Sunday, June 30, 2013

The 6th Canadian Book Challenge- June 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)

***PRIZE ALERT!!!***

As this is the last month for the 6th Canadian Book Challenge, as an added incentive for those participants that have not yet reached the goal of 13 or more books, if you do so this month (and it's your last chance!), you will have your name entered in to win Four Homeless Millionaires by Rik Leaf!!!
Rik's story is truly an inspiring one! If he can do this, surely you can do that.

Reader's Diary #1034- Carmel DeVine: Sedna's Passion

Marking my last book for the 6th Canadian Book Challenge is a bit of a rare book, Carmel DeVine's Sedna's Passion. Published in 2005 by Atlantic Romances, I can't find out much about the company or the author. From what I can tell, and feel free to correct me, Atlantic Romances was a short lived publisher of Newfoundland based romances. They only published three books, the others being Madlyn Fera's Love and Old Roses and Jo Blackmore's Man from La Manche, both of which were also published in 2005. Sure it was a niche market, and given the fate of publishing some would say doomed to fail, but I love that someone attempted this at all, even if romances aren't typically my thing. I moved back to Newfoundland for a year just as they were being published and the rumour at the time was that the authors were actually pseudonyms of more established Newfoundland authors, having a bit a fun exploring the romance market without tarnishing their otherwise literary reputations. I don't know how much truth there was to that but I can't find anything out about the supposed authors and it was a bit of fun trying to guess who it might actually be. In Sedna's Passion for instance, I thought the character of Enoch was suspiciously close to Donna Morrissey's Reverend Ropson (from Kit's Law). Likely the rumours weren't true but I hope it resulted in a few more sales (though clearly not enough).

Still, despite my admiration for the idea I can't say I was overly impressed with Sedna's Passion.  Granted I wasn't expecting Giller prize quality, but I was expecting to at least be entertained with a tawdry and perhaps even smutty tale set in a familiar setting. Alas, the only passion in the book is in the title.

It started out promising. The first paragraph is so chocked full of adjectives and adverbs (luxurious, golden, haughtily) I thought it would only be a matter of time that they'd be employed in describing naughty bits and what those naughty bits were doing. But before long, once I realized that the first intimate moment was skipped over all together, it seemed that the author was going for something else entirely. Sedna's Passion is supposed to revolve around Conor McLowrie, a young woman from poverty, and her relationship with Devon Radford, a young med student who is "old money." But there's also a whole bit about Conor trying to set up an artist retreat near St. Anthony but running into opposition in the form of a religious zealot and his followers. With the class angle and the (unlikely) art versus religion angle, it was as if DeVine abandoned all pretense of a romance novel and decided to go for literary instead. Unsuccessfully. Don't get me started on the bizarre fixation with Conor's metabolism.

Over at CBCBooks this past week they've been exploring the question as to whether or not a character needs to be likable. I'd easily weigh in that the answer is a resounding no (Humbert Humbert?) unless the author intends for the reader to like the character. In Sedna's Passion, Devon's family is presented as a bunch of rich snobs while Conor is presented as the victim. Nevermind that she seems as much prejudiced against rich people, nevermind that she not once employs actual honesty about her background to Devon, assuming he wouldn't accept her. At the end I found myself thinking, surely Devon can do better than this? Not exactly the sort of feeling the heroine of a romance novel should trigger.

Reader's Diary #1033- Mark Millar (writer), John Romita Jr. (illustrator): Kick-Ass Volume 1

Still haven't seen the movie, but with the sequel already making headlines almost two months before its release, I figured it's time to finally see what all the fuss is about.

I'll be honest, I had no idea of the premise behind the book at all before heading in (though I had apparently read reviews of the movie, it was a while ago and I'd long since forgotten). I really didn't know what to expect but my assumptions of Spy Kids plus shock value swearing couldn't have been further off the mark.

Kick-Ass, the first 8 comics of which are compiled here in the Volume One collection, was written by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.. It is, as Jim Carrey has pointed out, ultra-violent. It's in glossy colour too so the blood splatters and bone bits and brain matter practically splurt off the page— saving what I'd call just average cartooning. Yet it'd be hard to say that the book glorifies violence. Compared to most traditional superhero comics where whole battles can be waged with nary a drop of blood to be seen, Kick-Ass is arguably more realistic than those and the consequences of said violence are explored in much more depth. Kick-Ass, for instance, finds himself hospitalized for 6 months with broken legs and a broken back, requiring therapy, surgeries, casts, pills and metal plates in his head from all the damage suffered during his very first fight. Plus, the language can seem harsh at times but certainly authentic.

Kick-Ass is a story about a somewhat bored, somewhat nerdish, somewhat gloomy but mostly average teenage boy named Dave Lizewski who one day decides to become a real-life superhero named Kick-Ass. Most readers would agree that Lizewski makes a lot of dangerously poor decisions, even if he is trying to rid the world of bad guys. If the hospitalizations are any indication, Kick-Ass doesn't meet with a lot of success. However, if success is measured in the admiration of fans and the inspiration of copy-cats, Kick-Ass has made the big time. The most significant of these other costumed vigilantes is a young girl named Hit-Girl, who for the time being accompanies her father, going by the moniker Big Daddy.

