A Canadian book blog: Publishing, marketing, books and technology from a Canadian perspective

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Honouring Wayne Tefs

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From the Winnipeg Free Press Friends to honour late author Wayne Tefs

The launch of the last novel by the late Wayne Tefs will be a gathering of some of the many people whose lives were touched by the prolific writer, editor and teacher.

Barker (Turnstone Press) is the story of a carnival barker travelling the Prairies during the Depression. The book launch, starting at 3pm on Saturday, October 4 at McNally Robinson Booksellers, will include readings from friends and colleagues, including David Arnason and Dennis Cooley.

Tefs, who died this month after living many years with cancer, wrote novels, short stories, memoirs and hybrid fact-based novels during a career in which he also edited several anthologies of short stories and helped many of Turnstone’s writers get their manuscripts ready for publication.

James Sherrett was one of those writers who worked with Wayne to get his manuscript ready for publication by Turnstone.

What started as a chapbook published by Jesse James Press (founded by Jesse Simon, James Sherrett and Scott James Montgomery, with me acting as the Press), Up in Ontario won the Heaven Chapbook of the Year in 1996, one of the Manitoba Literary Awards, and later became a full-length novel of the same name.

Wayne Tefs was instrumental in mentoring James as a writer and later editing Up in Ontario. I remember Wayne as a kind, funny and friendly man who enjoyed Sunday morning hockey and who was very generous with his time. I’m sure he’ll be missed by literary pals David Arnason and Dennis Cooley, and I wish I could join them at McNally next weekend. I was very sad to hear a few weeks ago that Wayne wasn’t looking great and then to hear that he’d passed away at the fine age of 66.

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Moon Lake and Red Rock are two of my favourite Wayne Tefs novels and I’m looking forward to reading Barker.

Farewell, Wayne.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

WORD Vancouver 2014

imageWORD Vancouver began today with readings at Paper Hound Bookshop and Banyen Books & Sound. The next couple of days are also filled with events are various venues (including pop-up magazine stands), all culminating in the big festival day on Sunday the 28th in and around the central branch of the VPL in downtown Vancouver.

  • Thursday: Banyen Books & Sound at 6:30 pm | Cottage Bistro at 7 pm
  • Friday: Christianne’s Lyceum at 6:30 pm | Historic Joy Kogawa House at 7:30 pm
  • Saturday: Vancouver Public Library 11-5 | SFU Harbour Centre 1:30 pm
  • Sunday: Main Festival Day at Library Square 11-5 pm

This is WORD Vancouver’s 20th year and admission is FREE. Want to help keep it free? Contribute to the WORD Vancouver Indiegogo campaign.

View the official program guide for the full schedule of events, or visit WordVancouver.ca for the most up-to-date information.

And, come join me on Saturday at 1:15 pm in the Alma Van Dusen Room to talk about “Creating an Author Profile”.

WORD Vancouver 2014

imageWORD Vancouver began today with readings at Paper Hound Bookshop and Banyen Books & Sound. The next couple of days are also filled with events are various venues (including pop-up magazine stands), all culminating in the big festival day on Sunday the 28th in and around the central branch of the VPL in downtown Vancouver.

  • Thursday: Banyen Books & Sound at 6:30 pm | Cottage Bistro at 7 pm
  • Friday: Christianne’s Lyceum at 6:30 pm | Historic Joy Kogawa House at 7:30 pm
  • Saturday: Vancouver Public Library 11-5 | SFU Harbour Centre 1:30 pm
  • Sunday: Main Festival Day at Library Square 11-5 pm

This is WORD Vancouver’s 20th year and admission is FREE. Want to help keep it free? Contribute to the WORD Vancouver Indiegogo campaign.

View the official program guide for the full schedule of events, or visit WordVancouver.ca for the most up-to-date information.

