Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Reader's Diary #2236 - KT Bryski: The Bone-Stag Walks

 Maybe I should have saved KY Bryski's "The Bone-Stag Walks" for an October Short Story Monday as it's deliciously creepy. It has a kind of Poe/Krampus/fairy tale vibe and set in the colder months. 

Plus, the way the story is revealed through a child's eyes and through a grandmother telling a story, it unfolds quite unexpectedly. Loved it.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Reader's Diary #2235 - Cené Hale: Frito Pie

There's a bit in Cené Hale's flash fiction "Frito Pie" when a guy orders a coke and when asked what kind, he responds Dr. Pepper. It threw me off for a second until I remember that in some parts of the U.S. they used "coke" as a generic term for what is more commonly referred to as "pop" in Canada or "soda" in the rest of the U.S.. I don't think Hale should of avoided such regionalism, it made the story more authentic.

Unfortunately, the story went no where and ended abruptly. It's a shame given the strong setting and defined characters.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Reader's Diary #2234- Jael Richardson: Gutter Child

For the first half of Jael Richardson's Gutter Child, I couldn't help but think of it as a young adult novel. I suppose some of this could be attributed to it being a coming of age story; not that all coming-of-age stories are necessary aimed at teen readers but when the protagonist (Elimina) is of that age group herself, it lends itself easily to such classification. More than that, it wasn't exactly subtle in its messages. Set in a fictional world where darker skinned individuals are from the Gutter and are forced into schools on the Mainland to pay off historical "debts," the parallels to real life residential schools and to the mistreatment of Black people in North America are pretty on the nose. 

This isn't a criticism per se. There's a case to be made that subtlety is overrated. However, it felt more like an adult novel in the latter half of the book when Elimina has had her baby. The book is focused more on the complexities of interpersonal relationships, while still not losing sight of the societal critique at the heart of the novel. In a way, the novel itself comes of age at this point.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Reader's Diary #2233- Thomas Hill: Painting No. 91

In Thomas Hill's flash fiction "Painting No. 1" a man who has become financially wealthy in adulthood has finally realized his dream of owning 100 paintings. He tells the story of how one in particular, the one that stands out from the others as the work of an amateur, means the most to him. More than the work itself, it's a connection he felt to the artist.

I quite enjoyed it and though he doesn't quite, can't quite, articulate exactly why the artist's story resonates so much with him, it's nonetheless relatable. We all like a piece of art (a poem, a song, a movie, etc) that we know is objectively bad, those supposed "guilty pleasures," that for whatever reasons hit us personally. 

Friday, September 03, 2021

Reader's Diary #2232- Sina Grace (writer), Derek Charm (artist): Jughead's Time Police

I'm not familiar with all of the comics that the recent Loki TV series pulled from, but after reading Sina Grace's first volume of Jughead's Time Police, I'd not be surprised if those comics were also an inspiration. Despite a more lighthearted Archie Comics approach (it begins with Jughead upset that he lost a pie baking competition after all), the story is shockingly similar to Loki

Confronted with alternate timelines that need to be erased according to the Time Police, Jughead encounters variants, awesomely drawn like past versions of himself- including Werewolf Jughead and even the Riverdale TV series character. 

It's fun, heartfelt, and full of wild sci-fi adventure.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Reader's Diary #2231 - Bobbie Ann Mason: Shiloh

 Poor Leroy. 

The protagonist of Bobbie Ann Mason's short story "Shilo" finds himself at home, permanently, after a work injury cut short his truck driving career. He's trying to refocus, discovering new interests and hobbies, and for the most part, I would say, making the best of a bad situation.

That said, it's also an adjustment for his wife who isn't as used to having him around. 

It's one of those depressing, realistic slice of life stories. Yet, for all that, I see it as having a hint of hope. Finding oneself isn't necessarily bad on its own, it's just unfortunate when others get caught in the wake. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Reader's Diary #2230 - Ed Brisson (writer), Jonas Scharf (artist): Avengers of the Wasteland


I've often complained that Marvel (and DC) don't let superheroes die and yet continually add new characters, leaving the world completely overstuffed and overpowered. So, the Wastelands world (which you may be familiar with through the Old Man Logan comics or Logan movie) is right up my alley. 

Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the Red Skull had won and most superheroes were killed off, there are only a few stragglers left and they're mostly amateurs, descendants of the old guard, folks who found and made use of old superhero tech, and the like. 

But setting and premise are just two (albeit important) components. Fortunately, this particular story also has a great, action filled plot (they have to take on Dr. Doom, who unfortunately was a survivor) and that perfect Marvel blend of humor, flawed heroes, and hints of higher ideals. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Reader's Diary #2229- Jarrad Saul: Bubble Gum

 Jarrad Saul's flash fiction "Bubble Gum" could just as easily be called a prose poem if we're in need of labels, as it takes a surreal look at a person falling for someone, described as being happily consumed by them. It's funny that the narrator states that he knows nothing of poetry when clearly this is not true for the author himself. 

