Monday, March 28, 2011

Reader's Diary #697- Poppy Z. Brite: Marisol

Whereas Timothy Taylor's Stanley Park promised but didn't deliver to be both a tribute to the famed Vancouver park and a gift for foodies, Poppy Z. Brite's "Marisol" is a wonderful tribute to New Orleans and foodies' mouths will be watering.

I'd not heard of Poppy Z. Brite until I went looking for New Orleans authors, but since tracking him and this week's story down, I've seen his name everywhere-- including writing blurbs on a couple of books I've recently purchased.

I loved "Marisol" but I'm not sure if my excitement about visiting the city didn't bias me. Hopefully by the time this post is published (it's a pre-written post), I'll have seen many of the locales mention in Brite's story and tried some of those amazing sounding dishes.

But I think I'd have enjoyed it anyway. The characters are unique, the premise is fun, and where the story ends up? I won't ruin it, but I love stories with honest-to-God conclusions.

I'll be looking for more Poppy Z. Brite stories for sure. Hopefully his retirement will be short lived.

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

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Trivial Sunday- On The Books

Can you name the books by these authors that have "on the" in the title?

Remember, feel free to do all 10 at home but only answer one in the comments below. That way at least 10 others can play along.

1. Jack Kerouac
2. George Eliot
3. Haruki Muramaki
4. Enrich Maria Remarque
5. Charles Darwin
6. V.C. Andrews
7. Daphne du Maurier
8. Jeanette Winterson
9. Michael J. Fox
10. Mark Twain
11. P.K. Page

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reader's Diary #696- Alice Dunbar-Nelson: Violets

This is the first of a few pre-written posts scheduled to be published while I am away in New Orleans.

Hailing from New Orleans, Alice Dunbar-Nelson is remembered for her writings, her role in the Harlem Renaissance, her fight for African-American and women's rights, and for being a bisexual. Where's the biopic already?

But might this be a case of an author being more interesting than her writing? Check out "Violets."
For in the dawn of the perfect morn, it had arisen, stretched out its arms in glorious happiness to greet the Saviour and said its hallelujahs, merrily trilling out carols of bird, and organ and flower-song.

What was up with that saccharine mess? Okay, the woman is clearly in love, and okay, so sometimes when we're in those early stages, we say and do things that in retrospect are a little, shall we say, nauseating.
Keep them always in remembrance of me, and if ought should occur to separate us, press these flowers to your lips, and I will be with you in spirit, permeating your heart with unutterable love and happiness.
Good Lord, it continues.

This has to be forced right? Dunbar-Nelson is making a point, isn't she?
The giddy, dancing sunbeams laugh riotously in field and street; birds carol their sweet twitterings everywhere, and the heavy perfume of flowers scents the golden atmosphere with inspiring fragrance.
Okay, make the point already. Yes, those teen dance movies were stupid, but we don't need 90 minutes of the Wayans Brothers' Dance Flick to point that out?

Was Dunbar-Nelson a Wayans? Or was the sentimental tripe not intentional? Neither choice is particularly promising. But wait...

There's a twist ending.

Is it worth it? I can't decide quite yet, but I'm leaning towards no. Your thoughts?

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Great Wednesday Compare #8- Atticus Finch VERSUS Anne Shirley

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Lady Macbeth VERSUS Atticus Finch), with a final score of 7-0 was Atticus Finch.

There was no hand wringing over last week's vote apparently. A shut out. But at least she had a good run here at the Great Wednesday Compares. Definitely one of Shakespeare's characters. I'm probably a but biased towards her as Macbeth was the only play I've ever done (though I did have a part in the Laramie Project, which unfortunately never got off the ground). While I was a lowly, nameless murdered a friend of mine played Lady Macbeth and stole the show. Some of Shakespeare's characters can be pretty flat, but Lady Macbeth has such a complexity, depth and growth. Okay, so she wasn't that nice, but come on, a great character nonetheless.

Moving on to the next contender, I've brought out the big guns. However, I'm giving you lots of time to mull it over. Three weeks in fact, while I'm on vacation.

