Monday, August 31, 2009

Reader's Diary #521- Zsuzsi Gartner: Summer of the Flesh Eater

I hadn't heard of Zsuzsi Gartner until CBC chose her as a Canada Reads panelist a few years back. (Odd really, since they insist on hiring celebrities for that gig.) I was smitten. She was witty, defended Barney's Version for goodness sakes, and let us in on one of her measures of good fiction: is it globally aware or is it hermetically sealed? She would have you know that the former=good, the latter=bad. I've come to really appreciate this gauge and it's one of the most used tools in my book mining kit. What does it mean? Globally aware is not globally conscientious. It's acknowledging pop culture, news events, and technology. If characters are meant to be living in our world they should be affected by these things. Such references don't have to monopolize the story, but I hate reading a book supposedly set in modern times that doesn't mention TV, for example. I haven't had a TV in over a year, but good lord, I'm affected by it.

In Summer of the Flesh Eaters you can count on many references of this nature, but Gartner delightfully takes it a step further. Google "Zsuzsi Gartner" and "hermetically sealed." Clearly she hates it. I'm guessing Tupperware would not make a good housewarming present in the new Gartner household. Not only has she avoided it (hermetic seals, not Tupperware) at all costs in this story-- expect references to REO Speedwagon and to the woman that threw her baby off the Capilano bridge a few years ago-- she also opens the seal on her characters' lives. It is the story of a well-to-do neighbourhood in North Vancouver that doesn't quite know how to handle the new guy; a man who drives a Camaro and gasp! drinks beer straight from the can.

At first I was skeptical. Was Gartner just another one of those elitist who hasn't come to terms with her own elitist existence and distances herself by making fun of other elitists? Geez, is Obama running again? What's with all the accusations? To her credit, while Gartner does indeed poke fun at their snobbish expense, the mulleted beer-from-the-can guy isn't spared either. It's all so wonderfully cynical. I suspect most male readers will do as I did and try to fit themselves somewhere in between the two types of men presented. Female readers? Your take will probably be somewhat different-- and I'd love to hear it!

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

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saturday Word Play- A Book Into A Movie

People have been turning movies into books for almost as long as they've been making movies and audiences have been complaining that "the book was way better" for just as long. But, when it's been done right the results have been spectacular and that's why people keeping trying to make them and why audiences keep returning. I admit, there are many on the horizon that I just can't wait to see.

I'll give you "ABOOK," imbedded in that I'll give you the title, imbedded in that I'll give you the author's name, imbedded in that I'll give you the director's name, imbedded in that I'll tell you one of the actor's names, and imbedded in that will be "AMOVIE." Something like this:


Ready? For each one, tell me the name of an upcoming movie (the title of the book it is based on), the author's name, the director, and an actor starring in it.

KRETHEWILDTHINGSAREBOOK (Scheduled release date: October 16, 2009)

ICMRFOXOK (Scheduled release date: November 13, 2009)


ASCAROLOOK (Scheduled release date: November 6, 2009)


RLANDOK (Scheduled release date: March 5, 2010)

DTHEDEATHLYHALLOWSPARTONEOOK (Scheduled release date: November 19, 2010)

ADBOOK (Scheduled release date: October 16, 2009)

ONOK (Scheduled release date: November 20, 2009)

AYLOVEOK (Scheduled release date: 2011)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reader's Diary #520- Val Wake: White Bird Black Bird

When Val Wake contacted me earlier this year to see if I'd be interested in reading his book, I quickly replied yes. I love to read northern books and I review them for the local paper. I tried to find out as much as I could about Wake's novel and soon discovered that it was self-published. As I told Wake, I don't have a problem with self-published books per se. In one way I respect such a brave move. But, with the exception of Jeff Smith's Bone (a graphic novel), I've not had a lot of luck finding a good one. Unfortunately, White Bird Black Bird has not improved my odds.

I don't think I've ever encountered a book with this many typos. I know I make the occasional one here or there on my blog, but nothing near this bad. I began marking every mistake but soon realized I just couldn't keep it up for 521 pages. The incorrect use of commas (omitted or added where they don't belong) was the worst. A typical example:
In his retirement years, Mr Matheson, claimed some of the credit for its success.
Lynne Truss wishes she had a grave to roll in.

I've encountered typos in lots of books, even ones published by actual publishing firms, and normally I've been able to get past them, but the sheer volume of errors in Wake's book was painful. It definitely soured my perception of anything else the novel had to offer.

You know how people will often say that Pierre Berton's nonfiction books read like novels? The opposite can be said about Wake's. The characters are one- dimensional, the dialogue is forced, and quite frankly, I don't know why he didn't just write a nonfiction book. I think he'd handle that genre more effectively.