It's quite an artistic, fun story. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Reader's Diary #2228 - Al Ewing and various artists: Loki Agent of Asgard The Complete Collection


After finishing the new Disney+ Loki show, I'd decided I haven't yet had enough of the character and luckily found this collection. 

From characters and plot lines, it's easy to see how true to the comics the series was. There wasn't any particularly long arc ripped off from these particular stories, but the idea of multiple versions of Loki (sadly, no crocodile Loki) was especially prevalent. 

Themes of fate vs free will ring loud here as Loki tries to redeem his past sins despite a future evil version of himself pointing out how pointless are his efforts. As in the series, he's gender-bending, mischievous, and loveable (especially in his new friendship with Verity, a character who can see through any lie). 

So it's a lot of fun with plenty of adventure, decent art, and a lot of heart. Small personal issue, and one I have more with Marvel at large, is that deaths are meaningless. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

Reader's Diary #2227- Gaius Coffey: Alone, Not Lonely

 I seem to be stumbling upon more stories written in the 2nd person lately, which is great!

In Gaius Coffey's flash fiction "Alone, Not Lonely" I'm quite enjoying some solitude. As an introvert, I can 100% feel this and it's more about appreciating a time of no pressures or distractions.


Friday, August 13, 2021

Reader's Diary #2226- Sheung-King: You Are Eating An Orange. You Are Naked.

Sheung-King's You Are Eating An Orange. You Are Naked. is the 2nd novel I've read lately in which I dislike a character more than the protagonist does. As this one's told in the 2nd person, I guess that means I dislike myself.

It's light on plot, but essentially it's an interracial love story between a Chinese man (the narrator) and a Japanese woman (the reader). I found her to be disrespectful of him, sometimes disappearing without an explanation and being vaguely insulting ("you talk weird"). She eventually seemed to lighten up, but I'm not exactly clear why. Nor am I completely understanding of why he put up with it all except for love. 

This all makes it sound like I didn't enjoy it, which isn't true. In many ways, it's beautifully written. As I've said numerous times, I quite love the 2nd person perspective. Plus, Sheung-King's sentences, like that quirky, but beautiful title, are typically brief but suffice. There's a lot of philosophizing, story-telling, and conversation here, and it reminded me a little of Before Sunrise, which came as no surprise then when that movie was referenced. I'm not sure I'd have had the patience for a longer version of the book, but at slightly over 180 pages it didn't wear out its welcome. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Reader's Diary #2225- Chuck Wendig (writer), Álvaro Sarraseca (artist): Turok Blood Hunt

Recently when I was wearing my Alpha Flight t-shirt a guy came up to me and mistook Shaman for Turok. I pride myself of knowing a lot of comics, but that one was new to me. He explained about how the character began in comics and then took on an resurgence in video games and he was problematic in both cultural appropriation and historical accuracy senses.

I went looking to see what I could find and came across the newer Dynamite series by Chuck Wendig and Álvaro Sarraseca. It was kind of smart how they dealt with the above issues. Humans living with dinosaurs is explained away as a mixup in realities and instead of being Native American, Turok is now black. He's (spoiler) merely taken the name Turok from the old character from comics that his daughter used to read.

I quite enjoyed this. Excellent world building, fast-paced action-filled story, with compelling characters and flashes of humour here and there. Plus, Álvaro Sarraseca's art is great, with a superhero comics style fitting of this universe.

Reader's Diary #2224 - Pik-Shuen Fung: Ghost Forest

Lately I've found myself lacking the interest and stamina for novels. As I always preferred them to nonfiction, this comes as a bit of a surprise. Maybe it's an age thing, but my attention wanders too much or else I fall asleep. 

Fortunately, the format of Pik-Shuen Fung's Ghost Forest made it easier for readers like me. The book is short, the chapters are short, and even the text on individual pages is broken down, arranged almost like poems at times. There wasn't enough time for my wind to grow bored. Of course, it also helped that I enjoyed the characters and plot.

The plot isn't exactly intricate (it's largely about a daughter's relationship with her father) but the circumstances were very unique and compelling to me. They're a modern family of Hong Kong immigrants to Canada, except the father stays behind to work. The family visits one another periodically and it's sometimes strained between father and daughter. At these times, the father attributes it largely due to the Canadian influence on his daughter's personality and values, but perhaps some is just a universal reality between generations, opposite gender parents, etc. I didn't particularly like the father and indeed she forgives him more readily than I probably would, but it nonetheless rings authentic. 

I quite enjoyed this book. 

