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Spat the Dummy by Ed Macdonald: An Interview with The Bible Pimp (review + author Q&A)

spat the dummy

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads
Synopsis:

Spat Ryan has demons. They haunt him by day and share his drink at night. Raised in Montreal by a bagman for the Irish mob, Spat has fictionalized or ignored chunks of his life too painful to recall. A chance meeting with an old friend of his father’s in a bar exposes the dark secret they’ve both been harboring, the secret that has shaped and defined Spat’s tumultuous life. Newly divorced and out of control, his decision to tell all and release himself from the past unleashes a storm of change in both his internal and external life.

I usually put my disclaimers at the end of a review, but this is a special case. I did not receive a review copy of this book, and I’ve never met the author, but he is known to me for two important reasons. First, his brother married my mom’s sister. If “uncle-in-law” was a thing, he would be mine. Second, he is THE BIBLE PIMP:

Ed Macdonald as The Bible Pimp. via quickmeme.com

Ed Macdonald appears in Trailer Park Boys as The Bible Pimp. via quickmeme.com

The Bible Pimp was one of my favourite episodes of Trailer Park Boys, even before I knew about the family connection. It’s a hilarious episode, but it’s a little different because Ricky and Julian win. They expose The Bible Pimp as a scam artist, and get to watch someone else get hauled off to jail for once.  Julian was in love with the Bible Pimp’s accomplice, though, and as she’s taken away, she sneers at him, “Fuck you, you greasy trailer park boy.” His face falls, and it’s one of the sadder moments of the show. For just a moment, all the Freedom 35 stuff falls away. He knows he’ll never be anything but a trailer park boy. I think it’s significant that it’s one of the only (maybe THE only) times the phrase “trailer park boy” appears in the series.

Sorry to those who didn’t come here for in-depth analysis of Trailer Park Boys. I’m going somewhere with this. The theme of escaping the past, and of become something else, or something more, than you were born into, is part of Spat’s story. Read more

In my bed: September 2014

(Psst: contest winners are at the end of this post!)

After spending my last quarterly update explaining that I was NOT going to go on a break, despite being in a rut… I’m here to tell you I’m going on a break because I’m in a rut. Who saw that coming?

twist

For the rest of October, I’m taking a break from:

  • Social media: Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Goodreads. Within reason. If you send me a DM or whatever, I’ll go pick it up.
  • Posting here: Mostly. I have a review in-progress that I will finish because I’m really excited to share (Spat the Dummy be Ed Macdonald.)
  • Reading blogs: Except my very favourites. I unfollowed about 200 blogs (!!) on my WordPress reader yesterday *and it feels so good.*
  • Requesting/accepting review copies: self-explanatory.
  • Reviewing books: kind of hard when I won’t be posting here or on Goodreads.

In addition to being in a reading rut, I’ve been giving lots of thought to the purpose of reviews, the purpose of blogging, what I want to read and write… and I think I need some time away from the noise of blog-land to ponder. There are two posts in particular that really got me thinking, and I would encourage you to read them:

  • Do You Read Book Reviews? A Challenge and a Rant by James Reads Books: this one made me want to sign up for the review challenge immediately, but also made me stop and think about the nature of the book review, like, as a piece of creative writing, as literary criticism, and as content marketing.
  • Authenticity and Diversity in Literature by Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity: this one inspired me to do a sort of VIDA Count, but for ethnic as well as gender diversity. You’ll notice I keep careful track of what I read – it’s easy to do thanks to Goodreads- but I’ve never tracked what I review. It’s reviewing that gives us bloggers some modicum of power in the literary world; we don’t just vote with our wallets, we vote with our voices. We influence people. What we’re doing with that influence, however small, is important. Over three years and 57 reviews, here’s what I found:

So, I’ll be back next month. Here’s what you can expect when I get back:

  • Literary Events Recap: My social media break will be in effect with I meet Joseph Boyden on Oct. 23rd, so expect lots of pent-up fangirling when I’m back.
  • Novellas in November: My favourite blogging event of last year.  I’m already building up my list.
  • BookstravaganzaLast year I was cheering them on. This year I’m joining in! I have zero chance of winning but that’s okay.

But before I go… we have giveaway winners!

Here are the lucky winners from last week’s Literary Festival Giveaway! Winners, check your inboxes.

Winner of tickets to M.G. Vassanji at LitFest: Carolyn

Winner of tickets to event of your choice at STARFest: Riverboat38 (if that is your real name…)

Winner of tickets to Joyce Carol Oates at Festival of Ideas: Natalie of Wandering Bibliophile

Thank you everyone for entering and reading and, as they say, I’ll be gone till November.

