Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The 5th annual Canadian Book Challenge- August Roundup (Sticky Post- for most recent post scroll down)

How to add your link:
1. Click on the icon above
2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)
3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as John Mutford (Anne of Avonlea)

Also, in the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. This brings me up to 1/13)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reader's Diary #757- Jamie Bastedo: Tracking Triple Seven

Jamie Bastedo's Tracking Triple Seven is probably the most popular young adult novel ever to come out of the Northwest Territories. High time I've read it.

Tracking Triple Seven is predominately about a barren lands grizzly who has been tagged by biologists operating out of a diamond mine in the Northwest Territories. The tagging collar (numbered 777), is equipped with a tracking device which provides the scientists with information about the habits of grizzlies, and is invaluable in the efforts to avoid human-bear clashes, hopefully preventing either party from getting hurt. It's also about a teenage boy named Benji, the son of the diamond mine owner who's been taken under the helm of the biologists. The idea is that if Benji is on board, he'll help convince his father that the research they are doing is vital and he'll continue to fund their expensive research. It's never quite clear if Benji realizes he is being used in this manner, or if he knows but simply doesn't care: he's enjoying the rush in any case.

The book begins beautifully, with an almost mystical look at the Ursa Major and Ursa Minor constellations. As the reader will soon discover, Triple Seven is about to become a mother grizzly, and so the image becomes even more relevant later on. In the meantime, Bastedo wisely hones the galaxy in; first to solar flares and the Northern Lights, then to a satellite orbiting the Earth, and finally to Triple Seven's collar which sends it signals to relay back down to Earth, to the scientists' computers. It's an almost dizzying cinematic sweep, but wonderfully manages to connect man, nature, and the cosmos.

From here it's hard to get better, and indeed there are a few missteps along the way. One page picked at random highlights my biggest beef with the book:

"Distant boulders stretch like rubber bands into the sky."

"Like a bump-and-grind car crash, the cubs pile solidly into their mother's hairy rump."

"The two smaller cubs try but teeter over like nudged bowling pins."

It's not good when I begin counting similes. Put simply, there are too many and too often the comparisons detract from the natural setting. There were no humans present for the quotes above, no humans who might actually have made such comparisons, and they seemed out of place. What would a bear know about bowling pins? I guess if one was teaching about similes, the book might prove to be a fine resource, but otherwise they're overdone.

What's not overdone is the story of Benji. I think many authors would have made Benji, a southern teenager with a wealthy and powerful father, out to be obnoxious and spoiled, leading to an all too predictable epiphany from his time spent near wild animals. While Benji undoubtedly learns something of himself from his time around Triple Seven and the biologists, Bastedo doesn't ram it down the reader's throat. Plus, Benji is kind of likeable from the get-go. Refreshing.

Tracking Triple Seven felt at times like I was watching Lorne Greene's New Wilderness. Lots of scenes of bear cubs tumbling over one another, food gathering, and threats from male grizzlies, would appeal to any nature lover. For those looking for a human interest angle, there's the stuff about Benji's growing self-awareness. And unexpectedly, there's also a lot about helicopters. It's impossible to live in the Northwest Territories without hearing of the impact that the aviation industry has had on shaping our history, but it seems like with shows like Ice Pilots, it's the winged aircraft that gets all the glory. It's about time the helicopters got their due. (Plus, I rode in a helicopter for the first time this summer and am unashamedly bias towards them now!) It's a wonderful mix, but the bears rightfully steal the show. Despite the ubiquitous similes, I can see why Tracking Triple Seven is destined to become a northern classic.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reader's Diary #756- Gustave Flaubert: A Simple Heart

Today's short story comes from 19th century French author, Gustave Flaubert, best known (amongst English readers anyway) for his novel Madame Bovary-- but I haven't read it.

Instead I've decided to try "A Simple Heart," a short story from Three Tales, first published in 1877. "A Simple Heart" begins with a matter-of-fact tone and with rather depressing facts at that. It's about a servant named Felicity, who it would appear at first glance is a downtrodden, some would think boring, woman-- simple, but not in the "stupid" sense as it is sometimes used.

Yet slowly Flaubert reveals the details of her life and while the details are maybe not the excitement of a spy novel or trashy romance, her life revealed itself to be interesting nonetheless, and Felicity grew on me. There are tragic moments, but there the moments leading up to them, somehow seemed worth it.

I found myself thinking of the Wizard of Oz (film, not the book) as I read it. (It's certainly not fantastical, so don't read it expecting munchkins or witches!) Remember how it started out in black in white but was suddenly full of unexpected colour the moment Dorothy landed in Oz? I think "A Simple Heart" begins the same way, but the colour bleeds in so gradually you hardly notice that it's happened.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reader's Diary #755- Kathleen Molloy: Dining With Death

Kathleen Molloy participated in the 1st three editions of my Canadian Book Challenge. She donated her book as a prize. She promoted the challenge on her blog sometimes with more enthusiasm than I. So it gives me no pleasure at all to write a poor review of her book.

Alas, I did not enjoy Dining With Death. Zophia Žvirgzdas, while far from your typical senior citizen, has one thing in common with the elderly: time is short for her and her friends. Fortunately, Death or at least, one particular angel of death named Dewalt Brody, is recruiting Zophia's help in making their passing easier. People should die doing what they love.

It's certainly a premise I can get behind. I think, for me, it will be an odd, depressing time. I can remember when Debbie and I got married, so many of our peers were also getting married. Then we had kids just about the same time our peers were also having kids. It's not the same stages for everyone. Plenty have thrown divorce into the mix. But the one consistent stage at the end is death. But I like dark comedy and if Molloy can manage to squeeze some humour out of it, I'm game.

The problem is she tries to squeeze humour out of everything. There's satire, but with far too many targets to keep track. And there's silliness, which is tolerable in smaller doses. But most humour falls somewhere in between. A little more focus would have helped. Throwing silly names on certain characters, such as Kermit van Tootalot? Totally unnecessary. As it was, the over-abundant humour distracted from both the plot and character development.

Adding to the confusion is the third-person subjective omniscient approach. Zophia is clearly meant to be the central character, yet whenever someone else enters a room, the reader may or may not find themselves switching into someone else's perspective with every paragraph switch. I sometimes had to reread a whole page to figure out who was thinking what. Again, it needed more focus.

