Pages

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.