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Monday, February 28, 2022

Reader's Diary #2291 - Darryl Cunningham: Putin's Russia The Rise of a Dictator

While Darryl Cunningham's graphic novel Putin's Russia: The Rise of a Dictator was released prior to the current crisis in Ukraine, it's almost shocking how it points to where we are right now. Maybe less shocking for folks who have been watching Putin's actions, but for me it was very eye-opening.

There's not a lot of editorializing in Cunningham's book, it's mostly rapid fire facts, but it's certainly not a dry read. Presented as a megalomaniac (think Trump) with enough craftiness and foresight (do not think Trump), Putin is downright scary. The number of critics he's offed with poison is insane. Pure evil.

Art-wise this biography is nothing special. Too many panels are simply headshots. Still, occasionally Cunningham mixes up the style and the colour pallette is limited but engaging in a Hergé sort of style.

Reader's Diary #2290 - Vasyl Stefanyk: The Pious Woman

 For obvious reasons, I wanted to read a Ukrainian short story today and stumbled upon a scan of a book called Modern Ukrainian Short Stories. Not knowing which one to choose for today, I started quickly scanning through and like an adolescent, decided to go with the one in which a man's name is Semen. That may not have been the wisest way to choose a story.

Semen and his wife hate each other. The story is basically them just being mean to each other. I thought maybe it was meant to be darkly funny and I just wasn't appreciating it. Then comes a horribly ugly ending and I'd rather not believe anything funny was intended. 

It's a nasty story without much point.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Reader's Diary #2289 - Dominique Prinet: Flying to Extremes

It's a bit of a coincidence that the last 3 nonfiction books I read about the north have all covered roughly the same time frame: late 60s/early 70s. The first dealt with a dogsledder, the second with a politician, and this one is about a bush pilot (subtitled Memories of a Northern Bush Pilot). 

I'm assuming Dominique Prinet kept a journal or something as his memories of his time flying across the north are quite detailed and vivid. As always, I enjoyed reading about characters and places in the north that I haven't met or traveled  to, but an added bonus with this book is the sense of adventure. Though he does credit his training in the epilogue, I think Prinet would also acknowledge that flying across the north, especially back then, was often quite a dangerous undertaking and luck was often on his side. 

Essentially that's the arc of each story in this collection: Prinet finds himself in a predicament and then he escapes. I can't say that's boring (the predicaments themselves at least vary), but it does after a time become repetitive and predictable. A couple of saving graces: Prinet's sense of humour (though sometimes, and your mileage may vary, comes perilously
close to generationally offensive cringe) and the photos/art. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Reader's Diary #2288- Laura Addington and Aryn Franklin (writers), Tara Put (illustrator): Narwhal Gets Stuck

If you take the group cooperation moral of The Enormous Turnip, combine it with the inviting reading engagement of Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus, and then make it northern, you'd get Narwhal Gets Stuck by Laura Addington, Aryn Franklin, and Tara Put. 

In this story Narwhal gets his tusk stuck in an iceberg and it takes a growing crew of northern marine creatures to help pull him out. 

It's a sweet, funny tale complete with eye-catching art.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Reader's Diary #2287 - Isis Essery and Rhiannon White: I Love You More Than the North is Vast

From Isis Essery and Rhiannon White comes the board book I Love You More than the Earth is Vast which follows a familiar, but sweet pattern in which a caregiver declares their love for their child, but with northern similes. 

Some pages are comical (the nosy foxes!) but not hilarious. The vocab is mostly simple - true not every child would yet get "vast" or "aurora" but most board books are aimed at babies whose vocabs are just being built anyway, plus the sentiment will resonate anyway. And it's got a jaunty rhythm, complete with rhymes.

The art is amazing; stylistic, and engaging without being busy. The characters show diversity, which is also a nice touch.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Reader's Diary #2286 - Laurie Boris: untitled flash fiction

 Heads up that the link to Laurie Boris's untitled flash fiction brings you to a page with 3 untitled flash fictions. While I'm focusing on the first, read them all; they're short and great.

The first one hits home as it's about growing older; the body in decline, those in charge being younger, and just hanging on to what you can of your life before that all started happening. I mean, I'm only 45, but I can relate.


Thursday, February 17, 2022

Reader's Diary #2285 - Jake Ootes: Umingmak

In 1967, Prime Minister Pearson appointed Stuart Hodgson, a white southerner with no experience running a government, Commissioner to the Northwest Territories. His role was said to be modernizing the North, but essentially it was, for better or worse, to build and enforce a colonial style of government. Jake Ootes, also a white guy from the south, was his right hand man during this time. 

