Saturday, August 31, 2013

The 7th annual Canadian Book Challenge- August 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")

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reader's Diary #1054- The New King James Version Bible: The Gospel of John

Behold.
Finally, I've made it through the gospels. I wish I didn't feel that way, but the repetition of the four gospels did wear on me toward the end.

After finishing John I thought, wait a sec, what about "Jesus wept"? I loved that verse. Shortest verse in the Bible, powerful, and... I missed it? What gospel was that in? Turns out, John. Chapter 11, verse 35.

And I skimmed over it. Burnt out on the gospels and skimmed over one of the best lines.

Then I started thinking of other lines from the gospels that I knew of beforehand. "Why have you forsaken me?" What a controversial quote of Jesus that turned out to be. Again, I missed it. Way back in the book of Matthew. For someone who's been blogging about books for the past 3 decades, I'm realizing that I'm not the most careful or attentive of readers. It's time to pack it in I guess.

Nah! This time next week I'll still be here, missing the finer points of Acts.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Graphic novel adaptations?

What's your favourite graphic novel adaptation of a previously existing novel?

The only one I can comment on is the Hobbit and I liked the original version better. I've read graphic novel versions of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped and Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl, but I've not read the originals to compare.

Reader's Diary #1053- Don Aker: Everything Gets Dead

Don Aker's "Everything Gets Dead" is, as the title would suggest, not a happy romp in the park. It tells of a man who finds himself telling his daughter (whom he has for his weekend visitation rights), the sad fact of life: it ends. Much to his dismay, the fates are about to provide them with a more graphic example. (And it is set in a park.)

It's finely detailed and the characters are well-defined, but I am perplexed somewhat by the opening paragraph. (That's not a complaint, by the way.) It begins with the dad— it's not revealed that he's a dad at this point— ogling a woman as she runs around a track.

Given the rest of the story, I'm not sure how it fits in. I imagine it would probably make some readers uncomfortable, and it's fair to say that this is clearly not meant to be a comfortable story, but the themes of death and father/daughter bonding aren't exactly encapsulated by the running woman. Well, maybe it might be relevant to father/daughter relationship, maybe it's Aker's way of saying that males have complicated and diverse relationships with females. Or maybe it's to contrast with the final image (I won't spoil it, but it's far less of a male stereotype). Another idea? As he recounts the death of his previous marriage, the way he's clearly been fantasizing about the runner could be suggestive of hope in new beginnings. Here's a big one: it's about our true nature, we have humanistic facades of superiority with our philosophies and dynamic interpersonal interactions but underneath all we're all just animals with sexual urges and mortal biology. (Whew, I think I ruptured something.) I don't know, but it's certainly intriguing in the way that it distracts from the overall plot. I'd love to hear your theories!

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

Friday, August 23, 2013

Reader's Diary #1052- John Wagner (writer) and Vince Locke (illustrator): A History of Violence

As I started to prepare this post, I realized that I have a tendency to be too apologetic. (Inner-Canadian, maybe?) Most of the graphic novels I've read have crossed my path either from Google searches along the lines of "best graphic novels" or ones that have been adapted for movies. For some reason I thought these methods weren't somehow valid. By whom and why, I have no idea. Should I have gotten a ouija board and consulted with the spirits of Charles Schulz and Herge? Should I have flown to the Comic Con in San Diego and polled the first hundred people in line? I think, as I got into comics later in life (with some exceptions), I still feel like a bit of an outsider and I need to have more confidence. By now I've read enough to discuss graphic novels, to make my own recommendations, to review comics, and not make excuses as to why I choose to read what I read.

With that long-winded self-reflection (see, still apologetic!), I picked up A History of Violence based on its having been turned into a critically acclaimed movie. I don't remember much about the movie. I know I wasn't crazy about Viggo Mortensen's performance, but I never am. Had I dug a little deeper I would have discovered that while the movie generated mostly good reviews (even had a couple Oscar noms), the graphic novel reviews are much more varied. It certainly doesn't show up in many top 10 lists!

Nor should it. My first clue that I wouldn't like this should have been the author: John Wagner. John Wagner created Judge Dredd. And while other writers may have done wonderful things with the character since then, I was not a fan of Wagner's early Dredd work. I will say that his writing has come a long way since then, but there were still some major flaws with A History of Violence.

The book begins on a very promising note. When Tom McKenna, a small town diner owner, defends himself against a random act of violence he makes the headlines. Unfortunately, after his new claim to fame a mysterious black sedan starts following him around and he's eventually confronted by someone who insists on calling him Joey. It appears as if it's a case of mistaken identity. And that would have been the more interesting story. Alas, it's not and very quickly the story dissolves into another silly mafia story (which apparently I have no business reading). What is perhaps most annoying is the character of Edie, Tom's wife. Though Tom has been lying to her all these years about his background, though his lies have put their family's lives in danger, she forgives him and promises to stick with him, without missing a beat. We all know people who stick by their spouses when they clearly shouldn't (I'm looking at you Anthony Weiner's wife), but we'd like to imagine that they have complex reasons for doing so. Or at the very least, an argument. Wagner offers us neither and instead presents us with a flat, unrealistic, and rather distractingly stupid character.

