Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #6- Paperbacks VERSUS Libraries


The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Paperbacks VERSUS Hardcovers), with a final score of 13-4 is paperbacks.

While lots of people last week agreed that the aesthetics of a hardcover are better and that hardcovers last longer, it wasn't enough to convince readers to give up on the paperback. Perhaps if the other reasons to choose a hardcover were highlighted, the voting would have gone differently:

1. Hardcovers make better jewelry boxes or hiding places for flasks when you hollow out the middle

2. Hardcovers make better weapons

3. Hardcovers make better supports for those table legs that are just too short

4. Hardcovers make better art
5. Hardcovers= weightlifting (remember: always lift with your back)

6. Ladies' Balance and Posture Exercises

7. Hardcovers are better for pressing leaves, flowers, and fairies

8. Hardcovers keep podiatrists in business

But alas, despite their many practical purposes, people still prefer paperbacks.

Which brings us to this week. The Harper government has declared that paperbacks wear out too quickly and libraries have been mandated to carry only hardcovers as a cost efficiency measure. However, low consumer demand and high production costs have not shown a great return for publishers. Random House and Harper Collins, Canada's two biggest publishers, have decided to only produce one or the other: paperbacks (which would mean the end of libraries), or hardcovers (which would mean the end of paperbacks, but libraries continue to exist). It sounds like a referendum is in order. This goes beyond paperbacks versus hardcovers. This is paperbacks VERSUS libraries...

Vote in the comment section below before July 6th.



Monday, June 28, 2010

Reader's Diary #625- Gretchen McCullough: Khamaseen

My wife and I are tossing around a few new vacation ideas. We've considered New Orleans, Peru, and now we're sort of fixated on Egypt. In any case, it's a ways off. But in the meantime, I decided to do a reading tour and went looking for an Egyptian story online. I found a bunch written by an author named Gretchen McCullough, not Egyptian by birth (American), but now living in Cairo. Most of her essays and short stories are set in either Syria or Egypt.

I settled on "Khamaseen" mostly because I was attracted to the foreign sounding title. A khamaseen is 50 day long windstorm blowing out of the Sahara across Egypt. At first I was attracted to such details as these, scratching my itch for travel. But I couldn't get into the story. It's about a Greek-American who'd relocated to Cairo and is trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with his fiancée, but finding it increasingly difficult especially as he's struck up a close friendship with his neighbour Margarete who's clearly interested in him.

However, when I went back to find examples of how the story didn't flow well, I ended up liking it. I still think the attempts at symbolism (with the storm, the pigeon trapped in the house, and the invading feral cats) are a bit forced and distracting, but all in all, I enjoyed it-- much more the second time around.

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

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Reader's Diary #624- Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot

I'd recently picked up this up at a yard sale here in Yellowknife. On that note, I just have to say how astounded I was by the used books to be found on the local yard sale circuit. I'd expected a load of Nora Roberts, Clive Cusslers, and James Pattersons. Instead I found Becketts, Laurences, and Doestoevskys. I can't help but feel a sense of snobbish pride in my town.

Waiting for Godot was not what I expected. I'd heard of it many times, but little about the details. I was expecting something along the lines of Death of a Salesman. How wrong I was.

Waiting for Godot is absurd. I've since learned the term "Theatre of the Absurd" and apparently, Waiting for Godot is one of the most recognized examples of this genre of play. Not surprisingly, as I read it I kept picturing John Cleese and Eric Idle in the roles of Vladimir and Estragon respectively.

The play goes nowhere, quite literally. In the only two acts, the scene doesn't change. Nor does much happen. Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for Godot at the beginning of the play and continue to wait for him as the play closes. We're never told why or who Godot is, nor do we learn hardly anything about Vladimir and Estragon. The most exciting thing that happens is a visit from Pozzo, a man with a whip and a leash attached to another man named Lucky. (Surprisingly, Pozzo and Lucky didn't seem nearly as into S & M as I just described them.) Some people believe that Pozzo was actually Godot himself and such assumptions are what makes the play so great.

