Twitter Account

Follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski) and Instagram (@doreenyakabuski).

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Review of WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple


Further to my discussion about books about nasty women on April 27, here’s my last review of one of those books:  Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple:

2 Stars
If this book were not required reading for a book club, I would not have read it. Its cover clearly suggests shallow Chick Lit and its ungrammatical title - with its missing question mark - implies frivolousness. Despite the adage about not judging a book by its cover (and title, I might add), this time first impressions were not wrong.

Bernadette Fox is a renowned architect who has stopped working and is gradually retreating from the outside world, going so far as to hire a virtual assistant to minimize her contact with people. Then she disappears. Her teenaged daughter, Bee Branch, compiles a collection of communication from the time shortly before Bernadette’s disappearance in order to try and understand her mother and the reasons for her behaviour.

In terms of structure, this is a modern epistolary novel consisting of emails, official documents, a magazine article, and secret correspondence. This format with its many and mostly short entries makes for a quick read. Unfortunately, the author cheats and resorts to traditional expository narration when the limitations of her chosen structure prove to be too restricting. If a narrative structure isn’t sustainable, perhaps it is not the best choice.

According to the book jacket, this book is a “riotous satire of privilege.” I take exception to the adjective; parts are funny but certainly not unrestrainedly hilarious. There is satire of the shallowness of the wealthy, but the satire is itself shallow. The observations are ones that would be used on sitcoms to get a laugh; I prefer satire to have more bite. The targets of the rants (e.g. poor city planning, the self-help movement, politically-correct private schools, status-conscious parents) are not original either; they have been ridiculed before and more effectively too. And the focus on Seattle is also off-putting.

I found it difficult to relate to or like the characters. Though Bernadette is supposedly a genius, there is little evidence of her exceptional intelligence. Her rants offer no profound insights. She isolates herself and so becomes obsessed with her pet peeves about which she constantly whines. She is a quirky character and that’s fine, but is it logical that a person who uses email all the time would suddenly insist on writing a letter despite the fact that she is in a place that she herself admits has internet that is faster than she has ever seen. But then everyone else seems quirky too. Her husband, Elgin Branch, is certainly eccentric and even Bee is not a typical teenager. Not only does Bee not have a cell phone and has not been “corrupted by fashion and pop culture,” she seems largely unaffected when she learns about an extramarital affair. All that incessant quirkiness just becomes annoying.

The ending is just too tidy – a sitcom ending where everything is nicely resolved in the end. Everyone has an epiphany and sees the error of his/her ways. Even a character who has been reviled throughout becomes an angel.

This book is very readable because it requires little thought. For me, there is just too much fluff and not enough substance. I found myself not caring where Bernadette went.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Review of THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS by Clarie Messud


As I mentioned on April 27, I’m featuring some reviews of books featuring nasty women.  Today’s review is for The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.

3 Stars
Nora Eldridge, an elementary school teacher and amateur artist, recounts the events of five years earlier when she was 37 and experienced her “Shahid year.” Disillusioned with how her life has turned out and feeling “unacknowledged and unadmired and unthanked,” she lives a life “of quiet desperation” until the Shahid family arrives from Paris. Reza shows up in her grade three class and soon she meets his parents: Sirena, an artist gaining fame, and Skandar, a visiting university professor. The three are glamorous and exotic and worldly, all the things she has wanted for herself. Nora finds herself wanting “a full and independent engagement with each of them” though a friend tells her she is “in love with Sirena but want[s] to fuck her husband and steal her child.” She soon shares a studio with Sirena, babysits Reza, and has long, philosophical conversations with Skandar and through them gains a newfound interest in and engagement with the world. But the three are in Massachusetts for only a year . . .

