Archive for ‘Writers’

March 4, 2011

Ch-Ch-Changes!

by thiszine

Hey friends, writers, readers, and ardent fans of THIS!

I’m thrilled to tell you that later this month changes will be happening at THIS. As we grow our readership, we’d like to become a greater part of your daily conversation on all things literary. We’ll soon be expanding the scope of writing in THIS by offering new columns, new reviewers, and lighthearted literary tidbits to pull you through that excruciating three o’clock meeting. If you’re a writer, blogger or reviewer, keep an eye on our blog for further information on how you can work with us.

In the meantime, happy reading!

Yours,

Lacey N. Dunham
Editor

March 3, 2011

“Faded” Sparks Teenager’s Literary Career

by thiszine

BY JOHN COLEMAN

Fifteen year old Oakville, Ontario student Maha Hussain is generating a lot of buzz lately. Last fall she published her first novel, Faded, through TriMatrix Consulting. Hussain has been working on the novel since she was twelve, when she mustered up the idea and gumption to make it as a teenage author.

Faded, which is being geared toward a student audience of thirteen years and up, begins when teenage girl Hope Padden survives a car crash which kills her parents. The tragic event rehashes an old relationship with a male imaginary friend who now seeks revenge on her, and with whom she must save the world from fear and unhappiness.

In a recent article with the Toronto Sun, Hussain admits she’s always been fond for writing and started honing her talent at a young age. By the time she was twelve she completed more than most people do in their whole life*she had the workings for a full-on 238 page work of literature.

“I wanted to prove people wrong and make my mom proud by writing the book” she proclaims in the interview. Hussain also keeps up a credible reputation as a student council member at her highschool, and as a volunteer at a hospital, among other endeavours. How’s that for overachieving?

Check out Faded’s Facebook page for more information.

February 19, 2011

February Thoughts from South Asia

by thiszine

BY KULPREET YADAV

 

Prof P. Lal, one of the most loveable Indian Publishers, closes his final book

I won’t talk about the literary festivals that are proliferating in India these days like wildfire (but don’t take me as someone who is averse to them). Rather, with esteemed reverence I would like to remember one of the India’s greatest publishers and writers, Prof P. Lal, who passed away recently. His ‘Writer’s Workshop’, during the five decades plus of its existence, published many famous names of the present times: Vikram Seth, Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande and Raja Rao, to name a few.

 

I got to know about Prof P. Lal about four years ago and spoke with him on a few occasions. This was the time when I was looking for a suitable publisher for my novel. I had spoken to about a dozen editors and publishing house receptionists or so, and the only one who spoke to me with excitement was Prof Lal. Not just that, he also gave me a few words of encouragement, something that did a lot to my confidence and for which I am forever indebted.

But sadly, I couldn’t publish with Writer’s Workshop (I repent it to this day). And the only reason I didn’t publish my first title with him was due to the simple fact that WW didn’t have a distribution setup. Mr. Lal’s love for books was so deep-routed and his idea of books so unique that he hand-bound the books himself in lovely and colorful Indian sarees (the traditional clothing of Indian women) cloth pieces from his house at Kolkata, in north east India, and the book numbers were kept as low as 100, something like a limited edition.

During one of our recent conversations, I requested him to accept a small donation from me for the Writer’s Workshop, which his website announced they needed. I was honored because, not only did he accept my offer, but he also made it a point to talk about my small gesture on WW’s website. It is still there now. Aside from this, there was a poetry collection I had been working on, too, about which I told him and he asked me to send it for consideration. But since it wasn’t fully ready, I couldn’t send it. Now, perhaps, I never will. Worse, no one as good might ever be willing to see it.

 

A father at 94

Well, this got me thinking, I mean, how is it possible to father a child that is biologically one’s own at 94?

