Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Year In Review- Fiction and Nonfiction

I realize that these year end reflections are more for my own sake, but if you have read any of the books below, and haven't read my review, it might be fun to compare thoughts. All in all, I was pleased with my choices this year. I certainly didn't break any records (a chunkster by Kenneth J Harvey really slowed me down), but there's a lot more children's novels added into the mix, I finally revisited Atwood and King after a long hiatus, and thanks to a reviewing gig at the local newspaper, I was able to read a few more Northern themed books.

The Fiction
1. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter- Carson McCullers
2. Galore- Michael Crummey
3. The Book of Negroes- Lawrence Hill
4. War of the Worlds- H.G. Wells
5. Anne of Green Gables- Lucy Maud Montgomery
6. Cat's Eye- Margaret Atwood
7. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz- Mordecai Richler
8. James and the Giant Peach- Roald Dahl
9. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone- J.K. Rowling
10. A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Bad Beginning- Lemony Snicket
11. Having Faith in the Polar Girls' Prison- Cathleen With
12. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao- Junot Diaz
13. The Retreat- David Bergen
14. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets- J.K. Rowling
15. The Joy Luck Club- Amy Tan
16. The Ugly Truck and Dog Contest (Short stories)- Cathy Jewison
17. Through the Looking Glass- Lewis Carroll
18. Just Before Sunset (Short stories)- Stephen King
19. The Terror- Dan Simmons
20. Darkness at the Stroke of Noon- Dennis Richard Murphy
21. Jack London's Dog- Dirk Wales
22. Blackstrap Hawco- Kenneth J Harvey
23. The Mysterious Mummer- L.M. Falcone
24. My Sister's Keeper- Jodi Picoult
25. White Bird, Black Bird- Val Wake
26. The Clockmaker- Thomas Chandler Haliburton
27. Stuart Little- E.B. White

The Non-Fiction
1. A Short History of Nearly Everything- Bill Bryson
2. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings- Maya Angelou
3. Fifteen Days- Christie Blatchford
4. Granny Made Me An Anarchist- Stuart Christie
5. The Lost Patrol- Dick North
6. What Became of Sigvald, Anyway?- Mark Fremmerlid
7. The Trouble With Music- Mat Callahan
8. Big Rig 2- Don McTavish
9. The Dog Who Wouldn't Be- Farley Mowat
10. Somebody to Love- Grace Slick

The Graphic Novels- Thanks to the 2009 Graphic Novels Challenge, I read my very first graphic novel this year. And then another, and another and... I'm officially hooked. I'm proof that you didn't need to be into comics as a kid to enjoy this genre. I got a Chapters gift card for Christmas and spent the bulk of it on new graphic novels. Hopefully next year's list will be much longer!

1. Jeff Lemire- Tales From The Farm
2. Chester Brown- Louis Riel
3. Marjane Satrapi- Persepolis
4. Seth- It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken
5. David B- Epileptic
6. Jeff Smith- Bone: Out From Boneville
7. Neil Gaiman- The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1
8. Jeff Lemire- The Nobody
9. Joe Sacco- War's End
10. Chester Brown- The Little Man
11. Ruth Modan- Exit Wounds

I also read a couple handfuls of poetry books, a handful of plays and books from the Bible, a few picture books, two magazines, and a bus schedule. But who has time to reflect on all that? It was a good year for the reading. Nuff said.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #5- Dennis Lee VERSUS Ann-Marie MacDonald

The final winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Allen Ginsberg Vs Dennis Lee), with a final score of 4-1, was Allen Ginsberg!

What can I say about Allen Ginsberg? Years ago I read his "Howl and Other Poems," and remember enjoying it, but that's about all. Everything else I recall is simply pop culture references to the man: Lisa Simpson complaining that she saw that best meals of her generation destroyed by the madness of her brother, and David Cross's wonderful portrayal in the Bob Dylan bio-pic "I'm Not There." I tried to find a clip of the latter on YouTube, but instead found an actual clip of Dylan and Ginsberg at the grave of Keruoac:

Which, mistakenly I expected to be a bit more profound. It reminded me of this:

Ahh, my favourite scene in the whole movie. Now that I've gotten officially sidetracked, what's say we introduce this week's competitor?

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. (Jan 5, 2009), and if you want your book to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who is better?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thank You!!!

(Note to self: before Googling an image for "Tooting my own horn" make sure safe search is on.)