Set in the Northwest Territories in the 60s, it chronicles the early days of aboriginal rights organizations in the area and the political, economic and racial challenges they faced. Such topics are fascinating in reality, you'd think a fictionalized account would be even better. Not necessarily, I guess, but I'm sure a good editor would have helped.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #4- Island of the Blue Dolphins VERSUS Gone With The Wind

The winner of the last Great Wednesday Compare ( Island of the Blue Dolphins vs. Bridge to Terabithia), with a final score of 7-6 was Island of the Blue Dolphins.

The first tie-breaker to come my way in a while! For those unfamiliar with the rules, I don't normally cast a vote except in the event of a tie. O'Dell fans should take not gloat too heavily over my choice-- I simply haven't read Bridge to Terabithia yet. But the fact that I was compelled to read Island of the Blue Dolphins and not the other should count for something (though I agree with Nicola's assertion last week that it didn't deserve to beat Robinson Crusoe).

Anyway, sorry about the brief interruption to the Great Wednesday Compares. To make it up to you, there'll be another round next week, instead of in the usual 2 weeks.

This week's challenger...

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (Sept 1, 2009), and if you want your book to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Which is better?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reader's Diary #519- William Shakespeare: Taming of the Shrew

A friend of mine recently told me that she acted in The Taming of The Shrew in her theatre days and because of that it's one of her favourites. Knowing nothing about the play, when it was time to read another Shakespeare play I chose it. I wasn't far in before I had to ask, "you didn't find it all offensive?"

For those in the dark, as I was, the "shrew" is in fact a woman named Kate and the "taming" is a series of emotionally cruel treatments that results in her taking a subordinate position to her husband. If he decides to call the sun the moon, then Kate, too, will call the sun the moon. And it's a comedy.

It turns out that my friend's theatre troupe did as many modern reproductions do: they made Kate's transformation disingenuous. They didn't change any lines per se (though some do), but had the actress deliver them sarcastically.
When Kate lectures the other women at the end, for instance, that men are superior and women must obey, a few simple eye-rolls and the right tone suggest to an audience that she has not been converted at all.

Whether or not Shakespeare intended it this way (I personally think he intended it the misogynistic way), I doubt a modern performance could get away with doing otherwise. But the question remains: does it work?

I'd have to see it performed, and performed well, to pass judgement, but I'm very skeptical. The play oozes cruelty; from the opening framework which targets the lower class, to the play-at-large which targets women, everything is done for laughs. The insults are Shakespearean, and thus should be amusing and witty, but it was hard for me to enjoy myself when some of the characters were being treated so poorly, and without any really nice characters to balance it out. I'll grant, for instance, that Kate wasn't a nice person at the beginning. Had Shakespeare made Petruchio, her husband, a likable character and the victim of Kate's mean behaviour, a reader might be able to at least view Petruchio's later treatment of her as revenge. Not that it would condone cruelty since two wrongs don't make a right, as the saying goes, but at least there'd be some sense of vindication.

On another note, it was only after searching up the play online that I learned it was the basis behind Heath Ledger's Ten Things I Hate About You. I can't say I had any interest in seeing it before, but now I'm a bit curious. Have you seen it?

(Cross posted at BiblioShakespeare).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reader's Diary #518 - Eudora Welty: A Worn Path

The good news is I found a new source of classic short stories online. The bad news is my first pick let me down: Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path."

I'm sorry, especially after watching the YouTube video of Welty discussing her story (she seemed like a genuinely sweet lady), that the story seemed contrived and caricaturish to me. Of course the old lady represented selfless love and determination. It was obvious. Too obvious. Of course the hunter was a bully. Of course, of course.

I also had trouble with the old lady talking to herself. Sure people do this. But I've never seen it done well in a book, it always comes across as fake. Is it possible to do this well? Perhaps if I talked to myself I'd buy into it.

In any case, I'm looking forward to reading more stories on the list.

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

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Reader's Diary #517- Michael Crummey: Galore + An Interview!!!

Shortly before I went on my summer vacation I was contacted by Random House to see if I'd be interested in interviewing Michael Crummey about his latest novel Galore. I'd been a fan of Crummey's poetry for a while, having read two of his poetry collections, Hard Light and Salvage, a couple years back. However, despite the popularity of his first two novels, River Thieves and The Wreckage, I'd still not read his prose. However, I'd have been a fool to pass up this opportunity.

My book finally arrived in the mail, but I'd only a few days left before hitting the road. Would I be able to cram it in plus get my interview questions off to Crummey in time?