As for Vince Locke's artwork, I'm slightly less critical. With very rough black ink sketches, the gritty quality adds to the violence and noir (or is it neo-noir?) story. However, sometimes the drawings appeared so rushed that faces were grotesque— not including the ones that were intentionally so— and action sequences were confusing. A little more attention to detail would have been nice.

The book had much more potential but ultimately let me down. If the critics are to be believed, the movie version managed to work out the kinks.

Speaking of graphic novels that have been turned into movies, I'm very much looking forward to getting my copy of Blue is the Warmest Colour in the mail. Unashamedly.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reader's Diary #1051- The New King James Version Bible: The Gospel of Luke

I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you.

Still pushing through the Gospels, I'd hoped that I'd be comparing the ways that similar details were described. But, as is probably predictable, I'm focused more on the new details and stories. There are the classics like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan parables and to my amusement, an anecdote I'd not heard before about Mary and Joseph accidentally leaving a 12 year old Jesus behind in Jerusalem. Supposing him traveling with others in their return group, when Mary realizes the truth she slaps her palms to her cheeks and is all like, "Jesus!" So they high tail in back to Jerusalem where they find a short guy with his hair singed off and a tall guy with paint can bruises on his face. Or wait. That may have been Home Alone. Oh right, they found Jesus in a temple three days later, holding his own in theological discussions.

There was also more about John the Baptist's childhood, which from a writing perspective, I found pretty interesting. The angel Gabriel appears to tell the barren Elizabeth that she can expect a child? Sounds pretty familiar. It's like John was the beta-version of Jesus. Furthermore, when Gabriel gives Mary her news, he also informs her that her cousin Elizabeth is also pregnant. Whoa! Cousins? Now that was a cool twist.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Reader's Diary #1050- James Fenimore Cooper: The Eclipse

James Fenimore Cooper, is best known for his novel The Last of the Mohicans and for introducing the Parisian man-scarf to the U.S.. But mostly the Mohican book.

In his short story "The Eclipse" Cooper finds himself reminiscing about a total solar eclipse he'd witnessed on a visit back to his childhood town. It's a relatable story in the sense that we've all had moments of awe when witnessing stunning or extraordinary celestial events. I can recall half or dozen or so such moments just off the top of my head: coming out of the movie theatre last year just in time to see the entire building surrounded by northern lights, watching an IMAX film about the Hubble Telescope last year at NASA, or almost like Cooper himself, watching a lunar eclipse with my father on one of my more recent visits back to see my parents. Cooper does a fine job of capturing the feelings of insignificance and open-mindedness that these experiences present to us.

It takes a while to get there, however. At first it's a bit too wordy. I'll admit that some of the issue may be a matter of simply accustomizing to the dated and stilted language (it was published in 1869), but he even goes so far as to mention the degrees latitude where the story occurs. Such technical terms did not help the story any.

More confusingly is the sidetrack about a prisoner that he goes to see right in the middle of the eclipse. I get the role that the character plays— the prisoner and his horrifically tragic crime contrast against the image of the idyllic village that Cooper has until been highlighting, plus the prisoner's desperate superstitions about the eclipse clash against the calmer contemplation of the townspeople— but the situation is bizarre and unexplained. An "acquaintance" approaches Cooper, says "Come with me!" and leads him to the court house. Here Cooper observes a distraught prisoner watching the eclipse in anguish through a window, then Cooper leaves again. There's no interaction with the prisoner and no context as to why Cooper was asked to go there in the first place. It's very bizarre.

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


Friday, August 16, 2013

10 From 100- A Profile of Canadian Book Challenge couple TEENA and SWORDSMAN

John's Preamble: Actually this one would more accurately be called 14 from 100 as Teena (from Teena in Toronto) and Swordsman (from The World of Gord) took a sort of Venn Diagram approach to the questions. They each answered 6 of the same questions, but chose 4 different questions to round out their respective 10.

I'm very excited to highlight Teena and Swordsman as they've been the unofficial Canadian Book Challenge couple for 4 years now. (Unless there's another couple out there that I don't know about!) It's no small feat, as I can attest. I managed to convince my wife to join a few years back but it didn't stick.

On a rare occasion you'll see Teena and Swordsman reading the same book but for the most part they each bring unique reading selections to the challenge. (And when they don't it's interesting to compare reviews.)

Maybe I should I have profiled these two in February, for Valentine's Day, but what the heck!