To all those that voted for me in the Canadian Blog awards and the NWT Blog Awards, thank-you so much. I placed third in the Canadian Blog Awards (Culture and Literature Blogs) and won the best theme blog in the NWT Blog Awards. According to the official results, "Don't mess with the Book Mine Set's fans. Those guys are fierce." So, to all my fierce fans, I'm much obliged. And to all the others winners and runners up, congratulations! I suggest checking out both the above links to find a plethora of worthy blogs. I'm sure you'll be adding many more to your blogrolls.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The 2009 Book Mine Set Short Story Online Anthology (BMSSSOA)

Instead of reviewing a short story today, I've decided to take a look back at the other short stories I've read throughout the year. These are the individual stories that I've read just about every Monday (missed a few while on vacation) and I've ranked them here from my favourite to my least favourite. They do not include short stories that I've read as part of book collections, but instead include stories that I've managed to find online, and best of all, for free. If you want to read any of them, follow the link to my review where you'll find links to the stories themselves. Have you read any of these?

1. Edgar Allan Poe- "The Tell-Tale Heart"
2. Elizabeth Tallent- "No One's a Mystery"
3. E.M. Forster- "The Machine Stops"
4. Ambrose Bierce- "An Occurrence at Oak Creek Bridge"
5. William Saroyan- "Seventy Thousand Assyrians"
6. George Gissing- "A Victim of Circumstance"
7. Graham Greene- "The Destructors"
8. Zsuzsi Gartner- "Summer of the Flesh Eater"
9. George Saunders- "Jon"
10. Stuart McLean- "Christmas at the Turlington's" (Audio story)
11. John Updike- "A & P"
12. Franz Kafka- "The Great Wall of China"
13. Lee Maracle- "Polka Partners, Uptown Indians and White Folks"
14. Ivan Coyote- "Vegas Wedding"
15. Lucy Maud Montgomery- "Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas Basket"
16. Jack London- "To Build a Fire"
17. Elizabeth Gaskell- "The Old Nurse's Story"
18. Jessica Grant- "Humanesque"
19. Joyce Carol Oates- "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
20. Charles Brockden Brown- "Somnambulism"
21. Daniel Griffin- "Promise"
22. Rana Dasgupti- "A Delhi Story"
23. Nellie McClung- "The Way of the West"
24. Frank Stockton- "The Lady or The Tiger?"
25. Arthur Slade- "Gydian Fights His Greatest Foe"
26. Richard Dickson- "Let Him Dangle"
27. Lee Henderson- "Long Live Annie B"
28. Deborah Rochford-Kellerman- "Hanukkah Candles"
29. Peter Behrens- "Feel This"
30. Rhonda Dyke- "Texas Low"
31. Bruce Holland Rogers- "Deconstruction Work"
32. Roddy Doyle- "Sleep"
33. Jorges Luis Borges- "The Garden of Forking Paths"
34. Saki- "The Easter Egg"
35. Arthur Conan Doyle- "The Sealed Room"
36. F. Scott Fitzgerald- "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
37. David Sedaris- "It's Catching"
38. P.G. Wodehouse- "Leave it to Jeeves"
39. Emile Zola- "The Fairy Amoureusse"
40. Kelly Link- "The Specialist Hat"
41. Boleslaw Prus- "A Legend of Old England"
42. Del James- "Without You"
43. Eudora Welty- "A Worn Path"
44. Don Delillo- "The Border of Fallen Bodies"
45. Sherwood Andersen- "I'm a Fool"
46. Gabriel Garcia Marquez- "Eva is Inside Her Cat"
47. Sophie King- "Who's Speaking Please?" (Audio story)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Reader's Diary #558- L.M. Falcone: The Mysterious Mummer

Last week I knew I was out of season with Stephen King's Just After Sunset. However, I thought I was getting the Christmas spirit by reading L.M. Falcone's children's novel The Mysterious Mummer to my daughter. Despite mummering being a Christmas tradition in Newfoundland, this book was also better suited for Halloween.

Granted, those of you who are familiar with the tradition may be quick to add that mummers are supposed to be a little scary (that's half the fun for kids). But this one was a bit too much. It is probably my fault for reading it to a 6 year old. There's a lot of talk about superstitions and black magic (I even learned what a planchette was) and unlike Scooby-Doo mysteries, in which ghosts are usually revealed to be old man Barnes, the museum curator, the ones in here turn out to be real-- and they're murderous.

But I refuse to take all the heat. Even had my daughter been mature enough for such a novel, it still wouldn't have been a good book. First off, the very premise is unbelievably convenient (to Falcone, not the protagonist). It begins with Joey and his mother getting into a car accident shortly before the Christmas holiday. His mom breaks her leg in three places and sends Joey to Newfoundland to stay with his aunt for the holidays, while she recovers (from a broken leg, not a stroke, mind you). Why he can't stay (he is 13 afterall, not 6) while she recoups is never satisfactorily cleared up, especially since his mother knows that aunt Corrine "hasn't been herself" since her husband drowned a year ago. "Hasn't been herself"? Corrine turns out to be suicidally depressed (that means she doesn't want to live, sweetheart) and practically starves and neglects Joey for most of the holiday. Did his mom know her sister's condition had gotten this bad? I'd hope not or why on Earth would she have sent her son there? Not that she cared to find out. Her and Joey only communicate once or twice over the whole visit and Falcone conveniently adds phone static trouble lest Joey gets sent home early and the cockamamie plot is cut short.

