Friday, May 31, 2013

The 6th Canadian Book Challenge- May Round Up (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)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Reader's Diary #1008- Jill MacLean: Nix Minus One

Not having much experience with novels written in verse (does Evangeline count?), I was initially put off by the style of Jill MacLean's Nix Minus One. It's not poetry, I balked, it's simply an excuse to tell a story in short, choppy sentences and sentence fragments. Before long, however, I not only settled in, I grew to appreciate how well the style fit the story and the narrator's voice. Labels be damned.

Nix Minus One is told from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy named Nixon,who lives in outport Newfoundland with his parents and slightly older and more rebellious sister Roxy. Initially the plot seemed to be that Nix, an introverted somewhat awkward boy, will have to find a way to retrieve a dog that he has befriended from a new, abusive owner. However, roughly half way through the book, the plot makes a sharp left turn and the dog story, while still working itself out, takes a bit of a back seat.

I wasn't sure how I felt about the sudden drama. I was quite enjoying the slower paced, chronic drama up to that point. I saw myself and my sister in Nix and Roxy, I was enjoying the very authentic Newfoundland setting (the only thing remarkably different than my teenage years in small town Newfoundland was the cell phones). Trying not to reveal too much, I'll still advise you to stop reading now if you don't wish to read spoilers...

I supposed that perhaps the tragedy that happens midway may have been necessary to maintain the interest of the young adult readers at whom the book is aimed. I personally didn't need it and wasn't finding the book too slow at all but perhaps the younger crowd would. I was from the Degrassi high generation, I too probably would have needed the melodrama to keep my interest. Not that the drama in MacLean's book is implausible, it just seemed a bit overwrought. I also felt that there was a risk of the book becoming preachy at this point. The tragedy involves Roxy, who as I stated above, has been rebelling. No doubt the things she does are dangerous and stupid, but they're very typical. And while tragedies do happen to such individuals from time to time, the majority, fortunately, do escape unscathed. Not to condone such behaviour, but I wasn't sure MacLean needed to go as far as she did, as quickly as she did. Again, I'm speaking from a plot perspective. The second half of the book was still enjoyable, mind you, but I enjoyed the less melodramatic first half better.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Reader's Diary #1007- Ursula K Le Guin: The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelettes
I decided to read Ursula K Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" after happening upon the Emily Temple's Flavorwire article, "10 Wonderful Short Stories to Read for Free Online." Though when I checked through my blog archives, at least one other person had recommended it to me before.

An absolutely wonderful and provocative piece, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" is a parable about the utopian society of Omelas, that eventually has a secret to reveal: in order to maintain their happiness, a neglected, abused and miserable child must be kept prisoner.

I'm not sure what exact analogy Le Guin was going for, but I loved coming up with and trying out certain theories as I read further. Could Omelas represent heaven and the child represent the awareness of hell— a necessary awareness to truly appreciate the gifts of heaven? Could Omelas represent the rich, first world countries while the child represents the exploited third world countries? The only for sure thing is that the child symbolizes a moral choice. To prevent the child's suffering and end the utopia or to accept the child as a cost they are willing to pay and justify. There is, however, a third choice...

I'll be mulling this one over for a while. Great story.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Reader's Diary #1006- James Howe: Return to Howliday Inn

Continuing to read James Howe's Bunnicula series to my son, I'm now into unfamiliar territory. Sort of. I had only read the first three books as a child and Return to Howliday Inn is the fourth. However, it is a return to a familiar setting, with similar plots, and so it's not remarkably different.

We're still enjoying them, mind you. We've always appreciated Howe's humour and wacky personalities. In fact, whereas the first Howliday Inn book (the 2nd in the series) was a bit of a let down, the return was an improvement. On Howe's end, the pacing was better and the abundance of new characters were defined more. On my end, I think I did a better job keeping all the voices straight. (I even channeled the Howells from Gilligan's Island for one particular couple.) Once again, I enjoyed the literary references. In previous novels, Howe has introduced young readers to classic horror and mystery stories. In this one, Shakespeare's Hamlet plays a significant role.

Though I'm starting to wish there was perhaps an underlying story arc that would bring the books together more or at least give the series more of a sense of purpose. It's not quite stale yet, but with just two books left, I'd have figured a closure would have at least been hinted at by now.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sweet Georgia Brown! I'm a globe trotter!

Or at least an international book blogger.

