Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Reader's Diary #2100- Ogbewe Amadin: Riddle

Ogbewe Amadin's flash fiction "Riddle" is told from the perspective of a child who is wrestling with the fact that her aunt is a witch. This is, according to her mother, a bad thing but the girl becomes less and less sure as the story goes on.

On the surface, it's fine to leave at that. There seems to be a budding awareness in society these days that a lot of supposed witchcraft was rooted in misogyny, the patriarchy, Christian-based bigotry, and just plain old fear of the different.This story can be added to the voice of those that resist such prejudice.

But even extending beyond that, the story can also be viewed as a pivotal moment is all childhood: when we realize that our parents may not be perfect and may hold views of which we don't always agree.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2099- Steven Volynets: Turboatom

I watched the first episode of the HBO Chernobyl series last night and loved it so much I had to follow up with a Chernobyl short story.

What both short story and tv show do so well is personalize the tragedy. But the tragedy in Volynets story almost takes a back seat to the coming of age story of its narrator. Yes his father dies from radiation exposure, but there are also plots about being bullied for being Jewish and about immigration.

It's a longer story than I typically read for short story Mondays but still held my attention.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Reader's Diary #2098- Gerry Alanguilan: Elmer

Gerry Alanguilan's Elmer presents an alternate universe in which chickens suddenly acquired intelligence and consciousness on par with humans.

There are a few ways Alanguilan could have gone with this: could have been all for kicks, could have been all for shock, but it's so much deeper than that. It is funny at times, it is shocking at times, but it's all purposefully provocative with themes of racism, vegetarianism, and redemption running large.

On top of that it's all drawn so beautifully, black in white (which you may be thankful for the amount of blood) with lots of additional detail and mood set with hatching and crosshatching.

One of the best graphic novels I've read this year. Definitely original.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Reader's Diary #2097- Patrick Allaby: Martin Peters

Patrick Allaby's graphic novel Martin Peters is a fictional coming of age biography about a teenage boy in New Brunswick with diabetes. Sort of. Though the cover may make you think it's all about diabetes, Allaby strikes a better balance than that. It's as much about relationships, puberty, and music as it is about diabetes. Sure he gets into things like symptoms and dangers and so on but it doesn't come across as an "educational" comic (you know, the sort that teachers hand out because they think all comics are cool but kids have no interest in them because they're so didactic). First and foremost, Martin Peters is a great story.

The cartooning is simple with an indie vibe. He mentions Chester Brown and you can see that influence. Maybe Seth, as well. It's also all done in gray scale which I always feel suits biographies well.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2096- Cassondra Windwalker: Half an Orange

Cassondra Windwalker's flash fiction "Half an Orange" does not involve dream interpretation.

Still I find myself thinking about it. A week or so ago I dreamed about a dying budgie (there were more weird details than that but I know there's nothing more tedious than someone recounting their dreams). Just for shits and giggles I looked online to see what dream interpreters would say about it. The thing is, I don't really put a lot a stock into dream interpretation. I do believe that, at least on occasion, dreams may be our subconscious trying to tell us something, but a stranger has no idea of your own personal symbols. I grew up with budgies so I have very distinct connotations of these particular birds that would be altogether missed by an online dream encyclopedia. Of course, sometimes due to common cultural stories we share some symbols, but even then we likely make it our own.

Here's where Cassondra Windwalker's "Half an Orange" comes in. It involves a stuffed rabbit and there are direct references to the Velveteen Rabbit. While that story typically conjures up ideas about childhood, attachment, authenticity, and so forth, the rabbit in this story also becomes a symbol for unresolved guilt and poverty.

Great story.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Reader's Diary #2095- Doug Moench (writer), Paul Gulacy (artist): Master of Kung Fu Volume 2

I don't recall having encountered Marvel's Shang Chi character until I heard the announcement that he was getting his own film in the MCU, played by Canada's own Simu Liu. So I tracked down a collection of Shang Chi comics: Master of Kung Fu: Fight Without Pity Volume 2 1975 - 1977.

It hasn't excited me for the movie much.

Some of this is my own preference. At least according to this collection, he doesn't have super-powers and his stories tend to be along the lines of spy stories (he's a reluctant recruit on MI6 missions). I've heard that in later Marvel stories he develops the ability to clone himself, so I'm unsure what Marvel Studios plans are. I'm not a fan of spy stories though. I never really enjoyed James Bond and likewise I'm also not all that excited in the upcoming Black Widow movie which also seems to be taking that sort of tone. Again though, it's a personal taste thing. I suspect many would love such an approach.

I also don't really get a sense of the character. Doug Moench's run on the character is supposed to be one of the better ones, and while there were definite strong points (which I will get to momentarily), strong characterization wasn't one of them. Chi is shown as usually stoic and quiet and the primary thoughts he shares is when he's annoyingly describing the action (this was a drawback to most superhero comics in the 70s and earlier, unfortunately). It doesn't give a lot of insight. I did find myself wondering if I hadn't made a mistake from starting from the second volume. Perhaps the origin story would have given me more of idea of what makes him tick. Then there were there the peripheral characters, largely other MI6 agents, all of whom I found tedious and interchangeable (macho men with racist, sexist tendencies).

