Saturday, March 31, 2012

5th Annual Canadian Book Challenge- March Roundup (Sticky Post -- Scroll down for most recent post)

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, March 27, 2012

Reader's Diary #814- Voltaire: Candide

The first time I heard of Voltaire, or at least of his reputation, was in a Shakespeare class. A student and the teacher got into a rather heated argument about whose legacy was greater. (For what it's worth the student was arguing that Voltaire's was on par with Shakespeare's while the teacher was arguing that Shakespeare's was greater.) I had no desire to take sides in this argument, but it did pique my curiousity about this Voltaire guy. Though it took a trip to France to finally push me to read one of his works, arguably his most famous: Candide.

I loved it, and it wasn't at all what I expected. First off, it was quite easier to read than Shakespeare. Granted much of this can be credited to the translation. Unfortunately, I can't find out much about that. My copy, an eReader copy also available at Project Gutenberg, says that it was originally published in 1918 by Boni and Liveright, Inc., and features an introduction by Philip Littell. Who did the difficult and under-appreciated work of translation seems to be lost to the ages. I can't comment on how faithful s/he was to the original, but I can say I enjoyed it. And, getting back to the Shakespeare thing for a moment, the language of 1918 is certainly easier to comprehend then the English of the late 1500s. Candide wasn't written for almost 150-200 years later, but I still wonder if French readers reading the original wouldn't have a tougher time with dated language than English readers reading a relatively modern translation.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it was. I've read a decent amount of classics and fun is not a description I'd usually use to describe them. Candide has rapes, murders, torture, racism, and even more horrific events. But they come at such a hectic pace and are so over the top, almost cartoonish, and combined with the most outlandish coincidences, that Voltaire actually makes it all-- dare I say it-- funny. Tarantino should be working on this.

The premise of Candide is not exactly simple, but can be summed up saying that the book begins with a man named Candide and his friends living above comfortable lives, but then being dragged down and down through the most unfortunate circumstances imaginable, all the while balancing optimism against all the injustices and tragedy in the world. The most obvious interpretation is that this is Voltaire's rant against optimism. As a positive pessimist, I can appreciate such thoughts. However, when you consider how exaggerated the depravity and sorrow is in Candide, even by 18th century standards, the optimistic voice of Candide's friend Pangloss, doesn't come across as ridiculous as it first appears, merely tampered with Voltaire's shrug of "it could be worse."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Reader's Diary #813- William Trevor: Men of Ireland

In the past I've dedicated the entire month of March to Irish writers in honour of St. Patrick's Day. This year, St. Paddy's came and went without as much as a mention. Almost. Fitting under the "better late than never" banner comes "Men of Ireland" by William Trevor.

Ireland and the Catholic Church seem to go together like Ireland and potatoes. Or Ireland and Guinness. Or Ireland and leprechauns. You get the idea. Of course in the past 10-20 years or so, the Catholic Church seems to have been tied more to scandal than to Ireland, leading to a strained relationship that is still making headlines.

Some of this scandal is at the heart of William Trevor's story, so I can't recommend it for being particularly groundbreaking or unpredictable, albeit timely I suppose. However, it is otherwise well written; wonderfully descriptive in its characterization, dialogue, and imagery. About a beggar returning to his hometown in Ireland, I was hooked right at the beginning with the thought, "My God, you can smell it alright." Just this past week I was chatting to someone about the smell in the air in Newfoundland that hits you as soon as you arrive, a salty damp smell, that I can't wait to get a whiff of when I visit again this summer. The beggar then reflects on changes that have occurred in his absence. Again I could relate. But at that point the story starts to swerve out of familiar territory.

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

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Reader's Diary #812- Pierre Berton: Vimy

It was years ago that I read my first Pierre Berton book, The Arctic Grail. I positively loved it and for a while would list it and Berton among my favourites when asked about books and authors respectively. Since then I've read a few more Berton books and while I've enjoyed them somewhat (maybe not the Secret World of Og), none have come close to the Arctic Grail. I was beginning to wonder if the Arctic Grail wasn't just a fluke at worst, or the pinnacle of his career at best. Fortunately, Vimy has turned me into a true Berton fan again.

