novels because of feelings of inadequacy.

But even beyond the obvious marital tensions such a circumstance would create, there are so many other interesting angles to pursue. I was embarrassed to see a little of myself in Horace. I've tried, perhaps lazily and haphazardly, my hand at poetry and this amateur floundering is paralleled wickedly in Horace's attempt at historical paintings. There's also an excellent feminist undercurrent in the story that I was quite surprised to see in a story written by a Victorian-era male writer.

I'm very much looking forward to discovering more of Gissing's stories.

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

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Publishers Clearing House

What are your thoughts on publishing companies? Do you have any favourites- ones whose books you turn to more often and on purpose? I'd venture to say that most of mine are from Random House. But honestly, it's because they sent me a bunch of freebies, not from any particular loyalty. My reviews haven't been swayed. Still, they get more people talking about their books and we get freebies, so it's win-win even if we sometimes give bad reviews, right? I find those people who support smaller publishers admirable, but I've never really actively sought them out. Recently, I also found myself reading a lot of Drawn and Quarterly books, but I'd been participating in a Graphic Novels Challenge, and D & Q seems to have cornered that market in Canada.

What about you?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday Word Play- On Dover Beach Clothesline Words

In this week's Saturday Word Play, I've come up with something I'd like to call clothesline words. It's an easy concept, but one I'm not sure if I know how to explain adequately, but here goes:

I'll give you a lists of words (this time they'll all come from Matthew Arnold's poem, "Dover Beach"). One of the words in each list will act as the clothesline word. You're job is to tell me what that clothesline word is. What is a clothesline word, you ask? It's the one word that all the others in the list can be pinned on, by means of a letter in common. In other words, one word will have at least one letter in common with all the others.

For instance, if I gave you the words Icy, Ape, Cat, and Act you could work it out as follows on a piece of paper:

and tell me that the clothesline word is Cat.

As always, feel free to answer all ten at home, but only answer one in the comments section:

1. French, turbid, flight, cliffs, gleams, furled, misery
2. round, sweet, stand, naked, night, world
3. this, true, full, help, hear
4. his, and, the, sea
5. long, calm, moon, back, also
6. human, sound, coast, plain, heard, seems
7. listen, breath, really, dreams, girdle, armies, alarms
8. brought, pebbles, thought, eternal, England, hearing, another, sadness
9. note, from, lies, come, once
10. bay, you, are, ebb

Friday, March 20, 2009

Poetry Friday- William Carlos Williams: Danse Russe

I love this poem.

Danse Russe
by William Carlos Williams

If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,--
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
again the yellow drawn shades,--

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

Thursday, March 19, 2009


A few thoughts and questions on newspapers. Are they dying? Do you care? Since someone first coined the slogan, "Internet- Not just for porn!" the first question has been tossed around again and again. But people have also predicted the demise of hardcopy books as well, and those certainly seem to be going strong, despite Oprah's Kindle giveaways. Perhaps the 2nd question is the more important one to be asking. When it comes to books, I don't see the day when I'm downloading the majority of my books, despite loving finding short stories and poetry online. I like the actual feel of the book in my hands when I'm in it for the long haul. I don't, however, feel the same way about the newspapers. Admittedly, I've never been much of a newspaper reader. I skim the local ones each week, looking primarily for things to do on the weekend, and secondarily for my once a month book review the Yellowknifer has been so kind as to print. As for the national papers, The Globe and Mail and The National Post, I usually only end up reading one if I'm on a flight, simply because it's there. When I think of those huge beastly papers, I think of the waste. How much of the paper do you actually read? If you're like me you read about 30% of it and the rest is crumpled unceremoniously at your feet. What other product would we be content to use 30% and throw the rest away? Would you buy a loaf of bread, eat six slices and throw the rest in the trash? Would you throw away a roll of toilet paper with 60% left on? I could go on.

