Friday, February 28, 2014

The 7th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - February Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

How to add your link:
1. Click on the icon above
2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)
3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as John Mutford (Anne of Avonlea)
4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Reader's Diary #1099- Nancy Wilcox Richards: How to Outplay a Bully

In honour of Pink Shirt Day, I thought I'd review Nancy Wilcox Richard's How to Outplay a Bull, a children's novel about a boy named Tony who's being bullied by a member of his own hockey teammate.

I'm always somewhat skeptical of books like this. Even as a young child I was very aware of when after school specials and books were too preachy and heavy handed with their depiction of playground villains, whether they be bullies or peer pressurers or what have you.

But while there are some things Richards got wrong (more on that in just a sec), I think she got the bully and the bullied right. Plus the hockey team and its reference to the Lady Byng memorial trophy was a nice (Canadian) touch. Tony's a very likeable character, and though he has at least one revenge fantasy, remains a likeable character throughout the book. The bully, Berk, is presented less favorably (of course) and while there's some acknowledgement of one of the issues in Berk's own life that might make him act the way he does, Richards is careful not to be overly sympathetic and acknowledges his actions are wrong. It's a children's book so there's an unsurprisingly happy ending, but it's not, at least, presented as an easy answer.

As for those things she got wrong? First off, there are a couple of times when Berk and Tony's hockey team finds themselves alone in the dressing room when the coach steps out. As the father of a son in hockey at the same age as these boys, I can easily say how unlikely a scenario that is. There are usually almost as many adults in the room as kids.

The other involved a very poor trivia question asked to Tony's class by his teacher. Stating that it's from the nature category, she asks: What 3 things won't you find in Newfoundland? How about tigers? Llamas? Camels? Porcupines? Prairie Dogs? Grizzlies? Cougars? Cacti? Tiger lilies? Nope. The correct answer is skunks, snakes, and poison ivy. Oh well. I grew up there, but what do I know? (I do know that we can't make the snake claim anymore.)

I also know that despite those 2 flaws, it's still a fine book and a perfect conversation starter with kids about bullying.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reader's Diary #1098- Stella Benson: The Desert Islander

Yesterday I found this old article about a term paper assignment Kurt Vonnegut gave his students which sounded like a fun task. Basically they had to pick three stories from Masters of the Modern Short Story and write about them (what makes it fun were the specific instructions). Anyway, I decided to see what stories were included and which I'd read. I decided to pick one of those for Short Story Monday, but I won't be giving it the full Vonnegut treatment today. (I'm not blogging for credit, after all.)

The story is Stella Benson's "The Desert Islander" about a Russian named Constantine, who decides to beg at the home of an Englishman living in war-ravaged China. Despite being a beggar, Constantine is none too short on confidence and seems to take most pride in being unique. This becomes a sticking point as the Englishman keeps making generalizations about him as a beggar and as a Russian. However, Constantine develops a little more humility when the Englishman diagnoses him with life-threatening gangrene and rushes to save his life.

About halfway through the story, I began to see this story as a conservative vs. liberal (or republican vs. democrat, if you're American) metaphor, and the leftists don't come across too favorably. But perhaps I was way off the mark on that assessment as the ending, which came out of nowhere and certainly doesn't support my metaphor theory.

It was an engaging story but would take a few more readings before I could process it fully. That'd be fine for a term paper, but I've got my own term paper to write at the moment.

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

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Freedom to Read Week starts today!

