Tagged: Come Barbarians

Alberta Readers’ Choice Award: You have the power

readers choice

Sponsored by the Edmonton Public Library, the Edmonton Public Library Alberta Readers’ Choice Award is awarded annually for the best fiction or narrative non-fiction written by an Alberta author. The $10,000 award – presented annually by the Edmonton Public Library and  one of Alberta’s richest literary prizes – recognized the exceptional writing talent in Alberta and encourages readers to support Alberta authors.

I considered applying to sit on the jury for the Alberta Readers’ Choice Award this year, but was intimidated by the amount of reading I’d have to do. I shouldn’t have been; I’d already read five of the longlisted ten (chosen by library staff across Alberta) and of the shortlist (decided by the jury,) I’ve read three of five, and own another. Ah well. I’ll have to be satisfied with the power of my vote. Regular joes like us decide who wins, and the winner gets a novelty-sized cheque for $10,000.

The Alberta Readers’ Choice Award Final Five are:

  • Almost a Great Escape by Tyler Trafford
  • Come Barbarians by Todd Babiak (my review)
  • Pilgrimage by Diana Davidson (my review)
  • The Dilettantes by Michael Hingston (my review)
  • The Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea

Vote here. Voting is open for the whole month of May. Only one vote for person, so no annoying “vote everyday!” social media blitzes.

Today, I’m off to my local library branch, Jasper Place, to hear the four Edmonton-based authors read from their shortlisted books. We’ll also hear from readers, which is a cool twist! Check it out at 1:30 p.m. today, May 24th.

Last year’s winner was Frank Kimmel, for The Shore Girl, which is still on my to-review list (it’s great.) Check out Another Book Blog’s review and interview. I met Fran at a reading last year, and someone asked her what she spent that novelty-sized cheque on, which was a little rude if you ask me! Fran said she would spend it on upgrading her technology. The $10,000 prize would certainly be enough to get some sweet gear.

For me, the best Alberta book of 2013 wasn’t even on the longlist – Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist. Roost by Ali Bryan was an oversight too. I don’t know if it’s proper etiquette to say who I voted for, but I’m nosy and I want to know who you are voting for, so here goes. I voted for the book that surprised me the most and brought me the most joy as a reader: The Dilettantes.

Which book has your vote? 

Come Barbarians by Todd Babiak: The Book, The Man, The Hummus

comebarbariansCome Barbarians languished on my shelves for months, despite the fact that I attended the book launch and was immersed in a rather impressive media campaign that included digital billboards and bus shelters (for a book! For a LOCAL book!) I was afraid of a couple of things:

  • That I wouldn’t like it and would have an Awkward Moment with Todd on Twitter (that sounds like a terrible new comedy series or something)
  • That I wouldn’t “get it” because it was compared to Le Carre, and the one time I tried to read Le Carre, I was like that person in the theatre who’s whispering, “Who’s that? Why are they doing that? What is happening?!”
  • That I wouldn’t be able to stand reading about the death of a child the same age as my own. It’s a terrible cliche, but it’s true: the older my kids get, the harder it is for me to read anything about a child being killed or hurt, real or fictional.

I got a kick in the butt from #yegbookclub, a monthly Twitter chat dedicated to an Edmonton-authored book. Come Barbarians was the first selection, and I started reading the next day.

Around this time, I listened to an interview with Todd on The Next Chapter wherein he reminded me of his BOOK CLUB PROMISE (his caps, not mine,) including “magical” hummus and “ninja vacuuming” and I knew what I had to do. I rounded up a few of the Edmonton book bloggers and created an impromtu book club. On to the reviews!

The Book
4 out of 5 stars

In addition to the reservations listed above, I had a feeling Come Barbarians wasn’t the right place to start with Babiak’s work. Come Barbarians is a departure, a genre book, a political thriller; whereas his earlier stuff is (I understand) funny, smart, and literary. I’ve had my hand on Toby: A Man several times (That’s What She Said) but never took the plunge.  It doesn’t really matter, though. A good book is a good book.  I’m glad I read this one first. It was surprising and dark, action-packed and violent, but also contained and cerebral.

