Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Great Plains is a publisher based in Winnipeg; and their teen fiction has really taken off. If you want to hunker down with a good old gothic page turn, i would recommend Black Bottle Man.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Moravagine is set during the first few decades of the twentieth century. Raymond the doctor, fascinated by the psychological mind of the criminal, follows Moravagine through a global whirlwind of adventures from revolutionary intrigue in Russia and an escape among barrels of sauerkraut, to a strange sojourn in Texas, a hallucinatory journey through the South American jungle and then back to Europe and the battlefields of the First World War, only to end up in another asylum, this time for the soldiers who have gone mad. Moravagine also takes a solo trip - at least in his mind - to the planet Mars.
Along the way there are expositions on a number of philosophical and historical ideas about science, democracy, evolution and in particular the alienating effects of automation and industrialization on daily life. The world and its people are constantly viewed in the cold, ugly, monotonous and dangerous language of machinery which perfectly foreshadows the novel's culmination in the war, "when the whole world was doing a 'Moravagine'". Have you ever read a description of the moon rising like this one?
The moon, rifled like a cannon-shell, seemed to shoot from the sudden smokestack of a factory as if from the mouth of a howitzer.
Cendrars - who inserts himself as a minor character in the novel - also suggests that Moravagine may just be his own unshakeable "double", raising the interesting question about a writer's relationship to their characters. In a postscript to the novel he writes:
With time I began to notice that this Other appropriated all that had happened to me in my life and that he exhibited all the traits that I could observe about myself. . . I had raised and nourished a parasite at my own expense. By the end I no longer knew which one of us was plagiarizing the other. He traveled in my stead. He made love in my stead. But there was never complete identification because each of us was himself - myself and the Other. A tragic tête-à-tête, proving that you can only write one book or the same book several times. It is why all beautiful books are alike. They are all autobiographical. It is why there is only one literary subject: Man. It is why there is only one kind of literature: that of the man who writes.
There's an extra layer of intrigue with this passage. The postscript reads as the chronology of how Cendrars came to write his novel. Paul La Farge's very good introduction suggests that any personal detail revealed by the author should definitely be taken with a grain of salt as Cendrars also liked to embellish his life with fictional details.
So, while Moravagine is not among my favourites in this challenge - too self-indulgent at times and the misogyny is often uncomfortable to read - I can see its literary merits, and it makes an interesting metaphoric counterbalance to the idea that the years preceding WWI were a gentle, innocent period. I was trying to think of a contemporary comparison to Cendrars - Bret Easton Ellis perhaps?
Friday, April 23, 2010
In the Best crime novel category, the nominees are:
- Fingers Twist by Lee Lamothe of Toronto (Turnstone Press)
- Death Spiral by James W. Nichol of Toronto (McArthur & Company)
- Aloha, Candy Hearts by Anthony Bidulka of Saskatoon (Insomniac Press/LPG)
- Arctic Blue Death by R.J. Harlick of Ottawa (RendezVous Crime)
- High Chicago by Howard Shrier of Toronto (Vintage Canada)
Nominees for Best Non-fiction Crime Writing:
- The Fat Mexican: The Bloody Rise of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club by Alex Caine (Random House Canada)
- Runaway Devil by Robert Remington and Sherri Zickefoose (McClelland & Stewart)
- The Slasher Killings by Patrick Brode (Wayne State University Press)
- Post Mortem by Jon Wells (Wiley)
- Murder Without Borders by Terry Gould (Random House Canada)
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Doubleday Canada)
The Cold Light of Mourning by Elizabeth J. Duncan (Minotaur)
The Weight of Stones by C.B. Forrest (RendezVous Crime)
A Magpie's Smile by Eugene Meese (NeWest Press)
Darkness at the Stroke of Noon by Dennis Richard Murphy (HarperCollins)
In the Juvenile category the shortlist includes:
Not Suitable for Family Viewing by Vicki Grant (HarperCollins)
The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick)
Haunted by Barbara Haworth-Attard (HarperCollins)
Homicide Related by Norah McClintock (Red Deer Press)
The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade (HarperCollins)
Nominations were also announced in the Best Crime Short Story category, Best Crime Book in the French language, Best unpublished first crime novel (aka The Unhanged Arthur). News courtesy of the CBC ...
