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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book Review: The World by Bill Gaston

The World by Bill Gaston is this month’s Vancouver Sun Book Club read and I’ve been enjoying re-discovering Gaston. I was first introduced to his work when I was at Raincoast and I’ve followed his career but haven’t really dipped into his books. Too bad I waited!

The World is both the title of this novel and the title of a novel in the book, written by Hal, one of the main characters. Hal has Alzheimer’s and is in a home and we don’t really get to his story until the final third of the book, but he is introduced early. The book begins with the sad life of Stuart Price who is a high-school shops teacher, recently retired. Stuart is split from his wife and has poured his energies into paying off his mortgage. Indeed he has just paid it off in a lump sum and, in burning the mortgage papers on his deck, burns the place down. Oh Stuart. To add insult to injury, he has forgotten to pay his insurance premium.

Stuart’s meltdown, or rather burndown, takes him on the road. Whether he’s running away or running to somewhere is questionable. He’s swiftly decided to drive his ancient Datsun from BC to Ontario in order to visit his long-lost friend Mel who is dying of cancer. It happens that his insurance company HQ is in Toronto and he wants to plead his case in person.

Stuart is hilarious, and a bit insane, so his third of the novel is pretty funny. The middle section begins with Mel bailing Stuart out of jail and continues from her perspective. It’s a bit dire in comparison to Stuart’s tragedy, but really it’s just another personal crisis from a different perspective. With Mel, we also finally meet Hal, author of The World which is about a leper colony on D’Arcy Island. Hal is quite the character and he and Stuart together are certainly a pair of looney tunes.

We’re going to be discussing Bill Gaston’s The World for the next couple of weeks in The Vancouver Sun so I’ll save my thoughts for that.

In the meantime, check out this gushing review in the National Post.

The World by Bill Gaston
Published by Hamish Hamilton

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Long-Form Reading

This article isn’t particularly long but, in the days of 140 character tweets and status updates, it exceeds the character count of my usual single-item readings. I asked James to read it aloud to me this morning while I was eating my breakfast and several times I made him re-read lines that I thought were hilarious or wanted to solidify in my brain. This gem is James’ find and a nice little reading experience that he shared with me in the half-hour block of time this morning between our son’s nap and next feeding. It’s worth a read.

The Referendum By TIM KREIDER in the New York Times from September 17, 2009
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/17/the-referendum/

Tim Kreider introduces this as an essay about arrested adolescence but it’s really about looking around and wondering if you’re living the life you want to be leading and how we look at our friends’ lives and either feel jealousy or pity.

The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’ differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt.

As a new parent, I’m constantly looking at my childless peers and thinking, “8 weeks ago, that was my life too.” Or I’m looking at strangers in the street who are carting around little ones and thinking, “bloody hell, those liars told me things get better” or “that woman has it together, I want to be like her when my child grows up.”

Reading Kreider’s article “The Referendum” coincidentally coincides with me filling out my son’s baby book with family members’ birthdays, which leads me to think about how young some of them died. Mid-50s seems to have claimed a number of loved ones on both sides of our family and at 37 years old that doesn’t seem all that far away.

On a brighter, yet caustic note, here are some of my favourite lines (extracted especially for my friends who are parents and only have 140 more seconds of attention):

To my friends with children, the obscene wealth of free time at my command must seem unimaginably exotic, since their next thousand Saturdays are already booked.

...

A lot of my married friends take a vicarious interest in my personal life. It’s usually just nosy, prurient fun, but sometimes smacks of the sort of moralism that H.G. Wells called “jealousy with a halo.”

...

Like everyone, I’ve seen some marriages in which I would discreetly hang myself within 12 hours, but others have given me cause to envy their intimacy, loyalty, and irreplaceable decades of invested history. [Note to all my married friends: your marriage is one of the latter.]

...

I have never even idly thought for a single passing second that it might make my life nicer to have a small, rude, incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life. [Note to friends with children: I am referring to other people’s children, not to yours.]

Read the full article: The Referendum By Tim Kreider

 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Book Review: The Emperor of Paris by CS Richardson

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A melancholic love story

The Emperor of Paris by CS Richardson is a series of short, interconnected love stories set before and after World War I in Paris. The most prominent storyline is of Emile Notre-Dame, thinnest baker in Paris and his wife Immacolata, who have a son Octavio. Both father and son cannot read but are amazing storytellers and Boulangerie Notre-Dame becomes rather infamous among its regular patrons who come for the buttery croissants and baguettes but also for the stories.

The bakery occupied the ground floor of a narrow flatiron building known throughout the neighbourhood as the cake-slice. As far back as anyone could remember the letters above its windows, in their carved wooden flourishes, had spelled out:

BOULA GERIE NOTRE-DAME

the N having long since vanished.

imageThe story of the N’s disappearance is a regular request from the bakery’s patrons, the most fantastical version being about thieves who spread across France stealing Ns and the most favourite being that of Napolean stealing the N himself.

The love of books is another thread through the story. Despite not being able to read, Octavio is a regular buyer from a book stall near the Louvre. For both Octavio and the bookstall owner, books have a special meaning, and lead to friendships and relationships.