And, come join me on Saturday at 1:15 pm in the Alma Van Dusen Room to talk about “Creating an Author Profile”.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Book Review: The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

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Louise Penny is one of those mystery writers whose works I can’t put down. I would say her Inspector Gamache series is a Canadian version of the British detective drama Foyle’s War, but set in contemporary Quebec. Chief Inspector Gamache of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec is on the far side of middle age, a solid man both in stature and personal fortitude, and he is good and kind. The series is the right mix of Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marpole and CSI.

I started reading the series with book #7, A Trick of Light and was hooked. The Beautiful Mystery was by far one of the most beautiful mysteries I’ve ever read. Each book in the series introduces readers to a tucked away corner of Quebec (sometimes a real place and often a fictionalized version of a real place) set in contrast to the tranquility of Three Pines, a small village outside of Montreal that is not on the map and without cell service. It’s the Miss Marpole component with quirky small-town characters who are a microcosm of the world at large but also who are living in a very special place, maybe even a magical place in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez kind of way.

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With The Beautiful Mystery, the location was the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. Although they have taken a vow of silence, the monks are world-famous for their glorious chants. Gamache is called to the scene when the renowned choir director is murdered. The Vancouver International Writers Festival put on an amazing author event with Penny and Gregorian chanters recently so I was very excited to get a chance to attend this year’s author event.

Although there was no choir, Louise Penny was in fine spirits and instead of reading from her book, which of course would be a tricky feat if you didn’t want to reveal spoilers, she talked about herself, her writing process, how the Inspector Gamache series began, her first publishing contract, meeting her agent in a strange twist of fate and all the wonderful fans and “family” that have developed as a result of the books. It was like meeting a famous relative. She was lively and gracious and held the conversation without being full of herself. No wonder she can write a character like Gamache who is the embodiment of kindness and dignity.

One of the things I like about Louise Penny is the Acknowledgements come at the beginning of her book vs. tucked away at the end. It’s like how film credits used to appear in the opening sequence of a movie. Things that are meant to be read! She is very faltering of her agents, publishers and early readers, including the fine folks at Raincoast Books, where I used to work. It’s fun to see their names in print, especially when you know how much goes into making an author #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, or even getting on a bestseller list at all. (Of course, you need good writing, but it takes a village to bring the book up.)

As a former CBC radio host, Penny is incredibly well spoken. She has the gift of comedic timing and she takes pleasure in sharing her stories with fans. We were 700+ at the event in Vancouver, the last on what sounded like a loooong tour. Saving the best house for last? Anyway, she jokingly said she was taking “the long way home,” which is the title of book #10 in the series. 

After an absolutely riveting book #9, How the Light Gets In, Penny introduces us to the now retired, former Chief Inspector of Homicide, Armand Gamache, who is living in the small village of Three Pines. Has he found peace away from the front line of the police, away from the dead bodies, away from the corruption that forced him into retirement? Maybe.

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Gamache’s spirits are dampened but he’s not disheartened. He’s hurt physically but not beyond repair. The test of this comes when his neighbour Clara Morrow asks for help in finding her estranged husband Peter. The Morrows are well known Quebec artists but jealousy and fame has come between them. It’s a trial separation of one year, but Peter fails to return. He’s withdrawn $3000 from his bank account months ago and hasn’t been seen since. As much as Clara believes he’s missing because something is emotionally wrong, Gamache knows that it’s more likely physical.

In many ways this is a transition book. Our heralded Chief Inspector Gamache no longer holds that title. He’s been put out to pasture and that is always different than choosing to retire. What will happen to him? To the series? This book isn’t the answer to that, but we do get a crackerjack missing person’s mystery with all the tricky police work required to trace a person who doesn’t want to be found. Plus there’s the trials and tribulations of the art world, and the evocative rural Quebec settings. Plus the buttery croissants of the bakery in Tree Pines, which are worthy of mention because Penny makes me want to eat one every time she writes about them. Maybe the Gamache series is over and she’s going into food writing?

