During my hiatus, I wrote a “recommend” for Canadian literary website 49th Shelf. Songs for the Cold of Heart has been on my mind lately, as various translated book award long and short lists are being announced. I was hoping to see it crop up – but alas, no Canadians at all are in the running for either the Man Booker International Prize or the Best Translated Book Award. Let’s take a moment and appreciate the book and the blurb, in both official languages.
I am a blurb skeptic. Blurbs are, at best, the most biased form of literary criticism. Just check how often a blurber’s name appears on the acknowledgements page. At worst, blurbs are clichéd, or taken out of out of context, or of dubious veracity (did Gary Shteyngart really read all those books?).
The blurb on Songs for the Cold of Heart got all my skeptic senses tingling:
“If the Americans have John Irving and the Colombians Gabriel García Márquez, we have Eric Dupont. And he’s every bit as good as them.”—Voir
Like most Canadiens anglais, I didn’t hear of Éric Dupont until this English translation hit the Giller Prize longlist in 2018. I wondered if he was really as good as Irving and Márquez, two luminaries of world literature (and longtime personal favourites of mine). Or was this blurb just another bloated piece of hype?
Thanks for indulging me with this mini-post while I try to get back in the swing of things! Let me know if you generally believe the blurb, or if you side-eye them as much as I do. Sadly, Shteyngart Blurbs is no longer updating, but I maintain that he must have been bullshitting at least some of the time.
As I prepare to go dark at the end of this week, here’s how the year stacked up. I’m taking some liberties with a few books that I’m not quite finished, but certainly will be before Dec. 31, including the Short Story Advent Calendar.
24% Canadian, 31% American, 29% European, 5% Asian, 4% South American, and a couple from the Middle East, Caribbean, and Africa
54% originally written in English, 14% in French, 8% in Spanish, and a few each in the following: Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Danish, Italian, Latvian, Greek, Korean, Norwegian, Iraqi, Hungarian, Polish, and German.
From Douglas Coupland’s “Slogans for the 21st Century”
This is a self-indulgent post (“as opposed to what?” you may well ask) meant to solidify my plans and give myself a little accountability, but it could be used it as a guide or jumping off point for anyone looking to take a break from the internet.
To participate in a spin, you’re supposed to make a list of twenty books, and read the one corresponding to a randomly selected number. Simple enough, but the theme of this 19th spin is “chunksters,” and the theme of my own reading year is “no white people writing in English,” and December is traditionally my month of rereading, so I’m pretty darn limited in what books I can include.
Only 80s kids will remember this Chunkster
I can only think of five books that: are on the 1,001 Books list, are over five hundred pages long, I’ve already read, and are written by a person or colour and/or translated:
The author is not a friend, an adversary, nor a performer. I mean, they might be dead, for one thing. But a book can be a friend. So can other readers.
Fiction that doesn’t inspire a reader’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth reading (unless you’re in the mood for something other than a personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown, in which case, go for it.)
Cultivate a literary pet peeve. When you see it, underline it and write “UGH” in the margin. Mine is misuse of “begs the question”.
Read The Catcher in the Rye and other first person coming of age novels while you’re young. Those stories won’t be as interesting when you’re older.
Wikipedia rabbit holes are fun, but remember, novels are fiction. Even historical novels. Even novels that seem to portray real people.
You can find yourself in a novel by matching up the author’s or main character’s socio-demographic profile to your own, but try to read novels that “find” you in places you’ve never been or experienced, too.
You read more sitting still than chasing after. Unless it’s an audio book and you’re involved in a car chase?
Reading and the internet go together in ways that are difficult for some to imagine. But for real, put your phone away after 9:00 pm and read for the rest of the night.
Don’t discount novels written in simple language as simple, or assume a novel written in complex language is complex.
You have to love an author before you can relentlessly make fun of them.
We are not quite halfway though #NovNov and I’ve read five novellas totaling approximately 700 pages. In other words, over five books, I’ve read nowhere near the equivalent of this year’s summer read-along, The Count of Monte Cristo. I think I got more out of these pages, though. Read on for appropriately brief reviews, also coming soon to Booktube.
Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq
Goodreads says this has 208 pages, but it doesn’t. It has 180 some and that’s including several illustrations and half-blank pages of verse. Split Tooth is a novel in the sense that Flights by Olga Tokarczuk is, in that it’s fragmentary, or like Han Kang’s The White Book is, in that it’s really poetry, and definitely reminds me of Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, in that as much as it’s a coming of age story, and universal, it’s nearly impossible to separate the art from the author here, and you wouldn’t want to. I’ve been advised that the audio book is essential, and when the book is read by the author, and the author is a Polaris Music Prize winning Inuit throat singer who’s collaborated with Buffy Sainte-Marie and Bjork, that almost goes without saying.
I’m also pretty sure this will be the best book I read in which a woman has carnal relations with the northern lights. Continue reading →
“Novellas in November” was conceived of by Rick of Another Book Blog five years ago, in 2013. His original post is lost to the mists of defunct WordPress blogs, but you can read mine here. Over the years, others came along for the ride, notably our fellow Canadian book bloggers Naomi at Consumed by Ink and CJ at ebookclassics. I have probably been the most consistent participant, but I wasn’t really a host.
People have been asking (okay… one person asked and it was Novellas in November alum Rebecca) about the history of this event, and while I maintain that it has been sustained these past five years by the sheer power of alliteration, there is just a little more to it than that.
Rick wasn’t *quite* the first to pick up a novella in November. I can trace a “Novella November” challenge as far back as 2009. A blog called “Bibliofreak” seems to be the source, but it doesn’t exist anymore. Some past participants in this iteration include noted blogger, podcaster, Booktuber and Man Booker Prize correspondent Simon Savidge, new-to-me Lizzy’s Literary Life, and blogs I used to read, like Things Mean A Lot and Fleur in Her World. Continue reading →
The SSAC is exactly what it sounds like: individually bound short stories that you open every day from December 1 to 25. The creators also post daily author interviews and extras on their website. The best part of SSAC season is reading along and chatting about the stories with fellow bookish people on the internet – use #ssac2018 on Twitter.
While you wait for December 1, relive the glory of my daily videos from last year with this gem from Day 22, featuring my Christmas tree, my kids, and some lego:
How to enter & other fine print
To enter: tell me about the last great short story you read in the comments, and make sure your comment either includes your email address, or links to somewhere I can find it. Or, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put SSAC in the subject line. If you haven’t read a great short story lately, that’s okay! Just tell me how excited you are to start reading them, or something. Last year, I compiled all the recommendations and came up with a great reading list.
Rules and regulations:
Contest is open till October 25, 2018.
On October 25, I will randomly choose a winner. I will notify the winner by email and ask for their mailing address. If I don’t hear back in 48 hours, I’ll choose again.
The winner’s calendar will ship in late October.
The giveaway is open internationally, but can only ship to addresses in Canada, USA, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, and the United Kingdom.