Thursday, April 30, 2009

The ABM Machine

Are you a fan of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs? I read them them on occasion but don't often go looking for them. I am, however, excited to read M.G. Vassanji's biography of Mordecai Richler that just came out last month:

Any favourites? Mine would have to be the Terry Sawchuk poetic biography, Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems by Randall Maggs, which is quite something considering I'm not all that into hockey and barely even heard of Sawchuk prior:

Of course, I still haven't read these yet, so my favourites may change:

Is there anyone out there that you'd like to read about but, perhaps surprisingly, no one has written about them yet? While I'm slightly ambivalent about her music, I think Jane Siberry/ Issa might be an interesting one.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #3- A.A. Milne VERSUS Jules Verne

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (A.A. Milne Vs. J.M. Barrie) with a final score of 6-3 was A.A. Milne.

Saying good-bye to the man behind Peter Pan, I'm a little surprised at the number of people last week who compared the book to the Disney film. Not that such a comparison isn't appropriate, but in the three earlier weeks featuring Milne, Disney had hardly even been mentioned. Surely Disney is partly responsible for Pooh's longevity too, wouldn't you say?

Anyway, I don't have much of an opinion on J.M. Barrie. I didn't read Peter Pan or even hear of Window in Thrums-- thanks for pointing that one out last week! I barely remember the movie. I remember a statue of Peter Pan in St. John's' Bowring Park, but that's about it.

This week, we move on to an author I have 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. (May 5th, 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, April 28, 2009

Reader's Diary #485- E.B. White: Stuart Little

If I read another book this bad this year, I may give up reading altogether. It's so bad it almost managed to taint one of my fondest childhood books, Charlotte's Web. I've since concluded that E.B. White commissioned someone else to write the latter.

Even my daughter hated it. I was starting to think she didn't have it in her. Despite my suffering through some other chapter books night after night, she's claimed to have loved every single one. But, at the end of Stuart Little, she actually got angry. "What?! But what about the bird? What about Harriet?"

She calmed down when she remembered this thing called a "sequel." "Oh," she said with a sigh of relief, "he probably wrote another one after. Right?"

"Um, I don't think so, dear."

I was thoroughly shocked. It begins with a bizarre mouse child named Stuart, born to a human couple, the Littles. It's not explained, but at that point I figured it would either be explained somehow later, or that I was just supposed to strike a deal with White to suspend my belief (and questions) on that one. Shortly after he's acting like an adult at age seven, sailing boats and driving cars. I guess weird mouse boys age faster? It's not some cutesy deal like in Beverly Cleary's (far superior) The Mouse and The Motorcycle either. Stuart worries about the oil. You know, the stuff kids relate to.

And there's his bird friend that takes off one day never to return. And the tiny human that Stuart has a crush on but then treats her like a jerk until she leaves and is not mentioned again. Where did she even come from in the first place? (At this point I developed a theory. If there are humans the size of mice, maybe there are also mice the size of humans, and maybe Mrs. Little's surprise over giving birth to a rodent boy was a facade for Mr. Little, if you catch my drift. I didn't share this theory with my daughter.)

There's also the infamous abrupt ending. No questions answered (in case I have whined about that enough) and Stuart just heading north by himself, possibly as a child, possibly as an adult, I'm not sure. Wikipedia and a few blogs I found explain that White had hypochondria and was so convinced he was going to die soon that he rushed off the amount he'd written (presumably with a $100 bill attached) to be published as quick as possible, never returning to fix it up or write a sequel despite living for another 40 years. I'm not sure of the source of their info, so I don't know if it's true. It makes sense though and in any case, it makes for a better story than the book itself.

I found Stuart Little choppy, pointless, and emotionally unrewarding. My daughter simply calls it "horrible."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Reader's Diary #484- Rhonda Dyke: Texas Low

Looking for a new short story this week, I went to The Danforth Review. They have the good sense to keep up with the times by publishing their issues online. Though I'm none to keen on advertising and glad to see none there, I wonder how they'll make money?

The most recent issue offered four stories so I picked based on author info. Rhonda Dyke is a former Newfoundlander, like myself, and I'm patriotic like that. Plus "Texas Low" is her first published fiction, so I figure this must have been a big deal for her.