But the book wasn't without any merit. Those into Canadian pop-culture will certainly delight in the appearances of such notables as Pamela Anderson, Mark Tewksbury, Gordon Pinselt, Sheila Copps, and more... sort of. It's Dewalt who appears as living Canadian celebrities, but never tends to get them quite right. Pamela Anderson, for instance, wears fur, Mark Tewksbury has a hairy chest, and he creates a hybrid of Cathy Jones (22 Minutes) and Colleen Jones (weather woman/ curling skip). Plus Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire, and plenty other Canadian icons get shout outs. Americans would be at a lost with this book. Apparently so would much of French Canada, as Molloy also commissioned a French translation that also alters the pop-culture references to appeal more to Quebecois. Admirable.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reader's Diary #754- The Good News Bible: Song of Songs

"there's a love that's divine and it's yours and it's mine" - Van Morrison ("Have I Told You Lately?")

A couple of years ago I reviewed Sara Holbrook and Allan Wolf's More Than Friends. These were meant to be love poems written between a teenage boy and girl. Had I been better read at the time, I would have noticed its similar premise to Song of Songs, the Old Testament book of love poems.

Love poems in the Bible? Sure! But the question of why remains. The introduction in my Good News version suggests that it is a metaphor for the love between God and the Jewish people, or between Christ and the Christian church. Clearly this interpretation is widely accepted or how else to explain why it was chosen to be part of the Biblical canon. On the surface it's much like More Than Friends, poems written between a man and woman in love.

"Your lips cover me with kisses; your love is better than wine."

"Your hair is beautiful upon your cheeks and falls along your neck like jewels."

I don't know, the secular love seems more the point here, but I'm not writing a theology blog and couldn't if I tried. From a casual reader perspective, Song of Songs is a sweet book, sometimes sensual. The poetry is sometimes simple and if it was written today would sound trite, but other times the rich imagery, utilizing all the senses, and the similes effectively capture the overwhelming obsession of a couple newly in love.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Reader's Diary #753- Kathleen Winter: Madame Poirier's Dog

-Photo by David Whitten

Thanks to Emeire for bringing the latest edition of the Walrus to my attention recently, and more specifically, the Oulipo inspired summer reading. Five authors were each asked for five guidelines to compose a short story or poem. They traded their lists and the results were published.

Here are Alexi Zentner's requirements for Kathleen Winter's story:

1. You may not describe any characters physically (beyond using “he” or “she” or their given name).

2. Include a peach, but don’t make it sexual.

3. You must have dialogue, but you may not use the word “said” (or any variation of the word “said”).

4. Evoke warmth without mentioning the sun.

5. A dog must bark in the distance, causing a character to state that he or she finds people who treat dogs like children sort of creepy. Somebody else must take offense at this comment.
Had I not enjoyed Winter's story, Zentner's list would have made my day anyway, especially #2 and #5. But Winter's story was wonderful as well. I started to check off the criteria along the way but it was so well done and felt like such a natural part of the story that I almost missed them.

"Madame Poirier's Dog" told from a senior's point of view. She has recently gotten a call from Madame Poirier, an acquaintance from her past, who is soon to be moving into the same senior's home. While Madame Poirier is under the impression the two are close friends, the narrator has no such delusions, and she is somewhat stressed as to how this will affect the life to which she has grown accustomed. She and her son reminisces about Madame Poirier, her husband, and their dog.

Here's the strange part: the narrator is an elderly lady, and yet I don't recall ever coming across a character in a story or novel that reminded me so much of me! I'd probably define us as pragmatic romantics. Yep, I'm an old lady trapped in the body of a 34 year old male.

Identity awareness aside, it's quite an enjoyable story. The ending is a bit vague, but I was enthralled enough in the short time I invested that I hardly noticed.

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

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Reader's Diary #752- J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

"Just when I thought you couldn't possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this... and totally redeem yourself!" - Jeff Daniels as Harry (Dumb & Dumber... and if I ever quote from Dumb & Dumber again, you have my permission to shut this blog down.)

Yes, I had just about had it with the whole series with the 4th book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and its plot hole large enough to fly a car through. And while I still don't suggest that Rowling is off the hook for that stupid mess, I have to say that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ranks up there as one of my favourites in the series so far.

Of the negative reviews of this book that I've read, many complain about the new moody Harry. However, I kind of like this Holden Caulfield and the Order of the Phoenix. Considering the stuff this character has been through, I'd say it was about time he started calling out the phoneys. Plus, he's a teenager at this point and who hasn't known or been an angsty teenager. About time Rowling did a little character building.

As an adult I also appreciated the whole bit about the Ministry of Magic interfering in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I have to say, it totally speaks to my anxieties as a teacher! Would a child find that part interesting? I have heard many complain that this book was the more boring of the lot, but my daughter certainly enjoyed it. In a way it was nice to have a new villain, and one who wasn't directly involved (at least in this book) with the Voldemort/Potter showdown. But Dolores Umbridge, the Ministry of Magic bureaucrat and new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, is so hairpullingly frustrating and wicked, she steals the show in this book. It's unfortunate that her character was made so bumbling and frivolous in the movie, complete with silly music whenever she appeared, completely missing the mark of what a serious source of tension she was in Rowling's book. But enough about the movie-- that could have its own post, and I don't do movie reviews!

Finally, I also appreciated Rowling finally addressing some of the nagging issues of the series up to that point. While done in a long rambling speech by Dumbledore near the end-- if there's one guarantee in any Harry Potter book, it's a long rambling speech at the end-- it was high time for the reasoning as to why Harry was sent to live with the abusive Dursleys every summer and sent there by people who supposedly cared for him. Plus, we finally see how that terrible upbringing has influenced Harry's personality. I don't read fantasy books expecting much realism, and certainly haven't found much in the Potter series. But the little bit of psychological realism in the Order of the Phoenix was appreciated.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Reader's Diary #751- Bernard Assiniwi (translated by Wayne Grady): The Beothuk Saga

An Inuk man I once met in Rankin Inlet told me that he hated Newfoundlanders because they killed all the Beothuks. What do you say to that? I think I stumbled through a "but not everyone was responsible... I don't even know when my ancestors came over... hey, I didn't kill anyone... I'd never... not something we're proud of..." Whatever I said, it wasn't elegant. Arguments about "the past being the past" aside, Newfoundlanders did kill off all the Beothuks. Every last one. Shanawdithit died in 1829 and there will never be a Beothuk again.