I feel like this one could have been called Kruse: A Man (though I’m glad it wasn’t) because despite the action and intrigue, it’s a character study and a mediation on what makes a “good” man. Is it being good at something? What if the thing you’re good at is basically beating the crap out of people? Is it loving your family? What if your family doesn’t love you back? What if you lose them anyway? What’s left after that’s all gone?

And if these types of questions bore you, there’s plenty of other stuff to get interested in, from martial arts to French politics and organized crime.

I thought this book would be different from what I usually read, and it was, but I found myself comparing it to an old favourite: Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving. Maybe it’s the (North) Americans in Europe, or the sudden turns of tragedy and violence. Actually, I know what it was. It was this line, as Kruse laments the loss of his daughter and his wife:

He would swim to Europe with them on his back.

It put me in mind of the death of the mom and Egg over the Atlantic, and also that repeated line, “Sorrow floats.” It also made me at once wistful (how romantic!) and cynical (easy to say now, bub.) That’s a lot of stuff going on for ten-word sentence.

The only parts of the book that didn’t work for me were the more outrageous scenes. One involves a vegetable peeler used in creative and disturbing ways, and one involves the shaming of a child abuser. Neither were necessary to my experience of the book, and neither did much for me. I feel like I should have been a lot more grossed out about the vegetable peeler thing, but mostly I was wondering where I could purchase such an efficient utensil. For vegetables, calm down!

So, don’t be afraid. Whether you’re a Le Carre fanatic or and Irving lover or neither of these, if you like moody, thoughtful writing, you’ll like this.

Other reviews worth reading:
Fellow book-clubber Tania of Write Reads
The original Edmonton Book Blogger Kristilyn of Reading in Winter
Laurence Miall (who has a Babiak-blurbed book coming out soon, incidentally)

The Book Club

Can you believe we forgot to take a picture? He pretty much looks like this but less intense.

Can you believe we forgot to take a picture? He pretty much looks like this but less intense.

After a little awkwardness and jitters (none of us had done the author-visit thing before) talking to Todd about his book and a million other things was totally natural. We talked about marital arts, acts of kindness, vegetable peelers, and growing up in LA (that’s Leduc, Alberta.) I was most surprised by how autobiographical this book was. I was most nervous about how to talk about the book critically with the author right there but it was no problem at all. He even asked us questions about how authors and publicists should pitch to bloggers, which is always a ripe topic!

The Wine
Part of Todd’s book club promise is to bring a wine from the region the book takes place in. He couldn’t find the exact one he wanted, but assured us the grapes were the same, whatever that means. It was so good that when I got home, I immediately emailed to find out the name of the wine. It was Bila Haut by Chapoutier. Todd sent me a detailed description of the region and the grapes, which didn’t mean much to me. Bottom line: The first glass tasted like a second glass. I picked it up for $16 at Liquor Select.

The Hummus
This pains me, but the hummus not only displayed limited magical qualities, but it needed more garlic. The texture was good but it wasn’t flavourful enough for me. Sorry Todd!

Watch for book two in the Christopher Kruse series sometime in 2015. Todd would not give us an exact date no matter how much we hounded him.

The next #yegbookclub selection is Waiting for Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk and it sounds amazing.

Top Five Alternatives to Traditional Book Clubs

photo via etsy.com

photo via etsy.com

I know those “what you think X is, what X actually is” memes are played out and dumb so forgive me:

What book clubs want you to think goes on at book club: Ladies, libations, and literary discussion. Basically this guy’s wet dream.

What you think actually goes on at book club: a bunch of 30-something ladies drink wine, eat snacks, and pretend to have read the book for a few minutes before moving on to more important subjects, like, I dunno, shoes or something.

What actually goes on at book club: I have no idea. I’ve never been to one.