I was flying to France to visit the Vimy site as I read it, so it would be easy to say this clouded my judgement. However, as frequent readers of my blog could attest, it wasn't an entirely easy sell. I typically don't enjoy war books. However, even if I had not been touring the battlefields, it would have been hard to deny that Berton's writing in Vimy was stellar.

Berton seems to get most of his praise for his characterizations. The characters in Vimy are no less vibrant or felt than in his other books. You come to care about the soldiers because Berton gives them identity. They were young, naive, innovative, brave, caring, frustrating, and in short, human.

Yet it was his power of imagery that first drew me into Vimy. The way he describes the sounds, sights, and pain in this book is not short of breathtaking. It was really something to see the trenches in person, but I can honestly say that it was Berton that brought me to the war.

And Berton's conclusion, I don't want to spoil it if you haven't read it, was brilliant and beautiful, saving its ultimate punch until the very end. I'd go as far as saying it (the conclusion) was one of the best things I've ever read.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reader's Diary #811- J. R. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit

Earlier this year I read a graphic novel adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. I wasn't overly thrilled with it, but wondered if it it might simply have been a mediocre adaptation.

Now that I've read the original, I'm not sure. I did enjoy it marginally better than the graphic novel, but I can't say I'm really much of a fan. I know a lot of people say they prefer it over the Lord of the Rings, but I definitely wouldn't say that (though the Hobbit does have the shorter length in its favour). I found it much harder to get behind the premise. Bilbo goes out in search of adventure with a group of dwarves who in turn are in search of long lost treasure. It's much harder to get behind this mission than that of the Lord of the Rings, in which the travelers must destroy a ring that threatens to enslave the world. Therefore, when Bilbo complains (as he often does) about missing home or being hungry, I found it hard to care or find sympathy.

Plus I find Tolkien very long-winded. The Hobbit goes like this: geographic description-journey-whine about journey- battle-repeat for 300 pages. I suspect that if a reader was to start his exposure to fantasy novels with the Hobbit, he might like this book more. The hobbits, dwarves, elves, goblins, wizards, talking spiders and other mythological creatures would no doubt capture the imagination of children who have not yet come across such beasts in other books, but they certainly didn't save the book for me.

At least I know I'm forever done with Tolkien books, and for a long while, fantasy.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reader's Diary #810- Derek Hayes: The Maladjusted

While reading Derek Hayes' The Maladjusted I found myself grasping at a memory that would never surface; something I once heard in an art class about art being some sort of mirror or glass. I've gone searching for art theory and philosophy and still haven't hit upon whatever that was all about. Though I think this quote (which in itself references a quotes by Shakespeare and Novalis) by Joseph Campbell comes close:
Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image.

The inner world is the world of your requirements and your energies and your structure and your possibilities that meets the outer world. And the outer world is the field of your incarnation. That’s where you are. You’ve got to keep both going. As Novalis said, 'The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.

The characters of Hayes' collection-- the maladjusted folk-- made me reconsider that glass. As if it's not art that interprets or reinterprets society it is us; our eyes are the glass. Here's another quote by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht:
If art reflects life, it does so with special mirrors.
What makes Hayes' stories so clever is that he gives the illusion that these mirrors are special. Because they are maladjusted, the glass is cloudy, or at least "special." But after a while, I started to trust the mistrusted voices... actually, that's not entirely accurate. I didn't so much trust them, I simply started to mistrust myself. While these people may not have an accurate view, who does? The lenses, the eyes, the art cannot help but skew the truth somewhat, but it's our human limitation.