Or perhaps she’ll be a therapist. Each of the Inspector Gamache books present the discord in the apparent harmony. There’s a murder. There’s jealousy or rage. There’s double crossings. There’s hurt, both small crimes of the heart and big crimes against the law. And often it’s not about premeditated actions. Something breaks the silence. Or lots of small things break along the way. Given that Penny’s audience at the Vancouver International Writers Festival event last week were middle-aged, retirement-ready women and men, I think the book might be therapy for us. How do you not feel pushed into something? How do you value the gifts you have right under your nose vs. seeking solace elsewhere? How do you find creativity and inspiration when you’ve lost it? Whatever way you dice those tomatoes, the 10th books in the series, A Long Way Home, is good for many reasons.

And if you haven’t encountered the audio books, Ralph Cosham is a wonderful reader:
http://www.audible.com/series?asin=B006K1P8NC&mkwid=DSATitle&pmt=b&pkw=_inurl:asin%3D&source_code=GO1GB909GSH102413&gclid=CJTVpOq8z8ACFQ-DfgodmY4AVg

If you like following authors on Facebook, Louise Penny has a wonderful page:
https://www.facebook.com/louisepennyauthor

Thank you to Jamie Broadhurst and Dag Wagstaff at Raincoast Books for introducing me to Louise Penny and the Inspector Gamache series!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Best Books for an 18-Month-Old

My brother and I were complaining recently about how hard it is to find some of the children’s books we grew up with and consider classics. Is this what happens when you have kids? You want to re-live your own childhood through their eyes? There are a few that are easy to find. The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where the Wild Things Are, for example. And there are 5 children’s books turning 50 this year, which means they are readily available too. But they are definitely for older kids so they remain on the shelf. I’ll list them below then my compilation of FlashWolfe’s favourite titles at 18 months.

Celebrating 50 Years

  1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
  2. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car by Ian Fleming
  3. Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown
  4. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  5. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Best Books for 18-Month Old

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Concepts and First Words

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Peek-a-boo and Lift-the-Flaps

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Songs and Spotting

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Lovely Board Books

Holiday

Bedtime

 

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendations

Here are the last 3 books I devoured.

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The Light of Amsterdam by David Park
A novel that often reads like interwoven short stories about misunderstandings and miscommunication. A December flight from Belfast to Amsterdam brings together the otherwise unconnected characters of this drama. We have a father and teenage son who are at odds, a single-mother and a spoiled daughter on her hen party (dippy girlfriends in tow), and an almost-retired couple who are losing touch with each other. The trip to Amsterdam changes them all for better or worst. Author David Park has written 7 books, including the hugely acclaimed The Truth Commissioner. I think Darren will like this novel. The book has a very European feel to it, complete with Irish slang and descriptions of Amsterdam’s nooks and crannies.

Opening lines:

The ink was black, the paper the same shade of blue as a bird’s egg he had found a week before. In their balanced elegance the capital G and B mirrored each other. Unlike most of the soccer signatures he collected which were largely indecipherable hieroglyphics — the bored scribbles of fleeing stars — this name was readable and perfectly formed.

The Light Of Amsterdam by David Park, published by Bloomsbury


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The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper
A thrilling, and terrifying read, with lots of Milton’s Paradise Lost insights for the book nerds. A major departure for the bestselling author of Lost Girls, The Demonologist has the same literary prowess as Pyper’s other novels but is more like a literary version of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. Professor Ullman is a world-renowned expert in Milton’s Paradise Lost. He’s a scholar but not a believer, until he witnesses demonic acts with his own eyes, including the possession of his daughter. An advance copy crossed my desk in early 2013 but since I was pregnant at the time, I waited until now to dip into the shadows of this book. I recommend it for Kiley who said she was looking for page-turner summer read. This is Canadian, literary, and creepy-crawly.

Opening lines:

The rows of faces. Younger and younger each term. Of course, this is only me getting older among the freshmen who come and go, an illusion, like looking out the rear window of a car and seeing the landscape run away from you instead of you running from it.