10 FROM 100


TEENA:

For which of the following do you have accounts … Blogger, Wordpress, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, GoodReads?

I have a blog on Blogger and I'm active on FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn and GoodReads.

How much time do you spend on social media each day?

I'm active on Facebook and check in many (many!) times during the day/night (I don't play games, though). I usually do at least one post a day on my blog. I don't use Twitter much and use it mainly to share my blog links. I have a professional profile on LinkedIn. And I review all the books I read on GoodReads and include a link to my blog review.

Do you read on an electronic device and if so, which one? If not, why?

Gord bought me the original Kobo when they first came out and it took me a while to use it because I loved the feel of books. But once I started using it, I was hooked! I bought the Kobo Vox when it came out and wasn't crazy about it … mine had a lot of bugs, I guess, I had a lot of trouble with it. I now have a Kobo Arc and I love love love it! I love the convenience of an e-reader ... being able to access the web when I'm near WIFI is a bonus. It's very rare that I read a "real" book these days.

What is more important to you … discovering new authors or sticking with old favourites?

Both … I like discovering new authors AND sticking with old favourites. When I find a favourite author, I tend to read ALL their books. And a lot of the time new authors become favourites!

TEENA AND SWORDSMAN:

Which Canadian author have you read the most?

TEENA: The Canadian author I've read the most is Linwood Barclay … I've read 11 of his books. He is closely followed by Mary Jane Maffini… I've read 9 of her books.

SWORDSMAN: Pierre Berton. I discovered him back in the eighties and love the way he writes about Canadian history in a way that places the reader right in the middle of the story.

Are your Canadian Book Challenge choices pre-picked and are you following any theme?

TEENA: My book challenge choices aren't pre-picked or follow a theme … I tend to read whatever comes along and catches my eye.

SWORDSMAN: Totally random, just whatever catches my eye at the moment.

How long have you been participating in the Canadian Book Challenge?

TEENA: I've participated in all the Canadian Book Challenges … yippee!

SWORDSMAN: This is my fourth year in the challenge.

Have you finished the Canadian Book Challenge in previous years?

TEENA: I've finished all the challenges … whoohoo! My best showing was the fourth challenge when I'd read 36 Canadian books.

SWORDSMAN: I finished in each year I have been in it, reading 17 in Challenge 4, 22 in Challenge 5 and 16 in the last one.

Why did you join the Canadian Book Challenge?

TEENA: I joined the Canadian Book Challenge because I love, love, love to read and this was a good way to have me focus on reading more Canadian books.

SWORDSMAN: Teena told me to…actually I saw her in this challenge for a couple of years and finally asked her about it. It sounded like a very interesting thing to do, plus I read a lot about Canadian history anyways and thought it would be fun to keep track of exactly how many Canadian books I read in a year.

What was the last Canadian book you read?

TEENA: The last Canadian book I read was last week … Linwood Barclay's Tap on the Window. It was good.

SWORDSMAN: I have had two false starts lately, popular Canadian books that I took out of the library and only got half way through when they were due back and on hold for somebody else. Good books too which I have on hold. The last Canadian book I completed was Full Count, Four Decades of Blue Jays Baseball.

SWORDSMAN:

What is the most outrageous omission in your reading history?

I read non-fiction all the time and decided this year it was time to concentrate on reading other types of books; fiction, science fiction, mysteries— so at least half my yearly and CBC reading is anything but non-fiction. That being said, I am currently reading Paul Anka’s autobiography My Way with another Canadian autobiography on deck. I need to try harder! 

What is your favorite short story?

This would be Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Tell-Tale Heart." There is more story and emotion in the three to four pages of this story than there is in any other short story or book! It’s one I have read many times and will read again.

Have you ever heard from a Canadian author whom you have reviewed?

Only twice. One was a Canadian author and the other was a book on the War of 1812, in which I saw both sides of how criticism is taken. I don’t usually review a book unless I have read it all but wasn’t enjoying In Calamity’s Wake. But I reviewed it saying it wasn’t a style of writing that I enjoyed. The author, Natalee Caple, wrote back, “hey, thanks for reading my book and posting on it. I’m sorry it wasn’t your kind of thing but glad to hear from readers anyway.” Very classy reply.

The other reply wasn’t from a Canadian author but a book about the war of 1812 written by a British author. I liked the book but criticized the illustrations which I found were poorly done and said so. I received an anonymous reply, either by the illustrator or somebody related to him, that the illustrations were good, that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and oh, I am fat. Just too funny! 

What is your first reading memory?

I read Blacky the Crow way, way back when I was a young kid in the sixties. I just Googled it and found it was first published in 1922 and still appealing to kids forty years later. I haven’t thought about that book for a very long time. Thanks for asking that question John and bringing back a fun reading memory!

