I would have announced this sooner, but I took at week-long internet break (inspired by Bookbii) and it was lovely.
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.
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.
Ever notice that most “how to read more” articles are really basic? Smug too, but that’s inevitable. The GQ article above was better than most, but let’s talk about some ways to increase your book consumption that you might actually not know about. Continue reading
Each year around this time, I take a social media break, and in 2017 it’s more extreme than usual: for the month of March, I’m not only staying away from Twitter and Facebook, but also YouTube, Instagram, Goodreads… anything with a “feed.” And this blog. I’m going to pretend the internet stopped evolving after 2006, basically.
I’d be remiss if I took off with out reminding you all about Canada Reads, which is going down March 27-30 on CBC (I am allowing myself to watch broadcast TV on YouTube. I gotta keep up on Workin’ Moms too!) AND letting you know that Write Reads podcast is staging its own version of the national reading debate.
“After Canada Reads” will be released in a special edition Write Reads podcast in late April. It’s sort of a homage to Canada Reads, but also sort of an anti-Canada Reads. If you enjoy the general concept of debating books, but find the topics and criteria for those debates to be somehow both insipid and alarmist (“the book Canada MUST READ RIGHT NOW”) – or if you just have a lingering ick factor due to the ex-host – this maybe be the reading event for you.
Oh, and I’m taking part! Of course.
The theme: The best/most memorable/most inspirational female character in Canadian Literature.
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
- Malarky by Anakana Schofield (this one is mine!)
- The Break by Katherena Vermette (also on the legit Canada Reads)
- A Chorus of Mushrooms by Hiromi Goto
- Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
So, while you struggle through the official Canada Reads without my insightful commentary about who lays the best smack downs, who has the best lipstick, and who needs to shut the hell up, remember to read along and get ready for After Canada Reads. See you all in April!
Our next #FranzeninFebruary guest post is courtesy of Matt Bowes, who’s pun game is on point (see post title). Matt is the General Manager at NeWest Press, my favourite Edmonton publisher. He sent me my very first review book back when I was a just a baby book blogger. He used to dabble in book blogging himself, but these days you’ll find him podcasting about Bollywood movies at Bollywood is for Lovers.
Jonathan Franzen can be a hard writer to like sometimes, but paradoxically I find him to be easy to love. The eternal English major in me thrills to see his recurring writerly tics crop up in each new fiction work, stuff like detailed descriptions of bird species, bathroom humour, the Club of Rome, and an uncomfortable sense of détente with the modern world. It’s one of the reasons people also like Wes Anderson: when an artist sets the table with recurring themes and preoccupations, it breaks down a sort of barrier, allowing readers to see what the deeper truth on offer is this time out. It’s like Commedia del’Arte, a set of agreed-upon motifs that act as a gateway to entertainment.
I’ve only read The Corrections, Freedom and now Purity, so I’m not entirely sure if these recurring traits appear in his earlier novels The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion, but I would be surprised if they weren’t in there somewhere.
So while it’s easy to see a critic latching on to Franzen’s straightforward obsessions and calling them out as being on the nose, it’s this exact heart-on-the-sleeve nature of his work that makes me really like him, and stick up for him in conversation, even as Franzen the reluctant public personality often gets himself into trouble. His jeremiads against social media and its practitioners, his bemoaning the state of book promotion and his attempts to embody The Great American Writer archetype are well-documented and rightly mocked, but unlike some other claimants to that throne, Franzen always comes correct with the literary goods in the end. Continue reading
And now, the first guest post of Franzen in February 2017! The lovely Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses valiantly took on The Corrections, after promising to do so last year. Read on to see how she fared – though the title probably gives you an idea – and do check out her blog. Her Last Week’s Reading series is particularly good, if dangerous for the TBR; she is also a certified poetry concierge!
I’ve read a few of Jonathan Franzen’s essays (hated the one on Edith Wharton, in which he repeatedly comments on her looks; thought better of the one on Antarctica) and I’ve caught the general flavor of his views on technology and the reading public. I’ve also been delighted to read Laura’s spirited posts about the novelist over the last few years. All of this to say I came to Franzen in February wary of Franzen, but willing to be pulled in by his writing. Continue reading
Portraits of the Jonathans as young men
Remember when Jonathan Franzen took a minor swipe at his not-quite-contemporary, Jonathan Safran Foer, in Purity?
“And are you a big fan of Jonathan Savoir Faire? So many of my students are…So many Jonathans. A plague of literary Jonathans. If you read only the New York Times Book Review, you’d think it was the most common male name in America.”
I don’t know that I’ve noticed a plague*, but I did just finish Foer’s latest, Here I Am, so let’s do a little comparing and contrasting.
Comparing the Jonathans
- Breakout novels in the early aughts (The Corrections and Everything is Illuminated)
- American Novels with side trips across the ocean: Chip’s Lithuanian vacation in The Corrections, Berlin in Purity, the whole Israel thing in Here I Am
- Voice of their respective generations: Franzen gets that label more than Foer, maybe, but remember, Foer isn’t even forty**. Give it time.
- Insufferable public personas: Do I really need to link to something for Franzen? And in case you missed it, Foer did… whatever this is.
- Environmentalist: Franzen is all about looking at birds, Foer is all about not eating them.
- Fascination and disgust with technology: I love how both include realistic technology in their novels (email exchanges in The Corrections, text messages in Purity; sexting, constant screen time, and a Minecraft-like online environment in Here I Am) but they both really hate it, too.