That Hayes could make me open to such existential pondering with seemingly straightforward stories (there's not a lot in the way of obvious experimentation or surface level philosophy) is another testament to the strength of his writing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Reader's Diary #809- Clea Young: Dock Day

Do you follow CBC's Canada Writes? I've not in the past, and don't see it becoming something I regularly keep up with, but I do respect its aims. Yesterday when looking for an online Canadian short story, I stumbled upon Clea Young's "Dock Day," which has just been shortlisted for this year's edition of Canada Writes so I thought I'd give it a shot.

"Dock Day" is about a couple of families spending a summer day at a dock. The story alternates between the children and adults.

The contrast between their two worlds is what makes the story so interesting. Both are playing games, games with slightly sinister overtones-- just slightly enough to lead to a sense of discomfort in an otherwise idyllic setting.

I enjoyed the story a lot, though I found the child characters more believable than the adults. The ending might not be for everyone looking for a clean resolution, but it's one of the few times I'd accept such an implied ellipsis. It leads to the air of dangerous uncertainty. Maybe this will turn out to be a mundane day, but the brief exposure to these lives is more interesting.

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

Saturday, March 17, 2012


I'm back from France. And really, really mentally tired. It was a fantastic vacation, don't get me wrong, but I always find it harder to adjust back mentally than physically. As much as I enjoyed Paris, it's a very, very different pace and world than Yellowknife. It's just a bit difficult to reconcile these different lives.

With that in mind, I don't have the energy to write a long and detailed post. To be honest, I'm forcing myself to write now just so that I can get back some sort of routine.

Day one in France was probably our coldest day there. We didn't care too much, coming off a cold snap with dips down below -30 in Yellowknife, and just too excited to finally be in France. We started with the most obvious: the Eiffel Tower. From the bottom, it was sort of surreal for me. It didn't seem like it was the Eiffel Tower that I'd seen in countless movies and TV shows. We could see it from almost anywhere we went in the city, but in person and up close, it didn't quite seem to be quite so large. Then we rode to the top and suffered the even more intense wind and cold, now with sleet, but the view finally made it sink in that this was indeed the iconic landmark. At the bottom again, it seemed to have grown into itself. We squeezed in a Seine river cruise after that, but after traveling so far the kids and I fell asleep. That was enough for one day.

On day two we took a train out of the city to visit the battlefields of Beaumont Hamel and Vimy, where the Newfoundlanders and Canadians respectively fought during World War One. At Beaumont Hamel I actually ran into some former students of mine who were there on a school trip. The weather had improved just slightly from the first day, but like the overcast and rainy day we spent at Hiroshima a couple years back, it fit the mood. Earlier this year I remarked that it was difficult for me to connect to World War stories and that I felt unpatriotically guilty for it. I found the cure. Read Pierre Berton's Vimy on the way to France, then visit the memorials and trenches where so many lost their lives, and I can guarantee that Remembrance Day will not be the same ever again.

On day three we continued our battlefields tour, this time focusing on WWII and the beaches of Juno. It was a very different war as our guide helped demonstrate by bringing along actual photos and showing us the location and still present artifacts. I've always sort of lumped the two wars together in my head. (Ashamedly, until this trip, I couldn't have told you whether the Juno beach invasion was WWI or WWII). But seeing how documented the second World War was compared to the first really seemed to make the latter a much more modern war.

I thought we were all warred out at that after that, but as we were to learn for the rest of our trip, France has a long history of invasions and fighting and it was hard to escape. On day four (renting a car and enjoying the roundabouts at this point), we explored a bit more of Bayeux, the highlight of which was Bayeux tapestry. If you've never heard of it, it's quite an incredible piece of art dating back to almost a thousand years ago. The embroidery is over 68 meters long and fifty scenes depict the vents leading up to the Norman conquest of England. (See, more war stuff). The museum was hailing it as the first graphic novel and it seems like a pretty apt description to me. Needless to say, I was enthralled.