Not that Kick-Ass is realistic all the time. Hit-Girl, at just ten years old, would hardly be able to slice a skull in half like a melon, no matter how sharp the sword or how rigorous her training. Likewise, Kick-Ass's metal plates would not likely provide the level of protection that Millar seems to suggest they would. But comparatively, Kick-Ass is much more plausible than most of the superhero output. It's also a lot more fun.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Reader's Diary #1032- Madeleine L'Engle: A Wrinkle in Time

With the endless daylight and sudden jump in temperatures, my sleep patterns lately— never what you'd call normal— have been thrown horribly awry. There were more than a few nights that either I or my daughter fell asleep during our nightly read aloud of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. Subsequent nights we'd need to skim over the previous chapter just to have a clue as to what was going on.

What was going on?  I can't possibly summarize the whole thing, but it's about three young people who travel through space with the help of three supernatural beings known as Mrs Who, Mrs Whatsit, and Mrs Which. Two of the young people, Meg and Charles Wallace, are looking for their scientist father who disappeared over a year ago while working on something called a tesseract.

With my current sleep dysfunction, I'll take the blame for finding the book confusing at times. Still, with our recaps we managed to make sense of it and that's not the reason I can't say I really enjoyed the book. That was mostly because I found the characters somewhat underdeveloped and the philosophical stuff a bit overdeveloped.

A Wrinkle in Time did have cool sci-fi concepts that I was happy to introduce to my daughter for the first time. A tesseract that acts as a sort of wormhole, short-cutting incredible distances through space reminded me of all those Stephen Hawking books. Likewise, the IT character, the large brain that controlled a whole planet of people, reminded me of the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation. And I'll give L'Engle credit for actually starting her book with "It was a dark and stormy night." She wasn't the first to use the cliche and I think it was a pretty audacious thing for her to do, considering the phrase's reputation.

But, with my aforementioned issues, I don't think I'll go further with the series.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Reader's Diary #1031- Alison Bechdel: Fun Home

Shortly after I started getting into graphic novels I began to think that the stigma attached to the art form had all but vanished. Sure, I supposed, some old fuddy duddies (first time using that phrase on the BMS!) still thumbed their noses at it, but the majority were now accepting it as honest-to-god literature.

But just as in my university days, in my sheltered university life, when I mistakenly started to believe that the world had become more liberal, open-minded, and accepting, I think the internet, or at least the sites I found myself on, led me to celebrate too early the "mission accomplished" of graphic novels. Case in point, Canada Reads 2011 (just 2 years ago). While Jeff Lemire's Essex County was a contender, and proof of at least some progress, it was eliminated on the very first day with several panelists dismissing it as not real reading. I can accept that not all graphic novels are created equal, that some (just like regular novels) can be down right crap. But I challenge anyone to not be challenged by Alison Bechdel's Fun Home.

A quote from an old review of mine came back to haunt me as I read Fun Home: Can I say that I love poetry but I hate words? Alison Bechdel uses a lot of words and references in Fun Home that I did not know, and only few of which I bothered to look up. For instance:
I was Spartan to my father's Athenian. Modern to his Victorian. Butch to his nelly. Utilitarian to his aesthete.
Even if you do understand all of this, I don't think many readers would say it was an instant connection. Yet I was enjoying the book and giving Bechdel a pass on her demanding, sometimes exhausting, vocabulary when I had criticized poets for doing that same thing before... almost. When I considered it in more depth, I think the essence of my poetry review was not necessarily with all of the challenging words, but it was poets who use big "poetic" words for the sake of using big "poetic" words; to be pretentious, to purposely obscure, to posture as a poet. But Bechdel differs because she comes across as sincere in her word choices. I had to concede that she's simply a smarter person than I and any problem with her vocabulary is a problem with my own.

Plus, the visuals helped me at least keep atop of the plot and themes. There are two main things going on in Fun Home: Bechdel's coming to terms with the death of her father (whom she struggled to connect with, whose death was a likely suicide, and who had a lot of secrets for her to discover) and Bechdel's coming to terms with her sexual identity. Of course, this is a memoir and major events like these are clearly connected, making my dividing the book into two plots a little inaccurate. But it would be hard to say which event readers would declare the focus of the book.

Personally I thought the book began to run out of steam in the last quarter— major events had already occurred and it started to feel repetitive— but I'd enjoyed it enough up to that point that I'd still say the book is a compelling read.

