Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reader's Diary #1146- Margaret Laurence: The Stone Angel

I'm finally on the board for the 8th Canadian Book Challenge. What kind of host am I, taking this long? You'd think I'd set a better example.

Anyway, at least I'm in with a good one: Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel. A classic. As a fan of A Bird in the House and the Diviners, I don't really know why it's taken me until now to get around what it is arguably Laurence's best known work. For that matter, I'm not entirely sure why I'm such a fan. When I hear people complain about CanLit, with its slow-paced, character-driven, landscapey dreariness, I've usually offered them Alice Munro, begged them, to please use her as an example. Name names! I cried. But then, if I'm being fair, Laurence's work also matches those unfortunate labels. There's only one reason I forgive Laurence for it: she does it freakishly well.

The Stone Angel is once again insightful, beautifully written, and Hagar belongs is a top 10 list of best-developed Canadian literary characters of all time (the others being Anne Shirley of course, Barney Panofsky, Sheilagh Fielding, and... I don't know? The Paperbag Princess? Let's just say top 5 list for now until I think more on this). Notice I said best-developed, not likeable. She's enjoyable to read, not entirely detestable, but certainly annoying in her prideful, demanding, and snobbish ways. She's also funny, but in a CanLit sort of way, so if you haven't read the book already, I hope you're not expecting Marg, Princess Warrior or anything that outlandish. (Saying that, I think Mary Walsh could do a marvelous job portraying her in a movieno I didn't see Ellen Burstyn's 2007 take on the character). Because Hagar is so old, I started to think the book actually might have more appeal today than when it was written in 1964. With our great number of baby boomers slowly moving into the oldest demographic, and the societal costs of this move, I figure it must be about time the world focuses on them again instead of being so obsessed with youth. Alas, this, this, this, and this. So, if Hagar has anything to say about feeling ostracized in your last years on Earth, shut up. Millennials!

The theme of pride runs through the book and treated with due respect. More often, Laurence seems to making a point about the folly of pride, but not simplifying the issue, there are times when I think I understood at least where the pride came from and even the occasional time that I thought it was necessary. Hagar, despite her increasing senility or maybe sometimes even because of it, is not a static character and, though it isn't handed to a reader in certain terms, learns something about herself and others over the course of the book.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Reader's Diary #1145- Jennifer Elle: Orange Forest


I'm back from a great vacation in Ontario and Newfoundland. In Ontario, I finally got to see Niagara Falls (and the awesomely quirky town around it), and in my hometown in Newfoundland, the insane amount of icebergs and whales in the area were like something from a tourism commercial. Still, after three and a half weeks living out of a suitcase, we were all looking forward to coming home to Yellowknife.

Niagara Falls
Humback Whale TailIceberg

The forest fires had started before we left, we heard about them on the National news while we were gone, but still we hoped they'd be under control by the time we returned. Alas, when we stepped off the plane it smelled like a campfire. Driving past Frame Lake, we couldn't see the cityscape on the other side, as we normally can. Our windows have to be closed. Just walking to the mailbox my eyes sting. It's costing about a million dollars a day to fight them and forests here take forever to regrow.

Summers in Yellowknife are normally beautiful and can almost make up for the ridiculously long and cold winters. Not this year.

On that note, I figured I might as well embrace it and look for a short story about forest fires. I found Jennifer Elle's "Orange Forest," a flash fiction story about a forest fire which manages to work in a love story, or a love story that manages to work in a forest fire.

I wasn't wild about the way it started. There's such an abundance of adjectives and figurative language in the second paragraph that I almost lost track of reality. What's describing what?

However, the story goes in an unexpected direction and there's such a strong taste of regret in the wrap-up that I could almost forgive the first half.

Northwest Territories Forest Fire by KyleWiTh, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License
   by  KyleWiTh 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reader's Diary #1144- Joel Thomas Hynes: Conflict of Interest

(This is a pre-written post scheduled to appear while I'm on vacation in Newfoundland.)

