Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The 6th Canadian Book Challenge- October 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)
4 In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. This brings me up to 1/13)

Happy Halloween!

Rollercoaster Corpse Found In Local Wood
20th century humans
                        had not yet distinguished between

fun and fear.
Little has changed.

--John Mutford

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Reader's Diary #887- Victoria Dunn: Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies

Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies by Victoria Dunn is the 3rd book published by The Workhorsey, the only publisher in Canada whose entire catalogue I've read. I discovered Jocelyne Allen's You and the Pirates when it was a competitor in the National Post's "Canada Also Reads" a couple of years back. (I was defending Steve Zipp's Yellowknife at the time.) In any case, I liked You and the Pirates so much that the publishers sent me a review copy of their next book, Derek Winkler's Pitouie. And I liked that so much that they sent me a copy of their latest book, Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies. Alas, the love affair is over. John does not heart Alice Hearts Zombies.

Granted, AHWZ is not a big departure for the Workhorsey and at times I started to suspect they didn't actually have three authors (four technically, as Victoria Dunn is a pseudonym for co-authors Victoria Higgins and Meghan Dunn), just a single author who self-published under a fake company banner, using different names each time. Of course, it's easy to get conspiracy minded when reading a Workhorsery novel. All three of their books reveal a world within our own, just hidden from the majority. Like Hogwarts, but with cat armies, tropical island Inuit, and zombies, all replacing the wizards. I like conspiracy theories and hidden worlds, so I'm always game. However, AHWZ is similar enough to its predecessors that I can say with confidence that it you didn't enjoy Pitouie or You and the Pirates, you won't enjoy Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies either. Unfortunately the reverse logic doesn't necessarily apply.

The Workhorsery's raison d'être is to provide non-depressing Canadian lit, or as they refer to it, "non-traumatizing Canadian fiction." It's admirable, but I'm beginning to suspect that they've swung the pendulum too far the other way, manic versus depressive. Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies moves at a mile a minute, which could be entertaining, but with little else to offer it just becomes exhausting. At the beginning I was hopeful that it was going to be a satire of corporate culture. Like the Office but with zombies. Then Dunn seems to make jokes about everything and amidst all the one-liners it's hard to tell what the target is. Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies simply tries too hard to be funny.

On that note, the characters never seem to rise beyond the level of caricature. Basically it deals with employees of a fictional organization called Odyssey International who have been assigned to deal with a zombie outbreak in Wales. Sure the four main characters (okay, five if you count zombie Dave) seem to learn something by the end and aren't completely static, they remain flat (not to mention annoying). In lieu of character building (which  as far as I know isn't depressing or traumatizing) Dunn focuses on details of a prior adventure, almost as if the whole goal of Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies is to sell an upcoming prequel.

There are a lot of entertaining premises in the book (ex. Ken's fight for zombie dignity), but perhaps too many. Ultimately, it's not a book I expect to remember— for better or worse.

(Full disclosure: Recently I contacted The Workhorsery to inquire if they were interested in publishing an anthology I'm hoping to put together of short fiction told from a 2nd person perspective. They liked the idea but said they had a firm no short stories policy. I throw this out there in case anyone knew of this history and felt my negative review was sour grapes. I think their rejection and policy is totally fair and I harbor no bad feelings. All I can do is assure you this review is honest, regardless. But you can decide for yourself. As for the people at Workhorsery, Higgin, and Dunn, I hope there are no hard feelings either! I still look forward to reading your books in the future.)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Reader's Diary #886- Karen L. Abrahamson: Coyotes, Cats, and Other Creatures

(Photo by Yathin S. Krishnappa)
After last week's shocking and disturbing tale by Graham Masterton, I needed something a little lighter, less twisted for this week's story. It's still October, so I was looking for something with a supernatural or horror bent— just something on the milder side for today. Karen L. Abrahamson's "Coyotes, Cats, and Other Creatures" fits the bill nicely.

 The story is about a man named Richard who has reluctantly gone to see a professional to help to manage his grief over his deceased wife. His doctor suggests that on his daily walks into the woods Richard should imagine leaving some of his difficult emotions there as if they were concrete objects. To his children and his doctor, it would appear that this plan works, but the omniscient reader isn't so sure.