The artwork reminded me of Lynn Johnston's work if Lynn Johnston hadn't written for a weekly newspaper. That is to say, Bechdel's characters were very similar stylistically and in their expressions, but Bechdel's backgrounds, colouring and angles were superior in quality. Nothing Johnston wasn't clearly capable of, but she had tighter deadlines to meet after all. (Somehow I meant this paragraph as a complement to both women, but I'm not sure if that's the way it came out!)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Reader's Diary #1030- Kate LaDew: Carl the Speedy Eskimo

Unfortunately Atanarjuat does not translate to Carl.

In the mood for a humourous short story but something modern, I was fortunate enough to discover the comedy website The Higgs Weldon which offers everything from opinion pieces to short stories to cartoons. It's hard to know what to expect with comedy. What some people find hilarious, others find offensive. What some find delightfully gross, others find juvenile. What some find clever, some find pretentious. You get the idea.

When I saw the title of Kate LaDew's short story, "Carl the Speedy Eskimo," I have to admit that I got my back up a little. Full disclosure: I love offensive humour. However, only when everyone's on board. When you watch a roast, for instance, you should realize that everybody and everything is up for grabs. There are no sacred cows and if you're not okay with that, you have a choice not to watch, to leave the room. On the other hand, when someone tells an off-colour joke in the wrong setting, I can usually tell if there's something deeper going on. However, I've also been in too many situations in which some stranger will start on racist or sexist or homophobic jokes, and it's been horribly uncomfortable. Maybe it's the delivery, maybe it's the setting, maybe it's the fact that they've not yet gauged the room to know everyone's comfort level, nor have they yet established that they're not complete a-holes who wouldn't really stand behind their nasty words. I go through the whole debate about whether or not I should say something, settle on walking away, then regret it later as They Might Be Giants start singing "Your Racist Friend" in my brain:
This is where the party ends
I can't stand here listening to you
And your racist friend
I know politics bore you
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
And your racist friend

To ease everyone's mind, I don't think LaDew's story is out of line, despite the title. It's not that the Inuit are being used as a punchline and it's acknowledged early on that the more politically correct term is Inuit. In fact, the whole story begins with a guy writing a poem and looking for a word that rhymes with minute to which someone suggests Inuit. (I could point out that the proper pronunciation doesn't really rhyme with minute, but that'd probably be me being overly sensitive.)

On the humour side of things, it's not a bust a gut sort of story (though I just laughed myself stupid at the This is the End movie earlier this week and everything is going to pale in comparison), but it is an amusing tale, with its highly unlikely set-up. Basically a newspaper writer wonders if there is a speedy Eskimo named Carl and sets off to Alaska to find one. The final sentence suggests a more profound reason for the whole story, but it's a pseudo-moral. The real point is silliness.

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

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Reader's Diary #1029- Mordecai Richler: On Snooker

Much to the disappointment of my father, I was never into watching hockey. This came to a sad zenith when I'd noticed one night, during the Stanley Cup playoffs, that in his need to share his enthusiasm with someone, he'd dragged the budgie cage into the living room. (I realized from my bedroom what was going on when I heard my dad cheer, followed almost immediately by a startled squawk. Poor bird.) I wouldn't add insult to injury by letting him know this, but I hadn't actually shunned all TV sport watching. As a teenager I went through a phase of watching snooker on TSN. It was a short lived phase, but long enough so that even today if someone was to ask me (and you know how often this comes up) to name a snooker pro, I could have delivered the name Stephen Hendry.

It was that phase and my love of Richler's writing that led me to On Snooker, his last and somewhat obscure full-length publication from 2001. (According to Wikipedia, an essay entitled "Dispatches from the Sporting Life" followed in 2002.)

On Snooker, predictably, is not the most exciting book I'll ever read. However, I do think that Richler's enthusiasm and wit, combined with anecdotes of the sometimes colourful and notable characters in the snooker world, is enough to salvage the book for even those completely green to the world of snooker. (For the record, Richler concedes that while falling into the notable category, Stephen Hendry is definitely not one of the colourful.) While non-snooker aficionados will no doubt pick up some jargon, Richler wisely assumes that most of his readers will have some familiarity with the game or are there simply because his name is on the cover. He does not get into the rules (it's not a how-to book) or even how snooker differs from pool— though I admit stopping to look some of that stuff up online. (I remembered that the table was remarkably bigger but that's about it.) By and large On Snooker is part memoir, part love letter to the sport. I doubt anyone, Richler included, ever expected it to become a bestseller or one of Richler's more memorable works, but it's a pleasant diversion nonetheless. Like snooker.

There were a couple of missteps along the way. A few chapters deal solely with non-snooker topics: for instance Jews in sports. I thought at the time that such diversions would serve as some sort of metaphor: a snooker player setting up a future shot that spectators do not yet foresee, a complicated set-up that appears to be a mistake at first. Alas, the future shots never came. Richler didn't, for example, later reveal that Stephen Hendry was Jewish all along. It's as if he'd gone looking for examples of famous Jewish snooker players, but couldn't find any. Looked for instances of discrimination of Jewish snooker players, couldn't find any. But since he'd found examples of both in other sports, threw in that research anyway and in doing so managed to write enough pages to comprise a book.

