Monday, April 29, 2019

Reader's Diary #2027- Gary Newhook: How a Small Newfoundland Town is Saving Canada's Urban Middle Class

Gary Newhook's "How a Small Newfoundland Town is Saving Canada's Urban Middle Class"is a flash fiction story prompted by 1949 newspaper article titled, "How a Small Newfoundland Town is Saving Canada." However it's set in the current day.

Itself told as a newspaper article, it seems to present the situation of mainlanders snapping up cheap property on the island as a symbiotic relationship. However, as this is barely fiction, many real life Newfoundlanders today recognize the sly subtext in the story, subtle hints that the short term gains of locals may have dire consequences down the road. Not symbiotic, but parasitic.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Reader's Diary #2026- M. Shayne Bell: The Thing About Benny

M. Shayne Bell's "The Thing About Benny" is a short story with a bit of a science fiction edge, though it's hardly unfathomable. It deals with a world and time where the Earth's plant species are going extinct and two botanists are in search of plants that people are raising in their homes and offices but are no longer found in the wild.

Giving the story an extra quirky and interesting angle is that one of the botanists is named Benny (like Benny Andersson) and obsessed with Abba. He draws inspiration in his detective/science work from listening to their songs on repeat.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Reader's Diary #2025- Gail MacMillan: Ghost of Winters Past

I've not read a lot of romance, a few more lately perhaps, but still not a lot. So I'm still not in a place to really know: are romance books supposed to be cheesy? Are they usually? And if so, is that part of the fun? I can get behind that. Characters and situations in Gail MacMillan's Ghost of Winters Past are a little over the top. The villains are villains, plot contrivances abound,  the couple who disdain each other at first come to fall for each other by the end, and it's all rather soap operaish (if soap operas were set in the wilderness of New Brunswick). I can respect this being someone's thing. It's entertaining and there are even themes of higher significance if one cared to look (toxic masculinity, for example).

For the most part then, I went with the flow. But this is not to say I enjoyed everything. My largest issue was with the bizarre introduction of a helpful First Nations ghost at the beginning and end of the book. I say bizarre because it uses an unfortunate trope (the ancient, magical "Indian") and is wholly unnecessary to the plot.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Reader's Diary #2024- Konstantinos Poulis: The Leonardo DiCaprio of Exarcheia

While I'm not usually a fan of dream sequences in fiction, I think they were used to good effect in Konstantino Poulis's short story, "The Leonard DiCaprio of Exarcheia" as they really gave insight into the main character's psyche. They also lead to some provocative questions as to whether or not they are causing his unhappiness or rather a symptom. Questions about ambition and drive, while universal themes, are contrasted against the uniquely Greek setting.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2023- David Byrne: How Music Works

I'd consider myself a part-time fan of David Byrne. Beyond a few singles (Talking Heads and solo work), I'm not overly familiar with his music and definitely not the man. For all that, I managed to have an idea of him that wasn't supported by reading his book How Music Works.

Not that the book is really an autobiography (he does, however, use anecdotes and examples from his own life and career to illustrate his points), but I'd pegged him as decidedly more avant-garde than he comes across in his writing style. He's certainly artistic but his ideas are expressed very lucidly and with scientific, economic, and historic support.

It's a fascinating book for both fans of music and musicians themselves delving into a whole slew of music related topics. On that note, I suppose the title doesn't exactly capture the theme of the book but nor is there a single theme besides music. It's really a series of essays each with their own angle, ranging from the business side to the cultural growth of music. I think one of my favourite takeaways from the whole book is the way we tend to create constraints for music, whether intentional or or not, and yet we find a way to create music despite it all and fitting for the various contexts.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Reader's Diary #2022- Carson McCullers: Wunderkind

Carson McCullers' short story "Wunderkind" is about a young girl whose confidence in her piano playing abilities has been shaken. Once spoken of as gifted, it seems that she and her piano teacher are now having doubts. It doesn't help that one of her peers, who'd also been referred to as such, seems to actually be living up to his reputation.

So many rich themes to explore her: envy, confidence, changes in life direction, and so forth. As a former teacher, I also found myself thinking of how hard it was for me to teach English language arts. Once a favourite subject of mine, one where some of my own teachers heaped praise, I found that I just couldn't teach it and didn't particularly enjoy teaching it. Once you got past the technical side, how did one teach creativity? Not something in which I ever felt successful.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Reader's Diary #2021: Youssef Dadudi: Monk!

Jazz is one of the few musical forms I haven't been able to get really into. I respect it (the talent, the artistry) but sometimes I find it difficult and I really need to be in the mood to give it a try. But I do try. While reading Youssef Dadudi's graphic novel biography of jazz legend Thelonius Monk I listened to his music and I must say, they went together quite well.

There's real movement in Dadudi's art, some experimentation, some improvisation with both the art and story telling, but also real substance and defined personality. Perhaps some Will Eisner, perhaps some Toulouse Lautrec influences? There's a flow to all of it, a rhythm and style. It's largely accessible though.

Monk himself is pinned down I suppose as much as a naturally enigmatic man like him could be; he came across as loyal friend, fast-thinking sometimes impatient genius with a better knack of communicating through music than words, sometimes crippled by mental illness, and sometimes a cliche. He sometimes comes across as the quintessential jazz stereotype with his "cool cat" lingo, his sunglasses-goatee-funky-hat appearance, and all his talk about the notes you don't hear being so damned important.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Reader's Diary #2021- Alex Murchison: Into Blue

Delving into the world of photocomics last year, I was excited to stumble upon Prince Edward Island photographer Alex Murchison's Into Blue: Circumstances and Fate on a Summer Day.

It's a short book that falls somewhere between a picture book (though aimed at adults) and a comic. It doesn't have all of the usual comic book features (lacking speech balloons and gutters, for example) but it does have sequential pictures and more than one photo per page which are pretty much equivalent to panels. There is text in the sidebars that tell a story but in conjunction with the photos.

The photos are quite well done; crisp, and artistic, with an great actress/model helping capture some of the emotion. The photography itself also convey emotion especially with the lighting turning darker as the story delves into darker content.

It is a story about a woman seeming to take an innocent stroll along a beach. She soon, however, happens upon an unpleasant mystery and in turn is reminded that she too was trying to escape from something unpleasant in her own life.A downer? Perhaps, but still adroitly told.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Reader's Diary #2020- Ellie Scott: But It's Only Rock and Roll

Ellie Scott's flash fiction "But It's Only Rock and Roll" isa light-hearted, quick story about a middle aged couple going out for a fun night of karaoke and re-living some of their wonder years. The man is the singer, the woman is his fan.

It's also, for me at least, a story about confidence and the attraction that brings.