Thursday, April 22, 2010
I went to see the National Theatre of London's production of Alan Bennett's new play The Habit of Art, as it was screened live to hundreds of movie theatres around the world. What a terrific idea this is - and it completely works on a big screen. You are still seeing a live performance in a packed house, with some of the best actors in the world (and close-up so you can see every nuance and twitch in their faces), and you don't have to wait years until the play finally hits your city. And it was a terrific and immensely enjoyable production set during a play rehearsal of an imagined meeting between an elderly W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten, years after they worked on a failed opera together. The acting was superb, the writing witty and insightful about poetry, music, and of course the theatre, and I didn't have to get on a plane. Just before the play began, the audience was treated to some snippets of a documentary that will be airing in Britain in the fall about the friendship between these two artists. They quoted from a poem of Auden's that completely circles back to Bill McKibben. It's called "Doggerel by a Senior Citizen" and its first stanza goes like this:
Our earth in 1969
Is not the planet I call mine
The world, I mean, that gives me strength
To hold off chaos at arm's length.
I'll be reading some more Auden tonight and I'll be buying myself a copy of Bennett's play very soon. The next live performance in this series will be shown on June 28th when the National Theatre's production of Dion Boucicault's London Assurance will be filmed. This stars one of my all time favourite British actors Simon Russell Beale, along with Fiona Shaw and Richard Briers. I can't wait.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The great independent bookstore Powell's has posted a Q & A with Yann Martel - of particular interest is Yann's own recommended list of five great books dealing with the Holocaust.
After a brief stint at Oxford University, where he met his wife Helen Palmer, he became a graphic designer and eventually developed a very successful career in advertising. Many of his characters like the Grinch, Horton and even the Cat in the Hat can be seen in his ads. During the WWII he worked at Warner Brother in Hollywood and created educational films for enlisted men. He learned a lot of about educating, while also entertaining. At Warner Brothers, Ted worked alongside Munro Leaf, The Story of Ferdinand.
Ted wrote his first children’s book while on a ship crossing the Atlantic. During a ferocious storm he needed a distraction and wrote the first draft of And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. The story was rejected 17 times before finding a publisher. Several years later, his editor at Random House made a bet that Ted couldn’t write a book using only 250 key words, and as a result The Cat in the Hat was created.
I’ll send a free copy of Theodor Seuss Geisel by Donald E. Pease to the first person who can successfully answer this question: What is the title of the last book that Dr. Seuss wrote and illustrated?
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Friday, April 16, 2010
The winner of the 2010 Young Adult Canadian Book Award was Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston (HarperCollins). The Honour Books for 2010 are The Gryphon Project by Carrie Mac (Puffin), and The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade (HarperCollins).
The winner of the 2010 Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award was one of Janet's Dewey picks from last year: Perfect Snow by Barbara Reid (North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada). The Honour books for this award are Timmerman Was Here, (Tundra Books), illustrated by Nicolas Debon and written by Colleen Sydor, and You’re Mean, Lily Jean, (North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada), illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton and written by Frieda Wishinksy (and also one of Janet's picks!).
The winner of the CLA Book of the Year for Children Award for 2010 is Watching Jimmy by Nancy Hartry (Tundra Books). The two Honour Books for this award were Vanishing Girl by Shane Peacock (Tundra Books) and Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson (HarperCollins).
The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing, first published in 1946, is just plain fun to read, especially if you are a fan of tough talking, cynical crime noir - in books or movies. George Stroud is the alcoholic editor of Crimeways, part of the Janoth Publishing Empire. His personal life is a mess and things don't improve when he has an affair with his boss's mistress Pauline, and goes out with her to bars and antique stores. Janoth sees a man leaving Pauline's apartment one night but it's too dark to see him clearly. Yet finding the man becomes extremely crucial after Pauline is murdered and Janoth realizes the mystery man could identify him as the murderer. He assigns George the task of finding the man, who is of course, none other than himself. Things come to a suspenseful head one night as George is trapped in his office building as witnesses keep coming ever closer to his office.
In short, the big clock was running as usual, and it was time to go home. Sometimes the hands of the clock actually raced, and at other times they hardly moved at all. But that made no difference to the big clock. The hands could move backward, and the time it told would be right just the same. It would still be running as usual, because all other watches have to be set by the big one, which is even more powerful than the calendar, and to which one automatically adjusts his entire life.
