Monday, March 18, 2019

Reader's Diary #2018- Maggie Bolitho: Same Old

There's something about Flash Fiction, perhaps that their length is typical of jokes and punchlines, that makes twist endings particularly common.

I'm not 100 percent sold on the twist of Maggie Bolitho's "Same Old" because I questioned for a second that a character was actually a dog and maybe I'm an idiot, but I did appreciate the tone (lightly dark and funny is always good) and that Bolitho shared the writing prompt that led to the story in case we want to play along at home.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Reader's Diary #2017- Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose (writers), various artists: Hungry Ghosts

I'll be upfront that I may have misjudged Anthony Bourdain, a little too harshly, a little ignorantly. Based solely on commercials for Parts Unknown, I had decided his was an arrogant prick. Since his suicide however, the more I've heard about him, the more I feel I was way off the mark. He seems at least to have been a pretty nice guy, and perhaps even a progressive, really nice guy.

I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that he'd written a horror graphic novel. Partnering with Jose Rose, this is a collection of tales framed as being told by a group of chefs, each one trying to out do the last. Various well-known artists take turns illustrating.

It had a very strong Tales From the Crypt vibe, which was intentional according to Rose's afterword. As most fans of that series could tell you, this means that it's more often gruesome and darkly comedic rather than really scary, but a lot of fun. Also like Tales From the Crypt, some stories are clearly better than others. The weaker ones here suffered from Saturday Night Live syndrome in their weak endings.

The art was consistently strong and not as jarring in style as you might expect despite featuring work by people I typically admire (such as Francesco Francavilla of Afterlife with Archie) and by people I'm normally not particularly fond of (such as Paul Pope of Battling Boy).

I do wonder though how Japanese people would feel about Bourdain telling these stories largely based on Japanese folklore.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Reader's Diary #2016- Hugh Behm-Steinberg: Taylor Swift

Hugh Behm-Steinberg's flash fiction "Taylor Swift" is quirky and funny, no doubt about it. It's based on a world where people can online order clones of Taylor Swift to be delivered right to their door. Many people have a few Swifts knocking about, some of whom are used as servants, some for sex, some for entertainment.

Underneath it all though there's a sinister statement about fame and one's transition from person to product, about how we're all guilty of this to some extent. I found myself wondering what Swift herself would think. Some people love marketing themselves, some regret the loss of privacy that arises while pursuing their art as a business. Of course, Behm-Steinberg isn't the first to philosophize about the situation (arguably this was the point of Kanye West's Famous video which also featured Swift) but it has to be one of the more amusing takes.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2015- Yvan Alagbé, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith: Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures

The art work in Yvan Alagbé's Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures is unlike anything I've encountered before. The black ink is heavy and rough but there's still a grace to the linework, especially the curves. It's artistic and simultaneously challenging and inviting.

The stories themselves I found to be mostly incoherent. Panel by panel, I could, and sometimes did, take it to be much like visiting an art gallery. They were provocative and left a lot of room for interpretation. However, when hints that they were supposed to be part of a larger narrative arose I found it more frustrating. There were gaps in the plot, it wasn't always clear who was speaking, and so on.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Reader's Diary #2014- Gord Hill: The Antifa Comic Book

Gord Hill's illustrations in The Antifa Comic Book reminded me a lot of Ed Piskor's in his Hip Hop Family Tree. As a fan of that series, this is a good thing. However, it also made me compare the writing. Piskor slows down the history of hip hop to a snail's pace and in doing so, he's able to better flesh out the characters and stories to make it all more palatable, more than a simple timeline of facts. Hill however covers all the way from World War 1 to the present in 127 pages and at times it's near impossible to keep track of all of the various fascist and anti-fascist groups.

It's still a good, educational read. I appreciated in particular the way that he destroyed the myth that Europe and North America is civilized (compared to the rest of the world, as was implied during my own schooling and upbringing). I also thought it quite fascinating and worthy of noting how many groups co-opt positive or progressive sounding names for their fascist, right-wing, racist ideologies.

Fascism itself is a term that I've never fully understood beyond a catch-all definition for asshole dictatorships. However, Hill does an excellent job defining it on the very first page and if readers don't think immediately of Trump they're quite frankly idiots and/or fascists themselves.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Reader's Diary #2013- Brett Milano: Vinyl Junkies

When I first got into record collecting a couple or so years back, I was very eager to grow my collection fast but despite a vinyl resurgence there was still nowhere to buy in Yellowknife, except the occasional rare find at yard sales. Then I saw that someone had taken out an ad in the local classified looking to either sell, buy, or trade records. Paydirt!