I can't speak on behalf of all Newfoundlanders, of course, but I believe that particular genocide is now a part of our psyche. It's a reminder of the horrors we are capable of. I don't mean us as Newfoundlanders, or those with British or Irish roots or whatever, suggesting that anyone with those backgrounds is a monster, but I mean humankind in general. If the conditions are just wrong, anyone can feel justified in killing another. But I know the Beothuks are always in the thoughts of most Newfoundlanders, usually in the subconscious but often not. Near where I grew up you'll find the Beothuk Interpretation Center. My sister was once the star of a musical called Shanawdithit. The Newfoundland coat of arms features two Beothuks. There's all the literature: Kevin Major's Blood Red Ochre, and Michael Crummey's River Thieves to name but a couple of the more popular titles. But as the Inuk man I mentioned above (who, for what it's worth, is also capable of hatred towards a fellow being) and as Bernard Assiniwi have shown me, Newfoundlanders with our repressed guilt and shame aren't the only ones who find themselves pondering the Beothuks. Bernard Assiniwi was a Cree author and with The Beothuk Saga (first published as La Saga des Béothuks), I'm left wondering what impact the Beothuk fate must have on the aboriginal groups in Canada, not to mention the ones still in Newfoundland and Labrador; the Inuit, the Innu, the Mi'kmaq, the Métis-- none of whom, you'll note, are on our coat of arms.

All the anthropology, sociology, history, and politics aside (as best as you can push all that aside), and getting back to the point of this post, is Bernard Assiniwi's The Beothuk Saga a good book? In my opinion, not really.

The Beothuk Saga suffers most because of the beginning. Divided into thirds; "the Initiate," "the Invaders," and "Genocide," it's "the Initiate" that almost makes the book intolerable. Set during first Beothuk contact with the Vikings, circa 1000 AD, this part of the book is preoccupied with one thing: sex. It's not that some mention of sex wouldn't be worth mentioning. It might be interesting to read Assiniwi's thoughts on how the Beothuks felt about sex. It might be good for character development. It might even be used purely for entertainment. Unfortunately it reminded my the later books of Jean M. Auel's Earth children series. The constant orgies become impossibly boring! I get it, the Beothuks were sexually enlightened. Now move on! Did they eat? Did they hunt? Did they tell jokes? Nope. Just sex. And with the exception of sometimes increasing the population, none of it really influences the latter story.

But if you can slog through the first 133 pages, the rest of the book gets better. Writing wise, I enjoyed how the first 2/3 of the book were written almost Bible-like, with definitive statements and frequent reflections back on important events that lead to the current events.
In the entire memory of the Beothuk and the Addaboutik, that is, in the entire history of our people , Anin's family was the largest. All his children increased the Bear Clan in fewer than twenty season-cycles.
Kind of reminds me of Abraham's lineage in the Old Testament.

With the final third of the book, when Demasduit and Shawnadithit become memory keepers of the Beothuks and therefore the narrators, the writing takes on a more common narrative feel. It helps since the story approaches more modern times. It's now only the late 1700s, early 1800s but the style shift seems more appropriate. It also becomes more and more the story of one versus the story of a nation.

I think I was saddened most by Assiniwi's approach to the book. All 3 sections revolve around contact with white people; the vikings, the Portuguese, French and English. I've often made excuses for nonfiction historical books only focusing on these parts in aboriginal history, arguing that researchers rely on written records and as aboriginal groups were oral societies until European contact, less information is available. However if it's fiction anyway, why not tell more stories about life pre-contact? (Zachariah Kunuk did this brilliantly with Atanarjuat/ The Fast Runner.) The end of the Beothuks, and what brought about that end, is even more tragic when it has come to define them.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reader's Diary #750- Nicolas de Crécy and translated by Joe Johnson: Glacial Period

As we've just booked tickets to France for the March break (I know, it's a long ways off), I'll probably be working in a lot more French books until then. Well, translations anyway-- those Rosetta Stone lessons haven't paid off just yet.

Nicolas de Crécy's Glacial Period was brought to this side of the Atlantic by NBM Publishing's Comic Lit imprint, who according to them provide "the most intelligent comics the world has to offer." No wonder that Glacial Period is one of those most intelligent of comics, it was written and drawn by Nicolas de Crécy, the "mad genius."

I know I've been called the hyperbole police before but I actually think that these claims of grandeur are quite smart. The defense against poor reviews are built right in. Don't like Glacial Period? Perhaps you are too dumb. But I'll bite anyway. Maybe I'm too dumb, or maybe I've seen the emperor in the nude. Either way, I don't mind going on record saying I didn't much enjoy Glacial Period.

I did enjoy the premise: set thousands of years into the future, during a glacial period, the Louvre like the rest of human history has been buried under ice and forgotten. When a group of archeologists, including talking dogs, stumble upon it, they have no idea how to interpret the artifacts they find. They try anyway and most guesses are way off base, often silly.

I also enjoyed the artwork. Water coloured, eccentric caricatures, I was reminded the wonderful Triplets of Belleville. I'm not sure how de Crécy would feel about that. It turns out that he accused Sylvain Chomet, the principle animator of that movie, of plagiarism from an earlier de Crécy graphic novel.

But beyond the premise and artwork, the story was a bit of a mess. Characters were set up to be villains, then did nothing villainous. Seeds of love stories were planted, but nothing grew. Even interpersonal growth was minimal, despite the promise. Like the publishers, however, de Crécy has his defense built right into the storyline. Trying interpret his art? There's a good chance you're way off base, often silly.

Perhaps a cynical point, perhaps even a surprising angle to take for a artist who chooses to share his work, perhaps I'm wrong about everything. I didn't like it in any case. Did I say that already?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Canadian Confession

Four years ago I compiled a list of classics that I should, as a self-respecting reader, be ashamed to say I haven't read. I've made a half-hearted attempt to work my way through them and have since managed to whittle that list of 20 down to 13. Curiously I didn't have any Canadian titles on that list. I'd like to pride myself on my knowledge of Canadian lit, but I've got some pretty gaping holes there as well. While most holes are more recently published works than the aforementioned classics list (I read very few books on current bestseller lists), there are still plenty I'm shamefaced to say I haven't read. Bad Canadian, Bad!

