Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saturday Word Play: This Halloween, Heads Will Roll (And With a Title Like This, So Will Eyes)

Happy Halloween everyone! Here's hoping you all get sugar rushes tonight. But, when you crash, sit back and try this week's game. I'll give you the titles of ten books that feature headless characters or characters that get decapitated-- except I've also put the titles in the guillotine. Can you still recognize them? (Clicking on the images will make them a little bigger.)

As always, feel free to try all ten at home, but only answer one in the comment section below so that 9 more people can play along.

1. William Shakespeare

2. J. K. Rowling

3. Washington Irving

4. Vladimir Nabokov

5. R. L. Stine

6. Adam Roberts


8. Zilpha Keatley Snyder

9. Phillipa Gregory

10. Carolly Erickson

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Guest Post: Debbie's Review of Jeff Lemire's Tales of the Farm

Introduction Attempt A: This is the first graphic novel I have ever read
(unless Archie comics count...)

Introduction Attempt B: Compared to all the graphic novels I have ever read, this is the best!

Tales from the Farm by Jeff LeMire has basic dialogue and simple illustrations yet I read this book over and over making inferences into pictures, format, and text. The cross on the wall imposes different meanings at various times throughout the story. Time and silence are marvelously stretched through unchanging, repetitious frames. I appreciate LeMire's wit and social commentary as the boy watches the same sports program he declined to watch with his uncle. Much like the format of a graphic novel, I could continue on and on to make frame-by-frame comments highlighting what I loved about this book.

Simply put...I think this book is brilliant! I will definitely read the rest of the trilogy!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #4- Frankenstein VERSUS The Turn of the Screw

The winner of the last Great Wednesday Compare ( Frankenstein vs. Dracula), with a final score of 5-4 was Frankenstein.

Surprise, surprise! Pleasant surprise! I was so reluctant to pit poor ol' Frankie up against Dracula. I mean everyone seems so into vampires these days, and Dracula's the granddaddy of them all. But, I'm with Corey who last week said, "Dracula has always been a sore spot with me - a dull, flavourless bore, and the Bela Lugosi movie equally unimpressive." Asides from dull, I was also frustrated with Dracula's overabundance of superpowers. It seems that every time Stoker wrote him into a corner, Dracula'd get a new skill. Trapped in a locked room? Not to worry, Dracula can also turn into fog and escape through the keyhole. All that aside, I did quite enjoy Francis Ford Coppola's version.

Man, I love Oldman's evil laugh.

This week's 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. (Nov. 3, 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, October 27, 2009

Guest Post: Debbie Mutford's Review of David Lester's The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism

Statistics can always be presented to best illustrate one's own intentions.
Statistics out of context lack responsibility and a solid base.
This is the case with David Lester's The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism.
I wanted to like this book...I really, really did but found the lack of development too overwhelming. The author did no writing! Even the preface is done by his co-band member, Jean Smith. The entire book from cover to cover is a bunch of facts and/or quotes from other sources. How can numbers standing on their own make for good reading? Where's the controversy? The background information? The passion behind any of it? Throwing quotes around for 103 pages reminded me of an old Saturday Night Live sketch when Mike Myers (imitating his mother) would throw a topic out and ask us to "talk amongst yourselves".

Researching some background information about David Lester (his band, his art), I would have loved to have read some of his anarchist thoughts on the facts he presented. Instead, I was left to absorb the facts, as they are (flawed or otherwise), with my own life lens. I didn't get anything new, or raw, or stimulating.

a)some of the quotes have confusing number sense:
pg 56 (drugs/health problems)
b)some of them contradicted each other and/or didn't match up:
pg 68 vs. pg 86 (HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa)
c)some of them were a stretch to link to capitalism:
pg 58 (rape)

100% of the readers in this household found the book ineffective.
This statement is a reflection of the book in that it doesn't provide enough information to substantiate the statistic (how many people live in the house); nor does it use any thought or substance to make it powerful. It's just a fact thrown out there.

Capitalism has gruesome talk amongst yourselves (I'm feeling faklempt).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reader's Diary #538- Edgar Allan Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart

Edgar Allan Poe is the only author that I've read in entirety. But that was back in high school. I was a little nervous to reread him. You know what it's like revisiting something. Often it's nowhere near how good you remembered and you wish you hadn't. That was not the case this time. Turns out I love "The Tell-Tale Heart" as much as ever.