On day five we headed out to visit Mont St. Michel. This large island and monastery atop it is quite a popular tourist attraction, based mostly on the impressive mark it makes on the skyline. However, I'd have to say it loses most of its charm up close. Signs warning of the pickpockets certainly don't help set a tourist at ease, but the legal money-gouging seems almost as criminal. A barrage of stores selling overpriced trinkets is not what one has in mind when visiting a monastery. How the monks can feel closer to God in this environment is beyond me. It must take a rare discipline. Though a visit to the so-bad-it-might-just-be-good Archeoscope, a bizarre production that looks as if it may have been cutting edge in 1981 will certainly not soon be forgotten.

On day six we headed out to Camaret-Sur-Mer in the Brittany region, to visit a small point called Pointe du Toulinguet. I'm from a small town in Newfoundland called Twillingate, so named for its resemblance to this area, so I had to see for myself. The cliffs themselves bore an uncanny similarity. Yet the tide in Toulinguet went much further out, leaving a couple hundred feet of soft sand on which people were horseback riding and collecting shellfish. Twillingate is beautiful, and Toulinguet, I hate to say it, even more so. I think I might have found my retirement home. Though I might be sold on the town for another reason. While walking on the beach there, I found an odd looking device on the beach, somewhat looking like a microphone. I picked it up and there was a contact number for the U.S.. I called it and it turned out to be a wildlife tag that had been attached to a bluefin tuna off the coast of Morocco by a group of researchers from Spain. To make it even better? It came with a reward of 300 Euros upon its return. Did you ever see the movie Seducing Doctor Lewis about a small town in Quebec that does it everything it can to convince a doctor to stay there? One man had the idea to always leave $5 bills on the ground for the doctor to find. Everyone's happy to find money, he says, and when one has happy connotations with a place they are more likely to want to stay.

The next day we drove out to the Loire region, to sleep in a castle. It was off season, so we were the only ones there that night. Even the owners were sleeping in a separate cottage next door. We kind of hoped it'd be haunted but we didn't hear even as much as a creak that night.

Then on day 8 we returned the rental car. We were heading back to Paris and there was no way we were going to drive there. Montreal gets a bad rap in Canada for their crazy drivers. I think Parisians would find Montreal streets relaxing. Besides, the subway system was easy to follow and far less crowded or busy than in London or Tokyo. We spent our last few days in Paris, taking in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, and Disneyland (for the kids, of course.) A few thoughts on each:
1. The Cathedral of Notre Dame is stunning, and quite a workout climbing the stairs to the top. Totally worth it though to see the view and the gargoyles. In the church itself there was a mass going on and tourists were snapping pictures of worshippers, sectioned off by some velvet ropes. I had similar feelings about that as I had about Mont St. Michel above. Couldn't they close it to tourists during such times? I started reading Victor Hugo's Les Miserables on the trip in anticipation of visiting the sewers and/or catacombs, which were unfortunately closed on the day we had slotted it in. In hindsight, maybe I should have read The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
2. The Louvre was very, very big. We saw but a very small portion and due to time restraints, focused most of our energies on the cliche ones: the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. Of course, simply getting to them you see a lot of art on the way so it's still worth it. I think what I liked most about the Mona Lisa was seeing the huge painting on the facing wall, the Wedding Feast at Cana by Paolo Veronese. It not so much that I was taken with the artistry or subject matter, just the contrast. The Wedding Feast at Cana is so huge and so busy, with so many people. The Mona Lisa is so small and quiet in comparison, yet an individual who can own a wall all to herself.

3. The Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Yeah, so again, we did the predictable Jim Morrison thing. I'm not a huge Doors fan or anything, but like seeing other art on the way to Mona Lisa, that was sort of the idea here as well. What would we see on the way to Pere Lachaise? What would the cemetery itself be like? What other notable graves would we see? Unfortunately we arrived late and the cemetery was closing soon after we got there. We saw Morrison's litter and graffiti covered grave and that was it. Sorry Balzac and Wilde, we'll catch you next time.