However, after a rather long and awkward phone conversation I had determined that I'd never be paying a visit to his home, let alone flipping through his collection. No matter what gems he may have had. He was a completely different kind of collector, a serious collector, and me? I just wanted some good stuff to listen to.

In Vinyl Junkies, Brett Milano tries to make the case that even those who don't think they're serious collectors usually are, or at least have a bigger problem than they're willing to admit. After reading about some of the collectors he describes, I'm not convinced.

The thing is, I'm not an audiophile. With some exceptions, I can rarely tell the difference between an mp3 and a vinyl track. I don't have a top of the line turntable and the one I have is hooked up to a small single speaker. I'm also not interested in making money off of my collection, I'm not looking for rare foreign pressings. But I do like the object. I do like listening to a whole album (or at least a whole side) again. Collecting takes me back to my youth somewhat when I collected cassettes and then CDs. And my collection shows my nostalgic bent: I have classic albums that predate me and I've got a few from the past 5 or so years, but my interest is really in getting 90s albums on vinyl, a large number of which were never even originally distributed on such a medium. So far I've gotten Oasis, Nirvana, Tragically Hip, Tori Amos, Bjork, Weezer, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Pearl Jam and my list of must-haves from that decade is much, much longer. Bored yet? Than Brett Milano's Vinyl Junkies is definitely not for you.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2012- Madeline Ashby: Domestic Violence

While I quite enjoyed Madeline Ashby's short story "Domestic Violence," the world-building, the characters, it felt like I read it before or was it a Black Mirror episode? Or am I mixing up a couple of things. In any case, it rendered the twist at the end a little ineffective as I saw it coming, but the story was engaging and provocative enough up to that point for it not to matter.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2011- Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man

I know schools have a bad reputation for ruining novels but Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man is one I wish I'd read in such an environment.

Featuring the perspectives of a black man in 1930s U.S., it was hard at times for me to fully grasp the significance of the setting. How would it compare to today? At times characters came across as caricatures; was this intentional or just the 21st Century, Canadian white male lens?

This is not to say I didn't enjoy the book because I did a great deal. I suspect there are a lot of important themes that readers could take away but for me, and especially relevant to our current times, the idea of maintaining/submitting our identity while assisting progressive groups was especially provocative. Sometimes it feels like you have to agree with every single stance of a group or else you're a traitor to the cause. You must become invisible to an extent. (For the unfamiliar, Ellison uses "invisible" in the figurative sense and the book should not be confused with the sci-fi The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells.)

I was also equal parts compelled by and frustrated by the narrator's point of view. I don't recall ever feeling as claustrophobic with such a perspective before. It was so insular, so void of outside interpretation or details it could become confusing at time. Yet, it was also effective for those very reasons; if the narrator was bewildered, then so was I! Never have I had first person pov feel so much like a second person narrative.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Reader's Diary #2010- Shauntay Grant (writer), Eva Campbell (illustrator): Africville

I have a bit of an unfair aversion to serious/sentimental children's picture books. Way back during my teacher training I had a children's lit prof who poo-pooed all the fun, silly children's books I liked as a kid in favour of those with heartwarming messages and watercolours. I've finally come to accept that there's room for both kinds of books but I still have a residual resistance to the latter, the stuff that I know she would have liked.

Africville, I imagine, would have been more of her scene. The art is realistic and rich (I'd guess oil pastels, but I'm not sure) and the grain of the canvas showing through adds an additional heftiness. Text-wise, it's a bit of a non-rhyming poem, with just a few lines on each page loosely telling a story of a child visiting Africville and having fun.

There are end notes, however, that better explain the context. Without those, I'm not sure I'd have appreciated the book the same and that makes me a little more skeptical that the book works all that well. But maybe everyone who picks it up would be likely to read the notes. In which case, it's a fascinating and important part of Canadian history and culture that more people should be aware of.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Reader's Diary #2009- Sherrie Flick: Canoe

Sherrie Flick's "Canoe" is a perfectly paced short story about death, grief, and its impact on one's personality. It's about a woman who's unexpected inheritance from her deceased father sees her making some important, life-changing decisions.

