Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Year in Review- Comics and Graphic Novels

Finally, my graphic novel and comic reads from 2010. Yesterday I remarked that the number of novels and nonfiction books I read in 2010 was down. But, as it turns out, my graphic novel reads have just about doubled. While much of that credit goes to Jeff Smith's Bone series, I managed to check off a few more classic graphic novels. Without further ado, here's my list, ranked from least to most favourite:

21. Richard Comely (Writer) and George Freeman (Illustrator)- Captain Canuck, Vol. 1
20. Jeff Smith with Tom Sniegowski- Tall Tales
19. Jeff Smith (Writer) and Charles Vess (Illustrator)- Rose
18. Jeff Smith- Bone 5: Rock Jaw
17. Robert Louis Stevenson (Writer), Alan Grant (Adapted by), and Cam Kennedy (Illustrator)- Kidnapped
16. Jeff Smith- Bone 4: The Dragonslayer
15. Jeff Smith- Bone 7: Ghost Circles
14. Jeff Smith- Bone 6: Old Man's Cave
13. Jeff Smith- Bone 2: The Great Cow Race
12. Daniel Clowes- Ghost World
11. Alan Moore (Writer) and Dave Gibbons (illustrator)- The Watchmen
10. Jeff Smith- Bone 9: The Crown of Horns
9. Jeff Smith- Bone 8: Treasure Hunters
8. Art Spiegelman- Maus I
7. Jeff Lemire- The Country Nurse
6. Scott Chantler- Northwest Passage
5. Mariko Tamaki (Writer) and Jillian Tamaki (illustrator)- Skim
4. Jeff Smith- Bone 3: Eyes of the Storm
3. Art Spiegelman- Maus II
2. Katsuhiro Otomo- Akira Volume 1
1. Jeff Lemire- Ghost Stories

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Year in Review- Fiction and Nonfiction

What a year it's been! As I looked back today, while compiling this list, I was suprised at how eventful it was. Traveling to Japan, getting to meet Steven Galloway, a spat with the good people at LWOT, being a panelist for Canada Also Reads, another successful Northwords Writers Festival, a trip to Newfoundland, moving to a new house, interviewing Derek Winkler, being asked to nominate a book for Canada Reads and having that book make it to the top 5, and having my parents and grandmother visit for Christmas... geez, it's a wonder I fit in any reading at all.

Here are my fiction and nonfiction reads for 2010, ranked from least favourite to favourite. I've not included plays, Bible stories, picture books, or poetry. Tomorrow I will countdown my favourite graphic novel reads this year.

The Fiction
21. AmberLee Kolson- Wings of Glass
20. Marcel Theroux- Far North
19. Katherine Paterson- The Master Puppeteer
18. Sarah Felix Burns- Song Over Quiet Lake
17. John le Carré- The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
16. Jessica Grant- Come, Thou Tortoise
15. Margaret Atwood- Year of the Flood
14. Ronald Melzack (and illustrated by Carol Jones)- The Day Tuk Became a Hunter and Other Stories
13. Carol Anne Shaw- Hannah and the Spindle Whorl
12. Budge Wilson- Before Green Gables
11. Emily Brontë- Wuthering Heights
10. Katherine Paterson- Bridge to Terabithia
9. Michael Kenyon- The Beautiful Children
8. Arthur Golden- Memoirs of a Geisha
7. Derek Winkler- Pitouie
6. J.K. Rowling- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
5. Jocelyne Allen- You and the Pirates
4. Roald Dahl (and illustrated by Quentin Blake)- The BFG
3. Stacey May Fowles- Fear of Fighting
2. Steven Galloway- The Cellist of Sarajevo
1. Brian Selznick- The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Non-Fiction
5. Scott Huler- Defining the Wind
4. Jill Foran- Mary Schaffer, An Adventurous Woman's Exploits in the Canadian Rockies
3. Kris Needs- Joe Strummer and the Legend of the Clash
2. Rex Murphy- Canada and Other Matters of Opinion
1. Bren Kolson- Myth of the Barrens

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The 2010 Book Mine Set Short Story Online Anthology (BMSSSOA)

It's time once again to reflect upon the year that was. I love countdowns by the way. I've been especially enjoying the top 10-20-50-100 music lists that I've been finding on some of your blogs. It's the time of year I finally get my iPod updated with some great and decently recent tunes. While I'm not with it enough to do one of those music lists on my own, I am enjoying compiling and ranking my favourite reads of the past year (books and stories that I've read this year, not that were necessarily published this year).

Today, I'll countdown to my favourite online short story. This year, through my Short Story Mondays, I read and reviewed exactly one short story each week that I was able to find for free online. I'll begin with my least favourite of the lot and work my way down to my top 10. My top 10 this year is a pretty international lot.

To read my reviews, click on the story titles. To read the stories themselves, you can find links to each one within my reviews.

How many of these have you read?

52. Michael Winter- "Billy Bennett"
51. Charles de Lint and MaryAnn Harris- "A Crow Girls Christmas"
50. Abby Gaines- "So, how did you two meet?
49. Roberto Bolaño- "Gómez Palacio"
48. Terrence Chua- "Golem"
47. Mona Gardner- "The Dinner Party"
46. Heinrich von Kleist- "the Beggar Woman of Locarno"
45. Stacey May Fowles- "Three-Legged Dog"
44. Nasibu Mwanukuzi- "Days of Summer"
43. Lionel Kearns- "Victoria Day"
42. Heather O'Neill- "Riff-Raff"
41. Jesse Stuart- "Split Cherry Tree"
40. Nicola Slade- "My Dear Miss Fairfax"
39. Wayne Curtis- "My Mother's Christmas Art"
38. Selma Lagerlöf- "The Animal's New Years Eve"
37. Ring Lardner- "Haircut"
36. Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe- "Simon Learns His Vowels"
35. Fielding Dawson- "The Vertical Fields"
34. Gretchen McCullough- "Khamaseen"
33. Brayden Hirsch- "The Yellow Eye"
32. Manik Bandopadhyay- "Primal Passions"
31. Kelley Armstrong- "Recruit"
30. James Hurst- "The Scarlet Ibis"
29. William Gibson- "Johnny Mnemonic"
28. J.K. Rowling- "Harry Potter prequel"
27. Dashiell Hammett- "The Parthian Shot"
26. Liam O'Flaherty- "The Sniper"
25. Eva Moran- "He Wishes This Were Something Else"
24. Eugene Marckx- "Raven Steals the Light"
23. Charles G.D. Roberts- "The Cabin Door"
22. Nathaniel Hawthorne- "The Ambitious Guest"
21. Willy Vlautin- "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before"
20. Robert J. Sawyer- "Forever"
19. Sarah Prevatt- "The Plague"
18. Algernon Blackwood- "The Willows"
17. David Nickel- "Fly in Your Eye"
16. Yasunari Kawabata- "The Pomegranate"
15. Michael Redhill- "Breaking Fast"
14. Jonathan Franzen- "Two's Company"
13. Charlie Fish- "Death By Scrabble"
12. Sherry Isaac- "Sweet Dreams"
11. Malka Drucker- "The Widest Heart"

