If you didn’t get your fill of book battles from Canada Reads or the Tournament of Books, here’s one where you can have your say: help me choose which book to feature on Write Reads podcast in May! Yes, I’m guest hosting again. Check me out talking about Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music last year.
It’s new release month, so the contenders are both Canadian novels released in 2015 and they’re both new authors to me: Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis or If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie.
If you’re not sure, let’s take a closer look at the contenders:
— I wonder, said Hermes, what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.
— I’ll wager a year’s servitude, answered Apollo, that animals – any animal you like – would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they were given human intelligence.
And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto veterinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old ‘dog’ ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into their newly unfamiliar world, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.
If I Fall, If I Die:
Will has never been to the outside, at least not since he can remember. And he has certainly never gotten to know anyone other than his mother, a fiercely loving yet wildly eccentric agoraphobe who drowns in panic at the thought of opening the front door. Their little world comprises only the rooms in their home, each named for various exotic locales and filled with Will’s art projects. Soon the confines of his world close in on Will. Despite his mother’s protestations, Will ventures outside clad in a protective helmet and braces himself for danger. He eventually meets and befriends Jonah, a quiet boy who introduces Will to skateboarding. Will welcomes his new world with enthusiasm, his fears fading and his body hardening with each new bump, scrape, and fall. But life quickly gets complicated. When a local boy goes missing, Will and Jonah want to uncover what happened. They embark on an extraordinary adventure that pulls Will far from the confines of his closed-off world and into the throes of early adulthood and the dangers that everyday life offers.
Fifteen Dogs: Montreal Gazette, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly – all the big players. But new media is in on it too; my fav Book Rioter Amanda Nelson wants to read it “pretty hard.”
If I Fall, If I Die: Impressive list of authors: Karen Russell, Philipp Meyer, David Gilbert, Patrick deWitt. Lots of skateboarding analogies: “This is a bruiser of a tale, one you will feel in your shins and your solar plexus.”
Publisher’s bio: André Alexis was born in Trinidad and grew up in Canada. His debut novel, Childhood, won the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Trillium Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His other previous books include Asylum, Beauty and Sadness, Ingrid & the Wolf and, most recently, Pastoral, which was also nominated for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was named a Globe and Mail Top 100 book of 2014.
Publisher’s bio: Michael Christie‘s debut book of fiction, The Beggar’s Garden, was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a finalist for the Writers’ Trust Prize for Fiction, and won the Vancouver Book Award. Prior to earning an MFA from the University of British Columbia, he was a sponsored skateboarder and travelled throughout the world skateboarding and writing for skateboard magazines. Born in Thunder Bay, he now lives on Galiano Island with his wife and two sons. If I Fall, If I Die is his first novel.
(NB: Christie writes about parenting, too. Also he is devastatingly handsome. #AuthorCrushAlert)
Fifteen Dogs: 4.61 rating on Goodreads, but only 18 ratings, as this book isn’t out till April 14. Naomi at Consumed by Ink says, “Fifteen Dogs is the most creative and unique book I have read in a long time. It was funny, smart, inventive, moving, thought-provoking, and I didn’t want to put it down.”
If I Fall, If I Die: 3.40 rating on Goodreads, with a decent 600 ratings. Karen of One More Page says, “If I Fall, If I Die has layers upon layers to be dissected, analyzed, and loved. It was a pleasure to read a book that was able to capture so many voices so accurately with such beautiful prose and emotion. This is a book you won’t want to miss in 2015.”
Confused yet? Make your choice by next Tuesday and hear me, Tania and Kirtles break it down for you next month. May the best book win!
I enjoyed writing a meta-review of Come Barbarians so much that I thought I’d do another. Sadly, I did not get to drink wine with Ms. Donoghue, but I read her two most recent books, Astray and Frog Music, with others, and with interesting results.