Beckett must have had an uncanny ability to hone in our need for answers. For a play with so much tedious repetition and so little action, it is amazingly not boring. It's funny (darkly funny), quirky, and most importantly, vague. However, unlike a lot of authors do vague with an obvious pretense of higher meaning, Beckett's intentions are never clear. Does this play say anything or not? Then, if it doesn't have a message but we, as a result of our human nature, insist on finding one, that in itself becomes a message. You can see what a conundrum I'm in.

Here's my theory. Vladimir and and Estragon represent our westernized, first world society, with nothing better to do that hypothesize about God (hence GODot), religion (hence all the Biblical references), philosophy and the meaning of Beckett's play. We think we sound smart but we're no closer to the truth than we ever were or ever will be and we continue to wait for answers. Occasionally, we'll take notice of other societies who have real issues to worry about (Pozzo and Lucky), but it has little effect on our own frivolousness and futility. It's a cynical interpretation, I guess.

I don't really know what it's about. I love it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reader's Diary #623- Gilles Tibbo and illustrated by Bruno St-Aubin: Where's My Hockey Sweater?

With Gilles Tibbo and Bruno St-Aubin both hailing from Quebec, this finalizes my own personal Canadian Book Challenge. While the official rules of the 3rd Canadian Book Challenge merely state to read 13 Canadian books in the year, I personalized it for myself by aiming for at least one book from each province or territory. Quebec was my last to go.

Where's My Hockey Sweater? is the story of a Nicholas who has to find his hockey equipment before the first practice of the season. But there's a catch: his equipment is scattered all over the house and, well, it's not the most organized of households.

I can relate. Even though my son has the "one piece" hockey equipment (minus the skates, helmet, stick, gloves, mouth guard, neck guard, socks, jersey and pants) and even though we aim to keep it all in his hockey bag, we somehow manage to be pressed for time come hockey morning as we try to collect everything we need. Needless to say, I appreciate Tibbo's take on this topic. I'm glad someone sees the humour in it all.

I also appreciate St-Aubin's illustrations. As a child I loved pictures of junkyards and disarray. Like early versions of I Spy books, without the instructions, I loved searching to find treasures amongst the illustrator's imagination. Though Tibbo doesn't catalogue every item in Nicholas's room, St-Aubin has ad-libbed by adding boats, clothes hangers, comics, legos, a lobster, tennis balls, a comb, a pacifier, a submarine and more. Who doesn't enjoy virtual dumpster diving?

My sole problem with the book is with the publisher. Scholastic either thinks the Tibbo/St-Aubin combination is very similar to the Munsch/Martchenko duo or else has a pretty rigid system in which they put together a book. Production-wise, you'd hardly know the difference, right down to the side by side circles highlighting the author/illustrator portraits on the back. With no disrespect to Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko, Tibbo and St-Aubin deserve better treatment than a template production. No kids are likely to pick up on such a thing, but this adult reader thinks it looks lazy on the part of Scholastic, especially for such a fine book.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #6- Hardcovers VERSUS Paperbacks


The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Real Bookmarks VERSUS Hardcovers), with a final score of 10-1 is hardcovers.

While most people seem to think that those real bookmarks with their fancy frills and cutesy phrases are better for keeping your place in a book, they'd gladly use pretty much anything if it meant not giving up hardcover books. Classy people that you are-- just ignore the Walmart receipt now marking where you left off. But what about paperbacks? Lots of people last week started to debate this already, so we might as well make it official. Let's assume publishers suddenly all decided to stop making both hardcovers and paperbacks and were trying to decide which route to take...

This week you have to choose between hardcovers and paperbacks. If you absolutely had to give up one, which would you give up? (Vote for the other.)




Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reader's Diary #622- Peter Cumming and illustrated by P. John Burden: A Horse Called Farmer

A Horse Called Farmer is based on a true story about a horse from the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the 1920s. After finding that he'd been sold and relocated to Grosse Île, Farmer made his way across sand dunes and other towns and eventually a swim across a harrowing channel to his original home in L'Île d'Entrée.