It's also very Danbrownian with it's cliffhanger endings for every chapter; where a "!" usually means "..." But for all the failed attempts at suspense, the only real mystery was when the titular mummer was ever going to show up. Answer? Chapter 17 (out of 21 chapters). Here's where my daughter's and my opinions verge dramatically, where she thinks it's absolutely terrifying and I'm rolling my eyes at how stupid it's gotten. Fortunately it ends more abruptly this post.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!!!

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'" -the Gospel of Luke, 8-14

You stole that! (Skip to the 6 minute mark)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Reader's Diary #557- Ulli Steltzer: The Spirit of Haida Gwaii

On rare occasions when I travel to southern Canada I still manage to encounter one or two bozos who still aren't aware of Nunavut's existence. It's now been a decade since Nunavut got official territory status. Did said bozos never have one of these in their pocket?

Then, maybe we don't pay close attention to our money. Recognize the sculpture on the cover of the book above? It's Bill Reid's "The Spirit of Haida Gwaii" and it's on the Canadian twenty dollar bill.

It's also the subject of Ulli Steltzer's photography book published in 2006 by Douglas and McIntyre.

I've not reviewed a photography book before and hardly know how to go about it. I'm not a photographer myself-- then, I'm also not a writer, and that has never held me back.

I certainly enjoyed Steltzer's photos. They were black and white and I enjoyed the clarity, especially with the lighting which captured all the wonderful details and shadows of Reid's large (the canoe itself is twenty feet long), beautiful and fascinating masterpiece. I also appreciated seeing the creation in its infancy as a small table-top sized clay sculpture, to the messy plaster, wire and steel rods of the prototype, and the final shiny bronze of the end product. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to take in a Ron Mueck exhibition in Ottawa (you know, the guy that was too much for Calgarian sensitivities a couple months back). Asides from Mueck's absurdly scaled sculptures, we were treated to a short documentary film about how they were created. As an outsider in the art world, I love being let in to these behind the scenes scenes. Such was the case with The Spirit of Haida Gwaii. I especially appreciated seeing all the other artists and craftsmen that helped on Reid's project. What a sense of accomplishment everyone must feel when something likes this comes together. I wonder if at any point they all felt like they were the travelers in Reid's canoe.

Along with the photos, there's also a preface by Steltzer herself, a foreword by Reid, and a introduction by writer, curator and critic, Robin Laurence. While the obvious point can be made that a preface, a foreword, and an introduction seems more than a little redundant, I enjoyed their thoughts nonetheless. Each shared their thoughts on what was going on in the boat (fortunately without giving any definitive answers), each shared a little of the history behind the product. What does the sculpture mean today? What will it mean to those that experience it in the future? What I like most about the sculpture is that it seems to ask those very same questions.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #5- Allen Ginsberg VERSUS Dennis Lee

The final winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Jack Kerouac Vs Allen Ginsberg, with a final score of 3-1 was Allen Ginsberg!

Looks like Kerouac has hit the road. This really wasn't his scene anyway. I'm sorry to say, I was never a big Kerouac fan. Then, I first read On The Road as an adult and most of the Kerouac fans I've met got into him in high school. You know that old rumour about having written the entire novel in 3 weeks? I think it's believable. Of course, I can't deny the influence it's had on the road novel as a genre, and I'm sure plenty of people would consider it the quintessential road novel. However, the few others I've read that could be labeled as such (Volkwagen Blues, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), I actually enjoyed more.

This week it's a battle of the bards.

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. (Dec 29, 2009), and if you want your book to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who is better?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

You'll be happy to know...

that as of tomorrow, I'll stop badgering you for your votes in the Best NWT Blogs contest. In the meantime, the voting ends at 9 pm tonight and there is still time to vote if you haven't already. I'm up for a best theme blog award. It's not who has the best theme-- honk if you like books-- but which of the themed blogs do you like best. You can vote even if you are not a resident of the NWT or even Canada, but you can only vote once. Head over here for more information, and check out all the worthy contenders.

Reader's Diary #556- Stephen King: Just After Sunset

Yes, I realize a Stephen King book is more suited for Halloween than Christmas. In my defense, it was-- if memory serves, and let's face it, it rarely does-- a Christmas present last year, so it's somewhat fitting. Actually, it had been my intention to read it this past October, but I got bogged down in Kenneth J Harvey's clunker Blackstrap Hawco, which delayed all my reading plans (not that I'm bitter).