I’m trying to challenge myself a bit this year. Attending an IRL book club with people I don’t know was one of those challenges, and I did it with Astray. Recording a podcast thing wasn’t in the plans, but it worked well with Frog Music, forcing me to be spontaneous where I’m usually heavily edited.
My rating: 4 stars
The Book Club: Write Reads
First, listen to to my thoughts on Write Reads! I guest hosted the May “new release” podcast and chose Frog Music. I haven’t listed yet because I’m scared I’ll hate my voice. No offense to my sister since we have the exact same voice.
I was super nervous about recording the podcast. My review-writing process is usually days, sometimes weeks long, and often begins months after I’ve read a book. Now, I’m supposed to read a book and just… say what I thought about it? What if I say something dumb? Or think of something better to say later? Both those things happened but the unpredictability of the podcast format is what makes it awesome.
It helped that the hosts, Tania and Kirt, are themselves quite awesome. I know Tania from a former life in which I was a (recreational) belly dancer and met Kirt for the first time that same day, and I was afraid it would be awkward – given the book, I knew the conversation would get pretty racy – but it was so great. I want to guest host again just so I have an excuse to hang out with them. I almost wish our after-podcast conversation had been recorded too. There’s nothing like debating what exactly constitutes double penetration with and old friend and a guy you just met. Or discussing the layout for an imagined Boys of Book Blogging calendar. I fear I’ve said too much!
I liked the book more than either Kirt or Tania. The balance between love and revulsion is what Donoghue does best, and she gets it so right: mother and child, prostitute and customer, friend and lover. If the podcast had been longer, I would have talked more about:
- Arthur and Ernest. Former partners on the trapeze, they are definitely more than friends, and the dynamic is fascinating. Each has their own female partner, but when Arthur nearly dies of smallpox, Ernest cares for him. I wanted to know more about these two.
- “Nursing out.” This concept of sending children away, to a “farm” or to a peasant woman, for the first months or even years of life, seems to be a fairly normal concept in 19th century France. It flies in the face of attachment theory that guides much of parenting trends today, and left Blanche woefully unprepared for motherhood – having been nursed out herself, and in a new country away from any female relatives or friends, how was she to know how to take take of P’tit?
- Blanche as the anti-fallen woman. I read a lot of classics, and a lot of female characters are either put on a pedestal, perfect wives and mothers, or, are cast out as fallen women. Blanch is neither. It’s telling that she may be the most confident female character I’ve ever read, and she exists in the 19th century. I hate the cliche of a “strong female lead” but she is, despite being, at times, a terrible wife, mother, friend, and lover, she overcomes. She keeps going. She learns and gets better.
- The end. I found the ending too happy, despite the death and mayhem. It was very hopeful. Then, of course, I read the afterword about what really happened to the model for Blanche and it was too sad. I’m hard to please.
I’ve read four of Donoghue’s books so far, and rate them all a solid four stars. Frog Music is probably my least favourite of the four, but that’s not to say it’s bad. The murder mystery stuff didn’t work that well for me. I wanted more character, more backstory, and yep, more sex scenes. She does them so well. I mean, here, from the disputed DP scene:
Blanche is the conduit, the river, the rope, the electrical current…she’s going to drink down every drop they’ve got, their spill one unbroken seam of gold through the shattering rock.
I recommend this to lovers of historical fiction, “strong” female leads (even if that phrase makes you cringe,) visceral writing, and the earlier Donoghue novel, Slammerkin.
Further reading on Frog Music:
- A review at Editorial Eyes, which says a lot of what I wanted to say in the podcast, more coherently!
- Donoghue’s soundtrack. Essential. I wish I found it while I was reading so I could really immerse myself in the sounds.
My rating: 4 stars
The Book Club: CanLit Book Club at Jasper Place Library
This book club is what it is thanks to its leader, librarian Lindy Pratch. Once I figured out that Lindy is a book blogger, it all made sense! She reads widely and prolifically, with a focus on CanLit.