Monday, August 09, 2021

Reader's Diary #2223 - Gwendolyn Saltzman: Does Your Mother Know What You're Doing?

 Gwendolyn Saltzman's flash fiction "Does Your Mother Know What You're Doing?" is a perfect blend of plot and character building, working simultaneously and in such a short space. It involves two women driving through the mountains who have just noticed that they seem to be being followed. 

As that tension builds, however, we also get glimpses into the women's backgrounds and there's more to them than you first suspect. While this story is wrapped up, their personal stories are not and they leave the imagination, delightfully, running wild. 

Monday, August 02, 2021

Reader's Diary #2222- Carmyn Effa: It Was Better to Be Prepared

Carmyn Effa's "It Was Better to Be Prepared" is wonderfully set around the turn to the 21st Century. The main character (me, I guess, as it's told from the 2nd person perspective) is especially preoccupied with Y2K's potential apocalyptic trigger. But she's also a religious fanatic, or rather from a very evangelic community. I loved this contrast, especially from an outsider mindset, it's a relatively easy culture to mock, and yet, a lot of us nonetheless also got caught up in Y2K mania. We didn't really believe it, but were also vaguely excited in a perverse way for the possibility of something major and bad to happen, to shake things up. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Reader's Diary #2221 - Dorothy Parker: Big Blonde

 Dorothy Parker's short story "Big Blonde" is depressing as hell. Then, how can a story about depression, alcoholism, and suicide be anything but?

Still, it speaks a lot about identity (the problem of defining ourselves only in relation to others) and the counterproductive way depression has historically been dealt with (cheer up!). 

It's frustrating and heartbreaking. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Reader's Diary #2220 - Hiromi Goto (writer), Ann Xu (artist): Shadow Life

Shadow Life
, by Hiromi Goto and Ann Xu, was a highly unusual graphic novel. I'd be lying if I said I understood it completely, but I'd also be lying if I said I wasn't entirely enthralled. 

It revolves Kumiko, an elderly woman who seems to be pursued by death, or at least these weird creates of death. Are they real or is the woman going senile? In any case, for most of the story no one quite knows what to believe. Also, Kumiko is determined not to let them take her away. In the end, I suppose, there's a case to be made that whether they are real in the physical sense is hardly relevant.

Kumiko is a richly developed character, and of a sort you don't often see represented in the media (older Japanese bisexual woman) with a cast of supporting characters who are unique in their own right. 

Not that it all works. The art didn't do a lot for me and occasionally I couldn't tell what a particular panel was depicting. Plus, the supernatural elements felt too weakly defined at times. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Reader's diary #2219- Conrad Williams: The Pike

 The Britishisms of Conrad Williams' short story "The Pike" were for me both its strength and downfall. I loved the vernacular in that it felt authentic, I didn't as I think it's also why I didn't quite understand the story.

It's about a man polluted in a very polluted area for a pike. He seems to have some traumatic memories involving pike and this area. And he's dying of skin cancer. But how it all ties together, the bigger meaning, the reason why the story appears in Nightmare Magazine is lost on me. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Reader's Diary #2218 - Jim Shepard: Phase Six

I don't often feel like I read to escape, but I'm not sure that Jim Shepard's Phase Six provided enough of one.

About a pandemic that begins in Greenland, it's very, very plausible. It turns out that this one is much worse, but the masks, the conspiracy theories, the politicizing, etc are all still there. I have to think Shepard had started to write this before Covid was on the scene, but still there are occasional references to the "recent" Covid disaster and these felt like late-game publishing choices, which is fine and understandable considering.

But if you're not exhausted of the pandemic and want to read about another, you could do worse than Phase Six. In addition to plausible science and society, the Greenland setting was well done as well. I mean, not having been there but having lived across Northern Canada, it comes across as accurate in any case.

Sometimes I felt the balance of character building and plot was off and by the time Shepard got back from the global scene or science and into the characters again, I was forgetting who was who. That wasn't true, however, for an eleven year old survivor named Aleq who I found endearing and tragic. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Reader's Diary #2216 - Various artists, writers: Godzilla Unnatural Disasters

Ouch, not sure where to begin with this train wreck. 

I'm intrigued by the idea of Godzilla and the other kaiju, so I thought this collection of Godzilla comics would be a good education. Honestly, besides learning of a few new names like Hedorah and Kumonga, which I could have Googled, the book was a slog.

Most stories were incomplete or barely developed at all shy of fighting scenes. The art, while inconsistent (it's a compilation from a range of writers and artists) was predominately bad. A few good premises (Godzilla goes to Dante's version of hell, Godzilla through the ages) fall very far of their intentions. You get no sense, ever, of Godzilla as a character except he's and overpowered, mindless monster. 