Still, there were enough interesting snooker related research that for the most part, Richler stayed on topic. The plight of women snooker players, for example, provided relevant and fascinating reading. The angle I found most compelling was that of drug-testing in snooker. At first it seemed rather silly. I know they want to be recognized as a sport and all, but come on, drug testing?  It's not like steroids are going to help. I envisioned a muscle bound Van Damme guy, in a bowtie but missing his sleeves, shooting his cue and sending a ball into his opponent's face. But then, it was perhaps in Richler's own mocking of the practice that I began to see at least some logic. While some of the players mentioned in Richler's book, including a Canadian, have tested positive for cocaine, Richler balks at the drug testing. That scorn seemed justified when Canadian Olympic snowboarder Ross Rebagliati was disqualified after testing positive for THC, but I think there's a case to be made for some drugs being banned in snooker. After all, even according to some of the snooker players quoted in Richler's book, a lot of the game of snooker is mental, not, for instance, choking under the pressure of a championship. Richler himself, after just declaring that "pot is most-certainly not a performance enhancing drug," goes on to ask, "why should they be deprived of this relaxant during the tense days of play?" Then in snooker, marijuana would be a performance enhancer, wouldn't it? And should those who players who don't wish to partake in an illegal substance feel pressured to use it in order to compete with those that do?

Who would have thought that a book on snooker would yield such a fascinating debate? I'm guessing that Richler did.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Reader's Diary #1028- Tennessee Williams: A Streetcar Named Desire

What I had known about Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" up until now had come solely from the Simpsons "A Streetcar Named Marge" spoof. That and Elaine's "Stellaaaaahhhh" moment on Seinfeld, but that wasn't as helpful as the former.

In any case, I loved the play. I really appreciated the extremes of Stanley Kowalski and Blanche Dubois. While they were, as were all the characters in the play, delusional to varying degrees, a reader's tolerance is tested under all sorts of circumstances. I wanted for instance, to find feel some sort of sympathy for Stanley, but then he crosses some lines that are so appalling that I simply gave up trying and hated him. In Blanche I had started from the opposite end, resenting her snobbishness but then finding myself forgiving her, once more of her story was revealed. Interestingly, Williams seems to suggest that society at large has the opposite response, tolerating the Stanleys of the world but not the Blanches, or at the very least the way they deal with their disappointments in life. The supporting characters also deal with themes of desire and coping with reality but with greater subtlety to balance out the great extremes.

Having heard so much about the legendary performances of this play (most notably Marlon Brando), I wasn't sure if reading it would work. What if it was the acting, directing, sets and so forth that had made the play (just as bad performances can ruin a great written piece)? But before each scene Williams adds notes, I presume originally intended to let the director know what he was going for. For example:
The sky that shows around the dim white building is a peculiarly tender blue, almost turquoise, which invests the scene with a kind of lyricism and gracefully attenuates the atmosphere of decay.
From a reader's point of view such details add so much more to the experience that I feel the play can stand on its own in the written form. Williams also does a remarkable job using the music and setting of New Orleans in complementing the mood of the story— though in contrast to his characters, I think the city does have this life thing figured out.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Reader's Diary #1027- Oscar Wilde: The Selfish Giant

The Selfish Giant's cousin, the Envious Giant
Yesterday I read an article by Brian Galindo called "11 Literary Giants Who Have Penned Delightful Children's Books." I wasn't terribly surprised to find Oscar Wilde on the list, though I didn't know he'd had a couple sons of his own. It certainly didn't seem to fit with the bohemian lifestyle I believed him to have led. Then again, I realized, I didn't really know much about his personal life.

So, in honour of this unexpected father, I decided that today's short story would belong to Oscar Wilde. One of the five stories in The Happy Prince and Other Tales, "The Selfish Giant" is about a giant who drives children away from his garden only to discover that in doing so he has also banished the spring and summer.

Trying not to give away the ending too much, I hope it suffices to say that there's a twist. Unlike most twist endings in which the story seems to depend on it, I actually felt this twist was unnecessary and a little over the top, especially as I'd been thinking the story was charming up to that point. The ending did, however, offer another surprise about Wilde himself as I'd not pegged him as a religious sort.

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

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Reader's Diary #1026- Ashley Spires: Binky the Space Cat

When I was tracking down Ashley Spires' children's graphic novel Binky the Space Cat, it suddenly occurred to me that all of those fantastic reviews I'd read were online. I grew nervous. It's not like the Internet folks are unbiased where cats are concerned.

Don't get me wrong. I like cats. I have a cat in fact. (He's on my shoulder right now.)  But I've never considered myself a "cat person." I don't know if that's akin to hipsters who make fun of others for being hipsters or not, but I wasn't sure if this wasn't a case of cat fanatics being just a bit overzealous in their praise.