Anyone else remember how ubiquitous that song was, and notice how you never hear it these days? I also totally forgot Bob Dylan was in the video.

Fall Preview Part II: Three literary festivals and a giveaway

Fall Preview Part I was all about the books I’m excited to read. Today, we’re talking Edmonton literary festivals and giveaways.

Actually, three giveaways. Edmonton hosts three excellent literary festivals, and despite my grumbling about a lack of Word on the Street (but for real, Lethbridge and not Edmonton?) I am excited to get into festival season. Read on for my picks, and for your chance to win your way into three of my most-anticipated events!

LitFest

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I had a great time at my first LitFest last year and I’m super bummed that I can’t make it to any of these fine events. If I could, I would go to:

  • And Home Was Kariakoo (M.G. Vassanji) October 23, 7:30 p.m. at Stanley Milner Library. I am so sorry to miss this. I read The Magic of Saida last year and it was brilliant. Here’s my review in which I dub the author M.G. “Mother-effing Genius” Vassanji.
  • Me, My Selfie, and I October 23, 5:30 p.m. at Kids in the Hall Bistro. I went to this event last year and it was so fun! They’ve changed it up a bit this year and are including selfie lessons which I sorely need. My kids take better selfies than I do.
  • Headliner Naomi Klein was on The Colbert Report this week and you can see her October 20, 7:00 p.m. at the Winspear. She’s pretty feisty on Twitter, too:

LitFest is also running Words on the Square, in partnership with Edmonton Arts Council, bringing authors to Churchill Square at lunch time on Tuesdays to read and… well I’m not sure what else. I just have to run across the street to get there, so I’m in!

LITFEST GIVEAWAY: I have two tickets to the M.G. Vassanji event to give away! Just comment on this post and let me know you want the tickets. I may ask you to take my copy of The Magic of Saida and get it signed. If that’s cool with you.

STARFest

starfestlogo

I’m excited to attend the St. Albert Reader’s Festival for the very first time. I love that the focus is squarely on readers. Sometimes at literary events I feel like I’m the only one who’s not an author too. It’s weird.

  • Joseph Boyden: The Soul of an Author October 23, 7:00 p.m. at Arden Theatre, St. Albert. This is the reason I can’t attend the LitFest Vassanji event. How did two of my favourite CanLit authors end up appearing at the same exact time? Talk about #CanLitProblems! I’d already bought my tickets for Boyden and he probably would have won anyway, as I have a well-documented crush on him.
  • Yann Martel: The Power of Literature October 29, 7:00 p.m. at Arden Theatre. I enjoyed Life of Pi and hope to watch the movie one day; as soon as I get a spare couple of hours alone in the house (i.e. never.) Martel has done lots of other stuff since LoP and I need to catch up.
  • Padma Viswanathan: Loss, Identity and Faith October 19, 2:00 p.m. at Forsyth Hall. I’ve had Viswanathan’s The Toss of a Lemon sitting on my shelf for a few months now. Its time may be coming.

Boyden hitting us with some content marketing:

STARFEST GIVEAWAY: I have two tickets to the event of your choice to give away! Just comment and let me know which event you choose. Pick a back up if you want to see Boyden as it may sell out. Maybe reveal your own literary crush, too. 

Festival of Ideas

festival-of-ideas

When Margaret Atwood is the appetizer, can the main course compare? Atwood and Alanis were here last year as a pre-festival event. Joyce Carol Oates is like the crazier, American version of Atwood (on Twitter, anyway) and I must find out for myself what she’s really like. My picks:

  • Joyce Carol Oates November 23, 7:00 p.m. at the Winspear Centre ($30) for reasons stated above. I snagged We Were the Mulvaneys at a library sale and have had it recommended it me more than once.
  • Colm Toibin November 20, 8:00 p.m. at The Citadel ($24) because The Testament of Mary is brilliant. It earned a rare five-star review from me (obviously, everyone’s go-to metric) and showed me that brilliant novellas are not just found in the classics section.

There are more controversial tweets, yes, but to book bloggers, dissing Jane Austen is a throwdown:

FESTIVAL OF IDEAS GIVEAWAY: I have two tickets to Joyce Carol Oates to give away! Just comment and let me know you’re interested. Maybe tell me your favourite JCO book, or link to her craziest tweet.

Did you catch all three giveaways in this post?

All you have to do is comment on this post and let me know which pairs of tickets you’re interested in:

  • M.G. Vassanji at LitFest (October 23)
  • Winner’s choice at STARFest (events in October and November)
  • Joyce Carol Oates at the Festival of Ideas (November 23)

You can say you’re interested in more than one. Go for all three if you like! I’ll do a random draw for each pair of tickets and announce the winners on Friday, October 3. No airfare or hotel, I’m afraid, so make sure you’ll actually be in town. I’m not going to make you subscribe to my blog, or follow me on Twitter, or share this post, to enter. You should definitely do all those things, though.