Contrasting the Jonathans
- The generation they are supposedly the voice of: Franzen’s a boomer, and Foer is technically a Gen Xer. Really though, he’s on the edge of Gen X and Millennial – just like me. Some call us Generation Catalano, but I prefer baby Gen Xer or elder Millennial, depending on my mood.
- Experimental vs realism: Franzen has a lot of range, but most of his writing is pretty straight up, realistic, and chronological. Foer experiments; not so much in Here I Am, which is much more Franzeny than his previous work, but in the invented language and mythology of Everything is Iluminated, and the flipbook at the back of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
- Wunderkind vs Late Bloomer: Franzen was in his 40s with two novels behind him before he found success, while Foer was 25 and a debut novelist.
- Adaptation: Attempts have been made, but so far, Franzen’s work has not been adapted (Purity was in the works as a mini series but I haven’t heard anything in quite some time.) Both of Foer’s previous novels were made into movies; I wonder if Elijah Wood is free to play Jonathan, I mean, Jacob of Here I Am?
As for the books, I’ve only read two of Foer’s but each of them affected me more than anything of Franzen’s. I love ’em both, don’t get me wrong, but Franzen’s writing is a bit too sterile to give me that emotional devastation I crave. I have teared up for Franzen – but only for The Corrections, and only for one late, revelatory scene which I won’t spoil. Foer’s books don’t just make me cry, they have me weeping through entire chapters. Or the last 100 pages, in the case of Here I Am.
So, who’s your fav literary Jonathan? Meet me here for #FoerinFebruary in 2018?
*Jonathan was the 124th most popular name the year Franzen was born, and the 28th by the time Foer was born in 1977. It peaked in 1988 at #15, which suggests that the plague of literary Jonathans is far from over.
**He turns forty on Tuesday!
Sometime during the Purity publicity blitz of 2015, I added “Franzen apologist” to my Twitter bio. I was tired of defending every out-of-context interview quote and excerpt individually. The only truly snark-worthy event was the “adopting an Iraqi war orphan” thing, which I maintain was just a joke (right?).
So it’s rare for me to directly address Franzen haters, but, it is Franzen in February, and I’ve just come across an instance that’s too good to pass up. It’s not the usual “uh, I’ve never read him but he’s like, gross” hating, either. It’s a clear cut case of Franzen blaming.
Earlier this year, someone took it upon themselves to purchase the URL ciswhitemale.com and redirect it to Franzen’s Facebook page (try it, it still works as of this writing!) which is not the instance I’m here to write about today, but illustrates the phenomenon of Franzen blaming. Think about it, what’s the point of this stunt?
- That Franzen *is* a cis white male (duh)?
- That he only writes *about* cis white males (not true)?
- That he only writes *for* cis white males (…nope)?
- Or, that he is the poster boy and scapegoat for cis white male bias in the publishing industry (ah ha!)
Today, I direct your attention to “The Unsung Letter”, published by writer Helen McClory, “featuring one new(ish) under-hyped book, sung to the rafters by a different writer/poet/critic/book-pusher every time.” In its second issue, the writer is A.N. Devers and the unsung book is Helen DeWitt’s 2000 debut The Last Samurai – already on my radar as an overlooked classic, and it’s recently back in print. So far, so good.
Why read The Last Samurai? For one, it is far superior to Franzen’s The Corrections, arguably as intellectually demanding as David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and yet, DeWitt was never put on the cover of a magazine for The Last Samurai. She was never offered Oprah’s Book Club, and she never entered into the media’s great push to proclaim the new great American writers, Franzen and Wallace, who notably published their big books around the same time. There wasn’t room on the stage for DeWitt, somehow. She didn’t even enter get a piece of the conversation. I heard later it many times that it was partly her fault that she was difficult. Well.
Typos aside, we’ve got a classic case of Franzen blaming on our hands, with some DFW blaming for good measure! I double checked my dates when I read “notably published their big books around the same time” because… no they didn’t. The Last Samurai came out in September of 2000. Infinite Jest was published in February of 1996, so it’s a bit of a stretch to say DFW specifically was taking up all the room nearly five years later. DFW didn’t publish any books in the year 2000, and his next novel didn’t come out until after his death, in 2011. But sure, he was a well-known writer at the time, and a poster boy for a certain kind of bro-literature.
But Franzen? In September of 2000, he was the author of two critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful novels: The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion. He didn’t start taking up cultural space until The Corrections came out in 2001, and the only thing “notable” about its publication date is that 9/11 happened nine days later. A full year after The Last Samurai.
I dug a bit deeper to see who was taking up literary cultural space in the year 2000 (I was 19 and the main cultural space I inhabited was Rum Jungle at West Edmonton Mall):
- Margaret Atwood won the Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin
- Michael Ondaatje won the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction for Anil’s Ghost
- Susan Sontag won the National Book Award
- Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer
- JK Rowling dominated the New York Times Fiction Best Seller list.
Not a cis white male* among them.
Bias towards cis white male authors in literary culture is real. They are reviewed more; they are more likely to be the reviewers. They are longlisted and shortlisted for, and winners of, literary prizes in numbers that far exceed their natural incidence in the population. Did DFW and Franzen benefit from this bias? Surely. Are they specifically to blame for one novel by a cis white woman failing to find an audience, in a year in which neither of them published a book, and in which several women and people of colour enjoyed mainstream and critical literary success? Well.
*I’m not 100% sure about Michael Ondaatje’s ethnicity, and in light of recent events I hate to speculate, but his Wikipedia page says his ancestry is Dutch, Sinhalese, and Tamil so I’m running with that.