And thanks once again to Teena and Swordsman (aka Gord) for taking on the 10 from 100 and continuing to take part in the Canadian Book Challenge!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Reader's Diary #1049- Frank Miller: 300

My second attempt at a Frank Miller graphic novel and the second disappointment. Not as much as The Dark Knight Returns but with a name as recognized as Miller's, I was hoping to finally understand what the fuss is about.

Not that it's all been good fuss. Reading the Alan Moore vs. Frank Miller stories online has actually proven to be more interesting than the works of either writer. In the case of 300, despite my own issues with the book (which I'll get to eventually), I'd have to side with Miller. Moore and other critics have taken Miller to task for presenting the Spartans inaccurately. Moore calls the book not "very well researched." Have they forgotten the fiction part of the term historical fiction? I was never under any illusion that this was going to be a blow by blow account of actual historical events, but it did inspire me to read other sources on the actual Spartans and the Battle of Thermopylae. I can't said I'd have chosen to do that this summer if it hadn't been for Miller, so the man deserves some credit.

My issue with the book is that the characters are flat and entirely static. Presented as war and discipline obsessed manly-men, the Spartans never flinch from this attitude. This may or may not have been accurate, but it doesn't exactly make for compelling story telling. Furthermore, whereas they started out as a fascinating war machine, I found myself questioning at the end why at least one of the soldiers didn't consider the possibility that the conquered life wouldn't have been so brutal as his current life. I guess it showed the impact of their rigorous and lifelong training and indoctrination, but I certainly didn't root for them. I started not to give a damn what happened.

The book, however, is quite stunning and I have to give props to Miller for his illustrations and especially to Lynn Varley for her colour work. Painted in mostly sepia tones with splashes of red, this violent history is stylized so dramatically that it's hard to look away. It's almost enough to save the book, but not quite.

And with 300 I'm done with the 3rd graphic novels edition of "Glaring Omissions," a list I first compiled just back in March. These are lists of well-known or highly regarded works that I feel that anyone who wants to have a discussion on particular topics, should have a passing familiarity with but I don't. I've done similar lists for plays, Canadian books, and a few more. (You can find the lists in the right hand side bar as well as my progress through them). At this point I feel that I've done an admirable job with graphic novels. I can still think of a few more I'd like to read, and I'll certainly continue to do so, but for now I'll forgo making another list. In the meantime, here are links to the last Graphic Novels Glaring Omissions list:
1. Stitches- David Small
2. Fun Home- Allison Bechdel
3. 300- Frank Miller
4. Binky the Space Cat- Ashley Spires
5. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen- Alan Moore
6. Ghost in the Shell- Shirow Masamune
7. Something Old, Something New- Lynn Johnston
8. Blankets- Craig Thompson
9. Naruto, Vol 1. – Masashi Kishimoto
10. Tangles- Sarah Leavitt
11. My New York Diary- Julie Doucet
12. Paul Has A Summer Job - Michel Rabagliati

Monday, August 12, 2013

Reader's Diary #1048- Joseph Boyden, Anne Michaels, Stacey May Fowles, Priscila Uppal, Catherine Bush, Craig Davidson, Michael Winter, Cary Fagan, Wayne Johnston, Kelley Armstrong, Lawrence Hill : They Arrived in the Fall

I've not read a lot of co-authored books (the two Stephen King/ Peter Straub collaborations come to mind), but when I do I'm almost as interested in the writing process as I am in the writing itself. Does one author write a chapter, send it off to the other who then writes the second, and so forth? I'm sure it's different for every pair and piece they are working on, but the process would almost certainly become more complicated if you start adding more authors into the equation. Would it be at least more manageable if they kept the piece short?

Thanks to a fun and exciting National Post summer fiction project, we now have 11 Canadian authors to ask how they all felt about the process. Given the opening sentence "They arrived in the fall" Joseph Boyden, Anne Michaels, Stacey May Fowles, Priscila Uppal, Catherine Bush, Craig Davidson, Michael Winter, Cary Fagan, Wayne Johnston, Kelley Armstrong, and Lawrence Hill were all asked to work together to create a short piece of fiction.

The result is a wacky bit of horror, lots of reflection on what it is that attracts us to horror, and there's even some relationship issues thrown in for good measure.

I wasn't sure if it was working at first. Joseph Boyden begins with a story about a woman feeding some sort of mysterious creature. She is out of milk, so she opts for her blood instead. Yes, it's weird, but also strangely compelling. Then Anne Michaels begins by saying, "She looked up from the page."

I was angered with that line. I felt like she'd broken the cardinal rule of improv, "take what your partner gives you and build on it." By reducing Boyden's contribution to a screenplay that someone was writing felt like that old TV cliche when a character realizes "it was all just a dream." Furthermore, when the new character Michaels introduces starts analyzing why people like to be scared, it felt as if she was trying to take the intellectual high road. As if this National Post project needed something a bit more serious and substantial than that bit of monster fluff Boyden had supplied.