For the most part, I enjoyed it. It took me quite aback though. The family described (be fair warned) is like the Osbournes without the class. At first I thought it was overdone. While it may be, there's a chance it isn't. The Jerry Springer audience-- they're for real, aren't they? I really don't know. I'm so accustomed to reading about people in a higher social class than me, that make more money, that have better etiquette, and wear more expensive clothes, that I'd begun to think I was near the bottom. Dyke's story provides some relief that I've still got a few rungs below me yet. For more than my self esteem, I think we need to see more of such people represented in literature.

Back to the Osbournes. When that show first aired, many defended them by saying their way of life may not be for everyone, but it seems to work for them. If "working for them" means a family pass to the nearest rehab centre, then yes, it works for them. Amy, the protagonist in Dyke's story, seems to also wrestle with perspective in terms of whether or not her family works.

It's not an overly complicated plot and could have used a bit more development, but the characters are compelling enough to keep it afloat.

One major beef was with the shoddy editting. Three times I counted "too" mispelled as "to." For a story of this length, published by a literary journal with the reputation of the Danforth Review, this is unacceptable. I'd begun to think it was stylistic, that maybe Dyke was making some point about Amy's level of education, but near the end I noticed that it was spelled correctly. It makes Dyke's writing look bad when I believe the editors should have caught it.

(Do have a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave your link below.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

This Is Not A Bookninja Review (So Put Away Your Nunchuks)

Somewhere on my sidebar there is a link to I used to find myself there quite often. Lately, however, my visits are few and far between. I've begun to see it as little more than a glorified links page. It's a fine place to get some of the latest news in the world of books, but how is it any better than CBC's book page or Chris's Friday Bookish Buzz links, just to name a few sites offering pretty much the same service? At Bookninja, there seems to be little in the way of editorial, most posts have few readers' comments (if any), and quite frankly, I find it all a little impersonal and rushed. I was going to say all of these things.

But, with my usual delusions of grandeur, I imagined this sparking more controversy than I could handle. Lots of people love Bookninja. It was even a finalist for a BBAW award last year. How dare I, in my little corner of the litblogging community, pick on such a giant? And should I be picking on anybody? Aren't we all here in a spirit of book-loving comaraderie? What if authors started reviewing one another's books?

Wait a second.

Authors review each other's books all the time. In fact, some might argue that they have more business doing so than I. After all, how dare I give a bad review to Ami McKay's The Birth House? I've written zero books. Until I prove my expertise in the writing arena, how dare I find fault with an honest-to-god writer?

There's a blogger here in the Northwest Territories who runs a blog called "Even Better NWT Blogs." Each week, she links to her favourite posts from NWT Bloggers based on subject ("Even Better Pet Photography or Story," for example). I've checked it out more often than I care to admit and every time I've found myself indignant. How dare she decide whose post was the best? One week she even complained that "none of them are really inspiring." But, now as I reflect on the Bookninja review that I had planned to write, I'm faced with the possibility that my ego had just been bruised. You see, I've never made the ranks of "Even Better" post.* I conclude that I must be one of the worst.**

I review books every week. Why, then, shouldn't my blog be under the same sort of scrutiny? I'd hate to be the guy that can dish it but can't take it. It's a price to pay for publishing.

Bookninja's George Murray could tell me stop visiting his site and I could tell him to stop reading my reviews of his site. But where's the fun in that?

What do you think? Are bookblogs fair game for reviews? How would you feel if yours was given thumbs down?

(* Isabella comments below that I had, in fact, been chosen for a an Even Better NWT Post. Just last week in fact. I guess I don't check it as often as I suggested. In any case, now that I'm made the upper ranks, my work here at the Book Mine Set is complete, I've accomplished all that I've set out to do, and I bid you all farewell.)

(**Or perhaps it means I'm not noticed at all. I haven't yet decided if that's a good thing or not. Oh what's that? This just in: I have been noticed. Disregard the question. It's better to be noticed.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Word Play- Chicken Soup Souls Double Clues

For this week's Saturday Word Play, we look at souls targeted by the popular Chicken Soup series. I'm sure you've seen them: Chicken Soup For The Mother's Soul, Chicken Soup For The Teenager's Soul, etc. Surprisingly, in all their 100s of titles, and more than 112 million books sold, they've yet to do a Chicken Soup For The Blogger's Soul. Below are 10 souls that they have targeted. I've given you a number of clues to match the number of letters in that particular soul. The first letters of the answers will spell out the soul in question. For instance, if you had these clues:

- a social insect
- a type of make-up
- a mined product
- a phantom
- an adhesive
- a Christmas character
- a rodent

you could figure it out as (B)ee, (L)ipstick, (O)il, (G)host, (G)lue, (E)lf, (R)at to give you BLOGGER. I've made yours more difficult by using each clue twice. But then I've made it easier by giving you all the answers at the top.