Was it worth the wait? Well, it's Stephen King so maybe not. As I've said many times, I now read King more out of loyalty than anything else. He was my reading staple in high school. To this day he's the author I've read the most of and will likely remain so since no author I'm currently into spits out a book every full moon.

Not that Just After Sunset was a complete disappointment. I got what I expected: cheap entertainment. But like the self-proclaimed salami of literature that he is, I got a case of indigestion from eating too much processed meat. Mostly I just got sick of the voice. It doesn't seem to matter to King whether the character is a psychologist, a writer, a salesman, a thirty something female, or an eighty something male; all seem to have to the same voice, the same sort of gutter wit, the same way of burying small doses of insight underneath pop culture references and the occasional curse word. In and of itself, I don't mind that voice, but with this many King books under my belt, and jumping from story to story in a collection such as this, it's gotten old.

Fortunately, and while he didn't shake up the voice much, I was pleasantly surprised to see King take some risks. In "N." King plays with the epistolary form, which he has done before but rarely. In another story, "Mute," the story is being told as a confession to a Catholic priest. And in one of the better stories in the book, King adds to the growing catalogue of stories, poems and books that draw inspiration from 9/11.

But despite the two or three gems, I was mostly bored. Alas, I'll continue to read King, hoping we'll reconnect somewhere down the road.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Reader's Diary #555- Stuart McLean: Christmas at the Turlington's

Those few of you that have followed by blog over the years may recall that around Christmas each year I focus on a Stuart McLean story. Stuart McLean is best known for his story telling, usually humorous, on CBC radio. While he also writes books, I've yet to see how well his tales translate to paper. Actually, while he has a large fan base (large being relative in CBC celebrity-dom, of course), I've not heard many of his stories. Truth be known, it's only at Christmas that I pay any mind to him at all. I do enjoy enjoy his stuff, else I wouldn't return to him. However, it's become more of a Christmas tradition than anything else. This year's Stuart McLean Christmas audio story is "Christmas at the Turlington's."
VC: December 19th, 2009 "Christmas at the Turlington's" sound bite

"Christmas at the Turlington's" is a delightful satirical look at those who take Christmas preparations a little too seriously. Focusing at first on the Turlingtons (who seem a little too similar to the Andersons from his previous story "Polly Anderson's Christmas Party"), fans of McLean's familiar Dave and Morley characters will be relieved to know that they play a much greater role as the story progresses.

The contrast between Dave and Mary Turlington is very clever. They represent either end of a Christmas style scale that readers (or in this case, listeners) will undoubtedly be placing themselves. Are you a Dave or a Mary? Are you more about traditional Christmases, complete with tack and chaos? (Dave) Or do you prefer the modern approach, putting your own organized spin on the holiday, making sure any throwbacks are Martha Stewart approved? (Mary) I'm definitely on the Dave side of the spectrum. Would I have known not to eat the potpourri? Yes. (But if it was guaranteed a few chuckles, I might have done so anyway.)

From my admittedly limited familiarity with McLean, I've still managed to pick up on his near formulaic approach to his stories: pace the story slowly, but build it up to an explosively slapstick ending, maintaining interest with witty satire throughout. Predictable? Sure. But sometimes, especially at Christmas, I'm okay with that. As I say, it's tradition.

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

(Oh and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE vote for me in the NWT Blog Awards. I've been reduced to begging and let's face it, it's embarrassing for us both.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saturday Word Play- Robert Service's Reindeer*

For this week's Saturday Word Play, we take a look at some of poet Robert W Service's title characters-- except I've replaced them with Santa's reindeers. Can you put the characters back where they belong? To help you along I've capitalized the letters that the reindeer has in common with the Service character.

Let's say for instance the title I gave you was "No Lilies for oLIvE" (assuming for a second that "Olive the Other Reindeer" was a famous reindeer) and in the list of characters names you saw Lisette. I've told you in caps that oLIvE has 3 letters in common (LIE). Through process of elimination you can rule out the other characters. Got it?

As always, feel free to do all 9 at home, but only answer 1 in the comment section. That way 8 more people can play along. (As an added bonus, you can click on the titles when you are done to see the correct answer and to read the original poem)

The Characters:
Private McPhee/ Sam McGee/ Jobson/ MacPherson/ Dan McGrew/ Mister Smith/ Sandy McGraw/ Marie Toro/ Dick

1. The Mystery of donnER
2. The Cremation of dAShEr
3. The Death of cOMET
4. BlitzeN of the Star
5. The Shooting of DANCER
6. The Haggis of RudolPH
7. Athabaska CupID
8. The Ballad of how PRANCEr Held the Floor
9. The Whistle of vixeN

(On an unrelated note, I didn't win Canadian Blog Award for Culture and Literature-- congrats to Praxis Theatre-- but thank-you for your votes. However, my ego will still remain in tact if you vote for me in the NWT Blog Awards (Best Themed Blog). Please note, you can vote only once for this one!)