***THE TOP 10***
10. Téa Obreht- "The Sentry"
9. Edwidge Danticat- "Ghosts"
8. Michael Chabon- "The God of Dark Laughter"
7. John Scalzi- "Missives From Possibles Futures #1, Alternate History Search Results"
6. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichei- "Quality Street"
5. Haruki Murakami- "The Second Bakery Attack"
4. Gao Xingjian- "The Accident"
3. Joe Dunthorne- "You Are Happy"
2. Monica Kidd- "Still Life with Blake"
1. T.C. Boyle- "Chicxulub"

Monday, December 27, 2010

Reader's Diary #674- Selma Lagerlöf: The Animal's New Years Eve

Just Googling "New Years Short Story" yields so much trivia. Now when the final Jeopardy answer is "The first woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature," I'll know to ask "Who is Selma Lagerlöf?" and I'll collect a cool $25,000 while Ken Jennings sobs quietly at his podium and Sean Connery mutters something inappropriate at his. It could happen.

Lagerlöf's "The Animal's New Year's Eve" story is certainly intriguing. While returning home from visiting with a sick person, a man finds that while his mind has been wandering, his horse has led him off track. However all his efforts to turn his horse around meet with resistance from the animal. Finally, the man senses that the horse is trying to relay a message and lets it lead him where it wishes. Then the night gets a whole lot stranger.

I enjoyed the folklorish/ fairy tale quality of the story but it may also have been a drawback. In particular, I had problems with the wood nymph. (A sentence I never thought I'd utter.) Although maybe it's the translation. Here's the first sentence in which the wood-nymph appears:
Upon the huge rock at the centre was the Wood-nymph, who held in her hand a pine torch which burned in a big red flame.
I don't know who that is. But the definitive suggests that I should. Changing it to a Wood-nymph instead of the Wood-nymph only partially improves the situation. It follows with a brief description of the nymph, but it doesn't explain what it is. The capital only suggests further that Lagerlöf's readers were expected to have a little background knowledge as to who the Wood-nymph is. It's a small complaint, to be sure, and I'd be 100% okay with it if a Swedish person was to tell me that "yes [ja], we all tell stories of the Wood-nymph in our childhoods, she's a demon creature who plays pranks" or something of the sort. Then I'd know whether I'm the problem or if it's the writing or translation.

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

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Bah-humbug? No, Pitouie!

Did you get an eReader for Christmas? If so, here's a little extra Christmas gift courtesy of the Workhorsery...

Bookmineset readers can go here, scroll down to choose your preferred format, hit “Buy” and enter coupon code: CN52Q, the end result is that you'll have a free Pitouie e-book! But please note, this deal is only good for Boxing Day (December 26, 2010).

The good folks at the Workhorsery realize that this isn't great time with the holidays and all and some people might miss the boat, so they're also willing to offer my loyal readership a slightly-less-better but still excellent deal: from December 27th to New Year's Day the e-books for both Pitouie and their first offering, Jocelyne Allen's You and the Pirates will be on sale at Smashwords at 50% (which means each book is just three bucks)!

For an e-book of Pitouie at 50% off: Bookmineset readers should go here:, scroll down to choose your preferred format, hit “Buy” and enter coupon code: WE39R.

For an e-book of You and the Pirates at 50% off, Bookmineset readers should go here:, scroll down to choose your preferred format, hit “Buy” and enter coupon code: HZ33S.
Finally: if people would prefer buying either book directly from The Workhorsery, they'll make sure the book they order is autographed by He or She Who Wrote It and they'll throw in some other random trinkets because they're nice like that and they appreciate people taking their books into their homes.

Enjoy the holidays while they last!

Reader's Diary #673- Jean Little and illustrated by Werner Zimmerann: Pippin the Christmas Pig

When it comes to picture books I'm not crazy about overly saccharine stories or soft, overly emotional paintings. I prefer funny any day.

But at Christmas my sweetness tolerance is ever so slightly higher than usual and much is forgiven.

Though Jean Little and Werner Zimmerman's Pippin the Christmas Pig couldn't be classified as a humorous book by any means, and though there is a warm and fuzzy message, I didn't have to try too hard to forgive it.

Pippin, a curious young pig, asks his barnyard companions what Christmas is, and through the recounting of the nativity story, the donkey, cow, sheep, and pigeon each brag about the gifts their ancestors brought baby Jesus on the night he was born. The pig, teased by the others and sad that there was no mention of a pig (because, after all, "what could pigs have given a holy child?"), takes off into the stormy night. Along the way he encounters a woman carrying a baby and leads her back to the barn for safety.

I admit, when I read to young kids I love books with a lot of voices, so I appreciated the characters and the rich personalities Zimmerman infused in his renditions. And, of course, most kids love talking animals so it was quite an engaging way of retelling the nativity story and wonderful of Little that she didn't merely recount the night, but managed to keep the message in tact.

As an adult, I appreciated the mystery of the woman and her baby, wandering through the snow with a baby on Christmas Eve. What a sad circumstance, and though one safe night in a barn would probably not eradicate the problems that may have led her to such an unfortunate predicament, the momentary reprieve and gesture of the pig might just awaken a glimmer of hope. Nice.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #8- Jacob Marley VERSUS Ebeneezer Scrooge

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Jay Gatsby VERSUS Jacob Marley), with a final score of 5-0 was Jacob Marley.

The Great or Bah-Humbug Gatsby? As I said last week, I'm really not a fan of Gatsby. So I'm not really disappointed in last week's vote. Nor am I surprised. Not only did Marley have an unfair Christmas advantage last week, but I've heard the Great Gatsby described as the Great American Novel. As most of my readers are Canadian, I assume its Americana is irrelevant to us. Just as its greatness is lost on me. As those of you that read Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi will remember, it was one of the books she and her students studied. I hoped that I'd finally realize what it was that people saw in the book, but no, I still don't like it. Will Baz Luhrmann's movie adaptation convince me? We'll just have to wait and see.

For now, however, let's say goodbye Gatsby.

Vote in the comment section below before Dec 28th: Who is the better character?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Reader's Diary #672- Wayne Curtis: My Mother's Christmas Art

(Special thanks to Chris at Chrisbookarama for linking to this week's story.)

A few years back I was quite surprised to buy a pack of postage stamps that had a picture of my old high school girlfriend's house on them. Only, it was different somehow. All painted up and such. I heard after that a CFA (a come-from away) had bought it, fixed it up, and turned it into a tea room or bed and breakfast or some sort of thing.