Now, Name That Soul!

As always, feel free to answer all 10 at home, but please answer only one in the comment section so that nine more people can play along.

Alabama/ alley/ ant/ apple/ argon/ arm/ aspen/ August/ au revoir/ beetle/ billy/ Campbell/ car/ cat/ dandruff/ dawn/ dog/ doorknob/ ear/ Earth/ Equus africanus/ echo/ egg/ eight/ Eleanor/ elephant/ elm/ Eric/ Eritrea/ Eve/ evening/ Hawaii/ helium/ helicopter/ ice/ ice cream/ Impala/ Italian/ John/ kite/ lemonade/ lice/ Namibia/ nanny/ Neptune/ nine/ non/ November/ ocean/ orange/ orchestra/ ostrich/ peach/ peanut/ Pearson/ pin/ pink/ ranch/ Ratt/ raven/ re/ Rita/ river/ roar/ Ruth/ sad/ Saturday/ sayonara/ screw driver/ soda/ stamp/ Tesla/ Thursday/ tulip/ unhappy/ Ursus arctos/ violet/ walrus/

- fruit
- furry pet
- colour
- shelled food
- day
- tusked animal
- turned thing

- furry pet
- US State
- goat gender
- insect
- time of day
- something to lick
- bowling term
- number

- goat gender
- body part
- good-bye
- something with a horn
- something that flies

- beverage
- bird
- flower
- tree
- body of water

- scalp problem
- car brand
- number
- hair metal band
- African country
- type of dressing

- first name of a Monty Python actor
- African country
- flower
- common hockey locale
- a sound
- bowling term
- common English prefix
- Biblical woman
- month
- Beatles girl
- binomial name
- bird

- first name of a Monty Python actor
- planet
- tusked animal
- type of dressing
- day
- US State

- colour
- hair metal band
- emotion
- something to lick
- body of water
- common English prefix
- shelled food
- Beatles girl

- beverage
- noble gas
- something with a horn
- fruit
- past Canadian prime minister
- time of day
- Biblical woman

- emotion
- car brand
- turned thing
- common hockey locale
- planet
- something that flies
- month
- insect
- scalp problem
- binomial name

- noble gas
- body part
- good-bye
- past Canadian prime minister
- tree
- a sound

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reader's Diary #483- Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass (The Deathbed Edition)

If you'd asked me before I started this book, I'd have said I was a fan of Walt Whitman. Truthfully though I'd only had a passing familiarity with a handful of poems; you know, the ones that pop up in every anthology: "I Sing The Body Electric," "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer," "A Noiseless Patient Spider" and a few others. I still enjoy those, but hardly any others from the entire 405 pages appealed to me. I'd go so far as to say that I even found reading Leaves of Grass to be a chore.

Oddly, I'd say I'm more of a fan now than when I started.

It seems to be a theme of much of my reading lately, or at least a theme I'm choosing to extract, that true love isn't about denying flaws, it's about accepting and perhaps even appreciating them. I've said many times that I don't particularly like reading overly long poems. Admittedly, this is a fault of mine rather than Whitman's, though many of his poems are quite lengthy. More problematic for me was Whitman's over-reliance on lists. If he mentioned a stone mason, you could be sure a farmer, a lumberjack, a stonemason, a blacksmith, etc were close behind. Likewise, I dreaded the mention of any particular state because as soon as Oregon popped up, so did California, Maine, Texas, New York, and company. It was as if he was so worried about hurting one party's feelings that he felt the need to always balance out the love.

But it's also the love that endeared me to Whitman. So many of these poems call for equality and love for all races, creeds, and classes that I started to refer to Whitman as the original hippy. Fortunately, just when I thought the love-in was growing too long, the third day of Woodstock was interrupted by war memories. War, what is it good for? Balance.

I have one recommendation to make: don't read Leaves of Grass from start to finish as I did. Buy it, put it on your shelf and flick through it from time to time. I checked mine out from the library so I didn't have that luxury-- it nearly killed my appreciation. His style can get monotonous in large doses.