'We want to bring out Funded Individuals. In cartoon strips. We'll dramatize it in pictures. . . Nobody reads, any more. Pictorial presentation, that's the whole future. Let Emory go ahead with Funded Individuals in a new five-color book on slick paper.'
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
This was a terrific, intriguing tale, even if it gave me an unpleasant flashback to calculus class (always my worst subject in high school). Helward Mann has lived in Earth - the city, not the planet - all his life. As he comes of age, and after swearing an oath of secrecy, he becomes an apprentice to the many Guilds that run the city and has to rotate between them, working a few weeks with each. This allows him to actually go outside of the city where he becomes obsessed with watching the strange way that the sun rises and sets. Most importantly his new responsibilities show him that his city is always on the move. Literally. Resting on huge wheels, it is constantly being pulled forward on tracks which are then dismantled and reassembled ahead of the city - all in a massive effort to get ever nearer "the optimum", whose geographical importance proves crucial to the city's survival. The Guilds are responsible for laying the tracks, building bridges over rivers, surveying the territory ahead, and bartering with the impoverished local people for labour and their women (the city has a population problem, particularly when it comes to giving birth to girls). But it is only when Helward travels "down past" on assignment to return three women to their village that he encounters the full horror of why the city needs to keep moving.
To write any more would be to give away at least two major and very enjoyable (if eerie) plot twists. Suffice it to say this is a novel full of suspense but also a poetic examination of perception, not just visual and spatial, but also in terms of storytelling (the sections are sometimes intentionally narrated in the first person, sometimes in the third) and time and its effects. Any initial head shaking over the science and mathematics - don't worry, it doesn't detract at all from following the story- is explained in the afterword (and I was very glad it was an afterword and not an introduction, as it's hard to talk about this book without spoilers). A very enjoyable read.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Monday, April 12, 2010
In Zodiac Light by Robert Edric
Settlement by Christoph Hein
The Believers by Zoë Heller
Sunday, April 11, 2010
New Canadian Library has just published a really terrific anthology: Canadian Poetry 1920 to 1960, edited by Brian Trehearne. It covers a literary period that I really love when writers were experimenting with modernism - a characteristic that influenced Trehearne's inclusion of poets for this collection. As he writes in his afterword: "in their common reaction against Romanticism and its legatees, and in their commitments to modern poetry's possibilities of profound newness - for newness could be profound in and of itself in this period - they make up one great movement in Canada's cultural history".
Some of the selections will jolt you right back to high school (E.J. Pratt's multi-voiced "The Titanic" and Earle Birney's "David"), and any English university student will have come across many of these poets in Canlit courses: A.M. Klein, the wonderful Dorothy Livesay, Margaret Avison, John Glassco, Irving Layton, Raymound Souster and James Reaney just to mention a few. There are nice selections from two of my favourites - F.R. Scott and P.K. Page whose poem "The Stenographers" seems particularly appropriate to read on a Sunday night. I've also been introduced to some poets previously unknown to me - Louise Morey Bowman's "The Tea Kettle" turns that comforting image on its head, and Patrick Anderson who writes of skiers on Mount Royal during WWII in "Winter in Montreal":
and I said: Can you tell me? Is this Canadian
to ski - I mean, to dare so silently
with nothing in front and blue behind like a railway?
I waited for his answer but it was
wafted away in the sanitarium snow
where the skiers flushed like the hectic tubercular
schussed down the fever of their feathery pillow.
There are poems from across the country and (again, why I like this period so much) many of them are set in cities. They deal with all aspects and descriptions of Canadian life (and the weather) but also are set against global events during this period - the Depression, WWII, the Holocaust, the Cold War. A wonderful book to keep by the bedside table and regularly dip into.