In hindsight I needn't have worried. It turned out to be such an entertaining and well-written book that I'd probably have devoured it in a couple days or so anyway. Of course the fact that I enjoyed it also set my mind at ease about the interview. I wouldn't have to pretend I enjoyed it or else ask questions like, "what the hell was that about?"

Galore is the story of Paradise Deep, a fictional Newfoundland outport. More specifically, it is the story of how two families, the Sellers and the Devines, helped shape the town and were shaped by it in return. It begins with a man coming from the belly of a whale.

There are themes and plots galore, any number of which are worthy of focus. It would be a terrific novel for bookclubs. Discuss the male/female power dynamic. Discuss the inevitability of change. Discuss... but that makes it sound too scholarly, doesn't it? It might be, but it sure ain't as dull as all that. Did I mention that it begins with a man coming from the belly of a whale?

I could go on, but instead I'll leave you with my interview with Michael Crummey so that you might get more of a sense of what the book is all about:

JM: The title Galore is used only twice in the book that I could find, and both times it refers to the abundance of fish. How did you go about choosing that word as your title?

MC: I think it shows up a time or two besides that. Once in reference to “fire galore” awaiting the ghost of Mr. Gallery where he’s going. I liked the notion that galore, unlike “abundance,” isn’t used exclusively with positive connotations. You can have fish galore or trouble galore, and anything in between.
There were a number of other reasons I used GALORE as the title. Galore is one of the few Irish Gaelic words to make its way into the English language, which I thought suggested the kind of cross-cultural pollination that created Newfoundlanders. And there was an expansiveness to the novel I thought was mirrored in the meaning of the word. I also liked the suggestion of both GLORY and GORE in the sound of it. Last but not least, I loved having the word LORE on the cover of the book. The novel is all about the folklore of the place and the role it played in shaping who Newfoundlanders are.

JM: I read in an interview that when you lived away, you only wrote of Newfoundland. You joked that now that you've moved back, you'll probably write about the mainland. Yet, here we are, it's your third novel and all three have been about Newfoundland. Has it been easier to write about the place now that you're back? And have you tossed around any ideas for a mainland-based novel yet? I know you were in Yellowknife a few years back. I'd love to read your take on this place!
MC: It hasn’t been easier or harder as far as I can tell. Being back home has definitely altered my sense of the place, just by the fact that I’m living in the culture as an adult and a writer, and that’s certainly influenced the writing. My antennae are always up and everyday I pick up something else about Newfoundland that may find its way into what I’m working on.

No mainland ideas so far. And I don’t feel any lack for that. There’s enough stories in this place, the place that made me, to keep me going a lifetime. That could change next week, and I’m not against the idea of writing a novel set elsewhere. But at the same time I think, why would I?

Loved Yellowknife. Love the north in general. Lived in Labrador a number of years as well. Northerners remind of Newfoundlanders in many ways. There are people who are born with the place in them (even if they were born elsewhere) and they are the only people who will ever feel at home there.

JM: Speaking of sticking to Newfoundland, you've also stuck to historical novels. What is it about this genre that appeals to you and do you see a modern-day Newfoundland novel in your future?
MC: I’m a little leery of the historical fiction tag. I haven’t really chosen to write books set in the past. Stories pick me and I go with it. There are much more contemporary stories in my story collection, Flesh and Blood. And I’d be happy to write a modern-day Newfoundland novel if I was struck with an idea that I thought could hold my interest for the three or four years it takes to write the damn things.

JM: Galore begins fantastical and has the air of folklore about it, yet as the novel progresses and time and generations pass, the book becomes more historical and plausible. Despite the transition, the folklore was a vital part of the history of Paradise Deep (not to mention very entertaining!) and shaped the lives of the generations that followed. In your opinion, how has folklore changed in Newfoundland and how will this affect future generations?

MC: Well I was deliberately charting the move away from that netherworld of spirits and fairies and folkcharms that was so integral to Newfoundlanders at one time and has become less and less present as the larger modern world moves in. Carmelita McGrath has a great poem about how the ghosts disappeared from the outports about the time the streetlights were put in. But those old stories and beliefs are still around, particularly among the older generation. And they continue to shape us in some way.

One of the central things I was exploring in the novel was the symbiotic relationship we have with our stories of who we are. Newfoundlanders created these stories, and as they get told and passed on, the stories tell us who we are as Newfoundlanders. It becomes difficult to tease out the strands there as the generations pass: did we create the stories or did the stories create us? The novel, as you mention, moves further and further away from that world of folklore as it progresses. But at the end, when Abel has lost everything of himself, it’s those stories that rise up to tell him who he is, to give his life back to him. And in a sense he becomes the beginning of the novel as well as the end of it.

