Archive for September, 2010

September 30, 2010

Poetry Against Censorship: Musings on Terry Jones

by thiszine

White Moustache
by John Coleman

I read in the newspaper
about a man with a white moustache
who said he wanted to burn the Qur’an.
His moustache looked just like Hulk Hogan’s,
and it reminded me of white bread.
Fake, like white bread –
so overworked and distant from nature.
Bleached, misshapen, manipulated, unnatural.
Unreal – like wrestling.

The moustached man said that
if they built a mosque where
(people can pray)
so many innocent people died,
that would comply with the enemy.
He didn’t have mighty arms like Hulk Hogan does,
but he worked in the same way:
to bring down the enemy.
And I thought,
I belong to the most violent generation.
But not like,
My generation is so violent, it’s absurd.
My thoughts wandered to the conclusion that
I live in the most violent generation ever.

That’s all burning the Qur’an is anyway, right?
Violence.
Instead of burning the Qur’an,
this man really wants to burn the enemy.
He really wants to burn human beings.
But burning the Qur’an sends the same message:
red-white-and-blue
(so easily, how it flows)
wants you to die.

Target, burn, kill your enemy
preached the white moustached man.
It made me want to burn
red-white-and-blue mentality.
I want to burn my Wonder Bread.
I want to darken my white bread mind.

Because my side
(culture)
is being strung up
(hung)
like a(n) flag
(enemy).
I feel misrepresented.
I don’t believe in flags.
Because of the man with the white moustache
I will never believe in God
because believing in God means being hung.

There is a mosque in my neighbourhood in the GTA.
Little mosque on the concrete prairie.
It’s like a church in a school gym
with a Coke machine in the entrance
where my neighbours pray to
Jesus.
But opposite
(wrong).
Right, white moustached man?

I later read that Hulk Hogan
stepped down from his challenge
and that bruised his integrity
because he was fake.
If he was real he would have
burned all the Qur’ans.
But some Hoganites were still going to
carry out the crusade,
the original plan.

They said:
This is the right thing to do.
The only thing left
but more so right
thing to do.
Burn people that burn you.

And a friend, or two, or many of mine read the Qur’an.
Read, or pray, or wander in thought,
then we all watch wrestling.
Hulk Hogan on the screen in fiery yellow and red.
When he powerslams the enemy, the violence is
fake, thin, blank.
Like Wonder Bread.
But there is always a small city who thinks
it is worth standing up to say
“Hulk Hogan is the best,
I would do anything he tells me.”
It is the most violent generation.

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September 30, 2010

THIS Reads: Should Reading Cause Stress?

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BY LACEY N. DUNHAM

I’m not going to lie. I’ve been really, really stressed about reading during the past month and half. As fall and winter book releases have piled up on my living room table, the stack now looks a bit like the leaning tower of Pisa, lumbering over the number of calendar days in which I have to read them. It’s not unusual, I think, for lovers of books to be overwhelmed with more books than time. For me, the added pressure of that awful word – deadline – zaps a bit of the pleasure out of reading, which is too bad, because I love reading. However, I shrug all responsibility for the tilted ratio of books-to-sanity from my shoulders. If publishers wouldn’t pile on all their top titles in the fall, maybe I wouldn’t be freaking out right now.

So what’s on my table?

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
This is probably the only book I’ve picked up for pure pleasure in the last month and it’s one hell of a ride. Mitchell’s talent as a writer far exceeds that of almost any other living writer. In Cloud Atlas, his chameleon skin at adapting to a plethora of voices, styles, and genres is revealed in the shimmer of this postmodern novel. Plus, James Woods has a small crush on Mitchell and if James Woods is in love, then you know Mitchell’s the real deal.

Deadline: 30 days, because the Library of Congress says so. And, unlike their poorly funded public counterpart, the Library of Congress does not fuck around.

 

 


Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women
by Rebecca Traister
Even though I live in DC, I’m not a policy wonk. Thankfully, Traister’s look at the women of the 2008 election is a pleasing mix of the political and the personal, which means I loved this book way more than I loved living through the pain of waking at 3am to take the Metro to the National Mall, wade through the muck of DC planning ineptitude, stand in the cold for 7 hours to wait for Obama’s inauguration, and then walking 6 miles home because the tourists couldn’t figure out how to cram–really cram–themselves into the Metro train cars. Which is to say, for anyone who has an interest in feminist politics, women in politics, or presidential politics, Traister’s book is one of the best to emerge from the post-election political publishing binge.

Deadline: Done and done, thanks to Traister’s superb reading at Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse last Monday.

 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The movie opened to a limited release last Friday and will be in wide release soon. I thought I should read the book before the film poisons my mind. Unfortunately, I haven’t even cracked it open since I hunted it from my bookshelves six weeks ago and I saw the movie this past weekend.

Deadline: Ideally, I would have read this before seeing the film. Now, I’ll probably read the book the next time I’m laid up with the flu, which, in DC, usually hits around February.

 

Sunset Park by Paul Auster
An ARC of Auster’s forthcoming novel (due in November) dropped into my hands. A very nice review editor at a very nice online literary and cultural magazine asked if I would read and review. This was in July. He said, “Have the review to me September-ish.” Bad idea. I work on firm deadlines. September-ish means, to me, anytime prior to 11:59pm on September 30th. So have I read this yet? No. In fairness, up until that point I hadn’t read any Auster (gasp! but I’m not a New Yorker, so calm down) so I had to quickly plow through the main points of his backlist before reaching for his latest. The New York Trilogy blew my mind as a postmodern novel that questioned the very claim of the author and the veracity of fiction – until I read Cloud Atlas. Then The New York Trilogy became the ugly sister: still related but a lot less likely to become high school class president or prom queen.

Deadline: September-ish. But I give myself bonus points for having started it this weekend.

 


Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
A writer friend of mine recently admonished me for never having read McCarthy’s The Road. I told him every woman I knew who had read the book hated it, while every guy I knew loved it. As a biological female, I just assumed it wasn’t worth my time. My friend argued that McCarthy is one of the best living American writers and promised to bring me a novel I would love: Blood Meridian. I asked for a deadline (I can’t help it); he said August 31 and I agreed. In mid-August, I asked for an extension. He said, “end of September, I guess?” the slight questioning tone of the sentence placing it firmly after “September-ish” and sometime before the Apocalypse. Therefore, Friend is never getting his book back, at least not anytime soon.

Deadline: I’ll take him out for beers and see who remembers anything about deadlines then.

 

Room by Emma Donoghue, C by Tom McCarthy, and The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass

I borrowed both the Man Booker Nominated Room and C from friends because, okay, I admit: I’m not immune to the influence of judges on prize committees. I would have never read Wolf Hall if it hadn’t won the Booker last year. So wow me over judges!