I like when authors leave the supernatural up the reader to decide. As Richard begins to see things in his periphery or when the behaviour of the woodland animals seems to be slightly off, it's minor enough to brush aside. Figments of Richard's imagination. But if you don't brush them off, you can almost hear Edgar Allan Poe's raven cawing in the distance.

Almost. I didn't enjoy it as much as Poe's classic by any means, and I think it was the voice that didn't work for me. My wife and I have often prided ourselves on not being hung up on gender roles, yet Richard's voice sounds a little too feminine for me— and not in an effeminate man sort of way, but in a "you can tell this was written by a woman" sort of way. I've read tonnes of books and stories in which the author took on the role of the opposite gender and I've usually bought into it. Something about this one, however, doesn't seem convincing.

Otherwise, a decent diversion.

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reader's Diary #885- Betsy Byars: The Two-Thousand-Pound Goldfish

Revisiting a cherished childhood memory is such a risky venture. Sometimes I'll walk my kids down nostalgia lane and confirm that somethings are every bit as good as I remember (ex. the Goonies) and somethings just aren't (ex. The Dukes of Hazzard). Luckily, Betsy Byars' The 2000 Pound Goldfish held up.

The Two-Thousand-Pound Goldfish I remember buying through a Scholastic book order. I was always writing sci-fi or horror stories as a kid and something as outlandish as a monster goldfish would have been right up my alley. But there were a few surprises in store.

The first surprise was a good one. The book isn't about a killer goldfish per se, but a boy named Warren who is writing a movie about a killer goldfish. I didn't know a whole lot of other nerd kids in real life, so it was nice to have a main character with such similar interests.

The second surprise was also a good one, but I didn't appreciate it immediately. The goldfish movie is also not the point of the book. Instead it's really about Warren trying to deal with an absent mom who is on the lamb from the FBI for being involved with violent protests (just like Homer Simpson's mom). His sister tries to convince him that reuniting with his mother, or even communicating with her, may not be as wonderful as Warren has built it up to be. His grandmother, and legal guardian, is so embittered by the whole situation that she doesn't acknowledge that her daughter (Warren's mother) even exists. This was a bit more mature that I'd been expecting and it took me aback. Warren is choosing to escape through fantasy— did I do that? I'd always took it for granted that imagination was a good thing. That there could be another side was a novel idea.

Of course, upon reflection, the whole FBI premise is also a bit out there, but once I'd decided that I did enjoy the more mature angle, I think I was open to books that had slightly more realistic plots. In high school I still stuck to Stephen King, but I liked Cujo as much as the Shining.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Reader's Diary #884- Joseph Boyden: Through Black Spruce

Six years ago Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road was one of the first books I reviewed. (Book Mine Set trivia: the first was Shakespeare's Hamlet.) But back then I took more time with each book, blogging at various points as I read, meaning I had a total of 7 posts on Three Day Road alone. Now that sort of in depth analysis would drive me crazy,  yet when I look at my stats, they remain some of my most popular posts, still bringing in a couple or so readers a day. Sorry to say, my post for Through Black Spruce won't be anywhere near as lengthy.

Granted I still enjoyed the book. It has some heavy hitting themes of trust, lies, repercussions, betrayal, the power of story-telling, loss, and identity, but yet it doesn't come across as heavy handed. The chapters are short and go back and forth between Annie, who is searching for her missing sister and their uncle Will who lies in a coma. The focus on a couple central characters makes the book easier to take in and it's hard not to connect with these flawed, but ultimately likeable people.

I enjoyed the settings of Through Black Spruce, primarily in Moose Factory, but also in Montreal, New York and a few other locales. Occasionally, however, I found the scenes in Moose Factory a little too intentionally educational. There are more than a few times when, for instance, Will who is telling his story to Annie, describes his trapping and hunting in details that he just wouldn't share with someone who already knew how to trap or gut a moose. My father is a hunter, I've hunted with him. When he told me of his most  recent moose hunting trip, he didn't go into details about how he made what incisions. It was during these times that you could sense Boyden beyond the voice, aiming his book at an urban reader, and it removed me from the story.