When I heard the learn'd astronomer
When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much
applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

And here's one that was new to me. I'll dedicate it to FerryTales, a friend of mine, since it made me think of one her recent blog posts:

The Calming Thought of All
That coursing on, whate'er men's speculations,
Amid the changing schools, theologies, philosophies,
Amid the bawling presentations new and old,
The round earth's silent vital laws, facts, modes continue.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reader's Diary #482- Dan Simmons: The Terror

I recently won The Terror and was pretty excited to read it. It was the stories of northwest passage explorers that attracted me to the north in the first place. Dan Simmons' historical horror novel based on Franklin's final and unsuccessful attempt to find the elusive passage sounded wonderful.

Then it arrived in the mail. At 955 pages my enthusiasm waned.

It started off good, with an introduction to many of the intriguing, if somewhat familiar, characters. I'd read Pierre Berton's The Arctic Grail: The Quest For The Northwest Passage and The North Pole some years ago and I recognized many of the names and personalities.

Berton's book, it turns out, was one of Simmons' major sources, and it got me thinking. If you've ever read The Arctic Grail you'll remember how novel-like Berton tells the story. A group of very different men with one shared goal, traveling to parts unknown and perishing in a frozen wasteland-- why, there's fear and plot enough right there. Was adding a supernatural element necessary?

Who cares, as long as it's entertaining, right? Unfortunately, it wasn't. While trying to incorporate Inuit mythology into the story could have been commendable, Simmons efforts are lacklustre. The dreaded tuunbaq is regrettably described in such shoddy detail, it comes across as an abnormally large polar bear. It's scary, yes, but not a great deal scarier than a normal sized polar bear, than starvation, than lead poisoning, than freezing to death, than any of the real dangers they faced.

My biggest issue, however, was the clumsy manner in which historical facts were thrown in. The absolute worst case of this came after it was revealed that Crozier, the captain of the Terror (which accompanied Franklin's Erebus), has a supernatural power of his own: second sight. In one of his visions he sees Lady Franklin harnessing all her resources and power to send out rescue parties from England. Of course, in real life Crozier never learned of those actions, but in Simmons' story he is even able to name specific men she actually recruited. I'd suspended my belief for the monster already, I wasn't able to again. It seemed as if Simmons had found Lady Franklin's story interesting and wanted to work it in at any cost.

I'll admit though, had this book been a mere 425 pages, I'd probably have been little nicer in this review. As it is, I resent the time I wasted. If you're interested in Northwest Passage explorers, do yourself a favour and read Berton's book.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #3- A.A. Milne VERSUS J.M. Barrie

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (A.A. Milne Vs. Kazuo Ishiguro) with a final score of 6-4 was A.A. Milne.

Saying good-bye to Kazuo Ishiguro this week, I'm reminded of a very divided bookclub meeting I attended in Iqaluit where we discussed Never Let Me Go. I went to the meeting somewhat undecided but quickly jumped to the anti side, which also turned out to be the winning side. Now, two years later, I still remember it as the dystopian book that just didn't deliver. (They're making it into a movie, have you heard?) That's it for my experience with Ishiguro. I haven't read, nor seen, Remains of the Day or any of his other books. I thought I was done with him, but I LOVED Laza's comment last week that Ishiguro has perfected the art of the unreliable narrator. Now I want to read another one just to see. Thanks Laza!

This week, we have another author made more famous by Disney.

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 29nd, 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, April 21, 2009

And Now It's Time For Another Edition of BookTube

This week's episode features The Kids In The Hall. Enjoy!

(Ahh, this is the Kids in the Hall, so keep in mind that the humour isn't always appropriate for kids. Or people in halls.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Writer's Diary #50

The Universe In A Navel
by John Mutford

I’d only gotten about ½ way through your story when my mind drifted to Dali. More specifically, Dali’s melting clocks. Now that I think about it, it could have been an obvious metaphor for the time I was wasting on your story, but at that time it was in response to your surrealism. Dali’s clocks is my entire surrealism schema. It’s my pointy-eared mutt for “dog,” my brown wooden four-legged chair for “chair,” my palm trees and beach for “vacation.” I can get beyond these. I once vacationed in Banff. And I hate when kids draw rabbit ears on TVs. It’s 2009, where are they getting rabbit ears? Some schemas are overdue for a change. I needed to use the bathroom, to get away from your story for a bit and also to poop.

A funny thing happened on the way to the bathroom. I was suddenly aware of a slight sideways twist in my walk. Like my right side was a little too fast for my left side. A small doubt about my sanity led me to remember a few days earlier.