Vote in the comment section below before April 5th: Who is the better character?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Reader's Diary #695- The Good News Bible: Proverbs

If reading the Bible teaches you anything it's patience. There's a lot of detail and a lot of repetition. The Book of Proverbs isn't so bad for details, but Holy Bible there's a lot of repetition. Of course since proverbs are words of advice, maybe that's the point. It's like all those no-smoking messages. By now everyone knows smoking is bad for you. I'm guessing the hope is that by repeating that message over and over, it'll sink in and pop in a teen's head the moment they reach for a cigarette. Of course, repetition might also make us immune to the message, but that's the pessimistic view of things.

For 31 chapters of Proverbs, there's really only a handful of messages:
1. Don't be stupid.
2. Don't be evil.
3. Don't be greedy.
4. Don't be cocky.

There's a few others, but those are the biggies.

Though I could have done without all the repetition, I did enjoy all the similes. I know the Psalms gets all the credit for being the poetry of the Bible, but there's some pretty creative figurative language in Proverbs as well. How about this one?

Beauty in a woman without good judgment is like a gold ring in a pig's snout.

And there's some unexpected good advice as well:

Watch out for people who grin and wink at you; they have thought of something evil.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Reader's Diary #694- Kate Chopin: Old Aunt Peggy

Come this time next week, I'll be in New Orleans. I've never been there before, but have long been fascinated with the culture. It wasn't, however, my first choice for a March break vacation.

That was Egypt. But with buying a new house, Egypt wasn't in our budget this year. Then you know what happened. It's nothing personal against New Orleans that it was the 2nd choice, it's just that we wanted to visit all the (habitable) continents first. You may remember that last March break we went to Japan. The tragedies. So many beautiful places and people on Earth, yet everything is so fragile. I'm hoping to find that New Orleans is well on her way towards recovery from Katrina. I need a dose of optimism right about now.

In the meantime, I've gone looking for New Orleans or Louisiana books and stories. I'll begin with Kate Chopin's Bayou Folk, a collection of short stories available for free online. It contains one her most famous stories, "Desiree's Baby," which I reviewed a few years back, and other stories set in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Unlike "Desiree's Baby", "Old Aunt Peggy" isn't as fully realized as a short story. It's more of a character snapshot of Peggy, an old black woman and former slave, who asks to stay on at her plantation and end out her days in peace. The plantation owners set aside a small cabin for her and she does just that. Not much of a plot, but I did enjoy the dialect and personality. Every couple of years or so (implying how long Old Aunt Peggy hung on), she'd hobble up to the main house and say,
Mist'ess, I 's come to take a las' look at you all. Le' me look at you good. Le' me look at de chillun, - de big chillun an' de li'le chillun. Le' me look at de picters an' de photygraphts an' de pianny, an' eve'ything 'fo' it 's too late. One eye is done gone, an' de udder' s a-gwine fas'. Any mo'nin' yo' po' ole Aunt Peggy gwine wake up an' fin' herse'f stone-bline.
God, I love that accent. The think accent, while vastly different, made me think of my family back in Newfoundland, and in turn, one of my grandmothers. While she wasn't preoccupied with blindness like old aunt Peggy, she was preoccupied with death. It sounds morbid, but after growing up hearing her say, "If I'm still alive by then..." whenever she was asked over for a Sunday supper or other family function, we all came to accept, and even expect it, as just one of her quirks, something that made her all the more endearing.

Finding similarities between the most unlikeliest of characters is one of the reasons why I love reading, and traveling. But it also makes all those tragedies I see on TV all the more heart-wrenching.

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

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reader's Diary #693- Robert Kroetsch: The Hornbooks of Rita K

Robert Kroetsch's The Hornbooks of Rita K reminded me at first of Paul Hiebert's Sarah Binks. Both books are about the narrator's adoration of a fictional poet.

But whereas the novel Sarah Binks was a satirical novel, The Hornbooks of Rita K is a collection of poems about poems, metapoetry. Like Sarah Binks, it's funny at times, but for the most part it's a serious exploration of the poet/reader relationship. How well did I, as a reader, understand what Kroetsch was trying to express? And does that matter if I gleaned my own meaning? What's interesting about The Hornbooks of Rita K is that the reader becomes more of the focus than the poet, or often, even the poetry. Whereas it's presented as a man going through and cataloging the poems of his disappeared poet lover, only a few of the poems are the lover's (Rita's) poems themselves-- most are the narrator's (Raymond's). And sometimes it isn't even clear whose poem it is: Rita's? Raymond's? Robert? or dare I say it, mine?

