The Alberta Readers’ Choice Award is exactly what it sounds like: we vote, an Alberta author wins $10,000. With two weeks left, things are heating up; each night this week, Edmonton Public Library is hosting a Twitter chat dedicated to one of the short-listed titles. Check out #AlbertaReadersChoice at 7:00 pm Monday through Friday this week and vote here. Here are my mini-reviews, in order of Twitter chat appearance.
I wasn’t interested in this book when it came out. I thought the title meant *Come* Back, as in, “don’t call it a.” When I realized it meant Come *Back* as in, a grieving father calling to a long lost son, and when I saw Wiebe speak about losing his own son to suicide 30 years ago, everything changed. I had to read this book.
This story moves between Hal’s stream of consciousness and his son’s journals. Hal’s mental state is a little disjointed to begin with (aren’t ours all) and as he follows his son’s thoughts through the months before his suicide, he has moments of clarity, but there’s no tidy ending here. Hal is reading the journals, finally, because, impossibly, he saw long-dead Gabe walking down the street, and slipping away into the crowd, just out of reach. It’s an irresistible premise and the story didn’t go where I thought it would, at all.
This book is challenging and tragic and confusing. There are plenty of Edmonton references and landmarks for the local reader. I’m just glad I finally discovered this prolific Edmonton author.
I had a lot of problems with this book and couldn’t finish. I was interested in the premise, which, like Wiebe’s, is semi-autobiographical: a boy comes of age in the Dutch East Indies during the WWII Japanese occupation. He becomes his mother’s and siblings’ protector in a Japanese concentration camp. Brouwer’s father endured something similar.
However. I knew I was in trouble when I realized it was an “Inspirational” novel and that “Inspirational” was even a genre. I gave it a chance… I mean, I read novels with religious overtones all the time. David Adams Richards is one of my favourite authors, after all. But the writing is just not good. It’s repetitive, and the foreshadowing is constant and clunky. The story was hard to take, too. Insta-love is bad enough, but when it’s a ten year old, it strains credulity. I noticed some grammatical oddities as I read, and when I came across a paragraph that was clearly copied and pasted incorrectly (a thought ends mid-sentence and is repeated two lines later,) I was done.
This is the last hold I’m waiting for at the library. I’ve heard good things, though this is not a book I would pick up on my own. If I can squeeze it in before Aug. 31, I will!
You could describe this as Pilgrimage by Diana Davidson for the YA set. Even the snow-white covers are similar. But rather than Davidson’s realism, Boorman has a very interesting premise for her story of settlers and Metis getting through the Alberta winter: An alternative history in which colonization in the West is a failure. The few surviving Metis, English settlers, and French settlers retreat to a fortified village and are completely cut off from the rest of the world for nearly 100 years.
I’ve noticed that a lot of YA is told from a single, first-person perspective. I find it limits the story. I could have done with the perspective of a village elder or a someone of a different caste within the village. As it stands, we have Emmeline, beautiful and kind, but marked by a physical disability and by a family secret. She will find out the truth about the outside world. She will expose the corruption of the village Elders. She will also kiss the cute boy.
I liked the writing and the premise a lot. I didn’t like the old-timey language that was charming at first, but inconsistent and a bit much later on. The story was at times very compelling and original, and at times bogged down in YA cliches. A bit uneven, but I’m glad I read it, and would recommend to fans of YA/historical/dystopian fiction.
I’ve seen Bishop speak about this book so many times, I feel like I’ve read it. I’m only 10% through, and so far, I do recognize a few of the anecdotes, but his style is very conversational and smart, so it is far from boring. I’m not much for object biographies (yet) and I’m not much for the exaltation of paper and ink over ereaders (I’m reading this on my ereader!) so it’s hard to say where this one will land. Bishop’s slick though – he was the only one handing out swag at the author event, and they were Ink-branded temporary tattoos. That’s brilliant!
I won’t vote till I finish at least one more of the books, but here’s my early pick:
Yes, I chose the literary fiction. Shocking!
For a little more in the way of background info, check out my literary festival preview post.
Ted Bishop at LitFest
I wasn’t going to go to LitFest but I happened to see a free preview of Ted Bishop’s talk about his book in Churchill Square. The free talk was not well attended but the actual event was full of well-wishers. I already wrote about it here but I didn’t tell you about the cool fountain pens we got to try out afterward (cool is a relative term, of course, I assume if you’re reading this you might think it’s cool.) This is my second year attending LitFest and it won’t be my last. I hope LitFest continues the free talks on the Square. If you need to make a business case about return on investment, well, it sold me. That’s something!
Joseph Boyden at STARFest
The straight review: STARFest well organized, well attended, and well worth the price of admission. I was there to see Joseph Boyden, who did the standard reading from his latest novel, and chose one of my favourite sections from The Orenda (the first few pages) and he talked about the standard author-appearance stuff – inspiration, research, how the book fits into his larger body of work. He also talked about the tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada (I was surprised he didn’t mention his new anthology on the subject, Kwe) and his own struggles with depression as a teenager. He gave a detailed description of his next book, which sounds like a bit of a legend or fairy tale about residential schools.
The gossipy review: Host and author Diana Davidson stunned in a royal blue dress from The Bay. Classic in a black button up, celeb author Joseph Boyden was powerful, vulnerable, and fascinating. Spotted in line at the book signing: Jason Purcell, noted Book Tuber, surrounded by admirers and on-trend in florals; star-struck Glass Buffalo editor Matthew Stepanic, and festival organizer Peter Bailey. I thought I got a “scoop” when Peter mentioned that David Eggers was coming to Edmonton, but he misspoke and meant David Sedaris, which is still pretty exciting!
The honest review: Joseph Boyden talked to me and touched me and said I was pretty. The end.
Joyce Carol Oates at Festival of Ideas
The closing night of Festival of Ideas was kind of the opposite of STARfest: It was under-attended (the Winspear was strangely empty; I hung back but there were plenty of floor seats available) and while I did see people I knew, I didn’t play the gossip columnist this time, preferring the company of Bartelby the Scrivener while I waited for the main event. Oates was less vulnerable than Boyden too. I doubt she went too far off script, though she joked with host Eleanor Wachtel that she felt like she was in a therapy session. Her life story was fascinating. I was rapt as JCO described her relatives and ancestors, because they sounded like characters out of a novel. Murders, suicides, Jewish grandmothers who concealed their ethnicity in America, growing up blue collar and going on to be a student and then professor Princeton… sounds like an American family saga to me.
Oates is arguably one of the best known authors in the world, but the signing line was calm, orderly, and short. I’m not sure why she wasn’t a bigger draw – maybe we are just that loyal to our #CanLit stars. I was still pretty nervous about meeting her. I didn’t want to freeze up like I did with Margaret Atwood. I remembered she had talked about personas, so I asked if her Twitter account was the real her or a persona. She said it’s very close to the real thing, except, of course, when her cat Cherie takes over:
An aside: I was so wrapped up in thinking of my question, that I couldn’t figure out why the man ahead of me in line looked so familiar, until he was getting his booked signed and I heard him say his name. It was Mr. Jeffries, my high school English teacher, who taught me One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Heart of Darkness, and John Donne, and The Odyssey, and was always going on about Joseph Campbell. I didn’t think that much of him while I was in school because I didn’t think much of anything at that age, but I recognize now that those classes had an enormous influence on me as a reader and now as a writer. I missed my chance to say thank you, so thank you, Mr. Jefferies.
Other bookish happenings this fall