Recently I discovered an old National Post article by Alex Good and Steven W. Beattie in which they listed Boyden as one of 10 overrated Canadian authors. One of their beefs with Through Day Road is that the scenes set in Manhattan read as if researched by watching America's Next Top Model. Yet I almost appreciated those scenes more as they didn't seem as forced. The urban reader, we could assume, would already have a familiarity with New York and so Boyden didn't have to teach us about it. He could just get on with the story.

Otherwise, I quite enjoyed the depth of Boyden's characters, as I did with those of Three Day Road. Apparently, these books are supposed to be part of a trilogy following the Bird family legacy and I look forward to reading the next installment, whenever that will be.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reader's Diary #883- Graham Masterton: Eric the Pie

A couple of years ago, my son was particularly upset after an initiation hockey game. In tears upset. We could tell that he was beating himself over his perceived lack of hockey skills and tried our best to console him. Then we discovered why he was taking it so hard. It turns out that every time we told him to have fun and do his best, what he thought we meant was to be the best. We felt awful that we unintentionally put that kind of pressure on him. We're really not that sort of parents at all. But now that some time has passed, we find it amusing that he and other kids have such ideas.

I was reminded of this when I began Graham Masterton's "Eric the Pie." It begins by describing how a boy named Eric began to fret over his diet after hearing the expression, "you are what you eat." After getting a scab on his knee, Eric is convinced it's the beginning of a pie crust.

At Graham Masterton's website, the link to this story adds the blurb, "the story that was responsible for the demise of horror magazine, Frighteners." Mistakenly— very mistakenly— I had theorized that the reason the story brought down a magazine was because it "jumped the shark" so to speak. I thought that a boy turning into a pie would be too cutesy for horror fans and that they cancelled their subscriptions accordingly. Oh how I wish that was the story.

"Eric the Pie" isn't about that at all. I remember reading about people with dissociative disorders having trouble with taking idioms literally. Of course, many young children have trouble with such phrases, but most grow out of them. Eric does not. He's psychopathic. And by the time you figure that out, you might just want to stop reading. "Eric the Pie" is one of the most disturbing, horrific stories I've ever read. It's well written, mind you, but really over the top in its gore and perverse content. Think Jeffrey Dahmer type stuff. I normally don't offend or shock easily, but perhaps it was the cute hockey memory and my expectations that got my defenses down. It'll be a hard story to block out and I can't in good conscience recommend it.

Apparently Frighteners ended after just four issues. The very first issue featured Masterton's story and the accompanying art work by Oliver Frey that graced the cover so offended consumers that it had to be pulled from the shelf. Maybe had I known this ahead of time, I could have avoided the story. Or at least I would have had a better idea of what to expect.

Incidentally, I've seen the cover image and it's nothing compared to the story itself.

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

Reader's Diary #882- The New King James Version Bible: Ezekiel

The Book of Ezekiel begins with a scene so surrealistic it caught me off guard. This is how it's summarized in Wikipedia:
Yahweh approaches Ezekiel as the divine warrior, riding in his battle chariot. The chariot is drawn by four living creatures each having four faces (of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle), and four wings. Beside each "living creature" is a "wheel within a wheel," with "tall and awesome" rims full of eyes all around. Yahweh commissions Ezekiel to be a prophet and a "watchman" in Israel: "Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites.
At which point most people would look at the bottle they're holding, shake their heads, and say, "never again." But not Ezekiel. Which is good because as an opener, it certainly catches my attention. Can't wait to see what Ezekiel has in store. 

Alas, chapter after chapter, nothing really lives up to that image. Mostly it's God's warnings about various wars and destruction to come. Which in itself certainly doesn't sound dull, but you read enough of a similar message you tend to become desensitized. I got through by trying my damnedest to find a positive message. Not that I agree with interpreting Bible passages to suit our own personal agendas, but as a pessimist by nature, I took it as a sort of challenge to glean something positive from the onslaught of dire predictions and promises. Here's what I got: don't intentionally piss people off as it tends to have repercussions, try to be a better person even when it seems pointless, and stick to your values and beliefs even when they might go against popular opinion.