I'm also glad I reread it to clear up a possible misconception that I've had all this time: that the narrator confessed to a murder because he was driven mad from guilt. Isn't every high school student taught that? Now I'm not so sure.

Clearly the narrator is crazy. Declaring himself sane but suffering from a disease which heightens his senses, Poe has created an iconic unreliable narrator. The only thing we know for sure is that he clearly did murder an old man. While it wouldn't hold up in court, I'm of the mind that anyone who murders has gone crazy, at least temporarily. (Of course, I also think there are varying degrees of crazy. And I can't believe I have a psych degree and I'm even using the term crazy.) If you believe the rest of the lead up to the murder-- that he was driven to kill because he couldn't look at the old guy's cataract any longer-- you'd have to acknowledge that he was crazy before the crime. Therefore, he wasn't driven mad by guilt, he was mad long before the crime was even committed!

Plus (and again this his hard to argue effectively since he's an unreliable narrator), there's no sign of remorse at all. He discusses chopping off the man's arms, legs, and head as if talking about carving up a Christmas turkey. If he's feeling guilty, you'd think there'd be some sign of regret.

But don't you just love how powerfully Poe uses the unreliability to his narrator to his advantage?

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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reader's Diary #537- Junot Diaz: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Do you know that feeling you get when you think about exercising? The do I have to feeling? Even though, without fail, once you get to that gym, or hop on that bike, or swim that lap, you feel awesome.

Such was the case with Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. For some reason, I procrastinated every night in picking up this novel. Yet, once I did, I-- for the most part-- enjoyed it.

Oscar is a on overweight Dominican-American nerd who, not surprisingly, can't find love.

The voice, quite possibly the strongest feature of the book, was infectious (even if, on the rare occasion, I questioned if it wasn't over-the-top). Narrated not by Oscar, but mostly by Yunior, an ex-roommate and friend of Oscar, readers are bombarded with science fiction and fantasy references and a great deal of untranslated Spanish phrases. It would be next to impossible to understand everything Yunior has to say, but I think it would be a waste of time if the publishers added a glossary or if readers consulted a Spanish-English dictionary every time a Spanish word was thrown in. It's remarkable but the story is comprehensible despite all that. Perhaps it's a way of suggesting that Oscar's nerdish leanings or Dominican heritage isn't as important as his humanity.

But the Dominican heritage is important to the book. As one of the few Canadians that has not yet visited there in the middle of our dark, cold winters, I know little about the Dominican Republic. I quite enjoyed learning of the culture and history of the place, especially as Diaz avoided making it a dry lesson. Much of it told through footnotes, Yunior seems to blame Oscar's family's misfortunes on the fuku, a curse brought about when the dictator Trujillo blamed his grandfather for treason (and yes, fuku is pronounced as you'd think). Much then, of the Dominica 101, comes wrapped in this entertaining tale.

The plot, however, leaves a lot to be desired. It's slow, predictable, and not all that original even if the context is. Perhaps that's where the exercise-feeling came from. I was never really eager to pick it up to see what would happen next, even though I appreciated his writing style and setting.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reader's Diary #536- pj johnson: Rhymes of the Raven Lady

Last week I reviewed local author Cathy Jewison's book, The Ugly Truck and Dog Contest and referred to it as being "chocked full of folksy charm." I wrestled with that phrase for a while thinking that I had implied something negative, that I had suggested a pleasant cuteness but void of artistic merit. I realized afterward (and this is why I kept it in), that I was really afraid of snobbery.

Folksy, of course, means that especially more local people will likely appreciate it. And, as any good snob knows, more people appreciating something-- especially people who aren't part of the scene-- means that the something can't really be good.

Avoiding the academic and philosophical arguments about what is good (because god knows, in those circles, you dare not say that good is subjective), that society has a growing lack of interest in poetry, or at least a lack of interest in what poets are producing, has been discussed ad nauseum as of late. Without blaming poets or society (but I have two pointer fingers, you know), I bring you pj johnson.

Admitting to being influenced by the Yukon's most famous poet Robert W. Service, in 1994 pj johnson went on to become the Yukon's first, and as of yet only, poet laureate. She didn't have a lot of published work behind her and her claim to fame up to that point was spearheading a successful campaign to make the raven the official bird of the territory.