Checking out the Freedom to Read website and their list of selected works that have been challenged in Canada, I was surprised at how few I've read. But, I've provided links here to my thoughts on the ones I've read over the life of this blog:

1. Katherine Peterson- Bridge to Terabithia
*2. Mordecai Richler- The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (really? Not Cocksure?)
3. Lois Lowry- The Giver
4. J. K. Rowling - The Harry Potter Series
*5. Barbara Smucker - Underground to Canada
*6. Jeff Lemire- Tales from the Farm
7. Charles Burns- Black Hole
8. Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
9. The Bible

Other Canadian books (besides those starred above) on the list include:
1. Timothy Findley- The Wars (which I have read, just not over the life of this blog)
2. Deanne Kasokeo- Antigone
3.  Mike Pearson- Waging War from Canada
4. W.P. Kinsella- Dance Me Outside
5. Paul Kropp- Moonkid and Liberty
6. Pierre LeBlanc and Robin Konstabaris- Scrambled Brains
7. Nick Pron- Lethal Marriage
8. Sylvie Rancourt and Jacques Boivin- Melody
9. Jane Rule- The Young in One Another's Arms
10. Cherylyn Stacey- How Do You Spell Abducted?
11. Merily Weisbord and Merilyn Simonds Mohr- The Valour and the Horror
12. Brian Doyle- Hey Dad!
13. Kevin Major- Hold Fast
14. Alice Munro- Lives of Girls and Women (which I have read, just not over the life of this blog)
15. John Newlove- Canadian Poetry: The Modern Era
16. Daniel Sernine- Les envoûtements
17. Margaret Laurence- The Diviners (which I have read, just not over the life of this blog)

(There may be other Canadian authors on the list that I failed to catch or didn't realize were Canadian.)

 One of the things that I love above Freedom to Read Week is the amusement I get from those books that probably would have faded into history without a whisper, had their objectors just a little more patience, but now live on and find more readers in the long run. I, for instance, have never heard of Deanne Kasokeo's version of Antigone (the Greek tragedy is adapted to a First Nations setting), until this happened, and now I'd really like to read/ see it.

I've not had a whole lot of experience with challenged books. Years ago, I did have a parent object The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe on religious grounds. (I had sent it home for a nightly reading assignment with her son, in my grade 3 class). Despite trying to explain that many saw it as a Christian allegory (the parent in question was Christian), she still wanted another book. I found them another of which she was more comfortable. I should note that the entire situation was amicable, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was not in the curriculum, and she did not insist that I restrict other students access to the book.

Anyway, in honour of Freedom to Read Week, I've decided to offer a mini-challenge to all of those who are participating in the 7th annual Canadian Reading Challenge. I'm offering a copy of Vicky Delany's Gold Web as a prize to be given to a random winner chose from a participant who either:
1. shares a short anecdote below about an experience they've had with challenged books
2. reads and reviews any of the above challenged Canadian books before the end of March (please indicate in the comments that you read it to be entered into the draw).

(I should also note that Dundurn Press graciously donated the prize, but I did not give them any contest details, nor am I implying that they endorse or deny any of the ideals in this post!)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reader's Diary #1097- The New King James Version Bible: John 1-3, Jude, Revelations

I know my blogging hasn't exactly been cutting edge lately. I know that I haven't been blogging as often, and when I do, my posts feel even more hastily done than ever. Those who have stuck by me know that a lot of it has to do with taking on an online masters course (on top of my day job and parenting), but my Bible posts in particular are worse again. There are a few reasons for that:
1. I never get much of a response on them. I understand that the very topic makes a lot of people uncomfortable, especially when I've made it a point never to come out and talk about my own beliefs.
2. I've run out of much else to say. Granted, over the years I think I've written some decent posts about the Bible (this post about the book of Esther caught the amused attention of an American minister) but towards the end, I felt I was repeating myself. It didn't help matters that the few new thoughts I did have were mostly forgotten when I'd finally managed to salvage time enough to compose a few lines.

A few meager thoughts on the last books. I liked the tone of the books of John, especially the metaphor comparing us all to children. It certainly wasn't the first time that was used in the Bible, but in relation to that other ubiquitous metaphor (people as sheep), I like the children one way more. Sheep, and no offense to actual sheep, implies a stupid, gullible follower. Children, on the other, implies a naivete as well, but it leaves room for growth and improvement.