I have my own copy of The Widower’s Tale because I love Julia Glass. Her novel is not nominated for any awards (yet) but Three Junes did win the National Book Award. I’m always impressed by Glass’s ability to write from multiple perspectives in her family dramas without condescending to the reader or her characters.

Deadline: Waiting for flu season (Glass) and the announcement of the Man Booker Prize winner (Donoghue and McCarthy).

September 29, 2010

THIS reads: Judge a Book by Its Cover

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BY SWEETMAN

I’ve wrestled with the notion of the e-reader for the past few years. I admit, at first I was like, No. Way. No friggin’ way. Nope. No. No, no, NO! It seemed impossible to compare a sterile flat screen with the physical book that has a cover announcing what it is and is filled with pages that have a feel and a smell. Trading off a book for a device just wasn’t possible for me in the early days of the e-reader.

Yet I understand this amazing modern age. I’ve reconciled uneasily with how fast life is changing bacause it’s work to keep up. I understand if you can’t keep up with what’s new, you’re old school but in a really uncool, awkward way. If you can’t keep up you miss out.

My feelings about the e-reader changed when I saw my young son lugging a backpack filled with textbooks older than he is. Now there’s a good reason for an e-reader. Text books, especially college text books, would be perfect in an electronic format because they can be updated quickly, subjects can be linked easily for further references and the dire need for those ridiculous backpacks with wheels will hopefully go away. Forever.

Environmentally? Sure! Let’s save the trees! I see the upside to keeping forests intact although honestly, I give little thought to the trees when I am immersed in a great book.

I have seen people with the e-reader. It doesn’t really grab me like, Oh my gosh there’s an e-reader! It’s just another electronic gadget that commands its owner’s attention so completely that those people and things surrounding him or her cease to exist.

 

 

As far as feeling that books are going to fall before the almighty e-reader the way VHS fell to DVD, I am no longer frought with despair. The birth of the e-reader is a response to what the public wants but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the book. The e-reader has its down-sides: it needs to be plugged in to work. You can’t read it in the tub. It’s very expensive to leave at the airport.

For me, the worst thing about the e-reader is probably what makes it one of the best things: it can hold a huge number of books. Imagine, all my favorite books in one little gadget.

My favorite books are often my traveling companions. They’ve ridden with me on trains, buses, planes and smokey cars of people I barely knew. They’ve kept me company in lobbies, waiting rooms, bars, bathrooms and hallways waiting for the bathroom.

My books haven’t just kept me company, they’ve helped me find friends. I’ve met like-minded individuals who light up with, Oh, I love that book! after glancing at the the title. I’ve met equally shy people who, like me, never just say Hi but venture with a So how do you like that book? I’ve even had fantastic, heated debates with a complete stranger about the importance of Kerouac’s On the Road. How can an e-reader inspire that exchange?

My favorites books are beat-up and dog-eared with underlined passages. Occasionally there are some highlighted paragraphs and most are filled with little scribbles in the margins. All the war wounds of my books are testimony to their travel with me and my travels and travails into them. How could an electronic device compare to the life my books lead?

While feeling less threatened by the electronic reader, I admit I do despair for the future of books in future generations. These are the people who will grow up with electronic devices as the norm and might look at books as I look at a phone with a rotary dial. In the path of progress some things are, unfortunately, lost along the way.

Here are some of my books that have sparked the best friendships, conversations and insights from strangers:


DIVA
by Delacorta. A French novel and not a great translation, it was made into a much better movie. I took this on a bus from Boston to NYC and sat next to a musician who loved the soundtrack from the movie. We talked for the entire trip to New York.

 


ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac. This was the book that lead to a shouting argument on a train from Salem to Boston. It was ridiculous!

I brought the book on the train to look pretentious but the whole idea of the Beat generation, the characters and ideals, were a joke to me. Maybe I just had a hangover. Maybe the poor guy who wanted praise Kerouac reminded me of my blissed-out college professor. Whatever it was, I ended up in Boston being called an uptight, closed-minded hypocrite. The memory still makes me laugh – it’s the best part of the book for me.

 


THE BASKETBALL DIARIES by Jim Carroll is a great collection of poems that better defines a certain era. It is edgy and sharp. I carried this on the bus to and from work in Worcester, MA and had developed an odd group of friends who had read it. We met often for coffee and discussions after work. It takes me back to such a great time in my life.

My books are interlaced with memories, times and places that help define who I am. Could I ever get that with an e-reader?

September 28, 2010

THIS Reads: Digging Below the Mainstream

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BY JOHN COLEMAN

I must confess I’ve felt snobbish lately – my range of authors is a tad one sided in favour of the big press. It’s not that I need sales or reputation to respect an author, not at all – it’s just that I’ve been blindsided by a few bigger, highly anticipated novels in the past few months. But being the rebel I am (insert laughtrack here), I know that big press is a euphemism for the man, and I won’t have that being the log in my literary fire.

So, in an attempt to dig below the mainstream, this is what I am reading while the leaves change colour outside my window:

Best Canadian Stories: ’08, ed. John Metcalf (Oberon Press). While perusing my local library I found this gem, a compilation of short stories by ten lesser known CanLit authors like Clark Blaise, Kathleen Winter, and Amy Jones. Despite being edited by one of Canada’s top literary critics, this book really pushes some unheard names into reader’s faces. These are top notch intuitive stories, but their authors probably wouldn’t catch the attention of Penguin editors.

What Is Left The Daughter, by Howard Norman (HMH). I’m reviewing this book for this and so far, from the fifty pages I have read, it is amazing. Set during World War Two on the East Coast of Canada, it is a life tale of extreme hardship at a young age (double parent suicide) and the further aftermath of a growing young man.

The Matter With Morris,
by David Bergen (Harper Collins) In honour of making the Giller longlist, I must mention that Bergen’s story is highly intriguing. I’ve only read a condensed version of Morris in this month’s Walrus, but it definately makes me want to buy a copy. With themes like war, romance, writing, and pot – how can you say no?

Mordecai Richler Was Here, ed. Adam Gopnik (Madison). Ahh, I know, there’s nothing small time about Richler. But I don’t care, he’s my favourite author. His satirical wittiness, mastering the underdog story, putting CanLit on the map – he’s the best. This book brings together a wide array of Richler’s journalism coinciding with relevant snippets from his fiction. It’s Richler’s perspective on politics, writing, and success in his own words, a definite read for budding writers in need of guidance.