Seems to me the most logical thing to do is go to the Internet. It's what we did when musicians were only giving us a couple good songs per cd. The newspaper is even worse. At least with a cd you'd feel like giving the whole thing a chance. But, if you're not going to be buying a house, do you need the real estate section? If you aren't into sports, are you going to check last nights scores? If you haven't invested, are you going to be reading the stocks? With the Internet, you read what you want. And for the billions of sites you don't (or shouldn't) there's not a bunch of paper left over that you'll most likely forget to recycle. And your hands stay clean.

On the other hand, I'm sure people would question the quality of information on the Internet. You'd most likely (but not guaranteed) trust a print journalist over the stranger behind the last Wikipedia article you read, right? But the National Enquirer isn't a newspaper, and likewise there are certain sites most reasonable people wouldn't go for the news. I check out,,, and Sure, there's a Western spin, but no more so than the national papers.

Then, this is all from someone who has never been all that into newspapers. For me to question their relevance is no big deal. I should also note that I've never checked the New York Times Review of Books in my life-- maybe I don't know what I'm missing.

Where do you stand?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #3- Apples VERSUS Oranges

Last week's Franz Kafka versus Laura Ingalls Wilder debate is still going on until April 1st. So, if you haven't voted yet, head there to do so. But to tide you over until then, feel free to vote on a real apples versus oranges contest. (Don't worry, my brain and I will be back from vacation soon!)

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 1st, 2009), and if you want your fruit to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who's better?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This one goes out to the one I love...

A few years back I took a workshop on teaching reading to early and emergent readers. For those children at the beginning stages, it was suggested to quickly review some of the basic book concepts each time before reading aloud: point out the cover, where the author's name is found, the illustrator, and read the dedication. I usually do the first three but pretty much always skip the dedication. I don't know who Wanda is, so why should I care? What about you? Do you read the dedications? Do you think it's important? What is the dedication in the book you're currently reading? Mine, Stuart Christie's Granny Made Me An Anarchist, says "To 'B' the next link in the chain." Who is B? Is there a Shakespeare reference in there? Is this a private joke? This illustrates precisely why I don't care (though I'm sure B is quite flattered). If you were to write a book, for whom would you dedicate it and why?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Reader's Diary #470- Graham Greene: The Destructors

Ever have a job you absolutely loathed? I have-- but should any of my current employers read this, this was many, many years ago, I swear. While I'm giving away my secrets, I may as well go all out. One day when I was the only one at work, I was so embittered and bored that I had a wicked fantasy of wrecking the place. Of course I didn't act on it, but just the thought alone was cathartic. Plus, as I imagined myself smashing the pictures on the wall, ripping up the carpet, and so on, the sheer magnitude of it became half the fun. How could I destroy the place better than a mere vandalizing punk? By making sure every inch of the place was beyond recognition. It was no longer enough to smash the picture, now I had to bend up the frame, shred the photos, and snip the hanging wire as well. Ooops, maybe I should also remove the tacks holding the frame together and bend those out of shape, too.

Ahh, don't run away. It was a harmless little daydream, the building and all it's contents are still in tact. Besides, if Graham Greene's "The Destructors" is any indication, I'm not the first one to have this particular fantasy.

Of course, there's always a certain unease when someone admits to a taboo thought that you've shared: should you be relieved that you're not alone? Or should you be scared that you're not alone? But just to clarify, it's Greene to whom I relate, not the characters in his story. Greene seemed to have fun simply fantasizing, while the boys of "The Destructors" are the ones who act it out. There's a huge difference.

"The Destructors" is a wonderfully provocative story.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2009

While I'm Away

Remember Mike Myers' Linda Richman character of Saturday Night Live's Coffee Talk? Like her, I'm going to throw out a few topics for discussion over the next week and a half. I'm going to be away but please "Talk amongst yourselves..." When I get back from England, I hope to see some great conversations.