But it has happened right here in India! The man who achieved this feat asserted, according to a national daily, that it’s due to the food he had consumed when young: three liters of Buffalo milk, half a kilo of almonds and half a kilo of ghee (melted, clarified butter) everyday. It’s a magic formula to remain virile until the final breath, if you go by his theory. Food for thought for scientists, I guess.

In a race to unsettle the previous record holder, another Indian man who fathered a child at 90, this nonagenarian farmer is not just happy, he is bubbling with newly attained fatherhood and posing for pictures in his village in India’s northwest. He has called this unique achievement, ‘The God’s gift’. His wife is in her mid-fifties.

An important question: Is it not the responsibility of a parent to consider, before bearing a child, if he or she has enough residual time to bring up the child properly? But at 94 he can hardly be blamed to worry about such issues. And as Hugh Hefner, CEO of Playboy enterprises, recently said during his engagement to a Playboy model 60 years younger, ‘When you’re in love, age is just a number.’ Let’s watch out: he’s 84.

 

When it’s for the family, it pays to fight the weather

With the onset of a particularly aggressive winter this year, it hurt many of us to see so many people stuck at the airports all over Europe and America, spending Christmas and other holidays sprawled on hard benches or floors. So the question is: is it really worthwhile for you to jettison your travel plans, or the possibility of being with your loved ones, for the fear that the weather may play a spoil sport?

I would like to share what happened to me when I was confronted with the option and the opportunity came for me to visit my family at Delhi, nearly three thousand kilometers from where I am stationed. The newspaper had reported diversion of 76 flights during the last few days of December yet I grabbed the opportunity to visit my family with both hands and booked myself a flight for the first of January. And as luck would have it, the aircraft arrived in the afternoon on a clear day and on time. So you see, it does pay to fight the weather.

December 24, 2010

Our 2010 Favorites

by thiszine

BY THIS ZINE STAFF

Yes, it’s the time of year to reflect on our favorite books of the year. We asked our staff to give us some insight on what they’ve loved this year from what they’ve read. Keep in mind, not all the books were necessarily published in 2010, just enjoyed in 2010.

 

 

 

NICHOLAS Y.B. WONG
Louise Gluck’s A Village Life, no doubt about it.

 

JOHN COLEMAN
This Cake Is For The Party by Sarah Selecky is a great contemporary vision of mid-life Canadians’ issues, written with the sharpness of a sword.

The Sentamentalists by Johanna Skibsrud Giller Prize-winning novel, showing underdogs can dominate Can Lit, in both style and subject matter.

 

SWEETMAN
I love to love books more than I love to hate them – honest! My “Top Shelf” books for the year include:

-Stoner by John Williams
This was the best book of 2010 and possibly one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

– Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne
A travel book from the seat of a bicycle, Mr. Byrne’s essays and observations while on his bike were insightful, interesting, funny and evocative. A great book to take-along for intermittent reading.

– First Lessons in Beekeeping by C.P. Dadant
This beekeeping book was written in 1917, revised and rewritten over the years by Dadant’s descendants, has everything for every level of beekeeper. One of the best beekeeping books out there.

– Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
It held up despite the controversy, Franzenspec and Oprah. Dragging parts aside, Freedom was well done.


– Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
This book was placed in my hands by a bookstore manager and it was possibly the best novel of 2010 that I’d never heard about. I completely lost myself in this beautifully written novel.

– Tinkers by Paul Harding
This small novel, elegantly written, is a hefty, substantial read and has stayed with me since I finished it.

– Up In the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell
My finest library find of 2010, this a collection of stories about New York city from the 1930s and 1940s that are so well done, I traveled back in time with these stories in my hands.

– The Man In The Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam
The prequel to my second-favorite novel of 2010, this is the story of Betty Feathers, wife of Old Filth. Jane Gardam is one of the most insightful, sharp, skilled and brilliant writers I have had the pleasure to happen upon.

– The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam
This collection of stories demonstrates the versatility and wit of my new favorite author.