I have also been paying attention to Joey Comeau’s blog posts over at Open Book Toronto this month. Comeau is gaining a heap of recognition in Canada lately with his most recent novel One Bloody Thing After Another. He also provides captions alongside Emily Horne’s photography on A Softer World, an ongoing web comic.

And yes, I realize this is all Canadian writing.

September 27, 2010

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Censorship

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BY URSULA K. RAPHAEL

If you’ve paid attention to recent news, you’ve probably heard about Terry Jones, the preacher who proposed burning the Qur’an. Alas, book censorship is still alive and well in the United States, the country that totes freedom of speech as our national mantra. Not only is it ridiculous, but it’s a shameful waste of millions of trees. Unfortunately, there are people who are so desperate to protect others from what they consider “harmful reading material,” they are probably recruiting computer hackers to create viruses to stop the downloading of “dangerous ideas” to Kindles everywhere.

Number one on the banned/challenged book list of 2000-2009, compiled by the American Library Association, is *drum roll please* the Harry Potter series. This series has been accused of promoting witchcraft/atheism, encouraging children to misbehave and make bad decisions, and being just plain frightening. (I’m not sure if trying to fly on a broom falls under “witchcraft” or “making a bad decision.”)

I personally thought the Harry Potter books were a fantastic collection of mythology and folklore interwoven into a story of an abused boy who makes something of himself despite not having a loving family environment and having to ward off attacks on his life every year. But, I was probably reading too far into the storyline and overlooked the details enticing children to the dark side with promises of owl-delivered invitations to a wizarding school.

I will be the first to admit that Harry and his friends do lie, break rules, and disrespect authority figures, but so do most school children (which is why I homeschool). I would also like to point out that if fictional characters always told the truth, followed the rules, and showed more respect for others, stories would be pretty boring, probably not go anywhere, and miss the point of creative writing.

The complaint that makes me laugh the most is the accusation that the Harry Potter series is too scary for children. Honestly, I think the news is the scariest thing I’ve read on any given date. At least when they read the books the kids can tell themselves “it’s just a story.” Of course, any sensible parent would read what their kids read, be aware of what is age-appropriate and realize that, in our world, children are no strangers to suffering and death.

My personal experience with the Harry Potter books includes reading the series, watching the movies, and collecting some of the memorabilia (which includes a sorting hat). I have thrown Harry Potter themed parties for organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters. I had craft tables where the kids could make their own wands with unicorn hair, dragon scales, and phoenix feathers. We sorted participants in the four houses of Hogwarts (by drawing names out of my sorting hat), gave prizes for trivia questions about the books, and shared a Harry Potter birthday cake. In return, our guests were asked to bring new books (any children’s books) that were donated to children of families who could not afford the luxury of reading material.

Some people would say that a kid reading anything without discretion or standards is not an accomplishment, but I say that kids reading books and sharing that love of reading with less fortunate children is something to be proud of.

September 25, 2010

Banned Books Week

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The 2010 Banned Books Week is September 25 – October 2. Sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA), banned books week was founded to highlight issues of censorship around reading and free speech. During Banned Books Week, the ALA looks at books that have been banned (formally removed from school or library shelves) and books that have been challenged (where someone has lodged a formal complaint against a book). Over the course of the week, we look forward to sharing with you our experiences with banned books and our thoughts on censorship and free speech.

Why are books banned or challenged?
The Office of Intellectual Freedom cites the following three reasons for challenging materials:
1. the material was considered to be “sexually explicit”
2. the material contained “offensive language”
3. the materials was “unsuited to any age group”

Why should I care about banned books?
Intellectual freedom, which the ALA defines as “the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular” is integral to the free and open access of information, democratization, self-belief, and self-expression. When restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society, the foundation of that very society is at risk.

The ALA’s list of frequently challenged classics reveals an interesting irony: George Orwell’s 1984 is on the list. Here are the others:

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses by James Joyce
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
9. 1984 by George Orwell
10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
11. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
13. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
15. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
21. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
22. Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
23. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
31. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
32. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
33. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
34. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
35. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
36. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
37. The World According to Garp by John Irving
38. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
39. A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
40. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
41. Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally
42. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
43. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
44. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
45. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
46. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
47. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
48. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
51. My Antonia by Willa Cather
52. Howards End by E. M. Forster
53. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
54. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
55. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
56. Jazz by Toni Morrison
57. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
58. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
59. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
60. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
61. A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
62. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
63. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
64. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
65. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
66. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
68. Light in August by William Faulkner
69. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
70. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
71. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
72. A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
73. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
76. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
77. In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
78. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
79. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
80. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
81. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
82. White Noise by Don DeLillo
83. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
84. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
85. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
86. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
87. The Bostonians by Henry James
88. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
89. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
90. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
91. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
92. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
93. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
94. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
95. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
96. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
97. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
98. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E. M. Forster
99. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
100. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

September 25, 2010

September/October 2010 Issue Is Here!

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We can’t believe it’s true!

Head over and read our newly published September/October 2010 issue!

September 24, 2010

Happy National Punctuation Day!

by thiszine

Today the U,S, celebrates the {unofficial} seventh annual National Punctuation Day; with a Punctuation!? Program in “elementary schools…. a Haiku contest’: and meatloaf shaped! like a question mark – We hope you”ll celebrate your punctuation dexterity and power today too;-!

September 22, 2010

Oversung and Underpraised: Overrated and Underrated Canadian Writers

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BY JOHN COLEMAN

The National Post recently ran two pieces in its literary section, The Afterword, entitled Don’t Believe The Hype: 10 Overrated Canadian Authors, and, the next day, Flying Under The Radar: 10 Underrated Canadian Authors. The articles were penned by critics Alex Good and Steven W. Beattie.

In response to the articles, I would like to play devil’s advocate. Albeit I agree with some of Good and Beattie’s slams on big time CanLit monopolisers (I won’t sour you with my opinions), I feel that more than a few toes were stomped on in the more than pretentious analytical/critical slice of opinion. Below I reflect on what they think of CanLit today.

First off, the word Overrated. It’s no doubt that Yann Martel made the list, especially since his recent novel, Beatrice and Virgil, got almost all negative, and really negative, reviews. Yes guys, you saw the headlines too, thanks for the recap. Also on their hitlist are Douglas Coupland for being too much like Kurt Vonnegut; Michael Ondaatje for romanticising the new millennium in a cliché manner; and Anne Michaels and Jane Urquhart, more or less for having top sales.

If I may interject with one opinion, Joseph Boyden should not be on the overrated list. Good and Beattie knock Boyden’s two novels Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce for being stylistically and interpretively off the mark. Missed, however, is an acknowledgment of Boyden’s attempt to slash the colonial view of Native culture. Maybe if more than a handful of Native authors would be accepted into the scene, Boyden could be ruled out for bad writing. Until then, I praise any NativeLit authors, Boyden included, who truly represent Native culture in literature – a form, I remind, absent until the nineteen-eighties.