At the end, there's a ridiculously detailed description of a temple. At first I was relieved to get away from the endless warnings, thinking we were heading into surrealistic territory again. I was envisioning the temple as M.C. Escher's Relativity house.  However, I soon realized that wasn't it. Instead, it was like the earlier books where there were chapters after chapters describing the ark of the covenant right down to the minutest detail.

At least there was one other highlight: Ezekiel 25:17 is the speech Samuel Jackson gives as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Reader's Diary #881- Edith Iglauer: Denison's Ice Road

I've heard that the truckers involved with the reality show program Ice Road Truckers are often amused by the drama that directors often milk out of ice road trucking careers. Sure it gets cold, sure trucks can break down, and in very rare instances, can even go through the ice, but most of their days are spent driving, and driving extra slow, so as to not create a pressure wave underneath the ice. I've heard them say that it can get pretty monotonous and dull.

If it was Edith Iglauer's intention to capture this dullness, then I'd say the book was a roaring success. Which is odd considering that over the past couple of years I've come across many people praising the book up, hailing it as a true Northern classic. The fact that a northern book is still in print after its original 1974 publication should say something about the book's legacy. In Denison's Ice Road Edith Igaluer, an american writer, tags along with John Denison, who pioneered the ice roads of the Northwest Territories, as he cuts yet another series of roads leading from Yellowknife to a silver mine on the far shore of Great Bear Lake. It's a long journey, made to feel even longer as Dension and his crew have to return to Yellowknife several times for several reasons.

But it wasn't completely void of interest. First of all, Edith Iglauer's infiltration into this predominately male world is fascinating, though she does seem to handle it well. Second of all, John Denison is suffering from a severe stomach ulcer that Iglauer seems to be convinced is fatal. (Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Denison lived right on up to 2001.) Denison himself, while not a dynamic or particularly magic individual, did intrigue me somewhat for his drive and determination, his no nonsense demeanor (he even scoffs at Iglauer and some of his other crew members for forming attachements to their vehicles— it's just a truck afterall), and his expertise.

I often remark at how I can find similar humanity and characteristics in short stories from the opposite side of the globe, and yet, in Denison's Ice Road, somehow his drive and motivation are elusive to me. Is it possible to have more in common with a granddaughter from a short story set in Kazakhstan than a fellow Yellowknifer who helps create ice roads? I would have to say yes. John Denison and I would have had nothing, absolutely nothing in common with one another. But that's okay.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Reader's Diary #880- Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness

Finally knocking another classic off my tbr list, I'm now surprised it's taken me this long. Had I done any research at all I would have discovered it's a novella at only 88 pages. No matter how difficult, I can do 88 pages.

And it was a little difficult. Not Hubert Aquin Next Episode difficult, but certainly a thinker. For the very few remaining people out there left to read it, Heart of Darkness is narrated by a character named Charlie Marlow who is aboard a sailboat on the Thames, waiting for the tide to rise before they set out. To his fellow passengers, Marlow recounts a trip he made sailing into Africa and meeting with an infamous character named Kurtz, a fellow European who has gone there to export ivory and who winds up going crazy with new found power.

Perhaps it's the frame story that gives Marlow's tale the air of a parable. There wisdom behind his story, it's a matter of finding the significance. Alas, the wisdom seems rather dire. Could it be that we are all possible of evil, of greed, of injustice toward our fellow man? I read a poem yesterday by Renaltta Arluk in which she discusses the British who fled to Canada to avoid oppression, "only to discover their own humanity/ was knowing how to rule." It seems to supplement the plot of Heart of Darkness, only Conrad doesn't seem to point fingers solely at the British or the Belgiums or any particular group for that matter. At the beginning Marlow surmises that it must have been similar when the Romans first conquered Britons. The message seems to be that all societies and individuals have the potential to let greed consume them to the point of dominating and exploiting others. Reminds me of the Saturday Night Live iPhone 5 sketch this past weekend. Did you see it? The horror, the horror.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Reader's Diary #879- Gertrude Atherton: The Striding Place

I was listening to Ray Parker Jr.'s Ghostbusters yesterday— because it's that time of year— and I was having fun with trying to take the song seriously. What if, instead of just being a stupid soundtrack to a horror/comedy movie, it was about a girl trying to get over a break-up? What if the "ghostbuster" was the guy trying to help her get over the memory (i.e., the ghost) of a previous relationship? Nah, I know it was just frivolous pop music.