I’d been home alone and drinking one of my new beers: Kwak, a Belgian thing that was thick and dark and had a taste somewhere between meat and fruit. My beer schema was trying to evolve beyond domestic.

“I should up and leave. Go to Mongolia.”

Not even Belgium, which would have made sense. It scared me a little. I have a wife and kids. They weren’t included in my plans.

Of course, I’ve heard about people that do that: drop everything and everyone and start a new life somewhere else. But I love my wife and kids. But I was going to do it. I knew by the way my heart strummed like wind through a something.

Perhaps it was the beer. It was only 8% alcohol by volume, yet the thought had passed within half an hour of consuming it.

That makes two weird thoughts in a single week: one about leaving and one about almost walking sideways. True, the first one could have been triggered by the beer and the second one by your surrealistic story, but I’ve had imported beer and I’ve read surrealistic stories before.

If I’m being honest, I’ve also questioned my sanity before. There’s really no story here. I finished on the toilet and went back to finish yours.

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

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Book For Everyone!

Not surprisingly, most book lovers also give books as presents. Deep down, we probably know we've pissed off those nephews who really wanted an X-Box game, but we tell ourselves that it's just a matter of matching the right book to the right person. Just. As if it were always that easy. Below are 20 people. Pick one (or more) and recommend a book for them, feel free to recommend different books than those already suggested:

1. someone expecting an unexpected child
2. a woman over 80
3. someone interested in radical politics
4. a knitter
5. a twice divorcee
6. someone visiting the U.S. for the first time
7. someone into indie music
8. a hypocrite
9. a pirate
10. someone who enjoys magic
11. a journalist
12. an allergy sufferer
13. an athlete
14. a gay penguin looking to adopt
15. a homeless person
16. a highschool teacher
17. a viking
18. someone newly in love
19. Susan Boyle
20. a cynic

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Saturday Word Play: Not To Be Confused With Morphing

In this week's Saturday Word Play, I've combined the biographies of authors with other notable people who share their names. As an added bonus, I've taken those two people who share one name, and also given them one face using Morph Thing. Morph Thing is fun, but (as you'll see from these sorry results) it ain't PhotoShop.

Can you identify these people?

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

1. He's the American "Hitman" that won the WWE championship belt for his short story "The Outcasts of Poker Flat:"

2. This Ottawa-born woman was abducted from her home at age 14 and found alive nine months later. Her story was later the subject of a made for TV movie and a book entitled By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept:

3. This English supermodel is best known for her 2005 novel Labyrinth:

4. Born in Ohsweken on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, this The Power and The Glory author earned an Oscar nomination for his role in Dances With Wolves:

5. This African-American author won the Governor General's Award in 2001 for his novel Native Son:

6. In his Baby and Child Care book, this doctor logically suggests using a special nerve grip to render unconsciousness:

7. This English actress wrote 12 novels and was married 8 times:

8. This CBC personality is the current governor of New Mexico and wrote a series of books about a bed and breakfast:

9. This labor activist is the son of a popular horror writer and the subject of a song made popular by Paul Robeson:

10. This former Canadian politician and author of The Jesus Generation was an interim leader for the Liberal party in 2006:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Poetry Friday: A.E. Housman

No, I'm not giving any hints about my personal life, I just think this poem is funny:

When I was one-and-twenty
by A.E. Housman

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
'Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.'
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
'The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.'
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reader's Diary #481- Alice Walsh (Author) and Geoff Butler (Illustrator): Heroes of Ilse aux Morts

Newfoundland has long been recognized for the happy, fun, offbeat community names: Heart's Delight, Come By Chance, and of course Dildo, all come to mind. Ilse aux Morts, translated as "Island of the Dead," breaks that merry tradition. Located on the southwestern shore, the small outport community has been the locale of more than its share of shipwrecks and tragedy.

Doesn't exactly sound like the happiest of tales for a children's picture book, does it? But, where's there's tragedy, there's also the chance for heroism. Enter George Harvey, his 17 year old daughter Ann, and their Newfoundland dog Hairy Man, who rescued sailors from The Despatch and The Rankin. Now we have a story worthy of a children's book (not to mention a chamber opera, a Tragically hip song, a Kevin Major poem, and probably more). Alice Walsh loosely bases "The Heroes of Isle aux Mort" on the Despatch rescue.