4. Disneyland. It's funny, we've never taken the kids to either of the Disney attractions in California or Florida, yet they've now gone to Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disney. This one had a Star Wars attraction which I don't recall having been in Tokyo, so my son was beside himself. We also caught an old Michael Jackson attraction from the 80s, brought back since his death. Unlike the Mont St. Michel Archeoscope, it was just bad enough to not be good bad. I was also disappointed that they didn't highlight the Disney movies set in France. There was no reference to the Hunchback at all and we could find but a single stuffed toy of the rat from Ratatouille. As most of us at the park appeared to be foreign tourists, I think they lost an opportunity there. Still, it was a fun day overall. And speaking of big business capitalism, I'm about to say something I'm sure many of the French would say is blasphemous. One of the best meals I had in France was at MacDonald's. There, I said it. Perhaps we were just not hitting the right places, but the pastries we had in France were no better than can be found easily in Canada, and I swear that on most menus we saw were nothing but variations on a ham and cheese sandwich. At MacDonald's they had limited edition burgers made with baguettes and topped with local cheeses, and the Saint Nectaire was delicious. So there. And don't get me started on the coffee situation in France. Yes, they made delicious coffee. I can't fault that. But I can fault the sizes. The largest we could find (we didn't go to Starbucks) was still smaller than a small at Tim Hortons. I'm not exaggerating. And it was only at MacDonald's that we could find coffee to go, which is what got us in there in the first place.

As for the language barrier, I have to say there really wasn't much of one. As long as we tried, people generally understood and were friendly and helpful-- going totally against the whole unfortunate stereotype of being rude. Our kids got a lot of compliments on their french abilities, which makes me feel really good about their french immersion education.

So much for the short post. It's actually been good to help me collect my thoughts. But now I'm off to catch some zzz's. Sorry if it's rife with typos. I really just spent more energy than I thought I had left. Don't ask me to edit right now.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Reader's Diary #808- Marguerite Duras: The Bible

C' is my 2èmes and final posts programmed préécrits to appear tandis qu' I' ; m far in France. And, like the first, always in l' spirit of my lack of French capacity, I' ; the VE l' translated into French using Babelfish, and back still in English.

He takes much d' entrails to write a short history called the " ; Bible." ; Probably. I' ; the VE expressed my preoccupations concerning this much with a time: mention the religion d' a vague manner, with the lightest council that you can have a point, and people seem to believe you. I' ; m not sour which is the case here. Marguerite Duras, l' author, had been born in Vietnam with the French parents when c' was always a colony, and again moved in France when it was 17 years old, where it remained jusqu' with its death in 1996.

C' is my first time reading n' import which part of its work, and j' found the model interesting. The sentences are short and blunt, almost like if she' ; annoyed S.A. and would obtain l' just rather; history more. In this case, he compliments the protagonist' ; prospect for S completely well, like if l' author and his character are one and the same one, even if one says to him at the 3rd person. It' ; S about d' an young woman who dates an intellectual who is rather haunted with the bible and Coran. It tires its concern quickly. If I were to guess as for what Duras tested d' to indicate, it would be this it' ; S sad not to accept the magic, but when you don' ; T, you don' ; T. Not an excessively merry piece, by all the means, and finishes to him rather anti-climatic. I' ; D must read it with several times, not only decided if my conjecture were correct. But points of allowance for the model.

(You wrote a post for l' short history Monday? If so, please leave a bond in the comments below.)

actual words:
This is my 2nd and final pre-written scheduled posts to appear while I'm away in France. And, like the first, still in the spirit of my lack of French ability, I've translated it into French using Babelfish, and back again into English.

It takes a lot of guts to write a short story called "The Bible." Possibly. I've voiced my concerns about this many times: mention religion in a vague way, with the slightest hint that you may have a point, and people seem to believe you. I'm not sure that is the case here.

Marguerite Duras, the author, was born in Vietnam to French parents when it was still a colony, and moved back to France when she was 17, where she remained until her death in 1996. This is my first time reading any of her work, and I found the style interesting. The sentences are short and blunt, almost as if she's bored and would just rather get the story over. In this case, it compliments the protagonist's perspective quite well, as if the writer and her character are one and the same, even if it is told in the 3rd person.