Here's my top 20 glaring omissions:

1. Rohinton Mistry- A Fine Balance
Like a few others on this list, I'm not sure if I've chosen the right novel, but I need to read at least something by Mistry. Should it be Family Matters? Such a Long Journey? What would you say is his most recognizable work?

2. Jane Urquhart- Stone Carvers
We Canadians apparently love books with Stone in the title. Maybe it's the granite cliffs, Precambrian Shield, and inuksuit.

3. Margaret Laurence- Stone Angel
I loved, loved, loved the Diviners and Bird in the House, yet have not managed to read what is perhaps her most well known. If it's any consolation, I've read lots of reviews from people who HATED this book in high school.

4. Donna Morrissey- Kit's Law
I don't think it's got the same public status as most others on this list but I have my reason for including it. Once upon a time I prided myself on keeping up with Newfoundland's literary scene. But slowly I've been getting more and more out of touch. I've not, for instance, read any novel of the Winter siblings. However, it's Morrissey of whom I've been saying the longest, "I really need to read something by her."

5. Richard B. Wright- Clara Callan
This one has the dubious distinction of sitting on my bookshelves the longest without being read. It's been with me in from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut; Summerford, Newfoundland; Iqaluit, Nunavut; and now here in Yellowknife. Why don't I just break down and read it already?

6. Hugh McClennan- The Watch That Ends The Night
It's referenced in "Courage" by the Tragically Hip. That's reason enough.

7. William Gibson- Neuromancer
Like Mistry above, I'm not sure-- perhaps it should be Pattern Recognition?

8. W. P. Kinsella- Shoeless Joe
Can't say I'm a baseball fan, but this one is a classic, or so I'm told. I am mildly intrigued that a famous sports novel from Canada isn't hockey related.

9. Ethel Wilson- Swamp Angel
Really I could just pick 20 books from McClelland and Stewart's New Canadian Library imprint.

10. Wayson Choy- Jade Peony
I've wanted to read it for a while and then when it was a Canada Reads contender my interest was piqued even more.

11. Brian Moore- The Luck of Ginger Coffey
Confession within a confession: When I first started hosting the Canadian Book Challenge one participant decided to make all 13 of her books Brian Moore novels. My first reaction was, "who?" Then, "he wrote how many novels?" How does someone this prolific fly so far under my radar?

12. Marie-Claire Blais- A Season in the Life of Emmanuel
I don't read enough Quebec authors and again, this one seems to have hit canonical status.

13. Michel Tremblay- The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant
Partly for the same reason as the one above but if I'm being perfectly honest, I've been attracted to it simply for the title ever since I'd heard of it. I could almost interchange this Gaétan Soucy's The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches for the exact same reasons.

14. Sheila Watson- Double Hook
Someone I don't respect once told me he read this in university and it's why he now doesn't like Canadian lit. He then recommended a Tom Clancy novel. I think I might love Double Hook.

15. Stephen Leacock- Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
I almost didn't include this one because I thought maybe I've read it before. But now I think I've only read some of the stories in anthologies.

16. David Adams Richards- For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down
I've only read Richards' Hockey Dreams. I have to read his fiction.

17. Joseph Boyden- Through Black Spruce
Through Black Spruce is to Three Day Road as The Other Side of the Bridge is to Crow Lake. In other words, I loved the first book in both of these series and had every intention to read the follow-up, then... didn't. Boyden gets the higher priority because a) I met him and like him and b) His is supposed to be part of a trilogy.

18. Kenneth Oppel- Silverwing
Speaking of series writers, I'd also like to give Oppel's Silverwing saga a shot. Just the original premise alone appeals to me immensely.

19. Tomson Highway- The Rez Sisters
The only play on my list. At first I was interested in reading it simply because I liked the playwright's name. But I've heard such accolades since, that I now need to read it.

20. Susannah Moodie- Roughing it in the Bush
We don't have a lot of Canadian literature pre-1900-- at least stuff that's remembered. Plus, I have Margaret Atwood's The Journals of Susanna Moodie on my shelf and I want to read Moodie herself before reading Atwood's poetry about her.

Phew! It was a hard list to compile, especially trying not to add too many recent books (Gargoyle, Room, the Outlander, Bone Cage, The Best Laid Plans...) and authors (Zoe Whittall, Linwood Barclay, Andrew Pyper, Annabel Lyon, Kathleen Winter, Michael Winter, Kelley Armstrong, Robert J. Sawyer, Alan Bradley...) that I still want to read, but there's only so much time in the day.

How about you? Which of the above have you read? Are there any Canadian books that you'd like to confess you haven't read?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reader's Diary #749- William Shakespeare: The Comedy of Errors

Another situational comedy brought to you by Billy Shakespeare. The Comedy of Errors involves not one but two sets of identical twins separated at birth. To make it even more hilarious, each set of twins is given the exact same name and one set of twins is the servants to the other. Got it? Meet Antipholus and his servant Dromio. Now meet Antipholus and his servant Dromio. Life is good, uncomplicated, until one fateful day when Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider cross paths with Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider.

Might as well. The Comedy of Errors is hard enough to accept as a premise as it is, but when it's basically the same joke over and over, it grows old fast. Fortunately it's also his shortest, so by the time you're sick of it, it'll be over. Rhyming couplets keep it fast and superficial. The dynamic and relationships of classes and genders keep it interesting, though frustrating from a 21st century pc state of mind. And a bit about comparing a woman's body to a globe, with various body parts symbolized by particular countries, is mildly amusing. However, it's mostly about mistaken identity. People continue to mistake Antipholus of Syracuse with Antipholus of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse with Dromio of Ephesus. They are, of course, confused and the hilarity ensues... and ensues and ensues and ensues until finally, it ends happily.

Not one of Shakespeare's best. I'd venture to guess it was mostly for the money. But mildly amusing nonetheless.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Reader's Diary #748- John Buchan: Skule Skerry

Let me begin by saying how much I love the internet. If I had to choose between the internet and TV, it'd be the simplest decision of my life. I can get lost for hours exploring the farthest reaches of the internet (well, maybe not the farthest, there's some scary sh*t beyond the Kuiper Belt). In real life, it's hard to appreciate my lack of direction when I'm sitting in the middle of a buffalo farm and I'm due at a conference in downtown Calgary, but in cyberspace getting lost usually means entertainment and fascinating trivia. (Occasional revulsion, too, but that doesn't fit with my love letter narrative.)