Thank you LitFest, STARFest, and Festival of Ideas for generously providing these prizes! I’d love to hear what you’re looking forward to this festival season, whether you’re in Edmonton or not.

Fear and Loathing in Suburbia: Between by Angie Abdou

between

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads
Synopsis:

Vero and her husband Shane have moved out of the sweet suite above his parents’ garage and found themselves smack in the middle of adulthood―two kids, two cars, two jobs. They are not coping well. In response to their looming domestic breakdown, Vero and Shane get live-in help with their sons―a woman from the Philippines named Ligaya (which means happiness), whom the boys call LiLi. Vero justifies LiLi’s role in their home by insisting that she is part of their family, and she goes to great lengths in order to ease her conscience. But differences persist; Vero grapples with her overextended role as a mother and struggles to keep her marriage passionate, while LiLi silently bears the burden of a secret she left behind at home.

Before I even started Between, there was a lot at stake. A story about a working mom of two, written by a working mom of two, set in contemporary Canada, raises my expectations. I want to see myself. I want to learn something about myself. I don’t want to feel misrepresented. I wonder if brooding middle-aged men feel this way about all the stories about/by brooding middle-aged men? Don’t answer that.

The synopsis of Between put me in mind of I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson, a bit of a groundbreaker in the “two kids, two cars, two jobs” domestic novel. Now, I read IDKHSDI when I was 22, and had no clue about marriage, children, or work, for that matter. And I hated it. I found the main character insufferable and didn ‘t relate to her at all. I still think she was ridiculous for trying to disguise store-bought cupcakes as homemade, to keep up with the supermoms at pre-school. It was a lot of that, and “getting ahead” at work, and it fell flat. I didn’t care.

Unlike Pearson’s upwardly-mobile heroine, Vero is not particularly ambitious. To be ambitious, she’d have to have a goal. It’s hard to be goal-oriented when you’re chasing 1 and 3 year old boys, working, and dealing with your spouse and their dysfunctional family. Vero is in survival mode. Now that, I get.

Vero’s marriage isn’t exactly failing, it’s just plodding along like marriages with young kids tend to do. Someone gives Vero advice to the effect that couples with children under three should not be allowed to divorce. You’re not in your right mind. You haven’t slept in years. If you’re not a good partner it’s probably because you don’t have anything left to give.

They’re both delirious from lack of sleep. His words come to Vero as if spoken underwater, wavy and weak, parts of them floating away. She can’t tell whether the problem is his voice or her ears.

Abdou makes it tough to like Vero and Shane. They’re an awful representation of modern Canadian life, all consumerism and self-imposed stress, and so lacking in self-awareness, it makes you (ok, me) wonder: am like that too? I was reminded of Blind Spot, in which I related to a character who was revealed to be kind of terrible.

Ligaya, on the other hand, is easier to like. She’s overcome a lot to get to Canada, and has a tragic secret. Her Canadian life is kind of like that of a teenager – when she’s not caring for Vero and Shane’s children, she’s holed up in her room, or giggling with her girlfriend and trying on makeup. But 27-year-old Ligaya is more grown up than 42-year-olds Vero and Shane.  She sees through their bullshit immediately.

The woman who meets Ligaya at the luggage carousel speaks no more of wealth than trees and rocks. She grabs at Ligaya’s hand, squeezes her fingers hard, and pulls Ligaya so close to her body that Ligaya hears herself squeak.

Wealth does not pull, Ligaya things. Money never needs.

Read more

The Dreaded Three (Point Five) Star Review: Blind Spot by Laurence Miall

blindspot

My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Goodreads
Synopsis:

When his parents’ car is hit by a train, Luke, a failed actor, returns to his Edmonton hometown to attend their funeral, wrap up their affairs, and prepare their house to be sold off. But while all others around him grieve, Luke remains detached, striking up a relationship with a woman in a neighbouring house… and stumbling across evidence that his mother may have engaged in a longstanding extramarital affair herself.

I overthink book ratings. I work in marketing, so I think about the implications of a three versus a four start review, particularly for the indie or small press author. I design consumer surveys, so I know how finicky rating scales are, and I know about the biases that creep into a rating, no matter how objective you think you are.

I have plenty of my own quirks: I’m stingy with my five-star ratings. I’m a fan of the half-star (damn you, Goodreads) and often change my mind after an initial rating. And a three star rating, like I’ve given Blind Spot? Ugh, I hate a three star rating. It’s so wishy-washy. It’s a safe, “I liked it, it didn’t blow me away, but I don’t hate it” kind of rating. And while those statements do apply to this novel, I’m also still thinking about it weeks later, which isn’t wishy washy at all.