It's about a young woman who dates an intellectual who is rather obsessed with the Bible and the Koran. She quickly tires of his preoccupation.

If I had to guess as to what Duras was trying to say, it would be that it's sad to not believe in magic, but when you don't, you don't. Not an overly joyous piece, by any means, and it ends rather anti-climatically. I'd have to read it over a few times, not only to decided if my guess was correct. But bonus points for the style.

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

Monday, March 05, 2012

Reader's Diary #807- Richard Harding Davis: Somewhere in Paris

The first right of two l' short history that préécrite Monday announces me programmed to appear tandis qu' I' ; m vacationing in France, j' decided to translate them into French. Two problems:
1. My stone lessons of Rosetta go slower qu' I' ; D hoped and thus I miss of capacity
2. Even if I could translate it into French, the majority of my readers are unilingual, right? In fact, I n' have any idea why j' assume that.

In any case, I' ; m going to make next the best thing (which, in addition, is also the worst thing): I' ; m going to employ Babelfish to translate these words into French and then to again translate them in l' English. I make excuse.

I' ; the VE also decided to connect my two next posts d' short history in France, which m' bring to this week' ; history of S: " ; Some share in France" ; by Richard Harding Davis. " ; Some share in France" ; is an account with suspense d' spy, d' access published in 1915. It follows most of the time a spy called Marie Gessler (but often went by d' other names), d' Germany. It doesn' ; spy of T except d' engagement or of patriotic pride, but for l' venture. In that the last adventure, as title would suggest, Marie is in service in France, one of its on the ground frequent to strike foot. I' ; the VE read the very small fiction d' spy. John Carré' ; " of S; L' spy who entered of the cold, " ; Hubert Aquin' ; S confusing atrocious the " ; Next episode, " ; and that' ; S about it unless the cartoons of TinTin count.

What qu' it is, " ; Some share in France" ; is an interesting history, most of the time due to Marie' ; Persson isolated from S. It has l' air d' a play showing all rather the atrocities war and so much sometimes, you can almost s' enraciner for Marie. More, l' ordered torsion with l' little; end helps. But now qu' I' ; the VE said that, I' ; the VE already prepared you for something and short the risk of l' to damage. Afflicted.

(You wrote a post for l' short history Monday? If so, please leave a bond in the comments below.)

actual words:
The first of just two pre-written Short Story Monday posts I scheduled to appear while I'm vacationing in France, I decided to translate them into French. Two problems:
1. My Rosetta Stone lessons are going slower than I'd hoped and so I lack the ability
2. Even if I was able to translate it into French, most of my readers are unilingual, right? Actually, I have no idea why I assume that.

In any case, I'm going to do the next best thing (which, incidentally, is also the worst thing): I'm going to use Babelfish to translate these words into French and then to translate back into English. I apologize.

I've also decided to connect my next two Short Story Posts to France, which brings me to this week's story: "Somewhere in France" by Richard Harding Davis. "Somewhere in France" is a spy thriller, first published in 1915. It mostly follows a spy named Marie Gessler (but often went by other names), from Germany. She doesn't spy out of obligation or patriotic pride, but for adventure. In this latest adventure, as the title would suggest, Marie is on duty in France, one of her frequent stomping grounds.

I've read very little spy fiction. John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Hubert Aquin's atrociously confusing Next Episode, and that's about it unless TinTin comics count.

Anyway, "Somewhere in France" is an interesting story, mostly due to Marie's detached persona. It has the air of a game rather showing any atrocities of war and so at times, you can almost root for Marie. Plus, the neat little twist at the end helps. But now that I've said that, I've already prepared you for something and run the risk of spoiling it. Sorry.