This is a psychological portrait of the woman upstairs, “the quiet woman . . . who smiles brightly in the stairwell with a cheerful greeting” but who “never makes a sound” and so becomes “completely invisible.” “She’s reliable, and organized, and she doesn’t cause any trouble.” She’s “so thoughtful of others” but “nobody thinks of [her] first.” Nora describes herself as all of these, summarizing, “I’m a good girl. I’m a nice girl. I’m a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl.” In her art, Nora builds dioramas depicting sad, lonely and tormented women like Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf; these miniatures obviously reflect how Nora sees her own life.

Everything changes when Nora meets Sirena who, in contrast, builds grand sculptural and video-based installations. The problem, of course, is that it is other people and someone else’s art which are responsible for Nora’s new vitality. Nora is full of self-doubt and requires outside approval: “If nobody at all could or would read in me the signs of worthiness – of artistic worth – then how could I be said to possess them?” She convinces herself that Sirena and Skandar “could convince me of my substance, of my genius, of the significance of my thoughts and efforts.” She clarifies, “It’s not right to say that they made me think more highly of myself; perhaps more accurately, that they allowed me to . . . My lifelong secret certainty of specialness, my precious, hidden specialness, was wakened and fed by them.”

A sense of foreboding permeates the book because it soon becomes clear that her obsession with the family is unhealthy, especially since her interpretation of Sirena and Skandar’s words and actions may be based more on her needs and desires than on reality. Early on, Nora says, “Life is about deciding what matters. It’s about the fantasy that determines the reality.” This statement raises questions especially when coupled with Nora’s quoting an Avril Lavigne song: “’You were everything, everything that I wanted . . . All this time you were pretending.’” Her descriptions of Sirena are particularly revealing: “If you’re really clever, like Sirena, then you create a persona – or maybe, more disturbingly, you become a person – who, while seeming impressively, convincingly to eschew fakery, is in fact giving people, very consciously, exactly what they want.” She even decides that a good definition of an artist is “a ruthless person.” There is no doubt that something happens because she begins her story by describing her fury: “How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.” She ends on the same note: “My anger is prodigious. My anger is colossus.” Much of the interest of the book is trying to guess what lead to this “great boil of rage like the sun’s fire” when initially the year with the Shahids is “paradisiac” and “blissful.”

Many of Nora’s emotions and desires will resonate with readers. Unfortunately, I found Nora’s self-absorption and neediness and tendency towards self-pity rather pathetic. She goes on and on, page after page. In addition, sometimes she is too willfully blind. For example, she is irked by her aunt: “It had always been faintly effronting to me, the way Aunt Baby claimed our family lives as if they were her own.” Yet she doesn’t see the irony of later interpreting Reza’s gift of a smile “as if he were my own son.” Does confronting one’s mediocrity have to be tedious?

I appreciated the many literary allusions, both direct and indirect, and the book’s examination of the theme of appearance/fantasy and reality, but Nora’s journey of self-discovery about “the lies [she’d] persistently told [herself] these many years” is not totally convincing.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Gillian Flynn and Nasty Women Characters


Yesterday, I listed some books about unlikeable women.  Gillian Flynn seems to excel at portraying such female characters since they appear in all three of her novels.

Her first book, Sharp Objects, features Adora, a manipulator extraordinare.   Here’s my review of that book:
2 Stars
Camille Preaker, a reporter for a Chicago newspaper, is sent to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to write about the disappearance of two pre-teen girls. While on assignment, she stays with Adora, her mother ; Alan, her step-father; and Amma, her half-sister.

To call Camille’s family dysfunctional would be an understatement. The family members are totally twisted. Adora is a manipulator extraordinaire who showed Camille no affection while showering her two other daughters with love. She even tells Camille, “’I think I finally realized why I don’t love you’” (148). This treatment has scarred Camille both emotionally and mentally; she self-mutilates, drinks excessively, and seeks love and comfort inappropriately. Alan is cold and distant and speaks to his step-daughter only to accuse her of tormenting Adora (163 – 165). Amma is the leader of a gang of vicious and promiscuous girls; she has a “violent streak . . . a penchant for doing and seeing nasty things” (101),

In fact no one in Wind Gap is well-adjusted, especially the women. All are weak, hapless victims, or back-stabbing desperate housewives, or self-centered and abusive teenagers. Even the protagonist is not likeable. Her night of drinking and drug use with a 13-year-old and her sexual dalliance with an 18-year-old hardly make her sympathetic. She’s doesn’t want to be a victim so she starts victimizing others?