The CanLit book club was born a couple of years ago, to relieve the pressure on an over-subscribed general book club over at Woodcroft Library. Lindy chooses all the books, which must be CanLit, and must have enough library copies for the 20ish members. The reading list is so diverse, with YA, mystery, historical fiction, short story collections, graphic novels, and more. Check out the full list of titles here, which includes Reading in Bed favs like The Cat’s Table and really-wanna-read books like The Sisters Brothers and Galore.
I was afraid that the people who attend a library book club would either be super cliquey, or that maybe they’d all have similar opinions, or, even worse, that they wouldn’t talk about the book, as I keep hearing is the case at book clubs. None of these were true. What they lack in demographic diversity (almost exclusively white women age 60+) they make up for in life experience, reading experience, and curiosity. Each meeting is an hour long and there’s always so much more I want to talk about!
If you’re in Edmonton, check it out on the fourth Wednesday of the month. The next book is Karma by Cathy Ostlere, which is just great, and we meet on May 28th at 7:00 p.m.
I loved Astray. I’m reading more short story collections that I ever have, and this one is at once so different from the typical Canadian short story, but so obviously Canadian.
I found the book clubbers were divided into those who like short stories and those who don’t; and those who liked the premise of Astray, and those who found it frustrating. I didn’t realize that some people are just not open to short stories, like, at all. As for the premise – Donoghue takes snippets of old news stories and imagines the outcomes, revealing the source material at the end of each story – I found it made for a more compelling read than the usual short story collection, which you can dip and and out of. I was so curious about what was real and what was invented that I was racing to the end.
The best comment from a book clubber was “There sure were a lot of gay people. There were just so many,” which you have to imagine delivered completely deadpan, zero indication whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. It’s true, and I guess this reader was not familiar with Donoghue’s previous work! She runs the gamut from cross dressers to women in trouble to a man and his elephant. Not surprising to me, as I know she can write a novel set in present day, mostly in one room, as well as she can write about a cast of characters in 19th century San Francisco.
My only complaint about Astray is I couldn’t tell what makes a snippet of info short story worthy vs. novel worthy. Frog Music was built on a similar premise, and there were some stories that I wish had become novels. “Counting the Days” in particular, a crushingly sad and super honest portrait of a marriage. In the reveal, we find out that the wife, having lost her husband just before her arrival in Canada from Ireland, with a pack of young children and nowhere to go, remarries quickly and has seven more children. I want to know how she meets her new husband, if she is haunted by her first husband, how the children adapt to their new situation – just more.
I recommend Astray to just about anyone. It may not change your mind if you’re anti-short story, but if you’re open to it, you won’t do much better.
So, looks like I need some new bookish/blogging challenges. How are you getting out of your comfort zone?
You know you’re in a blogging slump when: a monthly update becomes quarterly. At least I came up with a sassy new name?
Reading has trumped writing lately, and I blame all the wonderful books. In the first three months of 2014, I’ve read three five-star books, one that was ever so close, and many that rate a solid four-stars.
I’ve read 17 books to date this year. Here are a few that I would recommend to almost anyone.
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick. See my guest post over at ebookclassics and get ready to have your mind blown.
- Villette by Charlotte Bronte. Check out me Bronte fangirling here.
- The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. I knew this one was special after the first 15 pages and was a wreck after the last page. Review to come.
- Mad Hope by Heather Birrell. Seriously cannot wait to reread this when I review.
- The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart. My favourite of this year so far. As much for the translation as for the author’s work. It’s unbelievable that this was not written in English, because the language just soars.
It was enlightening to count up the diversity (or lack thereof, sadly) in my reading last year, so I thought I’d track it more often in 2014. Of the 17 books I’ve read so far:
- 10 written by women
- 5 written by people of colour
- 3 written by Dead White Dudes (and just 1 by an Alive White Dude. Hi Todd!)