To give Good and Beattie some credit, they publicise writers who a lot of people don’t, although should, know in their Underrated list. And I agree, if it weren’t for corporate publishing labels worried most about the bottom line, there would be a chance for amazing writers currently dwarfed by Coupland, Michaels, Munro and Atwood. Almost all in the Underrated list were praised for stylistic mastering and pushing unconventional form, such as Sharon English, Clark Blaise, and Ray Smith. These authors, among others, are highlighted on the list for the average daily newspaper reader.

Enough about my take, what do you think? Is one of your favourites deemed overrated? Does an unsung writer you know fit the role of an underrated CanLit author? Are we just becoming too snobby? Or, is commercial literature an oxymoron – should it be chastised for ruining smaller writers’ chances? Leave a comment and have your say; one voice can’t speak for all of us.

September 21, 2010

Music Review: Edom’s Hope and Destruction

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EDOM
Hope and Destruction

Tzadik Records, 2010

When assembling your band, you naturally hash it out until you develop a sound. Finding that sound can take any amount of time and can incorporate a plethora of different genres and influences. When Eyal Maoz, a New York composer and guitarist, assembled Edom, it would be difficult for most people to try and be as open-minded as Maoz was during the ensemble’s infancy. Fusing nu-metal, electronica, jazz, unorthodox chord progressions and Middle Eastern harmonies, Edom is an interesting eclectic mix of influences and musical output.

 

 

Maoz, a guitar wizard in his own right, is joined by Brain Marsella, a master of the Hammond B3 organ and synthesizers, Shanir Blumenkranz (who has been on over fifteen Tzadik Records recordings) on bass, and Yuval Lion, who thunders away on drums with the bands Pink Noise and Pharaoh’s Daughter. Moaz, too, is part of a self-titled duo with Asaf Sirkis and is a guest guitarist with John Zorn’s Cobra.

Edom recently released the new record Hope and Destruction on Tzadik Records, an album that pushes musical bounds to new and interesting levels. The album touches on many musical forms beginning with the atonal elegy, “Somewhere.” “Rocks” is one of the more emotional songs on the album; it begins with with an epic synth solo over a rather slow tempo, picking up slowly, and sounding much like an Elliot Smith song before Maoz’s distorted and complex instrumentation takes over. Tracks such as “Shuki” and “Two” highlight the album’s overall approach to experimentation while the often distressed, toneless sounds of “Skies” may not be an avid Jazz lover’s cup of tea, but more along the lines of Serj Tankian’s solo endeavours. Since Hope and Destruction explores so much new ground, it should be commended for its emotional range. The album juxtaposes a slow, rageful sound with an upbeat and dance-worthy combo.

Maoz and crew have put together an interesting record with loads of creativity and cutting edge musicianship. Pushing against what popular music tries to accomplish, Edom would rather have you think and feel – a truly noble, musical intent.

– Jordon Chiarelli

September 19, 2010

Book Trailer of the Week: Room by Emma Donoghue

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The 2010 Man Booker Shortlisted novel Room by Emma Donoghue has a disturbing premise: five-year-old Jack and his Ma live in a single room, unable to leave, unable to interact with the outside world.

The book trailer for Room juxtaposes sunny crayon drawings and a music-box rendition of “It’s a Small World” to create the perfect dark take of this unusual novel.

September 16, 2010

Best of the Net 2010 Nominees

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Congratulations to our nominees for the Best of the Net 2010!

Nominees were eligible for selection if their piece was published in an issue of our ‘zine between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010.

Sundress Press established Best of the Net to promote the diverse and growing collection of voices that are choosing to publish their work online, a venue that still sees little respect from such yearly anthologies as the Pushcart and Best American series. The Best of the Net collection will hopefully help to bring more respect to an innovative and continually expanding medium.

You can read 2009’s winners and finalists, as well as the archive of past winners, at Best of the Net 2009.

Our nominees are:

Fiction
Lauren McDonald
Taped to a Rocket

Poetry
Jonathan Viguers
“it was right after she broke up with me.”

Rachel C. Fletcher
Reflecting on Life outside the Nunnery

Michelle Dominque
We Were Too Reckless With Our Hearts

Ivan Jenson
Bad Boy

Jason Blanco
left

Non-Fiction
Thomas Burchfield
The Wild Bunch: Down the Hole in Glorious Blood and Fire

September 15, 2010

Trailer: Howl

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Beat Generation fans, prepare yourselves! Next Friday is the release of “Howl,” the film biopic about Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, starring James Franco as the infamous poet. The film loosely follows Ginsberg’s life, including the penning of his most famous poem, and the resulting obscenity trial against poet and City Lights Bookstore co-founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who originally published Howl. Trailer is below.

Franco is currently enrolled in the Warren Wilson College MFA program, where he writes and studies poetry. To prepare for his role in “Howl,” the actor enrolled in additional master’s programs in film and writing at New York University, Columbia University, and Brooklyn College. While walking to class, Franco would listen to a recording of Ginsberg reading Howl on his iPod.

Book-to-film adaptation fans have another thing to look forward to this week with the release of the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

September 14, 2010

Book Review: Bloodborn by Nathan Long

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BLOODBORN
(Ulrike the Vampire – Warhammer)
by Nathan Long

Games Workshop
May 2010, $8.99, 416 pages)

Nathan Long has written three Warhammer novels featuring the Blackhearts (a group of criminals turned soldiers), and has taken over the Gotrek and Felix series, starting with Orcslayer. Long also wrote the short story, “None So Blind,” about an invasion by High Elves from Ulthuan on a mission to attack and take revenge on Malekith, Witch King of the Dark Elves, that can be found in the Warhammer anthology, Invasion.

In the Gotrek & Felix series, Ulrika Magdova was Felix’s former love interest. She was a Kislevite noble, daughter to Ivan Straghov, the March Warden of the Border, who fought against the Chaos hordes in the north. Before Ulrika was turned into a vampire, she traveled with Gotrek, Felix, and Max Schreiber during an expedition to Karag Dum. After, she was kidnapped by Krieger in Sylvania and from him received the “blood kiss.” In Manslayer, she wanted to get back together with Felix, but their differences were too great.

Bloodborn takes place between her last appearance in Vampireslayer and her return in Manslayer. Ulrika has only been a vampire for a couple of weeks and is having a terrible time controlling her urge to feed. The story begins with her running naked in a forest, about to feed on a victim, when her mistress, Countess Gabriella, and her blood-swain, Rodrik, stop her. The Countess takes Ulrika back to her castle, and continues her attempts to teach Ulrika not only to control her hunger, but to control how much blood she takes when she is allowed to feed.

