Monday, May 31, 2010

Reader's Diary #616- Charles G.D. Roberts: The Vagrants of the Barren

One of the most popular searches that drives people to my blog for some reason is Charles G.D. Roberts's short story "The Cabin Door." The unfortunate thing, for those wanting something more insightful, is that I'd barely mentioned it in a review I'd done of a Canadian short story anthology 4 years ago.

But, seeing as Roberts must still hold some interest (my guess is that he's a favourite amongst profs teaching Canadian lit courses), I went in search of another of his stories. My find? "The Vagrants of the Barren."

"The Vagrants of the Barren" is a decent story, in the "man against nature" vein. It made me think back to Jack London's "To Build a Fire." When I reviewed that story, I remarked that it was different from most survival stories because in those "man must keep his wits about him and not to let his imagination get the better of him" while London implied that a man must have a healthy dose of fear and imagination in order to calculate all the odds stacked against him. Roberts' protagonist, Pete Noel, fit more in line with the witty sort. In fact, the second paragraph (after he awakes to find his cabin on fire) begins,
But being a woodsman, and alert in every sense like the creatures of the wild themselves, his wits were awake almost before his body was, and his instincts were even quicker than his wits.
Pete Noel's survival hinged upon calm and craftiness versus fear and response. Also unlike London, Roberts held his cards closer to his chest. London's story relied heavily on foreshadowing, but when Pete slipped further and further into base animal instinct, it was near impossible to predict whether or not this would turn out to be a good thing, the good thing that kept him alive. As in real life survival cases, luck plays a major role. But how Pete survives is just the surface theme. Underneath it, Roberts waxes philosophical about man's evolution from animal. How we remember our animal instincts when necessary and how we keep our humanity in check is the see-saw that balances the story.

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

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trivial Sunday- So Here's To You Swiss Family Robinson (Television Based on Books)

From big pages to small screens. This week's trivia focus is television book adaptations.

How many can you answer? As always feel free to answer all at home, but only answer one in the comment section, so that 9 others can play along.

1. Which author is not responsible for any of the title characters in this episode?

a. Bram Stoker
b. Laura Lee Hope*
c. Carolyn Keene*
d. Franklin W. Dixon*

*Collective pseudonyms

2. Which Stephen King book was NOT made into a TV miniseries?
a. The Tommyknockers
b. Needful Things
c. The Stand
d. The Shining

3. Who wrote MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors which inspired both the MASH film and M*A*S*H TV series?

4. Which show, based on a book series of the same name by L.J. Smith, stars Bulgarian-Canadian actress and Degrassi: The Next Generation alumni, Nina Dobrev?

5. Which TV movie or series, based on a book, did Melissa Gilbert NOT star in:
a. The Diary of Anne Frank (1980)
b. Safe Harbour by Danielle Steele (2007)
c. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
d. Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell

6. Which forensic psychiatrist was first introduced to readers in Kathy Reich's first novel Deja Dead, and now shares her name with a character in the Bones TV series-- but confusingly based on Reich herself not the novel's heroine?

7. Which Oscar winning actress starred as Helga Wagner in the American 1970s version of Johann David Wyss's Swiss Family Robinson? The answer lies in this video, so don't look if you want to answer it the honest way:

8. Who wrote the novel Accidentally on Purpose which was turned into a CBS sitcom last year starring Jenna Elfman? (It's been canceled after a single season).

9. What is the first book in the Dexter novel series?

10. Which short lived series, according to Wikipedia, "revolves around the lives of several people as a mysterious event causes nearly everyone on the planet to simultaneously lose consciousness for two minutes and seventeen seconds on October 6, 2009. During this "blackout," people see what appear to be visions of their lives on April 29, 2010"? P.S. It's based on a novel by a Canadian.

(Out of respect for George Orwell, I've avoided any question involving Big Brother.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Reader's Diary #615- Jessica Grant: Come, Thou Tortoise

There's a running gag in Jessica Grant's Come, Thou Tortoise, in which Signal Hill, an iconic landmark in St. John's, Newfoundland is referred to as Seagull Hill. It drove me nuts.