I’ve been thinking about ratings lately. How I arrive at them, what they mean, and are they fair. Check out this blog post (and my comment) on Follies Past for more on that. In the meantime, here are some things I think about when rating a novel, and how Blind Spot stacked up.

 

1. The basics

This one’s pretty simple: does the book have enough going for it in terms of plot, character, and style to avoid a one-star rating? I can usually tell after the first chapter. I read a preview of Blind Spot‘s first chapter and was intrigued enough to add it to be TBR list (and to request a review copy.) It presents an Artful Dodger-and-Oliver type scenario, where the streetwise older kid gets the younger kid to do his dirty work, with predictably disastrous results. It’s set in 1990s Edmonton, a very familiar place and time for me to read about bad kids smoking and getting in trouble.

I felt an immediate and uncomfortable identification with Luke. I was doing the same kind of things, in 1990s Edmonton, just a few neighbourhoods over. Miall’s straightforward writing style makes it easy to get into the story, and it fits with Luke’s character; he also seems to be a very straightforward kid trying to fit in and be cool. When we jump to Luke in his early 30s, things aren’t as straightforward – he’s got his parent’s suspicious death to deal with, on top of a failing career and empty relationship.

 2. Emotional response

Five stars doesn’t mean a book is perfect; it’s usually tied to an emotional reaction on my part. I rated The Cat’s Table five stars, despite not liking an entire section of the book, and despite suspecting it wasn’t Ondaatje’s best work. I quite simply fell in love with a sentence and that was that.

Here’s where my rating for Blind Spot gets tricky. I didn’t laugh, cry, or hurl. I didn’t underline any sentences because they were beautiful. I did grow to hate Luke, after identifying with him in the beginning, though. I’m trying to figure out why I hate Luke so much. He is a major dick to his sister, indifferent to his nieces and nephews, and does that thing where you dump someone by cheating on them and waiting for them to find out and dump you. All bad, but maybe not deserving of fiery hate. I actually found myself speaking aloud at times: “Are you for real,” and “You are awful,” and several times just “ugh.”

Luke is not a sympathetic character that you’ll fall in love with. You won’t root for him. You won’t put him on your “Top Ten Fictional Characters I’d Like to Have Lunch With” list. He embodies white, upper middle class male privilege and is just so lacking in self-awareness. Oh, and he’s really really ridiculously good looking, too! I don’t know why that makes it worse, but it does!

So – I didn’t have the “this book changed my life” emotional response that earns 5 stars, but I definitely had a response.

3. Would I recommend it?

Having eliminated one and five star ratings, I think about whether I would recommend it (and to who) to figure out where it lays between two and four stars. In market research, we put a lot of stock in likelihood to recommend. It makes sense; it not only predicts what people like, but what they will share and advocate and create buzz for.

I would recommended Blind Spot, so I know I’m on the 3 or 4 stars side of things. I’m about to recommend it to the author of a novel called Spat the Dummy, which you will read about here soon, because it also features an “anti-hero” but the treatment is so different. In Spat, the hero does horrible things and is bent on self-destruction, but you feel for him. You want him to get better, to be better. In Blind Spot, Luke also seems determined to ruin himself. But I didn’t want Luke to win or get better. I wanted some comeuppance! So this is a “if you liked this, try this” type of recommendation too;  I just happened to read these books side by side but I was glad I did. It made me realize how unconventional this story really is. It’s easy to sympathise with an anti-hero you think you can fix. Luke seems beyond help, somehow.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend Blind Spot to everyone. The writing is minimalist, so if you’re in the mood for poetic or lyrical, I wouldn’t start here.  If you can’t handle an unlikeable main character – definitely not. And I’m not sure if I would recommend this for a “light” read – it’s blurbed that way on the cover, but I didn’t find it that light. Easy to follow, yes, but I think of “light” reads as having some kind of happy ending, or redemption, or hope – the ending of Blind Spot is very, very bleak and left me unsatisfied.

4. Am I still thinking about it?

I was leaning towards three stars. In fact, I began this review by writing “3/5 stars.” But I’m adding the .5 because for a simple story and a simple character, there’s a lot to think about. Why is Luke the way he is? Is it something about his parents? His unsatisfied mother or his absent father? Is he an alcoholic? Mentally ill? A product of a shallow society? Why can’t this young, handsome, financially secure guy can’t get his shit together, and if he can’t, what hope is there for the rest of us?

I mentioned the unsatisfying ending. After finishing, I had all sorts of questions. I immediately flipped to the front of the book, looking for a clue, and in this passage, I found something. We’re back with bad-boy Joel and 11 year old Luke:

I still longed to have his unflinching confidence. No one had ever raised him; no one looked out for him. Joel looked out for himself.