I'm not entirely clear on the ending though. There's a hint of some danger, but maybe not. In any case, I enjoyed the story up to that point.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Reader's Diary #2008- Wilfred Buck: Tipiskawi Kisik

It took moving to Nunavut as an adult for me to first hear Inuit stories and beliefs about the northern lights, though growing up I heard plenty Greek and Roman mythologies concerning celestial bodies. This fact was not lost on Wilfred Buck who had a similar school experience despite being from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. Thankfully Buck is one of many indigenous writers who are reclaiming and sharing traditional knowledge, recognizing that it is every bit as relevant as those European stories, if not more, to great swaths of people.

In Tipiskawi Kisik: Night Sky Star Stories Buck offers a brief but packed look at a Cree perspective of the stars which includes their scientific understanding and traditional use (navigation and calendars, for example) and cultural significance, including their own constellation names and stories. Sometimes this shared similarities with the colonial teachings I'd heard growing up and sometimes it presented new ideas completely new to me and in both cases I found it very interesting.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Reader's Diary #2007- Rebecca Higgins: The White Stain

I absolutely loved Rebecca Higgins short story "The White Stain" and it's one of those rare stories I think I could read again and again and get something different each time.

It tells a story of Lee Krasner, the widowed partner of Jackson Pollock, and her social life shortly following his death. Like one of her (or his) paintings, the story should be a bit of a mess considering the number of themes splattered on the page, but it doesn't read as abstract expressionism at all, but rather a straightforward story with a lot of complexities should one look.

For me, I focused this time around on identity and how it changes once one enters into couple-hood and what it means when half of that couple eventually dies. But one could focus on fame, patriarchy, and a whole bunch of other rich topics explored here and not be disappointed.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Reader's Diary #2006- Ben Rankel: Frank

Ben Rankel's Frank is a graphic novel, historical fiction account of a bit of Albertan history previously unknown to me. Frank doesn't refer to a person but rather a town that was all but wiped out in 1903 under the deadliest rock slide in Canadian history.

Rather than simply tell that tale however, Rankel adds in a bit of a murder mystery. I admire the ambition and creativity behind it, but I wasn't crazy about the execution which relied on somewhat clumsy exposition near the end. I did enjoy the complex characters though.

The art is highly stylized in a trendy, quirky style, that reminded me both of Herge's Tintin and Alexander Forbes' The Case of the Missing Men. It's not a style that I'm particularly drawn to but I do feel the vintage feel fit the setting.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Reader's Diary #2005- Gertrude Stein: The Gentle Lena

I was not expecting Gertrude Stein's short story "the Gentle Lena" to be so... odd. And it's odd for a bunch of ways. There's her penchant for adjectives, and in particular "german" as a descriptor, which I was never sure how to interpret, what I was suppose to denote. There was the constant repetition. There was the cynicism.

I found it all, to be honest, relentlessly and almost unbearably stifling. I suppose this may have been how the titular Lena was supposed to feel?

It's not entirely uninteresting and I suppose it captured well the pressure and insistence on marriage as a cultural norm back in the day. But holy hell, it was a slog.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Reader's Diary #2004- Agatha Christie: The Mousetrap

What a fun play!

I've never seen an adaptation of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this whodunnit. The characters themselves are varied, interesting (a gay character in 1954?!), and sometimes funny, but no one seemed to be having as much fun as Christie herself who seemed to delight in dishing out clues and false clues to toy with the audience.

I was pleasantly surprised to figure out the culprit on my own but not overly proud as I suspected everyone at some point. 

Monday, February 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2003- Melanie Harding-Shaw: Big Brother

We've definitely come a long way with mental illness and no doubt a large part of that is the encouragement of folks to talk about their own struggles. This, we know, helps lessens the stigma. But what if people were forced to open up?

Melanie Harding-Shaw's flash fiction "Big Brother" hints at such a scenario as we encounter a new mother wearing a flashing emotion-monitor on her wrist. On the surface, it could be taken as a hopeful story as we may believe the mother, and her baby, will get help and the risks to both will be minimized. However the title and final sentence suggest that maybe the pendulum has swung too far.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2002- Mary Robinette Kowal: Evil Robot Monkey

I kind of love Mary Robinette Kowal's short story "Evil Robot Monkey" as it presents a bit of a twist from the Planet of the Apes scenario in which intelligent apes behave like humans. The chimp in this story has indeed undergone a procedure to increase his intelligence, but he ain't no human. This puts him in a bit of a no man's land between the two species and therefore quite a compelling story. There's even a bit of a friendship angle that's expertly developed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Reader's Diary #2001- William Shakespeare (writer), Julien Choy (art): Macbeth

Graphic novel adaptations of scripts seems like a match made in heaven. The dialogue is already there and the artist gets to create visuals that arguably couldn't even be accomplished on a stage.