*Note the importance of the apostrophe

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reader's Diary #554- Mindy Willet and Sheyenne Jumbo and photography by Tessa Macintosh: Come and Learn With Me

From the informational book collection, The Land is Our Storybook, comes the fourth in the series, Come and Learn With Me. Co-written by Mindy Willett and Sheyenne Jumbo and illustrated by Tessa Macintosh, it’s hard to decide who to heap most of the praise upon, and there’s a lot of praise coming their way.

I’ll start with Macintosh’s crisp photography. Combined with the meticulously thought out and uncluttered arrangement, this is a stellar display of visuals. Readers can simply take in the beauty, scan for all the fascinating details, or revel in 9 year old Sheyenne’s bubbling personality, which Macintosh has almost miraculously managed to capture.

From there I’ll move on to Mindy Willett, the educator from Yellowknife and woman behind the series. At first glance, Willett’s presence in this volume is not immediately noticeable. But it’s a testament to her professionalism and talent that she makes it look easy. Look closely and you’ll sense her guiding hand as she pushes the star of the book, Sheyenne Jumbo, to the forefront where she belongs.

And with that, I guess I know where I’m heaping most of my praise afterall; upon Sheyenne Jumbo. With a truly infectious voice, Sheyenne teaches about her culture and life in Sambaa K’e (also known as Trout Lake), Northwest Territories like no adult could. One senses that the experience was a great reflection for Sheyenne, and through her enthusiastic learning, it’s impossible not to be drawn in and learn along with her.

Come and Learn With Me is one of the best informational books I’ve come across, chocked full with all the details one looks for in such books. The extra features puts some DVDs to shame: recipes, glossary, crafts, maps, and my favourite, a couple of fictional stories also written by Sheyenne. And (yay!) no asinine audio commentary.

Aimed at children, I unashamedly admit that I loved it and learned from it as well. There’s a passage in the book in which Sheyenne talks about Robert Munsch inspiring her to write. I have no doubt that someday another child will say the same about her.

I'll quit with the voting appeals soon, I promise! But in the mean time, please consider going here and voting for me, as the best Canadian Cultural or Literature Blog. Go through my archives and you'll see that my blog has a very heavy emphasis on promoting and celebrating Canadian authors and their books. I also run the very popular Canadian Book Challenge.

And then, if it's not too much trouble, could you also vote in the Best NWT Blogs? I'm up for a "Best Themed Blog" Award. Check it out. (For Northern voters, I do review at least one Northern book a month!). Do yourself a favour while you're there: check out all the other great NWT Blogs-- there's a very active and close knit blogging community North of 60!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #5- Jack Kerouac VERSUS Allen Ginsberg

The final winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Miriam Toews Vs Jack Keruoac, with a final score of 5-4 was Jack Kerouac!

Well, a tie-breaker came my way last week and once again, that means that I get to cast the deciding vote. I have to say, it wasn't an easy decision. Quite frankly, I've only read one book by each and I think both are somewhat overrated. However, I'm going with legacy and will throw my vote Kerouac's way. Maybe Toews will have a long lasting influence as well, but it's too early to tell. Like Raidergirl had said a short while ago, I was underwhelmed by Toews' a complicated kindness. The funny thing is, I thought it pleasant enough the first time I'd read it and disliked it more and more after other people read it. And praised it. And awarded it. It was fine, but certainly didn't deserve all that. I began to dwell on minor issues I'd had with the book. Didn't she, for example, push the quirk factor just a little too far? Oh well.

This week it's a battle of the beats...

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. (Dec 22, 2009), and if you want your book to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who is better?

Disappointed that there are no Canadian contenders this week? Well, Kerouac did have Canadian roots, with both parents hailing from Quebec. Not enough? Well, you can always head over here (subtext: you must head over here) and vote for me, as the best Canadian Cultural or Literature Blog.

And if you still haven't gotten rid of the voting bug, why not also vote in the Best NWT Blogs? I'm up for a "Best Themed Blog" Award. Check it out. And do yourself a favour while you're there: check out all the other great NWT Blogs-- there's a very active and close knit blogging community North of 60!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Reader's Diary #553- Lucy Maud Montgomery: Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas Basket

With only a passing familiarity with Lucy Maud Montgomery I might have suggested that her stories are a little on the quaint side. Usually they have a rural setting and deal with issues of morality and old timey values akin to a Norman Rockwell painting. But the more I get to know of her, the more I think I'd been judging her unfairly.

Her characters have more depth than Rockwell's naively innocent smiles. And likewise, there are larger issues at play behind her Sunday school picnic facade.