I did, however, like Moench's approach to story-telling, often eschewing straight forward chronological timelines. I also liked Gulacy's art (even if it was quite 70s in its garish colours and disco chic style). He had quite inventive use of panels and some of the character faces and action scenes were well done.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Reader's Diary #2094- Jacob M. Held (editor): Wonder Woman and Philosophy

Wonder Woman and Philosophy: The Amazonian Mystique is my second foray into the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series and I've quite enjoyed both though they are quite different. Though my earlier choice also had a superhero focus (Iron Man vs Captain America) that one was, due to the nature of the topic, set up more as a debate whereas the Wonder Woman book just explored a whole bunch of angles in the character's mythology and history and how they could be interpreted under a philosophical lens. Is the use of her magical lasso, for instance, ethical?

Another major difference was the introduction of female philosophers. Perhaps it's not surprising that a book about Wonder Woman would have a bit more acknowledgment of great female thinkers (Simone de Beauvoir features heavily) I was a bit dismayed in my earlier attempts this year to explore philosophy to find an almost dearth of female thought. Finally Wonder Woman and Philosophy has pointed me towards more writers to explore that are not men.

One thing that has been consistent across these two books in the series, however, is the (not surprising) fact that as collection of essays from different authors, I appreciated some more than others. Not that there were any I hated, mind you, there were just some I felt frustrated that I couldn't argue or ask questions about point points I wished were addressed.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Reader's Diary #2093- Cathy Ulrich: The Ghost of a Very Small Thing

I came across Cathy Ulrich's "The Ghost of a Very Small Thing" on Lunate, a website specializing in "Flash fiction. Short stories. Poetry. Scares." and while it looked on the surface like a piece of flash fiction, after reading it I wasn't sure if it intended to flash fiction or perhaps prose poetry. Not really relying on hard and fast definitions as much as personal connotations. Poetry tends to be less accessible than flash fiction. After a few more reads (the beauty of flash fiction) I found it more accessible than I had initially and I'm more comfortable that it's flash fiction, though it certainly has  a poet's touch with Ulrich's strong use of imagery.

The title is apt as it captures the slight hint of something wrong. Perhaps there's something supernatural at play, perhaps not, and do I sense something just a bit off in the described relationship?

Monday, October 14, 2019

Reader's Diary #2092- Unknown British author: The Three Sillies

My mother used to reference the old British folk tale "The Three Sillies" quite often when I was a child but as an adult I haven't found too many others familiar with the story.

It tells of a man who is courting a daughter and one day while visiting her family discovers them crying over the future fate of a grandchild who may be injured by a mallet that is lodged in the ceiling and which, they assume, could someday fall on his head. (The version I was always told had an axe, not a mallet.) Of course the obvious and sensible solution rather than crying about it would be to simply remove the mallet. The courting man mocks them and sets upon a challenge of his own devising to travel far and find three folks who are sillier. Should he be successful he wishes to marry the daughter. (Why he'd want to marry into such a silly family anyway, I'm not sure-- doesn't sound like he's the sharpest tool in the shed either.)

Of course he is successful, managing to find a series of humorously silly (i.e., dumb) individuals. You can see why kids would enjoy the story of idiocy and slapstick, though being an old folktale it has its share of violence (even in this version which tried to sanitize the axe into a mallet). And I guess there's a moral about simply fixing a problem with the most obvious and easy solution, but I just remember it from my childhood for being funny, not because of any profound lesson.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Reader's Diary #2091- Sean Michaels: Us Conductors

I have a thing for rare, unusual musical instruments and the theremin is one of my favourites. I mentioned this recently to a friend of mine who suggested I read Sean Michaels' Us Conductors, a historical novel based upon the Russian inventor Lev Termen.

Largely why the book works so well though isn't the allure of this odd instrument, but the odd character of Termen. On the one hand he's a scientist, full of facts and figures. On the other he's a romantic. The latter, however, also makes him rather annoying. It's a story of unrequited love, told by Termen to the object of his desire, Clara Rockmore, one of the few world masters of the theremin. Annoying, by the way, isn't a critique of the book but rather the authentic type of toxic masculinity in which men can't take no for an answer. Not a surprising personality trait coming from a guy that literally found something that wasn't there in the music of his invention. It's also a trait that arguably kept him alive. Once he's sent to the Siberian gulags for being mistaken as a spy against Russia (he was, in fact, a spy for Russia), it's arguably the misguided hope for a reunion with Clara that keeps him going.

Spies, weird musical instruments, unrequited love? It sounds like it should be a wonderful novel. And I did enjoy it, but I did find it at times to be unfocused, a bit of, "all this for what?" Still Michaels' writing was crisp and his attention to detail was quite engaging.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Reader's Diary #2090- Sadat Hasan Manto: Toba Tek Singh

Sadat Hasan Manto's short story Toba Tek Singh is about an insane asylum patient (the titular character) who has heard news that the inmates are either going to be moved to Pakistan or to India based on whether they are Muslim or Sikh. Toba Tek Singh however is very stressed and perplexed by this info as he has no idea where the place her previously called home was considered Pakistan or India. Finally the answer is revealed to put Toba in conflict.

It's as relevant now and here as it any time, any place as we, as a species, love to draw political maps that don't always coincide with cultures. It's a curious story though and I feel that perhaps some of the finer satirical points are lost on me, perhaps due to its translation. Why, for example, did it need to be set in asylum?

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Reader's Diary #2089- Gerard Way (writer), Gabriel Bá (artist): Umbrella Academy Apocalypse Suite

It's been out for a while, but I hadn't really been interested in reading Gerard Way's graphic novel Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite until I head it was adapted for a Netflix show.