Before the Countess is able to fully train Ulrika in the Lahmian ways, the vampire queen instructs Gabriella to help her sisters in Nuln. Two of the six sisters have been ripped apart by an unknown assailant. The corpses were left in public areas with their claws and fangs extended, causing a panic among the human population and attracting the wrath of the witch hunters.

Once Gabriella and Ulrika arrive in Nuln, it is obvious that internal politics between the sisters is going to impede the investigation into the deaths. When it is clear the Gabriella’s sisters are too paranoid to trust one another, suspecting each other of the murders, Ulrika is ordered to spy on them. While searching for clues, Ulrika comes face to face with a witch hunter named Templar Friedrich Holmann, who does not realize that she is a vampire. They eventually agree to hunt together, which furthers complicates Ulrika’s situation with her mistress and the other vampire sisters.

I think Nathan Long did a great job of writing a strong, female character as a tragic heroine. With all the clawing, sword-fighting, and ghoul attacks, these vampires were far from the fops that are usually found in vampire tales. In fact, this particular novel was more horror than fantasy. There were just enough flashbacks to tie this book into the Gotrek & Felix series without it being necessary to have actually read the other Warhammer books. Even though this is just the first in an Ulrika series (the next one will be Bloodforged ), I still thought the ending was a bit too abrupt: an element of the story, a mysterious voice, was never revealed. Everything else was wrapped up into Ulrika’s training with the Countess.

I love both the Gotrek & Felix series and the spin-off Thanquol & Boneripper series, but if you don’t have time to catch up or backtrack the Warhammer timeline (by reading, for example, Gotrek & Felix: The First Omnibus (Warhammer), you can learn more about the characters in Ulrika’s world in the collection Death & Dishonour, which includes vampires, witch hunters, and more. You can visit Nathan Long’s blog here.

~Ursula K. Raphael

September 13, 2010

Old School Book Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

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THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY
by Patricia Highsmith

W. W. Norton & Company
(June 2008, Originally pub. 1955, $13.95, 273 pages)

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith is a book that stays with me. I’ve read it twice. Knowing the plot twists and secrets the second time around did very little to take away the tension and suspense of this psychological thriller.

Tom Ripley is a 23-year-old living in New York City in the 1950s. He is liar and and a schemer with vague aspirations for better life. In Tom’s vision, better equals wealthy and includes every aspect of the lives of his affluent associates, including their sneering opinions of Ripley himself. He clings to people who barely tolerate his presence – a fact of which he’s well aware, yet he chooses to expose himself to disdain and contempt rather than seek out a more welcoming circle of companions. Funny, this is exactly what I believed The Great Gatsby might have thought of the clingy Nick had Fitzgerald gave him a voice!

Tom Ripley is not above any means of gaining a foothold to his vision of betterment. He extorts random people by impersonating an agent of the IRS and although his endeavor does not bring in any great sum of money, it is more of a glimpse into what Ripley is capable of doing. By targeting unassuming, run-of-the-mill, hard working people most likely to quickly pay a small fee to the IRS, Highsmith brilliantly portrays Ripley as clever, calculating and completely amoral. He knows the difference between right and wrong but he is utterly indifferent to either. This makes for a fascinating protagonist.

Ripley’s fortune takes an interesting turn at an opportune time. He is hired by wealthy ship builder, Herbert Greenleaf, with the mission to persuade Greenleaf’s son, Richard “Dickie” Greenleaf, to return to the proverbial helm of his father’s ship-building empire. Dickie’s life of ease in Mongibello, Italy displeases his wealthy father, who believes Dickie’s bohemian lifestyle is counterproductive to the heir of a shipbuilding magnate. Ripley, while only a mere acquaintance of Dickie’s, sees this opportunity as a new beginning and quite possibly the better life of his dreams.

Ripley, loaded with good intentions and bank-rolled by Herbert Greenleaf, finds Dickie in Mongibello in the company of Marge Sherwood, a sometimes friend, sometimes lover. Ripley’s envy and desire for a life he can never achieve resurface as the bottom quickly falls out of his well-intentioned goodie basket.

Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith takes the reader on a dark roller-coaster ride of deception, jealousy, deceit and murder, followed by evasion, more deceit, and more murder. Rather than chilling, senseless violence, Highsmith carefully crafts a mesmerizing tale of pursuit and near-miss as Ripley manages to stay just ahead of capture. He is crafty and calm even when in a panic. For the reader, the result is riveting.

In getting into the eerily empty room that is Tom Ripley’s conscience, I never thought I could sympathize with such a cold and calculating character, yet I was captivated. The story spirals horrifically and the building tension was incredible. I read this book well into the wee hours of the night because I simply could not put it down! It electrified me. There is not one fiber of my being that sympathizes with someone who harms others yet I could not bear the thought of Ripley’s failure. Wow!

Written in the 1950′s, Highsmith exquisitely captures the sense of time and place in New York City and of the enviable life of a wealthy American abroad. She describes in lovely detail the nuances that made life so wonderful for those Ripley admired that it made me want to go back and live there too. Her writing is elegant and clear, simple yet with the depth of distinction to deprive the reader from a restful night’s sleep. Sweetman’s advice: You must read this book!

~Sweetman

September 11, 2010

Music Review: Elementary Dialogues by Eyal Maoz & Asaf Sirkis

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EYAL MAOZ & ASAF SIRKIS
Elementary Dialogues
Ayler Records (France), 2009

The fact that Eyal Maoz and Asaf Sirkis were childhood friends, growing up and attending school together in Rehovot, Israel, makes their musical careers all the more interesting. Maoz, a jazz guitarist, left Israel for a musical career in NYC, where he now leads such musical ensembles as Edom, Dimyon, Crazy Slavic Band, and co-leads Hypercolor and Manganon. Sirkis settled across the pond in London, England, after establishing a name for himself as a drummer in Israel during the 1990s. He now leads two ensembles, The Asaf Sirkis Trio and The Inner Noise, and has collaborated with numerous artists such as Harold Rubin, John Williams, and Nick Homes.

After banding around and making names for themselves in their respective cities, Maoz and Sirkis reunite on 2009’s Ayler Records release, Elementary Dialogues. What a force they have concocted! Relying on traditional instrumental jazz formulae of lead trading and intuition fuelled improv, the record fuses blues, jazz and rock styles for a unique picture of avant-garde experimentation.

