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 times. 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.