Monday, March 31, 2014

The 7th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - March 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")

Reader's Diary #1106- Judit Lőrinczy, Translated by Ágnes Körmendi and Judit Lőrinczy: The colors of Creation

Earlier this week I read an article about classic children's books with horrible messages. Really, it's more about horrible, but possible, interpretations (and how she missed Love You Forever and the Giving Tree is beyond me), but I think I'll blame author Amanda Madden, and her take on Leo Lionni's Fish is Fish, for skewing my own interpretation of Judit Lőrinczy's "The colors of Creation."

At first glance this parable is about appreciating our differences. It's not an uncommon theme. Variety is the spice of life. Or, as the wise sage Groove Armada once said, "if everybody looked the same, we'd get tired of looking at each other." But then, a mysterious voice (an allusion to the serpent in the Garden of Eden), convinces everyone to "Blend the colors, [to] have all the colors God has!" All the colours blend, then the light goes away, and the Voice reveals that it was Black.

Um... so, we should be segregated and interracial relationships are bad?

I'm sure that's not what Lőrinczy meant. I'm sure something got lost in translation. I'm sure the vagueness of the parable must be at fault here. Actually, I'm sure of none of these things. But I'd like to not assume the worst...

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one!

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, feel free to leave a link in the comments.)
mediterranea - 23 by raffacama, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  raffacama 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Reader's Diary #1105- Alan Moore, Art by Eddie Campbell: From Hell

As the fourth Alan Moore graphic novel that I've read, he's nearly caught up with Jeff Lemire (and I still want to read Swamp Thing, and possibly Batman: The Killing Joke, so perhaps Moore will take the lead after all). I'm still a bigger fan of Lemire, and I still think that Moore is somewhat overrated, but I have to give the man credit for his creativity and intelligence.

The first thing that struck me about From Hell is the amount of sex. A story about Jack the Ripper, whose targets were prostitutes, you'd have to expect some. But it's not just the prostitutes having sex, and perhaps that's the point-- I so badly wanted there to be a point. I don't think of myself as a prude, but when there's a lot of sex, cursing, or violence in the media, I do question whether or not it's gratuitous. For the record, I believe such things are sometimes important to tell a story. All the stuff in the Wolf of Wall Street? Necessary. So I have two theories about From Hell:

1. If society looks down upon prostitutes today, imagine how Victorian England must have felt. Perhaps this was Moore's way of suggesting that the upright morality was all a facade. This theory is bolstered by the identity of Moore's Jack the Ripper, who belonged not in the bowels of society, but the upper crust (I'm sure I'm mixing metaphors here, but I'm not a professional-- cut me some slack). Could it mean that Moore is suggesting that middle and upper society is at best no better than the lower classes, and at worst, even more depraved?

2. There's something terribly morbid about our fascination with such individuals as Jack the Ripper and their crimes. Some might even call our interest in them gratuitous. So, in a Catch-22 sort of situation, maybe Moore was being gratuitous on purpose: to mock our interest by taking it to such an extreme. Then, if it has a purpose, it's no longer gratuitous, is it?

From Hell is a bit confusing at times, with a myriad of characters (none of whom are drawn particularly well), locations, and conspiracy theories to keep track of, and challenging, with occasionally jarring scenes of supernatural elements (including glimpses of the future). For my money, I'll take challenging, but confusing I'll pass on.

I also found the lettering scrawly and hard to read. I've scoffed at publishers before for having entire pages dedicated about the typeset used in their novels, asking, "who cares?" When it's bad, I do.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Reader's Diary #1104- Roxanne Felix: The Debut

(This is a pre-scheduled post, to appear while I am road tripping around Alberta.)

Newfoundland has a strong, noticeable culture. But from my perspective, I don't think it has a lot of traditions, certainly not a lot of formal ones. I'm sure there are plenty there who would disagree with me, and I certainly wouldn't want to speak on behalf of all Newfoundlanders, nor do I often think about the difference between culture and tradition, but all of these thoughts were running through my head while reading Roxanne Felix's "The Debut."

It is a story about a young woman named Sabina who is "struggling with her identity as a Filipina-Canadian." She is attending a debut ceremony (for her cousin), which I took to be a rather formal Filipino event which basically welcomes a young woman into adulthood or age of eligibility (of marriage). Of course, debutante parties aren't unique to the Philippines, but they certainly weren't something done in my hometown. I'd heard of them on TV as a kid, but they seemed to be a thing rich folks did in the southern U.S. In any case, I think the Filipino debut has its very own customs, and none of the formalizing seems to sit very comfortably with Sabina. As one not greatly used to formal tradition myself, I think Felix did a great job of capturing how it feels for people such as us being amongst those that are more accustomed to it. Granted, Sabina's discomfort is compounded even more because the formality is actually a part of her Filipino culture and she feels more pressure to conform than I ever have.