JM: Superstition also played a crucial role in Galore but, again, was way more apparent in the earlier half of the book. Do you think superstition has gone away or has it simply manifested itself differently? Are folklore and superstition co-dependent?

MC: Superstition is all around us. People believe in the stock market or weight loss drugs or those metal energy bracelets that supposedly instill a sense of well-being. I think superstitions play a huge role in folklore, but one doesn’t necessarily rest on the other. Folklore is the collective consciousness of an oral culture, the sum of its beliefs and tales and foolishness and knowledge. And that’s the consciousness I was interested in inhabiting in the novel, superstitions included.

JM: Born and raised in Twillingate, Newfoundland, I was quick to notice the similarities between the character or Dr. Newman and the real-life Dr. John M. Old's (whom my high school was named after). I was not surprised to see Gary Saunders' biography Dr. Olds of Twillingate listed among your resources. Later I noted similarities between Esther's character and Georgina Sterling, the world renown opera singer, also of Twillingate. I remember, too, reading your collection of poetry Hard Light a while back, and noting how heavily Twillingate was featured. What is your fascination with the place?

MC: Mom was born and raised in Twillingate (she was terrified of Dr. Olds) and I spent a part of every summer in Crow Head when I was a youngster. My grandparents, Doyle Sharpe and Sarah Reid, had a place out there where they spent their holidays till sometime in the late 70s.

But those two figures (Olds and Sterling) would have grabbed me regardless of my personal connection to Twillingate. Dr. Newman is an amalgam of a bunch of early medical practitioners in Newfoundland, but Olds is pretty central to him.

JM: I was surprised to see another familiar character featured, William Coaker (leader of Newfoundland's first fisheries union), especially as this time you used his real name. How did you come to this decision and what impact do you think this will have on Newfoundland readers, who are probably familiar with the historical figure, versus non-Newfoundland readers who may believe he is entirely fictional?
MC: Originally I planned to have someone from Paradise Deep be a Coaker-like character, but changed my mind the closer I came to that part of the novel. Coaker and the Union were so singular and particular in how they developed that I wanted them to appear to a certain extent as they were. As far as those who know of Coaker as opposed to those who don’t, I don’t expect there will be a huge difference to the experience of the novel. The arrival of Coaker is one more step in the encroachment of the “real” world of institutional religion and medicine and science and politics on the self-enclosed world of Paradise Deep as it was at the outset. Up to the building of the Catholic cathedral in the late 1890s there is no mention of particular dates and times in the novel, only hints of where in the chronology of the larger world the story is happening (the Napoleonic wars are mentioned at one point for example). By WWI though, the novel is firmly placed in a particular historical time. For those who know something about the historical Coaker, I hope that knowledge will just add one more layer to the encroachment of the “real” world on that of Paradise Deep.
JM: Galore is as much about the birth and growth of a Newfoundland outport as it is the people who inhabit it. When I finished the book, I found myself wondering what happened to Paradise Deep. Did it suffer under Joey Smallwood's resettlement plan? By the cod moratorium? I don't really expect answers for these questions, but could the ending have happened in the present day instead? I hope you don't think I'm unhappy with the ending. It's really just a testament to your setting that I miss it so.

MC: My thought at the outset was to have a modern day component to the novel with a descendant of the Devines or Sellers learning the story from a relative, which would include bridging material up to the present day. But it was pretty clear early on that, unless I was interested in writing a 600 page novel (and I was not), I’d have to find an earlier place to end it. From the outset I was writing towards Abel’s service overseas and it seemed like the natural endpoint for the story, being a kind of return to the opening scene. So a person could argue that the book escapes the larger world and the tyranny of chronology and time that has been slowly taking over the story, turning back on itself to become a self-encapsulated world all its own. But I have to admit, spelling it out like that makes it sounds like so much BS.

Thanks to Random House for this opportunity and especially to Michael Crummey for taking the time to answer my questions.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Reading Through Western Canada- Road Trip

I don't often post about non-book related things here at the ol' Book Mine Set, and I'll try to not make this an exception. However, it's also about my latest road trip and to be honest, it wasn't the most literary of travels. It was, however, a lot of fun.

So what does one read on a road trip of several thousands of kilometers? I took three books: Val Wake's White Bird Black Bird, Kenneth J. Harvey's Blackstrap Hawco, and the Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm edited collection of indigenous erotica Without Reservation. It's a testament to the beauty of western Canada that I finished none of these books.

The first stop, as you can see from the above collage, was the Northwest Territories/ Alberta border. Odd that after living in the north since 2001 this is the first time I've actually seen the 60th parallel. I've flown over it many times on my way to Nunavut, but I've never had the opportunity to drive down until now. Incidentally, the bozo in the cowboy hat and flexing his nonexistent muscles underneath the Alberta sign has since moved on.