Eyal Maoz

“Regae” opens Elementary Dialogues with a twangy, fairly conservative blues melody. The simplistic, smile inducing tune effectively sets the plain for Eyal’s clean guitar side, which guides him through tell-tale jazz unconventionality on the album. However, the safe, mood-setting album opener contrasts the feverish intensity found on the rest of the record.

To be blunt, after “Regae” simplicity vanishes from Elementary Dialogues. Second track “Foglah” dawns Maoz’s distinct experimental sound which frequently pushes toward a distorted noise sound. Reminiscent of the Electric Mud style, Maoz unleashes his raw talent by playing with feedback and wah effects, at times calling in shades of Hendrix-esque tone manipulation.

The rest of the record follows the same lines as “Foglah,” throwing the rule book aside for a highly experimental avant-garde sound. For example, “Sparse” is backgrounded with a fiddlish tremolo effect and Sirkis’s chattering ride cymbal. Atop the electric, yet lounge-ish noise, Maoz breaks the tension with drawn out, distorted blues leads.

Asaf Sirkis

“Miniature” splits the record with contrast by slowing tempo. Maoz’s clean guitar saunters around a humble melody while Sirkis rides his snare with soothing brush strokes. “Kashmir” displays the duo’s inimitable approach perfectly with more clean guitar licks from Maoz, and Sirkis’s unrequited love for clacking the rims on his kit. Other notable mentions for fusion lovers include “Jewish Loop,” “Strip,” and “OK,” which incorporate note bending and muddy distortion effects from Maoz and stark impressive improvisation from both duo members.

Maoz and Sirkis trade parts like a couple of prohibition era trailblazers on Elementary Dialogues, each respectively stepping aside to allow their partner to solo around for a bit, and then jumping back into the spotlight for the next burst of energy. The pair blends numerous styles into a melting pot of innovative technicality. From its originality and array of techniques, this record will impress avid contemporary jazz followers, and even the average listener bored with the radio.

Track Listing:

1. Regae

2. Foglah

3. Sparse

4. Jewish Loop

5. Esta

6. Hole

7. Miniature

8. Strip

9. Kashmir

10. OK

11. Ethnic

12. Quiet Improv

13. Without A Story

~John Coleman

September 9, 2010

CanLit Book Review: Chef by Jaspreet Singh

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CHEF
by Jaspreet Singh

Vintage Canada
(CA – April 2008; US – April 2010, CAN $19.95, 246 pages)

In 1984 India carried out the military operation Meghdoot, which saw the successful invasion and occupation of the Siachen Glacier in the eastern Karakoram range of the Himalayan mountains. Ensuing from this invasion, India and Pakistan have continually warred atop this highest battlefield on earth, raging over the rights to the 70 kilometre stretch of frozen land.

For retired Indian-Sikh military chef Kirpal Singh, the main character in Jaspreet Singh’s Georges Bugnet Award winning novel Chef, his experience of the Siachen Conflict burns deep inside him. Literally, Kip (Kirpal) suffers from cancer. Symbolically, his cancer is war’s destruction personified. Eating away at Kip are memories of serving a corrupt government concerned more with right to land ownership than the will of its people.

Chef opens with Kip embarking on a long train ride from Delhi to Srinagar, his former camp, to cook a feast for the Governor of Kashmir’s daughter’s wedding. The Governor was Kip’s commander, one General Kumar, fourteen years earlier when Kip joined the army and became protégé to expert military chef, Kishen. As Kip flashes back to his war days from behind the closed kitchen quarter doors where higher rank officials stayed away from, we learn how Kip witnessed the sour fundamentals of Indian bureaucracy and, most importantly, how important political dignitaries are in bed with the military.

Kip’s first lesson in the army is understanding his role as chef which, with fierce allusion to the Indian caste system, means answering to those above him. Young and naïve, Kip adapts to his place in military society, and through his chef-minded perspective, Singh’s allegorical binding of food to cultural tradition becomes clear. When Kip visits the home of a Muslim girl, he is propositioned by her brother to marry her, and the girl serves a metaphorical dowry of tea. Kip simply wants to observe her cooking, and wonders why she does not join them for tea. Her place, like Kip’s, is in the kitchen, and he learns something about both Muslim culture and elitism along lines he understands. A similar scene unfolds later when Kip becomes flirtatious with a nurse who is Kishen’s lover. She bats him away, saying “I have no tea to offer you.” Hence, enjoying tea, a mainstay in everyday life, symbolises age-old interaction between the sexes.

As Kip grows into adulthood, Singh’s food metaphors sink deeper. Cultural faux pas extending from food preparation relate to social class when Kishen feeds a non-vegetarian dish to a group of Muslim clerics visiting Srinagar. The clerics are there on official, sketchy business, and for the offensive act marring the General’s reputation, Kishen is sent on permanent leave to a camp on the peak of the Siachen Glacier. Here, food leads to a perfect depiction of the power an elite has over a peasant.

Early in part three of Chef, an assumed insurgent, a Pakistani woman named Irem, is captured. Kip is the only one able to interpret her Kashmiri language, and is ordered to learn everything about her. Still a hormonal twenty-something virgin, Kip becomes obsessed with helping Irem, who turns out to be ‘clean’, or not a terrorist. In fact, she warns the General is being targeted for assassination by real Pakistani insurgents and, with Irem’s tip-off, Kip prevents the incident. Irem also provides Kip with information that Kishen is planning to commit suicide. This curdles Chef Kip’s stomach, and he travels to the freezing camp to help his mentor.

Atop the second coldest place on Earth, Kishen lures Kip into kidnapping a group of Indian army officials for a publicity stunt that bluntly lays out Chef’ s discourse: “More dead Indians at the front means more profits for officers and their friends in Delhi. The question I ask today is: Are we dying for nothing?” Kishen proclaims. “We feed the army, we work hard, and those at the very top have failed us. [. . .] And I say the same thing to the bastards on the other side. What are they dying for, the Pakistanis?” If that isn’t enough for Singh to get his message across, Kip echoes more accusations toward corrupt India and Pakistan. He says “Kashmir was a beautiful place and we have made a bloody mess of it.”

At the end of his journey, Kip’s cancer is near fatal, linking his suffering to a nation strung up like a punching bag for corrupt war mongers to bruise and bloody. Arriving at Srinagar, he reveals the true reason for his painful escapade, having less to do with preparing the wedding feast than one might assume. His recurring phrase of “India passing by” resonates profoundly as he reunites with Rubiya, the bride, and she reveals shared feelings of a sad, lost Kashmir instilled within her by Irem’s haunting life as a political prisoner. Now, back in Srinagar, Kip is satisfied. Poetic and romantic, Chef unravels the underbelly tale of modern India being dragged through meaningless, catastrophic destruction.