I wanted that self-reliance.

Now, so many years later, I’ve arrived.

I no longer think of this particular three-star rating as wishy-washy. Maybe it’s ambivalent. As anyone who’s watched Girl, Interrupted as many times as I have knows, ambivalent doesn’t mean you don’t care, it means you’re torn between two things. I’m torn between hating of Luke and admiring the consistency and commitment Miall brought to his character, not for a second trying redeem him. I’m torn between wishing the ending had been more hopeful, more damning, more something, and realizing that it was not supposed to be satisfying. That isn’t the point.

ambivalent

What, you thought I’d get through a review without making a 90s pop culture reference?

So yeah, three stars: I liked it. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t blow me away. But I’m definitely going to watch for Miall’s next novel, because it just might.

Thank you to NeWest Press for the review copy! The book launch is tonight, Friday, September 5th, 7:00 p.m. at The Black Dog on Whyte. 

This is becoming a common addendum: Please go read Another Book Blog’s review, in which he took the best blog post title, and read his interview with Laurence Miall, in which he took all the good questions. *shakes fist*

How Not to Review Erotica: Book Lovers edited by Shawna Kenney

 

booklovers

My rating: 3/5 stars
Goodreads
Synopsis:

Forget poorly written prose and clichéd love scenes: Book Lovers answers the call for sexy literature with substance. This collection of toe-curling tales written by and for word-worshippers offers well-crafted fiction and creative nonfiction that connects literature to libido. From a Vonnegut-inspired tryst to an imaginary ménage à trois with Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, the book encompasses a veritable buffet of literary fantasies.

Whether they’re conjuring Junot Díaz between the sheets or dreaming of a modern-day enactment of Wuthering Heights—this time refusing Edgar in favor of lusty, bodice-ripping nights with Heathcliff—the stories in Book Lovers are designed for readers’ brains and bodies.

I’ve been avoiding this review for a while. Turns out, I don’t know how to review erotica unless it’s ridiculously terrible (see: Dragon Bound, Sleeping Beauty.) The terribleness allows me to get snarky. But let’s say the the writing is passable, or even good. Now what? I feel like anything I say is going to come across as either “I’m a huge prude and I’m judging anyone who is into this!” which is not necessarily true, or, “I totally rubbed one out while reading this!” which is also not necessarily true and is definitely not what I want Reading-in-Bed.com to mean to anyone. Read more

Fall 2014 Preview Part One: Most Anticipated Books

Watch for Part Two: Literary Events next week!

If you follow literary publications like Publishers Weekly, Quill and Quire, or 49th Shelf you’ve probably noticed a bunch of “Most Anticipated Fall Books” lists lately. I find these lists really overwhelming! There are tons of books and they don’t seem to be listed in any kind of order. Here’s my attempt to impose some order on the situation. Geographically, anyway. This is also a handy preview of what you’ll see reviewed here on Reading in Bed over the next little while.

Disclosure: I received reviews copies of most of the Canadian books. Also, I’m panicking about writing all these reviews.

Edmonton Authors

blindspoteverybladelightfindernortheast

Last year, I wondered if it was normal to have SO MANY Edmonton authors launching SO MANY great books all at once, and indeed, it may have been an anomaly. I had a hard time finding books to list here. I assume everyone’s just working on their next novel. Actually, I know Todd Babiak is working on a sequel to Come Barbarians and Jennifer Quist finally named her next novel, but hasn’t revealed the title just yet. No pressure guys (just kidding, lots of pressure!)

  • The only Edmonton book I am certain to review is Blind Spot by Laurence Miall. I’ve already read it and I’m trying to figure out whether I liked it or not! I’m not one to dismiss a novel because of an unlikable character, but man, this guy is unlikeable. Check out Another Book Blog’s review while I sort out my feelings. The book launch is September 5th at The Black Dog, which features prominently in the book!
  • Every Blade of Grass by Thomas Wharton is eco-lit (which I don’t always love) and epistolary (which I usually do love,) but I kind of want to read his first novel, Icefields, first. The librarian who sold it to me at the library book sale was SO EXCITED about it.
  • Lightfinder by Aaron Paquette is a YA novel, but I’m feeling the need to shake things up a bit. Sometimes YA is just the ticket.
  • Edited to add: Northeast by Wendy McGrath, a rare novel because it is written by someone who lives in Edmonton, and is actually set in Edmonton! It’s about a working class family in the 1960s and I have heard McGrath’s writing described as more like a poem than prose; I am really curious about this book and the first in the series, Santa Rosa.