Reader's Diary #1005- McKay Jenkins: Bloody Falls of the Coppermine

In 1913, two Catholic priests by the names of Jean-Baptiste Rouvière and Guillaume Le Roux, had set out to convert a group of Inuit in the high Arctic, near Coppermine, known again today by its traditional name Kugluktuk. The Bloody Falls usually refer to a waterfall where explorer Samuel Hearne witnessed a massacre of 20 Inuit men, women and children at the hands of Dene men. While Jenkins references that event, his title Bloody Falls of the Coppermine is more of a double entendre; besides recalling the massacre near the waterfalls, Jenkins also uses falls as in falls from grace. Father Rouvière and Le Roux were murdered by a couple of Inuit men named Uluksuk and Sinnisiak.

While I expected the topic to be fascinating, my skepticism was triggered very early on. Near the beginning of the book and in several cases throughout, he refers to the language of the aboriginals in the area as Inuit. It's been my understanding that the people were Inuit, their language was either Inuktitut or Innuiqatun*. But while I lived in Nunavut for 6 years (and to the best of my knowledge Jenkins has never), I certainly don't claim to be an expert. Maybe it's acceptable in some circles, I reasoned, to refer to the Inuit languages simply as Inuit. Still, it started me doubting other facts in the book. It certainly wouldn't be the first time an author misrepresented the north.

Fortunately I came upon a review of Bloody Falls of the Coppermine, written by someone who's knowledge on these matters I do trust: Kenn Harper. Harper is a writer and historian who also speaks Inuktitut and has lived in Nunavut for 30 years. While Harper does point out some inaccuracies in the book (most of which I missed), he still, thankfully, says that the "essential details" are accurate.

I say thankfully, because I quite enjoyed the book. The story details alone are compelling enough, with equal doses of wilderness adventure and courtroom drama, but I especially enjoyed the underlying themes of psychology versus sociology. So often people then as now like to generalize based on the actions of a few. It was apparently easy for people to use the actions of Uluksuk and Sinnisiak to prove some point or other about the Inuit culture. Likewise, people judged (favourably and unfavourably) the actions and mission of the priests, based solely on Rouvière and Le Roux. Yet as Jenkins shows, even these 4 men had remarkably different personalities. If Uluksuk was so different than Sinnisiak, if Rouvière was so different than Le Roux, it would be certainly hard, not to mention potentially wildly inaccurate, to claim that all Inuit were the same or that all priests were the same.

Bloody Falls of the Coppermine is a fascinating, albeit tragic, tale from our history.

(*There are other Inuit languages and dialects than these.)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Reader's Diary #1004- Binnie Brennan: Absolution

If the image to the left conjures up emotions or memories beyond keeping your pants up, the impact of the first paragraph in Binnie Brennan's "Absolution" will undoubtedly be even greater for you than it was for me. Fortunate as I was to have avoided corporal punishment in my youth, I still found the opening to this story powerful and sickening and it certainly did the job of setting the mood for what was to follow.

"Absolution" is basically the coming-to-terms of four brothers with their strict, cold, religious, and abusive upbringing. I've been a brother but haven't had a brother, so I cannot say for sure that Brennan "got it right" but it at the very least felt authentic.

The ramifications for the brothers' harsh upbringing are as you would expect. Even the brothers who found success in some spheres of life (marriage, careers) still suffer from the legacy of their shared childhood. There's at least some sense of relief that at least they have been loyal to each other, but at several points even that threatens to break under the strain on a weak foundation.

At first the only issue I had with the story was the narrator's mother. I thought that while Brennan clearly wished for her to be a significant character, so much attention was put on the brothers and even their father, that her small part seemed to fade into the background and I didn't quite get it. However, when I went  back to read the final scene again, I finally appreciated the understated importance of the character (or at least one of her actions).

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

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Weekly Book Question- Your favourite Farley Mowat books

Farley Mowat has been almost as controversial as he has been prolific. But as I'm trying to keep the Weekly Book Questions on a positive note, I'll focus on the latter, prolific side of things. This week's Weekly Book Question:  
What is your favourite Farley Mowat book of all time? 

How the voting works: You may vote for up to three books, but please indicate your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice. Your first choice will be assigned 6pts, your second will be 4pts, and your third 2pts. (If you pick more than one but don't indicate your favourite, I'll be assigning them a point based on the order you've told me your choices.)