If I lived in a small town in Missouri I would be offended by the portrayal of residents. Having grown up in one, I know what life in a small town is like. Certainly there are not the cultural opportunities that a city has to offer, and everyone does know virtually everything about everyone, but not “everyone drinks” (82) and not everyone is a country bumpkin. According to Camille, anyone who hasn’t left is complacent, “not strong enough or smart enough to leave” (198). Perhaps we are to believe that Camille’s views of the townspeople are tainted by her difficult childhood in Wind Gap, but her opinions are reiterated by the other out-of-towner, the police detective from Kansas City.

There is not a great deal of suspense concerning the identity of the person responsible for the deaths of the two young girls. Very early in the novel, the reader can narrow down the perpetrator to one of two people. The narrative structure leaves little doubt where the guilty party will be found; the use of first person point of view also diminishes any real sense of danger for the narrator. A character’s name and the reference to a mysterious illness are very obvious clues to another secret; even Camille admits, “It had to be made that obvious to me before I finally understood . . . I wanted to scream in shame” (194). And so she should!

Stephen King called this novel “a relentlessly creepy family saga” and that it is. It is not, however, a very suspenseful thriller, and characterization is weak since most of the characters are flat or stereotypes. In Flynn’s defense, this is a first novel, and her writing skill has definitely improved since.

************
I’ve already posted my review of Flynn’s second novel, Dark Places, which features Libby, a lazy, angry, and manipulative and an obsessive thief – clearly a damaged person.  See my review at http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2015/08/review-of-dark-places-by-gillian-flynn.html.

************
Of course, Glynn is best known for Gone Girl, her third novel which includes selfish and immature Amy.  Here’s my review of that novel:
4 Stars
This is a very difficult book to review without revealing spoilers. What can safely be said is that Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for five years when Amy goes missing. There is every indication of foul play, and Nick is soon tagged as the guilty husband.

The book is narrated from alternating points of view. In the first part, comprising half of the book, Nick narrates events as they occur in present-time, beginning with their fifth anniversary, and Amy’s point of view is presented via her diary which begins with their first meeting. (There are slight changes in Parts 2 and 3, but to explain would give too much away.)

The two tell very different stories; very soon the reader begins to question who is telling the truth. For example, discussing their first wedding anniversary, Nick says, “Amy presented me with a set of posh stationery, my initials embossed at the top, the paper so creamy I expected my fingers to come away moist. . . . Neither of us liked our presents” (20). Amy’s version is the opposite; she writes about giving him “the monogrammed stationery he’s been wanting from Crane & Co. with the clean sans-serif font sent in hunter green, on the thick creamy stock that will hold lush ink” (41). Are they just a couple who do not know each other very well or are they being selective in their retelling? Nick admits to being “a big fan of the lie of omission” (133) and even says, “It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just starting” (37). Amy, on the other hand, is just too good to be true; she refuses “to turn into some pert-mouthed, strident angry girl” (65) even when Nick goes drinking with coworkers on their third anniversary. She tells Nick, “’My money is your money’” (68) but writes, “Those jobless men will proclaim Nick a great guy as he buys their drinks on a credit card linked to my bank account” (66). Obviously neither is a reliable narrator. As a consequence, the reader is manipulated into choosing sides and then constantly reconsidering. At times sympathy might rest with Nick but then allegiance will shift to Amy.

