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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Reader's Diary #2146- Andrea Warner: Buffy Sainte-Marie

Anyone who follows me on other social media, likely knows that my other pop-culture love, outside of books, is rock music. And very specifically, I'm a bit of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame junky. Like other followers of that institution, I have my list of snubs that should be in but I'd not given much thought Buffy Sainte-Marie before and honestly it's just simply that I hadn't been exposed enough to her, her music, or her legacy.

After reading Andrea Warner's biography though, I've filled up my phone with Sainte-Marie's songs I need to listen to, realize that a large part of the reason I'm so in the dark about her music is by design (it's revealed that she was blacklisted from much tv and radio just as her career should have been exploding largely due to her race, gender, and activism), and that Buffy Sainte-Marie belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I should also say that Warner's biography is one of the best I've read, regardless of the subject. Too often I've read biographies that pretend they're not biased when they're really about either exposing a bad side or promoting an artist. Warner is upfront that she's a fan. But she's not a fawning fan. She analyzes Saint-Marie's work with critical depth and uses Sainte-Marie's own words to push the narrative forward (as close to an autobiography as you could get without being one). It's balanced, enlightening, inspiring, and engaging. I really felt I got a sense of Buffy Sainte-Marie and her music even without yet having a chance to go back and explore her music more fully.

One of the biggest surprises for me personally were the the number of musicians that covered her songs, especially back in the 60s, including the likes of Cher and Elvis Presley, though even Hole covered one of her songs in the 90s. I think this in itself shows how much of an influence and how great a songwriter she was.

Of course, beyond that, her tireless activism, especially for the rights and recognition of indigenous peoples are even more of a reason she should be in the Rock Hall (which is also in dire need of more diversity).


Monday, March 30, 2020

Reader's Diary #2145- Kate Mosse: The House on the Hill


There's a delicate balance in creating a classic ghost story vibe and something original. On the one hand, you know certain elements have become entrenched in readers' minds as creepy and you'd be a fool not to rely on some of them. On the other hand, if you're just going to throw out one horror story trope after another it loses its appeal after a while.

Unfortunately, Kate Mosse's "The House on the Hill" does not find the balance and is a colour-by-numbers horror story. The most annoying detail is a dollhouse, a miniature version of a haunted house, which has a mysterious light inside just like the real one. My god, how many times have we seen that.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Reader's Diary #2145- Mark Manson: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

I hardly ever read self-help books and didn't go looking one for one this time around for any big reason; I began it before the Covid-19 craziness and I'm more content in my life now than I've ever been, but a couple of guy friends mentioned this book to me in passing recently and as books don't often come up amongst my guy friends, I decided to see what drew them to it.

While I've read a few positive reviews of the book written by women, the book very much felt like a book for guys: the course language (it's not actually gratuitous as the title much suggest though), the no-nonsense, tone. And to further generalize, it's also from the perspective of a straight, white, middle-class male. So while I did agree personally with a lot of his insights and arguments, I'm not entirely sure those not in his demographic would agree or find it useful. I mean the gist of his argument is that we'd be happier if we took the hard times in life as opportunities and if we refocused our values, so maybe those concepts are universal. Who am I to say? It's still pretty entertaining though even if one doesn't take away any profound life changes.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Reader's Diary #2144- Arthur C. Clarke: Quarantine


I enjoy a lot of short stories with an unexpected twist or reveal at the end. Arthur C. Clarke's "Quarantine" is not one of them.

 The premise up to that point is fine: organic, artificial intelligent satellites (ahead of his time on that!), have to be quarantined as they've picked up a virus of sorts, an unsolvable problem that has rendered them useless and in danger of infecting other satellites. The reveal though is quite stupid.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Reader's Diary #2143- Margaret T. Canby: The Frost Fairies


Last week I looked at Helen Keller's "The Frost King" a short story for which she came under accusations of plagiarism for its similarities to Margaret T. Canby's "The Frost Fairies". The general consensus seems to be that it was plagiarized but probably unintentionally so. Helen Keller had been introduced to Canby's story in her youth but claims to have forgotten that while the story itself remained in her head. This is a similar defense that George Harrison used for using the tune of the Chiffons' "He So Fine," for his song, "My Sweet Lord."

Canby's story seems a little more sophisticated than Keller's version. Not that Keller's is poorly written but it's just more obviously aimed at children. Of course Canby's still features mythical beings that would be of interest to kids: Santa, fairies, etc. It's largely the same origin tale of how the autumn trees first got their colours. Interestingly though she adds a new character of King Winter, different than King Frost (or Jack, used interchangeably in her story). King Frost is a friendly chap who brings the delights of winter, while King Winter brings the bad stuff (the cold, etc).

Monday, March 09, 2020

Reader's Diary #2142- Helen Keller: The Frost King


I only recently heard the story about Helen Keller's unintentional foray into plagiarism. It was also new to me that she had ever written a short story in the first place. Today, I look at her version, "The Frost King" (scroll down for chapter v) and next week I'll look at the original. 

Even ignoring the plagiarism case, it's hard to not think of the writer when reading "The Frost King." Being blind, her strong use of visual imagery is jarring. That said, I did have a blind great uncle who always used visual descriptions as well so it's not unheard of. 

Besides the rich imagery, it's a pleasant enough myth story explaining to children how the frost king came to give us the rich autumn colours of leaves and features fairies and Santa Claus. It wouldn't be hard to imagine a claymation version of this.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Reader's Diary #2141- Ryan Strain: Out of His League

Despite not really being a hockey fan, I've enjoyed enough books on the subject now that I was actually looking forward to reading Ryan Strain's Out of His League. Of course, it also helped that Strain is a local boy and a large part of the novel is set in Yellowknife. It did not help that it was a self-published book and I've had less than favourable experiences with those.

And too be sure, like a lot of self-published books, it has its fair share of typos. But it was not the worst that I've seen, even including some put out by actual publishers (Charlotte Gray's Gold Diggers comes to mind). In fact, rather than coming across as a self-published book, it instead just felt like a first time novelist's book (which is was). The dialogue was a little stilted, but it also had some real strengths. I like some of the idiosyncrasies that gave the main character, Cal, a bit more depth: his Young and the Restless fandom, for instance. I also enjoyed the hints of a controversial story in his past that Strain wisely chose to hold back for most of the book.

However, it's very hockey jargon-y for non-fans like myself and I found some of the play by play stuff tedious. It also seems to glamorize the misogyny and homophobia barely disguised as jokes prevalent in locker rooms.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Reader's Diary #2140- Dino Buzzati, translated by Judith Landry: The Epidemic


Dino Buzzati's short story "The Epidemic" reads a bit like a satire. It involves a Colonel in a military office whose staff has been hit with influenza. As more and more of his staff go absent, a mistrusted secretary of another department plants the idea in the Colonel's head that the the flu virus has been engineered by government scientists to attack only those who are treasonous to the regime.When the Colonel himself starts getting sick, he pushes on, coming to work every day lest he be perceived a traitor.

It's preposterous of course that a virus could tell who's loyal or not, but I did find myself thinking that it's not entirely impossible that people would be stupid enough to believe it. After all, some believe that certain diseases are sent by God as punishment for sinning, it's not such a far stretch. It also speaks loudly about those a-holes who come to work knowing that they're sick, "proving" that they're dedicated to their work but putting everyone else at risk.