I know traditional book clubs are still a thing. Several people I know (some in real life!) love them. But for those of you who are too lazy to clean your house and/or have trouble interacting with people IRL, there are SO MANY other options. In no particular order:

1. #YegBookClub
The idea for this post came courtesy of blogger Kristen Finlay, who came up with #YegBookClub. It’s very simple, which is why is works so well: each month, an Edmonton-authored book is chosen and a date and time for the chat is set. Read the book, use the hashtag during the chat, and connect with other readers. You can still drink wine and no one has to know that you’re wearing your stayin’-in leggings.

The inaugural #yegbookclub pick was Todd Babiak’s Come Barbarians. I found out about it too late and hadn’t read the book but had fun participating anyway. This will be a regular event for me from now on. I was inspired to start the book that same night (it’s fantastic so far.)

Oh, and the author participated, AND gave a hint about the next book in the series:

Continue reading

It’s a Bookstravaganza, Bitches

Note: it helps to imagine the title of this post read by Dave Chappelle as Rick James.

For the last three years, I’ve challenged myself to finish a long, intimidating book before New Years.  In 2011, I read The Magic Mountain, in 2012 I read Infinite Jest, and this year I’m reading Middlemarch. All the while, a group of Edmontonians have been reading ambitiously for the past three Decembers too and they call it a Bookstravaganza! They took a different, and I gotta say, more fun approach and made it competitive and charitable. It’s like a readathon and Movember combined without the creepy mustaches. I love the idea, and you can expect to see me in on this next year! In the meantime, follow the Bookstravaganza blog, and check out my quick primer:

  • The concept is pretty simple: read as many books as you can during the month of December. Participants post short reviews to the blog as they go and the most books read wins.
  • Matthew's stack. Pretty jealous that he's going to be reading The Girls soon.

    Matthew’s stack. Pretty jealous that he’s going to be reading The Girls soon.

    There’s no criteria for choosing books, but the choices are seriously great. Most of the participants posted a stack of books at the outset and in each one there are SO MANY books that I am jealous of and want to be reading RIGHT NOW (no offense Middlemarch!) My favourite stacks: This one including Slaughterhouse-Five, She’s Come Undone, Ficciones, and JPod and this one including Into the Wild, Outlander, Lullabies for Little Criminals, and The Sisters Brothers and this one (pictured) because of The Girls, The God of Small Things, and Naked Lunch.

  • Charitable donations are encouraged, on a one-time or per-book basis, to the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation, which puts books in underfunded school libraries. I’ve sponsored founding member Matthew Stepaniac at a modest per book rate. He is on fire right now, reading at a book-a-day pace, so I’m a little nervous!
  • The ten readers have some pretty impressive stats. One of them read 31 books last December. That’s insane!
  • The reviews are great because they’re quick reads and there are multiple updates each day. Here’s a great little review of Todd Babiak’s Come Barbarians which simultaneously made me want to read it immediately and lock it up somewhere because I know I will be traumatized!

Thanks Matthew for answering my questions and letting me participate next year! Follow along on Twitter and at the blog.

Top Five: Fall 2013 Books by Edmonton Authors

I wrote about reading local last year, and why I think it’s important. I don’t know if there’s an exceptional crop of Edmonton books out this season, or if I’m just paying more attention, but I’ve got a short list that could rival any hoity-toity book award. Here are my most anticipated #yegbooks for Fall 2013. Which ones are on your To Be Read list?

1. Love Letters to the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist


The basics:

  • Release date: August 3, 2013
  • Goodreads
  • I received a review copy from the publisher, Linda Leith, but assure you it was my most anticipated book before that happened.

Why I want to read it:

  • I love Jennifer’s blog. Every post has me nodding my head in agreement. She’s a beautiful writer.
  • She got a great review in the Montreal Review of Books.
  • The novel is about a happy marriage. I like to read about dysfunction so much that maybe I need to change things up.
  • A personal connection. The set up is the death of the main character’s mother just before his wife gives birth. My husband lost his father just weeks before our first baby, and I didn’t deal with it very well. I’m looking forward to a fresh perspective on life and death (yep, my expectations are pretty high!) Continue reading