In Steve Zipp's Yellowknife, there's a running gag in which Pilot's Monument, an iconic landmark in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, is referred to as Co-Pilot's Monument. I enjoyed this one.


Theories abound.

1. Not meant as a disclosure, as an in "I have something to confess," but it's worth noting that Grant's Come, Thou Tortoise won the National Post Canada Also Reads competition. I was the one defending Yellowknife, which, by power of deduction, you'll note did not win. Could sour grapes be behind the reason I didn't like Grant's gag, but liked Zipp's very similar type gag? I hope not. I think not. But I can't really say for sure. Who knows how bitter my subconscious is. Certainly not me. I avoid that whole rat's nest at all cost, if you want to know the truth.

2. It's just not as funny. It's unlikely that readers unfamiliar with St. John's would get the joke. Doesn't Seagull Hill sound like it could be real? Would they even know something was amiss? On the other hand, a monument devoted to co-pilots, not pilots? Surely this would sound absurd even to readers unfamiliar with Yellowknife. If you're going to do a running gag, it has to be funny. Otherwise, every time you hear it it becomes more and more annoying. And page for page, there are a lot more "in jokes" in Grant's book. The Purity Factory becomes the Piety Factory, Quidi Vidi Lake becomes Quite-A-Bite-Of Lake (sounds silly, but St. John's is home to a real street known as Hill O'Chips, so Quite-A-Bite-Of Lake isn't unbelievable.)

3. Unclear intentions. A la The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time Grant's primary narrator (the tortoise talks too, but more on that later) thinks differently from the average person, including the average reader. Grant has replaced autism with a low IQ and that's as much as we know about why Audrey Flowers is the way she is. Audrey also likes wordplay. So Seagull Hill might be a misunderstanding on Audrey's part. It might also be Audrey simply having fun with the real name. Or it might be Grant's slightly alternate representation of the city. Whereas such ambiguity could be fun, even part of a book's appeal, there's unfortunately too much of it here. Even the dialogue is ambiguous. Grant doesn't use quotation marks and sometimes it's unclear which conversations are actually happening and which are being imagined. Adding to the confusion is the inconsistent approach. Sometimes conversations are worked into simple paragraphs (minus the punctuation) and at other times they're written in script form. I'm all for experimentation with punctuation, but it's got to work. Saramago managed to rid Blindness of all quotation marks and didn't even bother to indent when there was change in speaker. But Saramago had reasons beyond just being different (if you were blind, sometimes voices of strangers could be hard to tell apart) and there was never any doubt that someone was talking.

4. Somewhat related to number 3, the running gags were symptomatic of the book's larger problem: the overabundance of quirk and the lack of anything else. I know quirk is a taste thing and there's a fine line between interesting and overwrought eccentricity. The bizarre characters of Miriam Toews' a complicated kindness nearly ruined that book for me, but at least the plot drew me in. I recently saw a performance of Annie in which Miss Hannigan said everything with a grin on her face, the actress practically adding "am I not just the funniest thing ever?" at the end of every line. Every sentence in Come, Thou Tortoise felt the same way, that Grant was reveling in her own wackiness. It doesn't help that every character seems equally crazy, that the tortoise's voice is too similar to Audrey's. It also doesn't help that last year I read one of Grant's short stories, "Humanesque" and I had questioned its lack of plot and the eccentricity. I'm beginning to think Grant is a one trick pony.

This is the third National Post Canada Also Reads contender that I've read. If you'll recall, I took issue with the event because us panelist were not supplied with all the books, were not given time to read them all, and were not even expected to. So, without any real deadlines, I'm working my way through them, trying to decide whether or not I'd still pick Zipp's Yellowknife as the winner and why. As it stands now, my ranking would be:

1st: Steve Zipp- Yellowknife
2nd: Jocelyne Allen- You and the Pirates
3rd: Jessica Grant- Come, Thou Tortoise

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #5- George Eliot Versus Guy Vanderhaeghe

The final winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (George Eliot Vs Ursula K. Le Guin), with a final score of 4-2, was George Eliot!

