Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Spud Returns

I guess once you develop a taste for Brian Doyle, you can't shake it. It's his tone that gets me. It reminds me of the way one of my nephews talks--a little like Sam in the TV show Freaks and Geeks. The story in Spud in Winter (Groundwood, 1995/2006) isn't particularly strong, but the characters are. All the exclamation marks should bug me, but they don't.

My Name is Number 4 by Ting-Xing Ye (Doubleday, 1997/2007): this was the abridged version, abridged, I suppose, to appeal to a younger crowd. It's a very good introduction to the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I read a book like this, and feel that it's a good thing she decided to make her home in Canada. So far all the memoirs of the Cultural Revolution I have read have been by women. Are there any written by men available in English?

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (Miramax/Hyperion, 2006) is today's teen-in-the-psyche-ward novel. It seems lightly written, though it covers all the ground, and is apparently based on the author's own experience of 5 days there. There are various good descriptions of things, but on the whole I couldn't connect. Sometimes I wonder if I was actually present during my own adolescence.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Voices from the Vortex

Borrowed Reading Lolita in Tehran byAzar Nafisi (Random House, 2003) despite the fact that reading Lolita in Toronto irritated me at the time I did it. I lolloped through great swathes of this book because, as the author said herself, it was written by an academic who couldn't help but use the book as a vehicle for expounding all her own literature theories. Hoever, because of that I have another way of thinking about that book now.

I was hoping to meet and get to know some of the faceless voiceless women of Iran, but I didn't really--they were still too shrouded for that, this time by the author's voice and her odd ways of describing things. (How can characters be developed on the page when they aren't developing in real life?) I did however strengthen my grip just a little on the vortex of reporting that has come from Iran since the nineteen-eighties. Ms Nafisi made me to understand, for example, something about those perplexing mass mourning scenes when a "hero" dies/is killed: mourning--and "righteous" anger--are the only emotions that the people are allowed to show in public; and such events are the only mass events allowed, in a culture where people aren't even allowed concerts and movies. No wonder people--even the ones who hate the regime and its leaders--show up for the catharsis.

There's now something called the Milkweed Prize for Children's Literature; Behind the Bedroom Wall by Laura E. Williams is no Milkweed, not at all, but I guess it serves a useful function. I am editing a novel right now that is about WW II Germany (in parts), also from the perspective (in parts) of a Hitler Youth member and, ultimately, Weirmacht soldier; I guess simply witnessing what happened has been done, and we are on to reaching behind the show to see what hand(s) are pulling the strings.

Monday, April 16, 2007


The Bunny List

I'm now doing so much writing of one kind and another in the course of my work that blogging everything I read is feeling like too much work. Still, I want to keep track; and sometimes I do want to say something. So, starting today I'll give myself permission to simply list what I've read and only comment when I'm moved to. A sort of Reader Rabid shortlist.

I'll start with Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain by Sean Cullen (Puffin Canada, 2007): I enjoyed this one more than the first, maybe because I was less critical (I knew that sometimes the footnotes would be a little irritating--and then found them not to be; in fact, I had quite a few laughs with them, my favourite being the one about that "prima donna of the appliance world" the toaster) but also, I think, because there was development from one book to the other and from the beginning of this one to the end. There was still lots of mayhemic adventure, but now I know a little more about the mysterious Hamish. What also developed was my confidence in Mr Cullen's storytelling abilities. He seems more confident, too. In the first book, there was this Narrator voice he kept putting between himself and the reader, like a shield; in this book, there's just a little speech from him at the beginning, and then it's on with the story.

Before I Wake by Robert J. Wiersema (Random House, 2006): what can I say--I'm a sucker for a Dutch name. The parents of a young girl become the focus of a millenia-old struggle when their daughter is struck by a truck and begins to work miracles of healing while in a coma. Readable enough, but a little Catholic.

Belle Falls by Sherrie Vanderveen (Penguin, 2007): see comment above. The author lost her grip on her character (a problem in a character novel) , falling prey to all that sixties shit. Not great but not terrible.

Digging to America by Anne Tyler (Doubleday, 2006): I will never stop loving The Accidental Tourist. That said, this was very solid. Two families, one "typical American" and one expat Iranian, adopt babies from Korea at the same time. They become friends, drawing into their overlapping circles their extended families--some members more willingly than others. I recognized Maryam. I kept seeing the lady I worked for in Sweden, years ago.

The Custodian of Paradise by Wayne Johnston (Alfred A Knopf, 2006): Remember BookExpo? I picked this up there, so long ago, and finally got around to reading it. It's a long one, and I confess I leap-frogged through it a bit. I really just wanted to know who Sheilagh Fielding's father was, and if she ever got to meet her children.

I finally got around to Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (Little, Brown and Co, 2004). There are so many books I want to read, and then I never remember to make a list when I go to the library. I've enjoyed his pieces in The New Yorker and now, having read these all stacked up (I couldn't put it down on Saturday, though I did still manage to vacuum and dust most of the house, and unpack all my Christmas stuff to repack it into bins for the crawl space, thereby turning a trunk into a coffee table/footstool for the TV room. Yes, I finally have a TV room) I could see why David fled to France and Amy makes muffins for people. His pieces about his brother were wonderful.

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