The first one is "lists." I had someone say to me recently that he found the idea of listing arbitrary and I know some people find lists pointless. Me? I'm a list maker. I'm not list-obsessed like John Cusack's character in High Fidelity or anything, but I enjoy a good top 10 list from time to time. What about you? Do you like find yourself cataloguing your least favourite vegetables or your top five reasons you think turtles are better than guinea pigs? Or do you find the whole excercise boring or irrelevant? If you are a list-maker, please feel free to leave any book or reading related list below. Here's one of mine:

Top five places I like to read:
1. couch- surprisingly I still use this even after I gave up T.V.
2. bathtub- it takes special skill and timing not to get the pages wet, but I've gotten it down to a science
3. bed- this was number one until recently, but lately I just haven't found it comfortable or too comfortable and I fall asleep after too few pages
4. toilet- yes, BookCrossers beware: my books have been flagged.
5. office- I brought a book to work recently to read during my lunch break. I really should be more social than this, but I've discovered a way to get through more reading in in a day and so, my co-workers will have to do without my stimulating conversations about the top five places I like to read.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Saturday Word Play- British Ladies 1-2-3

Keeping with the all things British theme (I'm headed there tomorrow. Yipee!), this week we visit the ladies of Britain. I'll give you 10 sets of clues. Figure out the first clue in each set, add a letter and unscramble it to find the answer to the second clue, then add another letter and unscramble it to tell me the name of a British female author (bfa). To help you along, I've given you a list featuring one title (not in the same order) by each of the authors. For instance:

Let's say "Lady Geraldine's Courtship" was listed amongst the titles. You might find the this set of clues and work it out as follows:

i. arguing - rowing
ii. toenail problem- ingrown (rowing +n)
iii. bfa - Browning (ingrown + b)

Elizabeth Barret Browning wrote "Lady Geraldine's Courtship."

As always feel free to do all ten at home, but only answer one in the comment section. That way nine more people will have the chance to play along:

Now You See Me; Pride and Prejudice; And Then There Were None; The Mill On The Floss; Mrs. Dalloway; Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone; Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit; Jane Eyre; Daphne du Maurier; The Tale of Beatrix Potter

1. i. cashews and pecans
ii. songs
iii. bfa

2. i. being in debt
ii. lake sport
iii. bfa

3. i. belongs to them
ii. the ones with the most money
iii. bfa

4. i. wise bird
ii. sheep fibre
iii. bfa

5. i. phone sound
ii. popular steak
iii. bfa

6. i. Frost or Dickinson
ii. language used in a figurative or non-literal sense
iii bfa

7. i. fate (as in your _ in life)
ii. "Bubble, bubble, _ and trouble"
iii. bfa

8. i. determines one's position
ii. people who chant
iii. bfa

9. i. cold Jack
ii. the wood
iii. bfa

10. i. ridicule by irony and sarcasm
ii. prioritizes patients by condition
iii. bfa

Friday, March 13, 2009

Reader's Diary #469- Christina Rossetti: Poems

A couple weeks back, Barbara, a faithful reader of mine, commented regarding my complaint that Ocavio Paz's poetry was too inaccessible. She said that for her "poetry is never very accessible, so I find I do best to just let it flow over me like a stream."

Fortunately, with Rossetti's poems I felt I had both: accessibility + that flowing stream business. It's been a long time since I've read a poetry collection with such beautiful rhythm. Even when I picked up the book later at night, when I was too tired to attend to the meaning behind the words, the mood of the poems still sank in. They were very technically and emotionally appealing.