I get the appeal though, it borrows heavily from the X-Men but with a smaller, more manageable cast and a goth, almost steampunk aesthetic. However, I feel like I enjoyed the world building more than the plot of this particular arc. It's particularly strong when Way goes way over the top in the mini-stories along the way, but the main tale about a rogue member of the Umbrella Academy-- one previously outcast for not having any super-abilities-- who discovers a hidden talent and turns villainous, falls flat with a lot of build-up and too-quick resolution. Nonetheless, the series itself has a lot of potential.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Reader's Diary #2088- Leona Brits: The Wind Blew

My wife and I always found it amusing that our daughter, even at a very young age, got introspective when near the ocean. Almost like she thought that was what you were supposed to do. But in all honesty, I also get it. Growing up near the ocean, times alone near it were often emotional experiences; a release, a silent argument, a plea.

So I also get Leona Brits' "The Wind Blew," a flash fiction story about a woman standing near the ocean on a windy day and feeling particularly defiant. The telling is perhaps more poetry than prose, but certainly still accessible.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Reader's Diary #2087- C.S. Pacat (writer), Johanna the Mad (artist): Fence Volume One

One volume down but I'm still on the fence about C.S. Pacat's Fence. Mostly though I'm leaning toward positive.

I liked that it was about fencing, a totally unfamiliar (and unexpected) sport, I liked that queer was the norm, I liked the heavily manga influenced art. I haven't, however, been won over by the characters yet and those, so far, seemed cliched. In this first volume we see a rivalry set up between Nicholas, a poor but ambitious fencing student and the arrogant Seiji, who's unfortunately and remarkably good at fencing. One saving grace here is the mystery as to why Seiji is found at Kings Row, a school without a great fencing reputation.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Reader's Diary #2086- Jim McCarthy and Brian Williamson: Metallica Nothing Else Matters

I liked music before Metallica's black album, but I didn't love it until then. At age 14 "Enter Sandman" became my gateway drug.

My love of comics, however, came much later and long after I'd moved on to other music. Still, coming across a comic book biography of Metallica? Not something I could pass up.

On that note, there wasn't a lot of history up to and including the black album that I hadn't read before. Maybe some I'd forgotten, but not a lot. Nonetheless, it was nice to revisit. Still it was nice to get a little insight into the behind-the-scenes stuff since then, though I was disappointed to see that the book was published in 2014 so there was nothing from the past 5 years. No mention of their Hardwired... To Self Destruct album. I'd also have liked something about their Antarctica concert or (and I admit it wasn't likely to make the cut) their concert in Tuktoyaktuk with Hole and Veruca Salt.

The story telling is good, with a documentary sort of vibe though it wasn't always clear who was saying what and there were at least a few typos that took away from my enjoyment. The art was good though, sometimes maybe looking like photos were traced, but black and white and put together in a scrap book sort of style that was very fitting.

Reader's Diary #2085- Lydia Davis: Everyone Cried

Lydia Davis's Everyone Cried depicts a world in which everyone cries whenever they are even a little upset, by the littlest of things.

She sets it up with an invitation, reminding us readers that to be upset is natural, normal, but once we've crossed over, decided that this is a story of which we can all relate, she takes it such an extreme. I quite enjoyed it and it made me think a lot about the way we discuss mental health. It's seen as healthy now to talk about, to share our emotions, and yet in Davis' world it seems so absurd and doesn't seem healthier at all to be honest. Is it?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Reader's Diary #2084- Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham The Complete Collection Vol. 1

I'm sure for a lot of folks, their first exposure to Spider-Ham was in the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie. Of course, some die-hard fans have known of him since his introduction in the 80s. For myself, I remember seeing an ad for those comics back when I was a kid and desperately wanting to get my hands on them (I loved parodies) but not having a comic book store in my hometown, never did get one. So I was ecstatic to find a collection of those published this year.

No doubt I would have loved them as a kid, they are funny, have action, and the art is more in the line of classic funny cartoons rather than traditional superhero art. Reading it through 21st century, adult eyes, I can appreciate those things still, but am also aware of how casually minor racism, sexism, and even fat-shaming was thrown into pop culture.

I appreciated the comic more when it had those old-school slapstick gags of cartoons, sometimes bending the laws of physics or even the comic medium itself (stretching into another panel, for example) and when they played up the parody elements, especially seeing their takes on other Marvel superheroes (Captain Americat and Deerdevil, for example).

Monday, September 16, 2019

Reader's Diary #2083- Rachael Dunlop: Without Parallel

Rachael Dunlop's world in Without Parallel seems to be some sort of dystopia where people are born as twins, but one is selected to die shortly after their 19th birthday. The specifics, perhaps due to this being a flash fiction story, aren't exactly clear (is everyone born a twin? Was this a human created condition?) but it's still enjoyable nonetheless.

I particularly liked how in the head of one twin the story is. It leaves the impression that the other twin is not thinking such things, but a twist at the end reveals that's not necessarily the case.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2082- Russell Waterman: A Price Too High

Russell Waterman's short story "A Price Too High" takes the old urban legend about blues legend Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil and combines it with the "pass it on" trope of such horror movies as It Follows. It's clear that a love of music and of the supernatural could only add to your enjoyment of this story.

I also enjoyed the descriptions of the setting. I've never lived in a place that could ever be described as humid and Waterman made me really feel it. It was also well tied into the stifling nature of the curse.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2081- Wendy Pini and Richard Pini: The Complete ElfQuest Volume One

I was recently participating in a local reading Bingo challenge where one of the squares required me having to get a recommendation from a staff member at the local book store, the Book Cellar. I was pleased at first to see that she'd recommended a graphic novel. I was then less pleased to discover that it was fantasy (not that I hate fantasy, but not particularly excited by it either) and it was 700 pages (I know comics are quicker reads than novels, but that's still a lot).