Normally I find horse stories as dull as dishwater. Did you see the trailer for the new Secretariat movie? I fell asleep about half way through and it's a 2 minute trailer. Why would A Horse Called Farmer-- not Laserbeams or Psycho-killer, but Farmer--be any different? I wasn't sure Burden's black and white sketches were going to help matters.

But it turns out not to be that bad. It's a bit of an adventure tale, reminiscent of Sheila Burnford's The Incredible Journey and it's quite amazing that a real horse could or would attempt such a feat. Kids will no doubt see it as having a happy ending, though I'm sure adults will question why he was sold in the first place and what ramifications followed his return.

Because this was illustrated by a Prince Edward Islander and published by Ragweed Press, who were originally an Island publisher, this counts as my PEI choice for the 3rd Canadian Book Challenge. To date, I've read from
1. Newfoundland and Labrador (L. M. Falcone, Michael Crummey, Jessica Grant, and Kenneth J. Harvey)
2. Alberta (Robert Heidbreder)
3. The Northwest Territories (Robbie Newton Drummond, Cathy Jewison, Mindy Willett and Sheyenne Jumbo, Val Wake, Cathleen With)
4. Ontario (Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Lawrence Hill, Jeff Lemire, Jocelyne Allen, Mariko Tamaki)
5. The Yukon (P.J. Johnson, Dick North, Dirk Wales)
6. British Columbia (Ulli Steltzer, Michael Kenyon, Steven Galloway)
7. Nunavut (Neil Christopher)
8. Nova Scotia (Lesley Choyce, Peter Cumming)
9. Saskatchewan (Anne Szumigalski)
10. Manitoba (Sarah Klassen)
11. New Brunswick (David Seymour)
12. PEI (P. John Burden)

Which now leaves me with 9 days and Quebec to go.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Canadian Book Challenge Four - Preview and Vote

The Canadian Book Challenge Four is just around the corner and I need your help! I've created three logos and I can't decide which one to use as the official logo:

1.


Based very loosely on Lawren Harris's (Group of Seven) "Mount Lefroy":



2.

Based on the Bay blanket colour scheme.

3.

Which uses fonts from Canadian companies, logos, and institutions (perhaps you recognize some of them.)

Please help by voting for your favourite in the comments below. (Even if your choice doesn't get picked, feel free to steal the logo for your blog).

Also, if you haven't signed up for the 4th edition of the Challenge yet-- beginning on July 1st-- make sure to send me an email with the subject line ("Sign me up!") or indicate your intent in the comments below. I'll need your email so that I can add it to the Canadian Book Challenge 4 mailing list. You'll get a reminder at the beginning of each month to post your book reviews and once your first review is in, you'll get your name added to the participants roster in the sidebar of this blog, and your progress will be tracked accordingly.

I've gotten some generous new prizes lined up, but I'm still looking for more. Tell your author/publisher/bookseller friends!

Finally, I'm in the process of creating the finale post for the 3rd edition of the challenge. So, please start getting your June reviews to me now. Put links in the comments below, with a tally of how many books you've read for the challenge in total.

Reader's Diary #621- Heather O'Neill: Riff-Raff

When my wife and I enrolled our kids in French immersion, we thought we had a good 3-4, possibly 5, years until our own French abilities would prove inadequate to keep up. Both of us had taken French all the way up through high school and I'd done a couple of French courses in university. Our daughter's now wrapping up grade one (our son, preschool), and we're already eating their dust. So, we've invested in Rosetta Stone.

I'm quite enjoying it so far, but haven't yet gotten past the review stuff (which is necessary, believe me). If we can converse in French someday, I'll be happy. But now I'm even optimistic that, someday, I'll be able to read French authors as well. I have before, of course, but always translated versions, which, no matter how much I enjoy them, always make me question how close the work is to the original French intent.

For now my Quebec authors will have to be English-- who, don't get me wrong, can still be wonderful authors. (Hey, Mordecai Richler is probably my favourite Canadian author.) This week's Short Story Monday author, who writes in English, is from Montreal. You probably know her best for her debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, which won and was nominated for a bunch of awards a couple years back and sold a kajillion copies.

