This time of year, I’d usually be kicking off another round of Franzen in February, but due to my unplanned, two-month blogging hiatus, I don’t have my shit together.
So, sadly, this year I will not be bringing you any new Franzen conspiracy theories, nor will I be peer pressuring anyone into reading their First Franzen (which has generally not gone well).
But I just remembered, the most amazing Franzen-related incident of my life occurred during my hiatus, and while I regaled everyone on social media, YouTube, and even IRL, I haven’t shared it with you, dear readers.
Now That’s What I Call An Author Photo
Much as I relish a negative book review, negative reviews of memoirs can be cringe-inducing. What should be a critique of a book too often becomes a critique of a life, of choices made or flaws revealed. This kind of criticism confuses me. Should the writer lie about their own lives (more than they, presumably, already do)? Or should only people with spotless records write memoirs?
And why do we read memoirs in the first place? Must there be a life lesson to impart, or a record to set straight, two very common themes in this genre? I recently read The Autobiography of Gucci Mane, and at first glance, his story would seem to fall in the latter theme. He has several records, criminal and otherwise, to clear up. But the book became more than that for me, and made me understand what can make a celebrity memoir more than a PR puff piece.
I had no idea who or what a “Gucci Mane” was before picking up this memoir. If you are also old/uncool: He’s an Atlanta rapper known for facial tattoos, erratic behaviour, stints in jail, and inspiring the “Bitch I might be” meme a few years back (see below for a book blogger friendly version). He had a couple mainstream hits in 2009, but somehow I missed them. He’s also credited with creating (or at least popularizing) “trap music”, a phrase I’d vaguely heard of and associated with stuff like Biggie’s Ten Crack Commandments (nope, way too upbeat.) I had so much to learn.
I’m a fairly well read person. No, this post isn’t about what it means to be well read. Just take my word for it. I’ve read across many formats and genres, and many traditions and eras. I do have a weak spot though: poetry.
I remember learning exactly two poems in school. One was A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne and the other was To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell, and both are about dead white dudes who were feeling horny. Jeez, is it any wonder I wasn’t taken with it?
I’ve read three poetry collections so far this year, and I loved each of them. I’m not good at saying why, exactly, but I can tell you how I found my way in. Continue reading
Many Canadians are disappointed in our slow progress towards the 94 calls to action set out in the Truth and Reconciliation Report. See Ian Mosby’s Twitter feed for updates (and a nonsensical reply from Joseph Boyden, if you dig for it):
However, I am pleased to find that my kids, in grades one and two, are learning about residential schools. Most of the learning happened on Orange Shirt Day, but hopefully this will become a regular part of the curriculum.
It can’t just end at school, though. I could tell from the questions they asked me that they didn’t quite understand what happened, and why. So I got them some books. I also happened to read a short story collection touching on residential schools at the same time. Here are three ways to learn more about residential schools in Canada, for whatever level you are at.
A rare new book haul, brought to you by birthday gift cards
This post is inspired by Kerry at Pickle Me This, and by my own nosiness, because I want to know where your books come from too.
Join in! You can either list the last 30 books you read, as Kerry did, or calculate your stats for the whole year. I’ve done both.
The last thirty books:
- What Is Going to Happen Next by Karen Hofmann: Received from publisher
- The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy: Bought secondhand at Wee Book Inn
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson: Library
- I Am A Truck by Michelle Winter: Bought directly from the publisher
- 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster: Library
- Annie Muktuk and Other Stories by Norma Dunnning: Bought from Kobo, full price
- A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman: Bought from Chapters
- My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal: Bought from Kobo, on sale
- Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor: Library
- Brother by David Chariandy: Bought from Chapters
- The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis: Library
- Indigenous Writes by Chelsea Vowel: Library
- Solar Bones by Mike McCormack: Bought from Book Depository
- Serving Pleasure by Alisha Rai: Bought from Kobo, full price
- Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson: Bought from Kobo, on sale
- History of Wolves by Emil Fridlund: Library
- Flawless Consulting by Peter Block: Free from work
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: Received as a gift
- Days Without End by Sebastian Barry: Library
- Shadow of Doubt by Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon: Received as a gift
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: Library
- Desperate Characters by Paula Fox: Bought from Amazon
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen: Won in a giveaway
- China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan: Bought from Kobo, full price
- I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid: Bought from Kobo, full price
- House of Lords and Commons by Ishion Hutchinson: Library
- Dawn by Octavia E. Butler: Bought on Kobo, on sale
- Son of France by Todd Babiak: Bought from Chapters
- Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid: Library
- Tampa by Alissa Nutting: Bought on Kobo, on sale
And, of my 75 books read to date in 2017:
- 28 bought at full price
- 26 borrowed from the library
- 11 bought at significant discount (e.g. $1.99 ebooks, secondhand, or library sale)
- 3 received as gifts
- 3 part of training at work
- 3 from publishers
- 1 won in a giveaway
Or, put another way, I paid nothing for nearly half the books I’ve read this year. I paid full price for just over a third of them.