Interestingly, I think my Montgomery bias is captured quite well in the Lucy Rose character of "Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas Basket" and I was thankful that she'd made me address a side of myself I thought I'd long since made peace with: my snobbery versus my upbringing. Like Lucy Rose, and a lot of maturing kids everywhere, I went through the embarrassment stage. I moved to the big city of St. John's from a small outport community in Newfoundland, and went home on the weekends to make fun of the way my parents spoke. I was an ass. Sometimes now I'll get someone who thinks they're offering me a compliment by saying, "Oh you're from Newfoundland? I couldn't even tell." A part of me regrets having lost what I have, while another part of me questions whether or not it was inevitable.

But enough about me, my point is that Lucy Maud Montgomery's characters can awaken such emotions. Two dimensional characters cannot. The fact that they are placed in humble surroundings means diddly squat.

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

Please vote for me today! Click on the logo:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hitting the Campaign Trail on MY BIRTHDAY

Thank you to everyone that voted for me in the first round of the Canadian Blog Awards (Culture and Literature category). With your help I've made it to Round Two.

The Underdog Approach:

Look at the picture on the left. I ended up kissing the wrong end of the baby. Neither of us were happy with the way things turned out. Clearly I need help with this.

Plus, the lead vote getter in the first round was a theater blog from Toronto. Toronto. Population 1.9 trillion. I'm just a little blog from Yellowknife. Population 7. Plus, we just got access to the Internets in June of last year. Come on, this could be the success story of the millennium.

AND it's my birthday. Not voting for a guy on his birthday would be like kicking a puppy.

Vote here. Vote often. Post about it on your blog. Threaten people.

(By the way, non-Canadians are also welcome to vote!)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Read My Blog: No New Taxes!

Please vote for me in the Culture and Literature category for this year's Canadian Blog Awards. I promise not to impose the controversial blog reading tax. I believe in truth and justice. Cookies. Books. You.

Click on the above logo to be taken to the voting page. Already voted? Vote again! Vote often!

(Endorsed by the political party that you like.)

Saturday Word Play- Hanukkah: One Line Word Searches

As Hanukkah officially began yesterday, I thought this would be a good time to show an appreciation for Jewish authors. Below I've given you ten titles written by Jewish people. The authors' names have been hidden amongst people mentioned in Adam Sandler's 3 versions of "The Chanukah Song". Can you spot the author AND match them with their titles?

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

Natasha and Other Stories/ Elizabeth and After/ Little Brother/ The Incomparable Atuk/ Joseph Had A Little Overcoat/ Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs/ My Sister's Keeper/ Herzog/ Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy/ Howl

1. shorerichlercaanstiller
2. bowserbezmozgisnewmanpenn
3. messickfonzarellitabackhawnkirk
4. schultzgilmancarewfordpaltrow
5. landersbellowmessingdouglas
6. blacklandonchomskyhoudini
7. cruiseginsbergryderkravitz
8. lovesimpsonkeitelpicoult
9. kleindoctorowwoodsgilbert

(Other 2 versions also available at YouTube)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Reader's Diary #552- Dick North: The Lost Patrol

Canadians of my generation use a system of measurement known as Metrial. In this expression of freedom, we decide which measurements we take in metric and which measurements we take in imperial. Temperatures: Celsius. Height: Feet and Inches. Liquids: Litres. Weight: Pounds. Speed: Kilometers per hour. It's not a perfect system, but we also take pride in our humility, so it's all good.

Except when someone from the older, pre-Metrial, generation throws an imperial wrench into the system.* I've been visiting with my inlaws before when they've announced that it's supposed to be up to 78 degrees today. Great. Should I pack a sweater or shorts? I'm completely lost. As I was with Dick North's The Lost Patrol. Originally published in 1978, the Metrification of Canada was relatively new (Trudeau first started to introduce it 1970) and so North, and his readers, were no doubt more comfortable with the miles and Fahrenheit temperatures of which he wrote. However, since it's been republished twice now (in 1995 and again in 2008), I was surprised, and disappointed, not to see any metric conversions. Even a simple conversion chart stuck back in the appendix would have been nice. Had it not been for easy to access online converters, I'd never have straightened the whole thing out.

Of course, North probably had other reasons to use the imperial units as well. The Lost Patrol is the true account of four North-West Mounted Policemen who left from Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories for Dawson City, Yukon-- a distance of 475 miles. They were travelling by dogsled and it was December. They never arrived.

475 miles or 764 kilometers? The patrol members would have used the imperial distances of course, and it seems to be common practice in historical texts to use the units and terminology of the time. (This is often the justification for still referring to the Inuit as Eskimos in a lot of historical Canadian nonfiction.) But again, a conversion chart would have been nice. And lest it seems that I'm making a bigger deal out of it than I need be, keep in mind that two of the main reasons these men died were the cold and distance they tried to cross-- a reader really should have a firm grasp on those two concepts in order to fully appreciate the tragedy.