A friend of mine, also from Newfoundland, takes issue with such things. Apparently when rich people from the U.S., mainland Canada, Germany or wherever buy summer homes in Newfoundland, the local property taxes and real estate values become grotesquely inflated and the locals, whose families had lived there for generations, suddenly find the place unaffordable. But that wasn't my friend's issue. His was that they fix up the homes into cliched replicas of Newfoundland's cultural past. I suppose the argument is that culture cannot progress naturally when it is too self aware (even worse when the self is someone else).

To make a long story short, a lot of those thoughts came back this week as I read Wayne Curtis's short story "My Mother's Christmas Art." Nostalgic for his mother's Christmas preparations, there's a touch of melancholia as the narrator concludes that things "are not the same and of course never will be."

I've gone down that road before. Yes Christmases of days gone by have been great. And when I put up certain decorations and eat certain foods and watch certain movies, a lot of those great memories come back, but I have to say, now that I have my own kids and I see how excited they are for the whole thing, I'm not nostalgic any more. It's 2010, we're all happy and I don't care if it makes it on a postage stamp.

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #8- Jay Gatsby VERSUS Jacob Marley

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Sam McGee VERSUS Jay Gatsby), with a final score of 3-2 was Jay Gatsby.

I feel so dirty right now. Voting against Sam McGee. I love that poem. And I really didn't like The Great Gatsby at all. Robert W. Service was Canadian, F. Scott Fitzgerald wasn't. But I had to swallow my principles. The vote was tied and fell to me to break it and you see, a win for McGee last week week would have meant 5 wins in a row and that would have meant the end of the 8th edition of the Great Wednesday Compare. And truthfully, with the holidays around the corner, I don't have the time or energy to come up with a new logo just yet. So, I've declared Jay Gatsby the winner. Strategery, as the former American president might say.

So with Christmas in mind, I offer a new contender against...sigh, Jay Gatsby. Sorry Sam. I hope you can find it in your fictional, burning heart to forgive me.

Vote in the comment section below before Dec 14th: Who is the better character?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reader's Diary #671- Carol Anne Shaw: Hannah and the Spindle Whorl

Lately I've found myself reading a lot of books or stories involving time travel to my daughter. A lot for a seven year old to wrap her head around I'm sure, but they're also more imaginative at that age, so I think she's gotten the gist. We're not moving on to Stephen Hawking just yet, but we'll build up to that.

To make Hannah and the Spindle Whorl even more appealing is the fact that it's set in British Columbia and involves the Coast Salish people of Cowichan Bay.

Hannah, a 12 year old girl, is wandering through the woods one day when she falls and inadvertently discovers a cave. Inside the cave is a wooden disc that Hannah eventually learns to be a spindle whorl, over 100 years old, used by the Coast Salish people to spin wool. Even more remarkable is that she soon winds up there herself, with the original owner of the whorl and her daughter Yisella who she quickly befriends.

Hannah herself is a very likable character-- inquisitive and sensitive, intelligent and tough, and yet not overly perfect. She's still trying to cope with the loss of her mother from a car accident 2 years earlier, she lives on a houseboat, her dad's a writer, and yet she comes across as a realistic typical 12 year old.

The rich characters, intriguing setting, and adventure are fortunately enough to save the book from its few downsides: the overt attempts at making the book educational (including a very unnecessary lesson on carbon dating), a few loose ends (Yisella's sister's apparent dislike for Hannah is never adequately explained), and my own personal beef, dream sequences. My daughter was also somewhat unclear about the book's ending. "Didn't Hannah go back to help?" she asked, "I don't know how she helped them." But her questions actually made me like the book more. We not only thought of ways that Hannah may have helped, but also how Hannah was helped by Yisella and her people. That kind of question should me how invested my daughter had become in the book and made me realize that it had depth, much more depth than a typical juvenile novel.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reader's Diary #670- Fielding Dawson: The Vertical Fields

When I think of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Keruoac, and William S. Burroughs, I can't help but think of Christmas trees, candy canes, and baby Jesus in a manger. No? Then how about Fielding Dawson?

Fielding Dawson, according to the Riverfront Times Blog, is the "best St. Louis writer you've never heard of," was known for writing in a stream of consciousness before the term was even coined, and was one of the more lesser known beat writers. So what was he doing writing a Christmas story?

Walking down memory lane apparently. "The Vertical Fields" is a nostalgic look at going to Christmas mass in 1940s Missouri. Punch and cookies, tinseled trees, a jewel glittering church... In Linden MacIntyre's The Bishop's Man, father Victor says that Christmas
takes over the memory temporarily. And memory makes Christmas bittersweet. Each of the senses stores identical impressions year after year. We hear the same sounds, we hear the same colours, inhale the same fragrances. The language of Christmas is unchanging, full of false celebration and hysterical good will.
Well, sure, if you put it that way, it sounds depressing. But I like the same sounds, colours, and fragrances year after year. There's comfort in that. Peace with the utterly familiar. And Dawson almost captures that. It's tainted on occasion by the encroachments of beat style, but charming otherwise. Now break out Bob Dylan's Christmas in the Heart CD. Maughssss be Saaanta. Maughsss be Saaanta....

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

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #8- Sam McGee VERSUS Jay Gatsby

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Sam McGee VERSUS Barney Panofsky), with a final score of 4-2 was Sam McGee.

Well, I guess cranky old Barney Panofsky just got a whole lot crankier. But that's part of his charm, so it's all good. I get the impression that the dividing line last week was who'd read Barney's Version. If you read it, you'd probably have voted for him. And read it you should, it's one of my personal favourites. I'm looking forward to, but nervous about the movie adaptation that's coming to theatres on Christmas Eve.

Speaking of movies, I read recently that Baz Luhrmann is adapting F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and it will star Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. Before you ponder that, first take the time to consider your favourite between this week's contenders.

Vote in the comment section below before Dec 14th: Who is the better character?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Reader's Diary #669- Charles de Lint and MaryAnn Harris: A Crow Girl's Christmas

Charles de Lint, if you'll believe his website, "is widely credited with having pioneered the contemporary fantasy genre." I've not personally heard those accolades before, but I was aware that he's an immensely popular writer, that he's Canadian, and that I haven't read anything by him yet.

But seeing as it's December, and seeing as I was able to find this Christmas story by de Lint and his wife MaryAnn Harris, I figured there was no time like the present.

"A Crow Girls Christmas" is, I suppose, aimed at children. It revolves around two girls, the Crow Girls, named Maida and Zia. They've just gotten jobs as elves, helping out a mall Santa.

The age of Maida and Zia is never told, but then there seems to be an assumption that we know a lot about them already. In the opening sentence they drop by the professor's house. Why, we're never told. We are told that the two are a bit disrespectable. We quickly see that they talk a lot. And I think we're supposed to find them funny or amusing. Wow, do de Lint and Harris miss the mark on that one. The Crow Girls giggle, they say things like veryvery, and golly gee they eat all Santa's candy canes. Who cares? Most kids don't really like candy canes anyway.