The Demonologist: A Novel by Andrew Pyper, published by Simon & Schuster


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The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Winner of the Man Booker Prize. Add this to the classic school-boy novel list. Four boys meet during their formative years at school. One boy standout. One boy dies. One boy, now grownup, tells the tale. Barnes’ novels are so smart that they make me feel smart. This is a bit of a snobby book and I loved it. In some ways it reminds me of Fifth Business by Robertson Davies in that the reader must beware of an unconsciously unreliable narrator. I’m afraid to recommend this one for fear of identifying the snobby readers among us, but you know who you are.

Opening lines:

I remember, in no particular order:
– a shiny inner wrist;
– steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;
– gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house;
– a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;
– another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;
– bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.
This last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, published by Vintage Canada

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Book Review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project is a grown-up version of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Our hero is Don Tillman, professor of genetics,and he is using a mathematical model to find a mate. That’s not the only curious thing about him. To say he’s set in his ways is an understatement. Don has a set meal plan for the week, from which he does not deviate. He calculates and monitors alcohol consumption, the length of conversations and the statistical probabilities of almost everything. Asperger’s perhaps?

Don’s Wife Project falls under the scrutiny of his bestfriends Gene and Claudia, a husband-wife who understand Don’s quirks and help him understand the logic (or illogic) of the world. Despite helping Don refine the limiting criteria for his Wife Project survey, Don still has some epic-failure dates. His orderly, evidence-based system needs some work. Not only that, he is distracted from his own tasks by Rosie, a woman who he initially thinks has approached him as a candidate for the Wife Project but who is actually a PhD student of Gene’s who is looking to settle a bet she’s made with Gene. Secretly Don starts helping Rosie discover who her real father is. According to her mother, who’s passed away, Rosie is the result of a one-night stand that she had on her own graduation night from medical school. The Wife Project takes second seat to the Father Project and only a dolt like Don would miss the fact that Rosie is indeed the perfect candidate for the Wife Project.

The Rosie Project is a hilarious novel about the misgivings and misunderstandings of falling in love.

Based on the Bianca Disaster I revised the questionnaire, adding more stringent criteria. I included questions on dancing, racquet sports and bridge to eliminate candidates who would require me to gain competence in useless activities, and increased the difficulty of the mathematics, physics and genetics problems.

You’ll fall in love with Don by the end of this book, if not by the end of the first paragraph.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Book Review: The Confabulist by Steven Galloway


The Confabulist

Steven Galloway’s Houdini is as stageworthy as the man himself. And Martin Strauss, the man who killed Houdini, is his own elusive character. The Confabulist is a great story about magic, illusion, and escape artists.


I’m a fan of Steven Galloway so in many ways I felt predisposed to liking The Confabulist. I found it as page-turning as I remember Finnie Walsh being, on par topic wise with Ascension, and the style of writing as intriguing as The Cellist of Sarajevo.

Having recently read Bruce MacNab’s nonfiction account of Houdini and Bess’ tour of the Maritimes in The Metamorphosis, a lot of the Houdini stories seemed very familiar to me. But that’s the wonderful thing about celebrities. The general public can revel in thinking we know a lot about a person who quite often portrays a public persona that is quite different than the private one.

What I love about Galloway’s novel is that fiction lets us speculate more freely about the private persona.

Houdini was a great showman and certainly understood marketing and publicity. He was one of the most photographed men of his time and even though he died in 1926 (the first time *wink*) I feel like I’ve seen him perform.


Houdini and Magic

The famous and infamous are always fascinating, especially entertainers. Frank Sinatra, for example, is so lauded but also many say ol’ blue eyes wasn’t a nice guy. These men at the top of their game need such an ego to perform, I’m sure that if they don’t start out nasty, as Julia says, they develop that as a coping mechanism. What I like about Galloway’s version of Houdini is that he gives us the entertainer and a version of the man behind the scenes.  Both are inventions. 