However, now that I have the book, I can honestly say it's delightful. Cat lover or not, it's funny, charming and if Binky's quirky, inquisitive and determined personality doesn't win most of his readers over, I'd be shocked. It's a great introduction for kids to the world of graphic novels and let's face it, quality, appropriate examples aimed at this age group (the publishers at Kids Can Press list it at ages 7-10) are few and far between.

I think what makes Binky so interesting and charming is how his innocence never gets in the way of his determination. As he plans to venture into "outer space" (outside), he starts himself on a vigorous training routine. He has his rare moments of doubt, but when he thinks of how "his" humans need his protection, he gets over his fears in a hurry.

The artwork is stellar. You may have your doubts. After seeing the cover you might ask yourself, "is that supposed to be a cat?" (When I'm not wearing my glasses, he looks like a moose footprint.) But when you see the other cats in the book, it's clear that Binky is just highly stylized. The scenery and grey shading are also quite well done.

I'd definitely read the others in the series, even if I'm not in the target demographic and I'm not really a cat-person. Really I'm not. I'm just a... cat appreciator.
Not representative of my actual wardrobe.

Are You A Well Read Canadian?

 Over at Loni's The Eye of Loni's Storm, she linked to a Book Riot post entitled "From Zero to Well-Read in 100 Books." The author acknowledges his cultural biases but I think he makes a valiant effort coming up with a varied sample of books that would make someone "well-read" as per his own definition of that term. It started me thinking of what books could be on a Canadian-only well read list. Here's what I came up with:

1. Lucy Maud Montgomery- Anne of Green Gables
2. John Vaillant- The Tiger
3. Modecai Richler- Barney's Version
4. Rohinton Mistry- A Fine Balance
5. Miriam Toews- A Complicated Kindness
7. Susanna Moodie- Roughing it in the Bush
8. Wayne Johnston- The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
9. James Houston- White Dawn
10. Michael Ondaatje- In the Skin of a Lion
11. Robert Munsch- The Paperbag Princess
12. Christian Bok- Eunoia
13. Pierre Berton- the Last Spike
14. Margaret Laurence- Stone Angel
15. Seth- It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken
16. Ken Dryden- The Game
17. Farley Mowat- Never Cry Wolf
18. Carol Shields- The Stone Diaries
19. M. G. Vassanji- the In-Between World of Vikram Lall
20. Michel Tremblay- The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant
21. Elizabeth Hay- Late Nights on Air
22. Sheila Watson- the Double Hook
23. Robertson Davies- Fifth Business
24. Richard Van Camp- Lesser Blessed
25. Ann-Marie MacDonald- Fall on Your Knees
26. Kit Pearson- The Sky is Falling
27. Kenneth Oppel- Silverwing
28. Margaret Atwood- The Handmaid's Tale
29. Marshall McLuhan- Understanding Media
30. Alistair MacLeod- No Great Mischief
31. Alice Munro- The Love of a Good Woman
32. Guy Vanderhaeghe- The Last Crossing
33. Emma Donoghue- Room
34. Guy Gavriel Kay- The Summer Tree
35. Douglas Coupland- Generation X
36. Tomson Highway- The Rez Sisters
37. Leonard Cohen- Beautiful Losers
38. Phoebe Gilman- Something From Nothing
39. The Complete Poems of Robert W. Service
40. David Adams Richards- Mercy Among the Children
41. Joseph Boyden- Three Day Road
42. Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki- Skim
43. Ivan Coyote- Bow Grip
44. Naomi Klein- No Logo
45. Will Ferguson- Why I Hate Canadians
46. Lisa Moore- February
47. Mary Lawson- Crow Lake
48. Alan Bradley- The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
49. Cory Doctorow- Little Brother
50. P.K. Page- Planet Earth: Poems selected and new
51. Lawrence Hill- The Book of Negroes
52. Timothy Findley- The Wars
53. Margaret Atwood- Alias Grace
54. Jane Urquhart- The Stone Carvers
55. Mavis Gallant- From the Fifteenth District
56. Hugh MacLennan- Barometer Rising
57. Joy Kogawa- Obasan
58. Wayson Choy- Jade Peony
59. Chester Brown- Louis Riel
60. Yann Martel- Life of Pi
61. Gabrielle Roy- The Tin Flute
62. W.P. Kinsella- Shoeless Joe
63. Elizabeth Smart- By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept
64. Thomas King- Green Grass, Running Water
65. Sara Gruen- Water for Elephants
66. William Gibson- Neuromancer
67. Margaret Laurence- The Diviners
68. Marie-Claire Blais- A Season in the Life of Emmanuel
69. Brian Moore- The Luck of Ginger Coffey
70. Ethel Wilson- Swamp Angel
71. Stephen Leacock- Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
72. W.O. Mitchell- Who Has Seen the Wind?
73. Robert Sawyer- Flashforward
74. Roch Carrier- The Hockey Sweater
75. Eric Walters- Camp X
76. Bryan Lee O'Malley- Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
77. Jeff Lemire- Essex County
78. Hubert Aquin- Next Episode
79. David Bergen- The Time in Between
80. George Elliott Clarke- Wylah Falls
81. Lynn Coady- Saints of Big Harbour
82. Michael Crummey- Galore
83. Esi Edugyan- Halfblood Blues
84. Rawi Hage- De Niro's Game
85. Bernice Morgan- Random Passage
86. Peter C. Newman- The Canadian Establishment
87. bpNichol- The Martyrology
88. Louise Penny- Still Life
89. Paul Quarrington- Whale Music
90. Sinclair Ross- As For Me and My House
91. Nalo Hopkinson- Brown Girl in the Ring
92. Vincent Lam- Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures
93. Dennis Lee- Alligator Pie
94. John McCrae- "In Flanders' Fields"
95. Zoe Whittal- Bottle Rocket Hearts
96. Andrew Davidson- The Gargoyle
97. Al Purdy- Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets
98. Pierre Berton- The Arctic Grail
99. Stephen Galloway- The Cellist of Sarajevo
100. Lynn Johnston- Something Old, Something New