Neither character is likeable. Both are selfish and immature, and this may cause problems for readers who require a likeable character. I quite enjoyed how the characters are gradually stripped of all their pretenses as we get to the truth. Of course there are a lot of twists and turns along the way to the truth, but I love roller coaster rides.

I have two problems with the book. One is the portrayal of the police investigating the case. In many ways they are stereotypes of close-minded, bumbling police officers. At one point, Nick’s lawyer says, “’The bigger the lie, the more they believe it’” (390). My other problem is the third part, the last 50 pages. I found it contrived and so unsatisfying, although I’ll admit that perhaps it’s the only possible ending.

Anyone who loves a psychological thriller with fully developed characters, and a character-driven, intricate, unpredictable, suspenseful plot should definitely give this book a try.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Books About Nasty Women?


“Nasty Women” is a title which has become part of everyday parlance since Donald Trump called Hilary Clinton a nasty woman in the third presidential debate.  It is a title many women have appropriated and use with pride.

This phrase came to mind when I came across a BookRiot article entitled “100 Must-Read Books with Unlikable Women”; this list features women who “refuse to be boxed into the idea of what girls, women, mothers, sisters, and girlfriends should be. They refuse to smile through their problems, to not be a burden, to make the right decisions, to play nice. They are human. They are hot messes. They have mental illnesses, are addicts, are aggressive, violent, complicated, and flawed. They are many times products of abuse and/or gaslighting. Sometimes they are killers. Sometimes they are just unlikable.”  See the list at http://bookriot.com/2017/03/20/100-must-read-unlikable-women/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Riot%20Rundown&utm_term=BookRiot_TheRiotRundown_Tue-Thur. 

I’ve read 16 of these books.  Here are my reviews of nine of them:




The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins:  http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/search?q=gone+girl


Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll:  http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/search?q=gone+girl




I’ve also read Gone Girl and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn; The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud; and Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.  I read these four before I started my blog so I will go through my archives and post them over the next three days.  (I also read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy but didn’t write reviews of any of the three books.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sarah Polley Adapting THE BEST KIND OF PEOPLE


Canadian filmmaker Sarah Polley has optioned feature-film rights to Zoe Whittall’s bestselling novel, The Best Kind of People.  Polley will write the screenplay and direct the adaptation.



"I want to make The Best Kind of People into a film because I believe that, among other things, it is an urgent story about our assumptions about perpetrators and survivors in sexual assault cases," Polley told The Hollywood Reporter.  "In these frightening times, I believe it is more important than ever to tell this tale of rape culture, and how a family and a community grapples with who should be believed, and how far empathy can stretch itself" (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/sarah-polley-tackling-indie-drama-best-kind-people-992618).



The Best Kind of People was nominated for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize.  See my review at http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/11/review-of-best-kind-of-people-by-zoe.html.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Some Articles about Elizabeth Strout


Earlier today, I posted my review of Elizabeth Strout’s just-released book, Anything is Possible.  In that review I mentioned that people might want to read My Name is Lucy Barton which is a kind of prequel to Anything is Possible.  My review of the former book can be found at http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/01/todays-new-release-review-of-my-name-is.html. 

Coincidentally, I came across a great profile of Elizabeth Strout in the latest issue of The New Yorker which arrived in my mailbox today.  I still prefer to read the print version, but an electronic version is available:  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/05/01/elizabeth-strouts-long-homecoming.

When My Name is Lucy Barton was released in January 2016, The New York Times had a lengthy article about the author (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/16/books/the-author-elizabeth-strout-on-lucy-barton-and-how-her-characters-come-into-being.html?_r=0) and NPR Books had an interview with her (http://www.npr.org/2016/01/13/462912164/my-ears-are-open-novelist-elizabeth-strout-finds-inspiration-in-every-day-life).  And since Strout is internationally known, the British newspaper, The Guardian, featured her as well (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/19/elizabeth-strout-i-dont-want-to-write-melodrama-interview).  All three pieces make for interesting reading in tandem with Strout’s latest books.