Walsh does a fantastic job of capturing the excitement of that night, pacing the story just right. She also presents authentic dialogue and personalities. Complimenting her text are the impressionistic oil paintings of Geoff Butler whose dark and ominous colours set the scene perfectly. I read one reviewer state that his paintings were reminiscent of 19th century paintings, which would make sense for the time setting of the book. Still, there was something else about the cover that seemed familiar. Then I remembered the Winslow Homer painting "Lost on the Grand Banks" that hit the news when Bill Gates purchased it for over $30 000 000. What do you think? Did Butler use it for inspiration?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #3- A.A. Milne VERSUS Kazuo Ishiguro

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (A.A. Milne Vs. Herman Melville) with a final score of 8-4 was A.A. Milne.

I can't say I'm that surprised with these results. I can't say I'm terribly disappointed either. I found Moby Dick to be a painful reading experience. Maybe the story could have been intriguing, maybe it's even, as Myshkin pointed out last week, still relevant today, but how does one get past all those "Whaling For Dummies" chapters? Every second chapter just ignored the plot in favour of teaching the proper way to spear a whale, deblubber a whale, etc. I'm okay with non-fiction from time to time, but Melville made it sooooo boring and disruptive to the plot. But, contrary to Barbara's comment last week, Melville was more than Moby Dick. I haven't read any of those other books, but according to Bybee last week, Pierre wasn't any better. How about Billy Budd? Anyone want to weigh in on that one?

This week, we bring in a more modern contender.

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 22nd, 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, April 14, 2009

Reader's Diary #480- Joe Sacco: War's End, Profiles From Bosnia 1995-96

Two books I read for the Graphic Novels Challenge earlier this year had testimonial blurbs from Joe Sacco: Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds. In the case of Satrapi, I found it a little strange. I'd actually heard of her; shouldn't she be quoted on a Sacco book, not the other way around? Apparently though, Sacco's Palestine was a critics favourite much earlier. I'm new to this realm so I didn't know.

While they didn't have Palestine at the library, they did have his War's End, a double comic containing "Sabo," about a Sarajevan artist/soldier, and "Christmas With Karadzic," about tracking down and interviewing the then Bosnian Serb leader.

Both of these were very well drawn, favouring a somewhat realistic style of cartoon (with the exception of drawing those eyeless glasses as worn by Marcy in Peanuts comics). One notable difference between "Soba" and "Christmas With Karadzic" is the shading. In "Soba" Sacco uses hatching, while in "Christmas With Karadzic" he uses some sort of smudging (you can tell how little art training I have!) that resembles painting in grayscale. "Soba" definitely looks like it was more time consuming, but I can't say that I really favoured one over the other. "Christmas With Karadzic" reminded me, artistically, of Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side of..." gags in old MAD Magazines.

Plot wise, the comics come across more as documentaries than stories. "Soba" paints a very intriguing portrait of a artist that contemplates what the war has done to him, while "Christmas With Karadzic," having a little more of a story arc, follows Sacco and two other reporters trying to interview the elusive Radovan Karadzic at Christmas. When they finally track him down, Sacco wonders why he can't summon up the rage he typically feels towards the racist and murderous leader. Sacco comes from a journalism background and it shows in these two pieces.

I'm looking forward to reading more Sacco books in the future.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Reader's Diary #479- Saki: The Easter Egg

At GottaBook last Friday, Gregory K posted a new Bruce Lansky poem entitled "Rules For Spot." Lansky, for those who may not know him, writes humorous poems for children. "Rules For Dogs," a list of "don't do's" for his dog, is also, for the most part, funny. However, I found one particular line a little distracting, "Don't bite bible salesmen;/ they might cuss you out."

I got a little hung up on his decision not to capitalize bible. I'm not offended; it just got me to thinking that it's almost impossible to write that word (or god/God) and not make a political statement by the choice of capitalization. I guess any religious topic is so laden with connotation, opinion and controversy that a casual reference would be a challenge, to say the least.

Which brings me to Saki's "The Easter Egg." Trying not to give too much away, by the end of the story, the popular Easter symbol takes on a different and... less than joyous meaning. To say it takes on a less than holy meeting would only apply if you believe the eggs held any religious significance to begin with. It may have been a clever choice to pick one of the symbols that has a pagan history and an often secular role. Had he reinvented the cross, for example, it may have been too sacrilegious or disrespectful to have been published. By choosing the egg, Saki's story could be interpreted by either side of the religious/atheist divide as supporting their cause.

Lester, the coward of the story, redeems himself, and in his doing so, could be seen as a sort of rebirth. This, and Saki's treatment of the "pagan" egg, could be used in a Christian interpretation.