I tried not to just pick Canadian books that I've read, which was difficult because I've kind of made it my schtick to be a well-read Canadian. In any case, I scored 46/100 on the original Book Riot list and 58/100 on my own Canadian list, so I've still got a ways to go.

In compiling my list, I tried to pick a mixture of best-sellers and critically acclaimed, classics and contemporary, various cultural backgrounds that span the entire country, and forms and genres. I also tried to spread the love as much as possible, meaning only three authors have 2 books on the list and the rest just have one. Like all such lists, there's still bound to be subjectivity as to what should or shouldn't have made the cut. But it is what it is. Out of curiosity, how many have you read?

Feel free to meme this list if you like. And if you're so inspired, why not join the 7th annual Canadian Book Challenge to knock some of these off of your to-be-read pile?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Reader's Diary #1015- Donna Morrissey: Kit's Law

I've mostly lost my Newfoundland accent and vocabulary since I moved away more than a decade ago, though every now and again something will surface that I didn't even know was a Newfoundlandism. It's just in very recent years, for example, that I realized not everyone called the steps and landing up to a door of a house a bridge. I've lost so much of the Newfoundland dialect over the years that I decided to at least keep that one.

In Kit's Law, Donna Morrissey does an incredibly authentic job with the language. I nearly got homesick while reading it and had so many flashbacks. One that jumped out at me as one of the idioms that I've long since lost is the use of wouldn't in place of wasn't, as in "They wouldn't coming." And it wasn't just the grammar, it was also some of the vocabulary. At one point, Morrissey mentions "vamps," which, as I Newfoundlander I recognized immediately as wool socks, though I know most non-Newfoundlanders wouldn't get it at all. (I know this because when my wife Debbie, who's from Ontario, first came to meet my parents it was in the winter and we were planning to go tobogganing. When she turned down the vamps my mother had offered her earlier and then complained of cold feet later, I had to ask why. Long story short, she thought "vamps" were some sort of tawdry lingerie and felt weird being offered it from my mother.) In Kit's Law, I loved how unapologetic Morrissey handled the language. She didn't explain the grammatical choices that I'm sure some non-Newfoundland readers must have at first thought were mistakes, she offered no glossary for unfamiliar vocabulary at the end, and in my opinion the book was all the better for it. I've read books from other cultures before, and I don't think I'm unique in saying that I want writing that feels authentic. And besides, I don't think any of it would prevent a reader from understanding the plot.

Kit's Law is largely a character-driven book focused on the titular Kit, a girl born to her mentally handicapped mother Josie and fathered by any one of those locals who had been cruel enough to take advantage of Josie's condition. Usually when I say a book is character-driven I also go on to say that it's a bit on the boring side. But Kit's Law has loads of drama. However, it's Kit that I suspect will stick with most readers, including me, long after the book has been read. (I should note that the other characters are also superbly crafted and rich.)

Kit's Law does have its fair share of tragic moments, and therefore, along with the character focus and well-defined rural setting, it's susceptible to the charge of being yet another example of geography-heavy, dreary CanLit. However, I think there's just enough humour and drama thrown into the mix that it rises above the stereotype. Great writing.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Reader's Diary #1015- Emma Donoghue: Room

Very early into Emma Donoghue's Room Jack, the narrator, contemplates where he was a year before he was born, two years before. He's talking about negative numbers and he has just turned five.

Questioning how developmentally accurate such profound mathematics are, I was nervous. Back in November of last year I read Beth Goobie's Jason's Why which was supposed to be told from the perspective of a nine year old boy. I didn't buy it. Thankfully I ended up so immersed in Jack's story that I almost forgot about the authenticity all together. (And Jack's advanced math skills are explained further on.)