– Old Filth by Jane Gardam
I finished this book wishing I hadn’t read it so I could enjoy it again. This was the first Jane Gardam novel I read and, as you can see by my list, I couldn’t get enough of her. Old Filth was her masterpiece. A close second to Williams’ Stoner for me.

 

LACEY N. DUNHAM
My favorite book of the year was David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which is the type of novel that converts you to an author and leaves you determined to read everything he’s ever published. This novel is the type of meta-fiction that puts Paul Auster to shame: clever, beautiful, and intricate without descending into flashy showmanship. My other favorites of the year include:

– Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in our Times by Eavan Boland
An autobiographical meditation on the act of writing poetry as an Irish woman, Boland’s breathtaking prose and shrewd synthesis of the traditions of poetry, both as a male pursuit and as a political act in the Irish tradition, is required reading for women as readers of good poetry and literature and for women intent on carving themselves a name as a writer.

– A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert
The story of five generations of women unable to reconcile the dissatisfaction with their lives to their heritage as progeny of a revolutionary, Walbert reaches forward and backward in time to shape this vibrant, richly expressed narrative through each woman’s voice.

– The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Set in post-WWII England, the myriad specters that haunt Waters’ novel – social class, class envy, sexual repression, and the rapidly changing world – are vibrantly rendered as the isolated and suffering gentry family at the tale’s center witness increasingly violent and preternatural acts. The Little Stranger is a chilling Gothic novel enveloped by beautiful prose that imbues the malevolence with careful restraint.

– Wolf Hallby Hilary Mantel
Hilary Mantel utilizes every aspect of history to re-create a vivid world while providing dramatic tension from a contemporary vantage point and knowledge of history. Her prose is perfect. Her themes ring true to the current political climate (and, one suspects, to every political climate).


– The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
Mengestu’s novel is set Washington, DC’s Logan Circle neighborhood which, as a DC resident, I thought I knew well. Reading Mengestu’s novel taught me how wrong I was. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is more than an immigrant story: it’s a novel about missed opportunities – in relationships, in life – and the inevitability of, sometimes violent, change. What is gentrification if not sanctioned class violence against the less privileged? And in a country built by immigrants, how does the contemporary, unfiltered immigrant experience compare to the mythology of America’s promise? Mengestu speaks to both of these questions in this stunning, beautiful novel.

– Tinkers by Paul Harding
For the first 40 or so pages of Tinkers, I was unconvinced that Paul Harding should have won the Pulitzer for this father-son novel. However, as the two stories about father and son enter the same frame the magic of Tinkers comes through in its striking imagery and gentle pacing that quietly build momentum through to the powerful ending.

 

photo by Ethan Anderson

November 6, 2010

Writers Pick Their Faves

by thiszine

Like that old question asked of Catholic priests, “To whom does the confessor confess?”, writers are often asked to name authors and novels that have influenced their work or, at the very least, left an impression upon them. Here are some links to a few of our favorites.

Julia Glass’s most recent novel The Widower’s Tale was published in September. Not to be pinned down by the enormous task of selecting the ten best novels ever, Glass instead lists “ten terrific works of fiction” she’s read in the past year.

DC-based wonk newspaper the Politico asked writers at a recent PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction gala to recommend books for President Barack Obama. Jane Hamilton suggested Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (but not its more recent companion Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ) while Audrey Niffenegger opted for George Orwell’s 1984. ZZ Packer referred the president to DC writer Edward P. Jones’s novel The Known World and to Toni Morrison’s latest A Mercy. For the presidential daughters she recommended Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.

NPR’s column “You Must Read This” presents conversations with writers about the books they love to read and recommend. In case you were grasping to fill out your reading list, “You Must Read This” is a springboard with old and new recommendations – including many surprises.

New York Magazine’s the Vulture has the most fun with authors recommending books. Some of our faves include Myla Goldberg’s Tales About Friendship Betrayed and Sam Anderson’s Anti-Franzen Novels.