Houdini invented himself: the name, the act, everything. And that’s the great American promise, that you can come from nothing and build your fortune. What a perfect illusion.

Speaking of invention and illusions, there’s something uncanny about Houdini. His life is a lovely dichotomy. He spent 26 years in the 19th century with horse and buggy, telegrams and struggling to make a name for himself and then 26 years in the 20th century with automobiles, telephones, radio and riches and celebrity.

The technological advances alone must have seemed like magic to people. Then for a magician as practiced in slight of hand and flexibility as Houdini to use that technology in his act, it must have been a double whammy for the audience. Oh, the great power! No wonder the spiritualists were excited.


Memory, Madness and Conspiracy Theories

I have a fondness for fools who speak the truth, everything from the characters in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to the jesters in Shakespearean plays. So Martin Strauss has my ear from the beginning of the novel when he introduces himself and the fact that the constant ringing of tinnitus can lead the afflicted, not that he is, to madness and suicide. What an opening!

Speaking of opening, the epigraph is from Aldous Huxley, “Every man’s memory is his private literature.” The more I thought about that, the more interested I became in Martin. Houdini is his own creation. He’s telling himself stories about who he is. So is Martin.

In the grocery store parking lot, Martin can’t unlock the door to his car. That’s because it’s not his car. Indeed, he’s never owned a green Chevrolet yet he has a clear memory of pulling into the lot and parking that particular car. He says that he tries to dismiss these small incidents but that they come with a memory, a recollection that he knows is false but which seems real.

Sometimes we tell stories that we makeup about ourselves. I’ve experienced that with jokes. A funny incident happened to me and one night at a party, my husband retold the story as if it happened to him! Well, he said, it sounds better in the first person. Houdini has showmanship as the reason behind his stories (as well as affairs that he wants to protect Bess from), but why does Martin fabricate his identity? Do we tell these stories and alter our memories because of something we are proud of or because of something we are ashamed of, or likely both?

When it comes to conspiracies, Houdini seems both proud of and ashamed of his participation with the CIA. The mystery and intrigue and prestige that is awarded him plays into the persona he’s creating, and yet it comes with its own faults and secrets that can’t be shared.

I don’t want to spoil the mystery and intrigue of Martin’s character, but there are so many great quotes so I’ll try to choose one that doesn’t reveal too much. He’s talking to Alice about confabulations and why certain false memories are so persistent and he says, “nothing is in the past for me. Because I remember it in the present, it’s in my head right now, though it’s always reconstructed. And reconstructions can’t be trusted. I can’t be trusted. None of us can.”

I love characters who warn us poor readers not to believe them. 


Female Characters

The female characters in The Confabulist really have supporting roles to our two stars, Houdini and Martin Strauss. In the case of Houdini, it’s steadfast Bess who knows Harry’s signs both on stage and off. He trusts Bess above all others and it’s Bess who sticks with him. She seems secondary both to the act and to the story Galloway is telling. For Martin, the girl is Clara but he mistrusts her love and doesn’t stick with her. Clara is also secondary to the act of Martin punching Houdini on that ill-fated night in Montreal. Then there’s Alice, who is the audience for the story that Martin is telling about his encounter with Houdini and the events that led to him killing Houdini, twice.               

There are similarities though too. Both men idolize their mothers. There are two beautiful scenes in the novel about the death of a mother. The first is Houdini saying farewell to his mother when he sets sail for Europe, and the grief he experiences upon learning of her death shortly after. The second is Martin consoling Alice when he learns that her mother is dead. “Being a parent is a monumental thing. You shape reality for another person. You cannot be an illusion … If you have done a good job, what remains is the part of you that was magical.” I thought that was a lovely thought but also curious because “if you have done a bad job, or no job at all, what remains of you is proof that the world is an unfeeling place.”