Since Room has been wildly popular ever since its publication 3 years ago, I hardly feel the need to summarize the plot but just in case, it's essentially about a boy who has been born to a captive woman. For the first five years of his life, all he has known and all he believes to exist is the small room where they are imprisoned. The plot can be broken down into two halves: the first involving life in the room, the second involving life after escaping.

Room is intense and engaging and heartbreaking. Jack is wise, funny, and occasionally frustrating but understandably so. Donoghue does a remarkable job making you relate to the overwhelm that his mother must sometimes feel, loving her child unconditionally and wholeheartedly but never getting a break from him.

I don't think Room was a flawless book. The whole escape plan I thought was a bit poorly thought out and unlikely, but it worked and I suppose sometimes poor plans do work out despite their odds. Once or twice I thought Donoghue used characters as mouthpieces for her own views (in particular, when Ma speaks her mind to a talk show host). And there are a few occasions when Jack watches media reports and recalls words and concepts he'd not understand which I thought— momentarily— weakened the authenticity of his voice. There's one scene at the end, for example, when he watches a panel discussing what Jack symbolizes. Not only did it seem implausible that he'd remember all the psychology/ philosophy jargon, but it seemed thrown in as book club fodder, just in case readers needed more talking points.

Nonetheless, I found Room enthralling and (unfortunately) topical.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Reader's Diary #1014- The New King James Version Bible: The Gospel of Matthew

No, I don't know why he didn't just make Harry's pillow a portkey.
When I read the Old Testament, I noted that most of the well-known stories come in the first five books. Starting the New Testament with the Gospel of Matthew, I think I'll end up saying the same. In this one book, Jesus is born, takes up a career in ministry, dies, and is resurrected. And there's 26 books to go?

I know that the next three books, the rest of the Gospels, also tell of same time line but right now I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I think it's interesting to hear another side of the same story. (Wasn't that the gimmick behind Carol Shields' Happenstance?) On the other hand, four different versions sounds like it might be overkill.

In the meantime, Jesus as a character is quite interesting. So many are suspicious of his motives but Jesus tends to respond with questions and parables, which really doesn't help his case. Not his immediate case, anyway.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Reader's Diary #1013- Helena Bell: Robot

It eats tiny particles of your flesh.
Thanks to Loni at The Eye of Loni's Storm for pointing out Helena Bell's brilliant sci-fi story "Robot" last week. While she had me hooked on the premise alone, what she hadn't mentioned, to my pleasant surprise, is that the story is told in the 2nd person. You are the robot. You are, throughout the course of the entire story, given instructions from a woman to whom you have become a personal servant.

For all of the this, the story is not yours. It is the narrator's. It is one of the best voices in a short story I have come across in some time. There's such loneliness and bitterness in the way she gives instructions, simultaneously bossy and needy, that her story is almost told entirely through tone. Of course the details help as well, and those details tell of a woman who is clearly nearing the end of her life. Oh, and the robot eats "the diseases out of [her] flesh."

It's certainly a difficult story to walk away from. The analogy, if that is what it is, seems to just hover there waiting to be grasped. I suspect there are many ways to interpret it. Loni said it was about the "slow progression toward death." That makes sense to me. I also think it could be someone haunted by the realization that she has not become the woman she set out to become. In my interpretation, the robot could represent that idealized self, now coming back to haunt and "consume" her.

It's a compelling story in any case.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Reader's Diary #1012- Shirow Masamune: Ghost in the Shell

A few weeks back Debbie, my wife, was out of town at a conference. She texted me from a Chapters asking if there was anything I'd like. Like all avid readers, I had answers ready just for such an occasion. Ghost in the Shell, I answered. Our local bookstore didn't have it, nor did our library, so I didn't even have big box store guilt. About 10 minutes later though, Debbie texted me back. She'd found the book.

"Really?" she wrote.

Oh, right. The cover. Actually, she still bought it and with very little fuss. Incidentally the woman on the front is actually clothed (see her shoulder sticking through that skintight suit?). But actually, the cover is actually quite representative of what you'll find inside.

By most accounts, Shirow Masamune's The Ghost in the Shell is a manga classic. I even read a few reviews by people who ranked it up there with Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira, of which I'm a fan. As I researched further, I learned a new term: seinen manga. For those of you like me, still rather new to the manga scene, seinen manga is manga aimed at 18-30 year old males.

If The Ghost in the Shell is any indication, that means a mixture of the juvenile pseudo-porn of Maxim magazine and the jargon-filled pseudo-intelligence of Tom Clancy. Egad.