But I shouldn't pretend to know what Michaels' intentions were, nor what the process was (perhaps, for instance, this shift in direction had been Boyden's plan all along and he had supplied that idea). In any case, she's off the hook because the remainder of the authors, playing diplomats, managed to make the two pieces work together cohesively, while still adding their own touches. And the ending tied it all up wonderfully, to my satisfaction brought full circle by Lawrence Hill (even if he did have the worst line in the entire story: "It is lemonade, whereas other human blood types are like water with a slice of lemon thrown in.")

 Of the 11 authors, I'll admit that I'd only even heard of 7, and of those I'd read even less. However, I was thoroughly impressed by all of the writing (even Michaels who may or may not have played fair). Of those who I had read before, I was surprised by the unexpected approaches that most had taken. Wayne Johnston, Joseph Boyden, and Lawrence Hill went for sci-fi/ horror, yet Kelley Armstrong didn't? Who knew?

A hearty thank-you all of these authors for agreeing to this experiment and to the National Post for arranging it!

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

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Reader's Diary #1047- Jon Krakauer: Into the Wild


A few years back I had a cousin and a friend, both of whom had never met one another and lived at opposites ends of the country, tell me that they had just read Jon Krakauer's Into The Wild and it reminded them of me. Whose curiousity wouldn't be piqued by that?

So when the movie came out I just had to see it. And then I was offended.

I thought the movie was well done (loved the Eddie Vedder soundtrack), but I'd have enjoyed it more if I wasn't sitting there thinking, "This guy's an idiot!" I know I'm not always the most social individual, but I'd never have gone that far. And I'd at least have known that living alone in the woods would have killed me.

Still, I was curious that maybe I'd relate more if I actually read the book instead. Planning a road trip to Alaska this summer I was finally motivated. (Granted, it should be noted that unlike Chris McCandless, I traveled there in a Dodge Caravan with my family.)

I had a different reaction this time around. Not only was I finding myself relating to McCandless, I was somewhat surprised that the aforementioned friend and cousin didn't also relate. It's not often that I care to speak on behalf of most males (as I certainly don't think I'm typical or could voice the average Joe), but I think Jon Krakauer's biography of Chris McCandless is a very masculine tome, one that epitomizes the coming of age of most every male, be they jock, nerd, hippie, or prep. This is essentially a story of the point when a man decides he wants to be independent. Independent from want or from whom may differ by male*, but Krakauer does a great job of highlighting this eternal and internal struggle. How a male might act on this struggle, would depend entirely on the male. It is at this point where McCandless distanced himself from the average.

For those unfamilar with Chris McCandless's story, it happened in 1994. He was a young man from a well-to-do family who, after becoming disenchanted with society, decided to hitchhike his away across the U.S. and finally Alaska. Four months later his emaciated body was found. He was 24.

For many, Chris McCandless was an idiot. An ill-prepared, naive, dreamer. Yet many who met him on his travels, even briefly, remained charmed by him and claim to have been affected by their encounter and McCandless's subsequent death. To this day, there are reports of tourists having to be rescued while attempting to follow his trail and find the abandoned bus which had become his shelter in the wilderness. Why this fascination with an individual whom so many others deem a failure?

While in the middle of reading Into The Wild, I found myself at a local museum looking at an exhibit dedicated to John Hornby. Yet another northern failure. It seems that the history of the north is rife with such tragic individuals. In the Northwest Territories alone, the majority of the historical names I can list off the top of my head died in tragic deaths. I started to develop a theory that perhaps we're intrigued by these individuals as a way of defending our own lack of risk taking. Secretly we may be a little envious of the McCandlesses of the world for being brave enough to take on such challenges. But we find comfort in their deaths. They were idiots, we say, who took made selfish and naive decisions. It helps us forget all of those who took stupid risks that paid off, and to a lesser extent, those who were well-prepared yet struck a bout of bad luck. Most importantly it gives us justification for not having taken those risks, the risks that haunt us.

It's this kind of theorizing that Jon Krakauer does in Into the Wild and in doing so it's as much as his story as it was McCandless's. What Krakauer doesn't do is glamourize or mysticize McCandless and I'd defend him against anyone who suggests otherwise. Granted Krakauer wrestles with this, with his fascination, but he also doesn't let him off the hook for the pain he caused others. Nor does Krakauer let off those who brush off McCandless as just another pseudo-intellectual who got what he deserved. Though in defense against the last point I was bothered somewhat by his approach:

It would be easy to stereotype Christopher McCandless as another boy who felt too much, a loopy young man who read too many books and lacked even a modicum of common sense. But the stereotype isn’t a good fit. McCandless wasn’t some feckless slacker, adrift and confused, racked by existential despair. To the contrary: His life hummed with meaning and purpose.
My issue with this defense is that he doesn't call out the people who stereotype in the first place. While people might share certain attitudes and characteristics, there is not "another boy." "Some feckless slacker" doesn't exist. If Krakauer took any life and examined it under a microscope the way he did with McCandless, he'd find the individual. If we're being totally frank though, it wasn't his life— meaning and purpose notwithstanding— that compelled us in the first place, it was the morbid fascination with his death.