"Merry Christmas to you!" they both cried.
Zia looked at Maida. "Why did you say, 'Merry Christmas toot toot'?"
"I didn't say 'toot toot'."
"I think maybe you did."
Zia grinned. "Toot toot!"
"Toot toot!"

What the heck is this nonsense? Bah-humbug. That's what.

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

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #8- Sam McGee VERSUS Barney Panofsky

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Sam McGee VERSUS Buck), with a final score of 6-0 was Sam McGee.

Another shut out! Poor Phileas Fogg, how can he get around the world without winning a Great Wednesday Compare?

I don't remember Phileas but I do remember loving Around the World in 80 Days. Maybe Nicola was right in her comments last week that Passepartout was the better character. Then again, I don't remember him either. I remember next week's contender however...

Vote in the comment section below before Dec 7th: Who is the better character?

The Canadian Book Challenge 4- 5th Roundup!

5 Months down!!!

Before we get down to business, I'd like to offer my apologies for dropping the ball on the sidebar updates these past two months. I know there are probably some mistakes outstanding and please bring them to my attention, but hopefully most of the numbers are now accurate.

Let's see what good, bad, and meh Canadian books we all read in November. (Assuming you weren't too busy with NaNaWriMo or Movember or Sacrificing your Digital Life or leaking diplomatic cables or something.) Congrats go out to Wollamshram for finishing 13+ last month.

How about that Canada Reads announcement last month, eh? There's certainly been a fair share of criticism, even more than last year. Public voting, authors campaigning, for right or for wrong, the producers certainly got people talking. But in the end (and I'm still not sure the ends justifies the means), I am excited to see Jeff Lemire's Essex County make the top 5. Will it win? Not likely. I predict Unless to go first, followed by Bone Cage, then The Birth House, and finally Essex County and the winner-- keep in mind, I haven't even read it-- The Best Laid Plans. But for now, I'll celebrate that a graphic novel even stands a chance. Though I've already heard some of the naysayers. "A comic?" they scoff. George Laraque, defender of the Bone Cage, dismissed it as "just a cartoon." I don't get it. Most reading Canadians would say they respect the visual arts. Most visual art admirers would say they respect literature. So why the resistance in combining the two? I blame the nerds. You know, the ones who get all out of sorts when someone calls it a "graphic novel" instead of a comic. Most of us don't really care what they're called. The arguing just scares people away. Non-nerds can't admit to enjoying Star Trek or else they're forced into taking sides in the whole Kirk/Picard debate. So leave us be nerds. Comics/ graphic novels. Who cares?! Just let us read them in peace, please. Rant over.

In the meantime, a lot of you took me up on the challenge to read a graphic novel last month. And one of those is the randomly drawn lucky winner of a graphic novel prize pack from Von Allan... Congratulations goes out to Wanda at A Season to Read!!!

Christmas is just around the corner, right? Looking forward to all those Canadian books under your Christmas tree ? Christmas goodies? How about both? If you'd like to win a copy of 3 Chefs: The Kitchen Men by Michael Bonacini, Massimo Capra and Jason Parsons, you can have your name entered into a random draw in one of two ways:
1. Submit a favourite Christmas recipe in the comments below
2. Review a Canadian cookbook for the challenge (we've not had a cookbook reviewed in 4 years of the challenge!)

3 Chefs: The Kitchen Men is published by Whitecap Books and was generously donated by Pooker!

Now, once again, the reason for the round-up! What Canadian books did you read and review for the Canadian Book Challenge 4 in November? Let everyone know in the comments below.

- Make sure you tell me how many you've completed so far so that I can record it in the sidebar progress report
- It doesn't count as complete until the review is done!
- When people leave links, try to visit one another's blogs and read what they had to say. Comment. Encourage. The discussion of Canadian books is what this challenge is all about.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Reader's Diary #668- Manik Bandopadhyay: Primal Passions

Inspired by last week's Amazing Race visit to Bangladesh, I went in search of Bangladeshi short story authors. Fortunately, I was able to find a whole bunch at Banglapedia, the National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh.

Unfortunately, my first Bangladeshi short story turned out to be a very nasty piece of work. Not written poorly, just nasty in terms of its characters and arguably its cynicism.

"Primal Passions" by Manik Bandopadhyay begins with a man named Bhikhu who finds himself injured and alone during monsoon season after a heist with his gang has gone wrong.

Despite the mention of a gang and heist, I mistakenly began to root for Bhikhu. He's sleeping outside in a storm, fending off snakes and insects, he's thirsty, and the wound in his arm has turned septic. I guess I wanted it to be a Jack London sort of tale, but set in south Asia instead of the Yukon. How wrong I was.

About three quarters of the way through the first page (it's 3 pages long) I began to realize how despicable Bhikhu really was. And just about everyone else. But so what if Manik Bandopadhyay didn't work for the Bangladesh department of tourism, is the story a good read?

Somewhat, in a driving by a car accident sort of way. You didn't see it happen but you see the result and try as you might, it's hard to look away. The descriptions are well done but there's little build-up or climax. In the final paragraph Bandopadhyay refers to a civilized world. Until then, I wasn't sure he believed one actually existed.

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

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reader's Diary #667- Sarah Felix Burns: Song Over Quiet Lake

Whenever I hear the name Jodi Picoult, I think, "good premise, lame book." It's not a compliment then when I say that Sarah Felix Burns' Song Over Quiet Lake is very Picoultian.

The back cover synopsis says, "An unexpected friendship between twenty-something Sylvia Hardy and Lydie Jim, an eighty-two-year-old Tlingit elder from the Yukon, will change both their lives." It should also be noted that Sylvia is white. Yes, the relationship is unexpected, or at the very least, uncommon. Even more uncommon is that Lydie is an octogenarian undergrad and that Sylvia's younger brother was the victim of an unsolved murder as a young boy.

But any hope that these unusual circumstances will make for an interesting book are crushed when the rest is riddled with cliches and predictable plots. Alcoholic native, check. Wise but sassy old native lady, check. Hippy British Columbians, check. And worst of all, the tacked on love story that you see from a mile away. Sylvia and Lydie's son Jonah are from two different cultures, there's an age gap, and of course, they fight all the time. Not surprising, and unfortunately, their blooming love for one another ends up dominating the whole story. What happened to Lydie?