We didn't stop long in Alberta on the way down. Instead we skipped across to Saskatchewan. The border sign may not be as impressive, but it's certainly a bizarre experience to cross through Lloydminster, the town shared by both provinces. The first stop was Saskatoon to see the Exhibition. The kids had a ball despite terrible weather most of our stay there. Next it was on to Aylesbury where we stayed at the Trail's End Ranch. The kids were treated to horseback lessons, we were treated to barbecue, and after supper we all went on a covered wagon tour. Two things I learned about Saskatchewan:

1. While there are flat stretches, overall it's hillier than it's made out to be

2. People from Saskatchewan are not all ranchers and farmers. Some are carnies.

Oh right, this was supposed to have a literary connection. Did I mention that I think I saw Guy Vanderhaeghe entering an IHOP?

Then, once again, we gave Alberta the cold shoulder and high-tailed it over to British Columbia (a 20 hour drive including the awesome Rockies, I might add). We weren't quick enough to get a picture of the border sign, but we did nab one of Othello Rd. Along this stretch are a whole series of Shakespearean themed roads, rivers and such. Anyone know why?

Our first stop in BC was the beautiful Kelowna. The weather was sunny and not too hot and the first really nice day we had on our trip. We spent a day touring wineries and basically falling in love with the place. Book connection? I bought Dick North's The Lost Patrol at the RV Park store.

Next it was off to Vancouver where we walked the world famous Capilano Suspension Bridge. Book connection? Our son has a simple picture book by Susan Canizares called Bridges which features the Capilano Suspension Bridge. It features famous bridges of varying types from around the world. Not that we have any real appreciation for bridge architecture, but we've decided to use it as a travel guide (some of the photos are breathtaking). We're planning to visit another featured bridge this spring when we go to Japan.

The next day, it was off to China Town where our van was broken into and our GPS, a suitcase full of clothes, kids toys and other things were stolen. Book connection? My Dick North book was also snagged. Damn literate thieves. But I shouldn't start with that. I've since made my peace with China Town and I'm now able to think of the pleasant things we did there while no-goodnicks were smashing up our van. I did get to try jellyfish for the first time and it wasn't as disgusting as you might think. That's something, I guess.

Trying not to let the previous day ruin the whole trip, we set out the next day to enjoy ourselves while Chrysler and the insurance people straightened up the mess. We went to the Vancouver aquarium at Stanley Park (book connection: I tried to forget I ever read Timothy Taylor's book of the same name). That evening we went to see Annie performed at the the Theatre Under The Stars, also in the park. It's my daughter's favourite movie and of course, she was in her glory seeing it live.

After shopping and a quick visit the next day with an old friend from Rankin Inlet, we headed off to Alberta. We were finally ready to pay the province some attention. Stopping in Calgary first, the kids hit another fair, we visited another friend from our Rankin Inlet days, and then we had a zombie encounter, a bad tempered one at that.

Yes, I finally got to meet the supercalafragilisticexplialadocious one, Barbara Bruederlin. Barbara was one of the first people to visit my blog back in 1893 I believe it was, and we've been friends ever since. And while her cat viciously mauled my son half to death, it was a superb blogger hookup nonetheless. We were also fortunate enough to meet Barbara's daughter who was yet another great conversationalist. It turns out that while I've been crediting my music and movie tastes to Barbara, it was really the offspring behind the curtain. I tried to convince her to start a blog so I don't have to go through the middleman any more.

The next day was our final stop, Drumheller. Here we saw the dinosaurs: the tacky ones, the realistic ones, all glorious in their own way. Book connection? I picked up a biography of Mary Schaffer at the giftshop. As far as I know she doesn't have anything to do with dinosaurs.

Finally, it was back to the good old North. As much as I love you southern Canada, the North is where it's at.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #4

Since I'm on vacation, the last GWC match-up (Island of the Blue Dolphins versus Bridge to Terabithia) will not close until August 25th. If you still haven't voted for your favourite, head there now. Tune in on August 26th to see the which book wins and which book it'll take on next.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reader's Diary #516: Robert Heidbreder and illustrated by Bill Slavin and Esperanca Melo: Drumheller Dinosaur Dance

One of our stops during our vacation this month will be Drumheller, Alberta. Of course the main attraction in Drumheller is the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. Oh wait. Maybe it's the World's Largest Dinosaur, a 26 meter fiberglass t-rex. In any case, we're going to see the dinosaurs.