Still, that one contention aside, I was thoroughly impressed with Krakauer's account of McCandless's life. Normally, I'd probably be put off if a biographer infused so much of himself into his subject. (Incidentally, the publisher doesn't refer to the book as a biography or memoir, but as a travel book.) However, the reflection and nonlinear chronology added up to one of the more unique and insightful biographies memoirs travel books I've ever read.

(*I hope I don't come across as suggesting that a female or genderqueer person couldn't relate to McCandless or enjoy this book, but there are aspects of Chris's life and personality that I can relate to almost any male I can think of, no matter how different from one another they might be.)

Thursday, August 08, 2013

10 from 100- A Profile of Canadian Book Challenge participant MELWYK

John's preamble: A brand new feature to the Canadian Book Challenge is a little something I like to call 10 From 100. I've prepared a list of 100 questions (which was harder than I'd anticipated!) from which I hope to get interested participants to select just 10 to answer. The first victim person I've recruited goes by the username Melwyk and is one of the few people that have been with the Canadian Book Challenge ever since it started. She's a librarian from Southern Ontario and she blogs at The Indextrious Reader. Without further ado, here's Melwyk's

10 FROM 100

1. Are your Canadian Book Challenge choices pre-picked and are you following any theme?

I like to pick a theme each year, but I was finding that I wanted to talk about all the Canadian reading I was doing! So now I pick a theme to work on, while still trying to include all of the other Canadian books I read over the year as well. This year I'm planning on reading at least 13 epistolary novels within my Canadian choices. It's a fun way to challenge myself while also celebrating all the Canadian reading I do.

2. Have you finished the Canadian Book Challenge in previous years?

I didn't the first year, but have since then. I like having this collegial challenge to keep me focused on sharing more Canadian fiction -- and it is mainly fiction, though I do read some non-fiction and poetry as well.

3.What was your favourite book read for this or a previous Canadian Book Challenge?

I've found some really great books, but a couple that I picked up thinking specifically about the Challenge were the recently published Dance, Gladys, Dance by Cassie Stocks, and the older novel Things Go Flying by Shari Lapena. I hadn't had either on a list, but found them serendipitously, and thought they'd be perfect for the CBC. I also finally picked up a novel that had been on my list for a few years, Monique Proulx's Wildlives, and I really loved all three. There have been many great finds overall, though.

 4. Name a book that you wish to read based on someone else’s Canadian Book Challenge review.

 Since I always need nonfiction suggestions, I think that The Juggler's Children by Carolyn Abraham sounds great, thanks to Tanya at 52 Books or Bust's review. As for fiction, one that I didn't even realize was written by a Canadian until I saw Danielle at A Work in Progress' review, is The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James. It looks just my style! 

5. Name a blog or blogger you’ve discovered (other than the Book Mine Set!) through the Canadian Book Challenge.

There have been quite a few great new blogs to follow over the last 7 years! But one of the most recent discoveries for me was Barb at Leaves and Pages. I seem to enjoy the same style of reading as she does, so it has been a fruitful discovery for me! 

6. Best bookstore near you and why.

 In Stratford, my favourite place for new books is Fanfare Books. It's right downtown and dangerously close for lunch hour jaunts... The owner is knowledgeable and personable, and is also very supportive of the library and the local literary community, so I enjoy shopping there.

 7. After photos, what is the next material item you would try and rescue from a house fire?

That would definitely be my box of old journals. Journaling is important to me (some of you may know that I also teach journal writing classes locally). I've kept regular journals for over 20 years, and they are all in a box that would be easy to grab on the way out the door! To me, my journals are like photos, in that they capture the person I was and how I've got to where I am. I don't often reread them, but I like knowing that I could if I wanted to. 

8. The worst punctuation or spelling mistake that people make is ____________________________.

 Less / Fewer. This one drives me crazy! Less is for singular, fewer is for plural. I have less money than you, but you have fewer days off, for example!

9.What is the longest book you’ve ever read?

That is clearly Proust's In Search of Lost Time. I read it over a decade ago, and it took two years of leisurely reading. I'm thinking that perhaps I should begin again. 

10.If you were to get a poem tattooed on your body, what poem would it be?

 In the unlikely event that I could be talked into getting a tattoo, and it was going to be poetry, I would choose this verse from Wallace Stevens' “Sunday Morning”. I have loved it for many years. 