This week's diversion, granted not the most circuitous route I've ever found myself traveling, began at Wanda's blog where she reviewed Roderick Benns's The Legend of Lake on the Mountain. This is the 2nd book in the Legends & Legacies series, which sees Canada's prime ministers in their youth and solving mysteries. The first, The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder, was about John Diefenbaker, while John A. MacDonald had his turn in this one. It started me thinking about which prime ministers I'd like to see highlighted in future editions. Who was that guy who held seances in order to consult with deceased relatives? Enter Google and diversion #1: MacKenzie King. Turns out he was even more interesting than I'd thought. Never married, some have suggested, based on his diary entries, that he was in love with the governor general, Lord Tweedsmuir. Diversion #2: Lord Tweedsmuir, or John Buchan as he was known in less pretentious circles. Originally from Scotland, Buchan was our 15th governor-general since confederation. He founded the Governor General's Literary Awards (or as we now know them, the GGs). He was also a writer. Diversion #3. Did Buchan write short stories? And if so, could I find one online? Yes and yes. Which brings me to this week's Short Story Monday review: John Buchan's "Skule Skerry."

First off, I love the title. Not being sure how to read it aloud is perfectly okay. Is that "skull" or "school"? Actually both work. Skule, in this case, is named after a viking named Earl Skuli, but that alone doesn't much help. However, in the context of the story, the image of a skull quite fits with the supernatural horror vibe Buchan was going for. Add to that, the word skerry or "scary," and the imagery is complete. But as the narrator is also a scientific minded fellow, and has to come to terms with his own superstitions while on the skerry (i.e., rocky island), a case could also be made that a pronunciation of school could also fit.

Between the Scottish and somewhat antiquated language, I thought it was going to be difficult to get into the story. A great thing about reading it online, however, was being able to quickly look up unfamiliar words. I was able to increase my word power with minimal distraction away from the story:
skerry: (as stated above) rocky island
brume: heavy mist or fog
zareba: a wall or fence that provides protection from the elements

There's another word that I can't share without giving away the ending, but it's not the definition that might cause the confusion, it's the spelling. If you've ever read Scottish dialogue written as it sounds, (such as Irving Welsh's Trainspotting) you'll quickly figure it out and for the sake of the story, this particular word is essential. Read it and you'll know what I'm talking about.

I quite enjoyed this tale. It was mildly scary and I enjoyed the setting immensely. Written by someone called the 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, it's not nearly as stuffy as you might think.

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

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Reader's Diary #747- Annelies Pool: Iceberg Tea

Recently I tried to convince a friend of mine that instead of keeping a gardening journal, that maybe she could do a gardening blog. Essentially the same as her hard copy journal, only online, I added that she could also benefit from the advice and support of other gardeners. Alas, I couldn't sell her on the idea. "Why would people care how my garden is growing?" she asked.

The question underscores the way I think a lot of people feel about blogs: that they're self-centred and narcissistic. Never mind that non-blogging Facebook users seem to think that a status update declaring how superb their lasagna turned out is somehow going to improve the quality of their 236 friends' lives.

But maybe blogs aren't for everyone. I think everyone is potentially interesting (still struggling with Paris Hilton) and so, I guess I'm a blog person. Just like how over the pass couple of months I've been really enjoying memoirs of people who aren't particularly famous. You couldn't get much more diverse than Mariatu Kamara, Ernie Lyall, Ivan Coyote, and John Gallant but I've found them to be equally fascinating individuals and they've proven to be great summer companions. The latest addition to the party is Annelies Pool.

However, the interesting thing about my reading Annelies' book (and let this serve as my official disclaimer) is that we were friends beforehand. I wouldn't say we are best friends, but I do work with her on the Northwords Writers Festival committee, and we've both visited each other's home for tea (not iceberg tea, incidentally). My point is, I knew Annelies a little before reading her memoirs and because of that I didn't actually want to read her book. I'd even told her once that I'd probably never read it. What if I didn't like it? I couldn't lie and say I did. I have my integrity to think of. I couldn't read it and not blog about it, I have my addiction to think of. But recently I was trying to do a top 10 list of books written by Northwest Territories authors and I realized that I'd been holding off from reading so many of our authors simply because I know them personally (Jamie Bastedo, Richard Van Camp, and of course, Annelies Pool). I decided then and there that if I was to become more knowledgeable about northern lit I'd have to read their books. Risk offending people? Why not?

Annelies, fortunately and hopefully, will not be one of those offended. I quite enjoyed her book. The writing was stellar (funny, insightful), and it was nice getting to know her better. At times there was a tendency to be somewhat self-absorbed, amused by her own eccentricities and follies, but remember, I'm a blog-person and I actually like that sort of thing. While it, for the most part, lacks the extrospective scope of say Ivan Coyote's writing, it's not an insular book at all. It's also not a self-aggrandizing book. Like Ivan, Annelies has a very reflective personality and there is a sense of ongoing personal growth that runs throughout her memories. And instead of pondering heavily on those around her, she more often focuses on her place in the universe. Fortunately, Annelies waxes philosophical while contemplating more down to Earth pursuits like lottery tickets and Facebook. She's a student of Tai Chi but she also admits to insecurities.

I also enjoyed how many stories involved her husband Bill. I said above that Annelies doesn't discuss other people a great deal, but Bill is the one consistent exception. There's a underlying tenderness to the way she describes their everyday life together and if we wanted to, we could read Iceberg Tea as a love story. A subtle one, but a love story nonetheless. I found it very endearing.

Be it blog or memoir, it seems everyone has a story tell. Annelies is one of the fortunate few that knows how to tell it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Reader's Diary #746- John Gallant with illustrations by Seth: Bannock, Beans and Black Tea

In the foreword to Bannock, Beans and Black Tea, Seth talks about how it all came together. These memoirs of John Gallant were stories told time and time again to a young Gregory Gallant (Seth's real name), John's son. Seth delighted in the stories at the time, recalling the adventure and determination, and the way his father told them which such humour and enthusiasm. When John retired, much to Seth's surprise, he moved back to Prince Edward Island after living a lifetime (Seth's) in Ontario. It was then that Seth encouraged him to write down all those stories, some of which comprise this book. But unlike Seth's memories, the humour, while present is mostly fleeting. The enthusiasm has been replaced with resentment. This is not a "good old days" book by any stretch of the imagination.