Canadian Authors

between man sweetland girlrunnercan detachment betweenclay

  • I devoured Between by Angie Abdou while I was slogging my way through Outlander. Actually, I devoured a number of books while forcing myself to read Outlander. That could be it’s own post. Anyway, this book forced me to relate to an unlikeable character and it was uncomfortable and shocking and dark, and these are all compliments! Review to come and book launch September 12 in St. Albert and September 13 in Edmonton (7:00 p.m. at Audreys, see you there).
  • I got a review copy of Man by Kim Thuy in ebook format, but I bought the hardcover anyway, because I’m crazy it’s beautiful.  It’s a novella that’s almost written in verse and it’s unlike anything I’ve read. I’m just getting started so check out Hello Hemlock‘s review while I finish up.
  • Did you know SportLit is a thing? The things you learn on Twitter. In Girl Runner, author, blogger, and The M Word contributor Carrie Snyder writes about a woman at the end of her life remembering the days when she could run.
  • I feel like Sweetland by Michael Crummey has been out for a while. because of all the hype, but it was just released so I’ll call it a fall book. I love island settings, so this story of a dying community in Newfoundland should do just fine.
  • Between Clay and Dust by Musharraf Ali Farooqi was published in India a couple years back to great acclaim and is being published in Canada this year by Freehand books. I’ve heard it’s like a classic, like a fable, like a myth – ok, sign me up!
  • Detachment by Maurice Mierau provides a little non-fiction balance to this list. It’s an adoption memoir written from a father’s perspective – a perspective I’ve been missing from the parenting books I’ve reviewed of late.

World Wide

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  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Marukami (Japan) because I’m not immune to hype. Also, look at this review by The Heavy Blanks. Just look at it. It’s perfect.
  • A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (Ireland). The good reviews make me want to read it. The bad reviews make me want to read it. Just give it to me already!
  • The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink (US). A wildcard pick. It’s blurbed by Jonathan Franzen and this bit of the synopsis tells me why: “Life becomes complicated with affairs, birding, and eco-terrorism.” That’s classic Franzen. It’ll either be great or have great snark potential.

Classics
W&Pshirley remains

Yes, I do plan to read a few! I might have to do a Classics Club spin or something. I was thisclose to jumping on the #readWP (that’s War and Peace) bandwagon but the first page was mostly French and I just wasn’t in the mood. What to do?

What are you most excited to read and review this fall?

Authors: They’re Just Like Us!

I was not 100% sure this was satire at first. Via madmagazine.com

I was not 100% sure this was satire at first. Via madmagazine.com

I’m noticing a lot of talk about what authors should and shouldn’t do. Don’t respond to reviews. Don’t have opinions about things other than books. Don’t self-promote. These rules really rub me the wrong way.  Authors are readers, and often, bloggers and social media users too. Just like us. Why are the rules different?

Confession: I used to be a gossip mag junkie. One of the most inane features in US Magazine is “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” and in that spirit, I present Authors: They’re Just Like Us!

They like to talk about books!

One of the rules I hear about most is that authors shouldn’t respond to their reviews. I hear (but have never witnessed) horror stories about authors demanding that a negative review be deleted, or calling out a reviewer on social media, and basically being unprofessional. Remember that whole Goodreads Bullies thing?

But sometimes, an author’s response to a review is really interesting! A personal response to a negative review makes for better reading than mindless retweets of positive reviews, right? I have a couple examples, one involving a negative review I wrote:

Dinaw Mengestu is pretty quiet on Twitter, but he went on a multi-tweet rant in response to this review of his latest novel, All Our Names. The reviewer called him out on it, basically enforcing that “no reviewing the review” rule. But those tweets gave me a new understanding about the racial issues in the novel, so I say, rant on Dinaw.

Emily Gould, as far as I know, hasn’t responded to anyone directly, but does a little vague tweeting, and highlights an important issue in how female authors are reviewed:

Shane Jones‘ response to this article in 3 AM Magazine about literary citizenship (i.e. authors give positive reviews to other authors, in hopes of getting a positive review in return) made me laugh. The “negative” review also made me want to read his book, The Crystal Eaters.

https://twitter.com/hiShaneJones/status/491625210966048769

Earlier this year, I published a very middling review to Corrie Greathouse‘s Another Name for Autumn and my heart stopped when I saw this:

I bravely favourited this sub-tweet and Ms. Greathouse and I ended up exchanging emails over the next few days and talked about reading and reviewing and all sorts of stuff. I can guarantee I will read her next book.

They use social media!