The full title is actually Umingmak: Stuart Hodgson and the Birth of the Modern Arctic. It seems to give a lot of credit to Stuart Hodgson and also implies this will be a largely flattering book. I think it's only healthy to go into such a book, especially given Canada's shameful colonial legacy, with a lot of skepticism. Perhaps the wisest thing the publishers did was include a forward by none other than James Wah-Shee, a respected Tłı̨chǫ Elder, former president of the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories and as such, often an adversary of Stuart Hodgson. This is the most balanced part of the entire book. He acknowledged that they often did not see eye to eye and yet there was still a mutual respect. No offence to Jake Ootes, but that went a lot further in suggesting the true measure of Stuart Hodgson.

Initially Ootes's recollections of Hodgson were a little grating. Hodgson was presented as some larger than life, charismatic hero. Perhaps though, as Ootes himself was younger and less experienced in the early days, that is the way he saw him and thankfully some of Hodgson's shine wore off and Ootes finally presented him as a more complex, flawed but still not terrible, human being as their time in the north went on. Interestingly, it became more of Ootes's story than Hodgson's, and honestly, I was fine with that.

I enjoyed hearing about the communities across Nunavut and Northwest Territories that they visited in the late 60s and 70s. I've not been able to get to many myself, and certainly they would have changed a lot since then, so it was a fascinating glimpse into a different time and places. 

The dialogue was often stiff though, very speechy; trying to work in a lot of history as if it had been told by people back in the day felt awkward and inauthentic. 

Still, I'm a sucker for northern history and this definitely scratched that itch.


Monday, February 14, 2022

Reader's Diary #2284- Dave Housley: Super Bowl (2013)

In "Super Bowl (2013)" Dave Housley riffs on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead but rather than using Hamlet as the backdrop, he instead uses commercials from the 2013 Super Bowl. It's also written as a short story rather than a play. 

Like the Tom Stoppard play, it's very amusing but also way more relatable. If you've ever watched a bunch of over the top commercials in a row and found yourself what the hell is going on—in the commercials themselves or in the world at large— you'd get Rosencrantz and Guilderstern's confusion. 

Very fun premise.

Monday, February 07, 2022

Reader's Diary #2283 - Angélica Gorodischer: A Perfect Wife

 Maybe it's my adult lack of imagination, but I don't know if I can recapture that magic I had while reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe as a kid. I didn't look for other meanings. I didn't believe the wardrobe was representative of something else. The kids went into the wardrobe, they entered Narnia. That's just what happened.

Yet reading Angelica Gorodischer's short story "A Perfect Wife," about a woman who, ever since she was a child, occasionally found that doors led to unexpected places, I kept trying to force it to make sense. Maybe the door represented a book! Maybe it's her imagination! But nothing held up. And when I gave up on the notion that something would, I enjoyed it a lot more.

I also love the ending which just hints at a rationale behind the woman's shocking bursts of violence. 

Friday, February 04, 2022

Reader's Diary #2282 - Lilliam Rivera (writer), Steph C. (artist): Unearthed A Jessica Cruz Story

Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story by Lilliam Rivera and Steph C., is an odd one. 

Jessica Cruz, as DC Comics readers may know, is a superhero who spent some time as both a Yellow Lantern and a Green Lantern. 

But none of this is mentioned in the story. In fact, though it's published by DC Comics, there's nothing about superheroes at all. It's, for all intents and purposes, a literary comic about undocumented immigrants. As that, it's wonderful! But if you were just a superhero fan, I imagine this was disappointing.

Not knowing anything anything about the character myself, I'd picked it up to learn about her and up until about three quarters of the way through, I thought it was an origin story and by the end we'd see her get her powers. Nope! 

Still, as I said, as a literary comic it's quite good with an emotional heft, complex characters and situations, and unique art (which also didn't look anything like typical superhero fare). 

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Reader's Diary #2281 - Fran Hurcombe: Breaking Trail

The subtitle of Fran Hurcombe's book of memoirs, Breaking Trail is Northern Stories from a Simpler Time. I don't believe she's being ironic but the life she presents in these stories certainly does not seem simple to me!

I've known Fran, not well, for most of my time in Yellowknife (I came in 2008, she in the early 70s), and she represents the North far better than I. She's a no-nonsense, do-it-yourself outdoor person whereas I live a pretty pampered existence. She's also, as these tales attest, a damn fine writer.

Largely about her early days in the city, dogsledding, outdoor living, and colorful characters, there's a lot of heart, humour, and wisdom. I suppose it's also educational for those interested in learning about the North, but it's so entertaining you'd hardly even realize you were learning.

My only issue is that it's sometimes marred by typos; unfortunately, an all too common complaint with self-published books.