~John Coleman

September 8, 2010

Book Trailer of the Week: YOU Comma Idiot by Doug Harris

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YOU Comma Idiot is Canadian Doug Harris’s first novel and, based on the trailer, it sounds like a darkly hilarious Nick Hornby-esque romp about a slacker without a life plan, also known as: Men I’ve Dated In My Life.

YOU Comma Idiot will be released in stores on September 17.

From the Editor: Apologies for the editorializing. Some of us are very bitter about our dating histories. Regardless, such bitter and divisive comments, however true, do not reflect the opinions and thoughts of all the writers and editors at this. Nor should this bitterness reflect on the author, Doug Harris. We’re sure he’s a very nice man.

September 7, 2010

Old School Book Review: Stoner by John Williams

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STONER
by John Williams

NYRB Classics
(June 2006, $14.95, 288 pages)

How could a book about a reserved, quiet assistant professor of Classic English, Latin translation and grammar, set in a small southern college early in the twentieth century, be so incredibly riveting?

I know your eyes glazed over after the first half of the first sentence! Mine did too – as I wrote it! None of the pieces that make up this beautiful novel, originally published in 1965, had the ability to draw my slightest interest: dry academia, small college politics, poor farming to middle class life, unhappy marriage. It presents as so run-of-the-mill when in this day and age, only the epic will do.

Fear not! Don’t even despair for wading through several chapters to get the rhythm of the book because novelist John Williams (not the composer) writes with simple, direct and heart-achingly beautiful prose that will set you on a straight path.

The first paragraph is a clear outline of the novel beginning when our protagonist, William Stoner, enters the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910 at the age of nineteen and ending with, “Presented to the Library of the University of Missouri, in memory of William Stoner, Department of English. By his colleagues.” The rest that follows may well fall into the category of the perfectly written novel.

The novel’s humble beginning is much like the beginning of its subject. William Stoner was born to two uncomplicated, hard-working parents who’s goal in life was to raise a son who would take over the farm. The only snag in their plan was gifting their only son with enough brains to attend Missouri’s new university.

Initially this was not so much a tragedy as it is a delay his assumption of the family yoke. Stoner was to study “agronomy.” Then, in his sophomore year, his world was transformed by the power and pull of literature. There was no way to reconcile the two; it was either agriculture or English and for Stoner, there was no choice. He elected a life of literature with only one regret: breaking the news to his parents.

Living his life with the kind of certainty and purpose was not as easy as he hoped. Even in small circles of academia, petty arguments and misunderstandings grow and fester into lifelong, bitter resentments. Stoner’s inflexibility delivers him unto a path that, while others may find humiliating and limited, fills his time with purpose and a desire to be a better teacher.

Novelist John Williams

Meanwhile, the rest of his life remains unfulfilled. Stoner’s unhappy marriage to the mentally unbalanced Edith, a sheltered and shallow woman, is one of the saddest relationships that have ever lived in prose. His two friendships, while strong and lasting, do not provide him enough support or sustenance to let him leave his lonesome path or travel a wider road of male companionship. His daughter Grace, his delightful kindred spirit and true joy in his life until Edith interferes, is the embodiment of a product of two truly incompatible people. Stoner’s one true love, Katherine Driscoll, is half his age but equal in his brilliant passion and becomes his mistress. She provides him with a brief respite and the good fortune of a compatible woman that ends sadly and far too soon. They part before they become a University scandal that may jeopardized all they worked to achieve.

It is Stoner’s ability to carry on, to rise above evil but never preach or proselytize that I admire so much. He is not a martyr, but a strong man who is above all, human. Stoner is strong and true to the end, where he remains the same quiet, calm and never-regretful man of purpose.

While this might sound like a tragedy – which in all aspects I believe it is the Great American Tragedy – it is neither maudlin, sappy nor wallowing in self-pity. I could not get Stoner off my mind when I finished it (which I have to confess was in a puddle of tears while flying from San Fransisco to Boston – not my ideal spot for ending such a brilliant novel). I re-read passages and was able to gain more insight from a second look. I found it hard to start something new because I couldn’t even think of another novel that could top it. I was able to find a rare interview with John Williams about Stoner. In the interview, he regarded his protagonist as a hero who lead a good life doing the things he wanted to do. Well, honestly, what’s so sad about that?

~Sweetman

September 7, 2010

The Man Booker Shortlist Surprise

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The shortlist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize was announced today with a few surprises.

The six name list was cut from the original “Booker dozen” of thirteen novels. The popular and well-selling title The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas failed to make the cut, as did previous shortlist nominee David Mitchell, whose novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was thought to be a strong contender.

The 2010 Man Booker shortlist is:
–Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America

–Emma Donoghue,
Room

–Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room

–Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question

–Andrea Levy, The Long Song

–Tom McCarthy, C

McCarthy’s novel C, set in early 1900s England that melds science and the subconscious, is a critical favorite and may be a strong contender for the winner.

The winner of the 50,000 pound ($76,790) prize, which can catapult an unknown author to worldwide success, will be announced on October 12.

September 6, 2010

Letters from Beirut: Of Paradigms and Cockroaches

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BY ELLEN HARDY

In Beirut, August is the cruellest month. As Ramadan begins and strings of bright paper cut-out lamps light up the city, anyone who possibly can leave town, does – social lives and business meetings are put on hold, and those who remain (such as hapless journalists, for example) can only try and stay sane in 40 plus degrees Celsius and 60 per cent humidity – we lurch from air conditioning unit to air conditioning unit, mimicking the movement of the drugged cockroaches we share our apartments with. This is all very well until the 3-12 hour power cuts kick in and people start burning car tires on the roads in protest. The country’s civil war ended twenty years ago, but corruption, Israeli bombs and Syrian occupation have kept the infrastructure in a third-world state, and 2 million or so tourists in town this year only make more ridiculous the incapacitated service system.

Estella

But one thing that Beirutis have always been good at is carrying on regardless. Restaurants open, bougainvillea blooms expansively, books are launched, film festivals abound, and hapless journalists go about their business. Despite a friend telling me that Mein Kampf is on the Downtown Virgin Megastore’s bestseller list (It could be innocent. Could it?), the city is full of bright and beautiful ideas. Estella and I (my 1991 Kawasaki Estrella – she lost the ‘r’ in homage to the anti-heroine of Great Expectations) have had plenty to do sounding out bookish thoughts all over the city.