Signature offers a guide to all of Strout's novels:  http://www.signature-reads.com/2017/04/novel-connections-elizabeth-strout-readers-guide/?cdi=321A47B09DAD4547E0534FD66B0AE227&ref=PRH24BB520913

With today’s release of Anything is Possible, expect more articles about this author.

Review of ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE by Elizabeth Strout (New Release)

4.5 Stars
I was fortunate enough to receive an advance reading copy of My Name is Lucy Barton, a book I loved, so I was very excited to receive an advance reading copy of Anything is Possible, which is really a companion book.  The second proved to be as good as the first.

Anything is Possible is a collection of linked stories set in or near Amgash, Illinois, where Lucy Barton grew up.  We are given the stories of the characters that are mentioned in the conversations between Lucy and her mother.  All characters are somehow connected to Lucy; some are relatives while others have just a tangential connection. 

Lucy’s mentor told her that the job of “a writer of fiction was to report on the human condition” and that is what Strout does.  One of Strout’s women thinks, “But this was life!  And it was messy!”  This messiness is what Stout shows:  people struggling with the harsh realities of life.  All have sorrows, fears and secrets.  Many live in private misery.  More than one character suffers from sexual dissatisfaction.  Almost all battle class prejudice.  Abandonment, loneliness, jealousy, guilt, unhappiness, and shame are some of the emotions which dominate lives.    Everyone seems damaged in some way because of poverty or because of a lack of loving relationships - or both. 

Despite their damaged lives, people endure.  Patty, one of the characters, points out that despite Lucy’s shameful upbringing, “she had risen right straight out of it.”  People’s lives can be redeemed; Dottie, another character, comes to understand “that people had to decide, really, how they were going to live.”  Abel, Lucy’s cousin who used to go dumpster diving with her for food but who has become a successful and wealthy man, has an epiphany at the end:  “Anything was possible for anyone.”

Another major theme is that of family bonds.  Several of the characters come from dysfunctional families and they have been scarred.  Yet love remains strong.  Lucy does come to visit her brother Pete and sister Vicky.  Though Vicky is resentful and jealous of Lucy’s success and feels abandoned by her sister who never visits, she shows Lucy some compassion and even tells Pete, “’She’s not coo-coo, Pete.  She just couldn’t stand being back here.  It was too hard for her.’”  An elderly woman wants to tell her daughter, “Listen to this!  Lucy Barton’s mother was awful to her, and her father – oh dear God, her father . . . But Lucy loved them, she loved her mother, and her mother loved her! We’re all just a mess . . . trying as hard as we can, we love imperfectly . . . but that’s okay.”  This is exactly what Lucy’s mentor said to her about her novel in My Name is Lucy Barton:  ““This is a story about a mother who loves her daughter.  Imperfectly.  Because we all love imperfectly.’”

The characters in the book are diverse; some are good, decent people like Tommy Guptill; some are forgiving and compassionate like Patty Nicely; some, like Lila Lane, are judgmental and mean-spirited; others are difficult or troubled.  What is amazing is that each emerges as a multi-faceted character, both complex and complicated.  Even characters who are not admirable or even likeable are shown to be vulnerable.  Linda is a despicable person who married a predator but we are told that she married him “who with his intelligence and vast money seemed to offer a life that might catapult her away from the terrifying and abiding image of her mother alone and ostracized.”  Shelly Small may be an insufferable snob but it is obvious that she was humiliated and hurt by the comments of someone she had considered a friend. 

The prose is concise and lucid; there is not one superfluous word.  Such writing inspires me to go back and re-read My Name is Lucy Barton and then to re-read Anything is Possible too.  Each is a standalone but they also illuminate each other.  

Note:  I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, April 24, 2017

75 Facts About L. M. Montgomery

In 1942, 75 years ago today, Lucy Maud Montgomery, best known as the author of the famous Anne of Green Gables series, died. 