Obviously some were better than others but did not make the collection worth it by any means. 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Reader's Diary #2215 - Emma Shea: The Widow

 In Emma Shea's short story "The Widow," the titular character finds herself at a DMV, going through the process of reverting her married surname back to her maiden name after being widowed a year ago. Not yet fully recovered from that shock, she feels this is an important step in her coping. While it is, it nonetheless has momentarily dredged up the pain and memories. 

Obviously an emotional story, it's handled with grace. 

Monday, July 05, 2021

Reader's Diary #2214 - Michael Dickel: Independence Day

We seem, as a collective, to be more reflective these days, skeptical even, about all that patriotism stuff. Certainly this was true in Canada on this recent July 1st, and I'm sure to a large extent for many Americans this past Sunday.  

This is especially true for the central character in Michael Dickel's short story "Independence Day." Someone who has benefited from the system recalls a time when she fought against injustice and realizes that injustice hasn't gone away, she's just learned to turn her back to it. 

It sounds like the story could be preachy, but it's more thoughtful than that. More of a story of a personal journey. The title takes on extra significance. 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Reader's Diary #2213 - Ruth Guthrie: Night on the Mosquito Toilet

I guess it's pretty brave to wrap a whole short story around a woman in an outhouse while dealing with the runs and mosquitoes, but Ruth Guthrie's "Night on the Mosquito Toilet" instead feels more grounded in reality because of these details than it does a bold choice. 

While this poor, unfortunate soul is in this predicament, she's not a lot else to do but reflect on the day past. She's at a tourist retreat in India and she's mostly dwelling on her husband's behaviour toward a young girl who begged them for a banana. You can tell that despite her own temporary condition, she's quite aware that the girl's situation is anything but. She feels her husband had been unreasonably cruel. Interesting though, a small detail is revealed toward the end in which the woman herself is shown to not always having been above cruelty and violence herself.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Reader's Diary #2212- Duncan Grimes: The Man in the Red Cap

 I feel like a bit of a hypocrite for my thoughts on Duncan Grimes' short story "The Man in the Red Cap." 

On the one hand, I like stories where something happens for no reason and much of the plot revolves around a townsfolk being put out by just that: a man shows up to town and swims each day to hang from a buoy for several hours then returning to shore, only to repeat this bizarre and unexplained practice everyday. They try to make sense of it, imagine all sorts of dark histories, but an answer never materializes.

But the story also doesn't have an ending, or really much of one (unless I missed something), and therefore the story is also strange for no reason and that I was less crazy about. I'm not saying I wanted an explanation, but I did at least want a resolution. 

Still, it held my attention and I quite enjoyed the setting and character building.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Reader's Diary #2211 - Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock: Nothin' But a Good Time

The subtitle of Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock's Nothin' But a Good Time is The Uncensored History of the 80's Hard Rock Explosion but make no mistake, this is a book about glam or hair metal. I think too many bands from that time never excepted those terms, or have since turned on the classification, but to me that's what it's always been. I don't attach much stigma to the terminology and would consider myself a fan of a good many such bands. 

Told as quick responses from interviews with ton of band members from that time (Skid Row, Warrant, Guns n' Roses, Quiet Riot, Ozzy, the Scorpions, Poison, Winger, Skid Row, Cinderella, etc) as well as other industry insiders, the book clocks in at a whopping 500+ pages but it goes by fast. It's always entertaining, sometimes insightful, and provides a great history lesson of a crazy time in rock history. 

It largely focuses on the early days when glam metal was competing to make itself known among the new age and punk bands on the Sunset Strip of Hollywood. I wish I'd known more about this time when I visited there a few years back. I checked out the Rainbow Bar where I know many bands at that era had frequented, but now I regret not having visited the Troubadour and the Whisky, both of which seem to have been quite important landmarks according to this book.

In some cases, my impressions on these bands didn't change. I was surprised to still hear some Motley Crue anecdotes I hadn't heard before, but nothing that endeared them to me any more. There were bands like Skid Row and Cinderella that I wound up liking more. And then there were ones like Faster Pussycat who, sorry, Taime Downe came across as more of a tool than I realized. Largely though I was pleasantly taken aback by the hard work and creativity of these bands back in the day. I was also impressed that most (not all!) were quite perceptive and honest about their status, quality, and level of talent. I guess being dropped from labels, moving from big venues to small crowds, combined with a lot of time and maturity has given ample time for these folks to reflect. Speaking of which, it was very interesting to hear how many acknowledge the rampant sexism of the time (Taime didn't appear to get the memo). 

Also fascinating to me was the exploration of the idea that Nirvana didn't kill hair metal as I've long believed. It seems to be more the case that the scene had just grown too large, too stale, and had worn out its welcome. Nirvana, more than anything, just happened to come along at the right time. People were desperate for something different. Of course, it helped that Nirvana were great. 