Many moons ago I read and discussed Joel Hynes's novel Down to the Dirt with a friend of mine. If memory serves, we had very differing opinions. While I somewhat enjoyed the hard-living, wild voice of the narrator, my friend thought it forced (and he also suspected that it wasn't too far off the image that Hynes likes to project of himself; so forced and lazy at the same time).

Hynes' short story "Conflict of Interest," unfortunately won't settle any arguments. The story of a guy who winds up in a drunk tank, one normally guarded by his grandfather, is, I'll concede, written with more of the same cocky, look-how-cool-and-rebellious-I-am voice. So perhaps Hynes is a lazy writer. I'm certainly not seeing a range yet.

That said, I still enjoyed it. Sure, I didn't like the narrator, but there's some great description in there, with the occasional insightful or amusing thought and rich imagery, plus enough action to keep me interested. Shades of Bukowski? I can't knock that.

The Black Series II - Smirnoff by DOS82, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License
   by  DOS82 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reader's Diary #1143- William Lawson: The Story Untold

(This is a pre-written post scheduled to appear while I am on vacation in Newfoundland.)

Stories with a twist are hard to discuss without providing spoilers. Heck, by merely saying there's a twist, I've done spoiled it.

It's still worth a look though. For me, I was kind of surprised to see a Newfoundland story that reminded me so much of the Northwest Territories. Talking of a man setting off to live by himself in an isolated cabin in Newfoundland and then finding out that he's in over his head, is the biography of about a dozen or so early explores in the Northwest Territories as well. It's funny though; I realize that Newfoundland can provide a harsh and dangerous environment as well, growing up there I never found its nature as intimidating as I do here. It's not that I was super explorer there either, but overall the province felt comfortable.

For such a short story, Lawson still does a fine job describing the setting and people. It also helps that the story keeps you guessing.

Cabin In The Woods

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Monday, July 07, 2014

Reader's Diary #1142- Darlene Guetre: Alpha and Omega

(This is a pre-written post, scheduled to appear while I am in Newfoundland.)

Years back I complained a little when Newfoundland poet Ken Babstock wrote about crowberries. Newfoundlanders usually refer to them as blackberries and I felt he was pandering to a mainland audience, destroying authenticity in the process. In Darlene Guetre's "Alpha and Omega" I suspected a similar thing happening as she spoke of "murres." Murres, for those who may not have heard of them before, are black and white seabirds about the size of a duck. They're quite common in Newfoundland, where they are hunted (my dad thinks they're delicious, me not so much), but go by the slightly different name: turrs. Don't ask me why the m got changed to a t, as I don't have the foggiest idea, but it was enough to distract me while reading Guetre's story.

"Alpha and Omega" is a flash fiction story about a man on a cliff contemplating suicide. However, he is not alone, sharing the cliff with a colony of murres. Their presence and his respect for their history is enough to set things right. His death would upset the balance.

But who is this guy? Is he a tourist? Why does he refer to them as murres? Maybe Guetre herself is not from Newfoundland? 

In the end, that one word choice is hardly problematic; a small distraction to an otherwise interesting story that is more hopeful than it appears at first glance.

Murres by steena, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License
  by  steena 

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The 8th annual Canadian Book Challenge- Happy Canada Day!!! Forward, march!

What is it? How do I join? And Other FAQs

1. What is the Canadian Book Challenge?

The Canadian Book Challenge is an annual online reading challenge in which participants from Canada and around the world aim to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: Canada Day to Canada Day. Reviews must be posted online and participants are asked to share links to their reviews with other participants. More on reviews below.(It's also a lot of fun and collectively we've read and reviewed thousands of Canadian titles! Actually, the whole books, not just the titles.)