And there's dream sequence after dream sequence after dream sequence. Burns tells us in the acknowledgments that the novel was conceived in a dream. And then the individual characters share their dreams. Why are so many authors into dream analysis? And why do so many fictional dreams have such obvious clarity and meaning? My dreams are usually: so I'm at back in my old high school, except it looks like a hospital waiting room, and there's a dog there and it's jumping up trying to lick me, but when I push it away it turns into a wicker basket, and when I look inside there's an empty can of peaches and I'm so hungry, and then Dave Coulier is there but he's supposed to be my physics teacher I think, and he says that I shouldn't worry because breakfast is ready and then I wake up because my wife is calling out that breakfast is ready. See? Utter nonsense. The way most dreams are. Except for those of authors apparently because Burns isn't the only one to bombard readers with such annoying and artificial dreams that are supposed to somehow represent a character's innermost thoughts and demons.

There's yet another problem with the abundance of characters that appear in their own chapters briefly. The priest character who opens the book is interesting enough and does get a few more chapters throughout. However, his connection to Lydie doesn't really tie into her life later on. Plus each of Lydie's son's get chapters. Sylvia's mom gets a chapter. I'd rather if Burns had just given Lydie some chapters, and given Sylvia the rest. Supposedly they're the main characters after all. The other perspectives were merely a bunch of distractions from a plot that was hard enough to get into as it was.

If it's not painfully obvious, I didn't enjoy this book at all.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

And then there were five...

I'm so stoked right now. My nomination, Jeff Lemire's Essex County will be debated in CBC's 2011 Canada Reads. How sweet is that. The first time a graphic novel has been included.

And, while I maintain that they needn't go with celebrities, they did actually pick people that I've heard of this time (well 3 of them anyway). And if they're going to go with celebrities, the one defending Essex County is pretty cool. It's Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara and you know the track record that rock stars have with the program...

Go Sara! Go Jeff! Go Essex County!

The Great Wednesday Compare #8- Sam McGee VERSUS Phileas Fogg

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Sam McGee VERSUS Buck), with a final score of 3-2 was Sam McGee.

Oh dear. I had so many plans for Buck. First he was going to go up against White Fang, then Old Yeller, then I don't know, Marmaduke? But now, Michael Vick, I'm afraid you'll have to follow a different blog.

Buck wasn't the first dog to compete in the Great Wednesday Compares by the way. That was Snoopy. (I'll take trivia that will never appear on Jeopardy, Alex.) For now, Buck is gone and the suicidal gold digger from Tennessee lives on. For now...

Vote in the comment section below before November 30th: Who is the better character?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reader's Diary #666- J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter Prequel

So like half the western world, I too went to see the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this weekend. I agree with those critics that say true fans will enjoy it and that those who aren't will probably not. As I've been sitting on the fence with the whole franchise, the Deathly Hallows was my sorting hat. As it turns out, I'm not a fan. I found the whole plot silly, dizzying and a whole lot of who caresidy. Ralph Fiennes was great, Helena Bonham Carter was good as Helena Bonham Carter, but as highlights go, that's about it. Without Hogwarts, what's the point? In all honesty, I'll go see the next one, but only to make sure it's over, I swear.

In the meantime, caught up in all the hype, I also read the unnamed Harry Potter prequel this weekend. An 800 word story written by Rowling for the Waterstone's "What's Your Story?" charity benefit, it's now all over the web. You can read it here, if you like.

It's little more than an insignificant adventure starring Sirius Black and Harry's dad James in their wild years, but it's not without its charm, even if the opening sentence did seem anti-climatic...
The speeding motorcycle took the sharp corner so fast in the darkness that both policemen in the pursuing car shouted,”Whoa!”
It gets better, though it's not a highly developed piece. Its charm lies in viewing the magical world through the eyes of a couple of muggle police officers, inexperienced in the world of magic. You can almost relive some of the old charm as when Harry's new world was new to us, and to Harry himself, in the Philosopher's Stone. Almost. At the very least, closer than the Deathly Hallows movie, an amazingly unmagical movie about magic.

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reader's Diary #665 and an Interview- Derek Winkler: Pitouie

Having completed Derek Winkler's debut novel, I've officially read every single book that Workhorsery has ever published.

And with this accomplishment under my belt, the good folks at Workhorsery gave me the exciting opportunity to take part in Winkler's very first blog tour. Having spent the past week writing over the National Post Afterword, he spends the day here, then he's off to Books Under Skin on the 21st, the Hoodie Ripper on the 22nd, Rob Mclennan’s on the 23rd, Books on the Radio on the 24th, Maisonneuve Magazine on the 25th, and Open Book Toronto on November 26th.

So what's he got planned for here? Well, I thought maybe he'd talk a bit about researching the DEW Line since it's a northern topic that plays heavily in Pitouie, but one I have very little knowledge about. Unfortunately the good folks at the Afterword scooped me on that one. Instead I went for a good old fashioned email interview.

I'll get to that in a second. But first, a brief review to familiarize you with the book.

Pitouie is one of the ripest piles of dog crap ever to be published in Canada, or dare I say the world. No longer is my time machine set to go back and kill Hitler, now my sights are set on that other notorious German, Johannes Gutenberg.

I kid, I kid. I just wanted to make the Workhorsery folks and Winkler sweat a little.

Actually Pitouie was a lot of fun. In the first two chapters we're introduced to two sets of characters, living in two different time frames and locales. One involves Otis, a modern day trade journal editor on his way to the island of Pitouie in the South Pacific. The other involves Lars, a civilian contractor working in a tiny DEW line station in the 1970s Northwest Territories. While each of these stories have enough interesting information and satire to stand on their own, the mysterious promise of a link between these two vastly different times and spaces is what holds our attention. The link turns out to be even more outlandish than you'd think.

I did have minor concerns about the use of Inuit in the book. They felt a little like accessories, like Gwen Stefani's harajuku girls. But then something Angie Abdou said recently that made me reflect on those feelings. Addressing a reader on the Canada Reads website that asked of Abdou's the Bone Cage, "Why should we care about privileged, white, middle class people training for the olympics?" Abdou replied that she doesn't "superimpose [her] own agenda on [a writer's] work." (Actually the whole exchange was nastier than that on both sides, but I won't rehash it here. Go read for yourself if you like.) Could Abdou's words apply to what I was doing? Was I merely superimposing an agenda? I was a minority for a few years to a majority of Inuit, who didn't make me feel like a minority, made me feel welcomed and gave me some of the best memories of my life. I'm probably sensitive to real or perceived slights to the Inuit. But that doesn't mean I know what the majority of Inuit think. Maybe none would be bothered by Winkler's book. And really when I think about, I wasn't really sure there was a problem. To Winkler's credit, he doesn't shy away when I ask him about it and he made me more comfortable about it in the long run.

So, without further ado...

JM: Tell us something about your book and why people should read it.