November 3, 2010

THIS Reads: NaNoWriMo Killed the Literary Star

by thiszine

BY LACEY N. DUNHAM

I always find myself frustrated by all the books I’m not reading. My “to read” list is always miles longer than the list of books I’ve finished. Compounding my frustration is that I’m a slow reader. I have friends who readily soar through three or four books each week and, unless all I do is sit in a chair for six hours a day intently focused on one book, knocking through multiple titles only days apart is something I rarely accomplish.

Then again, at least I’m reading, right? In an article at Salon in which she rails against National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), Laura Miller complains that there aren’t enough readers and far too many writers. And while there are statistics revealing that many folks in the U.S. spend more leisure time watching television or using a computer than reading, I don’t believe the argument that there is a dearth of readers in the U.S. People are reading; what people are reading has changed.

In the age of technology, reading occurs outside of books with an increasing frequency, something Miller doesn’t acknowledge in her article (which I “read” online although, because it doesn’t occur between the pages of a bound book, might not count as actual “reading” in Miller-world). Each Sunday I read the New York Times Book Review, in print; I try to read most of the New Yorker each week. When I travel, I frequently pack back-issues of magazines and literary journals I’ve been meaning to get around to and haven’t: Bitch, Poets & Writers, Zone 3, Zoetrope, The Normal School. I don’t work at a typical desk job, but if I did, I imagine that a chunk of my day would be spent reading articles and blogs online. Does all of this, because I’m not purchasing my reading from a traditional bookstore or downloading it on a Kindle, mean I’m reading-deficient?

To be fair, Miller’s article mostly deals with the reasons why someone shouldn’t participate in what she calls the “self-aggrandizing frenzy” of NaNoWriMo: “…while there’s no shortage of good novels out there, there is a shortage of readers for these books.” She’s right: getting published is not half as hard as getting someone to purchase your book, read it, and recommend it to others who will also purchase it once you’ve been published. And it’s true that few authors are commercially successful. But reading novels and writing them isn’t a zero-sum game.

Maybe I’m touchy because I am participating in NaNoWriMo and I take it personally that Miller refers to writing as a “narcissistic commerce,” even if I’m not sure where the “commerce” part comes in. If I’m supposed to be getting wealthy from all this, I wish someone would have told me long ago so I could have the last laugh over my friends who elected law and business school.

Miller implies that Wrimos (NaNo parlance for participating writers) aren’t reading any books or, at least by her judgement, not enough of them. I disagree with this assumption, too. Maybe Wrimos aren’t reading the same types of books Miller would read (she goes on a long rant against self-help books in her article) but reading is reading, regardless of the material. And, unless it’s Nicole Richie’s latest novel, I don’t think reading in all its many forms is making anyone more stupid.

So in addition to all the magazines, lit journals (both in print and online), book reviews and newspapers this particular Wrimo has read over the last month, I also enjoyed Julia Glass’s novel The Widower’s Tale, a story shaped by four voices that represent various corners of modern American culture. Set against the backdrop of eco-terrorism, limousine liberals, and a longing for the past in the face of rapid change, Glass succeeds in illuminating the darkest corners of our hypocrisy and hopes, all with her characteristic tenderness and humor.

Leslie Marmon Silko has been a favorite writer of mine ever since I read Ceremony. The Turquoise Ledge is her first book in ten years and a beautiful memoir that fuses elements of her family’s mixed-race heritage with Native myths and reflections on the natural world. Her imaginative storytelling travels across boundaries of time to share aspects of her life as they are remembered; for example, her first divorce is discussed alongside the eradication of the Laguna language.

University of Chicago historian Thomas C. Holt presents a generational and nuanced portrait of African-Americans in Children of Fire, a uniquely framed history that traces the shifts in culture, policy, and social norms that have defined race relations and institutions of oppression in the U.S. from when the first Africans were sold in Jamestown in 1619 to the election of President Barack Obama. Holt’s history reminds us that lives mired in history as it is lived are far more complex and dynamic than the flattened accounts textbooks would have us believe. I don’t generally read histories but appreciated Holt’s perspective and sharp narration. Children of Fire is a long book but it doesn’t lag.