For a Shakespeare adaptation that lends itself to adaptation that is likely better understood by readers. In this case the original and full text of Shakespeare is kept in tact, so I still wouldn't suggest it's easy, but the visuals by Julien Chan certainly help clarify much of what is going on. I cannot say that I was particularly fond of the character looks and skilled actors would certainly be better adept at conveying emotion, but I did quite like the backgrounds and scenes where metaphorical elements and allusions were drawn out.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Reader's Diary #2001- Matt Blackwood: Blink

Matt Blackwood's short story "Blink" deals with a reporter covering a protest and while it's an intense, fast scene, there's still time for him to have a bit of an existential, professional crisis. He's reflecting on what got him into the profession, the ethics, and then he has an epiphany which guides his next move.

Not being a reporter I cannot state whether or not it's an accurate reflection of the career, but it certainly felt real and of course, many of us even in other professions go through such doubts and moments of reflection.

It's a powerful, smartly paced piece.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Reader's Diary #2000- Shea Fontana (writer), Yancey Labat (artist): DC SuperHero Girls Search for Atlantis

Late last year I read and wasn't greatly impressed with Shea Fontana and Yancey's DC SuperHero Girls: Date with Disaster but I've given the series another shot with Search for Atlantis.

I still didn't love it but it was better. The story for one was tighter, more focused. This time around Atlantis has gone missing and the girls must find it while a subplot involving jealousy and friendship plays out. Once again I enjoyed reading about some characters I'm not greatly familiar with (Braniac, Raven, Beast Boy, and Miss Martian in particular) and, unfortunately, I haven't come around on Labat's Bratz-doll styled characters. It was entertaining though.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Reader's Post #1999- Arun Budhathoki: Fighting the Cold

Arun Budhathoki's short story "Fighting the Cold" begins on a very negative note: "This village makes me sick."

But it's powerful and a good indication of the strong voice employed throughout. Before long, however, we see scattered hints that this may not be his usual demeanour but rather a man spiraling down after a tragedy.

Thankfully(?) there is a reprieve toward the end.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Reader's Diary #1998- Peter J. Tomasi (writer), Sara Duvall (artist): The Bridge

I went to see and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge when I visited New York so it's maybe hypocritical of me to suppose that a book about the creators of the bridge would be boring. In the end, it wasn't so bad.

It certainly started off meeting my negative expectations but largely that was due to the original bridge designer's rather uptight personality and his restrained relationship with his son. However, once he died and his son took over and also married a woman who was a lot more personable, the book seemed to come alive a little more. There's some excitement and danger, especially when workers started dying or getting ill due to accidents and air pressure, but I've read books about mining, about the building of the Basilica in St. John's, and so the stories weren't completely unique or unexpected.

The art is bright and crisp, reminding me of 80s/90s era Disney or perhaps closer to home, Scott Chantler's work.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #1997- Alan Doyle: Where I Belong

I found it remarkable reading Alan Doyle's memoir Where I Belong that I'd find the life of a Catholic, musician and hockey player so similar to my own. In some spots, I'd suggest that if I ever feel the need to write my own memoirs, for some chapters I can simply refer people to his book.

Most similarities came from the fact that we both lived in outport Newfoundland as children. He cut cod tongues, I cut cut cod tongues. He picked capelin, I picked capelin. His father would pseudo-scald him with his hot tea spoon, my father would pseudo-scald me with a hot tea spoon.

Of course similarities aside, it's also wonderful read and even those with remarkably different upbringings will likely find it engaging and enlightening. Doyle has a witty charm that would likely appeal to readers of all stripes.

Where I Belong, subtitled Small Town to Great Big Sea ends just as he's about to find success with the folk-rock band that made him famous. Given how much I enjoyed this one, I'll definitely give his follow-up A Newfoundlander in Canada a go.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Reader's Diary #1996- Jerome Stueart: For a Look at New Worlds

Jerome Stueart's short "For a Look at New Worlds" was an instantly engaging piece of sci-fi with a well-developed and entirely plausible world involving Mars colonization and holograms. Plus it has a rich emotional story preventing it from being all bells and whistles. I did wonder how others might feel about a character's comparison to her personal situation to the bombing of Hiroshima: is this akin to ill-advised comparison of unlikeable people to Hitler? Or is it fair game/ appropriate in this story?