Fans of that novel will no doubt remember the strong voice of Baby, the 12 year old protagonist. It was so strong, so distinct and attitudey, that I questioned how well O'Neill would handle another protagonist. Would he or she end up as a slightly revamped version of Baby?

With "Riff-Raff" I have my answer. This time the lead is a nineteen year old girl from Montreal who sets off to the States to finally break her ties with her Canadian boyfriend and hook up with a guy from New Mexico, with whom she'd had a brief fling with at McGill. Plot alone, this could be a slightly older version of Baby. But they couldn't be farther away from one another. Where Baby was wordy, tough, and imaginative, this new and unnamed character, is more matter of fact and sensitive. You get the sense that an adult Baby would defend her childish actions and naivete, whereas this new woman is subtly self-deprecating, as in "how could I be so silly?"

I liked this new voice and, as much as I liked Baby, I'm glad that O'Neill can offer something different. However, I wasn't wild about the plot. Basically the girl gets mugged in the U.S., the Americans throw some ignorant jokes about Canadians at her and then turn out to not be so bad after all. I don't know. I'm getting tired of Canadians making jokes about Americans not knowing us. Didn't Rick Mercer take that bit about as far as it can go? Canadians who think Americans think we all live in igloos are about as cliché as Americans who think we all live in igloos.

And the goody-goody lesson at the end. Meh. I saw it coming. Unfortunately, I can't even say something was lost in translation.

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

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saturday Word Play- They Came from the CEEB!



In the 6 lines below you'll find the syllables of 10 writers who, at one time or another, worked for the CBC. The first syllable in his/her name is in the first line, the second in the second line and so on. How many can you find? Bonus points for naming a book they've written.

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

REX A E STU DA EV JON ANN BILL THOM SEAN
MA CUL VID AN LIZ AS ART RICH A DRI MUR
A PHY ARD SOL LEN ENNE RIE KING MC SU THAN
BETH SON O ZU LEAN GOLD CLARK MAC
STEIN DON KI MAN SON HAY
ALD

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Reader's Diary #620- John le Carré: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

I can count on one hand the number of spy novels I've read in my life. It's never been a real interest of mine. Believe it or not, I only saw my first James Bond movie this past year. I began with Casino Royale and was pleasantly surprised. Then I made sure to watch versions with the other actors. I made it through Connery, Moore, and Brosnan and by that time I'd gone back to not being interested.

Still, I've long been curious about John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Time listed it among its All-Time 100 Novels, Esquire considered it one the 75 books every man should read, and Publisher's Weekly called it the best spy novel of all time. Could this be the spy novel that finally turned me onto the genre?

Short answer? No.

Long answer: I enjoyed parts but others I found tedious. I found it disjointed, sometimes claiming to be a psychological expose, sometimes a action-packed thriller, and other times a courtroom drama. Not that a good book couldn't contain all elements of such genres, but I don't think le Carré strung them together well. You could almost pinpoint the moments when it switched.

Though the transitions weren't smooth, I didn't mind the sections individually. I thought the idea of a spy being washed up and insecure was a nice bit of deconstruction, reminding me what the Watchmen did to the superhero genre. A spy who questions who he is and the role he plays in society? I like that. Let's face it. Bond is just too cocky.

The thriller sequences were probably my least favourite, but I admit having great difficulty following the plot. It's hard to root for anyone when you're not entirely sure who the bad guys are.

Then there was the courtroom scene, or more of a trial by panel actually, where the plot became clearer and even interesting.

All in all, I'd consider it a passable book, but I'm wasn't a fan of spy lit and it didn't change your mind.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #6- Real Bookmarks VERSUS Hardcovers


The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Real Bookmarks VERSUS Makeshift Bookmarks), with a final score of 6-4 is real bookmarks.

There was also a vote for dog-earring and a couple that couldn't have cared less. Personally, I don't use anything, but before I got onto that kick, I was more of a makeshift sort of guy. Though, like notes scribbled into the margins of used books, I always find what other people use fascinating. August, for example, used to use a Polaroid of his girlfriend. How sweet is that? (Never mind that they've since broken up.) That's much more personal than some tasseled thing you'd get thrown into your bag at Chapters, isn't it? Then again, I wasn't one of the sentimental folks either. I was okay using a corner ripped from a newspaper-- no emotional attachments there.