But I did enjoy it. The fantasy world building was quite good and I was especially impressed by Wendy Pini's art. I'm not surprised that she was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame. Her characters are ridiculously good, despite sometimes looking like Bratz dolls (a style that has rubbed me the wrong way before) with their big, bright eyes and oddly sexual bodies. Her line work was bold and defined, with hatching, cross-hatching, and thickly inked almost like wood-cuts.

The plots were fine, but there were annoying moments. The love triangle in the first volume went on for way too long. The fairy character in the last volume was the JarJar Binks of the series.

Still, I can definitely see why the staff member at the Book Cellar was such a fan.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Reader's Diary #2080- Stephanie Dickinson: Big-Headed Anna Watches Over

Stephanie Dickinson's short story "Big-Headed Anna Watches Over" opens on a scene where a 14 year old has just given birth. It's gut-wrenching and doesn't let up from there.

I'm reminded of the recent news story about the teenager girl who just got out of prison for killing her rapist. Though Dickinson's story is set in 1922, it's hard sometimes to think society has gotten any better.

This is a flash fiction piece, but in a short space, Dickinson has developed Angéle into a real character; something the males in Angéle's life never did.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Reader's Diary #2079- Anthony Foliot Snowking: Tales of An Old Town Versifier

When someone says they're going to write poetry in the style of Robert Service, I'm usually skeptical. I'd consider myself a fan of Service, but usually when people say that what they really mean is they don't read poetry but they remember "The Cremation of Sam McGee" from elementary school and find rhymes fun.

In Anthony Foliot's (aka the Snowking) Tales of an Old Town Versifier, one particular poem ("Looks Like My Job is on the Line") describes how this isn't necessarily the case for him. He intentionally studies other poetry but decides (based largely on the enthusiasm, or lack thereof, of his peers) to stick to "versifiying" (aka writing like Service) rather than "poetry."Of course, there's some tongue-in-cheek here, implying that "poetry" is pretentious compared to "versifying," a word which in actuality sounds even more pretentious.

I'd be lying if I said that Foliot was as good as Service, but as he's a fan himself, I'd venture to say he'd agree. The poems don't scan as well and sometimes when trying to find the rhythm I got a little too distracted to catch the stories. However, when they did work, I found them to be amusing blue-collar tales mostly with northern flair.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2078- Nicolas Michaud and Jessica Watkins (editors): Iron Man vs. Captain America and Philosophy

I should clear up the title before beginning, Iron Man is not taking on both Captain America and Philosophy. Instead, philosophers are debating who is the better superhero, mostly in the context of the Civil War story line.

It's hard to declare who's the ultimate winner, but for my money I think those who championed Iron Man made the stronger case. That's not so much the point though as I suspect the real purpose behind these books is to make philosophy fun and show how it can be used to make convincing arguments. Others in this series include Twin Peaks and Philosophy, David Bowie and Philosophy, and The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy. I'm particularly keen to read Black Mirror and Philosophy which is set to be published early next year.

It's definitely a good intro to some famous philosophical ideas, though on the debate side of things, I sometimes wished they'd had more ground rules. With Marvel stories and characters being told any number of times by any number of writers, some canon, some not, some in comics, some on the big screen, I felt sometimes that the philosophers were cherry-picking details to make their cases.

And of course, as with any compilation, I enjoyed some more than others. Most at least seemed to appreciate that the book was to be light in tone, even if they took philosophy itself seriously.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Reader's Diary #2077- Whit Fraser: True North Rising

In the preface to Whit Fraser's northern memoir True North Rising, he says he's flattered that his colleagues refer to him as a "natural storyteller" and says it is now "time to put that to the test."

He passed.

I know this because despite the book being riddled with typos⁠— and I mean riddled, perhaps one of the worst books I've read in that aspect— they were not enough to keep me from being wholly engaged.

Perhaps it's Fraser's affable tone, perhaps it's his ability to drop in and out of flashbacks with ease, perhaps it's his keen sense of who and what is important, but most likely it's a combination of all of these things that makes his storytelling reputation so well earned.

Fraser first came to northern Canada as a young, relatively inexperienced reporter. It happened to be during some of the most critical points in recent history: specifically the Berger Inquiry and the creation of Nunavut. These events, and the people involved, would have a profound affect on Fraser and the book is as much about them as the writer himself.

I wonder if those not from, or never having experienced, the north would have the same interest. I suspect that they would and I also believe they'd get a better sense of life here. Typos there may be, but I believe he's still captured it accurately.

I'm encouraged to read on Sarah Minogue's NorthReads blog that a second edition is planned and free of typos. I'd suggest waiting for that one.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Reader's Diary #2076- Krzysztof Pelc: Green Velvet

Krzysztof Pelc won the 2019 CBC Short Story Contest for "Green Velvet" and without having read the other contenders, I'd still say it was a good choice. It involves an immigrant family, told from the perspective of a son observing (and rooting for) his father who's decided to claim a green velvet couch that someone has left out on the curb.

It's amusing with literary intentions-- the couch is clearly meant as a metaphor for and risk-taking. Fitting the couch up and around stairs, of course, is funny to anyone not involved (remember the "pivot!" shouts of Ross on Friends?).

