Friday, July 29, 2011

Were I George Clooney, I too would gather some of the best actors around and make a movie with them. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Papa: "The Sun Also Rises"

On the occasion of Hemingway's birthday (July 21,1899) I shared with the Indigo Fiction Blog a personal response to one of Ernest (Papa) Hemingway’s most famous novels.

No Old Man, Barely Any Sea 
At the risk of revealing too much and being a bit crass, I discovered Ernest Hemingway in a friend’s bathroom. He had a copy of The Sun Also Rises—or “Fiesta,” as it was titled in European editions—out on the desk I passed as I made my way to his facilities. We’d traveled Europe together, this friend and I, so I thought it okay that I take the small yellow edition of the book in with me to do my business (I’d put it back!). Now just as I have stated on this blog previously that it’s better to discover classics like The Catcher in the Rye on your own rather than when forced to read them in school, I think the more intimidating the author’s name the better you’ll react if reading those first pages whilst seated on a toilet.
In all seriousness, I was intimidated. Like all the big names from the canon, my narrow-minded, misinformed perception of the great writer had me worried Hemingway would be long-winded, dull and difficult. It took not a page and a half of The Sun Also Rises to realize he was exactly the opposite of all three of those things. Here was a writer who wrote short, direct sentences, who shaved off anything resembling a dull moment and who was straight forward and clear in the best way. I’ve yet to read another writer than can paint a scene as successfully as Hemingway can.
For the rest of this article click Papa Hemingway's Birthday

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Great Canadian Men of Letters

The Great Canadian Men of Letters

As we have covered the legends of Canadian women in fiction as well as the New Guard, it's only fair to give the Canadian men a shake …
Readers of a certain age are apt to yawn when the term Can Lit is mentioned. We Canadians have a habit of being so hard on … well, Canadians, not just in judging the quality of our homegrown artists’ work, but on promoting that work. That our neighbours to the south are the world’s best at unabashed self-promotion doesn’t help. Nor does our national tendency toward self-effacement, a great quality no doubt, except when it comes to the promoting of things. All this as a defence for why it’s worth heralding five of our greatest male writers and recognizing what remarkable talents this country has produced.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Canadian Women: The New Guard

Canadian Women: The New Guard

The next Margaret Atwood may very well be out there right now. Could be she’s started writing. If so, she’s likely already published. And while it would be rather presumptuous to suggest that one of the three women highlighted below will rise to such iconic heights, it’s fair to say these already established authors—who have been both admired by critics and lay reader alike—are well worth keeping an eye on. They are stars who continue to rise.

Miriam Toews
Some readers believe that what is taken from a novelist’s life is less worthy or intriguing than that which is wholly imagined. That writers as diverse and accomplished as Philip RothD.H. Lawrence and even Leo Tolstoy (in his novelThe Cossacks) took liberally from their own lives to create fictive worlds might be good reason to shake this belief. More to the point, when you were brought up in a Russian Mennonite community in Steinbach, Manitoba it would be foolish not to mine said material.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Desert Island Novel to Read and Read Again # 2: J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" - Part I


[Originally published December 25, 2008]
[Click Haruki Murakami's "Norwegian Wood" for Desert Island Book to read and read and read #1]

The Catcher in the Rye made me feel less lonely at a time (15 years of age) when all I touched, as Salinger put it in one of his Nine Stories, seemed to turn to complete loneliness. It's the reason I started writing. It was the first work of fiction to break my heart as it healed my soul. And God Bless, because this Jew interested in Buddhism had found his truest religion.

For the longest time I tried to keep my obsession with Salinger's only full-length novel to myself. Oh I would tell people I loved The Catcher in the Rye, or that Salinger was my favourite writer, but I honestly tried to not go further with it than that, to put a lid on it. I'd never have admitted that it wooed me to falling in love with New York forever, never mind the number of times I have read it, not including random flips for favourite passages. Or the fact that I somehow managed to write my Masters thesis on it, when my Masters was supposed to be in applied linguistics and what the hell did that have to do with English literature.