This week you have to choose between real bookmarks and hardcover books. If you absolutely had to give up one, which would you give up? (Vote for the other.)

Which is better?


Monday, June 14, 2010

Reader's Diary #619- Jonathan Franzen: Two's Company


Not long ago I blogged that, for inexplicable reasons, I had Philip Roth, Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen all mixed up. Inexplicable as I'd not read any of them. So now I'm on a mission to tell them apart. A few weeks back I read my first Chabon story, "The God of Dark Laughter," and now I'm checking Franzen off the list, thanks to "Two's Company," a New Yorker story from 2005.

Does the title make you think of Three's Company? It's intentional. It's a story about a couple, a comedy writing couple named Pam and Paul, whose success has led them to Emmys and profiles about their sickeningly perfect marriage in such magazines as Good Housekeeping. Sickeningly perfect? Does that make me sound hostile or bitter? Strange since I'm very happily married myself. Did I mention that they are about to work on a romantic comedy, the most loathsome of all movie genres, movies which, despite their name, are neither romantic nor comedic? That's why I care not about Franzen's couple.

Something tells me Franzen has similar thoughts on romantic comedies, for "Two's Company"slowly becomes the anti-romantic comedy. The cutesy couple, as it turns out, are not what they first appear. Or at least Paul's not, and you can't have a couple of one. He starts to be repulsed by their perfect public persona, resenting the couple they've turned into, and then gets the wandering eye. I like that Franzen focuses on Paul's disillusionment, while Pam is shown as ignorantly and merrily working away on her script, about a woman who thinks her husband is having an affair with a big breasted woman, though he is not. Oh the irony.

But the ending... Franzen pulls it back to a Hollywood style ending after all-- though with a feminist bent rather than a love story-- and I can't decide if it was intentional or not. Did he realize that his ending is every bit as cliche as the romantic comedy? In real life poetic justice does not come in such high doses.

In any case, it's a fun story.

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

Friday, June 11, 2010

Reader's Diary #618- Art Spiegelman: Maus II

If you'll recall, I wasn't overly fond of Maus I when I read it last month. I didn't hate it, mind you, but didn't really feel it was worth the hype and I had a few questions. Fortunately, I kept with it.

Not only did I like Maus II much better, it ended up retroactively swaying my opinion on the first. Together, the two volumes seem more about the writing of the books themselves than the holocaust.

In this volume, Spiegelman wrestles with the success of the first book written five years earlier (which is surprising to me, as I still think it's the weaker of the two and doesn't quite work on its own). There's a very poignant scene with Spiegelman in a mouse mask at his writing desk which is perched atop of a pile of holocaust victims.

He's also wrestling with guilt over his clashes with his father, the one whose holocaust survival story constitutes the bulk of the book. We've all done this, we've all told ourselves that we're not entitled to self-pity. Look at how bad people in Yemen have it. Or those earthquake victims in Haiti. Really, my biggest worry right now is that I have a dent in the back of the van? Or worse, I'm feeling sad today and can't even think of a reason why? How dare I. Imagine being Art Spiegelman then. How can he complain about anything after all his father's gone through? How can he complain about his father? Powerful stuff.

Then there's the doubt about his own art. At one point he goes to his shrink's apartment and mentions that it's overrun with cats and dogs. "Can I mention this" he asks, "or does it completely louse up my metaphor?" Remember when I questioned the animals in my post about Maus I? It looks like Spiegelman himself questioned it. And now that I understand that the book is more about doubt and self-reflection and not being perfect, I'm better with it. Sure we get more of the holocaust, this time taking us into the horrors of Auschwitz, and it's powerful, no mistake about it, but it's the now that raises this book above others in this vein. And it's sneaky how Speigelman accomplishes this, when the present day takes up much fewer pages. I love how the frame becomes the story.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #6- Bookmarks VERSUS Receipts, Photographs and Lottery Tickets