Was johnson a wise choice? I certainly haven't read enough of her output to pass an opinion one way or the other, but her Rhymes of the Raven Lady published just a year after her inauguration, showed promise. With an obvious pride in her home and an appreciation for Service that shone through in her her ballads, I suspected she'd easily get the populace on her side.

Poetry critics, I wasn't so sure. Even those open-minded enough to accept Service's contributions, would quickly point out that johnson was not yet up to his calibre. None of the poems in Rhymes of the Raven Lady come close to matching the epic finesse of say, "The Cremation of Sam McGee" and there are more than a few unfortunately weak rhymes (not the least of which includes rhyming here with here). But asides from the wonderful lack of pretentiousness, there are some fine poems and many hints of what she was capable of. In the credits, johnson thanks Jane Urquhart and Nino Ricci for their support and encouragement. Roch Carrier advised her to "just be yourself." Optimistic times, and great people to have on her side, for sure. Could pj johnson help bridge that gap between the academics and Joe Blow?

After looking for something more recent of hers, I'm a little less hopeful. Compare stanzas from two poems, the first published in 1995, the second is 2005:

Dawson Winter
A stillness grips Dawson
As winter so awesome
Paints desolate streets iron grey
The trees are a shimmer
Of frost-covered glimmer
-- It's 20 below out today

Morning Falls Finely Through my Frosted Front Window
morning falls finely through my frosted front window
quietly. silently.
almost afraid to wake itself up
as the incessant crackle of an errant radio
-Trader Time and other madness-
yak-yakking away in the background
dances a jig in my half-shut mind

(Read the rest here)

I enjoy both of these poems, and I think it shows her growth as a poet. But did she grow in the right direction? Did she follow Carrier's advice? My fear is that while the first poem would appeal to the commoner, the second would appeal to the poetry reader, only a few of us would enjoy both. Yes, this is my way of announcing my superiority. Either that, or I've lost the ability to have standards.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare 4- Frankenstein VERSUS Dracula

The winner of the last Great Wednesday Compare ( Frankenstein vs. The Shining), with a final score of 7-6 was Frankenstein.

Well. The Shining put up much more of a fight than I'd expected. I was a huge fan of Stephen King in my high school years. At one point I'd even caught up and actually waited for a new release. He's by far the author that I've read the most. However, I haven't read him in years, the last one was before I began this blog way back in '05. I'm no longer the fan I once was and there's probably more than a dozen I've not gotten to, two of which are sitting on my shelf.

Though horror fiction was one of my first loves, few books actually scared me. I remember The Shining as an exception to that. I'm not so sure it still would but at least it proved to me that it was possible.

Before moving on to this week's little known contender, a comment about the original movie version of the Shining. I know we're all supposed to bow in the presence of Stanley Kubrick and I know Jack Nicholson is a great actor, but I really didn't like the movie. Maybe it was Shelley Duvall's horrible performance, I'm not sure. I'm also not sure I should admit this, but I actually found the TV miniseries version starring (gasp!) Steven Weber of (gasp!) Wings to be a better adaptation of the book. But in hindsight, actually in YouTube sight, both look bad in their own ways.

Moving on to this week's sucky 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. (Oct. 27, 2009), and if you want your book to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Which is better?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reader's Diary #535- Elizabeth Gaskell: The Old Nurse's Story

Thanks to JoAnn at Lakeside Musing for bringing Elizabeth Gaskell's "The Old Nurse's Story" to my attention a few weeks ago. As JoAnn pointed out in her review, "The Old Nurses Story" has all the earmarks of a classic ghost story. Chances are any tale you can find about a haunted house would have at least one element in common with this one (the disheveled garden, the off-limits wing, et cetera). Is this to imply that there's no need to read this one, that it has nothing new to offer?

That depends on your outlook, I guess. First off, this story was published in 1852. I'm not saying Gaskell invented the haunted house story, but it's certainly more forgivable than a new author rewriting the tale yet again and offering nothing new. Plus, its dated-but-readable language adds to the gothic air.

While I hadn't read this story before, it felt as though I had. But like certain Halloween reruns I never tire of watching (bring on the Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror), I enjoyed Gaskell's story. It's fun Halloween scary, not real scary.

