Thursday, November 26, 2009

Can't Lit.

This week, I failed to read the following books by Canadian authors.

Galore--Michael Crummey

And I had such high hopes for this one. He's a former Kingstonist, and was engaging as hell at Kingston Writer's Fest. And it's a sweeping Newfoundland saga with all those elements of epic-ness that slay me everytime--characters with names like King Me and mysterious strangers washing up on shore and all that. And yet I never even bothered to stick a bookmark in it. Instead I used a wadded up Kleenex, and my apathy probably should have been a tipoff (for anyone who borrowed this book from the library and is worried about getting my germs, I assure you it was unused).

February--Lisa Moore

I always recommend her books to other people, but I've never actually read one myself. So I tried, and then stopped trying. I can't quite pinpoint what I didn't like, but then at work today, one of my colleagues mentioned that she's never been able to read Jane Urqhart because she's like the Alex Colville of writers: Stylistically perfect but somehow emotionally incomplete (I'm paraphrasing, but seriously guys, working in a library is this awesome 78% of the time.). That kind of rang true for me as far as Lisa Moore is concerned. It was beautiful, but I couldn't find the heart. At least it had one really great scene, with one of the characters ordering a tea from the world's slowest cashier in the Tim's at Pearson International Airport. I think that might be the most Canadian moment I've heard described in awhile.

The Carnivore--Mark Sinnett

This guy was equally charming at Writer's Fest, and I feel extra bad about not finishing this one, because I'm going to be on a panel with him on Cogeco cable in a couple of weeks (no, seriously.) and I'm worried he might ask if I've read it or something.I blame my inaction on not really feeling like reading a book about a failed marriage, but I'd still totally tell you to read this book. It's about Hurricane Hazel hitting Toronto in the 1960s, and it is fucking crazy. I don't know why they didn't teach us about the monstrous natural and human disaster of it all. So much more awesome than the peasants' revolt of 1837.

See, I think it's really important to read Canadian books. As, like, a civic duty. And I try to keep up on the new stuff, because I like to be that asshole who, ten years from now, will say things like "I TOTALLY knew they'd give Crummey the Order of Canada. I called it that day in 2009." So when I can't get into the books that everyone is telling me I should be into, I get nervous. Not being able to read books like these is like not digging The Stone Angel (arguably the best Canadian novel about an old lady taking a shit in the woods). Actually, I dislike The Stone Angel, so maybe this whole theory is totally out to lunch. Nevertheless, I feel like I let Canada down this week.

I atoned by singing this to myself all the livelong day.

Oh Neil, you're so right. About everything.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Fuck You Five.

1. Folding laundry.

2. Magic realism.

3. The Twilight saga.

4. Pronouncing words like "nukeular" and "afgoneistone" (seriously, CBC, I will enunciate and pronunciate my can off if you hire me. I'm good good good and oh so smart.)

5. CanLit.

I blame the radio for my sombre mood. Those jerks should know better than to dedicate a full hour to Great Big Sea on my day off.

Not even a terrible Canadian music video can cheer my worried heart.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Can I help you with that?

An evening on the reference desk is fertile ground for non-sequiturs.

1. I am pretty sure Andy Williams is my new favourite celebrity of all time. In his insanely fascinating new memoir, Moon River And Me, he calls bullshit on the snootiness of the elites of Monaco, puts on greasepaint with Judy Garland, and pals around with Kay Thompson. And I haven't even gotten to the juicy stuff about Claudine and Spider Sabich yet.

2. If I ever have children, I am going to make them do their own homework rather than drag my own flu-laden butt to the library to cough all over the staff and demand books on Communism at a fifth-grade level.

3. If one more person tells me that I am at the perfect age to start thinking about children I am going to punch them in the nose.

4. It hurts my feelings that Sesame Street is 40 years old. I'm sure it's still super important for a lot of kids but I just don't want to believe that it's progressed past this.

or this.

5. Remember when the only thing you were responsible for was knowing how to count up to twelve, apparently? Ah, those happy golden years.

Friday, November 6, 2009

You had me at Criterion Collection.

So I cracked the spine on Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem today. In the process I realized I can't keep from confusing Jonathan Lethem and Jonathan Franzen, partly because of their very similar names and partly because I find them somewhat dickish and annoying. Anyway, once I figured out that Lethem is the one I hate a little less, I decided to give Chronic City a go. Within about thirty seconds I knew I was going to love it, based solely on one completely lame occurrence: the mention of the Criterion Collection on page one. I am nothing if not a sucker for semi-obscure cultural references. Seriously, as pretentious and annoying as they inevitably are, references to institutions and events that I like to pretend no one knows about but me are SO the way to my literary heart.

At that point I put down the book, already satisfied I could give it a glowing review founded on two paragraphs' worth of reading, and started thinking about the other things that hook me without question. Here's a list, minus the one listed above.

1. Career women in the 1950s (see: The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe). Ah, for the days when girls were either typists or struggling actresses and the only way to get a good meal was to con one of the men you worked for into taking you for a nice steak dinner.

2. Teenage girls in the 1990s (see: Girl by Blake Nelson). I talk about Girl way too much but there's just something so gloriously familiar about that universe of bad all-ages shows and ill-fitting vintage clothes and clumsy sex.

3. Precocious children (see: The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews). When a writer can get to the heart of the fundamental weirdness of a smart kid it is so, so priceless. Sadly, most writers can't. Furthermore, most kids are not really worth dissecting on the page. There, I said it.

4. Tortured teenage boys (see: Blankets by Craig Thompson, Someday this Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron, and many, many more). Bonus points for sexual confusion as a plot point (see: Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn). They're my emotional kryptonite. Catharsis!

5. Teens in Dystopia (see: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden). As a rule, I totally hate any kind of sci fi or fantasy that isn't Harry Potter, but populate a creepy and sadistic future hell-world with teenagers and I am ON BOARD.

But enough about me. What's on your Win list?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oh Kurt.

I was reading Kurt Vonnegut's new book of unpublished short stories today, Look at the Birdie. It was pretty okay, full of the usual randomness and implausibility and smart goofy language his writing always is. But after about the third story, I made a realization about myself I've made many times over: I don't really have any strong feelings about Kurt Vonnegut. Don't get me wrong--his writing has always meant something to me. I went through the mandatory self-revelatory experience of reading Breakfast of Champions as a teenager. I bought Welcome To The Monkey House after it was referenced on an episode of the Wonder Years. But I've just never grown to LOVE LOVE LOVE HIM the way so many people do.

Maybe part of the reason is that there are just so many damned people who do LOVE LOVE LOVE Vonnegut. When you get right down to brass tacks, I can't stand loving something everyone else loves. Especially when that something is an author who's been embraced by hipsters and quasi-intellectuals and all the other clubs I wouldn't want to join. It drives me crazy when something I care about is something everyone else cares about too. I know it's snotty, but seriously, google "Vonnegut Tattoos" and tell me you're not disappointed that everyone else has already had the same amazing idea for a tat you had one time. I guess Vonnegut's only one of many authors who's been co-opted by the internet generation, but he's the one who most readily comes to mind. And I know I'm only feeding into the cult by complaining about it, but I don't really care.

Anyway, in spite of my ambivalence, I'm still glad to know Vonnegut. I get a little flutter in my stomach whenever a kid of a certain awkward age comes in the library and asks for Slaughterhouse Five. Even if, a few years from now, that kid is wearing a ratty lumberjack shirt and trying to find a theremin player for his new side project, I will be happy that at least he read one good book.