Thanks to B. Kienapple, I am now inspired to read last week's losing contender, Ursula K. Le Guin. According to Kienapple, the Left Hand of Darkness is mind-blowing. And really, who doesn't like to have their mind blown from time to time? (Ahem.) There's also that staggering number of awards won by Le Guin which also make a pretty convincing case. Another week, yet another author to add to my "must read" list. It's getting harder and harder to find time to revisit authors I've already read...

Which brings us to Eliot's latest contender.

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (June 1, 2010), and if you want your book to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who is better?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Reader's Diary #614- Lionel Kearns: Victoria Day

Okay, so we're not exactly bursting at the seems with Victoria Day themed stories here at ye olde Internete, but I was able to find this little story by British Columbian author Lionel Kearns.

"Victoria Day" reads like a Kevin Arnold memory, had Kevin Arnold grown up in Canada in the 1940s. It's pleasant and it's an easy read. It deals somewhat with racism, but with a sitcomish innocence. It has a style that's sometimes too informal and too directly personal ("I guess you’re wondering how I made the Nelson Juniors when I was so young. I'll tell you, It was because...") but perhaps not everyone will be turned off by it. To me, there was something disingenuous about it. If the narrator and I were having a personal conversation, he'd never really say "I guess you're wondering..."

Otherwise, it's a fine, pretty innocuous tale. Just like the holiday.

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

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday Word Play- Not Quite Antonyms

This week we're trying our hands at really bad, not quite antonyms, and authors whose last names are, by and large, compound words. Confused yet? Here's the deal: I'll give you a list of book titles and you have to find the author's last names below. However, instead of giving them to you directly, I've broken their last names apart into their composite words, and tried to come as close as possible to the opposite of those words. Granted, some don't have true opposites, but you'll find that the words I've chosen are often connected in a "one or the other" sort of pairing. For instance, if you saw the title Consolation, you'd look below to find "Greenfield," and tell me that the author is (Michael) Redhill. Red-Green, Hill-Field. Got it?

As always, feel free to do all ten at home but only answer one in the comment section. That way, 9 others will have a chance to play along.

Animal Farm/ Island of the Blue Dolphins/ The Other Side of the Bridge/ The Poisonwood Bible/ the Reckoning/ Alice in Wonderland/ Satanic Verses/ The Call of Cthulhu/ The Amber Spyglass/ The Outlander

1. Evedaughter
2. Legweak
3. Queenriddler
4. Crimedaughter
5. Dawdlelive
6. Truckrock
7. Hateart
8. Norsick
9. Pushwoman
10. X'Apple

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reader's Diary #613- Art Spiegelman: Maus I

When I first began blogging about books, I took a different approach than I do now. Basically I'd read so much, blog about my thoughts up to that point, read some more, blog again, and so on until I'd finished. In some ways, that was good. I paced myself better, reflected more, and liked to record the changes that I, as a reader, went through in my experience with the particular text. However, from a practical side, it wasn't working. A major reason why I enjoy litblogs is the conversations we have about the same books. I love when other bloggers read my thoughts and say, "that's similar to what I've been saying" and proceed to add a link to their own review. It was becoming a burden to say, "that's similar to what I said here and here and here and not so much here but here as well" and then trying to link up all those "heres" with posts. Plus, my readership was way down when I used that approach and I suspect people were losing interest in my 12 posts about Suite Francaise. Besides, I'd often find myself at the end of a book with nothing new to add but felt under pressure to write a closure post.

But I'll stop after Maus I, in much the same way as I used to, and collect my thoughts here even though I picked up the 2nd volume today and everyone seems to insist that you have to read both volumes back to back.

So far, I'm not overly impressed. I feel almost sickened to say it, but it's true. I'm a big fan of alternative comics and I've always sort of believed that Spiegelman's Maus was like the granddaddy of them all (though maybe that's TinTin). Plus, I was in love with his Wacky Packages as a kid, so Spiegelman has been topps for me since that time. And Maus has gotten so, so many accolades, even the freakin' Pulitzer, how dare I say any bad about it? Not to mention that it's about the holocaust.