But in "The Striding Place," Gertrude Atherton does try to up the ante on the ghost story by turning it into a soul versus the body discourse. It follows a man named Wiegell who is on a grouse hunting trip with some friends. It's an annual trip but this year's has not been particularly great. The weather is damp, the grouse have been few, and the women accompanying them are somewhat dull. Wiegell's heart just isn't in it. But he has even more of a reason than the rest: his close friend Wyatt Gifford had disappeared a couple days earlier. So when the other hunters go off to sleep, Wiegell is restless and goes off into the woods in search of his friend.

I can't state how it ends, but it's a bit of a shock and kind of confusing. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I think the key lies within a recollection of a conversation between Wiegell and Gifford, wherein the latter expressed his belief that the soul and the body were independent of one another. He is so convinced of it that he expresses his desire to prove it. Whether he did just that at the end or not is a bit of a mystery but it's creepy nonetheless and has a eerie feeling throughout, so it's perfect if you want a head-scratcher for this time of year. Consider it the trick. "Ghostbusters" can be the treat.

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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reader's Diary #878- Eoin Colfer (writer), Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin (adapted by), Giovanni Rigano (Art): Artemis Fowl (The Graphic Novel)

I'm not sure when I'll learn my lesson, but I had the same feeling reading the graphic novel version of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl as I did when reading adaptations for Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped and J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. I'm left more curious about the original (i.e., non-graphic novel) version than I am able to enjoy what I've been given. I didn't feel this way about the graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, so that should say something.

Another problem with this book is that it's the first in a series. Therefore some of the questions I had may have been answered in future books. For instance, I found Artemis for the most part unlikeable. A genius yes, but greedy and condescending. I couldn't help but wonder if he was more endearing in the original book. Towards the end he started to show more of his humanity. Would this have been explored in future books? Is the growth of Artemis Fowl an underlying plot that takes a few books to flesh out? I'm left with a lot of questions.

Despite those, I still enjoyed the story. Artemis, a boy genius, has been left pretty much on his own after his father has disappeared and his mother has gone crazy. His family now is a faithful bodyguard/ servant simply known as Butler and Butler's sister. Artemis has devised a plan to restore his family's fortune by basically exploiting the fairies, a secret race of people, mostly dismissed as myth by the general population. I like the idea of secret worlds within in our own, as I'm sure plenty of others do as well, explaining the popularity of everything from Men in Black to Harry Potter. As is pointed out in Artemis Fowl,  fairies, or some form thereof, are found in folklore the world over. Explaining this as a sort of conspiracy theory is really up my alley. For the longest time I was preoccupied with the idea of dragons with similar theories in mind. Dragons are so prevalent in medieval British tales, so entrenched in ancient Chinese mythology as well, and you can't get much different than these two cultures— is it possible that dragons actually existed at one point? Maybe some freaky dinosaurs that held on long after they were thought to have? Okay, I've outgrown that, but still fun to think about, and I was reminded with all that at the beginning of Artemis Fowl, so I was won over at the start.

I also quite liked the artwork. It's sort of like manga meets steam-punk, which is an interesting blend that works surprisingly well. Plus Paolo Lamanna's uses colour as almost a filter, casting many panels in blueish or brownish tints, depending on and creating the mood.

Despite my lingering questions and despite my enjoyment, I'm still not finding myself in a major rush to read the others in the series. Strange.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Reader's Diary #877- John Polidori: The Vampyre

I think I've said it here many times before that while I like the idea of vampires, I've yet to find a piece of vampire fiction that really did anything for me.