Just last month, local sweetheart Maya Zankoul launched her second volume of “sherbet lemon” cartoons on all things Beirut – sweet on the outside, with a sharp kick if you care to get any closer. And one sunny Sunday, Estella and I climbed up into the mountains above Beirut to Broumanna, to get a sneak peek at a Feminist writer’s retreat. The program grew out of the work being done to create a feminist webspace for the Middle East, with the aim of bypassing the agendas of mainstream news and comment, much as indynews and True/Slant have done elsewhere, though with a different focus. The workshop was a pilot for longer future programs aiming to cultivate stronger writing for the website, which has big plans to also become a print publication. Postcolonial literature and Arabic poetry was on the agenda – man-hating was not.

From the mountains to the dingy Beirut streets, and from feminists to transsexuals – paradigm-busting seems to be the order of the day. I met with the completely delightful Randa, fiercely brave author of Mouzakarat Randa al Trans, or The Memoirs of Randa the Trans. She fled Algeria last year under a death threat, finding some sort of security and possibility of progress in Lebanon. As we spoke, her voice was gentle and hesitant, but her sentiments strong and brave. For her, identity is a personal decision in which no state or religion has the right to interfere, and she is still fighting for that right against some of the world’s most repressive ideologies.

Another day, another trip, this time to Dar al-Saqi, Beirut branch of Saqi Books, where they surprised me with an interview with co-founder André Gaspard, childhood friend and publishing partner of Mai Ghoussoub. Chatty to the point of rambling, he was immensely positive about moving from publishing books in London to Beirut. Sales targets and e-readers leave him cold, and the Arab market is full of surprises and possibilities, like Joumana Haddad’s new book, I Killed Scheherazade, which is causing a stir before it’s even out. A rave (p)review in the Guardian sparked a long response from local “queer arab magazine” Bekhsoos. I’m looking forward to reviewing it, though not without the feeling that whatever I say will be wrong.

Finally, August commemorated the assassination of Naji al-Ali 23 years ago in London. The Palestinian cartoonist and creator of the “Handala” character was shot in the face by an unidentified youth outside the offices of a Kuwaiti newspaper and eventually died from his wounds, without regaining consciousness. A statue of him put up after his death at the entrance to a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon was twice damaged before finally disappearing – and so it goes. RIP.

Some of Ellen Hardy’s articles are available on www.timeoutbeirut.com.

September 3, 2010

Book Review: Night of the Living Trekkies

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NIGHT OF THE LIVING TREKKIES
by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall

Quirk Books
(July 2010, $14.95, 256 pages)

The title is a cheesy play on the popular zombie movie Night of the Living Dead, and the cover art looks like something that belongs on a choose-your-own-adventure book, but Night of the Living Trekkies is an awesome mash-up of two popular sub-cultures. How else to unite the sci-fi geeks with the apocalypse extremists?: zombies at a Star Trek convention.

They’re not traditional zombies, and the science fiction is reminiscent of Mystery Science Theater 2000, but authors Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall have done a fantastic job of pushing the boundaries of zombie literature. They have also fostered new respect for the dedication of Star Trek fanboys and fangirls. Anderson and Stall even managed to give a nod to the Star Wars franchise.

The prologue begins with two employees at an underground military facility in Houston, TX, making plans to go to a Star Trek convention; while they’re talking, the security system fails, opening some doors that should have stayed closed. Meanwhile, Jim Pike, a solider with serious PTSD who has convinced himself that working as a bellhop at a Houston hotel will reduce his stress, helps prepare for GulfCon, an extremely popular Star Trek convention. Incidentally, his younger sister Rayna is also attending with some friends. Let’s just say Jim’s bad day is about to get apocalyptic.

Before Rayna’s group arrives to the hotel parking lot (the importance of which I can’t reveal without spoiling the book) the staff is already having trouble with violent hotel guests and disappearing employees. Jim’s instincts are screaming at him that something horrible is happening but by the time he is able to convince anyone else that the problem is not just in his mind, the hotel is overwhelmed by zombies. Jim, with the help of a Star Wars fan, tries to rescue his sister and her friends, while Trekkies are dying all around them.

Star Trek fans should know that this isn’t just a horror story set at a convention, but again, I can’t elaborate without spoilers. Zombie fans should know that the undead are shamblers but able to move as a group, with a very unusual source of infection spread in a manner similar to 28 Days Later.

I am very impressed with the quality of books that Quirk has been publishing; some other great titles are Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, and Android Karenina. They may look like fluff pieces at first glance, but the stories are quite entertaining.

~Ursula K. Raphael

September 1, 2010

Book Trailer of the Week: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

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Dan Chaon‘s Await Your Reply, recently in paperback in the U.S., examines the lives of three strangers who interconnect in unforeseen ways. Miles Cheshire can’t stop searching for the twin brother who’s been missing for ten years, alive but unwilling to be found. A few days after her high school graduation, Lucy Lattimore leaves her small town in Ohio with her former history teacher, only to end up at a deserted Nebraska hotel. College student Ryan Schulyer abruptly leaves his life one day. Presumed dead, Ryan attempts to remake himself through any means possible.

The book trailer is perhaps one of the most disturbing we’ve seen – not because the images are particularly upsetting, but because the narrator’s voice and tone worm into your head and expand into your nightmares.

September 1, 2010

Back to School Book Review: The Art of Education by Linda Dobson

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THE ART OF EDUCATION
by Linda Dobson

E-book, available online
(July 2010, $8.95, 254 pages)

Linda Dobson writes so passionately about homeschooling that a parent merely has to read her introductions to find the inspiration and encouragement to teach their own children at home, although someone does not have to be a homeschooler to appreciate her concern for the quality of education in general. In the 15th Anniversary edition of The Art of Education, Dobson asserts that the U.S. public school system is “based on a false definition of education,” and challenges us to reconsider our priorities as a society, as well as parents who wish to take personal responsibility for their child’s learning experience. Dobson decided to release this edition as an e-book to keep costs minimal for parents who are looking for solutions to help their children succeed.

In her introduction, Dobson points out that in the past 15 years, science, social studies and history have taken a backseat to the fixation with standardized test scores for math and reading, while physical activity and the arts have become almost non-existent, as schools all over the country struggle with the economic crisis. She even includes a foreword by John Taylor Gatto, a long-time schoolteacher who clarifies the difference between schooling and education, noting that an official title does not necessarily make one an educator.

The first section of Dobson’s book highlights issues with public schools, and addresses myths about homeschooling, such as the ever-popular question, “what about socialization?” and the variety of reasons that parents choose to homeschool; no longer is religion the dominant factor, as the number of secular homeschoolers is on the rise. The second section of her book encourages readers to self-examine their priorities regarding time, money, children, school and the self, and emphasizes the benefits of home education for parents, children and the community.

In her own words, “Our education crisis is a crisis with a depth and magnitude sending tremors throughout every stratum of society…we must stop fueling the crisis with our children.”

~Ursula K. Raphael