Monday, August 19, 2019

Reader's Diary #2075- Therese Beharrie: The Wedding Ring

Therese Beharrie's short story "The Wedding Ring" is one of those stories where I just need to talk about the ending. Doing so here, of course, means I have to give away spoilers so feel free to clink on the link to the story and read it first.

It's about a heartbroken woman who sneaks into the wedding of her former lover. Clearly it's an emotional piece and I liked debating with myself whether or not she is a reliable narrator. At the end, she notes that her ex notices her briefly then lifts the veil to his new bride and kisses her and I have so many questions. Did he actually notice her and if so, is the kiss warranted (to send the message that his ex should move on) or cruel?

Monday, August 12, 2019

Reader's Diary #2074- Wm Lindmier: Human to Animal

The difference between pessimism and cynicism is fine to be sure, but if you compare the Saturday Night Live character Debbie Downer (pessimist) to the narrator in Wm Lindmier's short story "Human to Animal" (cynic) you'll likely have a better idea. Granted, both are ripe for some great dark comedy.

Jim-not-Jim, the narrator, is a security advisor for multiple nations as is paid to think up worst case scenarios. The verdict on whether or not this job has taken on its toll on Jim-not-Jim or if he's always been this way is still out. A favourite line of mine from the story, sees him in a room filled with Doctors Without Borders, who he refers to as, "All these other idiots eating little appetizers and telling stories about human-to-human outbreaks of drug-resistant tuberculosis in Somalia over free cocktails." Idiots!

Underneath it all, there's a theme of how easy it is, especially for us news junkies, to succumb to fear. The balance between preparedness and succumbing to paranoia is increasing difficult to maintain.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2073- Various writers and artists: Marvel Two-In-One Presents the Thing / Cry Monster

Marvel Two-In-One was a comic book series that lasted from the mid-70s to the early-80s and each issue featured the Thing teaming up with another superhero, or occasionally a villain.

I'm not the biggest fan of the Thing, and after this my impression of him as a meathead remains unchanged, but I did quite enjoy the premise. Collecting issues from 1973 to 1976, it took a lot of restraint not to peek ahead to see who the next partner would be but I knew that would ruin the surprise. While he teamed up with the usual and familiar characters (Thor, Iron Man, and so on), my favourites were those where he teamed up with lesser knowns: Tigra, Kazar, and even the Son of Satan.

Being the 70s though, the writing and art isn't as good as stuff being put out today, but for entertaining cheese you can't go wrong.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Reader's Diary #2072- Richard Wagamese: Runaway Dreams

Richard Wagamese's Runaway Dreams is one of the more traditional books of poetry I've read in a while; not in a Ojibwe tradition, or in a form poetry sense, just not as experimental as many I've read lately. And while I do like and admire experimental poetry, there was something comfortable about Richard Wagamese's carefully chosen words.

The themes themselves weren't always comfortable (racism, alcoholism, identity, abuse) but often they were (nostalgia, music) and they were always told with alluring imagery and invitation.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Reader's Diary #2071- Judy Blume: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

I recently did one of those "how many modern classics have you read" quizzes and there were a few on there that I wasn't sure whether or not I had read them. Perhaps I'd just forgotten? Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. was one that I'd heard a lot about and seems like something my sister would have had on her bookshelf growing up (which I raided frequently) so I thought maybe I had. I hadn't.

I can say this with confidence thanks to the "we must, we must, we must increase our bust" chant of Margaret and her prepubescent friends. I had a couple of roommates in university that would often recite this (followed by a fit of giggles) and I never knew where it was from. Twenty-odd years later and I'm finally in the loop!

Despite being quite far from the intended audience, I quite enjoyed the book. I'd heard enough to know that it was largely about Margaret being impatient for adolescence (for her period, more specifically), but I hadn't known of some of the other plots (drama with her grandparents, trying to find a religion). I quite enjoyed how well Blume balanced these.

I also enjoyed Margaret's voice, which to me rang authentic. Of course, never having been a girl at that age, I can't say that it really was, but based on the popularity of the book among girls, I'm assuming Blume pulled it off. I wonder too if it still sounds real to a modern girl or whether or not nostalgic moms pass it down.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Reader's Diary #2070- Scott O'Dell: Zia

It was some 12 years ago that I read Scott O'Dell's popular young adult book Island of the Blue Dolphins. I remembered that I'd enjoyed it at the time, though almost nothing else. I certainly didn't recall that Karana, the island castaway protagonist, was indigenous. I think this speaks volumes about the strides that have been made in the meantime in cultural appropriation awareness that one of the first questions I had was whether or not Scott O'Dell had any business telling this story. What kind and how much research did he do for authenticity? Did he attain permissions from cultural knowledge keepers?

While looking into this, I came upon Debbie Reese's critical analysis of Island of the Blue Dolphins which answers these questions and weighs in thoughtfully. While the specific examples are not from Zia, the sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins, many of the takeaways could be the same. The most generous of these would be that O'Dell was well-meaning, though inaccurate. That Island of the Blue Dolphins is entertaining should barely matter considering that better books, written by Indigenous people, exist.

That Zia isn't even that entertaining makes it even less necessary and I'm not surprised that it's been largely lost to history. Zia is Karana's niece and she is determined to make contact with her aunt after 18 years away. It sounds like it could be a good reunion story, or a compelling story about Karana's re-integration to living among people again after such a long time. Unfortunately the book is poorly paced, meandering here and there by ripping off books like the Old Man and the Sea and Moby Dick and taking forever to get around to Karana's return. When she does, it's anti-climactic and there's barely any interaction between Zia and her aunt.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Reader's Diary #2069- Eric Robert Nolan: Denver Disappeared Wednesday

I know it's a bit morbid to find stories of the end of the world fun, but I also know I'm not alone in feeling that way.