However, there is also a trace of mockery regarding ceremony. This, combined with Saki's treatment of the "Christian" egg, could be seen as anti-religion (if not outright atheism).

Of course a third option also exists: Saki wasn't taking a religious or atheist stance. Maybe it's just a story about an Easter Egg that just happened to be used for immoral purposes. Perhaps he could have chosen, say, a birthday present instead. The Easter Egg, however, is inextricably tied-- for better or worse-- to Easter. And, even more so than Lanksy's poem, there's a lot of distraction in Saki's choice.

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

Sunday, April 12, 2009

And the winner is...

Teddy Rose! Congrats to Teddy Rose on winning Kenneth J. Harvey's Blackstrap Hawco and Craig Boyko's Blackouts:
Teddy was randomly picked from those that correctly identified 3 books with black in the title that had been read for the Canadian Book Challenge up to the 9th update:
1. Blackstrap Hawco by Kenneth J. Harvey
2. Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden
3. Black Ice by Linda Hall

Of course, I accidentally made the contest easier last month by allowing people to post their answers in the comment section rather than having them email their answers, but no big deal.

Thanks to Johnna for donating this wonderful prize and to all those that participated. Teddy, as soon as I get your snail mail address, your book'll be on its way.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Corin Tellado- Pro-prolific Author Dead

It just came up in Yahoo news that Corin Tellado, a Spanish romance author, died today at age 81. Apparently she'd written over 4000 novels. That's right 4000! Quality aside, how is that quantity even possible? Some of the comments following the story questioned if it was a typo; surely they'd meant 400 (which would still be remarkable if you ask me). But a quick search on the Internet finds almost everyone quoting the same number. There's a huge bibliography on her Wikipedia entry but I don't think it's complete. There's somewhere around 1000 listed I guess, but the only one with the energy to count them died earlier today.

What's perhaps even more surprising is that there's someone out there with over 4000 books to her credit and I'm only now having heard of her.

Saturday Word Play- Multiplying Like Rabbits

In today's Saturday Word Play, we look at some famous literary rabbits. I'll give you two clues: a word clue and a number. The number is the product of the number of letters in the author's name and the number of letters in the title. Can you tell me the author and book?

As always, feel free to do all ten at home, but please answer only one in the comments section. That way nine more people will be able to play along.

The Authors
- James and Deborah Howe (do not count the letters in "and")
- Beatrix Potter
- A.A. Milne
- John Updike
- Margery Williams
- John Steinbeck
- Richard Adams
- Thorton Burgess
- Joel Chandler Harris (Compiler)
- Lewis Carroll

The Titles
- Of Mice and Men
- Uncle Remus
- Bunnicula
- Rabbit, Run
- Uncle Remus
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
- The Velventeen Rabbit
- Watership Down
- Winnie-the-Pooh
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit
- Old Mother West Wind

1. Br'er Rabbit (180)

2. Features a Rabbit that lives in the Hundred Acres Wood (91)

3. Okay, so this one isn't really about bunnies. "Rabbit" is the nickname of Harold C. Angstrom (90)

4 . The Skin Horse tells him how to become real (285)

5. Peter Cottontail (238)

6. Narrated by Harold the Dog (144)

7. Mr. McGregor's nemesis (260)

8. Looney Toons used the abominable snowman to parody a character from this book. Bugs got off luckier than those bunnies. (156)

9. Features a rabbit suffering from allegrophobia (336)

10. The rabbits in this book speak Lapine (156)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nursery Rhymes- The Extended Versions

A few days ago I was reading my son's Chirp magazine and came across this version of Old Mother Hubbard:

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone;
But when she came there,
The cupboard was bare
And so the poor dog had none.

She went to the market
To buy him some fruit;
But when she came back
He was playing the flute.

She went to the tailor's
To buy him a coat;
But when she came back
He was riding a goat.

She went to the hatter's
To buy him a hat;
But when she came back
He was feeding the cat.

She went to the barber's
To buy him a wig;
But when she came back
He was dancing a jig.

The dame made a curtsy
The dog made a bow;
The dame said, "Your servant,"
The dog said, "Bow-wow."

I'd not heard of any of those additional verses before and while the magazine listed it as "traditional," I researched to see if they belonged to the original or not (by research I mean Wikipedia). Not only were these verses original, but there were still more missing:

She went to the baker's
To buy him some bread;
When she came back
The dog was dead!