Both men idolize their mothers, and those mothers appear magical to them, but they also treat the world as if it is an unfeeling place. They are mistrusting of the outside world, they have one-night affairs, and they have illusions and disillusions about politics, women, and life in general. These are strange men and they make for interesting characters, which is perhaps why the women in the novel don’t take centre stage.

Loved the book.

The Confabulist by Steven Galloway
Published by Knopf

Vancouver Sun Book Club Chat with Steven Galloway
http://www.vancouversun.com/sports/Live+chat+noon+Author+Steven+Galloway+with+Book+Club/9885149/story.html

Monday, April 21, 2014

Two Greats Gone: Gabriel Garcia Marquez & Alistair Macleod

I always cite 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez as my favourite book and Alistair Macleod as my favourite author. To have lost both authors in such a short span of time is heartbreaking even though it’s been years since either put out a new work. What I loved about both was that neither ever misplaced a word. The sentences were tight, the quality of the storytelling was epic and their magnitude as authors was greater than great.

I never met Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but I did spend 2 months in his country of birth and the culture of that part of South America was heavily infused in his writing. Reading Marquez was a way to venture back to that place and to basically feel like a time traveller.

A Nobel Literature prize winner. A great author. He died on April 17 at the age of 87.
http://arts.nationalpost.com/2014/04/17/gabriel-garcia-marquez-dies-at-age-87/

My favourite copy of 100 Years of Solitude is in shabby condition, thanks to an ill-fated lending of said copy to my now husband. I should note that he bought me a lovely collector’s edition as an apology, but I held on to my original version and still prefer it.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold and Love in the Time of Cholera are two other favourites. And there are countless scenes that will stick with me forever, in particular the clouds of yellow butterflies.

I wish Alistair Macleod had stayed with us until 87 but he was only 77 years young when he passed away on Easter Sunday, April 20. 
http://arts.nationalpost.com/2014/04/20/alistair-macleod-author-of-no-great-mischief-dies-at-age-77/

His first short story collection, The Lost Salt Gift of Blood, is a slim volume that packs a hefty punch. Each story is a masterpiece. Before I was properly introduced to Alistair Macleod’s writing in a Canadian literature class in university, I was familiar with the cadence of his voice from listening to some of the stories read on CBC radio. Every time I read Macleod’s writing, I can hear his voice. It’s a wonderful experience.

When he published No Great Mischief in 1999 I had the pleasure of meeting him at BookExpo in Toronto. I had two girlfriends who were working at McClelland & Stewart at the time and one had the task of typing up pages and pages of text from Macleod’s handwritten, yellow foolscap. When he won the $10,000 Trillium Book Award, he chuckled that the kids could get another topping on their pizza now. I have my signed copies of Lost Salt Gift of Blood, No Great Mischief and Remembrance.

Macleod and his economy of words will always be my barometer for good writing. Be brief, be brilliant, be gone. I suppose it’s fitting that the last time I saw Alistair Macleod was at the Vancouver International Writers Festival and he read from his short story “Remembrance.”

Officer of the Order of Canada and multiple award winner, Alistair Macleod will be greatly missed.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Absolutely hilarious.

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel


You can tell from the writing style that Maria Semple writes for tv (Mad About You, Ellen, and Arrested Development. There’s the charm and gentle funny nature of Mad About You, the snark of Ellen, and the quirkiness and mindboggling reality checks of Arrested Development. The basics of the story are this: Bee is 15. Her mother has disappeared. Her father is cagey about the reasons. The novel is pieced together in emails, invoices and the absolutely funny school memos.

Dear Parents,
This is the clarify that Bernadette Fox, Bee Branch’s mother, was driving the vehicle that ran over the other parent’s foot. I hope you all had a wonderful weekend despite the rain.
Kindly,
Gwen Goodyear
Head of School

Some of the funniest moments, without spoiling the story, are about blackberry abatement, 5-way corners in Seattle, and parenting in a world without school grades.