2. How do I join?

Send me an email (jmutford (at) hotmail [dot] com) with the subject line "Sign Me Up!" and I'll add you to the list. Consider yourself a participant even if you don't get a response from me right away. Come July 1st you can get started right away. As soon as I get your first link (see below), I'll add your name to the participant list on the sidebar of this blog.

3. Oh no, it's past July 1st, can I still join?

Of course! In the past I've had people join in the very last month. My response to latecomers is always the same: If you think you can realistically read and review 13 books in the time remaining, then why not? To join, just follow the exact same instructions as above.

4. What constitutes a Canadian book?

Canadian books can include any genre or form (picture books, poetry, novels, non-fiction, plays, anthologies, graphic novels, cookbooks, etc), can be written by Canadian authors (by birth or immigration) or about Canadians. Ultimately, participants must decide for themselves whether or not something fits the description of Canadian.

4. Do I need to know ahead of time which books I'll be reading?

No. But by all means, if you want to plan ahead, do so. Some people find it's more of a challenge to do it this way, and others prefer to find their next book as it comes. If you do make a list and decide to alter it along the way, that's fine.

5. Do I need to have a theme?

No. I personally like to read at least one book from each province and territory (it's the whole reason 13 has become the goal number). In the past, some of the themes included deceased authors, mysteries, aboriginal books, poetry, and rereads. In other years we've had people choose books solely by a particular author or province. The options are yours to decide.

Certainly a theme could make the challenge more difficult, but then again, it could also make it more fun. In any case, the majority of participants opt to have no theme at all, just pushing for 13 random Canadian books. They feel they can still read what they want, when they want and aren't too confined by restrictions. The choice is up to you.

6. What if I don't reach 13 books or if I do?

If you don't, but you've had fun, it's still good. Your reviews will still be read by other participants. And you'll have a chance again when the next edition comes around. Some people ask if it's okay to fill up the remainder with children's books since they're shorter. I personally think children's books (picture books) are just as valid and need to be read and discussed as much as novels. Others think that it's a challenge, and as such, shouldn't be easy. Again, this is a participant's decision to make.

If you do reach 13, you may stop, or keep going. Remember, it's 13 or more. I love to see how many I can squeeze in. There are no prizes for reading the most. I want to stress that this is not a competition against other people. However, for all those that do meet the requirement of 13 or more, your names will be put in for a random draw for a prize.

7. Can my books count towards other challenges?

Of course! That's half the fun! I read some this past year that counted in the Graphic Novels Challenge and the Canadian Book Challenge.

8. I don't live in Canada and am finding it difficult to get my hands on Canadian books. Any recommendations or solutions?

It'll probably be easier to find some of our "big names" at your library (Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields, for example). Of course, you can always order online and check out the digital book market. And if you ask nicely enough, Canadian participants have been known to ship books far and wide to help out.

9. What if I read a book and don't have time to review it?

Sorry, that's one point I'm sticky on. I don't count it until it's reviewed. By all means, feel free to read 13 Canadian books, but the reviewing part is an equal component of the challenge. I want the books talked about even if you didn't enjoy it. While I say "review" I don't mean anything necessarily lengthy and I don't mean necessarily a review as much as I mean your thoughts on the book, questions about why an author said something, memories it stirred up. Anything, just something.

10. What if I don't finish a book, can I still review and count it?
Personally, I wouldn't but it's entirely your choice. If you feel that it's the book's fault that you didn't finish it, I suppose that's worthy of noting. If you left the book at the beach and haven't found another copy, probably not.

11. I don't have a blog, how do I post a review online?

Most Canadian Book Challenge participants are bloggers, but not all. Book reviews can also be posted on other sites such as GoodReads, Bookcrossing, Chapters, Amazon, and more. However, I do have a few requirements:

i. Participants wishing to read your reviews should not need a membership or sign up to do so. For instance, anyone can read a review at Chapters, so it's fine. However, a review posted on Facebook would be out since not everyone has a Facebook account and would not be able to access it.

ii. When you share a link make sure it's directly to your review and participants do not have to go searching endlessly to find it. For instance, if you blog, link to your posts, not your entire blog. (For example: Review NOT Blog) If you link from Chapters, after you write and publish your review, you will be be able to click on your review title which will provide your link in the URL bar. (For example: Review NOT Book page)

Yet another option is simply writing your review in an email to me (jmutford (at) hotmail [dot] com) and I'll happily post it on The Book Mine Set.