- 7 Canadian, 4 American, 4 British,1 Russian, and 1 Caribbean
So, still heavy on Canada/US/UK and heavy on white authors. A work in progress.
I read some great local Edmonton books recently. Reviews for these are all to come.
- The Shore Girl by Fran Kimmel: Complex and satisfying.
- Follies Past by Melanie Kerr: Unexpected and authentic.
- Come Barbarians by Todd Babiak: A cross between Le Carre and Irving.
There are also some great recent and upcoming events in Edmonton:
- Sadly, Richard Wagamese (author of Indian Horse) couldn’t make it to the Macewan Book of the Year event, so it’s being rescheduled.
- I attended my very first CanLit Book Club at Jasper Place Library, and Indian Horse was the March pick. I think a full blog post is in order, but I’m so happy to have found this group! Our next book is Emma Donoghue’s Astray.
- This week, I’ll be staying up past my bedtime to attend Green Drinks: Local Literature. I’m not sure exactly what will go on, but I’ve been told it involved “literati,” possibly “glitterati,” and also high-fives. I will attempt to take selfies with the likes of Jason Lee Norman (Americas, 40 Below Project), Matt Bowes (NeWest Press), Diana Davidson (Pilgrimage), and Alexis Keilen (13, She Dreams in Red.) There are 24 tickets left as of 10:30 Monday night. Get on it!
- Guest hosting on Write Reads: I haven’t been much into podcasts until I realized that my gym has free wifi and I can listen to them while I work out. I listened to Write Reads this week, and soon enough, I’ll be guest hosting with Tania and “Kirtles” (that’s what Tania calls him. I don’t know if I get to call him Kirtles right off the bat or not!) with my choice for Canadian New Release month: Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music.
- Reading for The Afterword Reading Society: The National Post books section came up with a quasi-book club of it’s own. Each week there’s a new book, and members can request a chance to read. 25 are picked and you get a review copy of the book and a set of questions to fill out. The results are summarized in the paper. I’ve been trying for months and finally got picked to read Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names. One of the questions asks, “what would you ask the author?” I had a real hard time coming up with something more intelligent than “why are you so awesome?” I’ll post all my answers on the blog soon.
- #1Tale2Cities Readalong: Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is the first readalong I’ve hosted since Moby-Dick. Watch for a sign up post soon! We’ll start reading on April 20th.
- Madame Bovary Readalong: I feel like living on the edge, so I’m signing up for this readalong the day before it starts. ebookclassics, Cedar Station, and a scandalous heroine? Yeah, I’m in. Sign up here, soon.
How about you, book bloggers and readers? Are you reading diverse or local or anything else we should know about?
Continued from previous post...
6. Write Reads Podcast
And bookish podcasts in general. It’s super embarrassing that I forgot to include Write Reads, not only because I know co-creator Tania in real life, but because I am appearing on the podcast in May!
The concept is pretty simple: Kurt and Tania choose a Canadian book each month according to a schedule and discuss. I love that their blog lists all the other books mentioned in each podcast, though it’s dangerous for an already overflowing TBR. And I love that they talk about books and authors I’ve never heard of. I mean, I consider myself fairly well read and current, but it’s like there’s this whole other world of CanLit out there that only they can give me access to.
Listeners can and do get involved in book selection, so there is an interactive element. And they write plenty of discussion posts in between podcasts, like this one about a disturbing trend of Canadian writers declining to set their books in Canada.
Here’s their latest podcast, about Nicole Lundrigan’s The Widow Tree. The March pick is Blood by Laurence Hill, which has been sitting on my shelf since October. I suggested that we read Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music in April and you can hear me babble about it sometime in May.
Wondering how I know Tania? Here’s a picture of us from about six years ago:
We will probably be more casually dressed when we record the Frog Music podcast, but you never know.
Anything else I forgot? Do you listen to any literary podcasts? Should I post more of my belly dance pictures?