Here's my absolute favourite from the collection:

Hornbook #1

Often in the afternoon he cries for a while. He wants a
poem that will be as accommodating as a peanut shell.
Sometimes he sits at his desk while he cries. Sometimes he
goes outside and pretends he is weeding his rock garden.
He wants a poem that will make him understand why men
plant land mines.

Sometimes he laughs in the middle of his crying. He wants
his fingers to recover their lost intelligence. He wants his
mouth to speak. He stares out through the windows at the
place where the sky should be. He wants a brick to crash
through one of the windows, a brick thrown by a poem.

- By Robert Kroetsch

Man, does he have my number. How about yours? And do we expect too much? Is the poet writing for themselves? For the reader? For both? My mind is swirling. Could be the shiraz. But more likely it's The Hornbooks of Rita K.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Great Wednesday Compare #8- Lady Macbeth VERSUS Atticus Finch

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Lady Macbeth VERSUS Iago), with a final score of 3-2 was Lady Macbeth.

This week we say goodbye to pure evil. Yes, who can forget Gilbert Gottfried's sinister parrot* who... oh, wait, different Iago. Iago, from Othello, is my favourite Shakespearean villain. Rarely does Shakespeare offer so little of a character's psychology yet achieve such a rich and complex character. In any case, he didn't win last week.

Vote in the comment section below before March 15th: Who is the better character?

*Interestingly, Disney's Iago wasn't the first cartoon parrot Iago. Anyone know the other?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Reader's Diary #692- Corey Redekop: Shelf Monkey

Instead of offering up my review of Corey Redekop's Shelf Monkey, I present you with my pitch to talk books with CBC's Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter, as part of their So You Think You Can Talk Books (sigh) campaign...

I can talk books. I read and talk about books all the time at my blog. Who can’t do that? Well, according to many of those who review books for a living, most people. Bloggers, reviewers, Good Reads patrons? Sure anyone can talk books, but the lacklustre quality of the majority of these reviews (or so the argument goes), threatens to destroy any true insight.

While not about book bloggers versus print reviewers, the characters in Corey Redekop’s brilliant first novel Shelf Monkey are no less passionate about books, and no more united. Redekop hilariously and daringly destroys the myth of the reader/non-reader dichotomy. Readers are not all created equal. As Thomas Friesen, Shelf Monkey’s maybe protagonist, would likely point out, there needs to be a distinction made between fans of Stephenie Meyer and readers of Margaret Atwood.

Shelf Monkey
is funny, satirical, and readers of all stripes will appreciate the myriad shout-outs to all their favourite and least favourite books. But more importantly, Redekop raises important questions about subjectivity, quality, snobbery and passion. How does capitalism influence the state of our literature? Serious thought, fun book. We all need to talk about it.

There. I hope that was provocative enough to pique their interests. If not, oh well. In the meantime, while they haven't made this a voting thing (yet), I'm sure it wouldn't hurt to see a lot of "thumbs up" by my comment. Hint, hint.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Reader's Diary #691- Sharon Erby: Parallel

Yay! I discovered a new source of free online short stories. Out of Toronto, The Puritan "seeks, above all, a pioneering literature. Work featured here may push toward the symbolic frontier, challenging limitations and forging into previously unexplored aesthetic territory. But it may also revisit and revitalize traditional forms."

Enter Sharon Erby with her story "Parallel" found in the current issue of The Puritan. I have to admit, I really didn't like the opening paragraph. It took me three times to figure out what was going on and even now I still feel like it's awkward and lacking. If this is unexplored aesthetic territory, I'll take familiar territory any day.

But, if you can get past that, it quickly becomes more accessible. (Revisiting traditional forms, perhaps?) It's gloomy as it's mostly about death, but when Erby isn't attempting symbolism, it's at least well written from a descriptive stand point. "Parallel" is about finding comfort in fatalism and I'll give Erby credit for taking on such a topic, but I can't say the story worked for me as a whole.

Still, excited to find The Puritan.

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

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Reader's Diary #690- Bryan O'Malley: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life Vol. 1

I'd held off reading any of the Scott Pilgrim series for as long as any Canadian fan of graphic novels possibly could. Still feeling like a novice to the world of comics and graphic novels, I've been, for the most part, selecting critically acclaimed titles or ones that looked more literary. Playing it safe in other words. I'd seen plenty of Scott Pilgrim books at the bookstore but really hadn't paid them much attention. The artwork on the cover looked a little simple and it certainly didn't look literary at all. Snob, that I am.