Reader's Diary #2210 - Sherrie Flick: Woodpeckers Peck to Establish Territory in the Spring

 Sherrie Flick's short story "Woodpeckers Peck to Establish Territory in the Spring" sees a woman walking through a woods familiar to her to from her childhood. She thinks back on when the woods used to scare her and eventually we see that perhaps the fears weren't unwarranted, but the danger isn't the supernatural sort of childhood imagination but sadly one that is all too real.

In addition to the thoughtful story and theme, Flick's story is rich in imagery.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Reader's Diary #2209 - Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Leinil Francis Yu (artist): Secret Invasion

Secret Invasion is a great example of how the restrictions on Marvel movies potentially make them superior to their comics. In the comics no superhero ever dies and new characters are created all the time, often winding up with an overstuffed mess. Who on Earth doesn't have a superpower at this point? In the movies, salaries, contracts, actor deaths, character rights, etc have actually prevented too much growth. Avengers is likely the biggest we're able to achieve. (I'm curious to see how they'll handle the introduction of all those X-Men now the rights have reverted back to Disney/Marvel Studios.)

So am I saying that the Secret Invasion comic is bloated? Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. It's not without fun from a fan point of view. I mean, just checking out how many characters you can recognize is fun. But it would certainly not welcome new fans and the story of Skrulls impersonating heroes on Earth is all premise. I literally just finished the comics a couple of days ago and cannot recall how they were they defeated except that the superheroes fought them off.

Still, I'm excited for the Secret Invasion tv series when it eventually airs on Disney+. I trust the constraints will only make it better. 

Monday, June 07, 2021

Reader's Diary #2208 - Glafira Rocha, translated by Gustavo Adolfo Aybar: Keys

Glafira Rocha's flash fiction "Keys" unfolds in a pretty unique way, with the central character searching for keys, listing off what he sees during his search, while slowly those items piece together a story. 

The story itself is dark. Near the beginning there appears to be a mistake or glitch due to the translation, but otherwise it's perfectly followable. 

Monday, May 31, 2021

Reader's Diary #2207 - Harlen Coben: The Key to My Father

 With the prolific output of a pulp fiction writer, I wasn't sure what to expect with a short story by Harlen Coben. I'll say though that I definitely enjoyed it enough to try his novels some day. 

In "The Key to My Father" the descriptions of his father's physical appearance were exceptionally well done. I'll admit that I didn't however understand why he focused so heavily on that aspect of his father at first. Without giving anything else away, it definitely wound up having a point.

One odd moment for me though was a comment that the narrator hadn't known that his father had served in the military. On the one hand, he seems to have been closer to his father than I consider me to mine, but I definitely talked to mine enough growing up to know such significant details of his past. This is not a criticism of Coben's writing or a way of saying it's implausible, but more of a general comment that people have weird relationships with their parents.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Reader's Diary #2206 - Walter Scott: Wendy Master of Art


I wasn't initially drawn into Walter Scott's graphic novel Wendy Master of Art. I started off thinking the art was bad and the story was going to be over-the-top just for the shock value. It opens with Wendy, a Canadian art student, stoned and chatting it up with a naked couple in a weird German bar.

Slowly but surely though, it won me over. There are mini-plots here or there among the larger plot of Wendy's art school journey. The plot isn't anything major, but there's a lot of humour and while it seems to take nothing seriously, especially not art, I wondered at the end if that was the point after all; that's it's all bullshit, but you have to find that balance between pretending it's not and just giving up altogether if you're to find any sort of happiness while we're going through it. 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Reader's Diary #2205 - Marianne Boucher: Talking to Strangers

I'm sure that when most of us hear about cults, we're fascinated and also over-confident that we'd never fall victim to such a thing. 

Marianne Boucher's Talking to Strangers is a graphic memoir about her experience as a cult member in the early 80s. She was a Canadian, fresh out of high school and off on her own in California to pursue a career in figure skating. That's when she had a chance encounter with a couple of Moonies on a beach. 

If I was hoping for more understanding of how someone falls for such people in the first place, I don't feel like I got it here. Perhaps that part was rushed, maybe not really giving enough depth to her psychological, emotional state at the time.

Granted, once she's in, Boucher spends a bit more time showing the brainwashing techniques. Again though, it felt somewhat emotionally distant to me. The art is good, though again I didn't really connect to it. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Reader's Diary #2204 - Nick Sheri: A Passing Trance

 I often see people on Twitter laughing about their reluctance to answer a phone call, even (or in many cases, especially) of people they know. I'm guilty of that one. Hate talking on the phone and it's almost unbearable if I didn't initiate the phone call. And then people talking about dreading or ignoring emails and texts. Muting or blocking people on social media. It's so easy to disengage. I mean, I get it. We're bombarded like never before with media. Some disassociation is surely healthy. But sometimes, normal, healthy face-your-problems needs to happen to. 