12. How do I share links to my reviews?

Each month there will be a roundup post here at the Book Mine Set. This year I'll once again be using a link sharing tool from similar to the one they use at the Graphic Novels Challenge. Whenever you finish writing a review, just head to my blog and click on the "Share your link" icon. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book you just reviewed, then provide the link. I'll also ask that in the comment section of that post that you bring us up to speed on your progress so far (ex. 6/13 read). I'll send an email reminder once a month.

13. Will there be prizes?

Possibly. In the past I've offered monthly prizes, but I've had to spend a lot of time soliciting publishers for donations.  Canadian publishing companies and authors have been very generous in their support. In an effort to keep my workload down, I'm leaving the ball in their court. Should publishers or authors want to donate books as prizes, they can contact me at jmutford (at) hotmail [dot] com to arrange the details. And if there are no prizes this time around, let's let finishing the challenge be its own reward.

14. What's up with the logo?
Actually, I should say, "what's up with the logos?" Actually, the one above was taken on Canada Day (Iqaluit, 2008) and fit with the "Forward, march!" message in the post title. BUT! It's not the only logo to choose from if you're not crazy about it. Here are your other choices: 

That makes 8 logos in total; one for each year that the challenge has been running. Not wild about any of these? That's okay, too. I know these are not inclusively representative of Canada. They're my photos, and though I have been right across this great country, some of my photos predate digital and let's face it, not everything I've taken fits nicely on a poster (btw, I was going for one of those motivational poster looks). The end result, these are all rural images and central and eastern Canada (except for the sunset image) aren't represented. So, here's where you come in. Should you join the 8th book challenge, you could take the easy route and pick your favourite from the 8 that I've provided OR you can adapt it to feature one of your favourite Canadian photos. Got a great skyline shot of Toronto? That would be perfect. A selfie of you reading Anne of Green Gables in PEI? Go for it! Download any of my logos, then copy and paste your image over the top of my image so that the frame is left intact. My only rule is that if you choose to adapt my logo, use a photo of your own, not one you've culled from the internet AND that you release your logo to anyone else who wishes to use it. Consider it my "open source" inspired book challenge logo. Here's another example, this one created by challenge participant Nicola showing a Dairy Queen in Pt. Colborne, Ontario, thought to be the birthplace of the "Blizzard":

15. Besides the logo, anything new with the 8th edition?
I like to also theme participant progress in the sidebar of my blog. In the past for instance, if you've read 1 book or 7 books so far, you may have been charted as having reached certain Canadian mountain peaks or popular Canadian food. This year I've used results from a CBC Radio initiative they had a few years back in which they asked Canadians to nominate and vote on the best Canadian Invention of All Time. Read 13 books? You've reached insulin!

Like Canadian Book Challenges of years gone by, this one, too, shall be a work in progress. Stay tuned throughout the year to see new features...

14. How can I help?

By joining, reading and reviewing, obviously. And sharing links to your reviews. I also need help with promotion. Please, even if you're opting not to participate this time around, help promote the challenge on your blog. Feel free to write a post that tells your readers that you're joining and why, and if you've participated before, how much fun it is. Also, use the logo above, feel free to place it permanently in your sidebar.

15. Eight years? Aren't you tired?

Nah, it's a labour of love. On that note, however, I do wish to announce that there is an end in sight. I have decided to continue to 10 editions. After which point, I hope to pass it off to someone else to run. But that's still a ways off. For now, let's make the 8th year, the best one... so far.