Okay, I'll explain the strange match-up in the post title in just a bit. But before we move onto the 6th installment of the The Great Wednesday compare, let's look back at the twists and turns of the 5th installment:

1. Back on November 4, 2009, Chuck Palahniuk left Douglas Adams standing with his thumb out somewhere just outside of Neptune (4-3), on the 11th he silenced Don Delillo (3-2)

2. Then on November 18, Palahniuk found out what happens when you talk about Fight Club and was KO'd by Canada's own, Miriam Toews (8-1). On the 25th Toews didn't care too much for Wayne Johnston love (6-3), and sent Marjane Satrapi packing on the 2nd of December.

3. But, on December 9th, in a pretty complicated unkindness Jack Kerouac beat Toews (5-4). He hit the road pretty quickly, however, losing to Allen Ginsberg (3-1) on the 17th. On Christmas Eve, Ginsberg was outhowled by Dennis Lee (4-1).

4. Then, on the 30th of December, Ann-Marie MacDonald deprived Lee of Alligator pie who promptly died (3-1), on the 6th of January, 2010 there was a random shooting of Bernice Morgan (6-2), Taps was played on a tin flute for Gabrielle Roy on the the 13th, and Carson McCullers was hunted down on the 20th (5-3).

5. Then on the 27th, falling on her knees and begging for mercy, MacDonald was denied by Joseph Boyden (6-4). Then on the 3rd of February, falling on his knees and begging for mercy, David Adams Richards was denied by Joseph Boyden (5-4).

6. The road, unfortunately, ended before a 3rd win, and Boyden was ousted by Laura Ingalls Wilder on the 10th (5-4). On the 17th, Sylvia Plath's usually sunny demeanor was destroyed by Wilder (5-2). And on her winning streak, on the 24th, Wilder returned Thomas Hardy to obscurity (not quite, 7-6), and DH Lawrence back to his lover on February 24th (5-4).

7. And then, on March 3rd, Wilder became homesick for the prairies and was offered a one way ticket back, courtesy of Margaret Wise Brown. Louisa May Alcott posed little threat on the 24th (5-2), Maurice Sendak was easily tamed on the 31st of March, and Cervantes was decapitated by a windmill on the 7th of April (okay, that was the worst one yet), 6-1. And then on the 14th, Brown was a stain on Philip Roth, beating him 3-2.

8. Finally, on April 21st, it was time to say goodnight (too easy), and Brown was defeated by Shel Silverstein (3-2).

9. But the sidewalk ended shortly for Silverstein, thanks to George Eliot (4-3, April 28), who subsequently went on a rampage, sending Joseph Conrad out to sea (6-3, May 5th), David Mitchell into the clouds (5-1, May 12th), Ursula K Le Guin into darkness (4-1, May 19th), and Guy Vanderhaeghe on his last crossing (5-1, May 26)

10. And finally, as in the GWC tradition, Eliot took on Robertson Davies last week, and once again, Davies shows he is the king, 4-0.

Now, where do we go from here. I'm taking a break from the authors again for a while and trying something a little different. Basically you'll just have to pick between 2 book/reading things. Sometimes those will relate to one another, and your choice will be easy. Other times, you might find yourself thinking they have absolutely nothing to do with one another and what the hell kind of hypothetical world would I live in to even have to choose? Look at the new Great Wednesday Compare logo above. One week you might be asked to choose between Coke and Pepsi, the subsequent weeks you might find yourself choosing between Coke and Apple Computers, or Coke and the Notorious B.I.G.. Ask which you could easier live without, then pick the other.

This week's pairing will last until June 15th, midnight. Vote by leaving a comment below.

Which is better?

Bookmarks OR Receipts, Photographs and Lottery Tickets*

*Basically makeshift bookmarks or household items commonly used as bookmarks

Monday, June 07, 2010

Reader's Diary #617- Willy Vlautin: Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before

This week's short story comes from Fifty-Two Stories with Cal Morgan, a weekly online short story giveaway from Harper Perennial. Here you'll find classics short stories by the likes of O. Henry and Ray Bradbury, but also by contemporary authors like Willy Vlautin, whom I'm also highlighting this week with his short story, "Stop Me If You Think That You've Heard This One Before."