To help you make your choice, here's Mowat's complete bibliography:

  • People of the Deer (1952; revised 1975) 
  • The Regiment (1955) 
  •  Lost in the Barrens (1956) (Also published as Two Against the North
  • The Dog Who Wouldn't Be (1957) 
  • Coppermine Journey: An Account of a Great Adventure Grey Seas Under: The Perilous Rescue Missions of a North Atlantic Salvage Tug (1959) 
  • The Desperate People (1959; revised 1999) 
  • Ordeal by Ice (1960) 
  • Owls in the Family (1961) 
  • The Serpent's Coil: An Incredible Story of Hurricane-Battered ships the Heroic Men Who Fought to Save Them (1961) 
  • The Black Joke (1962) 
  • Never Cry Wolf (1963) 
  • West-Viking (1965) 
  • The Curse of the Viking Grave (1966) 
  • Canada North (1967) 
  • The Polar Passion (1967) 
  • This Rock Within the Sea: A Heritage Lost (1968) 
  • The Boat Who Wouldn't Float (1969) 
  •  The Siberians (1970) 
  •  Sibir: My Discovery of Siberia (1970) 
  • A Whale for the Killing (1972, revised 2012) 
  • Tundra: Selections from the Great Accounts of Arctic Land Voyages (1973) 
  • Wake of the Great Sealers (1973) 
  • The Snow Walker (1975)  
  • Death of a People-the Ihalmiut (1975)
  • Canada North Now: The Great Betrayal (1976) 
  • And No Birds Sang (Farley Mowat) (1979, revised 2012) 
  • World of Farley Mowat (1980) 
  • Sea of Slaughter (1984) 
  • My Discovery of America (1985) 
  • Virunga: The Passion of Dian Fossey (1987) 
  • Woman in the Mists: The Story of Dian Fossey (1987) 
  • The New Founde Land (1989) 
  • Rescue the Earth!: Conversations with the Green Crusaders (1990) 
  • My Father's Son (1993) 
  •  Born Naked (1994) 
  • Aftermath: Travels in a Post-War World (1995) 
  •  The Farfarers: Before the Norse (1998 - Reprint 2000) 
  • The Alban Quest The Search for a Lost Tribe (1999) 
  • Walking on the Land (2000) 
  • High Latitudes: An Arctic Journey (2002) 
  • No Man's River (2004)
  •  Bay of Spirits: A Love Story (2006) 
  • Otherwise (2008) 
  • Eastern Passage (2010)

Canadian Authors Missing in Action- Results

There's a scene in This is Spinal Tap when the band is delighted to hear one of their old classics on the radio. Their mood is crushed however when the dj comes on the air afterwards and saying that Spinal Tap is in the "'Where Are They Now?' file." It's sad because they hadn't retired.

Hopefully this is not the case with the authors who we nagged last week when I asked you "Which (living) Canadian authors have you missed the most?" referring to authors whose last published works you felt were way too long ago. We know it's not the case with the 2nd place author, Joseph Boyden. His latest novel The Orenda is scheduled to come out in September. But what about the author we missed the most...

1. Andrew Davidson- 5 year's since The Gargoyle (One of my favourite books from that year, by the way)

Joseph Boyden, as we said above came in 2nd place. For third there was a 4 way tie for Jacqueline Baker, Alexi Zentner, Dianne Warren, and Ann-Marie MacDonald. In fourth, you were equally missing Steve Zipp, Alistair MacLeod. And finally, Bernice Morgan, Jessica Grant, and Dalene Flannigan are being missed.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Reader's Diary #1003- Julie Doucet: My New York Diary

I first came across this book when I was planning my March break trip to New York. Looking for Canadian books with a New York connection, I was pleasantly surprised not only to find a graphic novel that fit that description but one that was also critically acclaimed.

My New York Diary is actually a collection of 3 autobiographical stories: "The First Time," Julie in Junior College," and the third and longest story of which the collection shares its name.

Writing-wise,  "My New York Diary" is the strongest of the lot with more of a story arc (arguably a coming-of-age story, though Julie is at that point a young adult). The other two stories felt tacked on. As a character, I question whether or not Julie was presented in a self-deprecating way or if she wasn't just irritating. She made some pretty rash decisions and the only evidence that there was any reflection on those choices and their consequences seemed to be the book itself. The only people more annoying than her were the men she surrounded herself with.