Finally, confidential to all the Wrimos clattering away at their keyboard out there: Carolyn Kellogg is on our side.

November 1, 2010

THIS Reads: Sense and Serendipity

by thiszine

BY JOHN COLEMAN

I find it interesting how we stumble over the things we end up reading. What makes us pick up a certain newspaper, magazine or book, only to have it become one of our favourites? In hindsight, I sometimes realise odd licks of fate that initially guide me to a certain trend in writing, only to view it later as something monumental. For instance, I’ll always remember the cornerstone novel in my life being Orwell’s 1984. I first read it on a philosophical whim when I was thirteen years old; I was coming of age and getting interested in world politics, and had heard how prolific was the novel’s satire of modern democratic society, derived from a premonition. I not only fell in love with Orwell (since having read most of his catalogue), but 1984 influenced my perception of the world. Whenever I reminisce on how I forged my left-wing, anti-establishment, down-with-globalisation ways, I often think of how trapped Winston Smith is, constantly evading Big Brother, and how the thought of becoming him forever changed my outlook.

It seems like lately, in a much less momentous way, I have oddly stumbled over more reading when titles jumped out at me for some reason and became some of my favourites. Here are a few that I have tripped over in the past few weeks.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
I fell upon Packer while reading an article about the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 list in this a few months back. Skimming through the finalists, the words Drinking Coffee Elsewhere pulled me in for a couple of reasons. One: It reminded me of the movie “Coffee and Cigarettes,” one of my favourites, a documentary about rock and roll warlords. Two: Because it sounds so good (I know, but if you share this sentiment, you know what I mean). Thankfully, the witty title of this collection of stories was not a guise to lure in readers, only to have them disappointed at some lame, poorly written life story. Contrarily, ZZ Packer’s style is sensational. She not only attacks identity and gender theories, racism, and other contemporary controversial topics in Coffee, but does it with some of the best writing I’ve ever read. I highly recommend.

Anton Chekhov
I recently reviewed a book of modernised Chekhov tales and while doing so realised that I had never actually read anything by Chekhov. It’s hard to say this as an English major, but true. I had only heard of his prowess – how he is the best Russian story writer of all time and second to Shakespeare in the world-scope of bards. And, I’m pretty sure a few Simpsons episodes are taken straight from Chekhov‘s pages. Needless to say, I had to do some buffing up. What I mainly love about Chekhov’s over two hundred stories (and a number of plays) is the focus on everyday life. Whether drawing characters from working class Russia or writing about important national landmarks, Chekhov had an unbelievable knack for depicting reality in a highly important era.

Death In Venice by Thomas Mann
The other day I was reading the arts section of the newspaper and came across a review of a new opera in Toronto, Death In Venice, based on the novella by Thomas Mann. Once again, and I don’t know why, this title leapt off the page at me. I instantly hit the library. Now, if there is one thing I love about literature, it’s being able to get entranced by writing. Venice opens with its hero Gustav von Aschenbach taking a very Poe-esque walk by the cemetery where he bumps into an eerie stalker. From this, I was hooked. But the story is more than a Gothic stroll; it deals with everything from ancient philosophy, Shakespearian tragedy and the Narcissistic archetype. Check this out if you enjoy quick reads and allusion rich literature requiring an afternoon or two full of research.

October 30, 2010

THIS Reads: Have a Booktacular Halloween!

by thiszine

BY SWEETMAN

Shortening days, a nip in the air and wind that promises to find a way to chill your bones: oh yes, it’s time to hunker down in the dark, quiet night with a good ghost story and hope the creaks and rustles you hear are the usual sounds that always happen when night falls and the house settles. Yes, you better hope for that. And shut your eyes tight when you think you see a shadow pass your door because it’s probably the headlights of a car driving by or the stupid cat creeping around. Yes, you better hope for that too.