She went to the undertaker's
To buy him a coffin;
When she came back
The dog was laughing.

She took a clean dish
to get him some tripe;
When she came back
He was smoking his pipe.

She went to the alehouse
To get him some beer;
When she came back
The dog sat in a chair.

She went to the tavern
For white wine and red;
When she came back
The dog stood on his head.

She went to the cobbler's
To buy him some shoes;
When she came back
He was reading the news.

She went to the sempstress
To buy him some linen;
When she came back
The dog was spinning.

She went to the hosier's
To buy him some hose;
When she came back
He was dressed in his clothes.

This wonderful dog
Was Dame Hubbard's delight,
He could read, he could dance,
He could sing, he could write;
She gave him rich dainties
Whenever he fed,
And erected this monument
When he was dead.

It's like the In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida of nursery rhymes, isn't it? No wonder they shortened it (well, that and the beer, the death, etc). It got me thinking about other nursery rhymes and their additional verses. Here's what I could find. I haven't included ones which are really just a variation on the original rather than an extension (ex. Hickory Dickory Dare). Which have you heard of?

Jack and Jill
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.

Up Jack got and home did trot
As fast as he could caper;
And went to bed to mend his head
With vinegar and brown paper.

Jill came in and she did grin
To see his paper plaster;
Mother vexed did whip her next
For causing Jack's disaster.

Now Jack did laugh and Jill did cry
But her tears did soon abate;
Then Jill did say that they should play
At see-saw across the gate.

London Bridge

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, Falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

Take a key and lock her up,
Lock her up, Lock her up.
Take a key and lock her up,
My fair lady.

How will we build it up,
Build it up, Build it up?
How will we build it up,
My fair lady?

Build it up with silver and gold,
Silver and gold, Silver and gold.
Build it up with silver and gold,
My fair lady.

Gold and silver I have none,
I have none, I have none.
Gold and silver I have none,
My fair lady.

Build it up with needles and pins,
Needles and pins, Needles and pins.
Build it up with needles and pins,
My fair lady.

Pins and needles bend and break,
Bend and break, Bend and break.
Pins and needles bend and break,
My fair lady.

Build it up with wood and clay,
Wood and clay, Wood and clay.
Build it up with wood and clay,
My fair lady.

Wood and clay will wash away,
Wash away, Wash away.
Wood and clay will wash away,
My fair lady.

Build it up with stone so strong,
Stone so strong, Stone so strong.
Build it up with stone so strong,
My fair lady.

Stone so strong will last so long,
Last so long, Last so long.
Stone so strong will last so long,
My fair lady.

Baa Baa Black Sheep
Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.
One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.

Thank you said the master,
Thank you said the dame,
Thank you said the little boy
Who lives down the lane.

One to mend the jerseys,
One to mend the socks,
And one to mend the holes
In the little girl's frocks.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky!

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the traveller in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveller in the dark,—
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

Any other nursery rhyme extensions you care to share? You could always create your own...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Guest Post- Debbie Mutford's Review of Claire Mowat's The Girl From Away

I read this book, one chapter a night, to my five year old daughter as a bedtime story. She loved it! She related to the main character with kin in Newfoundland, was enthralled with the whale rescue, and now wants to go mummering this Christmas..

I liked the book, however I feel as thought it was about six chapters too short. It's not that I wanted there to be more events...just more detail. The plot is sufficient and there is enough action, but not enough description.

The main character, Andrea, is supposed to be resentful towards her step-father. I only know this because it's explicitly stated in the book that "Big, smiling, horrible Bradley Osborne [is] determined to take her father's place" (p.5). It's clear enough for a young reader to get the message, but I didn't feel it. Likewise, Andrea is supposed to feel like a fish out of water, but I really didn't get that sense. She gets along fine with her aunt and cousins, people are friendly, she visits every summer. Sure she doesn't have mummering clothes or rubber boots, but I don't get the feeling that she's outcasted or much of an outsider. She's barely there before she's having fun! By chapter four they find the whale which marks the beginning of Andrea's adventures and sense of belonging.

I think the book reads more like the crib note version and could have done with some more details and descriptions. I like the characters, love the setting, and think she does a fabulous job working in references to Newfoundland culture. By adding more meat and detail to the events that occur the relationships between characters would be more relatable, the main character's internal issues more recognizable, and the book more interesting in general.

I liked the book, I really did. I just needed more between the lines.