Googling Gaskell's own biography, it was also interesting to see what details of her own life may have inspired the details in this story.

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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Guest Post: Debbie Mutford's Review of Runaway Devil by Robert Remington and Sherri Zickefoose

I hope the recently released book Runaway Devil is only the first of many writing collaborations between Robert Remington and Sherri Zickefoose. Based on Canada's youngest convicted multiple murderer, the disturbing details are unsensationalized. Facts are brought to light in a chronologically captivating story with supporting documents, some of which were shown as court evidence. Their objectivity and professionalism as experienced journalists shines through the work. The murderers' goth lifestyle and wiccan beliefs are highlighted as essential main character components without blanketing goths or wiccans as a whole.

Horrific, sad, and down-right scary, the book takes a look at seemingly ordinary lives inexplicably shattered. Readers from all walks of life will find ways to relate to the story: parents, teens, neighbours, working-class, middle-class, small town, big city...everyone is affected by the inconceivable plot to kill one's parents. Unabused, loved and cared for, 12-year-old JR successfully schemes to kill her parents and sees the slashing of her 8-year-old brother's throat as merciful.

The story is one that needed to be told. It is a cautionary tale of the incomprehensible surprises that we may never see around our own corners. Remington and Zickefoose have done a fantastic job and I hope they continue to use their talents creating more books equally as compelling.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reader's Diary #534- Cathy Jewison: The Ugly Truck and Dog Contest and Other Tales of Northern Life

In the preface to The Ugly Truck and Dog Contest, Cathy Jewison writes that the stories within, while fictional, are based upon some of the "quirky and unique" aspects of life here in Yellowknife. Later she talks about our "collective eccentricities." In closing, she reminds us once again that life in northern Canada is "considerably different."

I wasn't off to a good start.

Not that I'm offended. Like any good Northerner, I think what she's saying is true. Hell, if I didn't think it was quirky, unique and considerably different here, I'd be gone. My issue was the heavy-handed emphasis on what the stories should say for themselves. The preface is a little too dimple rooting.

Fortunately, Jewison quickly won me back. The Ugly Truck and Dog Contest is a collection of humorous short stories set in Yellowknife, chocked full of folksy charm. The characters never really rise above the level of caricatures, their motivations are psychology-lite, and yet Jewison pulls it off. It's comfortable, it's fun, and captures many of the reasons most of us love it here. Yellowknife may not be perfect, but it's not the time or place to get into all that.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #4- Frankenstein VERSUS The Shining

The winner of the last Great Wednesday Compare ( Frankenstein vs. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde), with a final score of 7-1 was Frankenstein.

Frankie can relax another week. I've not read nor seen Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde except for spoofs in cartoons. Seems like an interesting premise at least. Speaking of movies, did you see Mary Reilly, the Julia Roberts/ John Malkovich movie where Jekyll's servant is the focal point? I'd completely forgotten about it until this post. Maybe I should rent it for Halloween. Is it any good? I can't say this trailer does anything for me...

Keeping with our creepy theme...

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. (Oct. 20, 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, October 13, 2009

Reader's Diary #533- Jeff Lemire: The Nobody

Earlier this year I read and reviewed Lemire's Tales From The Farm. This is probably the first time since I began this blog that I've read the same author twice in a year.

But, it's Halloween season, I really enjoyed Tales From The Farm, and The Nobody, which you could classify as horror, was just sitting there on my bookshelf.

I enjoyed it, probably not as much as TFTF, but I'm still a Jeff Lemire fan for sure. The Nobody is an adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man, set in modern small town USA (hey, why not Canada?). I think I read the original years ago, but if so, I've remembered little and so I can't say how loose or rigid Lemire's interpretation was.

I enjoy stories like this that look at the underbelly of rural life. Living most of my life in small towns, I can relate. Not, of course, that small towns are without perks, but let the tourism bureaus focus on that. Large Mouth, the small town of The Nobody, is afflicted with the most common ailment of small towns: gossip and especially gossip about those that are different. It was refreshing to see that Lemire didn't point fingers at the women, but at the men. Not that Lemire, flipped the stereotypes entirely on their heads: the men did want to solve their problems with violence.