CS Richardson has crafted a very fine story indeed. His cast of characters each contribute to the overarching story while having their own backstories as well. Emile, Immacolata, and Octavio run the bakery as I mentioned. Then there’s the fashion designers Pascal Normand and his wife Celeste, who hide their daughter Isabeau from view because of a facial scar from an unfortunate childhood accident. And we have three generations of the Fournier family who own the bookstall. On top of that, there’s a blind watchmaker, a starving portrait artist and Madame Lafrouche whose husband Alphonse gifts Emile The Arabian Nights which becomes the first book in Octavio’s collection and eventually makes it into the hands of Isabeau.

I was first introduced to CS Richardson from my publishing ties. Richardson is an award-winning cover designer for Random House and his first novel The End of the Alphabet was my favourite book in 2008. The Emperor of Paris is a strong contender for 2013.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Book on Sign Painters


Documentary: SIGN PAINTERS (OFFICIAL TRAILER)
Book: Sign Painters by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon

imageIn 2010 filmmakers Faythe Levine, coauthor of Handmade Nation, and Sam Macon began documenting the dedicated practitioners of hand-painted signs, their time-honored methods, and their appreciation for quality and craftsmanship. Sign Painters, the first anecdotal history of the craft, features stories and photographs of more than 25 sign painters working in cities throughout the United States.

The Canadian premiere of the Sign Painters documentary that accompanies the book will be in Vancouver on June 7th and 8th at the Rio Theatre. Get tickets ($20) and additional information.

Related Books

Draw Your Own Alphabets
Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, and Make Your Own
Tony Seddon

Little Book of Lettering
Emily Gregory

UPDATE
Another great sign maker: glass & mirrors

Monday, April 08, 2013

Celebrate National Poetry Month

April is national poetry month and I thought that I’d celebrate by re-reading some of the poetry collections on my shelves.

Excerpt: “at night cooley listens” published in Sunfall by Dennis Cooley (Anansi, 978-0-88784-580-2)

at night cooley listens to his body
an answering service he bends over now
          the day’s over the day’s messages
the rest of the day he does not listen
does not pay it much attention, his neglect shameful
cooley knows he shld do better shld take it out more often
          show it a little more affection

once the noise of the day drops like shoes untied away
every night when the tired switch clicks night on
the body becomes importunate spouse
it’s about time you listened to me
you self-centred bastard the body says you barely listen
the body rehearses a long list of grievances, sniffling
                        there are violins

Dennis Cooley is one of my all-time favourite poets. I find his poems to be flamboyant and a little crazy. Some of them are incredibly heartfelt, while others use tone and timing to turn otherwise casual observations into challenges or wisecracks. He’s the only poet I keep coming back to. Others I enjoy and soon forget whereas I’ll eagerly read, and re-read, Cooley. This poem in particular makes me giddy in the same way that episodes of Seinfeld do.


Excerpt: “Wolf Tree” by Alison Calder published in Wolf Tree (Coteau Books: 978-1-55050-359-3)

The wolf tree’s arms reach out
in a question that is also an answer,
as we seek another name for what we have.
The tree embraces us in its branches,
holds the buds of our tender dreams.
What happened, it says, what happened
to the farm grown over, the buildings
sagging into slope-shouldered grayness.
The wild comes back, as lilacs
explode over the woodshed,
irises and roses bloom beside
decaying doors.

Alison Calder’s whole collection of poems is wonderful to read, in particular because each poem offers a wonderful balance of dream and reality. I also like her poems because many are set on the prairies. Calder grew up in Saskatoon and I first met her at the University of Manitoba where she was teaching CanLit and creative writing. I’ve admired her work ever since and perhaps became a fan of prairie poets because of her and Dennis Cooley, along with David Arnason, Robert Kroetsch and newer poets like Alexis Kienlen. I enjoyed the “bee” poems in her recent collection 13.


Poem: “The Home Inspection” by Jamie Sharpe published in Animal Husbandry Today (ECW, 978-1-177041-106-7)

Before I even step
into this house
let me point out
something about
the foliage

Those leaves on
that there bush
were new in spring;
given it’s late July
I’d say they have
two months tops.

I doubt they’re
under warranty.

Jamie Sharpe is new to me, and I appreciate that he sent me a copy of this collection of poems because I’ve been enjoying exploring it. Like the poems above, Sharpe’s poems are accessible while still being lyrical. It’s a great collection.

What poems strike your fancy? If you’re keen to share, consider checking out the poetry contest on 49thShelf.com for a chance to win a prize package of new Canadian poetry.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Finlay: Week 1-7

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Left column: week 1, 2, 3. Main image is week 6-7. Right column: week 4, 5, 6

Finlay John Sherrett is 7 weeks old today. It is shocking how fast, and slow, time has gone. He’s gone from week 1 being 6 lbs 14 oz to losing weight to week 7 being over 9 lbs. Finlay is a string bean. Long and skinny. And thankfully for the last two days he has been rather happy. I think week 4 was the worst of my life and part of week 6 was vying for the top spot. But the little man is sleeping, eating and playing nicely. That makes me happy. Plus there was sunshine again today.