For this anniversary, CBC Books has compiled a list of "75 facts you might not know about her life, death and enduring legacy":  http://www.cbc.ca/books/2017/04/75-facts-lucy-maud-montgomery.html.

A reddit user has put together a literary map  of the world; each book represented in the map is marked by that country’s "most famous or important novel."  Canada's book is Anne of Green Gableshttps://theculturetrip.com/europe/articles/this-literature-map-of-the-world-shows-you-every-countrys-favourite-book/.

There are 8 books in the Anne series: 
Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Avonlea
Anne of the Island
Anne of Windy Poplars
Anne's House of Dreams
Anne of Ingleside
Rainbow Valley
Rilla of Ingleside.

If you haven't read the Emily trilogy (Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily's Quest), I would recommend it as well.

For a complete list of Montgomery books, go to  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/m/l-m-montgomery/.

Review of DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY by P. D. James


A couple of days ago, I posted about classics being re-imagined as murder mysteries.  I suggested that Pride and Prejudice might make a good mystery, but of course P. D. James beat me to it with her Death Comes to Pemberley.  I read her spin-off a number of years ago.  Here’s my review: 

3 Stars
Before I read this book, I re-read Pride and Prejudice because it seemed a great opportunity to refresh my memory and to enjoy Austen's prose and social satire. Perhaps I should not have done so because my enjoyment of the mystery was greatly lessened; reading the two books together served only to emphasize that P. D. James is not Jane Austen.

Set in 1803, six years after Elizabeth and Darcy's marriage, the orderly life of Pemberley is disturbed by the unexpected arrival of Lydia Wickham, Elizabeth's drama queen sister, crying that her husband has been murdered. It soon becomes clear, however, that Capt. Denny, her husband's friend, has been killed and the scoundrel Wickham is the suspect. An inquest and trial follow. The ultimate solution is revealed through a clumsy deus ex machina: there are several last-minute revelations, including the cliche of a death-bed confession.

What is least enjoyable about the book is the characters. Elizabeth, the smart, sharp-tongued character of Austen's novel, has become dull and self-effacing. She says little and seems concerned only with propriety and the need to keep up appearances. She is very much a secondary character because the men soon become the focus.

Gone is the self-assured Darcy. After initially taking charge of the situation when Lydia appears, he soon becomes befuddled. Elizabeth and Darcy have become an old, too earnest, too dutiful couple, who seldom interact, much less exchange the witty banter which endeared them to Austen's readers.

In addition, other characters do not remain faithful to their depictions in "Pride and Prejudice." Rev. Collins becomes Mr. Bennet's nephew, instead of his cousin (3)? Colonel Fitzwilliam does not behave as Darcy's friend and has become a snob. James does try to offer an explanation for his change (25, 109), but it's not convincing.

The servants, Mrs. Reynolds in particular, are annoying in their efficiency. Mrs. Reynolds distributes candles in the hall (99), appears with water and towels outside the gunroom (101), provides hot soup in the dining room (105), and ensures there are blankets and pillows in the library (107). She does all this in a short period of time without the help of staff whom she ordered to bed to prevent any untoward inquisitiveness (99). James takes great pains to emphasize that Mrs. Reynolds is invaluable to Elizabeth and believes that "the family were never to be inconvenienced and were entitled to expect immaculate service" (20), but the woman can't be everywhere doing everything.

There are problems with continuity. Darcy somehow manages to do things he has no time to do. Darcy admits that he and his wife "have scarcely seen each other" (76) but she somehow manages to warn him about the conversation Col. Fitzwilliam wants to have about Georgiana (109). Furthermore, Denny and Wickham have a conversation enroute to Pemberley; this conversation leads to Denny vacating the chaise. No reader, once he/she learns the topic of that conversation, will believe that it would be discussed in front of Lydia, the other passenger in the chaise.