Another hot topic is should/how should authors use social media. Book Riot wrote about Diana Gabaldon’s bad behaviour on Facebook; it was so bad, apparently, the author will no longer read Gabaldon’s books. I can think of several reasons not to read her books (sorry Kristilyn!) but how she interacts with fans on Facebook is not one of them. The article takes issue with this statement in particular: “I don’t owe you anything but a good book,” and I ask, why does she owe you anything but a good book?  She’s an author, not a publicist or a marketer or a publisher, she’s a person who’s bound to get irritated and snappy and perhaps didn’t express herself very well (irony) but in the end, I totally agree. I think it’s great when authors are social and accessible, but they can and should use their own social media accounts how they please.

Oh and by the way, Ms. Gabaldon joined a conversation on one of my fav blogs, Rosemary and Reading Glasses, and was perfectly reasonable and kind while responding to criticism.

Some of my favourite authors on Twitter, who are probably not doing it right:

  • Jennifer Weiner. I don’t even like her books that much, AND she live-tweets The Bachelor, but I find what she’s trying to do for genre fiction and chick-lit fascinating.
  • Margaret Atwood. She spouts off about the environment and flirts with twitter celebs half her age, but hey, she’s Margaret Fucking Atwood so I’m pretty sure she can do what she wants.
  • Joyce Carol Oates. I’m not sure if she is bat-shit crazy or the most epic of trolls or what.
  • Roxane Gay. I didn’t even know she was an author when I started following her. She was RTd into my timeline constantly for her social commentary. Come for the social justice, stay for the Ina Garten live-tweets!
  • Stacey May Fowles. Another one I followed for the social commentary, only later realizing she was an author. Her tweets are an interesting mix of books, feminism, and baseball. Her book Infidelity is great too.

They promote themselves!

Credit: rangizzz via Shutterstock/Salon

Credit: rangizzz via Shutterstock/Salon

 

There’s a whole lot of vitriol towards self-published authors these days. This post about one blogger’s decision not to review self-published books is making the rounds, and while it makes some good points about how to be respectful and properly pitch a book, the premise is flawed. Poor pitching is not the sole domain of the self-publisher. I’ve received some painfully bad pitches from major publishing houses, and reviewed some wonderful self-published books and ended up having great relationships with the authors.

I’m seeing a lot of bloggers high-fiving each other for not accepting self-published books and it’s weird because blogging *is* self-publishing.  I mean, you should have whatever kind of review policy you want, but why be smug about it? You may be missing out on something really good.

So authors, keep being you. Seeing you reading your own reviews, spouting off on Twitter, and promoting your work is much more entertaining than seeing celebrities performing menial tasks. 

 

 

 

 

The M Word edited by Kerry Clare

m-word-cover

My rating: 4.5/5 stars
Goodreads

Synopsis:

A Dropped Threads-style anthology, assembling original and inspiring works by some of Canada’s best younger female writers — such as Heather Birrell, Saleema Nawaz, Susan Olding, Diana Fitzgerald Bryden, Carrie Snyder, and Alison Pick — The M Word asks everyday women and writers, some of whom are on the unconventional side of motherhood, to share their emotions and tales of maternity.

Before I sing the praises of this book, I must point out that the subtitle, “Conversations about Motherhood,” is not accurate. These aren’t conversations. They’re essays. They could be conversation starters, sure. But the subtitle made me think Q&A, or point and counterpoint, or maybe multiple authors responding to one question, and that’s not what this is. I realized, though, that I want to have conversations. These essays inspired me to think and remember and empathise, and I want to talk about it!

Conversations about motherhood ARE taking place, of course, and largely, it’s online. For me, it’s not so much in the social media world, but in online forums. Parenting forums have changed very little in twenty years. I first ventured into an iVillage pregnancy forum in 1997 and was extremely creeped out by the slang and abbreviations, like “baby dust” (good vibes for someone trying to get pregnant) and “baby dancing” (…trying to get pregnant. UGH this one is the worst.) Those terms are still used in forums today.

I think The M Word could benefit from a discussion forum. Lots of publishers are using online marketing in innovations ways (I love this tumblr for Cutting Teeth, for example.) and wouldn’t a forum be the perfect social media marketing campaign for this book? A “M Word” forum, in the spirit of the book, a place to actually converse about motherhood?

Maybe it’s just that traditional parenting forums bore me lately. I don’t care about must-have baby gear or any of the debates that come up every few months (vaccination vs anti-vax, circumcision, breastfeeding in public, breastfeeding vs formula feeding, baby-led weaning vs purees, hospital vs home birth, cloth vs disposable diapers, I COULD GO ON.) The M Word is great because it talks about these topics, but drops the “versus.”

While someone with more technical skills and ambition whips up this dream-parenting-forum, I’ll tell you about my favourite pieces in The M Word.