That first 15 year-old time was not for school, which may be the key to everything. I read it fast, just a few days and I was not (and am not) a fast reader. Holden Caufield's breezy first-person narration was so much like conversation you just zipped through. The book's famous opening:

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. 

The book read so fast, so easy, so true I was convinced it was pure autobiography. Not even, cause autobiography still implies some semblance of putting together, of structure, work, effort. The Catcher in the Rye, to me, that first read, and the way it stayed in my mind long after (cause I wouldn't re-read it for at least five years, afraid of tainting that first read experience) was, I was sure, simply, if beautifully, Salinger writing his thoughts and experiences in a journal. The book was a particularly fascinating series of diary scribblings. This to me was profound because it felt like the true heart of a person, which has always captured me more than the mind, and the gimmicky tricks it can play (much as a twist ending is always exciting it's not the kind of thing that'll make it to my island).


Digging through my big sister's records back when I was 12 (and big sisters had records to dig through) I discovered Pink Floyd, the song 'Comfortably Numb' in particular. It was a revelation - my first listen of something other than the bubble gum pop that really got me. I mean REALLY. This wasn't just music, this wasn't just wanting to hear Paula Adbul's latest hit for the umpteenth time cause it made you feel chipper or helped you not think about things; this was different, this was soul food, this was necessary - this made me think about things; shit, this was gonna bring me closer to God. Or, at the very least, help me get through grade seven, which as we all know is a crap age.

The Catcher in the Rye was not a story, not in the Narnia, Hardy Boys sense. It spoke the truth about things that I was living, that I was struggling with. The "Hardy Boys" was like Coca-cola, a treat I could have on weekends. The Catcher in the Rye, on the other hand, was water. I needed it.

Holden spoke of things I'd never heard anyone say. He spoke the thoughts I had in my head. About the phoniness of people. About dishonesty and how hard life can be. And somehow, in travelling with him as he sneaks out one night to leave Pencey Prep forever (the school he is about to be kicked out of anyway) and trains it to New York, I felt less lonely. This kid was searching for something as I was, as so many kids do as they hit that age when they start to become aware of the world. And what I love is that the novel is as much about grand philosophies, on death, and what it means to live, and about losing the innocence of childhood, as it is about the simpler (or maybe more complicated) things. Like girls.

I was half in love with her by the time we sat down. That's the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they're not much to look at, or even if they're sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.

Great art is about connection. At 15 I was sure I was Holden. At 23 it was Salinger I wanted to emulate most. The real point though is about what makes a book great, what makes something worth re-visiting. Holden, of course, says it better than I can:

What really knocks me out is a book, when you're all done reading it, you wished the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.

This is the end of Part I.
[Click Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye Part II  for part II.]
[For Desert Island Book to read and read again # 3 click Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things]

Friday, July 8, 2011

Great Canadian Women of Literary Fiction: The Lions

Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. It’s remarkable if you think about it. Three of the English world’s great singer-songwriters are Canadian. In much the same wayand covering roughly the same period of timethere are three writers, all women, who are as big in the literary world as Cohen, Mitchell and Young are in the annals of music history, and that’s worth celebrating, what with Canada having just accomplished her 144th birthday and all.
Margaret AtwoodAlice Munro, and Carol Shields. No need to beat around the bush. There aren’t any surprises here, except perhaps that Margaret Laurence should have made the list (The Stone Angel is often referred to as one of the great novels of Canadian literature). If this list seems obvious, here’s a question (or two): Have you read the notable works by all three great dames? Have you ever attempted one of Munro’s masterful short story collections?
For recommendations and the rest of this piece click Canadian Women of Literary Fiction

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Making Statements

I hadn’t seen any novel make the statement that entering the workforce was like entering the grave. That from then on, nothing happens and you have to pretend to be interested in your work. And, furthermore, that some people have a sex life and others don’t just because some are more attractive than others. I wanted to acknowledge that if people don’t have a sex life, it’s not for some moral reason, it’s just because they’re ugly. Once you’ve said it,
it sounds obvious, but I wanted to say it.
-Michel Houellebecq 
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