I didn't feel as connected with these characters as I did with TFTF, but John Griffin (i.e., the Nobody himself) and narrator Vickie did become more complex and sympathetic characters as the book went on.

As for the art, I quite enjoyed the scratchy style even if a couple character faces looked too similar to characters from TFTF. In The Nobody, Lemire also used a pale blue for shading that added a whole new depth. As well, in all of Griffin's flashbacks the style changes a great deal and the scratches are softened out but the lines and shading are more detailed. It captured beautifully how the world has changed for Griffin, the scientist who turned himself invisible and couldn't return to his normal life.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Reader's Diary #532- Richard Dickson: Let Him Dangle

Throughout the year, in my search for online short stories, I come across a lot that I bookmark for later. Halloween and Christmas themed stories have their own folder.

Going through the Halloween ones, I rediscovered Richard Dickson's flash fiction "Let Him Dangle" published on Science Fiction and Fantasy World. I'm not sure if this was recommended to me at some point, if I came across it on one of your blogs, or if I just stumbled upon it. In any case, I'm glad I saved it.

Basically this is Dickson having fun with the old sentence, "hanged by the neck until you are dead." Flash fiction was the perfect format for this tale, as it gets the reader to the point of predictability pretty quickly and any longer would seem anti-climactic. Short and fun, there's the risk of the story coming across too much as a joke, but Dickson is able to walk the line. It reminds me of Tales From The Crypt.

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

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday Word Play- Witch Witch is Witch

How to explain this one... Below are ten lines from the famous witch scene in Shakespeare's Macbeth. However, you'll probably not recognize it at first glance since there are a lot of unnecessary letters in the way. Remove those letters, keep them in order, and they'll spell a title written by one of the authors below. Hint: the author clues don't match the line number in which it appears. So go ahead, find those books featuring witches.

fitlleth eof wait fenny snackehes
thin thee cauldwriton bochil anding bahokeur;
witeye chof nandewt, wand tizoe of frardog,
hawool rof braty, potanterand todngthehue alfbloof ddprogince,
thadedewrit's forck, handes bolfined-awstorm'wisck sting,
lizwitard's leg, chaned sowalebrot's awding,—
fother witach chofarporm toof powbeellorful trouble,
thelikel aion theell-browith botcil haanndd buthebwardbrolebe.
thedowouble, dorubles totil wand tritoublech;
fithree buwizarrn, dand caofuldron bozubble.

1. J.K. Rowling
2. Anne Rice
3. John Updike
4. Jill Murphy
5. Roald Dahl
6. L. Frank Baum
7. C.S. Lewis
8. James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet
9. Terry Pratchett
10. Paulo Coelho

Friday, October 09, 2009

Reader's Diary #531- William Carlos Williams: Pictures From Brueghel and other poems

Considering myself a fan of William Carlos Williams (though it took me nearly 15 years to love "The Red Wheelbarrow"), I thought his Pulitzer Prize winning collection Pictures From Brueghel and other poems would knock me off my feet. Maybe in 15 years it will, but for now I have difficulty with it.

If Wikipedia is to be trusted on this one, by the time "The Red Wheelbarrow" was published Williams had moved away from imagist poetry to modernist poetry. Pictures From Brueghel came in this later stage of his life and career.

I've often complained about long poems. I understand, of course, that this issue is probably mine and the rest of us who grew up with Sesame Street (incidentally, Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter is my age). But in the case of imagist poems, I think there's a case to be made for brevity. If the images are to be clear and sharp, it seems only natural that the poems would be shorter.

There are many obvious remnants of Williams' imagist past throughout Pictures From Brueghel; there is still a great attention to colour, for instance. But many of these poems are quite long and I think something is lost in the elaboration.

Fans of Williams' later period would no doubt point out that something was also gained, especially in his new approach to meter, which he dubbed a "variable foot." I'm sure I don't yet appreciate or fully grasp what the variable foot is all about, but from my understanding, Williams sought to capture the pauses in American speech patterns. Reading the poems, I appreciated the line breaks, which seemed very natural to the way I'd have said the lines aloud. I once heard someone say that amateurs read poetry, especially older poetry, incorrectly, pausing after each line break instead of reading on as they would have said the lines in real life. I like how the poems in Pictures From Brueghel seek to avoid any such discussion on the proper way to read them; line breaks and speech pauses match up. That said, respecting the technicalities wasn't enough to draw me in yet. In fact, one of the poems-- and a well-respected one at that-- "Asphodel, The Greeny Flower" seemed to ramble endlessly about flowers and the oceans, a bizarre combination of images that he just didn't seem to connect. Who knows? With enough convincing, time, and exposure, maybe I'll come to love this poem as I did his earlier work.