However, as I have said, I accessed online converters and I was fine. Annoyed as I was that I had to do this, it was worth it and I did enjoy the book as a whole. Up to this point, most of my exposure to Northern nonfiction has been through Pierre Berton. Though I haven't enjoyed all of his books, he did have a knack for personalizing the characters, often making historical accounts read like novels. North didn't do this, didn't try to do this as far as I could tell, and it was another adjustment for me.

But for all that he put the tragedy, and men involved, in perspective. He gave them a fairer representation than I think they've gotten in the past. Reading my synopsis of the book above "...a distance of 475 miles. They were travelling by dogsled and it was December" you just knew what line was going to follow: "They never arrived." There have been so many tales of tragedy in the North that it'd be easy to write these men off as bumbling, naive white men who had no idea what it took to survive in the wilderness. On the other hand, they were mounties who died on duty in the North. Automatically assumed heroism is just as likely. It reminds me of a great Simpsons bit:

HOMER: That Timmy is a real hero!
LISA: How do you mean, Dad?
HOMER: Well, he fell down a well, and... he can't get out.
LISA: How does that make him a hero?
HOMER: Well, that's more than you did!

With true skill, North finds the truth somewhere in between. Yes, Fitzgerald and his men made lots of mistakes on this journey and those mistakes led to their ultimate demise. But they had a lot of bad luck as well. And these men weren't amateurs. Two of them (Fitzgerald and Carter) had actually had a lot of experience traveling and patrolling the North. However, perhaps it was successful past experiences that ultimately did them in. Over-confidence led to the men taking the dangers of the Northern winter for granted and bad decisions escalated from there.

The Lost Patrol is a well researched and balanced look at a Canadian tragedy.

(*There are also, of course, the post-Metrials, the Metrics, who are equally as dumbfounding. How many kilograms am I? How the hell should I know? 300? 70? 6? I don't even know what's reasonable.)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #5- Miriam Toews VERSUS Jack Kerouac

The final winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Miriam Toews Vs Marjane Satrapi, with a final score of 4-3 was Miriam Toews!

Looks like our first female graphic novelist in the Great Wednesday Compares didn't fare too well. Close, but alas, no cigar. I've only read the first Persepolis, but I must say I really enjoyed it. Although generally I like most books set in that part of the world, so it was an easy sell. I keep meaning to start a Middle East book challenge, but never get around to it-- would you be interested?

Did you see the movie? I haven't yet and I'd like to finish the sequel before I do as they combine the books for the movie.

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. (Dec 15, 2009), and if you want your book to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who is better?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Reader's Diary #551- Deborah Rochford-Kellerman: Hanukkah Candles

A few years ago, a friend and I found ourselves discussing Sarah McLachlan's Wintersong CD. Overall, he found the album way too depressing to be a Christmas album, with the gloomiest of the lot being a cover of Joni Mitchell's River, even more mournful than the original. Just because it mentions Christmas, he argued, doesn't make it a Christmas song. True, I supposed, but for many Christmas is a sad time of year. Usually they don't go caroling with their melancholy tunes, but such is McLachlan's style.

However, Deborah Rochford-Kellerman outdoes McLachlan. She is able to ruin not one, but two holidays in a single go!

In "Hanukkah Candles" the protagonist is of a dual-faith home: Christian and Jew. Like many homes around the world at this time of year, hers has a Christmas tree and a menorah. Confusing for the kids? Nah, they make it work. At least they used to. Enter the ghost of holiday grief.

I'm being more than a little facetious, I know. Rochford-Kellerman's story is bleak, no doubt about it, but it is well written. She manages to grab just the right images to capture the mood, and she uses the menorah to great effect. Our home just celebrates one holiday (Christmas), but there was enough I could relate to: the photos of husband and kids (it's not my fault my wife is always in charge of the camera!), and of course, thinking, perhaps overly nostalgically, of Christmases past. But I'm usually able to pick up the glass of eggnog and keep right on going. This Christmas will be even better, gosh darn it. Hopefully the woman in this story finds her own stupid grin.

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

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Reader's Diary #550- Dirk Wales and illustrated by Barry Moser: Jack London's Dog

It's been years since I read Jack London's Call of the Wild or White Fang. So long, in fact, that I hardly even remember if I enjoyed them. However, when I went to the Yukon back in September, I couldn't resist this young people's novella based on another Jack, the dog that lived with London in the short period that he'd actually visited the Yukon in 1897. Jack the dog was the inspiration behind Buck, the hero of Call of the Wild.