Divinity must live within herself: 
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow; 
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued 
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty 
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights; 
All pleasures and all pains, remembering 
The bough of summer and the winter branch. 
These are the measures destined for her soul. 

A huge thank-you to Melwyk for being the brave person to go first. I have a few more people in mind that I'll be asking to participate in the future (no obligation!) but if you're interested being profiled, please email me and let me know.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Reader's Diary #1046- Rick Riordan: 39 Clues, The Maze of Bones

I've listened to audio short stories on occasion and as a kid I used to listen to books on cd tape record ("turn the page when you here the bells chime like this..."), but as an adult I've not committed to an entire audiobook. On the last leg of our recent road trip, however, with 8 hours left to go between High Level, Alberta and Yellowknife, the adults starting to tire of the music we brought and the kids bored with the DVDs they brought, I decided to see if I could find an audiobook that we could all enjoy and squeeze in to get us through the final 716km. We decided to go with book one of Rick Riordan's 39 Clues series. It promised a tale about a family with loads of globe trotting adventure and hey, we figured we could relate to that.

First off, I'm not sure if I'd take on another audiobook in just one sitting. 39 Clues, as narrated by David Pittu, clocks in at just over 5 hours. While that's not excessive for an audiobook, I found it a lot to take on in one chunk. I was driving when it started but before the halfway point I had to switch with Debbie as I was afraid I would doze off. Not that the book was boring or that the narration wasn't dynamic, but listening to anyone read for two hours straight would probably make me drowsy. That we had just crammed 5000+ km of driving into 2 weeks probably didn't help matters. I should also note that I speak alone on this point. When I mentioned to Debbie that on the next road trip, if we decide to do another audiobook we should break it up in say half hour installments, she disagreed and said that it made the time fly by. A final point on the narration: while we all appreciated that Pittu attempted voices, I wasn't wild about the soft, breathy voice he chose for Amy Cahill, a teenage girl and one of the two main characters.

As for the story itself, it was mostly exciting if not a little far fetched at times. Amy and her brother Dan discover through their grandmother's will that the Cahill family, to which they belong, is the most influential family the world has ever known. They, as well as a select handful of other relatives, are given a choice between a million dollar inheritance or the first of 39 clues. Should they be the first to unravel all of the clues, they stand to become the greatest and most powerful Cahill in history. Amy and Dan obviously decide to take the gamble. It's full of conspiracy theories, historical tidbits, cliffhangers and suspense. It was like a Dan Brown novel for kids. And I don't mean that as an indictment of Riordan; I think such an over-the-top book is better suited for kids. However, I did find the characters a bit too cartoonish at times. Hopefully in later additions to the series Riordan started making them a bit more three dimensional. Still haven't decided if we'll do more yet though, and if we do, whether or not we'll stick with the audiobooks.




Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Vacation Souvenir Books?

I hope this isn't akin to uploading a picture of my most recent meal, but here are the books I picked up on my recent road trip to the Yukon and Alaska:
That's Dick Stevenson's The Saga of the Sourtoe, Laura Beatrice Berton's I Married the Klondike, Keith Halliday's Yukon River Ghost and Benedict and Nancy Freedman's Mrs. Mike. Read any of these?

My most common vacation souvenir's are mugs, t-shirts, and suitcase patches. But I do like picking up local lit as well. Do you buy souvenir books on vacation? And if so, any recent finds you'd like to share?

Update (Aug. 11): Just found another souvenir book that I'd bought on this trip: Al Pope's Bad Latitudes. This was on my TBR list for some time and was able to track it down at Whitehorse's wonderful Well-Read Books.

Reader's Diary #1045- Dick Stevenson: The Saga of the Sourtoe

The toe, presented on a bed of salt. (Yes, the toe is real.)

Me, downing the shot with a toe. (It must "touch the lips.")
Certificate and wallet-sized bragging rights.
In Newfoundland, tourists are often eager to get "Screeched In," partaking in a ritual in order to become an honorary Newfoundlander. It involves kissing a cod (though I've seen it done with capelin and even a puffin), repeating a phrase that involves jibs drawing and an old cock, and of course throwing back a shot of rum known as Screech. It's gimmicky but fun. In terms of strangeness, however, it has nothing on the Yukon's Sourtoe.

In case you haven't heard of it, and in case the photos above are still leaving you confused (and most likely repulsed), in Dawson City, Yukon you can become a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. Basically it involves drinking a shot of whiskey (I wasn't offered a choice a beverage, but I believe you can ask for something different, including non-alcoholic choices). Oh and it has a real, severed human toe in it. The last warning you get is that "You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow— But the lips have gotta touch the toe."