Fortunately, Raych at Books I Done Read, had paved the road of dissent before me. I seriously had to dig deep in the annals of the Internet to find a fellow naysayer on this book. Raych's bravery has encouraged me to speak my mind as well.

You know what I really didn't like? The animals. The mice, the cats, the pigs. I found it all to be a distraction. I'm not opposed to talking animals. Hey, I loved Animal Farm. But the idea of the Jews as mice and the Germans as cats, seems gimmicky. Apparently, he's tired of answering the question of "why mice?" but too bad. If so many people ask why, there might be a problem. One positive review I read said that, "you soon forget they are depicted as animals." Well, if you forget, what's the point? Not only that, but Spiegelman doesn't really give you a chance to forget. According to Ian Johnston, forgetting wasn't Spiegelman's intent. Here's how Johnston describes a scene in the book when Vladek and Anja-- who are drawn as mice-- find themselves hiding in a cellar with a rat.
This picture brings into play a complex series of associations. The rat, for example, is very real. This is no schematic rat. And in the scene the mice are hiding from or scared by the rat. But the mice are telling each other that it is not a rat; it's only a mouse. But, of course, that's not true. The composition of the frame puts the reality of the rat right into the foreground, and the object behind it is rendered in a naturalistic fashion—the cellar is real enough. So we are in a real place, back in historical time. At the same time, we are, as it were, inhabiting the consciousness of the schematic mice—we are there in the scene.

The reality of the rat, however, and the reference to the fact that it might be a mouse punctures the allegorical basis which makes the Jews mice. The frame reminds us that what is at stake here is not mice, but people with whom we have closely identified. There's a sense here that Spiegelman is deliberately straining the beast fable metaphor to the breaking point in order to call into question the adequacy of that metaphor (and thus of his entire text).

Spiegelman doesn't offer us any sort of a commentary on how we are supposed to respond at moments like this.
But whereas Johnston sees this as a good thing, I don't. Why does Spiegelman need the adequacy of his metaphor called into question? If it wasn't an adequate metaphor, why use it in the first place? There's enough going on the story without that to think about as well. How long did Vladek and Anja hide before the Nazis found them? How will Vladek and Artie's relationship be affected by the writing of the book? These are questions I wanted to focus on. Not why the hell Pluto can't talk, but Goofy can.

Johnston, and others, offer all sorts of suggestions as to why he chose to draw the characters as animals (an allegory, a commentary about stereotypes, etc) but none of them work for me-- they take away from the story rather than add to it.

As for the story, I'm on the fence so far. On the one hand, the story of Vladek's holocaust recollection is pretty standard. Johnston says it best when he considers it "an ordinary man's experience of extraordinary circumstances." The more compelling part is the aftermath. Artie, based on Art Spiegelman himself, is interviewing his dad, Vladek, about his experiences in order to write the book. I love that Spiegelman chose to leave in the interviewing process itself. The glimpses into life after the holocaust and the repercussions it's had on the survivors and their subsequent families was the heart of the book for me. Unfortunately, it's not yet beating loud enough. I hope Maus II will focus more on the present day.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #5- George Eliot Versus Ursula K. Le Guin

The final winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (George Eliot Vs David Mitchell), with a final score of 5-1, was George Eliot!

This week we bid adieu to David Mitchell. I'm not overly familiar with Mitchell, having only read his Black Swan Green three years ago. It took me a while to get into that book, but I grew to really enjoy it. However, he's probably best known for number9dream and Cloud Atlas, both of which were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He's definitely one to watch. Maybe in a few years time, he'll even beat George Eliot.

Mitchell lists this week's contender as one of his literary influences.

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (May 25, 2010), and if you want your book to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who is better?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reader's Diary #612- Michael Chabon: The God of Dark Laughter

After I'd gotten about half way into Michael Chabon's "The God of Dark Laughter," I'd decided that Chabon was a cross between John Irving, Franz Kafka, and a screenwriter for CSI. It's an annoying habit I have of comparing one person's style (whether they be musicians, authors, actors, or whatever), with others that I'm familiar with. Really, I think if anyone draws comparisons to three or more others, each who are in turn vastly different from one another, it's fair to say that they are unique. Michael Chabon is not a platypus.