This is what I found myself thinking about while reading Nick Sheri's flash fiction "A Passing Trance." The guy in his story doesn't use technology to distance himself, but has the ability to zone out to avoid stressful times or difficult conversations. I loved the depressing, edge of a cliff mood.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Reader's Diary #2203 - Adrian Tomine: Shortcomings

It was recently announced that Randall Park would be adapting Adrian Tomine's graphic novel Shortcomings into a film. 

Now having read it, I'm not sure how I feel about that news. I enjoyed the book, mostly, and for sure there's human interest, some humour, and current, important topics (such as internalized racism and toxic masculinity). These are all told through the lens of Ben Tanaka, a not-exactly likeable but entirely plausible guy with insecurities and a lack of self awareness. You suspect over the course of the book that he's approaching becoming a better person, but the story... well, comes up short.

We'll see if the screenwriters find more of sense of resolution. 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Reader's Diary #2202 - Tom Alexander: The Cabin

 I'm not sure why but there's something so satisfying about a story where you're forced to watch everything go to hell. You hold your breath and yet can't look away. 

In Tom Alexander's "The Cabin" a group of people are not only nonplussed to find themselves in a cabin just as a snowstorms hits, but even consider themselves fortunate. Then they celebrate. Unfortunately their resources don't last as long as the blizzard...

Friday, May 14, 2021

Reader's Diary #2201 - Joe Sacco: Paying the Land

When Joe Sacco's Paying the Land first came out, I recall some locals being concerned that this would be yet another southerner coming to the north for a very short time, declaring themselves an expert and writing an error-filled, misguided book. 

Indeed, I wasn't far into it, before I noticed the first mistake: Inuits. (Inuit is already plural, the S is wrong, and this is a super common mistake for non-Inuktitut speakers.) I was immediately on guard. A fan of other works of Sacco's (Palestine and War's End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995-96) I then began to wonder how the locals from those areas felt about his writing. Did they feel it was accurate?

Eventually though my reservations fell to the wayside as I wasn't picking up on other mistakes until near the end when he draws a map with Nunavut listed as Nanavut! While that one really hit me like nails on a chalkboard, I still suspect he gets more right than wrong in the book. Largely, I'm basing this on a couple of things:
1. Most of the text consists of quotes from locals, not Sacco himself
2. There hasn't been a lot of published criticism from those people featured in the book that they'd been misrepresented. In fact, there has even been a push by some folks to have it used as a textbook for the grade 10 Northern Studies course. If the mistakes were edited out, I actually think it's a good idea. He really condenses a lot of history, highlights current issues, and has a real knack of explaining some really complex issues while not portraying the Dene as a monolithic culture. 

One of the more interesting subtexts in the book, I thought, was the generational divide. While generational divides are common worldwide (I don't have half the skills my grandparents would have had and vice versa, and I'm sure my values have been influenced way more by TV and the internet), the impact that colonialism and residential schools in particular have had in magnifying that divide is downright appalling. I feel Sacco has illustrated this with utmost sensitivity and clarity. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Reader's Diary #2200 - Frances Gapper: My Mother Made Me

The beginning of Frances Gapper's flash fiction "My Mother Made Me" is surreal and poetic. Not a huge fan of surrealism, it nonetheless worked here even if that style was largely dropped for the remainder of the story.

It's a tragic little piece about intergenerational trauma. Though I suppose, it could be seen as having a bit of a silver lining in that the narrator has gained some understanding about her mother. This has got to be an important first step, right?

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Reader's Diary #2199 - Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves: The Shadow of the Wind

I didn't have high hopes for Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind. For one the title seemed cheesy and overly flowery. (Though to be fair, I also feel that way about The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and I wound up quite liking that book.) Also, it was recommended by a friend who's previous recommendations didn't really the hit the mark. 

However, I was hooked very early on with this magical, epic book and loved it through to the end.

Set in 1940s Spain, it deals with a teenage boy named Daniel who's been enraptured by a book he's discovered and more importantly by the mysterious writer who seems to have disappeared and left many enemies in his wake. And as Daniel digs up the past, the more it seems that the author's tragedies will soon be his own.

On top of the great story is a fantastic cast of 3 dimensional characters and richly described settings. 

Spain is in my travel plans for the next 5 years and at the end of this book is something I hadn't seen before: a walking guide to visit some of the real life settings in the novel. What a great idea!

Monday, May 03, 2021

Reader's Diary #2188 - Mike Johnson: Behind the Mask

 Despite the title, the contemporary fear explored in Mike Johnson's flash fiction story "Behind the Mask" isn't Covid related. Instead it's about artificial intelligence taking over. 

Or is it?