Still, when I heard the history behind John Polidori's "The Vampyre" I had to give it a shot. First misattributed to Lord Byron in 1819, Polidori is now given his due. The story was born during three rainy summer nights spent Polidori spent with Lord Byron (Polidori was his physician), Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Claire Clairmont. To kill the time, the five shared "fantastical" tales. These fateful evenings lead to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and John Polidori's "The Vampyre."

I'd heard of Frankenstein, of course, but not of "The Vampyre," though it turns out to be a rather important piece of literature. Vampires had existed in folklore before this time, but the classic stylish, aristocratic image is often credited to Polidori. It is certainly one of the earliest known written fiction about the blood-sucking creatures, predating Bram Stoker's Dracula by 78 years (Twilight by 186 years).

But is it any good? It's not half bad. I thought I was in trouble with the first paragraph:
It happened that in the midst of the dissipations attendant upon London winter, there appeared at the various parties of the leaders of the ton a nobleman more remarkable for his singularities, than his rank. 
Clearly the story shows its age and I wasn't sure I was up to understanding it. Fortunately the old vocabulary and style grew up me quickly and it wasn't too difficult to gather what was going on. What was going on wasn't altogether surprising (though I imagine at the time it would have been), nor scary, but I did enjoy the imagery of the piece, the style of the vampyre. And, like the better vampire stories, I like how such mythical beings seem to say more about us than them. In "The Vampyre" there is something intangibly sinister about the title character, but (perhaps even because of it) people are still drawn to him. Of course, like Eve's attraction to the forbidden fruit, like Pandora and the box, such attractions tend not to turn out so great.

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

Friday, October 05, 2012

Reader's Diary #876- Susanna Moodie: Roughing it in the Bush

Susanna Moodie's Roughing it in the Bush is one of those important Canadian books. One you have to read therefore you don't want to. I didn't find it as dull as all that but my version was filled with body-swapping aliens.

Roughing it in the Bush tells the true trials and tribulations of a British woman and her husband who have settled in Canada in the 1830s. Quickly learning that the paradise they'd been promised must still be earned, Moodie sets out to educate future settlers on what they can actually expect.

I've no doubt that such a move at such a time would not have been easy, and I certainly wouldn't have coped any better than Moodie, but she's still not an entirely likeable or even sympathetic character. Quite hypocritical and condescending, even when she supposedly learns the error of her ways and condemns others for not having learned similar lessons, she still has a ways to go. It's hard, for example, to believe that she ever really understood the poverty she claims to have endured, when she always seems to have a servant girl employed.

But still there are enough adventures involving fire, disease, pesky Americans and so forth to keep it interesting. The aliens? Here's the thing. I read Roughing it in the Bush while on my elliptical and I've recently discovered that I work out best to EDM. Such music makes for a strange pairing with the story of an uptight 19th century British woman in the backwoods of Canada. Maybe it was this weird mash-up that got my creative juices flowing, or maybe it was the lack of oxygen in my brain, but I became somewhat fixated on the frequent and usually unexplained absences of her husband. So I filled in the blanks. He was off hunting vampires! No, too 2009. Zombies? No, too 2011. Wait, aliens are due for a comeback! He was off ridding the new Canadian frontier from aliens!  Aliens who made their way to Earth via a portal near an overturned maple tree (it is Canada after all) and who found the environment too harsh for their own bodies so they had to take over the bodies and minds of the locals! Suddenly all the eccentric or unsavory characters were potential aliens.

Okay, if you've ever read the book, you know that last part didn't happen. But trust me, it'd make it a hell of a lot more interesting .

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Reader's Diary #875- Paul Glennon: Bookweird

Paul Glennon's The Dodecahedron was one of the last books that I recommended to just about everyone I knew. It was bizarre, globe-trotting, genre-bending, experimental, philosophical, fun, and written for true bibliophiles. Actually, I could be wrong about the last one. It turned out to be too much for many people I'd thrust it upon. It almost got me kicked out of a book club. It was nominated for a Governor General's Award in 2006, so clearly someone else felt as enthusiastic as I, but it's also gone into rapid obscurity, so clearly others felt as enthusiastic as my book club.