I would guess Eric Robert Nolan feels the same way based upon his flash fiction, "Denver Disappeared Wednesday."

There are, to be sure, heavier themes suggested: the dangers of war and technology being number one, but with the fast, relatively unexplored space of a few short paragraphs, it also revels in the aesthetics of a summer disaster flick.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Reader's Diary #2068- Kei Miller: Augustown

A friend of mine recommended Kei Miller's novel Augustown. Whenever a friend recommends a book, it's  nerve-wracking. What if I didn't like it and he wound up asking me what I thought? I was also hesitant that I'd need more of a knowledge of Jamaica in order to appreciate it.

The first fear was easily cast aside as I could tell early on that I was going to love it. The style was instantly engaging; unique perspective and delivery (touches of magical realism but not confusing like most books I've read that would fall under that description), rich imagery and defined voices, characters that felt real, and strong, provocative themes (classism, racism).

As for my lack of Jamaican culture interfering with my enjoyment or understanding, I say that it wasn't an issue, though I would also think it obvious that my friend appreciated it on many different levels than I seeing as he's from Kingston.

Of course, as readers it's almost a given that we'll compare and contrast books to our our own knowledge and experience. I found myself, for instance, comparing it to Michael Crummey's Galore, a novel set in Newfoundland and considering how both books presented history in mythical tones with the magic diminishing over time until the present day (though Miller also makes a subtle point about legacy and the keepers of knowledge, suggesting that it's not as simple as a downward slope on a graph.)

There was also a very significant plot point about a young Rastafarian boy having his hair cut as punishment from a teacher. As a boy in outport Newfoundland, hair was not of huge importance to me (unless mullets count), but I was able to better grasp the significance of that scene due to the stories we still sometimes here of white teachers cutting the hair of Indigenous boys right here in Canada.

It's a book that will stick with me for a long time.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Reader's Diary #2067- Motley Crue with Neil Strauss: The Dirt

There's a crap ton of rock books out there and I'm a sucker for all of them. Yet despite the Motley Crue autobiography The Dirt having the reputation as one of the wildest, I'd not read it. I suppose it may have been the recent Netflix adaptation that finally pushed me into doing so, but I've not seen that either-- but after reading the book, I'm not sure I want to.

Motley Crue reminds me of a close high school friend. We'd all claimed "our" bands; I was Metallica, Mike was Guns n' Roses, and Darryl was Motley Crue. It was most likely through Darryl that I grew an appreciation for Motley Crue, but I definitely never became a super fan. After The Dirt, I'm even less so.

Without a doubt, it's a book that kept drawing me in, though it quickly went from annoying to repulsive. There was all of Tommy Lee's adolescent bro talk, to delusions of grandeur (putting down other hair metal bands of the time despite that fact that they had just one great album in their entire run). Then we get to the rape, DUIs causing death, and spousal abuse.Truly awful stuff.

Even when they tried to show remorse for past actions, blaming a lot on drugs, it came across as insincere, still bragging about their wild exploits.

The most fascinating thing about it all is that they survived.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Reader's Diary #2066- Ian Couch: Asshole Island

With a title like "Asshole Island," you might assume this short story by Ian Couch has a Chuck Palahniuk/ Bret Easton Ellis sort of vibe. You'd be right.

It's about an uninhabited island of Vanuatu where people are sent as punishment for being "assholes." Not criminals necessarily, just jerks, and the narrator is one of them. It's amusing, though I suspect only tolerable in this very short form.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Reader's Diary #2065- David Stewart: Eau de Newfoundland

For a piece of flash fiction, there's almost a sensory overload in David Stewart's "Eau de Newfoundland" and this is a very good thing, indeed!

You get the smells (of the Atlantic-- which is one of the things us ex-pats miss the most), the visuals (majestic icebergs), and the sounds (I'll save this one as a surprise).

Plus, it's got charm and humour. It also features the word Newfie, which tends to rankle some feathers, but not me when it's used as it is here, without malice or connotations.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Reader's Diary #2064- Bridget Canning: Newfoundland and Labrador Considers How to Maintain its Romance

Bridget Canning's "Newfoundland and Labrador Considers How to Maintain its Romance" is actually part 2 of a series of flash fiction stories from Canning, but I think it largely works as a standalone.

I say largely because I did find it jarring when I first realized that the province is being personified. Not that there was anything wrong with that (Wayne Johnston also did it pretty effectively with Colony of Unrequited Dreams) I just wasn't expecting it and I wonder if Part 1 set it up better.

Still, it definitely captures it. The line "Those who've left you get served a lifetime of nagging desire, a leaky faucet of yearning they can't turn off" particularly resonated with me.

I'm also a sucker for stories written in the 2nd person.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Reader's Diary #2063- Seanan McGuire (writer), Rosi Kampe (artist): Spider-Gwen Ghost-Spider

Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider is an off-shoot of Christo Gage's Spider-Geddon run. There's a scene in the latter in which Spider-Gwen is zapped away and trapped in another parallel universe and this tells her her time away.