The artwork saved the book. Highly stylized, the characters are all somewhat stunted in appearance with slightly oversized heads. They reminded me of Bratz dolls, but presumably without the chlamydia. The backgrounds are typically done in heavy black ink resulting in a woodcut look. But my favourite aspect of the drawings was the detail in the setting. As a child I was always attracted to pictures (drawings and photos) of dumps. I loved to see what treasures I could find from my sanitary safety zone of home. The only thing I liked more than looking at such photos was drawing my own. (Every junkyard I drew had to have a broken lamp, an old tire, a boot and an apple core. The rest could be miscellaneous colourful lumps, but those four items were staples.) Luckily, the characters in "My New York Diary" ranged from grossly untidy to borderline hoarders. Each panel was a veritable smorgasbord of trashy details. Cluttered tables, stuff strewn over the floor, fridge magnets. If the story wasn't really holding my attention, I at least had those distractions to occupy my time.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Reader's Diary #1002- Carol Shields and Anne Giardini: A Wood

Yesterday I reviewed Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, which in hindsight, may not have been the Mother's Daysiest of choices. So today, hoping to rectify that, I found "A Wood," a short story written by Anne Giardini, with her mom Carol Shields.

"A Wood" is a very subtle piece. In fact, through talking about the varying colours found in an elderly character's hand depending on the light, the authors subtly address subtlety. It's oxymoronic metafiction, kids!

"A Wood" is about an elderly woman named Elke, her son, and her companion. At one point Elke asks herself, "why has she always allowed herself to be encircled like this?" as if feeling smothered by others around her. What is clear to the reader however is that Elke has encircled others just as much. It is obvious that Elke is loved and warrants love with her protective nature. People need her. As much as Elke's question implies someone who has given away her soul for others, I sense that it is a fleeting moment. With her music, Elke does escape her confines. It's a telling moment when she picks up her violin and plays from the fifth bar. "Why can't you start anything at the beginning?" her companion Loretta asks. Because she can, because this is Elke's time.

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

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Reader's Diary #1001- Adolf Hitler, translated by James Murphy: Mein Kampf

Paranoid, hypocritical, egomaniac. (I'll return to these in just a bit...)

"Marriage is not an end in itself but must serve the greater end, which is that of increasing and maintaining the human species and the race. This is its only meaning and purpose."- Adolf Hitler

It would be an easy insult then to say that those who, for similar reasons, are against gay marriages are "like Hitler." However, Mein Kampf is a long, long book and with lots and lots of opinions. Anyone who takes the time to actually read the thing will be horrified to find that for the dozens of opinions that they don't agree with (like his views on marriage above), there's probably at least point they do agree with. I usually try my best to avoid my political (and religious) leanings here at the Book Mine Set, but it's hard to discuss a political book without some personal revelations. In case I've been too subtle: I lean to the left. So, in the early pages of Mein Kampf when Hitler showed sympathy towards manual labourers in Vienna, I was stuck agreeing with Hitler that it sucks when workers are exploited by the upper classes, the governments and factory owners. If I was to speak out against workers being mistreated, it's not a far stretch to believe that someone from the right would accuse me of being anti-captitalist (I am), socialist, Marxist, and then... "like Hitler." Except if the right had taken the time to read the book, they'd see, among other contradictions, that Hitler was vehemently anti-Marxist. And if both right and left sides took the time to read the book, they'd see how careless it is to sling that comparison around. You can take isolated points from Hitler and pin them to others, but really, the fact that we're all so quick to throw "Hitler" out as the ultimate insult, proves that we can all agree on one thing: Hitler was a deplorable, evil man. Minor points aside, the major points are what we should focus on.

And what are the major points? As I said in the opening, Adolf Hitler was a paranoid, hypocritical, egomaniac. In the first 100 or so pages, he presents himself as someone who is simply proud of Germany, who wants Germany restored to a former glory, to have workers treated fairly. When he first mentions "the Jew," it's like a record scratching. Of course, I knew it was coming but when it did, it seemed to mark a long descent into hell. At first Hitler tries to justify his racist beliefs. He perceives that he's been slighted or held back by a couple of Jewish people and uses this to generalize all Jewish people as manipulative parasites. The fact that he's so threatened by Jewish people, yet claims to be be superior, results in some pretty fancy (and stupid) mental gymnastics as Hitler tries to convince readers why they should fear Jewish people despite his earlier suggestion that they are so inferior. Later he drops any pretense of "proof" for his condemnations of Jews, no longer even bothering to offer personal anecdotes to back up his claims. He states some wild anthropological theories as fact and becomes more and more obsessed and convinced that he is right and that he will save the human race (by exterminating a large percentage of it).