But, suffice it to say, if you like Irving, Kafka, and CSI, you'd probably enjoy "The God of Dark Laughter." It begins with a clown found murdered in a woods and only gets weirder and more interesting from there.

Continuing with the name-dropping, if any Lovecraft or Cthulhu fans read Chabon's story, they may recognize the name "Friedrich von Junzt." Junzt was a fictional author, himself a creation by Robert E. Howard, the man behind Conan the Barbarian, and friend of Lovecraft; Junzt's writings are now considered part of the Cthulhu Mythos. I'm not sure if you follow that, but it's nothing you need to know to enjoy Chabon's story.

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

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Trivial Sunday- Prime Ministers, Prime Books

This week's trivia selection revolves around Canadian Prime Ministers.

Remember, feel free to answer all 11 at home, but only answer one in the comment section to allow 10 others a chance to play along.

1. Which author has been sending reading recommendations to Prime Minister Stephen Harper every two weeks since 2007?

2. Which writer was subsequently sued over his Secret Mulroney Tapes book?

3. Name the Prime Minister behind the memoirs Straight From the Heart and My Years as Prime Minister.

4. Which Prime Minister appeared as a panelist on CBC's very first Canada Reads program?

5. Which Prime Minister was the focus of John English's Shaughnessy Cohen Prize winning biography Just Watch Me, awarded in March of this year?

6. Who is the granddaughter of Prime Minister Lester Pearson and the author behind the novels Playing House and Believe Me?

7. Which author created the fictional Prime Minister Perry Pleaser?

8. Which Prime Minister is the title of a poem found in Dennis Lee's Alligator Pie collection?

9. Name the publishing company behind the "Leaders & Legacies" series; a series featuring our past Prime Ministers and their fictional adventures as 12 year olds. Their first book, by Roderick Benns, was about John Diefenbaker and entitled the Mystery of the Moonlight Murder.

10. Who was the author behind One John A. Too Many?

11. What was the now defunct publishing company behind the Canadian Prime Ministers: Warts and All YA series, that featured such titles as Sir Charles Tupper: The bully for any great cause by Johanna Bertin and Sir Robert Borden: The nitpicker who challenged an empire by Irene Ternier Gordon.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Reader's Diary #611- David Seymour: Inter Alia

As someone who's followed this blog over the years might know, I've long been singing the praises of poet Zachariah Wells. I still am, but holy Lord, I didn't get his review of David Seymour's Inter Alia. And by get I don't mean to say I don't agree with it, I mean to say I don't understand it.

"With the exception of 'Quartz,'" Wells writes, "in which Seymour torques his language much tighter, the series is far more lithic than lapidary."

As I type this, there's a red squiggly under the word lithic. Oh look, there's another. That's my laptop's way of telling me it's a spelling mistake. It's not, but that's how rare the word is. Then there's lapidary. Based on my dictionary search, I think Wells is saying that Inter Alia is more stone than stone expert. Considering that the book has geological themes, this observation might be witty if anyone was able to understand it. The rest of his review is similar.

From what I can tell, Wells wasn't particularly fond of the book, though I'm not clear as to why that was. I, on the other hand, mostly enjoyed the book, but I'm not sure if I can justify my feelings any better.

For a couple or so recent years I'd been reading poetry on a pretty regular basis-- a bit of everything, but more contemporary poetry. However, my interest began to fade after a lot of the modern free verse stuff started sounding all the same: borderline to outright gloomy, long-winded, pretentious, slow, heavy, and vague. Sure, lots of it is written technically well, some filled with vivid imagery, but very little that was inspiring or exciting. The publisher's synopsis on the back of Inter Alia is pretty much the exact same synopsis that gets printed on the backs of 90% of all poetry books today:
Seymour's work is characterized by metaphoric reach, deep insight, and above all an attunement to the subtlest of our gestures of connection or disconnection.