Nowadays Glennon is mostly known for his Bookweird trilogy aimed at younger bibliophiles. Basically it's about a boy named Norman who discovers that eating a page from a book has some rather serious repercussions. Suddenly he's altered the plot and finds himself slipping in and out of this and other books, wreaking even more damage whilst trying to put things back on track. As fun as it is, it's not as original as The Dodecahedron. In fact it was the plot of one of the 12 stories in The Dodecahedron. In fact, children entering stories has been done almost since there have stories for them to enter into. In fact, when I was in primary school I won a silver dollar from our local library for a short story I wrote in which that was the very same premise.

But it could still be pulled off. Unfortunately, I don't think it was. In The Dodecahedron the stories were shorter and faster paced. They were connected (ingeniously so) and it was easy to be swept away. In Bookweird, Norman spends far too much time in the four other stories that the frame story is often forgotten and the connection between them seems lost in the shuffle.

If I'm being completely honest, it's hard to say if that's the real problem. I've been incredibly harsh about Charlotte Gray's Gold Diggers for being riddled with typos, saving most of my ire for the publishers. Gold Diggers was not self-published or even published by a low-budget indie publisher. It was published by HarperCollins. I actually think Bookweird tops that one. And it's published by Random House. I don't know much about the publishing industry, so maybe some authors out there can fill me in: when a publisher agrees to publish your book is there something in your contract about editing? Do you, at the very least, assume that they'll spend some time, effort and money into checking it over for typos? For either of those questions, if the answer is no, it shouldn't be.

Here's why: when it's edited as poorly as Bookweird you don't need to be a grammar nazi to notice and once you start noticing that everything else falls by the wayside. Maybe I wouldn't have had issues with the amount of time Norman spent in each story, for instance, maybe the misspelled words just put me in a rotten mood. I do know that I won't be bothering with the next 2 in the series. Paul Glennon should be pissed.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Reader's Diary #874- Thornton Wilder: Chefoo, China

Photo by Carl Van Vechten
I love Yellowknife, I really do. But Debbie and I are nomadic by nature and we're heading into our 5th year here— the longest we've ever lived in one town since we've been married. No, we're not planning on leaving anytime soon (with the exception of travel), as we want to give our kids some stability. Our daughter has already lived in 4 towns, our son in 3, both having lived in 3 provinces/territories. When the kids head off to university, some 10 or so years from now, Debbie and I will travel-teach our way around the world. We're content with this plan, for the most part, but on stressful days (yes, like everyone else, we have stressful days) 10 years seems like a long time. What if, we think, we took the kids and moved to say, Brunei? They have international schools there, right?

In "Chefoo, China," American author Thornton Wilder recalls his time in an international school. Though as it's set in the early 1900s, it's not exactly any way to gauge what such schools today are like. To be honest, my real reason for choosing today's story is because Amazing Race 21 started yesterday, with the racers heading first to China. I remembered that Margot at Joyfully Retired reviewed this story for Short Story Monday back in December, so I figured it was worth a read. I'm normally reluctant to read biographical pieces for SSM as I consider short stories to be fiction, but at Story of the Week, where The Library of America presented this story, Wilder's memoir is described as blending memory and fact with fictional flourishes. Fictional flourishes are good enough for me.

"Chefoo, China" is an interesting story from a historical point of view. Set in a school run by Anglican missionaries, Wilder's experiences sound similar to many school tales set in similar time frames back here in North America. Strict teachers, emphasis on religion, it's not at all surprising unless you're expecting to learn much about China. The children boarded at the school, with other international students, and were not allowed to visit the local town. It's like staying at an all-inclusive resort and expecting to experience the real Cuba. You won't.

However, there's one boy who is determined to sneak out. At first it seems as if it's all about the audacity of the escape, the glory of rebellion, but there are hints that he comes to appreciate the forbidden culture. Unfortunately, it's only hints we get as the story ends super abruptly. Apparently this story was found among Wilder's papers from the 60s and was part of an unfinished memoir. I have many problems with reading unfinished excerpts, no matter how compelling they are (and this one is mildly compelling). Why didn't Wilder finish it? Was he unhappy with it? What would have followed? Reading this is too stressful. I'm moving to Brunei.

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