For the most part, Jack London's Dog is a pleasant enough tale made all the more interesting once the two Jacks separate and the story divides into two, flipping back and forth between the dog's life still in the Canadian north and the author's life back in the U.S.. London is becoming an internationally famous author just as the dog is becoming a hero in his own right. Once or twice, however, the story was buried underneath over wrought figurative language and the flow of the book was lost:
The snow formed a white tongue, lashing down the slopes driven by the wind as if the wind itself was after something or someone, though there was no person or animal to be seen. The tongue hesitated and transformed itself to a billowing balloon and danced down the slope, lightly, as if to tease, before becoming a rain of icicles hurtling over hillocks and rises in the mountainside, only to come together again and remake itself into an ocean determined to flood the world.
Such mishmashes of images went from accidentally amusing to annoying in a hurry.

But a definite plus for the book are the fabulous relief engraved illustrations by Barry Moser. Something about the black and white and bold details complemented the story and setting incredibly well.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Great Wednesday Compare #5- Miriam Toews VERSUS Marjane Satrapi

The final winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Miriam Toews Vs Wayne Johnston, with a final score of 6-3 was Miriam Toews!

Lots of interesting comments on Wayne Johnston last week. I want to comment on a couple of them. Nicola began by saying she hadn't even heard of the guy. Being from Newfoundland, I'd of course first heard of him when I lived there, but when his The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and The Navigator of New York were back to back shortlisted for the Giller, I'd thought he'd entered national consciousness. Guess few people remembers the runners up, eh?

Then there was Nadine who voted against Johnston more on personal reasons. It seems she had taken a creative writing course, and well, they didn't hit it off. I found this very interesting because it touches upon a similar experience that I had. My first Johnston book was The Story of Bobby O'Malley and it was for a university course taught by Newfoundland poet and personal friend of Johnston, Mary Dalton. Like Nadine and Wayne, I don't think Mary and I clicked either and I ended up not being able to stand Bobby O'Malley. If it wasn't for Colony being a Canada Reads book later down the road, I probably wouldn't have given Johnston another chance. To my great surprise, I loved it, and would probably put it in my top 10 of all time.

And as always, we move on.

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (Dec 8, 2009), and if you want your book to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who is better?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Canadian Book Challenge #3- 5th Roundup

Welcome, welcome, welcome, to the 5th Roundup of the 3rd Canadian Book Challenge.

Not quite sure where to begin this month, but I figure we should start by congratulating Kailana for making it to 13 books last month. As the first person to reach that magic number, she wins this beautiful Canadian Book Challenge scarf, designed and knit exclusively by Chris:

Who'll be the next to join her?

In other news, CBC will announce a brand new batch of Canada Reads contenders today. Will you be following along? Do you make a point of reading all 5 books? Just the winner?

I'm not sure if you checked out my Sporcle games last month, but I've added another: Name the Mordecai Richler Fiction. Check it out!

Finally, I wanted to talk a little about Canadian Christmas books. We certainly don't have a Christmas Carol, a Grinch, or a Night Before Christmas in our back catalogue, but are there any Canadian books that you think are worthy of Christmas Classic status? I know challenge participant Wanda would probably suggest Kevin Major's House of Wooden Santas.

I'd also throw in Bud Davidge's The Mummer's Song, illustrated by Ian Wallace:

My kids also like Pippin the Christmas Pig, by Jean Little and illustrated by Werner Zimmerman. I'd say they're lucky enough to have had it personally autographed by both Little and Zimmerman, but they're 4 and 6, they really don't care.

And I also enjoy Michael Kusugak's Baseball Bats for Christmas, illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka:

That's pretty much all I could come up with from the top of my head, so I went to Amazon and this is what I came up with:

1. Dear Canada: A Christmas to Remember- Tales of Comfort and Joy- featuring stories by Jean Little, Maxine Trottier, Carol Matas and more

2. Sleds, Sleighs and Snow: A Canadian Christmas Carol- featuring stories by Margaret Laurence, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Grey Owl, Emily Carr, Stephen Leacock and Robert Service
3. Our Canadian Girl series, featuring Christmas themed novels by Lynne Kositsky, Budge Wilson, and Sharon McKay

4. To Everything There Is a Season: A Cape Breton Christmas Story by Alistair MacLeod and illustrated by Peter Rankin

5. Christmas in the Big Igloo: True Tales from the Canadian Arctic editted by Kenn Harper

6. An Orange From Portugal: Christmas Stories from the Maritimes and Newfoundland selected by Anne Simpson

and I thought this was odd: a copy of Dickens' A Christmas Carol with an introduction by our very own Lady Margaret.

There, I'm sure any of those would make wonderful presents under the tree this year. Any you'd like to add? Or perhaps you could suggest some Canadian Hanukkah or Kwanzaa books?

In the meantime, this is the 5th Roundup, so please leave links to all the Canadian books you read and reviewed for the challenge in the month of November. Also, don't forget to tell me where you are on the standings overall. Check the sidebar to make sure I've got it right.

Have fun!