In this reality, she encounters another version of herself who has succumbed to the dark side, become a villain in the vein of the Green Goblin (Gwen-Goblin). Spider-Gwen agrees to help Peter Parker and Mary Jane capture Gwen-Goblin and revert her back to hero-dom. In return, they agree to get back to the universe where she left to help all the other Spider-people defeat the Inheritors.

The Gwen-Goblin story line is okay. And I suppose there's something to be said about how we can can be pushed or pulled by life into good/bad directions, even a message about redemption-- but really that's been explored in the Spider-Verse stories before. I thought the collection worked best, however, once that Gwen-Goblin arc ended and Spider-Gwen returned. It maybe didn't work as well at that point as a standalone but as an extension of Spider-Geddon, it revisited some of the deaths that occurred and gave them more emotional heft than we'd been given previously.

The art wasn't my favourite. It reminded me somewhat of Howard Chaykin's work, of which I'm not a fan. His line work especially looked rushed. For the most part it wasn't that bad but some panels were real doozies.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Reader's Diary #2062- D. Boyd: Chicken Rising

When my wife first started coming home from university with and meeting my parents, she was taken aback somewhat by our tone with one another. We were loud, snippy, and some mornings if we were up before her, she'd awake thinking, to our surprise, that we were in an argument.

In D. Boyd's memoir about growing up in New Brunswick, she doesn't mention the volume of her parents voices, but they seemed loud. They also seemed, at times, a bit cruel. Usually finding fault, that sort of thing. I related to that as well.

But Boyd recalls it all with lots of humour, glimpses of insightfulness, and love. Her mother eventually develops more as a character and we see the softer side. Her dad, not so much, though nothing comes across as bitter even if it's clear that Boyd still doesn't agree with many of their parenting choices.

The art is great, simple but with just enough exaggeration and expressiveness to sell the emotions and humour and great use of details and shading to highlight her great talent.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2061- Jody Houser (writer), Stefano Martino (artist): Stranger Things the Other Side

Yes, like many others, I'm a fan of Netflix's The Stranger Things. Still working my way through the third season, but it's been great so far. The third episode may be one of the best they've ever done.

Wondering what we'll do when it eventually ends, I was pleased to see that Dark Horse comics picked up the comic book rights as the sci-fi/fantasy/80's homage series seems tailor made for comics.

And so far so good with Jody Houser and Stefano Martino's The Stranger Things: The Other Side graphic novel. This story revisits the first season of the show, but from a different angle; showing Will's adventure in the Upside Down. A couple of notes on that:

1. If you haven't seen the show, you likely have no idea what I meant by "the Upside Down" and likewise, I'm not sure that the book can standalone.

2. Houser totally nails the tone of the show. I am curious though about stories beyond the show and if they (Dark Horse, Jody Houser if she's still on board) ability to tell brand new stories. This one's plot doesn't break new ground.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Reader's Diary #2060- Gay Degani: Abbreviated Glossary

Gay Degani's "Abbreviated Glossary" is a flash fiction unlike no other. Well, maybe. I was reminded in a couple of ways of Hemingway's classic "Baby Shoes." Imagine that story as a blink in a series of life.

It's powerful and speaks volumes about life's rapid fires. It's told in chunks but they fuse together almost miraculously.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Reader's Diary #2059- Christos Gage (writer), various artists: Spider-Geddon

I do enjoy the Spider-Verse, the idea of many Spider-People, variations on a Spider-Man theme across multiverses coming together. I enjoy it actually a lot more than I thought I would, initially fearing it would result in a too-crowded world and losing sight of solo characters. The movie especially showed that such concerns could be overcome, but I also enjoyed the Spider-Verse comics collection from a few years back.

I didn't, however, find Spider-Geddon to be as successful. First off, it's really just a rehash of Spider-Verse. There are a couple of new fun characters (a favourite is Spiders-Man, a massive mound of live spiders in the shape of Spider-Man and collectively acting, er...somewhat, as the singular hero) but this time around it does feel too busy. It's hard to even care about the familiar ones when their masks never come off and they only get a line here or there let alone connect to the newbies. Even the villains, the vampire-esque Inheritors are lackluster this time around. Especially annoying was their tendency to dismiss the Spider-people as non-threats when clearly they were defeated before. Now instead of making them seem threatening, they just come across as stupid.

More appealing for me were the one-off stories in the Spider-Vault at the end, showing some of the new Spider variations in action in their own universes. These felt more creative and finally meant to do some character development.

)As a side note, has their ever been a Spider-Man variation who was LGBT or Q? How about one that wasn't able-bodied?)

Friday, July 05, 2019

Reader's Diary #2058- Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan: Surviving the City

Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan's Surviving the City isn't long at 54 pages; more of a comic than a graphic novel, but like a good short story manages to fit a lot of great ideas in.

It deals with two teenage indigenous girls in Winnipeg, best friends. But one of them runs away, leaving the other devastated and worried. The streets are full of dangers.

It touches on a lot of themes and topics including Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, systemic/colonial racism and danger, friendship, and cultural customs. In that regard, there's no doubt that the book was intended to educate. But the story is strong and enthralling and the art is rich and engaging in terms of colours and symbolism.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2057- Various artists and writers: This Place

This Place: 150 Years Retold is a collection of comics by various indigenous artists and writers. The "150 Years" is primarily a response to the colonial Canada 150 celebrations and it's all sort of brilliant that "Canada" doesn't appear in the title.The retelling, it could easily be argued, is about filling in conveniently ignored gaps in Canada's history and setting the record straight on some misconceptions and outright lies.