DW: There's only one reason anyone should read a novel, and that's because they find it enjoyable. You can read a cookbook if you want to know how to make Quiche Lorraine, and the enjoyment comes from having something nice to eat. You can read a textbook if you want to understand how the time-space continuum works, and the enjoyment comes from finding answers to ease your bafflement. But when you sit down with a novel, almost all the enjoyment comes from the story, the characters and the setting. At least, it does for me. Some people may get more enjoyment from beautifully-crafted prose, but if the prose takes precedence over the story, the author has made a serious mistake, in my opinion. As an author, you can also try to slip in a message or a life lesson if you want, but you should remember that these are optional extras and stand at least a 50-50 chance of making your novel less enjoyable.

Anyway, my story is about two guys in two time periods going out of their minds with boredom, and the lengths to which they go to make their lives interesting again. It just so happens that doing so involves a volcano, toxic waste, an Inuit village, a DEW Line station and any number of dubious activities. I hope people will find it enjoyable.

JM: Kevin Patterson's Consumption is set primarily in Northern Canada, but as in Pitouie, also finds several characters relocating to the South Pacific. The front of Pitouie features a volcano, while the back features an iceberg. Finding similarities between two locales that most people would think couldn't be more different is apparently a lot of fun. You're from Toronto-- which location do you think you'd be most at home?
DW: Well damn and blast Kevin Patterson. Now I have to hunt him down and challenge him to a duel or something. As for me, I don't think I'd be especially happy in either the Arctic or the South Pacific. I kinda like it here in the city. Then again, I've never been to either the Arctic or the South Pacific, so maybe I'll reserve judgment on that one. But you're right. It is fun to find parallels between disparate places, not to mention people and events. It's even more fun to invent parallels, if you need to. That's why fiction is more fun to write than journalism.

JM: There are a great number of Inuit in this book, yet few have major parts. Is this a concern for you?

DW: It was a concern for me. Every time I re-drafted the novel, I looked for ways to give the Inuit characters more to do. However, in the end, the story is primarily about these two particular guys who do not happen to be Inuit. Trying to force an Inuit character to the front of the stage out of a sense of cultural obligation would have been blatant ass-covering, I think. The best I could do was pick out a few Inuit and make them good strong secondary characters that felt like real people.

JM: To me, the book had an almost conspiracy-theory tone to it. However, it reminded me more of something from say Paul Glennon's Dodecahedron than anything written by Dan Brown. It's seems more out of a love of the absurd realities and possibilities of the world than a finger waving expose. Is this a fair observation? Are you a conspiracy buff?

DW: I like a good conspiracy theory because a good conspiracy theory has to be a good story. Boring conspiracy theories don't sell well in the marketplace of crackpot ideas. I also like the idea of a fun conspiracy, because that has rarity value. Whether there's a conspiracy involved or not, an appreciation of the absurd in life is always a healthy thing to have. Plus, absurdities make good stories too.

JM: Some might argue that there's an environmental message to Pitouie. What would you say to that?

DW: Well, I couldn't really bring a bunch of industrial waste manufacturers to a pristine tropical island and then not have anyone talk about the environment, but that wasn't my primary goal. I'm not an activist kind of guy. Readers will notice there's no call in the book for humanity to clean up its act. If there is an environmental message in the novel it's this: We can't live the kind of life we live today and have a clean planet at the same time. Humans, being the greedy, lazy and adaptable creatures that we are, we will most likely continue to make the planet less and less hospitable, gradually adjusting our lifestyles as we go, until we're sitting in a global garbage dump with our plasma screens and smartphones and surgically-implanted breathing filters, and that will be considered normal. Then, when the planet can't take any more of our shit, the planet will just get rid of us. And that will be that. Call it a Stoic view of environmentalism.

JM: In your bio it mentions that you are the editor of an obscure trade publication, not unlike the Otis character. Was the book a means of escape from trade publication doldrums? What else do you do to escape?

DW: Writing Pitouie wasn't so much a means of escape from my boring life as a way to make my life interesting enough that I no longer felt the need to escape. It wasn't an excuse to take pot shots at my employer or my choice of career (well, it was a bit). I put in that stuff about the agony of trade journalism partly because it was kind of funny, especially when exaggerated for effect, but mostly because it established Otis as a character whose life had just stopped dead. But if you look at most of the major characters, you can see that they all had a non-life at some point. I guess the main theme of the book is that it's never too late to get yourself a life, even if you have to go to a tiny island to find it.

JM: You're quoted as saying, “'For a while, I didn't think I'd be able to find a Canadian press willing to publish Pitouie. It seems like the established presses in this country just aren't interested in novels that don't follow a certain set of conventions." I've read the other Workhorsery publication, Jocelyne Allen's You and the Pirates, and I'd have to agree that so far they're unlike most other Canadian books I've read (though as I mentioned above, Paul Glennon's Dodecahedron would seem to fit the Workhorsery catalogue.) Besides from publishing your book, why is the Workhorsery mandate important? What is the state of Canadian publishing, in your opinion?

DW: Here I'm moving into territory that I'm not really qualified to comment on, but what the hell. I read in some magazine (the name of which I cannot for the life of me recall at the moment) that most Canadian literature is about "memory and loss." That's no fun. The Canadian novels that I've read seem to fall mainly into a couple of broad categories: Historical coming-of-age stories set in the prairies, and historical coming-of-age stories set in urban immigrant neighbourhoods. All the drama comes from family conflict and the memories thereof, plus, surprisingly often, experiences of war and the memories thereof. Maybe I just haven't read enough, but those are my impressions. A press like The Workhorsery is a vital outlet for those of us who don't find those stories all that appealing. If you like 'em, more power to you. You've got lots to choose from. But let's at least have the option of reading something else.

JM: You're in the midst of quite a busy blog tour right now. Is there something you hope to gain from the experience besides more readers? You've said the Internet is your second home and that if pressed, you might answer the question, "why the hell publish a paper book?" Consider yourself pressed.

DW: Considering the number of readers I have at this early stage is probably statistically close to zero, I will shamelessly admit that my primary motivation for doing this blog tour is to increase that number to a positive integer. But my secondary motivation is the novelty of the idea. When will I ever get the chance to do something like this again?

I suppose I could say something about how much I value the opportunity to make connections with Canada's literary community, but in truth, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool introvert. It's unusual for me to make connections with anyone. I live on the Internet, yes, but I'm a congenital lurker. When I do post, it's usually anonymously. Now I've got a blog of my own and everything. What have I become?

Why the hell publish a paper book? Because I think in a decade or two, it's something that just won't be done anymore, and I wanted to be part of the last generation of writers that killed trees in the name of literature. Call it a kink. We're moving through a transitional phase here, and I want to take the ride. Everything is going digital. I went out and bought a Kobo the day they went on sale, and when I use it I find I don't miss the feel of paper in my hands at all. I look forward to being part of the first generation of writers that leaves the trees where they are.

JM: Will there be a sequel?