Had I picked up Inter Alia when my love affair with poetry had started to wane, I'd have probably thrown it down in disgust. But now that some time has passed, I'm taking things a little slower, more cautious. While Inter Alia was hardly groundbreaking, I think Seymour had mastered contemporary poetry. I like a lot of experimental, offbeat music, but I still appreciate when someone does a rock song really well. Seymour's poetry is like the latter.


You are difficult and disappointed

on the long drive home from the party:
love can be citric, even stern when you let it.

Waves break into the harbour, slush noisily
against the sand. The moon is a burnt
photograph. I try not to think of turtles
nosing into traffic, their blind faith in light,
or worse, of tires pulling toward the deeper water--
green and magnetic-- in our silence. We pass a farmhouse,

then an orchard, but the apples can't be seen.

They pitch and bob in the humid air;
bruising one another gently in the darkness.

--David Seymour, 2005

It's not pretentious, vague, or long-winded, but it is gloomy, slow and heavy. Like a fog. Like contemporary poetry. But I love the narrative, and given the story, how can it be anything else but gloomy, slow and heavy? Plus it's got those beautiful images of apples bumping against one another, the sounds of noisy waves slushing against the sand. There's that wonderful metaphor of the moon as a burnt photograph. It scans well. And it's got those dull d's in the opening line. It's a wonderful poem, as far away from Christian Bok as it might be.

In fact, my least favourite moments in Inter Alia are when Seymour trades in the Fender Stratocaster for a sitar, if you'll recall my music comparison from earlier. The "Fugue for the Gulf of Mexico" at the end, for example, is written for multiple voices, in different coloured fonts, and some words are printed directly behind others, making it impossible to read and imagine. It's a performance piece that has no business in a book.

But for the most part, what David Seymour does, he does well. It may be lithic. But it's lithic-tastic.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #5- George Eliot Versus David Mitchell

The final winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (George Eliot Vs Joseph Conrad), with a final score of 6-3, was George Eliot!

While Joseph Conrad did get two votes last week, I was more than a little surprised that those were based on his looks rather than his writing ability. I've never said how to judge the authors, as I think that's half the fun, so that's not my issue with Conrad's votes. My issue is that he looks like Mr. Angelino from Three's Company, and, I'm sorry ladies, I just don't get the attraction. As for his writing, well, I haven't read anything by him yet, but Heart of Darkness is on my must read eventually list.

This week, we get a more contemporary 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. (May 11, 2010), and if you want your book to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who is better?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Reader's Diary #610- Charlie Fish: Death By Scrabble

Those of us faithful Short Story Monday participants have latched onto to a few stories in the past year. Each week we review different short stories or collections, but occasionally we'll all be so intrigued by another's review that a bunch of us end up reviewing the same story. That was the case with T.C. Boyle's "Chicxulub," Nicola Slade's, "My Dear Miss Fairfax," and now Charlie Fish's "Death By Scrabble."

First reviewed by Margot at "Joyfully Retired," then reviewed last week by both Teddy Rose and Carol. Always one to succumb to peer pressure, I decided to jump onto the bandwagon this week.

There's not a lot to add to what the others have said. I agree that it's funny, though darkly so (the opening sentence reads, "It's a hot day and I hate my wife.") It's also, as Carol pointed out, not "a work of literary genius," but it is entertaining. It seemed more like a screenplay for a lighter Twilight Zone episode, or a Simpsons Halloween special short, than a typical short story. It's quickly paced, not heavy on the descriptions, and very plot driven. There's somewhat of a twist at the end, but the way it's set up, you'd at least figure out that something was going to go different than planned.

I was not surprise to find that author Charlie Fish is also a screenwriter. On an amusing side note, when I looked for a photo of Charlie to accompany this post* I happened upon the above photo on his wife's blog. In that particular post, and a few others, she mentions playing Scrabble with her husband. Let's hope their real life Scrabble matches have much less animosity than the one featured in this story.

Wondering if "Death By Scrabble" had in fact been turned into a short film, I went to see what I could find on YouTube. It turns out there are of dozens of versions, including ones with live actors, animations, and even a radio play. I chose this one because I like the quirky art work. However, the director made a few changes to the plot here or there that were unnecessary and tended to weaken the story.