Considering the title, it's no surprise that this story comes from the collection Please: Fiction Inspired By The Smiths. Though besides from the title, I'm not quite sure what the connection is. Maybe you can make an argument that the mood is very Smithsy (sarcastic ennui?), but that's a stretch. Then, that's alright with me. I've never been a huge fan of the Smiths. I like 'em and all, likewise with Morrissey's music, but I'm not as gaga over them as most Smiths fans are/were.

But I do like this story. There's a lot about ambition. In recent years I've come to question our culture's heavy emphasis on ambition. Are we not allowed to be happy with where we are and who we are now? I'd ask. But maybe it's just that we too often get ambition confused with materialism and pride. Yeah, I'm okay with ambition after all, just not those other things. I'm not sure if Vlautin's unnamed narrator ever comes around on the idea-- except maybe to make status quo his new ambition, rather than a default.

I also like this song, from the band Richmond Fontaine, which is fronted by Willy Vlautin:



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

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Great Wednesday Compare #5- George Eliot Versus Robertson Davies



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

His Last Crossing may have won Canada Reads a few years back, Wanda may have been spotted reading it on a episode of Corner Gas, but Guy Vanderhaeghe was no match for George Eliot. Oh Saskatchewan, when will you finally have your moment of glory?

For now, however, let's celebrate George Eliot's historic Great Wednesday Compare win. With Vanderhaeghe's departure, Eliot has won 5 weeks in a row. She is the final winner of the Great Wednesday Compare #5. But, in a GWC tradition, she must now take on the all time champion: Robertson Davies. Davies, the winner of the 2nd GWC, has since defeated the 1st GWC Champion, John Steinbeck, and the 3rd GWC Champion, A.A. Milne (the fourth GWC was a book against book format, so Davies didn't compete). Will Davies remain undefeated?

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 8, 2010), and if you want your book to get more votes, feel free to promote them here or on your blog!

Who is better?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

To my mysterious Googler...

Actually, my counter showed that you used Bing, not Google.

Search terms: concrete poem by John Mutford called Snow Days

The thing is, I don't remember writing such a poem. However, I did once write a concrete poem ABOUT snow, called "On The Other Hand." (Click on the link)

I hope this helps!

The Canadian Book Challenge 3- 11th Update


One month to go Canadian book challenge participants! Just one month! If you haven't finished yet, it's time to cram. Or, if you're one of the 18 participants that has already reached the goal of 13 books, you may want to go for the record, at least break your own record. And keep those prizes in mind. I've just added the last 2 books in the Bannock Baker's Dozen prize. Also, if you plan on trying for the poetry or short story collection prizes, you should start tallying your totals now and email me with those numbers.

Very important: if you plan on joining the Canadian Book Challenge 4, email me now (jmutford at hotmail dot com) with the subject sign me up. You'll be added to the mailing list. And publishers, booksellers, and authors: if you're interested in donating a book or books as a prize please let me know ASAP. It would be much appreciated! Please, if you have connections, help spread the word!

Remember the poll last month which asked what the best Canadian book of all time was? The results are in: Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables is the winner. Not surprisingly, Montgomery was also the author most read in the 2nd edition of the Canadian Book Challenge.

In other book news: should you find yourself in Yellowknife this upcoming week, why not check out the 5th annual Northwords Writers Festival. We've got Annabel Lyon, Ivan Coyote, Bob Barton, Richard Van Camp, Steve Sanderson, Sharon Butala, Cathleen With, Jamie Bastedo, Bren Kolson, Annelies Pool, Mindy Willett, James Pokiak, Cathy Jewison, and Deborah Webster joining us for workshops, readings, books signings, bbqs, ghost stories, erotica, school visits, and more. Check it out. Who would you most want to meet? Or which event would you most want to take in?

In the meantime, don't forget to add links to your May reads and reviews in the comments below-- as well as an overall total of how many you've read up to now. Make sure your totals are correct in the sidebar.