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

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Reader's Diary #806- Michael Kusugak: The Curse of the Shaman

Back when we first started teaching in Rankin Inlet, Debbie and I met another teacher originally from Ontario but whose first teaching stint was in Japan. We later learned that she was quite a lovely person, but initially we just found her, or more precisely, her endless Japan stories, annoying as all hell. Japan. Japan. Japan. You'd think she was the first Canadian to ever set foot on Japanese soil.

Flash forward to 10 years later, and after a short holiday in Japan, we've become the annoying ones. Only worse. Not only do we prattle on about the charm of Japan, but every other conversation begins with "back in Rankin Inlet..."

Back in Rankin Inlet was when I first met Michael Kusugak. As far as local celebs were concerned, it was Jordin Tootoo, closely followed by Kusugak who was perhaps best known for his Robert Munsch collaboration A Promise is a Promise. I've been loyal to Kusugak ever since, reading all of his output with the exception of The Curse of the Shaman, his first young adult novel. I'm not sure why it's taken this long to get around to it, especially considering it's subtitled "a Marble Island Story."

Back in Rankin Inlet, I only visited Marble Island once. It's 40km away but many local Inuit still make the trek in the summer for its hunting grounds. Tourists, as we were, visit to see the quartzite rock formations (not marble as the name would suggest), and mostly to hear the history of doomed explorers and Hudson Bay Company whalers, many of whose graves are still visible there today. What I remember most is arriving at the island only to have to crawl on our elbows for a short distance as a sign of respect for an Inuit legend. (More on Marble Island here.)

In Kusugak's The Curse of the Shaman, a quick-tempered shaman curses a young named Wolverine to be banished when he is of age to begin a family. The shaman eventually calms down and even agrees to an arranged marriage between his own daughter and the boy. However, when Wolverine comes to a certain age, he goes hunting on Marble Island only to find he cannot leave. The shaman's unfortunate curse has come back to haunt them all.

The Curse of the Shaman is a wonderfully told story, filled with Inuit folklore and a compelling plot that Inuit and non-Inuit alike should be drawn into. Determination and reconciliation are two of the more heavily explored themes. But what I liked most was the time setting. I haven't read a lot of historical fiction involving aboriginal Canadians, but what I have usually always revolves around point of contact with Europeans. While that topic is certainly interesting, I'd like more written about pre-contact, just like The Curse of the Shaman.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

5th Annual Canadian Book Challenge- 8th Update

February's gone, and with an extra day of reading, 4 people were able to squeeze in additional reviews, bringing last month's total up just shy of 80. I'm enjoying watching things progress; 19 people have gotten into the red (13+) with no sign of slowing down, and everyone else is chugging along just fine. Lots of people sang the Half-Blood Blues last month. Alan Bradley continues to be popular. Margaret Laurence's classic Stone Angel made an appearance, as did Laura Secord. The Franklin book that started the whole franchise was remembered. And there were many, many other great reviews and books worth checking out.

One of those reviews won Teddy her 2nd prize pack in a row. Participants were asked to review a book by an author who identifies as either L, G, B, or T and they would have their names entered in for a prize pack kindly donated by Arsenal Pulp Press. Teddy has won the following books:
1. Missed Her by Ivan Coyote

2. Anticipated Results by Dennis E. Bolen

Thank you once again to Arsenal Pulp Press and congratulations to Teddy!

For March's prize, we turn to poetry and a fantastic collection of books generously donated by Brick Books:

1. Noble Gas, Penny Black by David O'Meara

2. Mortal Arguments by Sue Sinclair

3. Alien, Correspondent by Antony Di Nardo

4. Spirit Engine by John Donlan

If you're a Canadian Book Challenge participant and you wish to have your name entered into a random draw for these 4 books, all you have to do is either:

i. Review a book of Canadian poetry this month (but you MUST indicate in the comments that you wish your review to count as an entry for this contest)


ii. In the comments below, make a Canadian poetry recommendation: either a favourite poem, poet, or collection.

Do both and your name will be entered twice. Good luck!