As for Revelations, of course I was looking forward to that one. That's where all the wild and crazy stuff happens. The four horsemen of the apocalypse, the moon turning to blood... Are we not entertained? And why have I not heard of the human-faced locusts before? That sh*t cray cray! Actually I was surprised at how much of the book of Revelations I had heard before without even realizing where it came from. (Thank you Iron Maiden!) Once again, the History Channel's Bible Secrets Revealed proved to be an excellent follow-up, but sadly their theories on the book of Revelations were not as juicy (nor as obvious) as my magic mushrooms theory.

Anyway now, I've finally completed the Bible and I can scratch that off my list. But not to worry, I'm thinking of continuing my pursuit of religious readings. Add these to my reading list:
1. The Book of Enoch
2. The Gospel of Judas
3. The Gospel of Mary
4. The Book of Mormon
5. The Quran
6. The Satanic Bible
7. Dianetics
8. A Witches' Bible
9. Kitáb-i-Aqdas
10. The Torah
11. Tao Te Ching
12. Bhagavad Gita 

And I think that'll be enough reading and controversy to last me several lifetimes...


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

10 From 100- A Profile of Canadian Book Challenge participant IRENE ROTH

John's Preamble: When I first started this challenge I felt the pressure to be the one that read the most for it. While emphasizing to everyone else that the challenge was meant to be a personal one (i.e., to push yourself to read more Canadian books) and not a competition, I was a hypocrite who seemed to be secretly emphasizing quantity over quality. Fortunately people like Nicola and Irene came along and blew my reading stats out of the water. While Irene has been the "board leader" for sometime now, the most important thing is that she doesn't seem to care about any competition. Instead her reviews indicate that she's just genuinely enjoying having a good time having an excuse to read more Canadian books. It took getting my butt kicked and another participant to remind me what my challenge was all about in the first place. That in mind, I was thrilled when Irene agreed to be a profiled participant in this month's edition of

10 From 100

1.      Why is/ isn’t your current residence the same as where you grew up?
My current residence is in another province in Canada. I was born in Montreal and then moved to Toronto at the age of 23 where I have been since.  I truly love it here and I consider it home.

2.       What is your history of pet ownership?
I have always owned cats for as long as I could remember. But this spring/summer, I plan to get my very first dog.

3.       What is an unusual talent you have?
I love to skip rop backwards.  I also love to walk backwards from time to time in the house.

4.       What is a sport you wish you were better at?
I wish I were better at Golfing.  I just love the grounds and I love the peace of the game. But right now I suck at embarassing.
5.  What is the oddest job you’ve ever had?
The oddest job I ever had was working shining shoes. Girls in Montreal didn't shine shoes at all. But this older man gave me the job, and a kinda of liked it!
6.    What subject do you avoid talking about most in public: Politics or religion?
I love talking about religion in public.  I do a few chats at my local church once in a while--it is a lot of fun.

7.   Are you a summer or winter person?
I am definitely a summer person!  I hate the cold!

8.   What is a charity you support?
I support the arthritis society and the cancer society.

9.   Which TV show character is most like you?
Probably reality shows such as Dancing with the Stars.  I really love the dancing too. I used to do Ballroom dancing. So, I really enjoy it.

10.   The most peaceful place you can think of.
The most peaceful place for me is Tobermory Ontario.  I just love meditating close to the water as the big orange sun is setting what seems right into the water. Wow....I feel good just thinking of it.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Reader's Diary #1096- Mira Dietz Chiasson: Something Colorful

I've been on a bit of an intellectual freedom kick lately, so when this story about Acadia University's student paper The Athenaeum appeared on the CBC News website a couple of days ago, I had to check out their website. But this post isn't about censorship. As will happen with the internet, I got a bit sidetracked and instead found a short story instead, written by Athenaeum creative editor Mira Dietz Chiasson, "Something Colorful."