Truth, Dare, Double Dare by Heather Birrell
I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed Birrell’s short story collection, Mad Hope. It’s so good. My favourite short story collection of the year. I wrote in the margin “this essay is everything” and I hate cutesy sayings like that. But it is, to me: traumatic birth, post-partum depression, co-parenting through PPD, strain on the marriage, adding a second child despite all of this… it says so many things I cannot.

Those first few months we spent together as a family feel so far away: a desert island populated by three castaways, veins coursing with hormones and history, a treasure map we’d go cross-eyed trying to decipher.

A Natural Woman by Amy Lavender Harris
A story of infertility and motherhood. Speaking of parenting forums, the #1 topic that causes drama, heartache, and bannings is infertility. The feelings are so raw and so personal. My years in forum-land opened up this world to me somewhat, and I’m much more careful about how I talk about fertility and reproductive technology. This essay is a succinct way to get that insight. It’s also incredibly well written.

To hell with biological determinism, “natural” motherhood, binary feminisms and gender dualisms…we are all cyborgs, made of mitochondria and bits of metal, elements absorbed from the atmosphere and the cells of every child we have ever carried.

Robin by Alison Pick
If you’ve had a miscarriage, this will be a tough read. It’s worth it.

There is nothing to be done, and so we do nothing. We bear the pain, which is much worse that I could have imagined. The offense of the phrase, “You can have another.” What would I want with another? I want that baby, my baby.

Footnote to the Poem “Now That All My Friends are Having Babies: A Thirties Lament” by Priscila Uppal
This essay rubbed me the wrong way but I loved reading it. I want to give it to my child-free-by-choice sister so we can argue about it.

I find myself contemplating, not for the first time, why it is that same group of people who will have a conniption if you don’t bring your own thermo to the Second Cup, or label you a criminal for eating a hamburger, don’t have any patience for the argument that the planet could have saved by having fewer babies.

I can’t help but compare this book to The Good Mother Myth, reviewed here in February. The concept is so similar, but the execution is different and the things that bothered me about TGMM aren’t present here. Some of those pieces felt more like a rehashed blog post than an original essay, but these essays ring so true. Each author brings not only experience and honesty and original ideas, but excellent writing. And where TGMM tried to tie each essay in to a central concept, The M Word is delightfully random, arranged alphabetically so we jump from birth to adoption to single parenting to grandparenting.

Whether you pick up the book or not, make sure you check out editor Kerry Clare’s book blog, Pickle Me This. It’s a favourite of mine and is such a wonderful mix of personal and bookish posts. She reviews all the best CanLit books. Oh, she also edits The 49th Shelf, which is dangerous for the ol’ TBR but also a lot of fun.

Thank you Kerry, and Goose Lane Editions, for the review copy!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Authors You Own The Most Books Of

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Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I am aware that it’s Thursday. I was inspired by sporadic book blogger Brie at A Slice of Brie.

The topic at hand is Top Ten Authors We Own The Most Books Of, which is making me twitchy even though I know ending a sentence with a preposition isn’t necessarily bad, and anyway, it’s a title, not a sentence.

I had a guess going into this, and a quick inventory of my physical bookshelves confirmed it: David Adams Richards is the winner!

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 1. David Adams Richards (8): Crimes Against My Brothers, Mercy Among the Children, River of the Brokenhearted, Friends of Meager Fortune, The Lost Highway, and Nights Below Station Street. Not pictured, but pretty sure they are kicking around: The Bay of Love and Sorrows and Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace.

The guy has a way with titles. I went through a major DAR phase in the early aughts. Mercy is my favourite, but they’re all good. He keeps churning out a book a year, so I don’t know if I’ll ever catch up and read them all.

2. Douglas Coupland (6): Hey Nostradamus!, All Families are Psychotic, Miss Wyoming, Girlfriend in a Coma, Generation X, Eleanor Rigby

I haven’t read Eleanor Rigby yet and a couple of these are misplaced, so there’s still some work to do. If you have my copy of Generation X, please let me know!

3-6. Then there are a bunch with 4 titles each:

  • Margaret Atwood: Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, Maddaddam, Cat’s Eye
  • Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Emma (I do “own” the other two, but they were Kobo freebies.)
  • Emma Donoghue: Room, Slammerkin, Astray, Frog Music
  • John Irving: The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Hotel New Hampshire,  A Widow for One Year (another collection I’d like to add to)

I don’t think 2 or 3 books really counts so I’ll stop.

I’m not much of a completist! I was surprised not to see Irvine Welsh or Edith Wharton (I apparently don’t own The Age of Innocence, which is not okay.) I’m pretty relieved not to see anything embarrassing; sorry Brie (I only own two Sophie Kinsellas, thankyouverymuch.)

So? Who’s the most popular on your book shelf?

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