DW: Probably not a direct sequel. I do have an idea for a semi-sequel. It wouldn't involve any of the characters from Pitouie, but it would take place in the same continuity, to use a concept from the comic book world. At the moment, it's nothing but a few pages of handwritten notes. Besides, there's other stuff I want to work on first. I will be back. Oh yes. You haven't heard the last of me.

Thanks to Derek for being such a good sport and to the kind people at Workhorsery (especially Todd) for helping arrange this!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #8- Sam McGee VERSUS Buck

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Nancy Drew VERSUS Sam McGee), with a final score of 9-0 was Sam McGee.

The first shut out we've had in a very long time. Poor Nancy. No one was impressed sufficiently by her legacy I suppose? 80 million copies of her books sold, 45 languages, a TV series, computer games... Then, with so many people tweaking her image and personality, it's hard to say definitively that you're a fan. Compare these two covers:

I wonder if die hard Nancy Drew fans have their favourite ghost writers.

But the mystery of the better character has been solved, and it's Sam McGee. When he competes against Nancy Drew that is. But let's see how he does against Buck.

Vote in the comment section below before November 23rd: Who is the better character?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Reader's Diary #664- William Gibson: Johnny Mnemonic

Mnemonic: Noun. A device used to aid recall.

Remember the old Keanu Reeves flick "Johnny Mnemonic"? Me neither. What is that, situational irony?

When the Canada Reads crew announced their top ten list last week, I went looking for online short stories by the authors that I've not yet read (Zoe Whittal, Angie Abdou, Terry Fallis, and William Gibson). It was then I discovered that William Gibson was the author behind "Johnny Mnemonic," a short story often hailed as one of the earliest examples of cyberpunk literature. According to, cyberpunk is "low life, high tech." Cyber meets punk.

I've read a lot more sci-fi than I intended to this year. I don't really consider myself a fan. I enjoy it, but don't usually seek it out.

Johnny Mnemonic has data implanted in his head but he's just a data trafficker and as such, has no access to it. To go through cybersurgery such as this, you'd expect the information to be highly sensitive but for some reason Johnny seems caught off guard that his life is suddenly in danger. Fortunately a girl named Molly, complete with razorblade fingernails, comes out of nowhere to save him. They decide, quite brazenly, to try and access the information themselves. Another surrogate gone awry.

As with the other sci-fi I've read this year, I appreciate Gibson's imagination. The better stories are just oozing details, minute and grand. And Gibson's seems to be one of the more unapologetic of the lot. Readers such as myself are left scrambling as to what's a significant detail and what isn't. It's fun in that way, but I'm not sure I fully appreciate the balance. Non-sci-fi writers put care into their settings, of course, but in "Johnny Mnemonic" setting seems to be the top priority followed by plot and in a very distant third is character development. Many short stories tend to have less of that as it is, but there's no one terribly interesting in "Johnny Mnemonic." Expanding it into a movie might have been a good idea. But along came Keanu.
(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Trivial Sunday- Bald Writers

Write? They can't even keep a decent head of hair!

Yeah. I'm not sure what this has to do with anything. You might even say it's a trivial matter. Can you identify the bald writers above?

Feel free to do all 10 at home, but only answer one in the comment section below. That way 9 more people will have a chance to play along.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #8- Nancy Drew VERSUS Sam McGee

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Nancy Drew VERSUS The Hardy Boys), with a final score of 6-4 was Nancy Drew.

Some interesting comments and implications last week. Why is it that no one thinks it odd that some girls prefer the Hardy Boys to Nancy Drew but no boys are expected to prefer Nancy Drew? I had similar thoughts recently when thinking of Pixar and other Disney movies. Why is that no one considers the Pixar movies to be particularly "boy" movies (with the possible exception of Cars and the Incredibles) even though all the protagonists are male, yet all the princess movies are considered by most people to be "girl" movies?

Anyway, I've read exactly one Nancy Drew book and one Hardy Boys book. Who did I prefer? The Bobbsey Twins.

While you ponder what that says about me...

Vote in the comment section below before November 9th: Who is the better character?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Look at that. Top row, 2nd from the left. No, 2nd. 2nd. Geez, it's like you've never seen cleavage before.

Yes, it's Essex County by Jeff Lemire and it's made it into the top 10 Essential Reads of the decade over at the Canada Reads site. If you'll recall, I nominated it back in October as my official book blogger pick.*

Awesome. The next step is for a panelist to choose to defend it as the Top 10 becomes a Top 5 on November 24th. No, no, it won't be me. You've never heard of me. But my fingers are crossed that maybe Mariko Tamaki will be asked. She also nominated it and as the author of the wonderful and critically acclaimed Skim, might just qualify as a celebrity. But regardless of what happens from here on, you really should read Essex County. Wonderful, wonderful book. Some would even say essential.

*An embarrassing footnote: When I submitted my recommendation, I ended with the sentence, "Move over Manawaka." Manawaka is, of course, the fictional Manitoban town created by Margaret Laurence. I've been under the mistaken impression that Lemire's Essex County was also a fictional place and only discovered the difference very recently. No doubt his version is a fictionalized version, but there is an actual Essex County in Ontario. Though my wife is from Ontario and though I've got relatives all over Ontario, my geographic knowledge of the province is clearly lacking.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Reader's Diary #663- Retold by Eugene Marckx: Raven Steals The Light

Just getting this story in under the wire. Speaking of wires...

My internet and cable has been down since last Friday. Finally getting it fixed today, the cable guy reported that it looked as if a raven had been pecking at the wires. It's an often heard excuse up here whenever the power goes out and I've sort of taken it as a catch-all for "we don't know what the %$#& happened." However, this weekend my wife had another encounter with a raven that makes me believe it. She was at the local Co-op Store, unloading the groceries from the cart into the van and the second her back was turned a raven hopped up onto the side of the cart, yanked a steak out and proceeded to eat it from the ground. It was funnier when I watched the same thing happen to a lady and her pork chops in the same parking lot the week prior.

Yes, the ravens are out to get us.

Which brings me to this week's short story. "Raven Steals The Light" is a Haida legend, though I believe many other aboriginal groups have similar stories involving a raven. This particular retelling is by Eugene Marckx.

I absolutely love the first three lines, "It was a time of darkness everywhere. People didn't know what to do. They held tight to their excuses." It just invites a parable interpretation, doesn't it?

"Raven Steals the Light" is about a Raven who avoids being eaten by his own mother by promising to bring back the light from a man who has stolen it and kept it in a box. It's also the story of how the moon, sun, and stars were created as well as how the raven became black.

Like the other aboriginal legends I've read, it's quite magical and sometimes jarringly so. There's no attempt made to explain why the raven, for instance, has the ability to transform nor any warning that it can until it happens. But it's quite easy to adapt your expectations-- if the raven can talk, why shouldn't it be able to turn itself into a hemlock needle? It's fun and no small wonder that these stories have been passed down through generations.