A few weeks back I went to see the Wolf of Wall Street. After, on the drive home, it struck me how completely and utterly different that life was than mine. And while I figure most can probably say the same thing, I think if my life was shown on the big screen, most would also walk away from it feeling they'd seen something completely foreign to them. Growing up in a small, remote outport community in Newfoundland, to the majority of the world, would be like a National Geographic article. But when I was a child it was just the norm. Cutting cod tongues for money? It didn't occur to me that most of the world probably didn't even know what that even meant. It was not until I started working in the tourism industry as a teenager that I began to realize what others saw (not necessarily reality), and how intriguing and often magical my hometown was to them.

I was reminded of this in Chiasson's story as Andre, a Belizean drives around a bunch of Canadian university students. He delights in and contemplates the tourist perspective, even though he acknowledges that they don't see the darker realities. While cod tongues or dengue fever may not be universal, it's nice that some feelings are.

A few minor beefs. First, in Canada colorful is spelled with a u. Second, when Andre considers having his own tourist experience, he fantasizes about going to North America. Belize is a part of North America.

Quibbles aside, it's still a charming story.

Riding in Jungle Cayo Belize by furtwangl, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  furtwangl 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Reader's Diary #1095- Miranda Currie, illustrated by Alison McCreesh: Anna and the Bear

I'm slowly working my way through Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, and found myself comparing the character of Laurie with Colin from Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. I know fairy tales (especially Disney's version of fairy tales) have taken a lot of heat for the whole Damsel in Distress trope, but I started to wonder if there wasn't a lesser known Dude in Distress. I was amused then when I can across Anna and the Bear, by Miranda Currie and illustrated by Alison McCreesh, in which a slovenly male bear gets hygiene advice from a female human, and is finally able to integrate into society again. You know what they say? Behind every great bear...

Don't worry, I'm not turning into  a masculinist just yet! Still, if you can think of any other book that would fit the Dude in Distress theme, I'd love to hear them in the comments!

As for the book, it's cute, though I'd have appreciated the story more without the rhymes. Sometimes the lines scanned awkwardly and as rhymes weren't always available, there was an over reliance on near rhymes (e.g., human/ bruins).

I quite like the illustrations, but full disclosure, I once took a drawing class with McCreesh, and am in awe of her talent (though I was a lazy student and didn't acquire an iota of her skills). It may be hard to tell from the cover, as she's chosen a really simple cartoon face, but the art inside is stellar. Especially the backgrounds done in pen and watercolour. (I think. See? I learned nothing. Again, no fault of McCreesh.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reader's Diary #1094- Natalie Babbitt: Tuck Everlasting

When I wrote about Don Delillo's White Noise back in December, I suggested that I have a fear of immortality. Yes, immortality, not mortality. But though this phobia seems to have been foreign to Delillo, clearly Babbitt has given it a lot of thought. And wrote a kids' book about it no less.

Actually, this would be a perfect bridge between a children's novel and young adult novel. A coming of age tale and it also, I'm sure, would present young people with an idea most probably wouldn't have considered: death is natural and even necessary. Tuck Everlasting tells of a girl who inadvertently gets kidnapped by a family with a secret: they can live forever. They're miserable to the point of having tried suicide on multiple occasions, but they cannot die.

It's not as gloomy as I'm presenting it, because there's just enough mystery and supernatural to gloss over the philosophy. It's like vampires without the bloodsucking. But most importantly, Babbitt doles it out with enough tact to make it all surprisingly beautiful and convincing. Who wants to live forever? Not me!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reader's Diary #1093- Anuja Chauhan: The Zoya Factor prequel

Always on the lookout for free online short stories, I decided to search Twitter to see what I could find and within 3 minutes came across a short story by Anuja Chauhan: an Indian author, a Valentine's Day story, it was exactly what I wanted. It is untitled and a prequel to her novel The Zoya Factor (which I hadn't even heard of, much less read) but who cares?

The world of this story is completely unfamiliar to me. The narrator, Zoya, is young, talks about Benneton sweaters and fantasizes about Enrique Iglesias. I'm sure there are people like this in Canada, but I certainly don't surround myself with them. Zoya comes across as shallow and annoying. I don't have to like a central character, but it would have helped.