Each comic is drawn by a different team and addresses pivotal moments in First Nations, Metis, and Inuit history from 150 years ago up to the present and even beyond. Accompanying each story is an intro by the writer and a time line.

Clearly there's an educational intent of the collection but thankfully it doesn't come across as one of those Stay in School/ Don't Smoke / Beware of STIs type comics often foisted upon young readers because "comics are cool". The art and writing is typically incredible.

As a collection of course, there are bound to be ones you're more drawn to than others (for me Richard Van Camp's writing stood out, as did GMB Chomichuk's art) and there was a huge variety in styles and approaches and moods. There's anger, there's hope, there's laughter, there are tears.

It's all around a very solid anthology of artistic talent from "this place" filled with crucial stories.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Reader's Diary #2056- Frank Tieri (writer), various artists: Jughead the Hunger, Volume One

Archie Comics' horror line continues its surprisingly good run with Jughead: The Hunger series written by Frank Tieri and drawn by Michael Walsh, Pat and Tim Kennedy, and Joe Eisma. For me the 2 best horror comics they've put out has been the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Afterlife with Archie, but this is pretty decent too.

It sees Jughead as a werewolf, and with the subtitle "The Hunger" I suppose he's the obvious choice, but he was the main zombie in Afterlife with Archie, so I'd like to see another character have a starring role. Though it was a nice touch to have Betty Cooper as an undercover werewolf hunter.

On that note, I think the book managed to balance the old-school horror vibe with more modern sensibilities (making Betty a kick-ass, Buffy-type character). It's also got a little of the typical cornball humour that is trademark for Archie Comic, but the creative team was also not afraid to go for the more mature gore.

The art is pretty good, especially with the dark colours and panels typically in monochromatic reds or oranges. Similar to Afterlife in that regard.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Reader's Diary #2055- Roselynn Akukuluk and Danny Christopher (writers); Astrid Arijanto (artist): Putuguq and Kublu and the Qalupalik!

Roselynn Kulukjuk and Danny Christopher's Putuguq and Kublu and the Qalupalik is a perfect graphic novel for early readers. Telling a story of the mythical sea monster that garbs children who wander too close to cracks in the sea ice, they strike just the right balance of fun and scares.

For Inuit children, I'm sure it's great to see their own culture represented while non-Inuit children would also benefit from learning about other cultures. (Some may have already had exposure to this particular creature through the Robert Munsch / Michael Kusugak collaboration A Promise is a Promise).

Astrid Arijanto's art works wonderfully with the story, capturing the prettiness of a Nunavut spring landscape with simple but friendly and highly expressive characters that reminded me somewhat of Fisher Price Little People.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Reader's Diary #2054- ​Téa Mutonji: The Doctor's Visit

If you've ever gone to a mental health professional, there's a good chance you'll recognize the resistance of Kate, the roommate of the narrator in Téa Mutonji's short story "The Doctor's Visit" who recounts her first visit to a psychiatrist.The first time the doctor says anything close to a cliche, Kate balks. Dismisses her as an uncaring, quack.

What I found most interesting is that the verdict is really still out on this doctor but the point seems more about recognizing how difficult it is to take that first step for help. I imagine, as is the case with Kate, it's even more so when that there's trauma as an underlying cause.

Finally, I also enjoyed comparing Kate's friend to the doctor. Though the narrator has given Kate lots of advice prior to the visit (even what beverages she should drink), when Kate begins to tell her story, the narrator simply listens. It would seem, at least from this early stage, that the friend may play a key role in Kate's healing as well.

Mutonji has done a remarkable job capturing complex human emotions.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Reader's Diary #2053- Tom King (writer), Mitch Gerads (artist): Mister Miracle

Mister Miracle isn't the first superhero comic to contrast superhero life with domestic life. Off the top of my head, Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman did it with Animal Man, Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez did it with Spider-Woman, and Tom King himself did it before with Vision (drawn by Gabriel Hernandez Walta). I'll admit that I'm a sucker for these kinds of stories and it's particularly easy to be a sucker when they're as good as Mister Miracle. It's also no wonder that King and Mitch Gerads won Eisner Awards for best writer and best artist respectively.

Mister Miracle isn't the most well known superhero, and if I'd encountered him before now, I didn't recall. Originally created by Jack Kirby in the early 70s, he's an alien to Earth from the planet New Genesis who acts as a stage performing escape artist. He's immortal and has the usual superhero abilities (strength, speed, smarts, and stamina). He's also romantically linked to Big Barda, a reformed supervillain.

In this story, Mister Miracle and Big Barda are trying to move past their dark past (Mister Miracle was raised as the evil Darkseid's adopted heir) but a war affecting their birth planets and their friends keeps calling them back. Laid out like that, the plot seems simple enough. But it's so much more.

Infused in this are rich, provocative themes handled with maturity and philosophy; depression, reality, and nature vs. nurture to name but a few. And all of this is balanced out with wit and slapstick. It's a damned funny book to boot.

All of which would be fine enough as it is, but Gerads' art matches the writing panel by panel. It's a mastercraft of a book and should be taught alongside Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. Especially great is the way he breaks the "rules" for effect. Blurriness gives particular panels glitchy-vibes showing Mister Miracle's tenuous grip on reality and peace. Darkseid's evil legacy cannot be contained in a single panel. Words and scenes betray one another as Mister Miracle and Big Barda risk life and death breaking into Darkseid's lair all while debating kitchen renovations, effectively showing how even the adventure-stuff is just par for the course for these two.

If I read a better comic than this this year, I'll have read two genius books.