But I'm not just a snob, I'm also a sheep. So, when the movie came out last year, I figured it's time I joined the masses. It's not everyday a Canadian novel, a graphic novel nonetheless, gets the Hollywood treatment. I just had to show my support (and figure out what the fuss was about). Of course, I had to read the book first, and it's taken me this long to get around to it.

I'm glad I did. First off, the artwork is simple, but it's a style thing, not laziness. It wasn't long before I realized how similar to manga it is, yet still original. And in more than a few frames, when O'Malley chose to go all out with details in the background, you see that he can really draw. Lazy? No. Unpretentious, yes. The story isn't stupid, but it's clear O'Malley was more concerned with entertainment than winning a GG nomination. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life is fun first and foremost. It's downright hilarious, the story is fast paced, and it's cool. There, I said it. I feel too old to say it, and I probably just sucked the cool from it by doing so, but there you have it. I can't wait to read the next one.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Dumb! Dumb! Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!

A couple summers back, I left a GPS in my window in Vancouver and my van was broken into and I was robbed mercilessly.

Recently I got a new wireless router and forgot to set up the security password. Today I found out that I was charged $574.55 for going over my internet usage last month. Almost 3x over. I personally downloaded about 10 songs from iTunes. That's it.

Costly lessons to learn.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Hand Across America...

Here's why vanity searches sometimes make you more vain. Remember this poem? Well, apparently it's being used as part of a Writing and Imagination syllabus for Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth. Check out this .pdf and put "Mutford" in the search bar. See that? Right beside E.E. Cumming's "l(a" poem. How awesome is that?

If those little geniuses are ripping it apart, or if it's being used as an example of what not to do, I don't need to know. I'm happy for now.

The Great Wednesday Compare #8- Lady Macbeth VERSUS Iago

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Lady Macbeth VERSUS Nurse Ratched), with a final score of 5-2 was Lady Macbeth.

Looks like Nurse Ratched is off for her own lobotomy this week. A character we all love to hate, for sure. But then, are we basing it on Ken Kesey's description or Louise Fletcher's performance in the movie adaptation? I haven't read the book, so I'll have to ask those of you that both watched the movie and read the novel: is this one of those rare cases where an actor brings more to a character than the author (I'm thinking of Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes or Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump), or are you thinking that as good as Fletcher may have been, she still didn't do Kesey's character justice? While you're answering that, don't forget to vote for this week's contenders...

Vote in the comment section below before March 8th: Who is the better character?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

the Canadian Book Challenge 4- 8th Roundup!

February. You were too short, too cold, I was too busy, and too sick. I got so little reading done, my house is a mess, and did I mention it's too cold? I hate you February. Take it personally. Here's to March.

In the meantime, congrats to Emelie at C'est la vie! for winning February's mini challenge. For reading (and submitting her reviews via email) past or present Canada Reads contenders, she will receive a gift bag of all five of this year's contenders:

Special thanks to all who played along and to the producers at Canada Reads for the prize donation.

For March's prize Roderick Benns' has once again generously donated his latest book. From his Leaders & Legacies series, it's The Legends of Lake on the Mountain...

When a grizzled old man shoves a decades old treasure map into thirteen-year-old John A. Macdonald’s hands, he’s certain this will be the best summer ever. But that was before a humpback lake serpent is seen at twilight by the people of Stone Mills in the mysterious Lake on the Mountain. As people flee in panic, John knows his family might be next unless he can figure out what dwells in the lake in time. But does he have what it takes to confront something he can’t see clearly? Or will the serpent in the darkness win?

To be eligible to win this book, you must, as part of the Canadian Book Challenge, read and review another Canadian young adult OR children's book in March, then email me with a link to your review before April 1st. From all of those eligible, I will randomly pick a winner.

This month, I also wanted to get into a few ideas for the 5th annual Canadian Book Challenge that will begin in July, but quite frankly I'm too weak and ill to write a lengthy post tonight. But as it's the 5th annual edition, I think it's somewhat of a milestone, and I'd like to make it the biggest and best yet. So, while I have my own ideas of how to make this thing grow (keep in mind, I still need to be able to manage it!) and how to help it improve, I'd love to hear your ideas. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments below or email me directly.

And finally, while we're all gathered here today: the roundup. What Canadian books did you read and review in February? 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.