When Seth sat down to compile and refine the stories, being careful not to edit away his father's voice, he comments that the humour had taken a "back-seat to bitter reality." He theorizes that something was lost in the transcribing of these tales to paper and that those that relied too heavily on dialect or physical humour couldn't be translated at all. Still, Seth acknowledges that it isn't surprising considering the rough childhood his father had.

I have another theory. See my dad, while he didn't grow up in the depression as John Gallant did, grew up under similar circumstances. However, I don't recall his stories of poverty and of being raised by a father that suffered depression (as I suspect was the case with Seth's grandfather), as being all that humorous or happy. The difference is my father never moved away. He built his house just down a hill from where he grew up. While my grandfather died when my father was in his young 20s, his childhood memories were likely more in tact considering every rock, tree, and salty breeze can take you back to specific moments in time. I suspect John Gallant's move to Ontario was like a temporary cure. He would be able to reframe his childhood, or at the very least, focus on more of the humourous side of his past. It was in a distant place and time. No doubt young Gregory's enthusiasm also helped. But then, he moved back. Everything would be fresh again, including the painful memories of a father that made next to no effort to support a growing family at all.

Such a depressing book could grow wearisome. But each memory is a mere 2-3 page vignette and it breaks up what had the potential to be a monotonous read. Plus Seth's illustrations and an occasional humourous list from John also helped keep things interesting (On the upside of poverty, he writes, "We didn't have to fast for lent, we were always fasting.") That it's set in Prince Edward Island is an added appeal to those of us used to the Anne Shirley view of the island. (Not that's Montgomery's portrayal couldn't be accurate, just as my mother's upbringing also in outport Newfoundland is very different from my father's.) For more PEI reads, check out Raidergirl's top 10 list of recommended books from the island.

I also praise this book for something I usually make fun of in other books: the font. I've complained before about publishers who waste an entire page telling us what kind of font they used. As long as it isn't comic sans or something completely stupid, how many people actually care that it's set in Walbaum, based on a cutting by Justus Enrich Walbaum in the late 1700s and revised by the Monotype Corporation in 1934? Yet there's a folksy charm to the font used in Bannock, Beans, and Black Tea, which is clearly made from Seth's own handwriting. It makes the book more personal. Likewise, I'd also praise Drawn and Quarterly for printing it as a cloth-bound hardcover, with no annoying dustcover that I'd simply throw away anyway, and even attaching a silk string to use as a book mark. Rarely are books so aesthetically pleasing. (Take that, eBooks!) Shame it's out of print.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Reader's Diary #745- Ivan Coyote: Missed Her

In her passionate and humourous new collection, Ivan takes readers on an intimate journey, both literal and figurative, through the experiences of her life: from her year spent in eastern Canada,to her return to the west coast, to travels in between.
-- From the back cover

Yet on the inside there's a note that says, "This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to persons either living or deceased is purely coincidental."

Fiction? I don't know, maybe she changed some names or locales to protect anonymity, but at the very least the resemblance of the narrator of these stories (essays?) to Ivan herself is not purely coincidental. That the other characters are based on actual friends and family members I don't doubt, but certainly couldn't state as fact. But whatever, false disclaimer aside, a resemblance to Ivan is not a bad thing. I'd even go as far as saying it's the selling point.

Ivan, who I had the pleasure of hearing read at the local Northwords Writers Festival, is an amazingly funny, warm, witty, down-to-Earth storyteller. I remember sharing a beer with her and poet Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm a couple of years back, but apparently my memory's faulty as, according to a story in Missed Her Ivan is gluten intolerant and can't drink beer. Anyway, Ivan is also a lesbian, butch, and in her own words, a "predominately estrogen-based organism."

I mention that last part because I think amongst us in the heterosexual community, I'm not supposed to. She's a human. Why the other labels? Sure, we'll allow "writing human" or better still "human who writes" but let's not get carried away with labels. That would be akin to "seeing colour" and we don't do that anymore. Except that the majority of the stories in Missed Her revolve around the butch lesbian aspect of Coyote's life.

For many summers my wife Debbie and I used to watch Last Comic Standing. Interesting reality show really-- the only one where those that suck aren't funny. But I started to be bugged that too often I could tell exactly what a comedian's jokes were all going to be about before they even opened their mouth. The overweight one was going to tell jokes about being overweight. The Asian one was going to make jokes about being Asian. The butch was going to tell jokes about being a lesbian. "Why shouldn't they?" Debbie would argue. "Because it's predictable!" I'd shoot back. But deep down I'd question if I wasn't a bigot. What if I wasn't the accepting neighbour who loved thy neighbour I thought I was?

Fast forward to now and Ivan has finally enabled me to address my inner bigot. See, I loved Missed Her. I thought it was fantastic. And am I bothered that most of the stories were on a predictable theme? Not at all. Because they were so well written! My problem isn't that John Pinette, for instance only tells fat jokes, it's that his fat jokes aren't funny. Ivan's writing on the other hand is funny. And sad and beautiful and inspiring and real.

One thing I really admired was Ivan's insight into the smallest of actions. Here's an example, when Ivan gets a call from her grandmother:
"Did you get my envelope?" she asks me, as always speaking far too loud into the speaker, as though she doesn't quite trust in the technology.
And yet the overriding message in Missed Her is that Ivan isn't some superhero with an innate sense of human nature, instead she's continually honing her understanding based on her experiences, her conversations, and reflection. I found it quite compelling that many stories involved Coyote expecting to meet prejudice from straight people, yet finding acceptance while expecting the gay community to be more open-minded but meeting those that insist, for instance, that a butch woman should not love fluffy towels.

There's a Simpsons episode where a gay pride parade marches past 742 Evergreen Terrace. To the chants of "We're here, we're queer, get used to it!" Lisa shouts back, "You do this every year. We are used to it!"

Perhaps we're not quite at that point yet, but Ivan Coyote gives me hope. Who could ask for more?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reader's Diary #744- Charlotte Gray: Gold Diggers

At, Marian Botsford Fraser remarks to Charlotte Gray that "the story of the Klondike gold rush is very familiar to a certain demographic in Canada." To which Gray responds, with a laugh, "You mean what have I done that Pierre Berton hasn't?" While her response is much braver than the passive non-question she was thrown, her explanation that follows doesn't really convince me that Gold Diggers really is necessary.