Fortunately, the other Indian references were of a different kind of unfamiliarity, and so the story did, at least, have the armchair traveler appeal.

Without all of that, the plot is okay. Zoya is trying to keep her dignity in tact by not returning to a man she previously thought she loved and who she'd thought, until recently, had loved her back. This part of the story is common, no matter what walk of life.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)
Lunch at Lily’s - masala dosa by BinaryApe, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  BinaryApe 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Reader's Diary #1092- Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, translated by Susan Ouriou and Christine Morelli: Jane, The Fox and Me

Jane, the Fox, and Me, by Fanny Britt and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, came recommended to me last year by Perogyo, after I'd listed my top 13 picks for the best Canadian graphic novels of all time. It was a damned fined recommendation, and I can honestly say, if if were to do the list over, I think I'd make room for it.

I'll start with first with the artwork. It's got a very retro aesthetic, very consistently and uniquely stylized. You know I've loved the artwork of Daniel Clowes and Charles Burns and those guys, but I've been finding that look way too common in graphic novels lately. Arsenault offers something rare. And most importantly, it fits the lonely tone of the story.

On that note, it's a downer of a book, especially for the young audience it's aimed after, but there's at least an uplifting ending and the problems are real, so a young girl going through similar problems would presumably relate and take comfort in it. One notably sad detail was the constant mention of Hélène's (the "me" in the title) weight. Other middle-schoolers tease her about it, she's really self-conscious about it, and yet Arsenault has her depicted as relatively the same size as everyone else. At first I thought it was a mistake on the artist's part, but then when I realized that Hélène probably has a self-image disorder, either capitalized on or partially caused by her peers, my heart nearly broke for the poor girl.

Any book that makes me feel for a character this much is top-notch.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Reader's Diary #1091- The New King James Version Bible: James, Peter I, Peter II

Cruising right along, I can see the end in sight, I'm starting to once more appreciate some of the writing of the NKJV. I'm noticing the symbolism and figurative language again, and able to focus better. That said, it was a week or so ago that I finished these three books, and as will happen, I've forgotten most of what I'd planned to say.

Lazy blogger.

James, a bit more of an upbeat guy, than Paul, seemed to focus more on showing love and respect to one other. Nice message. Peter 1, Paul-lite at times (there's another piece about wives submitting to their husbands), but there's an interesting back story I found, while trying to refresh my memory online, about 1 Peter 3:19-20 and an old belief above Jesus descending into Hell. And finally Peter 2, wins some points for reminding me once again of the talking donkey. No, not this one.

Love, weekend excursions to Hell, and talking asses. Is that too much to ask?

Monday, February 03, 2014

Reader's Diary #1090- Minnie Douglas: A Bachelor's Valentine

Last week I came across an archive of an old New York newspaper called the Evening Telegram. I'd actually been looking for a short story in the Evening Telegram, a St. John's, Newfoundland newspaper (I'd forgotten that they'd changed their name to simply the Telegram). In any case, the New York paper had a Valentine's short story, so I figured I'd hold it on to it until February.

"A Bachelor's Brother" is  about a man named Landis who, alone on Valentine's Day, begins to wonder why he wasn't invited to a Valentine's party that was hosted by Jeannette, a girl whom he's obviously smitten with. He begins to doubt his standing with the girl, though he was on friendly terms with her father and sure he'd have had his approval. Before long the girl shows up, and there's the expected happy ending.

It's an okay story, though a bit hard to read (it's a pdf of the original newspaper so the font is a bit small and smudgy) and dated (I doubt you'd read any modern story with the phrase "he mentally ejaculated" in it, unless of course, it meant something entirely different). It was also a little unsettling how much older the bachelor was than Jeannette. I know when both parties are adults we're not supposed to care about age, but he mentions having watched her grown up, and I couldn't rid myself of Woody Allen's image after that.

In any case, it's still worth checking out, if for nothing else to get a look at a newspaper from 1910. Be sure to check out the prize for the short story contest and the ad for Duffy's Pure Malt Whiskey.

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