I love ravens and really respect their intelligence. Steal the light. Steal a pork chop. But why my internet? That just ain't right.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Reader's Diary #662- The King James Bible: Psalms

While it's not even the halfway mark of the Old Testament, for some reason, I'd felt that making it up to the Psalms was some sort of milestone on my quest to very slowly finish reading the Bible. Finally making it there, I wanted to do it right. Though I switched over from the King James Version to the Good News version very early on, just for understandability sake, I decided to go back to the KJV for the Psalms. Usually heralded as the best translation out there, amongst protestants at least, those who sing its praises do so not just for theological reasons, but also for its artful use of language. Knowing that the Psalms were essentially songs and/or poetry, I figured the KJV was probably the better choice. After comparing the first couple or so in the Good News Version to the KJV, I think I'd made the right decision. The latter seem to put as much emphasis on the rhythm as meaning, whereas the former seemed focused solely on translation.

From a strictly poetic point of view, I enjoyed the Psalms. It's not hard to see the influence that they've had on other poetry and music through the ages. The rhythm, repetition, patterns, and figurative language are all quite strong. Plus the parallel thoughts add a whole other element which is reflective and powerful at the same time. It would also clearly help make them more memorable if they were to be passed on through word of mouth rather than by print.

I did, however, get slogged down in the theology of the Psalms. For some reason, I'd believed that the psalms were all going to be beautiful. Perhaps it was because so many of the nicest lines have been lifted for modern songs and poetry:

Or perhaps it was because I love poetry and forgot that not all poetry is rainbows and lollipops. I was quite taken aback at the number of appeals to God to smite one's enemies. There were prayers and requests for God's help in personal endeavors but so many then switched gears to plea, or even demand, that God strike down anyone who sinned. Very, very few Psalms asked for forgiveness of other people or even that He help those people change their evil ways. Even that old favourite Psalm 23 has the line, "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies" which isn't as bad as say "I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies" or "thy foot may be dipped in the blood of thine enemies" but still shows a preoccupation with enemies that borders on paranoia and obsession. Apparently, in the 150 Psalms the word "enemy" or "enemies" is used 104 times! I went online and found a lot of theologians, not surprisingly, trying to justify it, or at the very least, contextualize it, but I still found it hard to get past.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #8- Nancy Drew VERSUS The Hardy Boys

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Archie Andrews VERSUS Nancy Drew), with a final score of 11-1 was Nancy Drew.

Sorry Archie, your charms might work on Betty and Veronica, but Nancy's got more important things to do.

I've never been a big fan of Archie, but I've read a double digest on occasion. I think Bybee summed it up pretty well last week when she remarked that Archie's world had more appeal than Archie himself. Archie never seemed worthy to be the center of attention. Without the girls, Jughead, Reggie and the rest, where would he be? But I'll give the company credit for continually trying out new ideas, no doubt contributing to the longjevity of the comic. Over the years we've had spin-offs, crossovers, a TV show and even a number one hit single. In recent years we've seen marriages (sort of), and the introduction of their first gay character. Next year we'll see the gang end global warming.

Until then...

Vote in the comment section below before November 2nd: Who is the better character?

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Canadian Book Challenge 4- 4th Roundup!

Four months down!

Welcome to the 4th round-up for the Canadian Book Challenge 4, where we get to check out all those Canadian books you read and reviewed in October. It's a perfect way to sit back and crash from your post-Halloween sugar high.

I do, however, need to apologize upfront. I'm moving to a new house (actually, since this is a pre-scheduled post, I should be moved in by now-- but no internet hook-up yet!) so with my busy schedule and sporadic internet access, this post will have to be relatively short and forgive me if I don't respond quickly to any comments or questions.

First off, how about the Canada Reads changes this year, eh? Geez, I know there's been a lot of backlash over the years, especially last year, but wow. Talk about a revamp. Talk about throwing the baby out with the dishwater. Talk about Coke II. And still... still they're sticking with celebrity panelists. But... all complaints aside, I'm tickled pick about some of those that made it to the top 40: Canadian Book Challenge participant, Corey Redekop with Shelf Monkey and my book blogger suggestion, Jeff Lemire's Essex County! Whatever new cool word has replaced w00t! (Get out there and vote before November 7th!)

Secondly, let's get to some prizes. Congratulations to Heather, a Canadian blogger at Books and Quilts, and Bybee, an American ex-Pat living in South Korea, who blogs at Naked Without Books. One of these lucky bloggers will win Elaine McKluskey's Going Fast and the other will win Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer's Perfecting. Now the difficult part, Bybee and Heather will have to work together to decide who gets what and email me with their decision. Thanks once again to Goose Lane Editions for this generous prize. (Keep watching for more Goose Lane Editions prizes coming up in future round-ups.)

For next month's prize, in honour of Jeff Lemire's Essex County and Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki's Skim making into the Canada Reads top 40 and bringing some much deserved attention to Canada's rich and blossoming graphic novel/ comic scene, I ask that you read a graphic novel next month. It doesn't have to be one of those two (though those are great). How about Seth's It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken? Chester Brown's Louis Riel? Scot Chantler's Northwest Passage? If you read and review a Canadian comic in November, let me know and you might win a copy of Von Allan's graphic novels Stargazer and the road to god knows... which were generously donated by the author himself. (Special thanks to Von Allan and to Pooker for helping arrange it!)

I have to say this. Whenever I get books donated to the book challenge as prizes, I make it a point not to read them myself first. I don't want to risk damaging the spine and all that jazz. I didn't do that this time either, but man, oh, man was it difficult. They look great!

Now, and finally, the reason why we're here. What Canadian books did you read and review for the Canadian Book Challenge 4 in October? Let everyone know in the comments below.

- Make sure you tell me how many you've completed so far so that I can record it in the sidebar progress report
- It doesn't count as complete until the review is done!
- When people leave links, try to visit one another's blogs and read what they had to say. Comment. Encourage. The discussion of Canadian books is what this challenge is all about.

Reader's Diary #661- Sarah Prevatt: The Second Plague

Approach God from an angle and everyone will think you're profound. It's one of the oldest tricks in the book. Are there any profound comments left to made on the subject of God? Possibly. Possibly Sarah Prevatt has said something profound in "The Second Plague." Possibly not. Possibly it was never her intent. I'm not sure.

"The Second Plague" opens with the line, "Pops left for good the day the frogs fell from the sky." Basically it's about a womanizing father who finally leaves his family: his wife, the girl telling the story, and her brother Jude.

I enjoyed the story. On the surface, it seems straight-forward. But when I try to analyze it, I get bogged down. Was Prevatt comparing the father to a plague? Was the act of prayer between the sister and brother the good thing to come out of it all? Yes, their father is trash but the family is strong enough to survive without him. Did God intervene? Or does it matter?

Very profound piece. I think.

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