The Short Story Advent Calendar: Totally Hip Video Reviews

While I dare not hope to be as cool as the original Totally Hip Video Book Reviewer, I am making another foray into the world of Booktube with a daily series of Short Story Advent Calendar reveals and reviews.

I’m not going to spam you with a blog post each day, but subscribe over on YouTube for daily videos. Check out the unboxing…

…and day one story reveal:

Shout out to my kids for putting up with this and I’ll see you over on Booktube!

The Best Kind of CanLit

I guest hosted on CanLit podcast Write Reads earlier this month and we talked about Zoe Whittall’s Giller shortlisted The Best Kind Of People. We recorded on Giller Prize eve, and I said I didn’t think it should win, but I did think it would be a contender on Canada Reads.

I’ve felt bad about the podcast since, hence I haven’t shared it till now. I felt bad because it was a little snobby of me to say this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, doesn’t deserve a prize. I was a bit condescending. But I also felt bad for holding back on the discussion about rape culture. I walked into the recording thinking about Stephen Galloway, and brought him up as soon as we stopped recording. Now everyone’s talking about him and I have to wonder why I didn’t say something sooner. Continue reading

Novellas in November 2016: Are Nonfiction Novellas a thing?

So, uh, anyone reading novellas this November?

The past three years of this event took place during less eventful Novembers than this one. I assume that’s why I don’t see anyone novella-ing yet. Unless you were just waiting for me.

With Nonfiction November taking the (Booktube) world by storm, I thought I’d open with some nonfiction novellas.

Oh, you thought novellas can only be fiction?

Well, that’s probably true, but there is a little subgenre of nonfiction that’s more than an essay but less than a book. There’s a whole blog about it, Brevity, which I just discovered. In this post from 2009, Brevity considers calling these pieces “nonfiction novellas,” but settles on “monograph essays.” That sounds too stuffy for me. #NonFictionNovellasInNovember it is.

Here are a couple I’ve read recently.

Bluets by Maggie Nelson (95 pages)
Help me out, guys. Everyone I know loved this book. It’s the kind of book people push on you. Nelson is fawned over in all her interviews, the various podcasters not sure they’re qualified to be in her prescence, let alone speak to her. But Bluets did nothing for me. The numbered fragments amount to a long essay about a breakup, with major tangents about light, colour, collecting, compulsion, sex, and blue stuff. I read it over a weekend and put it aside, unmoved.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (48 pages)
Time to be a contrarian again: I do not get the hype. To be clear: I do think we should all be feminists. There is nothing in this book I disagree with. But I expected it to show me something new, or challenge my beliefs in some way. It was very “feminism 101.” So, good for someone just starting out, I guess. You can watch the original half-hour Ted Talk here.

Who Needs Books? by Lynn Coady (44 pages)
Technically I didn’t read this, but I was at the lecture in 2015. And I had so much fun writing about it. I do own the book now (thanks Jason!) and in rereading the introduction, was reminded that one of her Giller-winning short stories featured Jean Rhys – stay tuned for more on Rhys when we get to the traditional novellas. I thought this lecture was brilliant, bringing together Franzen and Grover to teach us all a lesson about reading and hedonism. You can  listen to her read it in just under 54 minutes right here.

Even This Page is White by Vivek Shraya (107 pages)
Okay, this is a book of poetry, so it maybe it doesn’t belong here. Or maybe it does. These poems are so grounded in place; there’s no mistaking that these are Canadian poems, Edmonton poems, Amiskwaciwâskahikan poems. Then there’s the form: some of the poems are interviews with people about race. One is made of fragments from the comments on a petition to ban Kanye West from playing the Pan Am games. Other poems are autobiographical. Sounds pretty nonfictiony to me. This was also my first experience at a poetry reading and it was life changing.

What about you? And what do you call these in-betweeny, nonfictiony books?

How did Ah nae ken about this?

No, seriously, how did I now know about this till now?

I don’t know how to feel. One the one hand, the shot-for-shot parallels make this feel like nostalgia porn. On the other hand, Irvine Welsh did write a sequel called Porno, so there is a legit basis for the movie.

I’m scared they’re gonna wreck it. But I’ve watched the trailer five times in the past 24 hours. Oh hell. You know I’m gonna see it!

As Renton might say:

Choose sequels. Choose a money grab. Choose movie tie-in covers. Choose to exploit the nostalgia of a generation that has few things to be nostalgic about. Choose to name drop apps and social media to attract a new audience. Choose to adapt an inferior novel and see if magic will happen twice. Choose a good soundtrack – you set the bar pretty high there.

But why choose to watch the movie, when you can choose to read the book?

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Seriously how they gonna call this movie “T2” and not Porno?