Berton's book, she argues (and I assume she means Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, his most popular of the more than 5 titles he'd written specifically on the topic) focuses on masses of people, whereas she focuses her energies on 6 individuals in particular. Berton, she adds, didn't take the women as seriously either, suggesting that to him they were all hookers. The problem with this is that of Gray's 6 focal characters, only 2 of them are female. The problem with that is that one isn't particularly interesting (Flora Shaw) while the other (Belinda Mulrooney, easily the most fascinating character in the book) is also a focus of Berton's book. The latter, as Gray even details in her book, Berton tracked down in Washington in order to interview and there's also no way he could have called her a hooker. Plus, it's not as if Gray doesn't acknowledge the prostitutes-- it's hard not to when their presence in Dawson during the gold rush would be impossible to ignore. Besides all that, Frances Backhouse already wrote a book called Women of the Klondike, now more than 15 years old, and with a foreword by none other than Pierre Berton.

But going back to Marian Botsford Fraser's non-question, I musn't belong to that demographic which already knows everything there is to know about the Klondike gold rush. I haven't read any of Berton's Klondike books (though some other Dawson characters are profiled in Prisoners of the North, which I read earlier this year) or Backhouse's book. So, the question of whether or not Canada needs another Klondike book is moot to me as I enjoyed Gray's book and learned a great deal.

Most of the Gold Diggers characters are fascinating as was Dawson in those few short gold rush years. Many places in Canada, at some point in their histories, can relate to an influx of immigrants with nothing to lose and desperate to succeed or those simply looking for adventure and to prove that they can do something, be part of something. But few places can compete with the condensed way it all went down in Dawson. Dawson sprang into existence, some died while others got ludicrously rich, and the population ballooned from 400 to 30,000; all within just a couple of years.

And Gray tells it well. Her cast of 6 are introduced one by one, then continue being revisited and the drama of the gold rush is revealed through them. They were both manipulators and observers of history. I found it particularly interesting how young most of the stampeders were. When I hear prospector I used to think of grisly old men in wide brimmed hats, shaggy beards to their navel, and a lone tooth they'd nickname Chomper. The wide brimmed hats were legit (to keep the sun away), the shaggy beards were common (they kept away mosquitoes), and lots of the men lost teeth due to scurvy (including Jack London), but most tended to be young. Early 20s young. In hindsight, considering the hardships they had to endure, it makes sense that these were the men with the stamina to survive. But those dance hall girls, card games, and saloons make an even wilder impression when you consider the youthful energy and freedom these gold diggers had. Lax laws (especially before Sam Steele showed up), one woman for every ten men (sometimes literally, considering most were prostitutes), whiskey, and gold as plentiful as it was-- if it weren't for the frostbite and starvation, it could have been like spring break. No wonder it still hold so much curiousity. Surprising the town didn't simply self-destruct.

Recently I read Ray Price's history of Yellowknife. I complained that while some of the characters were interesting, Price delved too deeply into insignificant details: who staked what claim, how large it was, and so on. Gray was able to balance her book more effectively, keeping it compelling. Was the book necessary? Probably not. I think now I'd like a history of Whitehorse. It's the capital after all, the largest Canadian city north of 60 with more than 20 times more people than Dawson City. Yet, historians always seem to focus on Dawson. Maybe Gray should have written about Whitehorse. I like her writing well enough-- if she writes one, I'd read it.

(I should also comment on the typos I found in my copy. They weren't as prevalent as some self-published books I've read and most didn't hinder my understanding of the book, but I was still surprised by the amount found in a book with a publishing company as large as HarperCollins. As it has not yet gone to paperback (scheduled for October of this year), this time around I did something I've never done before: I emailed the publishers with some of the typos. I'm curious if they'll be fixed in the next printing. I'm also curious that none were mentioned in any of the other reviews I'd read. They seemed pretty obvious to me and are certainly a valid complaint.)

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Reader's Diary #743- Ann Marie Fleming: The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam

You hear so many musicians say, "I hate being classified as..." as if being referred to solely as a jazz musician or a heavy metal band would be the most creatively stifling sentence they can imagine. I've always been able to see their logic, but I'm a closet taxonomist and therefore my iTunes has such labels as "Dub/Reggae/Reggaeton" and "Protopunk/Punk/Pop Punk." So I if want to listen to a mix that contains Bob Marley and Daddy Yankee, I can. Likewise for the Ramones and Green Day. It's not perfect. I still don't know exactly where to put ska. With the reggae? With the punk? Should ska punk have its own label? Specials aside, the system has worked for the most part and classification hasn't steered me wrong. Until now.

I found The Magical Life of Sam, by Ann Marie Fleming, on the graphic novel shelf at the local library. (Raidergirl recently remarked that her local library did the same with John Gallant's Bannock, Beans, and Black Tea due to Seth's illustrations.) But The Magical Life of Sam is predominately made up of photos and captions and I found myself balking most of the time that this isn't a graphic novel at all, it's nothing more than a scrapbook!

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam
basically chronicles Ann Marie Fleming's genealogical research into her great grandfather, a world famous vaudevillian magician. Sam's performances took him all over the world back in the early 1900s and Fleming's search for knowledge and stories of the man, did the same. Her efforts were first put into a documentary, of the same name as the book, that won a few awards after it was first released in 2003. I have not seen the film.

However, in the author notes at the end of the book, Fleming writes that "the flavor and tone and subtext of the film [...] is essentially [of] a giant collage/scrapbook." And that's when I reconsidered my enjoyment of the book. While my library had classified the book as a graphic novel, and a graphic novel adaptation was indeed Fleming's intent (based on a request from her editor), it is best enjoyed as a scrapbook... and not, as I discreditingly suggested earlier, as "nothing more than a scrapbook."

I realized that, as one who dabbled in genealogy and family records before (made all the more easy with a rare last name like Mutford), as someone who enjoys traveling, and as one who enjoys biographies, I had been quite drawn into the story of Long Tack Sam. I also enjoyed learning about the early days of vaudeville. In hindsight, it was quite well put together. In the margins, starting with 1882 (three years before Sam's birth) and going all the way up to 2007, the year the book was published, Fleming has included the year's major global events, including political, technological and pop culture news. I found it provided excellent perspective.