The name of the toe doesn't come from a sour taste (really all you can taste is the whiskey), but from a play on the term "sourdough."  People known as sourdoughs are Yukoners and Alaskans who are well-experienced in bush survival. It comes from the gold-rush days when the more established miners would carry fermented starter dough around their necks. (The opposite was a Cheechako, a new-comer with questionable skills.)

I had first heard of the sourtoe a while back when there was a national call out for toe donations (why they'd need more, I won't give away here), and just knew that I had to consume the cocktail. Call it my inner cannibal. Though I had no idea about the history of it. I assumed it had something to do with the gold rush days, but it had never come up in any of the Yukon historical books I'd read. So, on my way to Dawson City this summer when I found this book for sale I just had to grab it. Turns out that the reason it wasn't found in any gold rush histories is that it only began in 73. 1973.

Oddly, this fact somewhat dulled my enthusiasm initially. I had imagined some poor 19th century sop losing his toe to frostbite while lugging his gear up the Chilkoot Pass and then having the amputated toe finding its way into a glass of liquor served to a Cheechako while the grisly miners hooted and placed bets on whether or not he could do it. But 1973? Now it felt like a cheap, disgusting marketing ploy.

The truth lies somewhere in between and Dick Stevenson's simple but enthusiastic history of the cocktail not only set the record straight but won me over again. While not dating back to 1898, the story of the toe and how Dick Stevenson acquired it does go back further than 1973. Furthermore, the story of the toe and the cocktail since (hint: the toe that touched my lips is far from the original) is gruesomely fascinating enough to find its own place in Dawson's history.

Another interesting feature of Stevenson's book is the additional info added from subsequent reprints. First published in 1987, it's fun to watch the growth of Stevenson's bizarre ceremony take off. Even taking the toe on the road, the cocktail eventually gets national and even international attention. Soon newspapers and television shows were picking up Stevenson's story— not the least of which was an appearance on CBC's Front Page Challenge (which should probably not be surprising considering that long time panelist Pierre Berton also hailed from Dawson City).  Still, in 87, 14 years after the idea was first hatched, the count of people having joined the club stood at a mere 4866. Then it picked up momentum. In 91 the tally was nearly doubled at 9628. It topped 12, 000 by 97. The book is in need of another update as I'm not sure what the count is currently. It doesn't say on the Sourtoe Cocktail Club website but the Wall Street Journal estimated that the count stood at over 100,000 November of last year. (Though that wouldn't explain where the 50,916 number came from on my membership card.)

The Saga of the Sourtoe is short, very short, and in fact would probably be better suited to a pamphlet. Stevenson does his best to pad the book with anecdotes about his colourful chums. In the Yukon, colourful folk are nicknamed the 5%. The eccentrics. The bohemians. Interesting people to be sure, but they felt like filler in this book. As I said above, the writing while simple, still manages to exude Dick Stevenson's eager and quirky personality which more than makes up for the obvious fact that he doesn't have a background in writing. (Though he really should stay away from poetry!) Dieter Reinmuth has done a fine job with the editing, even if a few typos still managed to sneak in (another reason for another reprint).

I'll leave with a few more photos from my recent Dawson visit. Sorry if those of you who follow me on Twitter are sick of these photos. I'll at least limit these to the pictures that have a literary connection:


Robert Service's cabin.



Inside Robert Service's cabin.

Jack London's cabin and food cache

Pierre Berton's childhood home (currently a writer's retreat).




(If you want to see the non-literary photos, add me on Twitter and check my recent Tweets.)

Monday, August 05, 2013

Reader's Diary #1044- David Crouse: Nomads


This is a pre-scheduled post to appear while my family and I are road tripping through the Yukon and Alaska.

Irrelevant to the rest of the post I suppose, but I found it interesting that the two Alaskan short stories I found for this and last week were both written by men yet both featured female narrators. In "Nomads" the female is Nancy who is recalling a memory about the last time she'd spent with her father, when she was 14. He would die of cancer soon after.

It's certainly an enthralling story. It opens with an image of an umbilical cord wrapped around a newborn's head. There's a heavy theme of 2nd chances and not giving up, mostly explored through the words and actions of Nancy's father. It's no wonder that such a theme would be of importance to her father; he's estranged from his former family and this is his first time spending any time with Nancy in over a year. Clearly, and likely due to the cancer, he's becoming more philosophical. He and Nancy are also, fortunately, reconnecting.

However the complexity of Nancy's father is not fully revealed until they happen upon an accident while driving from Anchorage to Fairbanks. It just so happens that it involves another father and daughter and Nancy's father seems uncharacteristically callous about the whole situation. I suspect that, for all his talk about not giving up and second chances, he was not yet ready to afford himself such a privilege and in the second father, Nancy's father sees something of himself.

It's a deep piece and at first my only complaint was that it seemed to just fizzle out at the end. However, with a second reading I rather like the final image.

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