While I found it engaging, and certainly it comes out of the gate with a strong action sequence, it also has a twist ending. The twist is interesting, I guess, but I don't know if it really adds anything. The way the story was going was good without it. 

I recently saw a horror movie where the twist ending seemed tacked on and implausible. This isn't that, but I also didn't find it particularly profound. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Reader's Diary #2187 - Alex Reece Abbott: Silver Linings

Every so often I'll come across a blurb on some serious, mostly melancholy book of "serious" literature where someone refers to it as "subversively funny" or something along those lines. At the end, despite having enjoyed some of these novels, I'm still left wondering what the hell the blurb writer (blurbist?) possibly found funny. 

I suspect I'd be one of the weird ones laughing at Alex Reece Abbott's short story "Silver Linings." Okay, maybe not laughing, but smiling inside at the very least. 

It tells of a man who's lost his long term job and while looking for new work has decided to make himself a better man, a better husband. But there's a wicked sense of futility lurking underneath the surface that someone with my pessimistic can't help but relate to and so, the story to me was like observational comedy from a depressed Seinfeld. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Reader's Diary #2186 - Julio Cortázar: Headache

Julio Cortázar's "Headache" is like a fever dream. There's a farmer, or a couple of farmers (more on this confusion later), raising some sort of fantastical creatures that have also give the farmer(s?) an array of mental and physical ailments.

This renders the narrator(s?) to be unreliable which adds to the confusion. But perhaps the hardest to interpret is the use of first person plural. Are there 2 people or is the narrator insane? 

It's so bizarre that it's hard to look away but also so frustrating. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Reader's Diary #2185 - Willa Cather: Her Boss

 Willa Cather's short story "Her Boss" is a pretty interesting look at platonic friendships between men and women in the early 20th century. 

The titular boss, Paul Wanning, is the central character in the story and he is dying of a terminal illness. He tells his family and his co-workers and everyone brushes it aside. As a reader, their motives were a bit of a mystery at first. Were they in denial or just callous? As the story progresses though it starts to appear more and more that Paul has built up a rather shallow existence and it is only with death staring him in the face does he seem to grasp that. 

But when his secretary becomes emotional, the first person to do so, as he began to recite his memoirs, they strike up a friendship. 

Unfortunately, rumours start to spread. I'll admit, even I started to suspect the story would turn into a romance. 

Anyway, it's a slow but thoughtful piece of writing. 

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Reader's Diary #2184 - Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada (writers), Ko Hyung-Ju (artist): Banned Book Club

As with Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, I believed Kim Hyun Sook's Banned Book Club would take censored books as a backdrop to discuss the political upheaval in her county during a pivotal time in her life. Basically I foresaw Iran being swapped out for South Korea (early 1980s). I would quickly discover though that the name of the book is somewhat misleading and banned books really weren't much of a focal point. 

Hyun Sook has started university and vows to stay out of trouble (i.e., to stay out the many student protests at the time against the corrupt government). She does however wish to join some extra-curricular activities. But before long she discovers that most, including the Banned Book Club, are mostly just fronts to organize more protests. Seeming to get dragged along at first, eventually she makes friends and begins to believe in their cause. 

Not having much knowledge of upheavals in South Korea, I found this fascinating (especially to my own non-protesting student days). 

The artwork by Ryan Estrada is wonderful, especially in capturing Hyun Sook's initial naivete and the sinister nature of the police who were helping protect the regime. 

Monday, April 05, 2021

Reader's Diary #2183 - Elizabeth Bear: Dolly

 "Dolly" is a sex-maid-robot. She/it may have murdered her/its owner. There's a mystery here as it looks at first as if the robot has been programmed to murder, and therefore a programmer would be to blame. However, then it starts to appear that she may have actually been program to become sentient and decided to commit murder on her own. 

Interestingly, the story then turns to a question of whether or not she can prove self-defense but drops the responsibility of the programmer altogether, even though she wouldn't have gained such a thought process in the first place unless a programmer allowed her to do so.

Obviously a very provocative story!

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Reader's Diary #2182 - Huda Fahmy: That Can Be Arranged

Not being Muslim, and not having had an arranged marriage, it feels like Huda Fahmy's That Can Be Arranged: A Muslim Love Story was aimed at readers like me. 

There's a glossary of terms throughout, explanations about wearing an hijab and so on. This is not a criticism of any shape or form, and in fact, probably helped me. I got what I wanted from the book in that regard. The fact that Fahmy shares her positivity and sense of humor just made it all the more enjoyable and I was especially intrigued by the parallels to Pride and Prejudice

I wouldn't say the art is great, but it's simple and has the look of a pamphlet which sort of fits its educational goal.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Reader's Diary #2181 - Anthony Trollope: George Walker at Suez

 The titular character in Anthony Trollope's short story "George Walker at Suez" is not a likable man. He's hung up on his status in society but most appalling, he's also a racist. This is especially egregious when you learn he's visiting Egypt from England. 