I also enjoyed the inclusion of comics illustrated by Julian Lawrence. A fascinating discovery, and one which I can relate to from my own family tree, was the multiple versions of Sam's origins. As stories pass down over the years, story-tellers tend to embellish, put their own spin on it, sometimes create out right lies, sometimes just minor tweaks to keep things interesting. The effect, of course, is that reality is difficult to determine at best. But, instead of being frustrated with the various tales, Fleming embraces them and each story is given its own mini-comic, a la the many alternate universes and stories of say Batman or Spiderman. And while I said earlier the book is mostly photos, I still think Lawrence should have gotten illustration credit on the cover. The few illustrations by Fleming herself are poorly drawn, mostly stick figures.

While I did end up with a favourable impression of The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, I don't, without having read the other contenders that year (365 Days: A Diary by Julie Doucet, Spent by Joe Matt, and Southern Cross by Laurence Hyde), think that The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam was deserving of the Doug Wright Award in 2008. According to their website, this award "is awarded annually to the author of the best Canadian work and the most promising talent published in English in the cartooning medium." For all its merits, there just isn't enough cartooning, especially of the good stuff by Lawrence, to justify the award. Even the photos aren't particularly artistic, more of the simple kind you'd find in a box in your grandma's attic. I wonder what those jurors were thinking. Katrina Onstad, Ho Che Anderson, Marc Glassman, Mariko Tamaki and Helena Rickett-- any of you care to share some insight?

Monday, August 08, 2011

Reader's Diary #742- Badriyah Al Bishr: The Well (translated from Arabic by Chip Rosetti)

Those familiar with the Michael Kusugak/ Robert Munsch collaboration A Promise is a Promise will remember the note at the end of the book about how the Qallupilluit were originally created by Inuit parents as a way to scare their children away from dangerous cracks in the ice.

But whereas the Inuit used their mythological creature for a noble cause, the use of the "jinn" in Badriyah Al Bishr's short story "The Well" seems more sinister. The jinn, according to Wikipedia, are a sort of supernatural beings in Arab folklore and like humans, may be good, evil, or neutral. The jinn, in this story, is unquestioningly evil.

Its existence, on the other hand, is questioned and therein lies the social commentary about reality and how we manage ugly truths. Unlike a Promise is a Promise, this is no child's story.

From Words Without Borders, "The Well" is by a Saudi Arabian woman who, I would think, has written a rather brave exploration of culture, belief, and the treatment of women.

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

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Saturday Word Play, Title-Author Password

I stole this idea from Sporcle, though they didn't have an exclusively Canadian version.

Can you identify the Canadian author from words taken from 3 of their book titles?

(As always feel free to do all 10 at home, but only answer 1 in the comment section below. This will allow 9 others to play along.)

1. Strings, Bottom, Mustard
2. Wilderness, Cat's, Blind
3. Cats, Spike, Secret
4. Bobby, Mansion, Dreams
5. Month, Still, Bury
6. Wife's, Girls, Rush
7. Crow, Morning, Fall
8. Lesser, Between, Retreat
9. Game, Compare, Beautiful
10. Blood, Bring, Great

Friday, August 05, 2011

Kanadians on Kindle (or should that be Canadians on Cindle?)

Medea, a book blogger and Canadian Book Challenge participant who lives in Japan, has trouble finding Canadian books. The nearest English bookstore is about an hour away and finding a Canadian book amongst the offerings is slim pickin's. So, she turned to Kindle. Seems brilliant, right? But, while they did offer some Canadian books, they weren't labeled as such and so she wasted a lot of searching-- time that could have been spent reading. Egad.

Fortunately, Medea doesn't want you to spend hours searching for Canadian content now that she's done all the leg work, so she's prepared a Canadian Kindle Bookstore at Amazon. Check it out!* And if you know of many other Canadian books available for Kindle, feel free to make your own list or list them right here in the comment section.

(Medea wishes to advise you that if you buy anything from her store, she gets a small percentage. I'd call that a win-win.)

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Not Poetry Friday- From

Sitting in my doctor's waiting room yesterday I was in sore need of some reading material, so I picked up a pamphlet from On the back was this untitled piece, prefaced by the line: "Nothing sets the mood like an honest poem:"

The maze of life after puberty
Is not without danger.
You could catch an infection
From a friend or a stranger.

STIs are quite common
People spread them a lot.
They don't know that they have them,
Because most are hard to spot.

It could burn when you pee
Or do nothing at all.
If you itch, or you scratch,
Give your old flame a call.

And let's not forget
One plus one equals three,
When steps are not followed
To avoid pregnancy.

There are questions to be asked,
And answers to be found.
Make decisions from a source
That is medically sound.


Sound advice to be sure, but THIS IS NOT A POEM! For more sound advice, check out the Sexualitandu website. In the meantime, the next time you find someone trying to pass off poorly scanning, lame rhymes as poetry, consider writing a "Not Poetry Friday Post" to warn others. We need to protect ourselves.

That's amazing, so much love, and also so much information. -Greg Focker

Monday, August 01, 2011

Reader's Diary #741- Ania Vesenny: Lace

In what almost seems like a lifetime ago, I was reminded this week of my old writer's group in Iqaluit. There weren't many of us and even fewer of us were what I'd call regulars: Carolyn, Seth, Matty and this week's featured short story author, Ania. It was a supportive group, but mostly what I got out of it is that to be a writer you need to be disciplined. They were, I was not. I'm still not, and I've since stopped referring to myself as a writer, not even while throwing in the "wannabe" as I used to do to make myself feel better.

A few days ago I was going through my hit counter and noticed that someone had reached me via a link on Ania Vesenny's blog. Though it was a supportive group, we didn't really hangout beyond it all that much and I'd lost touch since moving away, so it was nice to get this reminder, to check out her blog, and discover that she's still writing as much as ever. "Lace" is one of her published flash fiction stories, at Ekleksographia.

"Lace," I don't think, would necessarily sell anyone on the idea of flash fiction as there isn't so much of a conclusion and I've often heard naysayers complain that flash seems like more of a suggestion of a short story than the "real" deal. However, I'm a big fan of flash fiction and I enjoyed this one despite an ambiguous ending. Ania has made some very provocative word choices and I thought there was a very subtle hint of danger lurking at the borders.

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