In the meantime, one of the few that I did enjoy on this first read through was "A Negro Woman":

carrying a bunch of marigolds
in an old newspaper:
She carries them upright,
the bulk
of her thighs
causing her to waddle
as she walks

(Read the rest here.)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #4: Frankenstein VERSUS The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

The winner of the last Great Wednesday Compare ( The Wizard of Oz vs. Frankenstein), with a final score of 7-0 was Frankenstein.

Don't look behind the curtain or you might just see an old wizard crying. A shut-out? That was unexpected, I must say. I still respect L. Frank Baum's creations, though. Before him, fantasy literature remained largely in the pens of British authors. At least, I think so-- can you think of popular American fantasy authors that predate Baum?

And while you're thinking on that, don't forget to vote on this week's challenge. Halloween is just around the corner, you know.

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. (Oct. 13, 2009), and if you want your book to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Which is better?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Reader's Diary #530- Kelly Link: The Specialist Hat

Back in aught 6, blogger and author herself Kate Sutherland began a fantastic short story project known as "A Curious Singularity." Each month bloggers who joined the website voted on a short story that they would read and discuss. I looked forward to hearing everyone's takes on classic and contemporary short stories alike. Then, without warning, the posts just stopped. November 17, 2008: Smithereens posts about Kelly Link's "The Specialist Hat" and there is nothing else (until now-- I plan on cross-posting this one). I've emailed Kate to find out what's up, and hope to provide you with an update if she responds. But maybe if enough of you show an interest she'll get it up and running again.

In the meantime, I also realized that for some reason I missed the last story and since it's October and Halloween is sneaking up on us and since Link's story is of the spooky variety, there's no time like the present.

In "The Specialist Hat" Link borrows from some classic horror set-ups (try not to think of the dad from the Shining or the kids from The Others as you read this). Merely conjuring memories of other scary stories is enough to give a reader the shivers. But, of course, we demand more than ripping off others and Link delivers. There was an Amazing Race episode in which contestants had to ride on a bobsled while memorizing letters they saw along the way. At the end they were to unscramble those letters to reveal the name of a famous Russian author (C-H-E-K-H-O-V). As the racers zoomed past K-V-O most of us readers in the audience had already figured it out. Link presents her story in much the same way, throwing details out as we go that connect to another detail we'd learned earlier. Three paragraphs in we read that "Claire is better at being Dead than Samantha." As you might expect, there's more to this than heavy-handed morbidity, but you won't find out until much later. I enjoyed this style a lot.

Unfortunately I couldn't connect all the pieces at the end to make sense. In keeping with the Amazing Race analogy, it's like someone threw in a Q. Even more unfortunately, the part where the story seems to fall apart is with the hat. It's Link's one attempt at originality, it's in the title, and it's woefully unclear and confusing. I admit that last week I'd missed a pretty obvious clue in Lee Henderson's "Long Live Annie B." Have I been a careless reader two weeks in a row? If you can decipher what the heck happens at the end, I'd really appreciate the help.

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

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Reader's Diary #529- Roald Dahl: James and the Giant Peach

First off, what do you call these books, these novels for children? It's a bit too juvenile to be called "young adult fiction" and I've never liked the term "chapter book"-- how does that distinguish it from an adult novel with chapters? Is "children's novel" the correct term?

Whatever you call them, they break a lot of my normal reading practices. I rarely read a novel more than once, but not so with children's novels. Usually I don't care to read a novel once I've seen the movie, not so with children's novels.

In the case of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, I haven't read it before, but I have seen the movie. This was, however, my daughter's first exposure to the book. As with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, we thoroughly enjoyed it.

What an imagination Dahl had! Do you suppose he was being hounded by his publishers one day, and lacking a idea to present them, considered the peach he'd just eaten and went from there? Whatever, he made it work.