I thought I might be even heavier on library books, because I always have SO many checked out and on hold at any given time. Participating in After Canada Reads tipped me over the edge of half paid-for books (had to buy 5 full price books to mark up.)
So, I’m nosy: where do your books come from?
I would have announced this sooner, but I took at week-long internet break (inspired by Bookbii) and it was lovely.
Meghan has won the Short Story Advent Calendar giveaway! She’s an accomplished short story writer herself. Check out her writing here.
Thank you to everyone who entered. I asked you to tell me about a great short story collection as part of your entry, and did you guys ever come through. Below is the full list of recommendations: Continue reading
Disclaimer: Giveaway copy is courtesy of the kind people at Hingston & Olsen Publishing, but I bought my own copy. I know one of the creators, Michael Hingston, and reviewed his novel The Dilettantes here.
It’s that time of year again: The Short Story Advent Calendar is on sale now, and I have a copy to give away. I plan to do daily reveal videos, so subscribe on YouTube if you haven’t already!
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 is reading along and chatting about the stories with fellow bookish people on the internet – use #ssac2017 on Twitter.
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 email@example.com 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.
- Rules and regulations:
- Contest is open till October 17, 2017.
- On October 18, 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.
Psst… Hingston & Olsen are offering a second story box this year. The Ghost Box is full of scary stories, and is still available but probably won’t be for long.
When I wrote about CanLit cynicism for carte blanche, I started with Alex Good’s book of essays, Revolutions (full Q&A here). Then, a very strange novel fell into my hands (actually, it was placed there by Kelsey at Freehand Books) and I knew these books were meant to be together. Searching for Petronius Totem is a strange, hilarious book, and author Peter Unwin is a bit strange and hilarious himself. Read on for the full Q&A.
Many thanks to Mr. Unwin, and Ms. Attard at Freehand books!
I’m pretty cynical about CanLit lately. When I noticed that carte blanche, a Quebec-based literary journal, was running a “Who Needs CanLit” series on their blog, I knew I had to get in on it.
One of the books I drew on was Revolutions by Alex Good, a collection of essays that leaves no CanLit heavyweight unscathed. Have a peek at my essay over at carte blanche, then read on below for my full conversation with Alex Good, who may actually be more cynical than me.
Many thanks to Mr. Good and the fine folks at Biblioasis who put me in touch with him! And stay tuned for my Q&A with poet, novelist, and YouTube star Peter Unwin later this week.
Alternate post title: All’s Well That Ends Well (If You Are A Rich, Titled Male)
“All’s Well That Ends Well” was the working title of what eventually became War and Peace. AWTEW was to be set just after the Crimean War, in which Tolstoy fought during the 1850s. But Tolstoy decided he couldn’t just start there. If he was going to talk about the Crimean War, he had to explain the Decemberist revolt of 1825, so he started again, with the working title The Decemberists. Then he backtracked even more, to the French invasion of Russia in 1812, but he couldn’t very well talk about Napoleon without talking about his 1805 antics. It’s all very Captain Underpants (… for those without children, flashbacks in Captain Underpants are always preceded by the line “But before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this story…”)
Did it all end well, though? Let’s not worry about the posts I skipped (lesson learned: eleven weeks is too long for a read-along) and see where our friends ended up in the epilogue, seven years after the events of 1812.