This is exactly the sort of Short Story I love; when I can relate to someone with such a different life context than I (this sounds sort of Oprahy,,, my apologies!), it makes me feel closer to humanity. 

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

Monday, March 17, 2014

10 From 100- A Profile of Canadian Book Challenge participant BARBARA BRUEDERLIN

John's Preamble: See that picture to the left? That was Barbara and I in 2009, when we first met in person after following each others blogs for a good 2 years before that. Which means we've been friends for 7 years now. We've met up again in person since that photo, but it's still the only one I have. However, we're about to meet up again, as my family is currently vacationing in Alberta (skied in Banff today-- so much fun, so very exhausting). Truth be known we built this whole trip around getting a more up-to-date picture of Barbara and I. In the 5 years that have passed, I have gotten a face tattoo (The Wu-Tang W on my left cheek) and Barbara's taken to wearing novelty fangs all day, so I figure it's high time that was captured on film. Or on jpeg stuff. In the meantime, you can learn more Barbara right here:

10 From 100

1. What is the oddest job you’ve ever had?

Chicken catcher. Fortunately, it only lasted two days because it was also the worst job I've ever had.

2. Ocean or mountains?

Apparently neither! I have never felt comfortable in the mountains, have always found them oppressive and inhospitable. And although I love water, I have always been leery of islands. What would happen if you needed to leave suddenly? So when I discovered, during a recent trip to Maui, that swimming in the ocean is nothing like swimming in a lake and that the undertow is determined to kill me, I realized that oceans are best enjoyed at ankle depth. Evidently I have unresolved issues with geography.

3. The worst punctuation or spelling mistake that people make is ___________________________.

You don't really want to get me started. The space given is not long enough to contain my grammar-Nazi rage.  Rampant disregard for the proper use of their/there/they're and your/you're never fails to send me into spasms, but even more unforgiveable is the random insertion of an apostrophe into words for no reason whatsoever.

Lately I have been really annoyed by run-on sentences that lack any punctuation at all. These usually show up on facebook statuses that have likely been entered via mobile. I can understand not using punctuation whilst texting, as - on my phone at least - it's a bit of a production to access periods, commas and capitalization. (And in all honesty, writing without capitalization, if done sparingly and correctly, can be a very effective stylistic tool.)  But these facebook posts are not texts, and they only serve to make the writer look illiterate. /rant

4. When was the last time you threw up and why?

About five years ago, when I finally came to the realization that I had developed a sensitivity to squid. It took me three tries to figure that out.

5. You have five choices of pizza topping. Go:

Spinach, pesto, asiago, onions, kalamata olives

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

Since the beginning!  Although I have never successfully completed the entire challenge (thank you tendency to fall asleep in bed after reading only two sentences!), I expect to turn in a personal best  performance this year.

7. Do you promote your online presence?

I am a shameless self-promoter. It comes with the territory of being a freelancer. My blog address is on my business card and the blog itself acts like a sort of catch-basin for all my other social media entities, with links to my facebook, twitter and linked-in accounts (where I also shamelessly promote myself) and to my print and online publications, so the curious can check out my writing. Hey, a girl's gotta eat.

8. Describe your current bookmark.

Like most people (I would suspect), I have several bookmarks. Many of them come to me from friends, often tucked into a gift book and usually bearing the name of a bookstore in a city that I would love to visit. I use these in the secondary and tertiary books that I am currently reading.

For my main book on the go, I use a bookmark that I somehow acquired during the first job that I had after grad school. It's brown leather with  the name of some sort of poultry coccidiostat on it and a stylized picture of a chicken. Both images have largely worn away over the years. The bottom is fringed into ten strips and the middle two fringes have torn off halfway up, the result of a long ago feline attack. It gives the bookmark a sort of goofy gap-toothed look that I quite like.

9. Marry, date, or dump: Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, William Shakespeare

Marry Margaret Atwood because she is fascinating enough to grow old(er) with. Date Stephen King because it would be a little too creepy to share a house with that twisted imagination but  a dinner or two would be awesome. Which leaves poor old Willie to be dumped. Someone else will scoop him up as husband material, I am sure.

10. Where is your favourite reading place?

My bed, just before drifting off to sleep. It's quiet, warm, comfortable, and removed from the millions of interruptions that ambush me during the day, including that nasty work ethic that keeps nudging me and telling me to go do something productive. Reading myself to sleep is my reward at the end of each day. Of course, sometimes I only manage to read the same two sentences over and over again before I wake up with the light still on and my wrists aching from holding the book upright in my sleep.