Containing her lyric poems, dramatic and narrative poems, rhymes and riddles, sonnet sequences and prayers and meditations, it's hard for me to select a favourite. But, I've chosen to highlight "Goblin Market." Though I've just discovered that's it's one of Rossetti's most well-known poems, I wasn't familiar with it. Not that the poems up to that point were childish or naive; for instance, many of them dealt with death, however "Goblin Market" shocked me to attention. It's certainly not graphic by today's standards, but there's a lot of suggestive imagery in there that I'm sure even the most novice of poetry readers would pick up on. Apparently she claimed it was a children's poem, which reminds me of that Beatles bit about "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" supposedly having been inspired by Lennon's son's painting, not LSD. Right. Anyway, "Goblin Market" may not be about hallucinogenics, but written in the Victorian era, I guess she still needed a good cover story. Decide for yourself:

Goblin Market
by Christina Rossetti

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
'Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;--
All ripe together
In summer weather,--
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy.'

Okay, you're probably thinking, maybe... it wouldn't be the first or last time that fruit have implied something carnal, but still it's a bit too subtle to really know, right? Well read on. (There's also audio of the poem at the link). What do you think?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Reader's Diary #468- H.G. Wells- The War of The Worlds

The idea of "alternate reality" must be the single greatest contribution to sci-fi. No, Wells' The War of The Worlds didn't intend to be a book of alternate reality, but, as I'm sure many readers of dated sci-fi do, I used the idea of an alternate reality to help reconcile all the science that modern knowledge has revealed to be impossible or off-base. The whole premise of an intellectually superior life-form on Mars no longer holds up, but what if an alternative reality existed where such creatures did live on Mars? See? Everything's good again.

This helps illustrate a point about reading old sci-fi. It's like Prince's 1999. Remember when the song was a bleak prediction for the future, telling us to live life to the fullest?

Cuz they say two thousand zero zero party over,
Oops out of time
So tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1999

Now it's become more of an amusing nostalgia song. We remember the silly Y2K fears and the massive parties. Likewise, it's impossible not to read old sci-fi with an entirely different perspective than when it was first written.

So why do such books last? Is it merely a Nostradamus sort of fascination? Are we checking off things the author predicted right or wrong? Lasers? Check. Martian invasion? Wrong.

I think that's a part of the appeal, but I also think the best sci-fi has to have a good balance of imagined science with humanistic themes, because it's the themes that don't get old.

This is the strength of The War of The Worlds. I got bogged down early on with the heavy descriptors of the aliens and their fighting machines. However, when the entire population of London goes on the run, that's when I found things interesting. There's a great, albeit morbid, scene of a man being trampled by a carriage while reaching for a bag of money that has fallen to the ground. Even after his back has been broken and his legs have been rendered useless, he continues to clutch onto his money. That part is still believable. How can science can advance so rapidly, yet human beings so slowly? We're the ones behind the science.

The War of the Worlds is the story of a society coming to the realization that their way of life, their culture and even the simple remedial tasks that they've taken for granted, has the potential to come to an end. That's a fear as relevant today as in 1898, when this Wells classic was first published.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #3- Franz Kafka VERSUS Laura Ingalls Wilder

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Franz Kafka Vs. Jean-Paul Sartre) with a final score of 4-3 was Franz Kafka.

Based on the single short story each that I've read (Kafka's "In The Penal Colony" and Sartre's "The Wall"), I'd have probably gone with Kafka last week, too. Though I totally acknowledge how unfair that is. Sartre is best known as a philosopher, of course, but I haven't read anything like that by him. In fact, my philosophy reading has been scant to say the least. After reading Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, I've been sworn off philosophy for some time. Perhaps it's time to remedy that. Philosophy challenge anyone?

This week I'm keeping things a little simpler, reflecting back on the good ol' days. You'll also have three whole weeks to vote this time around. I'm not back from England until the 26th. However, in the meantime, I'd still check back here-- I've got a few posts written and scheduled ahead of time.

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 1st, 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, March 10, 2009

Reader's Diary #467- Rutu Modan: Exit Wounds

Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan marks my sixth and final book for the Graphic Novel Challenge. My reading list consisted of:

1. It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken- Seth
2. Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1- Neil Gaiman
3. Louis Riel: A Comic Biography by Chester Brown
4. Persepolis- Marjane Satrapi
5. Epileptic- David B
6. Exit Wounds- Rutu Modan

I'd like to say I ended the Graphic Novel Challenge on a higher note, but unfortunately Exit Wounds was my least favourite of the lot.