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

*While I always choose an author's photo to accompany my Short Story Monday posts, I've never gotten permission from an author, a photographer, agent, or publishing company to do so. I figure that I'm helping promote their stories (even when a review is negative), so most people probably wouldn't object to its usage. But while I've never been asked to take down a photo, I would certainly do so if asked.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Saturday Word Play- 10 x 6/2

In this week's Saturday Word Play, I start with one word book titles of 6 prime letters. Next I chop them, then I dice them, and finally, I give you the exquisite middle 2 letters. Can you reassemble the titles, based on the given clues?

As always, feel free to do all ten at home, but only answer one in the comment section. This will allow 9 others a chance to play along.


1. Vladimir Nabokov: --li--
2. Kelley Armstrong: --ok--
3. Jose Saramago: --ei--
4. Guy Gavriel Kay: --ab--
5. Carol Shields: --le--
6. Saul Bellow: --rz--
7. Judy Blume: --en--
8. Cory Doctorow: --ke--
9. Joy Kogawa: --su--
10. Michael Crummey: --lo--

Friday, May 07, 2010

Reader's Diary #609- William Shakespeare: Troilus and Cressida

While Troilus and Cressida is certainly not one of Shakespeare's better known plays, I learned a while ago not to presume that means it's not one of his best. I loved, for instance, the relatively obscure Coriolanus, but I'm not a big fan of the wildly popular King Lear.

Unfortunately, Troilus and Cressida is no Coriolanus.

The title characters are involved in a rather rushed and unimpressive love story while most of the play involves the other Trojans and the Greeks who, instead of an all out war, put all their energies into getting a couple of their guys to fight one another.

If it weren't for the quips and repartee that he does so well, it would have appeared Shakespeare didn't really care about this play. There are no standout characters, the plots struggle to find a foothold, but at least there are witty put downs. Shakespeare never fails at those.

But is that it? Did I miss something? Scouring the Internet for some insight, I came across an essay by Joyce Carol Oates, who would clearly say that yes, I missed something. According to her, I, as a modern reader, should consider this "a contemporary document-- [with] its investigation of numerous infidelities, its criticism of tragic pretensions, [and] above all, its implicit debate between what is essential in human life and what is only existential." Uh. Sure. Or maybe Oates isn't ready to admit that Shakespeare wasn't infallible.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #5- George Eliot VERSUS Joseph Conrad

The final winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Shel Silverstein Vs George Eliot), with a final score of 4-3, was George Eliot!

The sidewalk ends here for Shel Silverstein. Not that I've ever read that particular book, though I have read The Giving Tree and Runny Babbit. I was never a big fan of The Giving Tree, but you can read my concerns over at Loni's, if you're interested. As for Runny Babbit, it's pleasant enough, though it's basically just a long spoonerism gag and tends to get old quickly. Silverstein can be forgiven with that one as it was published posthumously. Who knows if he would have wanted any changes? Plus, the illustrations are great.

Also, as a couple people have already commented, Silverstein's song writing is also not to be forgotten. Not only did he write some of Dr Hook's most popular songs ("Sylvia's Mother" and "The Cover of the Rolling Stone"), he also wrote Loretta Lynn's "One's on the Way," The Irish Rover's "The Unicorn," and most appreciatively for me, Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue." He was also a frequent contributor to Playboy Magazine (not posing, I hope).

This week, it's a Victorian showdown. Who will emerge victorious?

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (May 11, 2010), and if you want your book to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who is better?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Reader's Diary #608- Liam O'Flaherty: The Sniper

I've never been a big fan of war stories... unless there's a sniper involved. Three Day Road, The Cellist of Sarajevo? I love them. Not only do snipers add to the excitement, but there's also the whole psychological complexity of killing someone from afar, unknown and unseen to them. Does that make it easier for the killer? What does it do to their mental health in the long term? And what about those being hunted? Anyone can drop dead at any second, but a sniper increases your odds it'll be sooner rather than later. How can people cope living under such fear? It's a deep, dark topic to be exploring.