Written in the 1800s, I'm not George Walker is supposed to unlikable or if we're supposed to be empathetic. In any case, it matters as the story involves him being mistaken for someone else, initially to his benefit. When the plan goes askew though, it's hard not to be happy. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Reader's Diary #2180 - Jay Bulckaert and Erika Nyyssonen (writers), Lucas Green (artist): King Warrior

Connections between Yellowknife and Somalia may not be immediately obvious and there certainly hasn't been much written about it, so when Jay Bulckaert and Erika Nyyssonen come along with a graphic novel that explores just that it's exciting indeed. 

King Warrior isn't nonfiction, but the frame story is certainly plausible. It's about a Somalian immigrant to Yellowknife named Awale who has taken up the dangerous role as a cab driver in the city. His wife and son remain back in Somalia and Awale kills time by sending his son chapters in a fantastical story that incorporates many local legends and northern settings. His son, Afrah, back in Somalia is entranced.

Thankfully Bulckaert and Nyyssonen consulted with Halima Muhamud to make sure Somali culture was realistic and respectful. Also, Lucas Green's art wonderfully captures Afrah's imagination with a friendly, curious style, while realistically portraying Yellowknife in the frame story.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Reader's Diary #2179 - Sarah Orne Jewett: The Hiltons' Holiday

If you take an uneventful couple of pages from Lucy Maud Montgomery or Laura Ingalls Wilder you pretty much have Sarah Orne Jewett's short story "The Hiltons' Holiday." It involves a father taking a break from the work of farm life in the country to take his daughters to town. That's pretty much it in terms of a plot, unless you consider him forgetting to buy the hoe he'd intended on to be some major twist.

It's not entirely boring, I suppose. From a historical perspective, there's certain charm, even if it's a bit rose-coloured. It probably works best as a character study. The girls are young women and though different in personality, both get taken in by the "excitement" of town. I related to that somewhat as I recall being entranced by visiting St. John's, Newfoundland as a kid, thinking it was the biggest and most exciting city in the world. The dad is also interesting. He's lovable, though a bit sad in his obvious issues with his own parents, and a bit frustrating the way he puts town folk on a pedestal. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Reader's Diary #2178 - Chris Miskiewicz (writer), Noah Vansciver (artist): Grateful Dead Origins

Not a huge follower of the Grateful Dead, if Chris Miskiewicz and Noah Vansciver's graphic novel biography, Grateful Dead Origins, is any indication, I nonetheless wasn't too far off the money. I pictured them as a hippie sort, connected to drug culture, but not overly political. This, it seems, was a fair assessment.

Perhaps because of their laissez-faire attitude, I wasn't immediately drawn into the book. I couldn't really distinguish between the band members and the lack of any real drama in this period of the career meant the story was a little slow. Still, I came to appreciate aspects. The San Francisco scenes of the 60s are, of course, fascinating. Plus, I started to find their communal optimism very amusing. Don't know how to play a bass? No problem, learn it as you go along. Don't know how to work a sound board? You'll learn on the job. We like your drumming, but we already have a drummer. Who cares, we'll just have two. It's shocking that they made all of this work.

I also quite liked Vansciver's art. The simple cartooning fit the band and story, with a bit of counter-culture appeal.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Reader's Diary #2177 - Charity Marsh and Mark V. Campbell (editors): We Still Here: Hip Hop North of the 49th Parallel

In writing style only We Still Here: Hip Hop North of the 49th Parallel reminded me of Julia Christensen's No Home in Homeland which I read a couple of years back. Both books were clearly written for university scholars and then pushed to the general market, and I would guess both publishers assumed it was sufficient not to make any changes. 

I'm not asking for things to be dumbed down. I'm university educated. But good lord, it seems a bit of a crime to make hip hop boring. There are compelling ideas for sure; the role of hip hop culture intersecting with indigenous and immigrant cultures, for instance, but the delivery is so academic. I'll grant that as a collection of essays written by different authors, some are likewise more accessible than others, but overall this book was a challenge to get through and as important as these ideas are, it's doubtful anyone outside a university setting will wind up caring. I did at least explore a lot of music from the hip hop artists mentioned in the book and that was far more interesting. 

Reader's Diary #2176- Sam Mason: A Dose of Magic

Sam Mason's "A Dose of Magic" involves a woman telling her young daughter, who is undergoing chemotherapy, a story involving magic, as per her daughter's request and latest interest.

Unfortunately, I liked the frame story more than the story she tells her daughter. Nothing against magic, but it didn't come across as a story being told to a young child. It could be argued, I suppose, that not everyone condescends to a child when telling them a story but the magic story was more ostentatious than the frame story and made the frame story in return feel like an afterthought.