Friday, 22 November 2013

Digression: Books I'm Reviewing / Profiling—Charles Montgomery's "Happy City" and Susan Downe's "Juanita Wildrose"

   On occasion I run into an individual who states firmly (and with an odd or contrarian sort of pride), "Nope, I don't read Canadian literature." 

   "What a tool" is usually my immediate (if unkind and dismissive) thought, as it would be with someone who proudly declares, "I don't do carbs" or "TV? I stopped watching that years ago."

   Later, though, I wonder about what they picture as they think of this entire category they're so comfortable with claiming to know and so comfortable to dismiss wholesale. 
   Is it one of those patronizing, international-in-scope perspectives that would make reading Canadian lit equivalent to remaining stuck in your rinky-dink hometown and never wanting to leave, still wearing those white tube socks purchased at Field's when Kanye's got Maison Martin Margiela face masks? Or do these refuseniks recall one CanLit course they didn't care for in university that featured a handful of doom and gloom novels that started with As For Me and My House and ended with The Stone Angel? Maybe they were assigned The Handmaid's Tale in high school and thought it was a real downer, and from there made this deeply flawed cognitive leap that all Canadian lit was time-wasting and grim. 
   I don't know. 
   Maybe next time I hear that declaration, I ought to say, "Oh, really, and why is that?" and encourage the speaker to flesh out a working definition of all that's unworthy in Canadian literature. 

   If a Group of Seven historico-aesthetic commonality existed between the thousands of books that comprise Canadian literature, then I could understand rejecting the homogeneous entirety of it. But even the slightest of investigations will indicate that such a uniform commonality is, um, a complete fiction. 
   Coincidentally, there's a handy example from this weekend's newspapers that illustrates the point, two books I read a few months ago.
   Susan Downe's quasi-memoir, Juanita Wildrose: My True Life, marries fact with fiction and poetry with prose (and shopping lists) in order to describe the childhood years and later decades of a woman who (actually) lived in the United States and Canada for over a century. In Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, Charles Montgomery promotes a vision of urban contentedness that's built upon years of global travel and research. Montgomery lives in Vancouver; Downe resides in London, ON: that makes them both Canadian, and their work accordingly CanLit. Other than the fact of geographic 'unity' (kinda sorta: the road-trip would cover 4180.5km), however, I can't find too much in common despite the fact they're examples of a national literature. Rejecting them both because they're fall under one supposedly meaningful category makes no sense whatsoever. 



Friday, 15 November 2013

Digression: Books I'm Reviewing—J.B. MacKinnon's "The Once and Future World."

   Initially I read The Once and Future World because I was curious about its monumental scope (from the last ice age into the near future!) and remedying premise (especially after spending a number of classes teaching The 100-Mile Diet, J.B. MacKinnon's previous book with Alisa Smith), and because I'd been assigned to write a profile about the book / author.

   Once the profile was composed and sent off, I realized there were aspects of the book that hadn't properly fit into the interview questions and ideas it raised that hadn't really gotten asked. Thankfully, I was able incorporate those overlooked aspects into another piece of writing.

The review appears in The Winnipeg Review.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Digression: Books I'm Reviewing—Ashley Little's "Anatomy of a Girl Gang."

   Not to be confused in any way whatsoever with Black Rose, Cher's band and album and failed attempt at punkish rock n' roll relevancy circa 1980, The Black Roses are a group of five damaged, streetwise teen girls in Vancouver circa 2010 who decide to rewrite the rules of gang membership.
   Ashley Little's novel, Anatomy of a Girl Gang, charts their (fleeting) successes and (tragic and resolute) failures, while providing glimpses of brutal street living that are harrowing and depressing as hell. 

The review appears in The Vancouver Sun.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Tips for Writing Success: Source Material (#6)

    Because I'm _____ [busy, lazy, focused on other projects, lacking inspiration/vision/talent, uncertain where to begin with the idea and also where to go with it, passing the buck], I've neither read nor written a piece that's centred on someone somewhere (I don't know actually who or actually where) whose job description for his (yes, for whatever reasons, it's a male I picture) 9-5 activities include the production and dissemination of material like the letter below, written by "Rocky Gupta" of "Kolkata, India." (Also showing up in the inbox this week: an appeal from
"Ambassador Kadre Desire Ouedraogo," whose tragic circumstances I'm quite curious to learn about. Same for "Karen Mangi, a Zimbabwean female studying Medicine in the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.") 

   I would like to read such a piece, maybe in short story form. So, conjectured reader (who is also a writer of fiction), get to it today! And send me the results, svp. I'd love to know all about Rocky, Karen, or Ambassador Ouedraogo (whose name alone is rather promising). 
   Here's Rocky's "employment opportunity" in full—

Work with us as our United states/canada representative and earn money based on a considerable commission. If interested get back to us with your full names, residential address, phone number, company name (if any), date of birth and marital status. We shall forward you all modalities for this employment opportunity.

Yours faithfully,
Rocky Gupta.

Director of Finance
Usha Martin Ltd, Kolkata India