Then there are the anachronisms. Darcy looks at his wristwatch - about a hundred years before such timepieces came into popular use. Some of the dialogue uses diction (such as "subconscious") inappropriate even to the loose approximation of nineteenth-century prose that James attempts. The references to characters from other of Austen's novels seem contrived and introduce problems with time elements. James' attempt to appear to be an Austen expert (by alluding to several of Austen's novels) serves only to reveal the opposite.

James may have written the book as an homage to Austen, but it does not succeed. In its dark mood and supernatural elements it is more reminiscent of Wilkie Collins and Charlotte Bronte. In her author's note, James even apologizes to Austen because she strongly suspects Austen would disapprove of her bringing "odious subjects" to Pemberley.

Combining a mystery with a comedy of manners makes an uneasy mix of genres. The mystery is mediocre with too-obvious clues. Missing is the sparkle provided by Austen's clever social commentary; as a result, the book can only be described as lacklustre. Fans of P. D. James may enjoy the book more than fans of Jane Austen.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

World Book Night


Tonight is World Book Night in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  It was first celebrated in 2011 on March 5.  A year later, it was moved to April 23, the UNESCO International Day of the Book and, probably, the birth and death date of William Shakespeare.

World Book Night is a celebration of reading.  Books are given out with a focus on reaching those who don’t regularly read, and are gifted through organizations including prisons, libraries, colleges, hospitals, care homes and homeless shelters, as well as by passionate individuals who give out their own books within their communities.

World Book Night is run by The Reading Agency, a national charity that inspires people to become confident and enthusiastic readers.  For information about the event, go to http://worldbooknight.org/about.

A couple of years ago, in honour of this event, The Telegraph newspaper featured a quiz of 30 opening lines of classics.  See how many you can identify:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/11556189/World-Book-Night-How-well-do-you-know-famous-novels-opening-lines.html.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

R. I. P. Julia Wagg



Julia Wagg (nee Alarie) was a student in my creative writing class from February to June of 1998.  She was one of the most creative students I ever had the privilege to teach.  She died on April 14; today, her memorial service is being held.

Her obituary (http://www.fco-cfo.coop/death-notice.php?id=41557#.WPal6wf4pmw.facebook) indicates that she was an extraordinary person, as does this story (http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/julia-wagg-1980-2017-a-force-of-nature-in-ottawas-lgbtq-community) written about her in The Ottawa Citizen.


At the end of each creative writing course, I compiled an anthology featuring the best work of the students.  The anthology of Julia’s class was entitled Playing Famous; six of Julia’s pieces appear in the book. 

In honour of Julia, I’m copying the poem that Julia included in that anthology.  I don’t think she would mind my sharing it.


Adopted

I am your ugly, ugly instant kid
   By default
   Because it was a cabbage patch
   Full of rejects
   From which you carried me away

Your heart deifying regret
   Since the day
   The papers were signed
   You keep them in a cigar box
   On the top shelf of your closet
   Like the car registration in your
   Glove compartment

And you gladly deny accountability
   For my mistakes –
   Like breathing.
   Blame the genetic Pez dispenser
   For my conduct on this earth

You forget that ownership
   Is nine-tenths of the law

You’d even gnaw your hand off
   That you might trade me in
   A pointless exchange
   Because forsaken
   Was the merchandise
   From conception

The residue of a walking womb
   Afraid to use coat hangers
   For anything but hanging coats

Sympathizing with no one
   Save myself
   Personal pity party

Do unto others
   As you would do unto yourself
   Well, that’s fine for the prophets
   But in suburbia
   Murder isn’t legal

Me, myself, and I
   Rejects are we all

Though she may not have been famous for her writing, Julia was certainly a writer.  Here’s what she wrote one week before she died:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/i-am-going-die-julia-wagg-chrl.  She never lost her skill with words.

Postscript:  I came across an interview with Julia's widow at http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/929960515651