Here's a widely known fact: kids love dinosaurs. The movies, toys, t-shirts and books prove it. Yet, for all the dinosaur books out there, I've yet to come across one that has knocked my socks off. Most are either overly scientific and dull, threatening to crush any aspiring palaeontologist or obvious attempts to capitalize on the fascination, without really teaching anything more than a few names.

Sadly, Drumheller Dinosaur Dance falls into that 2nd category. It's the story of dinosaur bones beneath Drumheller that come to life at night, crawl out of the ground and dance. It's cute I suppose, but I'm no more excited to visit Drumheller because of it, nor did my children or I learn anything about dinosaurs. Instead we got the typical hyper-rhythmic rhymes that people are keen to credit as poetry, but are a dime a dozen amongst picture books nowadays.

They tango, fandango and break-dance with ease. They whirl on their tails and

It's been done so often. Compare this to another of my son's books, Dinosaurumpus! by Tony Mitton and illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees:
Donk! Donk! Donk!
Here's Triceratops
jumping up and down
doing dinosaur hops.
He wears three horns
on his big, bony head,
and blunders along
with a Bomp! Bomp! tread.
The rhymes are probably on par with one another, but at least there's a little education going on.

The only positive thing about Drumheller Dinosaur Dance is the fun and vibrant illustrations. I especially enjoyed a two-page spread of a boy dancing in his pyjamas. His shadows on the floor capture the boy's imagination as they depict a dancing t-rex.

Hopefully the real Drumheller will be a more rewarding experience. If not, we'll dance in our pyjamas and pretend that it was.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #4

Since I'm on vacation, the last GWC match-up (Island of the Blue Dolphins versus Bridge to Terabithia) will not close until August 25th. If you still haven't voted for your favourite, head there now. Tune in on August 26th to see the which book wins and which book it'll take on next.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reader's Diary #515- Jeff Lemire: Tales From The Farm, Essex County Vol. 1

This year has been a crash course in graphic novels for me. Before then I assumed graphic novels to be mostly long forms of superhero comics, which I'd never been really into as a kid. Fortunately the world of "alternative comics" has opened up to me and I'm hooked. These are not about superheroes at all and I've been amazed at the complex characters, intricate plots, strong writing and artistry. I can say, without reservation, that I enjoy them as much as traditional novels.

I've also discovered one of my new favourite publishers in Canada: Drawn & Quarterly. They have cornered the market on alternative comics in Canada and I had assumed that any alternative graphic novelist in Canada worth his/her salt had been signed to them.

I've been proven wrong. Recently I won a Jeff Lemire prize pack from CBC's Canada Reads Book Club. Though Lemire is from Ontario and most of his books are set there, they are published by an American publisher, Top Shelf Productions. I was skeptical. It didn't help that on the cover of Tales From The Farm was a picture of a boy in a red cape. It just goes to show I've got a lot left to learn.

While I wasn't into superhero comics as a boy, I was into monster books. One of the more memorable was Betsy Byars' The Two-Thousand Pound Goldfish. I believe Scholastic had billed it as a book about a giant goldfish terrorizing the sewers beneath a city. I soon discovered that the goldfish part of the book was just the imaginings of a young boy, the main plot was about a boy coming to terms with his absent mother. My monster book was really one of those books. Imagine my surprise when I enjoyed it anyway.

Tales From The Farm will likely take readers off guard in much the same way. Beginning with a scene of the boy in the red cape flying over a field, we quickly realize this is just his imagination. Before long his uncle is telling him to feed the chickens and "take that damn outfit off." And so begins a story of a boy and his uncle. Uncle Ken has been left in charge of Lester, whose single mother (Ken's sister) had died recently. Lester feels his uncle doesn't understand him and Uncle Ken feels like he can't connect. To complicate matters, Lester befriends the local gas station owner Jimmy Lebeuf, who's suffered a head-injury from a one-game stint in the NHL. It's really a heart-wrenching tale and my heart went out to all the characters.

I also enjoyed Lemire's drawings, which resembled sketches in their loose, scratchy style. They are also heavily inked in black and at first glance would appear chaotic. However, there is a control to his style that gives the characters an unexpected consistency and emotion.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more by Lemire. Now Drawn & Quarterly needs to sign him!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Saturday Word Play- Douglas Coupland Gets A Clue

I'm still on the road from Saskatchewan to British Columbia. Here's a game based around one of BC's most famous authors, Douglas Coupland. Each clue spells a piece of a title and each piece is in order. Which books can you figure out?

As always, feel free to do all 8 at home, but only answer only one in the comment section. That way 7 more people will have a chance to play along.