I was reminded of F.R. Scott's satirical poem "The Canadian Authors Meet" (yes, also included) when reading Lore Segal's delicious Lucinella. This novella is part of Melville House's exquisite Art of the Contemporary Novella Series which publishes or brings back into print little gems such as this from around the world. Originally published in 1970, this very funny story follows a bunch of poets, a literary critic, the editor of a poetry magazine, Zeus and Hera, and our main heroine at three different stages of her life (sometimes all present at once), during their jaunts at a writer's retreat, an academic symposium and several boozy parties. Their egos, insecurities, idiosyncrasies and libidos are all on display and fair game not only for endless gossip but as fodder for their work. Yet, despite the facade of friendship in this cosy circle, it turns out that not only do most of them not like each other, they don't even - GASP - read each other. And while it's clear they should never marry each other, they yet need each other and stay connected - right to the end. I couldn't stop laughing all the way through this marvellous unpoetic ode to the messiness of everyday life and love.
Friday, April 9, 2010
The novel traces the life of the precocious Letty and her younger sister Jacky through their adolescence and early twenties, and neither girl has much sense or sensibility. Letty is observant and street-smart, a self-proclaimed communist, who is always reading and trying to improve herself while caught up in the love affairs of all the careless adults around her. Her unhappy mother Mathilde mopes through the whole novel - her husband has definitively left her for his mistress and she refuses to give him a divorce and move on herself. Letty is influenced by both her strong-willed grandmothers - the unsympathetic Grandmother Morgan, an independent businesswoman, always looking to set up a new hotel and find a husband for her beautiful daughter Phyllis, and the complaining, slightly senile (but with many secrets) Grandmother Fox who must nevertheless be tolerated as she's rumoured to have left $5000.00 to Letty and Jacky in her will. Grandmother Fox is a wonderful recurring comic character - a scene that runs for several pages in which she tries to get someone to buy her a chicken is priceless. Letty's childhood is very much dominated by women; she sees her father infrequently and though charming, clueless, philandering uncles occasionally make an appearance, it's usually when they are on the run from their current or ex-wives looking for money. This is an unreliable world of multiple affairs and break-ups, where marriage is not seen as the culmination of finding a worthy life partner, but as an increasingly competitive and sophisticated - though short-term - strategy for financial survival:
Mathilde was bitter in lament over the wickedness of the world, but the rest of the women were openly discussing the profit of the alimony game, which now took on complications that they, in their simple, old world ways, had never suspected. They had simply divorced men and lived modestly on men's labours during their respectable lifetimes; but here were brilliant female gamesters unmarrying and remarrying, seizing parts and profts. The women were as shocked as huggermugger sidewalk traders are at the bold feats of speculators and profiteers on the exchanges.And though one hopes things will be different for Letty who does do her best to educate herself and find work in order to be independent - she writes some very funny advertising copy for a dress shop - she already has a string of affairs and one broken engagement by the time she is twenty. Letty has the misfortune to fall in love - and lust - with almost every guy she meets, leading to both comic and tragic adventures. Her life may be a saga of exhaustive madcap and this novel is probably two hundred pages longer than it needs to be (Letty is barely 25 by the end of it), but you can't help laughing at - and with - our heroine: "Some people I know say I have bounce, I am preposterous, I elbow people out of my way and am out for myself. I am . . .but at least it doesn't impose on anyone; I am who I am, and I make my way in the world." Throughout her romantic romps she retains her sense of self-deprecating humour along with a strong sense of self, and the relationship with her beseiged father - one of the more positive in the novel - is charming. Her signature at the end of her letters sums her up perfectly: Letty Marmalade (always in a jam).
This is definitely for readers who love Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love or Love in a Cold Climate, and as with those novels, this is also partially autobiographical. Bolters certainly abound in both.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Robert Edric's last book, In Zodiac Light, a novel about the last years of the WWI poet and composer Ivor Gurney, was a Dewey pick of mine, so he's a writer I'm always keen to read. Salvage is set in England, one hundred years in the future where climate change has led to increasing problems with toxic soil that threatens the population as the rains come. The main character Quinn is a government auditor, trying to assess a proposed site for a new model town, but comes up against all sorts of corruption and secrets.
I also had to chuckle at the opening lines of both the editor and librarian overviews of their jobs:
"The next person who tells me, 'Gee, I wish I could read books all day at my job,' is going to get a punch in the nose, seriously."
Ahem. I've heard that one too. But no, we do all our reading in our spare time.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
You could always play it the Dewey Diva way. No proper nouns, but for every word you create, you get a bonus point for being able to use it in a book title. Three extra points if you've read the book, but everyone else around the table who has read it also gets three points. This is also a great way to discuss books while you're playing.