From a historical point of view Mein Kampf is quite interesting, especially if you're like me and not well-versed in WWII history or its precedents. I didn't know that Hitler was interested, for example, in a possible alliance with England. I'd also been under the impression that the decision to invade Russia was rash. However, reading Mein Kampf which was published in 1925 (Volume 1) and 1926 (Volume 2), it is clear that it had been his plan all along, long before the invasion actually happened. Likewise the alliance with Italy was well in the works long before it happened.

Still, even with the historical significance, Mein Kampf is a long and difficult book. If it is was anybody else who wrote it, it would be easy to just throw it down in disgust as the rantings of an intellectually-sounding lunatic. He reminded me at times of Hannibal Lecter. But it's made all the more difficult since it's impossible to write him off as a nut or a fictional character. The atrocities committed by this monster were only too real.

Anyone who throws the Hitler-insult around lightly should read this book. Only one man should ever be stuck with that.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Weekly Book Question- Canadian Authors who are Missing in Action

While last week's question didn't drum up enough responses to get a true top 10, I'm hoping that Raidergirl's suggestion will help. This week, I'll open it up to three votes per person. But make sure to rank them with your top choice as #1 and so on. If you can't think of 3, feel free to just vote for 1 or 2. Your top choice will get 6pts, your 2nd choice will get 4pts and your last choice will get 2pts.

 Even if we don't get a top 10 list this week, we'll at least inspire some of these authors to pick up the pen again. Which authors? Those Canadian authors who are still living but leaving their fans waiting impatiently for their next book. Now we don't want to rush quality, we just want to encourage them by saying, "we loved your last book SOOOOO much that it's feeling like FOREVER since you last published anything."

Perhaps you're like me, wishing for Joseph Boyden to finally publish another novel. It's been 5 years since Through Black Spruce and he once told me that he envisioned it, along with Three Day Road, as a trilogy. So the final installment would be nice. Not that he's been slacking— he did publish a non-fiction Louis Riel/ Gabriel Dumont joint biography in 2010.

I've also been thinking about Ann-Marie MacDonald lately. It's been a whole decade since her last novel, The Way the Crow Flies. 9 years since she's published any writing, with the play Belle Moral having been published in 2004.

A few other names that come to mind are Bernice Morgan (6 years since Cloud of Bone), Heather O'Neill (7 years since Lullabies for Little Criminals), Steve Zipp (6 years since Yellowknife), Barbara Gowdy (6 years since Helpless), Lawrence Hill (6 years since the Book of Negroes), Andrew Davidson (5 years since The Gargoyle), Steven Galloway (5 years since The Cellist of Sarajevo), and Mary Lawson (7 years since The Other Side of the Bridge).

Feel free to vote for some of these, but if you other suggestions feel free to vote for someone different.

Which (living) Canadian authors have you missed the most?

Best Canadian Book TV/Movie Adaptations- Results

Well, try as I might, the first Weekly Book Question didn't warrant enough results to get a top 10 like I'd hoped. When asked "What has been the best small or big screen adaptation of a Canadian book?" I was able to get over ten responses, but not enough to have anything more than a 3 way tie for 1st place and an 8 way tie for 2nd (i.e., one vote a piece). That's okay, still worthy of some discussion. First here are the three top vote getters:

1. Anne of Green Gables- Perhaps the least surprising of the lot, but I'd agree that this Lucy Maud Montgomery adaptation was a classic. CBC really pulled off something great with this one. They tried and tried to recapture that with so many similarly styled movies and TV shows, but nothing compared to the original. Then, the source material was far superior too. And how about those amazing performances by Megan Follows and Colleen Dewhurst:

 2. The Hockey Sweater- This one and The Log Driver's Waltz were the best things the National Film Board ever produced, at least in my nostalgically-biased mind. I suspect the film had as much to do with getting a quote on our five dollar bill (not the new one) as did Roch Carrier's original book. As Barbara Bruederlin put it with her vote last week "utterly charming":

3. Inspector Murdoch Mysteries- (I'm told to specify that the votes were for the TV movies, not the series. This one was a bit of a surprise to me. I'd not heard of the movie, the TV show, or even the books by Maureen Jennings.