1. a segment of DNA, sewer rodent, electrically charged particle, signature for the illiterate

2. fraud, child term for feces, narrow road, we'll have fun fun fun til her daddy takes this bird away

3. type of concert check, Betty White's character on the Golden Girls, initials of Don Knott's character on Three's Company, sulfur's symbol

4. not boy, not Mon Tues Wed Thurs Sat or Sun, not the beginning, not out, not DC, not x in Tic-Tac-Toe, not pa

5. Whole or everything, failing letter, author McKay of Birth House, untruths, first letter of the Roman alphabet, abbreviation for Palin's party, abbreviation for band behind "Kool Thing," carbon's symbol, Santa says this word three times, a sudden repetitve twitching

6. The way Johnny Cash addresses Porter, negative, precedes Nick or John's, movie rating suggesting that those under 17 should be accompanied by an adult, Eve's partner, me and you

7. slang for illegal drug popular at raves, Bill Withers wants you to do this on him, either, an oil platform or large truck, denotes authorship

8. abbreviation for Justice of the Peace, abbreviation for overdose

Which have you read?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #4- Extention

Since I'm on vacation, the last GWC match-up (Island of the Blue Dolphins versus Bridge to Terabithia) will not close until August 25th. If you still haven't voted for your favourite, head there now. Tune in on August 26th to see the which book wins and which book it'll take on next.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Reader's Diary #514- Arthur Slade: Gydian Fights His Greatest Foe

Tomorrow I leave on a road trip. It's the first time since moving to the north in 2001 that I've been able to actually drive to another province, so yes, I'm pretty excited. So what wild and exciting place am I going? Saskatchewan of course! With Saskatchewan, I'll have visited every province in Canada. After that, I'll just need to tour the Yukon to get my territories badge. Then, I'll probably just end up moving there in a few years anyway.

First we head to the Saskatoon Ex. After hours and hours in a minivan, the kids will need to go a little crazy. A fair seems in order. A couple days of that and it's off to overnight at a ranch in Aylesbury, then we'll cut through Alberta, stopping at Drumheller along the way, and into BC where hopefully they'll have the forest fires under control by that time, back to Calgary where I'll get to meet one of my favourite bloggers and zombies, Barbara, and finally back to Yellowknife with a few short days left before work.

I'll be gone from the 4th to the 20th. Things will likely be quieter around the blog, though I've got a few posts written and scheduled during my absence.

In the meantime, I thought I'd kick off the vacation with a writer from Saskatoon, Arthur Slade. Slade is Governor General's Award winner, his novel Dust winning in the children's literature category in 2001. He keeps a fun website here, which includes a couple of complete short stories. I've chosen "Gydian Fights His Greatest Foe."

GFHGF reminded me a lot of Terry Pratchett's humour. Pratchett's fans will most likely enjoy the tone of this story as well. My one and only experience with Pratchett was very disappointing, so I was skeptical of Slade's work. However, it may have been the small dose of a short story versus the length of a novel that didn't allow Slade's humour to grate on my nerves as Pratchett's did. Ample doses of quirk and satire, within a fantasy world setting, seems better suited to a couple hundred words.

GFHGF is the story of a knight impeded on his mission to slay a dragon by financial constraints and bureaucracy. It might be easy to draw parallels to modern day warfare and the like, but that would probably be over-thinking the piece. This is a lighthearted story and is best left hinting at serious issues rather than taking them on full force.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below! For the next two weeks SSM will be on hiatus on this blog, but feel free to host the event on your own! )

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Canadian Book Challenge 3- 1st Roundup

Here it is! The first Round-Up for the Canadian Book Challenge 3. If you read and reviewed a book for the challenge in July, please leave your links in the comments below. It should look something like this:

Hi! In July I read and reviewed 2 books for the Canadian Book Challenge, which brings my total to 2. Here are the links to my reviews:
1. Having Faith in the Polar Girls' Prison by Cathleen With:

2. Arctic Circle Songs by Robbie Newton Drummond:

Or, if you're comfortable embedding the link, it would look something like this:

Hi! In July I read and reviewed 2 books for the Canadian Book Challenge, which brings my total to 2. Here are the links to my reviews:
1. Having Faith in the Polar Girls' Prison by Cathleen With

2. Arctic Circle Songs by Robbie Newton Drummond

Either way is fine.

As the links come in, I'll add your status to the sidebar for quick reference. (Are you a Timbit? a potato?) Also, remember that the very first person to add their links this month will win Theresa Kishkan's Phantom Limb. For more info, refer to the Prizes post here.

In the meantime, I thought I'd start things off with a meme. Feel free to do this on your own blog if you have one (and come back and leave a link to your post!). If you don't have a blog, feel free to add your answers to the comments below. And if you can't answer a particular question, just skip it! Also feel free to add questions.