A close second for favourite reading spot is one of the Muskoka chairs on my front porch, on a summer evening.  

Reader's Diary #1103- Katie Bickell: Four Blue Capsules

(This is a pre-scheduled post to appear while I road-tripping around Alberta.)

A very short story, flash in fact, "Four Blue Capsules" by Katie Bickell, manages to pack in a lot of serious emotion. It's clear from the very beginning that there's something amiss about what is otherwise presented as elderly couple, still very much in love. There's a touch of beauty in the tale, though it's got some heavy morality questions underneath that may determine how beautiful you might consider it. Perhaps not at all.

Like the better flash fiction stories, there's a slight mystery that never gets resolved, though the plot itself is still succinct and the characters still manage to hint at believable humanity, despite their very limited presence.

What if I’d taken the blue pill? by M i x y, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  M i x y 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Reader's Diary #1102- Lori Hahnel: Beware of God

March is Alberta Short Story Month here at the Book Mine Set and today's, "Beware of God," is from Lori Hahnel, published in 2004 at Plum Ruby Review.

With a title like "Beware of God," you're probably expecting either something really heavy or something wickedly funny. I'll not mince words here, "Beware of God" is far from funny. It's heavy, but not in the philosophical jargon sort of way (though it will probably make most readers think). It's heavy in the sad, depressing sort of way. It's hard to avoid spoilers with this one, so I suggest you stop and go read it now if you plan to. Come back when you're done.

"Beware of God," reminded me somewhat of Carol Shields' Unless, though it's been a while since I read that one, so I can't say with any certainty that they really have much in common. It's about a mother, looking for answers where perhaps there are none. Looking maybe to lay blame. Needing to. You can really feel the inner turmoil the narrator is going through. Hahnel is slow with the details, and it's a bit of a mystery what it's all about, so when I started to figure it out, I was more invested in the character and felt her pain and confusion. Beautifully written, tragic story.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Reader's Diary #1101- Sophie Kinsella: Confessions of a Shopaholic

Interesting fact: Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic was published originally in the U.K. as The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic. I just found that out. Actually, I would have liked that more. Envisioning Becky Bloomwood, the shopaholic in question, as a female Walter Mitty might have endeared her to me.

As it was, I really despised this character. Really despised her. I found her shallow and worse than being addicted to brand names, she was a pathological liar. From the cover blurbs, I gather that I was supposed to be charmed and amused by Becky's exploits. But when her lying gets to point where she's telling her parents that a banker who's trying to track her down is a stalker, I'm not only not amused, I'm actually offended.

Realizing that I was never going to warm to this woman, I tried to find some sympathy. Here's a person with an honest-to-god psychological disorder (actually two, if you count the lying). There's a scene when she's fallen off the wagon (of trying to actually save some money) and she's at a check out line and she's humiliated to find that all of her credit cards are being rejected. Surely this is a rock bottom moment. For the briefest of seconds, I cared. Unfortunately, Kinsella played it out like just another part of the joke, and there was very little soul searching to follow.

The only good thing I can say is that I must have found the character believable to dislike her this much.

Reader's Diary #1100- Susan Calder: Last Watch

Usually when my family plans a vacation I like to spend the time leading up to it reading stuff written by people from our destination. For March break this year, we're planning something more low key than in the past: Alberta. That's right, a simple road trip around our nearest neighbours to the south. But, as I'm sure there are as many great authors there as elsewhere, I'm sticking with the normal routine.

Today's story, "Last Watch" by Susan Calder is about those most iconic of Albertan images: schooners and lighthouses. (The Calgary Tower is a lighthouse, right?) It's a flash fiction story, or to be even more precise and shorter, it's a postcard story.

For a brief period of my childhood, my father was a lighthouse keeper. Though it meant he'd be gone for a month at a time, I used to love it when the red and white coast guard helicopter would land in our backyard to pick him up and carry him off to the island where he was stationed. And my grandfather worked a large part of his life on schooners, relying on those memories to carve intricately detailed schooners that he'd then pass off to his grandchildren. So, with emotional memories attached to both of these images, I really wanted to like Susan Calder's "Last Watch."

Unfortunately I found it hokey. An automated lighthouse is going to replace the lighthouse keeper at precisely midnight? How convenient for dramatic effect. A schooner, the likes of which he hasn't seen in 50 years, is in danger on Henk's very last night? Maybe it's meant to be Henk, the lighthouse keeper, reliving the glory days, but it comes across like the Hollywood trope of a cop, a day away from retirement, who is about to be pulled back into action.

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