Other honourable mentions:
- Random Passage (Bernice Morgan), CBC miniseries
- The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje), Movie
- Life of Pi (Yann Martel), Movie
- Hard Core Logo (Michael Turner), Movie
- Margaret's Museum (Sheldon Currie, based on The Glace Bay Miners' Museum)
- Away From Her (Alice Munro), Movie
- Incendies (Wajdi Mouawad), Movie

Reader's Diary #1000- Craig Thompson: Blankets

First off, I should explain why I won't be making a big deal over the fact that this is my 1000th Reader's Diary entry. Truly, if it was the 1000th book or short story I've blogged about I probably would be honouring it as some sort of milestone. However, in the early days of this blog (which began in December of '05) I used to blog about books before I finished them. I'd read a chapter or two, blog, read a bit more. It was more personal, more of an actual diary entry versus a review, but it was also more time consuming, it was hard to maintain the interest of any of my own readers, and even harder to link to a half dozen entries on a single book. Anyway, the point I'm making is that you can probably knock off a couple hundred or so Reader's Diaries if you're trying to get a more accurate picture of how much I've read over the life of this blog. Not that anyone is.

Back to the matter at hand: Craig Thompson's graphic novel, Blankets. Over at the Graphic Novels Challenge blog, the motto is given "comics: not a genre." While I'd agree, there seem to be a lot of graphic novels written in very specific genres. Besides the obvious superhero books, there's an amazing number of graphic memoirs/autobiographies, and even more specific, graphic novels set in the Middle East. Blankets falls into that middle, memoir category.

Craig, however, is the most innocent, moral character I've come across in any previous memoirs. Not that the others have been deviants, but Craig even makes my teenage years seem rebellious in comparison. It's a complex coming-of-age story. While most pages are dedicated to a love story about Craig and a girl named Naima, I'd be hesitant to say that was the focus on the book. Certainly religion and Craig's waning faith is of equal, if not greater importance to the development of his character. His relationship with his family also plays a significant part. As does sexual abuse. There's a lot going on, but at nearly 600 pages Thompson is able to work all of it in seamlessly, without rushing or creating a complicated mess. And while it sounds like it'd possible be too heavy, there are some hysterical moments, some mildly amusing moments, and some down right touching moments to help break the intensity.

The artwork took some getting used to. This will sound really nit-picky but I hated the way he drew mouths so much that I found it distracting at the beginning. Everyone seemed to have jagged holes for mouths with little to no definition at all. Once I got over that however, I liked the rest. Especially when he would occasionally veer into more surreal, artistic expression to capture a mood— done just infrequently enough to give those moods and expression real impact.

It's really a wonderful book and I can understand easily why Time magazine listed it among their top 10 books of the decade in 09.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

I kind of like books...

A couple days ago I found out that I'm accepted into the University of Alberta's Masters of Library and Information Science program. I'm beside myself.

Reader's Diary #999- Douglas Adams: The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy

A roommate from my university days was obsessed with Douglas Adams's Hitch-Hiker series. Of course, and though I didn't realize it at the time, that roommate was one of millions of Hitch-hikers fanatics. In the sci-fi world it seems to rank up there with Star Trek and Dr. Who.

So, I finally had to see for myself what the hype was all about. No doubt about it, The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy is a funny, witty, frenetic book. Typically these are things that I'd enjoy in any book. However, I just couldn't make it work for me. It may have been just the mood I was in while reading it, but I couldn't connect with the characters. It's not so much that they were one dimensional, but sometimes I felt that the jokes got in the way. Ever been around someone who's "always on"? The ones you think are funny at first but after awhile you start to wish they'd offer something serious. It's not a perfect analogy to The Hitch-Hikers Guide as Adams does offer brilliant satire of religion, politics, and economics just to name but a few academic subjects. But sometimes I felt that the characters offering up their observations were little more than mouthpieces of Adams doing an elaborate standup routine, an intelligent routine, but a routine nonetheless.

Still, I can respect anyone who loves the book. And I'm still glad I read, if for nothing else than understanding a bunch of pop culture references that previously went over my head. Had no idea, for instance, that Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" took its name from the Hitch-Hikers Guide. Or that Siri wasn't just being whimsically random by answering 42 when asked what the meaning of life is. I can't see myself pursuing the rest of the series, but completing this one book is at least enough to take it off my TBR list, and it certainly isn't the worse thing I've ever read.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Reader's #998- James Howe: Nighty-Nightmare

There were a few strange coincidences while reading Nighty-Nightmare by James Howe. First off, the action takes place on May the 5th, which in the book is known as St. George's Day, when monsters and spirits come out to play. My son and I were just progressing through the Bunnicula series, taking a chapter a night, and that we ended up with Nighty-Nightmare (the 4th book) ending on that particular night was just a perfect fluke. But it didn't end there. The last night of reading we returned home from our friends who live on a street known as Trail's End here in Yellowknife, and we turn to the last chapter to discover it's called... Trail's End. With freaky coincidences like this, it could have added to the creepy atmosphere of the book if we were superstitious types. And if it actually had a creepy atmosphere.