Your Favourites:
1. Favourite Canadian author?
2. Favourite Canadian novel?
3. Favourite Canadian nonfiction?
4. Favourite Canadian picture book?
5. Favourite Canadian YA or juvenile chapter book?
6. Favourite Canadian science fiction or fantasy book?
7. Favourite Canadian romantic fiction?
8. Favourite Canadian mystery?
9. Favourite Canadian graphic novel?
10. Favourite Canadian book blog?
11. Favourite Canadian fictional character?
12. Favourite movie based on a Canadian novel or story?
13. Favourite Canadian short story?
14. Favourite Canadian poet?
15. Favourite Canadian poem?
16. Favourite Canadian play?
17. Favourite novel by an established Canadian author?
18. Favourite novel by an up-and-coming Canadian author?
19. Favourite Canadian book award?
20. Favourite Canadian publisher?
21. Favourite Canadian humorous book?
22. Favourite Canadian newspaper?
23. Favourite Canadian magazine or journal?
24. Favourite Canadian dystopian novel?
25. Favourite Canadian epistolary novel?

Here are my answers. My answers, of course, depend on my mood, time of day, the direction of the wind, etc:

My Favourites:
1. Favourite Canadian author? Somewhat predictable answers, but I always look forward to reading more Atwood and Richler. Though, if I had to choose, I'd pick Richler.
2. Favourite Canadian novel? Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler
3. Favourite Canadian nonfiction? No Logo by Naomi Klein
4. Favourite Canadian picture book? The Party by Barbara Reid
5. Favourite Canadian YA or juvenile chapter book? Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
6. Favourite Canadian science fiction or fantasy book? Admittedly, I've read very little in this genre, so I'd say Robert Munsch's The Paperbag Princess.
7. Favourite Canadian romantic fiction? Despite our famous Harlequin books, I've also read little of this genre. So, I'll cheat by saying I loved the love story or Wayne Johnston's Colony of Unrequited Dreams, even though it was unrequited.
8. Favourite Canadian mystery? I'm realizing how little Canadian genre fiction I've read. I'll say the last one I read which was Dennis Richard Murphy's Darkness at the Stroke of Noon, but I'm sure I'll read better.
9. Favourite Canadian graphic novel? Chester Brown's Louis Riel, however, the name "graphic novel" here is a bit of a misnomer, since it's a biography and therefore not a novel, even though it is in a long comic book form.
10. Favourite Canadian book blog? I've always refused to pick favourites for these, but I should say that I look forward to many, including Raidergirl's, Chris's, Wanda's, Melanie's, Nicola's, Teddy's, and more (please don't feel excluded if I've inadvertently left someone out). I'm also enjoying Hannah Sung's Book Club at
11. Favourite Canadian fictional character? Mortimer Griffin from Mordecai Richler's Cocksure.
12. Favourite movie or film based on a Canadian novel or story? The short film for Roch Carrier's The Hockey Sweater.

13. Favourite Canadian short story? "Loons" by Margaret Laurence
14. Favourite Canadian poet? bpNichol
15. Favourite Canadian poem? "At the Quinte Hotel" by Al Purdy
16. Favourite Canadian play? 52 Pick Up by TJ Dawe and Rita Bozi
17. Favourite novel by an established Canadian author? Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler
18. Favourite novel by an up-and-coming Canadian author? Dodecahedron by Paul Glennon
19. Favourite Canadian book award? They sometimes refer to it as an award and sometimes don't, but I'll say Canada Reads. It's not perfect (for the love of God, get a non-celebrity panelist already so I'll shut up), but I enjoy the openness. I've also read most of the winners (just need to get around to Book of Negroes)
20. Favourite Canadian publisher? Random House has sent me a lot a good, free books, so of course they're (pardon the pun), in my good books. I also enjoy Drawn & Quarterly and Brick Books.
21. Favourite Canadian humorous book? For the hat-trick, Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler.
22. Favourite Canadian newspaper? The Yellowknifer, even if it's a bit sensationalist at times.
23. Favourite Canadian magazine or journal? I don't subscribe to any, but I'll bet just about anyone could find at least something interesting in Downhome Magazine. UpHere's pretty good as well.
24. Favourite dystopian Canadian novel? Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
25. Favourite epistolary Canadian novel? I've yet to read one, but Richard Wright's Clara Callan has been waiting patiently on my shelf forever. That should count for something, right?

I hope you enjoy this month's round-up. Please take some time to read other participants' reviews. Talk amongst yourself. Nevermind the mosquitoes, blackflies and horseflies, get lost in Canadian literature.

*Also, if you're looking to get rid of the books you read last month, be sure to check out the Trading Post!