Yet writers do. Long before Joseph Boyden and Steven Galloway took up the theme, Ireland's Liam O'Flaherty wrote "The Sniper and you'll find many similarities: the intensity, the detachment. Even some of the details are similar-- in both O'Flaherty's and Boyden's stories lit cigarettes become a perfect sniper's target (we get it, cigarettes can kill you).

However, I didn't enjoy O'Flaherty's story as much as those other novels. His scenic descriptions are just as strong (I love the opening paragraph), but I felt the story relied too much on a surprise ending that wasn't all that explosive. I can appreciate surprise endings, but they have to change my whole outlook of the preceding story. O'Flaherty's ending simply took a sad tale and made it sadder. Or it might be that this particular surprise has been done over and over again in stories and plays before and since; it's a surprise ending considering the lack of clues in this individual story (which could be another fault), but not considering literature itself.

I've also considered that short stories may not be the best form to present snipers. These people are worthy of whole case studies. I'm not sure a short story can accomplish all that in such a little space. Then again, I've heard similar arguments about short stories in general and my usual response is, "you just haven't read the good ones." How about it? Know any good short stories about snipers?

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

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Canadian Book Challenge 3- 10th Roundup

Welcome to the 10th Roundup for the 3rd Canadian Book Challenge! After this, there's only 2 roundups to go. 14 of us have already reached the finish line, have you?

With just about 3 Canadian Book Challenges under our belts, and a 4th on the way, I thought it was time, once and for all, to settle a burning, subjective question that really can't be answered and shouldn't be asked: What is the best Canadian book of all time?

Where do all the young folks to find their opinions? The Google. As did I. Fishing the Google with search terms ranging from "The best Canadian book" to "favourite Canadian book," I came up with this top 1 list:

1. From, the number one essential Canadian book is Alice Munro's The Love of a Good Woman. If you ask me, they must be just overstocked on Munro books.

1. From the University of Toronto bookstore, the top Canadian book of all time is Margaret Laurence's The Diviners. I can possibly tolerate this choice, but the list quickly plummets into the depths of CanLit hell after that.

1. From the Literary Review of Canada, the most important Canadian book is Account of the Second Voyage of the Navigation of 1535 and 1536 by Jacques Cartier. Notice they didn't say the most read Canadian book.

1. From comes the results of a 2007 Indigo poll to note their favourite book of all time. The top Canadian book in the list (actually coming in at #8) was Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. (Number one? Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. Dear. God.) According to Wikipedia, Anne of Green Gables is also the best selling Canadian book of all time.

1. From Lists of Bests, Christopher's top choice is Prochain Episode (Next Episode) by Hubert Aquin. I like when Canadian books try something different, but I found this one to be just about unreadable. I didn't have a sweet clue what was happening from beginning to end. The longest short book ever.

1. According to Raidergirl at Library Thing, Bernice Morgan's Random Passage is the best Canadian novel. Raidergirl is also a Canadian Book Challenge participant.

1. According to the book Atlantic Canada's 100 Greatest Books, the greatest book of Atlantic Canada (there must be a less redundant way to say that) is Alistair MacLeod's No Great Mischief.

1. The winner of the "My Favourite Saskatchewan" book is A Prairie Alphabet by Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet and Yvette Moore

1. Favourite Canadian fiction of Canada Reads 2010 winner Nicholas Dickner: Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler.

1. From AbeBooks' 10 Favourite Volumes of Canadian Poetry: Selected Poems of Irving Layton

1. (Again this one was actually #9, but the top Canadian of the list) From CBC Book Club, the top Canadian graphic novel is Chester Brown's Louis Riel. (I would have said so too, until I read Jeff Lemire's Tales From The Farm)

1. From's 100 Greatest Book's of All Time: Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (coming in at #95, the only Canadian on the list)

1. Readers at The Modern Library: Moonheart by Charles de Lint (highest Canadian, #35)

So let's settle this once and for all. Please vote below:

And while you wait for those votes to pour in, make sure to add links to your Canadian reviews last month if you want them to count towards your Canadian Book Challenge total. Check the number beside your name in the sidebar and make sure your overall total is up to date.