Of course, being Dahl, there were the usual songs that I could have done without, but plenty of people, my daughter included, seem to enjoy them so I won't complain too loudly except to say they just seem like filler to me. And in the tradition of classic fairy tales that Dahl seemed to follow, there are a few squeamish moments for parents (the abusive aunts, the taking presents from a stranger), but you talk about those, you move on, and you relish the bizarre and magical world of Dahl.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Reader's Diary #528- Kenneth J Harvey: Blackstrap Hawco

While many reviewers placed Blackstrap Hawco in their top favourites of 2008, I'd call it the "book that almost did me in, in 2009."

Having started this book way back in August, it should come as no surprise that reading it was no easy task. For anyone that's ever read it, it would also come as no surprise that I found it to be a difficult read. I'm sure Harvey himself would consider it challenging.

Such books normally go one of two ways: readers resent the work or they are filled with a sense of accomplishment. I wouldn't go as far as saying I resent my time spent with this novel, but I think a lot of it was unnecessary. It's probably one of the most excessive books I've ever read.

Too long: At 829 pages, it's not the longest book I've ever read but at times it felt like it. Earlier this year I interviewed Michael Crummey about his novel Galore. Asking him why he chose to end the book where he did, he commented that he hadn't been interested in writing a 600 page novel. This decision meant that his novel, which had included so many important points in Newfoundland's earlier history, would not include any of the more recent, but equally important, history such as Joey Smallwood's resettlement plan, the cod moratorium, and so on. Harvey did not skimp on the details, and it makes me respect Crummey's book all the more. Blackstrap Hawco overdoses on Newfoundland history. That, combined with an unbelievable propensity for getting into trouble, gives the title character an identity somewhere between Forrest Gump and Wile E. Coyote, but without the humour of either.

Too experimental: At times told in a stream of consciousness, at times foregoing capitals, at times using only sentence fragments, at times writing in short hand, and so on, it's way too tedious, distracting, and unnecessary. I enjoy it when authors take some risks, especially when I can see a point. Jose Saramago's lack of quotation marks in Blindness worked for me. In The Road, Cormac McCarthy's removal of the apostrophe in negative contractions worked for me. I didn't get Harvey's many, many points.

Too cynical: Of course not everyone is warm-hearted, happy and fun-loving in Newfoundland as the tourism ads would have you believe. Clearly Harvey has a contempt for the pedestal our culture's been placed on. I've never been comfortable with it either. However, there was so much anger, greed, violence, sadness, incest, dishonesty, abuse, resentment, et cetera in this book that it was depressing... until I decided that Harvey's depiction is equally untrue.

In the second half of the book Harvey toned down all the above somewhat and it was enough to convince me to give him another chance. When showing some restraint, I enjoyed his writing and found some of it quite evocative. Still, that first half was painful.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The 3rd Canadian Book Challenge- 3rd Roundup

Welcome to the 3rd Roundup of the 3rd Canadian Book Challenge!

I didn't make a lot of progress this month as I was bogged down in a bit of a clunkster for a while. I did, however, manage to squeeze in one Canadian book (well, it was a collection that contained some Canadian works and was edited by a Canadian, so I'm counting it). Hopefully next month there'll be a few more under my belt.

This month I'm adding a poll about the places you've visited in Canada. My wife teases that this is simply a way for me to brag about the fact that I rounded off all 13 this month with a trip to the Yukon. She's right.

For those of you that haven't been to Canada, pretend for a second that money was no obstacle. Where would you visit first? Have any books you've read influenced your choice?

For those of you that have been to Canada (or live here), have any books you've read come close to matching the essence of a particular place? Is that even possible? I'd say Steve Zipp's Yellowknife comes pretty close to capturing the flavour of this city. Likewise Wayne Johnston's Colony of Unrequited Dreams speaks a lot about my feelings for my home province.

Finally, since this the round-up, don't forget to add any reviews of Canadian books you read in September in the comments below. A few people sent me their reviews throughout the month, which is fine for now, but I'd prefer it if you just held off for the beginning of the following month-- it's just easier for me to keep track that way. Also, in your comments, don't forget to:

1. Leave a link to the review posts themselves (not just to your blogs or wherever)

2. Give me your Challenge grand total so far

On that note, good luck in October and I look forward to reading your reviews!!!