I highly recommend this for people who like funny, quirky characters, non-traditional novel writing and are generally willing to laugh at themselves. Undoubtably there’s something of all of us in these characters.

 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Book Review: All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

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All the Broken Things is this month’s Vancouver Sun Book Club read. Since the book club members get a say in what we read, I’m predisposed to like the books we pick and All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is no exception. It’s well written, the story is interesting, the characters are true characters and parts of the book are stuck in my mind.

All the Broken Things is about a Vietnamese family who moves to Canada in the early 80s. They are suffering in various ways from Agent Orange. The father died on the boat. The mother has sores that she keeps from the children, the youngest was born deformed and the boy Bo is mentally scarred by the experience. Bo oscillates between fight or flight and after one particular bout with a boy named Ernie, he’s picked up by Gerry who’s working the circus circuit and is looking for a bear wrestler. No seriously.

Although the book is set in 1984, Kuitenbrouwer mentions in the introduction that bear wrestling was a fixture in Ontario sideshows until 1976 and she’s simply shifted the timeframe to suit the story.

Bo joins the circus and the rest of the novel is about the tension of two captive bears, a boy who feels like a captive, the atrocity of war and circus Freak Shows. It’s strange and beautiful at once. The majesty of the bear, the hilarity of her on a bike. The beauty of Bo’s mother, the sullen, drunk. Orange the sister, Agent Orange.

I’m looking forward to what my fellow Book Club members have to say about the novel.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Happy Birthday Robert John Sherrett

Bob Sherrett was born today in 1923. He died July 1, 2012 and I miss him dearly.

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Bob joined the Royal Canadian Air Force on his 18th birthday, graduated as a Sergeant Air Gunner and proceeded overseas in early 1942. He was stationed in Linconshire with 57 Squadron, 15 Bomber Group, flying in the rear turret of Manchester and Lancaster aircraft. Bob returned to Canada in 1943 and, while stationed in Toronto, met the girl he would marry after the war, Joan Wetton. In April 1944 Bob volunteered for a second tour of duty. He flew back to England where he served in an all-Canadian crew, as Gunnery Leader on 431 Canadian Squadron, 6 Bomber Group, with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. Bob survived being shot down in the English Channel in November, 1942, and again, a year later, he was the only member of his air crew to survive after their aircraft was badly damaged on the Peenemünde Raid. Bob was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, bar to the Operational Wings, and was mentioned in Dispatches.

I recently discovered this BBC Radio 4 program that tells the story of Wynford Vaughan-Thomas’ report recorded aboard a Lancaster Bomber during a raid on Berlin.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b039lmkg

Here’s the set up:

In 1943 the RAF contacted the BBC with a dramatic offer: they were willing to send a two-man radio crew on a bombing raid over Berlin. The BBC chose Wynford Vaughan-Thomas for the mission. He accepted, knowing he might never return.

So on the night of 3rd September 1943, Vaughan-Thomas recorded for the BBC live from a Lancaster Bomber during a bombing raid over Berlin.

Those hours aboard the plane clearly remained a defining time in his life. Forty years later, he called it “the most terrifying eight hours of my life. Berlin burning was like watching somebody throwing jewellery on black velvet - winking rubies, sparkling diamonds all coming up at you.”

Here’s the link again, it’s about 1 hour:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b039lmkg

I’m sorry there was ever a reason for Bob (or anyone else) to be bombing people, and I’m glad he returned from that experience. My life is richer having heard his stories. Happy Birthday Bob.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Rachael Ashe: Making By Hand

My friend Rachael Ashe presented at Creative Mornings a month ago on making things by hand and I found her presentation really inspiring. A few of the things that stood out for me:

1. iPhone photography has taken away the hands-on, tactile aspect of shooting images. We don’t have film, slides to advance, prints to handle. So maybe we should think about all the other ways that touch screens and digital tools have made us too “hands free”.