That's not an indictment. Despite the title and supernatural subjects (vampires, werewolves, ghosts), James Howe doesn't set out to make the Bunnicula series actually scary. As I've said before, it's more of a comedy series that simply aims to introduce children to the rich literary world of classic horror. In Nighty-Nightmare, despite Bunnicula himself not being present, Howe delves deeper into the story of Dracula, using that legend as part of Chester the cat's theory of how Bunnicula came to be, why there was a haunted looking mansion in the middle of the woods, and the identity of strangers who seemed to fall somewhere between sinister and stupid.

Nighty-Nightmare was the last of the series that I'd read as a child. The next in the series came out in 92, when I'd already moved on to more mature books. But horror books. And that interest was certainly sparked by Howe.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Reader's Diary #997- The New King James Version Bible: The Book of Malachi

I've finally completed the Old Testament. One might say it's a testament to my patience to have made it this far. Then again, one might not.

The Book of Malachi, while similar in theme to many of the books that came before it, appears a little more focused. Advising people against their sinful ways, Malachi specifically addresses priests for not offering meaningful sacrifices, like giving up brussel sprouts for Lent.

Of course, most would agree that the repetitive messages are not the most significant feature of the Book of Malachi. The most important feature, many would say are the messianic prophecies, which perfect set up the sequel. And not in a wait until the credits roll past for Nick Fury to show up sort of way either.

I'm looking forward to the New Testament. I'm looking forward to what I assume will be a softer tone and perhaps more narrative. For a lot of reasons I'm glad I read the Old Testament, but the repetition and harshness started to get to me after a while.

Reader's Diary #996- Liliana V. Blum, translated by Toshiya Kamei: A New Faith

Yesterday, seeing as it was Cinco de Mayo, I went looking for a short story by a Mexican author. I hit the jackpot with Liliana V. Blum's "A New Faith," seeing as it's also written in the 2nd person, which as my long time readers can begrudgingly attest, is sort of an obsession of mine.

In "A New Faith" the reader takes the role of a nun in a Mexican convent. The nun clearly doesn't fit in at the convent and it's slowly revealed that it wasn't exactly her choice in the first place. She soon develops an attraction to the priest and that develops into an obsession. And did the priest orchestrate the whole thing?

Intriguing and as provocative as the plot is, I was more uncomfortable with the surrealism than the content. Granted, a lot of the surrealistic moments described dream sequences and as dreams are surrealistic by nature you could say it was actually realistic, not surrealistic after all. But there was a whole bit about owls that existed outside the dreamt parts that I gather was meant to be symbolic of something or to show that the nun was descending into madness or something, but after one read through I'm not getting it. It didn't ruin the story for me, just gives me reason to reread it again later and see if I can pick sense into it.

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

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (This year's Northwords Writers Festival visitors)

Coming up in the last week of May, first month of June, Yellowknife's Northwords Writers Festival heads into its 8th year. I used to serve on their board of directors and used to get to schmooze a bit more with the authors than I do now as a spectator. They do have a pretty cool line up this year. However, given the fact that I've reviewed works by most of them, it's probably safer that I keep my distance. Nah, most authors (won't mention Anneray Iceray) have a thick skin about these things. When Cathleen With was a Northwords guest a few years back, she called me out in a room full of people and we actually became friends afterwards.

I thought I'd introduce who this year's guests are by looking back at some of my reviews:

1. Douglas Coupland. Clearly the headliner. I know they've been trying to get him ever since I was involved, so this is quite a coup (hey, like in his name), for them. I've reviewed him a few times on the Book Mine Set:

Souvenir of Canada (split up over a few posts: here, here, and here)
Generation X (again split into multiple posts: here and here)
Shampoo Planet (just the one post)

Will I survive a Douglas Coupland encounter? Well, I'm slightly warmer than lukewarm in my Souvenir and Generation X reviews, but I gave a negative (not my harshest by any means, but far from glowing) review of Shampoo Planet. Still, Coupland's been reviewed a hundred thousand times, positively and negatively, and by bigger folks than me. I doubt very much he's even read my reviews, and doubt even less that he'd care. Verdict? Even if I get past the bodyguards and entourage, I'll survive.