Why I want to be friends with Imbolo Mbue (and a review of her novel Behold the Dreamers)

I have no time for Booktubers who apologize for not knowing how to pronounce an author’s name – look that shit up! And so I did for Imbolo Mbue (Em-boo-wey), author of Behold the Dreamers,  and discovered that, in addition to having four letter names that are difficult to pronounce, we both worked in market research, and we both love Jonathan Franzen.

Today, I still work in market research, while Mbue is a famous novelist; and the closest I got to Franzen was being in the same room, while she shares an agent with him. But I’m not the jealous type. I totally think we could be friends.

I made friends with her novel and reviewed it here:

What author do you think you could be friends with?

It’s a CanLit Celebration

Facebook memories are good for one thing: reminding me that at this time last year, I’d already published a comprehensive post about Edmonton’s fall line up of literary festivals and events. This year, I’m attending just one event. (Insert excuses such as work, kids, and rockstar husband* here.) But it’s going to be a gooder.

Edmonton’s LitFest is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and so is the Canadian Literature Centre. As if that wasn’t enough to justify a party, the CLC also just released a book of essays, Ten Canadian Writers in Context, edited by friend-of-Reading in Bed Jason Purcell. This party just got upgraded to a soirée: the LitFest Ten-Ten Soirée and CLC Celebration to be exact.

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The book. Jason’s famous!

Continue reading

The Short Story Advent Calendar 2016: Giveaway open till Oct. 9

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Disclaimer: Giveaway copy is courtesy of the kind people at The Short Story Advent Calendar, but I bought my own copy. I know one of the creators, Michael Hingston, and reviewed his novel The Dilettantes here.

Forgive me for talking about Christmas in early October, but the second edition of The Short Story Advent Calendar is on sale now, and I’m so excited to offer one copy to a lucky reader. Continue reading

Cecilia Read-Along Books IX and X: Fifty Shades of Morty

Fair travelers, journey to the master post if thou art lost.

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We’ve talked about fantasy casting a little bit here, and I’ve had several spirited conversations with fellow readers-along about who could play Cecilia or Mortimer. I preferred Saoirse Ronan for Cecilia, and one reader in particular is gunning for Ben Wishaw as Morty.

But readers, I saw a movie trailer this week that changes everything.

Masquerades. Mind games. Meddling mothers. WE HAVE OUR MORTY.

And you know Jamie Dornan can rock a periwig:

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Jamie Dornan as Axel Von Fersen in Marie Antoinette

Anyhoo, readers, chime in with your dream casting and read on for my last recap:

Continue reading

Good Morning, Shopaholic

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Sophie Kinsella cites Jane Austen as a major influence on her writing, and her Shopaholic series in particular. It makes sense: Becky Bloomwood is, like Austen heroines, a quirky, endearing character with a fatal flaw – not pride, or predjudice, but a propensity to overspend. Kinsella’s books, like Austen’s, skewer contemporary society while guaranteeing a happy ending.

And it’s totally on-brand. Shopaholic titles are aimed directly at people who love Jane Austen (or think they would, if they get around to reading her.)

But I think Kinsella took some inspiration from another pioneering British woman author. One who might not resonate so well with her readers, being far too dark and dreary and depressing.

I read Good Morning, Midnight for Reading Rhys Week and in many ways it was a singular reading experience; but destructive heroine Sasha Jensen reminded me of something I’d read before. The fixation on clothes, accessories, and hair. The reliance on handouts from friends and family. The failed attempt at being a shopgirl. The time and effort spent on hiding from both her past and her future.

I thought it was all a coincidence till I got to the part where Sasha lies about knowing a second language to impress an employer. Just like Becky Bloomwood does in Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Then it dawned on me: Sasha Jensen is an older, broken Becky Bloomwood.

Don’t believe me? Let’s play a game.

Who said it: Becky Bloomwood or Sasha Jensen?

For each category, I chose one quote from Good Morning, Midnight, and one quote from Confessions of a Shopaholic. Can you guess who said it? Answers at bottom. Continue reading

All the Giller Ladies

Well, most of them.

The stars aligned the other day: the kids were at school, I was at home, and I was inspired to make a Booktube video. Behold:

The “Try a Chapter” tag’s been around since late last year, but I gave it a topical twist: I used it to figure out which Giller Prize longlister I’m going to read. I meant to try the first chapter of each longlister written by a woman, but I had to exclude The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (not released yet) and Death Valley by Susan Perly (no ebook version, and I was using Kobo previews.)

More “Try a Chapter” inspiraton:
Original video by Book Paradise
Amanda Center’s video
Mercy’s Musings’ video
Steve Donoghue’s video

Books I tried:
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
The Party Wall by Catherine Leroux, translated by Lazer Lederhendler
The Two of Us by Kathy Page
Willem De Koomings Paintbrush by Kerry Lee Powell
Do Not Say That We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien
The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

The Giller Prize longlist, includng links to excerpts