It's all terribly unfortunate because the cyberpunk premise held so much promise. Set in a future in which the lines between man and machine has been altered beyond all recognition (people with machine parts, machines with human parts), things get even more complicated when a hacker known as the puppeteer starts taking advantage of the brain/computer hybrids. But between the silly crotch/breast shots and the political/secret intelligence mumbo-jumbo the clever sci-fi ideas get lost in the shuffle.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Reader's Diary #1011- Ann-Marie MacDonald: Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet)

As I first began Ann-Marie MacDonald's play Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet) I wasn't overly confident that I was going to like it. First off, it begins with what I took to be rather intimidating production notes, suggesting really minor tweaks that could be permitted and how. It seemed to imply that should a director make any other minor tweaks the wrath of the copyright court would be called upon before final curtain. That followed with a note on the text that said that the "punctuation carefully adheres to the author's instructions." Sheesh. I get that a playwright would want her work treated with respect, but it seemed rather anal. It wasn't making me hopeful for light entertainment.

But I was pleasantly surprised that Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet) was entertaining. Funny, even. At a few points, it could be argued that it's too much so! (As an assistant professor, main character Constance Ledbelly can sometimes be a bit... not bright,) Still, for a play that revolves around a Shakespearean scholar, complete with references, innuendo, and wit, it was remarkably easy to slide into the groove of the plot and enjoy. Now I'd just like to see it performed in person. (And I'll be watching for that rigid quality control!)

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Reader's Diary #1010- James Howe: Bunnicula Strikes Again!

Last month when I reviewed the 4th book in James Howe's Bunnicula series, I remarked that I was surprised that an end didn't seem in sight. Oddly, in Bunnicula Strikes Again! the series did seem to end— odd because there's still one book left in the series.

Plot-wise, Bunnicula Strikes Again starts off seeming like it will be just more of the same. One small beef that I had with the beginning is when Howe breaks the fourth wall by having Harold, the narrating dog, defend his taste for chocolate to fans who'd wrote in saying that it can be harmful to a dog's health, by basically saying, "I'm fictional, get over it." The concern, just as it may have been, could have been handled without this sudden breaking of character.

Another beef, that turned out not to be a beef in the end, is Chester. Chester, despite the name of the series, has always been the antagonist. A suspicious, over-imaginative cat, he's the one who's always driven the action. However, he'd always been somewhat lovable despite it all. In Bunnicula Strikes Again, Chester's relentless Bunnicula paranoia deteriorates into downright hostility and he becomes even unlikeable.

Trying not to give too much away, Chester is redeems himself at the end and everything seems wrapped up nice and tight. In fact, there's even mention of Howie, the dachshund puppy, considering writing his own series (which does eventually happen with Howe's Tales From the House of Bunnicula). So with no loose ends and the spinoff already in the works, why did Howe feel the need to add a seventh book, Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow to the series? Guess I'll just have to find out.

I should also mention that Howe's allusions to other horror greats that I've been enjoying so much, took a more contemporary turn in Bunnicula Strikes Again! as R. L. Stine's widely popular Goosebumps series is lampooned on more than a few occasions.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Reader's Diary #1009- Hannah Garrard: In the Hands of the Goddess

Even had I not liked Hannah Garrard's writing, I still would have enjoyed her short story "In the Hands of the Goddess." The first time I've ever heard of the haenyo, I find this South Korean culture of "sea women" fascinating. As divers, these women had become the main breadwinners and in certain areas, the gender roles were reversed from the majority of the world, with the men raising the families and the women working. (Clearly I'm not the first to find this intriguing, as a profitable tourist industry also developed around it.)

Reading "In the Hands of the Goddess" at first reminded me of sociology courses from my university days. Or of a National Geographic article. In any case, I'd have been satisfied to leave it at that. However, the fictional story that Garrard has written over it is compelling in its own right. Like in instances in real life and in numerous stories, books, TV shows, and movies, women have tried to break through the barrier of stereotypically gender-based employment, a boy in Garrard story, wishes to dive like his mother and grandmother. He's met with resistance and the consequences are high. It's especially complicated by larger, external society...

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

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Northwords Writers Festival

Vicky Delaney and John Mutford. Yellowknife. June 1, 2013

John Mutford and Douglas Coupland. Yellowknife. June 1, 2013
Today, the Northwords Writers Festival wraps up here in Yellowknife. And while I wasn't able to/ chose not to take in many events, if the Twitter buzz is any indication, the festival was a resounding success. They certainly had a great selection of authors, but if you wanted to hear just one author read, you had to sit through a bunch of the others for at least an hour or more. Which is fine and understandable given the small population of Yellowknife— unless you were pressed for time and/or weren't a particular fan of the others. I would like to have had a separate book signing event, where I could have just popped in for a brief chat with certain authors, but I managed to score a couple of encounters in any case, and with the 2 authors who I was most interested in meeting.

One event I did take in was a luncheon with Douglas Coupland (he was the headliner and certainly well known enough to fill a room all on his own!) He didn't talk about writing much, focusing most of his talk on his visual art, but he and his art are so fascinating and creative that it hardly seemed to matter.

Also during the festival it was announced that Jamie Bastedo's Nighthawk! won the 2013 Northwords Prize. A big congratulations to him!

To those who were instrumental in organizing and running this year's festival, great job! I know it was a team effort and you ALL deserve a round of applause.