2. Giles Blunt- I've heard of him, and had planned on reading Black Fly Season, but alas, I've not read anything by him.

Will I survive a Giles Blunt encounter? I'm unlikely to approach an author I've not read. I've heard of you isn't exactly a compliment. But I've shared a drink with a few authors I've not read before and they've been pretty cool about it. We just talk about other things. Verdict: I'll survive.

3. Vicki Delany- Not only did I give her Gold Mountain a positive review, but she wrote and thanked me for it.

Will I survive a Vicki Delany encounter? Absolutely. She might keep her distance if a couple others on this list mention me, but otherwise, I hope I do get a chance to meet her. Verdict: Definite survival.

4. Barbara Fradkin- Don't recall who she is, though my archives show that participants in my Canadian Book Challenge have read her books, so her name's definitely come across my radar before.Apparently she's the author of such books as Fifth Son and Honour Among Men.

Will I survive a Barbara Fradkin encounter? I would have if I didn't just write "who the hell is she?" above. To that I'd say, have you ever heard of me? And she'd say touche and we'll move on from there. Verdict: I'll survive.

5. Heather Macleod: I could almost say the exact same about her as I did about Fradkin, except that even my readers seem in the dark about her. To be fair, there aren't a lot of people reading or reviewing poetry. Still I respect the hell out of good poets, so I'd like to read her work even if I'd not heard of her until now.

Will I survive a Heather MacLeod encounter? Poets are gentle right? Right? Even though as I write this, I can think of a dozen poets who are definitely not gentle, my verdict: I'll survive.

6. Reneltta Arluk: I was not kind to her Thoughts and Other Human Tendencies. I think she might currently live right here in Yellowknife (someone correct me if I'm wrong), so I'm surprised I've not already bumped into her. Then, until seeing her picture on the Northwords website, I had no idea what she looked like, so there's a chance our paths have crossed before.

Will I survive a Renaltta Arluk encounter? It depends on if her friends are around. Allow me to explain. Shortly after writing that review, I started noticing a lot of Facebook links in my stats. I was able to trace it back to a link to my review that Arluk herself posted on her Facebook page. Her friends tore me a new one. Arluk, in her defense, simply wrote "ouch!" beside the link. Verdict: I think so. She seemed to take a higher road than either me or her Facebook friends.

7. Sylvia Olsen: I gave a mostly positive review to her Yellow Line a couple years back, no idea if she ever stumble upon it.

Will I survive a Sylvia Olsen encounter? Definitely. Verdict? Well, I just said it, di'nt I? (Try, for no reason, to hear Ricky Gervais saying that.)

Plus a lot more local authors whom I've already met.

If you haven't already booked your tickets to Yellowknife, you have just one month to raise the $18,000 air fare to visit and take in the fabulous Northwords Writers Festival!

Friday, May 03, 2013

New Feature! The Weekly Book Question

I'm trying out a new weekly feature here at the Book Mine Set, but it's entirely dependent on the number of visitors I get, so please help get the word out. Blog about it, Facebook link it, Tweet it, Sky-write it.

I'm pretty much ripping the idea from I've been enjoying their Weekend Rock Questions for a while in which they throw out a question of Friday (ex. What is the best Black Sabbath song? or Who should be the next band inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?) and compile a top 10 list the following week. Of course, it's, not, and they're asking about rock music not Canadian books, so you can see that I need your help getting these numbers up if this feature is going to make it.

Without further ado, here's the first question:

What has been the best small or big screen adaptation of a Canadian book?

This week's question inspired by Richard Van Camp's recent adaptation of the Lesser Blessed, which I've still unfortunately not seen. Perhaps you loved the recent Oscar winning Life of Pi. Maybe you're partial to the CBC classic Anne of Green Gables miniseries. Franklin? Water for Elephants? Caillou? Away From Her? Barney's Version? Does Superman count? Scott Pilgrim definitely does. The English Patient? Field of Dreams? Sunshine Sketches? One Week? Random Passage? Rare Birds? Blood Ties? jPod? The Hockey Sweater? Shake Hands With the Devil?

None of these float your boat? Maybe you have another idea. If not, you can find more suggestions here: Goodreads, Canadian Literature Film Adaptations Quiz.

Feel free to add more suggestions, but you can only vote for one! Vote here in the comments or through Twitter.

Results and next week's question will be revealed on Friday,  March 10.