I'll start with the art work since most of my opinions in that area come down to personal preference. Though Modan uses red from time to time (as on the cover), the book is heavy on pastels. I don't like pastels. I feel like I should state some macho reason for this like "no self-respecting male likes pastels" but I assure you that's not it. They're just not dramatic enough. Even black and white seems bolder. Plus, while occasionally Modan plays with the lighting to indicate the time of day and so on, it's completely void of shading and shadows. Everything comes across as flat. The explosion on the cover is very misleading. The pastels, the uniform colouring, and the Tintin influenced simplicity, were not a good combination. It reminded me of the illustrations found on airplane emergency instructions.

But if the artwork was underwhelming at least it matched the story. Set in modern day Tel Aviv, it is the story of Koby Franco who sets out with a woman named Numi to learn whether or not an identified body, a suicide bombing victim, is really his estranged father. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it's as anti-climactic as they come.

Looking at the graphic novels above, I was a little perplexed why I'd like Seth's book and not this one, when it too could be described as anti-climactic. The only thing I could come up with was that Seth didn't promise as much. I knew from the get go that it wasn't going to be heavy in the plot department, so I settled into it all nice and cozy like. With Modan's talk of suicide bombings and explosions on the cover, I felt like I'd been promised more than she ever delivered.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Reader's Diary #466- Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sealed Room

If you've noticed things getting a little British around here in recent posts, it's because next Sunday I've off to the the U.K. or Great Britain or England or whatever she wants to be called these days. I'm pretty excited and have gotten my offensive cockney accent down just roight.
This week I'm in with an Arthur Conan Doyle tale. I discovered, after reading it, that Doyle was actually a Scot. Close enough (I can get away with saying this, because I'm not visiting Scotland this time around). Besides, the story is set in London and Doyle eventually moved there anyway, so it's all good.

I picked "The Sealed Room" pretty much at random and wrongly assumed it was to be a Sherlock Holmes tale. Instead it turned out to be about a lawyer named Frank Alder and his encounter with the young Felix Stanniford, a man unable to upkeep the mansion that has been left to him, but more importantly, unable to open a mysterious door at the end of a hall. It had been sealed over with wax and Felix was specifically instructed not to open it until his 21st birthday.

While it definitely has a mysterious air about it, it is not solved in the manner of a typical mystery story. We have to be content to wait until Felix actually turns 21 (which he does by the end of the story) instead of relying on powers of deduction. With the age old premise of being scared by the unknown behind a closed door (wasn't Let's Make A Deal absolutely terrifying?), "The Sealed Room" would be more accurately called a horror story than a mystery.

While it's not really scary by today's standards, and while it is somewhat predictable, there are parts of the writing that I enjoyed. I especially liked how the opening paragraph took on added significance at the end of the story.

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

Sunday, March 08, 2009

And the winner is...

Pooker! Congrats to Pooker who takes away a copy of Isabelle Lafonta and Barroux's Mikissuk's Secret by entering the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge 8th update contest.

I'm not sure if I've ever explained how I pick my winners, but if anyone's curious: I assign all the entries a number based on the order in which it was received. Then I use a customized random number generator that allows me to set the upper and lower limits. Think of it as a high-tech hat.

Anyway, congrats to Pooker!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Saturday Word Play- Lord of the Rings Rebus

Today's Saturday Word Play features rebus, or picture puzzles. Figure out what the picture is, add or subtract the letters specified to spell characters from J.R.R. Tolkien's classic Lord of the Rings. For instance, If I gave you this picture:

you'd figure out that "afro"-a= fro, "doe"-e= do, and you'd combine them to get "Frodo."

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