2. Build time in your schedule to make. Think about yourself as a maker. DO Things. Especially if it’s just for play.

3. Play and practice is how you refine your skills, and that can lead to paid work (if you’re interested in that sort of thing).

4. Say YES, I don’t know exactly how to do that but I’ll give it a go.

5. The first time you do anything, it will probably suck. Hooray!

Also, I like Rachael’s quiet sense of humour and little jokes in her presentation. I’m proud of my friend. I’m pleased that she overcame the nerve-wracking experience of speaking in front of an audience, and that she did a bang up job at preparing, practicing and presenting. 

Ease into your chair. The talk is 30 min then there’s 15 min of Q&A. Rachael hits her stride around the 8 min mark, but don’t skip ahead, just relax, get inspired, and then go make.

This is my favourite presentation this year. Last year it was Tori Holmes talking about being the youngest woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean. I still think about that presentation and how to turn the impossible into the possible. A theme that carries through in Rachael’s talk.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Book Review: Perfect by Rachel Joyce

Well, Perfect by Rachel Joyce is a perfectly sad little book. Perhaps sad isn’t the best word, morosely melancholic?

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Perfect opens in June 1972 with 11-year-old Byron worried about the addition of 2 seconds. Apparently the 2 seconds will be added to bring clocks back into line with the movement of the Earth. His best friend James has read about it in the paper and Byron can’t stop worrying about when those seconds will be added. “It’s the difference between something happening and something not happening.” Indeed!

What does happen is that Byron stabs his wristwatch in front of his mother Diana while she’s driving and she hits a little girl. Diana doesn’t realize she’s had an accident until Byron’s anxiety about it spills out a month later. What transpires over the next 4 months is the undoing of this little family.

Byron and James plot a way to save Diana from persecution but instead drive her into the hands of the seemingly distraught (yet totally conniving) mother of the little girl.

I missed reading Rachel Joyce’s first novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry so I’ll have to it pick up.

Perfect is quirky, well written and, I suspect, just as great a book club selection as Harold Fry. If you like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time you’ll also like this title.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

My Reading List for 2014

Mark Medley @itsmarkmedley has compiled the 25 most anticipated Canadian books of 2014 along with the best reads of 2013. Of course I want to read all of them, but there are a few on that list that immediately stand out. Also, I’m looking forward to what 49thShelf.com calls out as the top reads since they often has a handle on the smaller presses as well.

1. Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue (HarperCollins Canada/April) I didn’t read Room but this topic is intriguing: 3 former circus performers in 19th-century San Francisco.

2. The Confabulist, by Steven Galloway (Knopf Canada/April) I have loved all of Galloway’s novels, in particular Finnie Walsh and The Cellist of Sarajevo. This novel is about the life and death of the legendary magician Harry Houdini.

3. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, by Heather O’Neill (HarperCollins Canada/May) I enjoyed O’Neill’s Canada Reads-winning debut Lullabies for Little Criminals. It was dark. Not sure if this one is as dark but it’s about the twin children of a famous Québécois folksinger.

4. Walt, by Russell Wangersky (House of Anansi Press/September) Anansi always publishes very clever, quirky fiction and I’m really looking forward to this one about a grocery store cleaner who believes the police are trying to frame him for his wife’s disappearance. And as Medley says, “Oh, I forgot to mention his peculiar quirk: He collects discarded shopping lists people leave around the store.” Love it.

5. The Doomsday Man, by Ian Weir (Goose Lane Editions/September) Weir’s debut, Daniel O’Thunder was a pretty fun read. I’ve been participating with Ian in the Vancouver Sun Book Club and having heard about the novel first hand, I can’t wait to read his exploration of early surgeons and amputations. Seriously.

6. Into the Blizzard, by Michael Winter (Doubleday Canada/November) Winter is a crazy guy and I enjoyed The Big Why and All This Happened. I haven’t read Minister Without Portfolio so I’ll have to add that to my list as well. This book explores the history of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

More to come once I see what 49thShelf is touting!