A good ghost story has a delicate way of easing a reader into a terrified state. It is a subtle art that raises the pulse and sends chills down the spine. A good ghost story makes the reader leave the light on long after the book is closed, moved off the night table and thrown into another room. A good ghost story stays with the reader for a long time and quite often begs to be re-read despite the lost sleep.

I usually dig out a book of ghost stories when the leaves begin to change. Halloween is my favorite time of year, I love to be scared – not terrified, just scared in a fun way that I know it’s going to end. Unfortunately, many of these ghost stories don’t exactly end when the story is over. They do linger and pop into my head at the most unfortunate times, like when I’m throwing laundry into the dryer late at night and I suddenly have to run up the stairs because something was there.

I am always on the look out for great ghost stories. I’ve read a lot of horror, terror and slash-and-kill stories, all of which never have the same chilling effect. These stories and collections are by far the best I’ve read.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Penguin, 1959)

Hill House, an eighty year old mansion, has been rented by Dr. John Montague, a paranormal investigator who hopes to confirm the existence of the supernatural. He brings along three “assistants:” Eleanor, Theodora and Luke. They were chosen by Dr. Montague because they have all had previous paranormal experiences.

Hill House is the protagonist in Jackson’s slightly dated but extremely well-written novel. It is eerie and cold, awake and watchful from its blank windows, “a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, nor a fit place for people, for love or for hope.” It is full of odd angles and sudden cold spots as well as mysterious noises. As the characters settle in, the house begins to play upon their fears. None of the characters experience the same fright, which makes each terror a singular event with the other characters wondering what is happening.

Jackson masterfully plays upon the psychological terror of the unknown. The eeriness of the novel crept up on me. While there is never a clear, defined event to confirm the presence of ghosts or the paranormal, the hints and individual interpretations of phenomena are by far more scary. It is a chilling novel despite the occasional stilted dialogue, one that I was certain wasn’t frightening in the least when I started out reading it on a cold night but soon decided it was best read during the daylight hours.

The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers by Henry James (Penguin Classics, 1898)

Henry James wrote one scary novella in The Turn of the Screw. Instead of blatant ghoulies and ghosties, this is another eerie tale of psychological terror and is well worth the concentration it will take to get the hang of Henry James’s style of writing.

A governess agrees to take charge of two orphaned children and moves to the countryside from London to find herself with two charming but odd children and a surly housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, who readily gives over the children. The governess is also most entirely alone with her charges and has been instructed by the children’s uncle that he is not to be bothered.

The tension begins when the governess starts seeing a young couple around the property. They appear at random times and seem to cause no interest or concern in any other occupants of the house. The governess becomes convinced they are the ghosts of the former governess, Miss Janse, and her illicit lover, both of whom, she learns from Mrs. Grose, died suddenly and unexpectedly. Things get a bit creepier when the governess becomes convinced that the children are seeing the ghosts as well.

This is Gothic writing at its best. Fear and tension build in the governess’s evolving awareness of the of the evil surroundings she has found herself. James is masterful in the implication of doubt: is the governess overreacting or are these frightening things really happening?

The Aspern Papers, though not a ghost story by any means, is the story of an obsession and a very quick read. It is well-written and very readable and I highly recommend it as a nice follow up if you want to get the eeriness of The Turn of the Screw out of your head.

SPOOKY New England: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore by S. E. Schlosser, illustrated by Paul G. Hoffman (Globe Piquot, 2003)

This is a collection of strange happenings, weird tales and ghost stories gathered from towns and places all over New England. Some are very old and familiar, some are obscure and quite chilling. Schlosser has a simple style and an easy way of drawing the reader into the stories. It is something of a travel book as well, especially if you are interested in ghost hunting. I have several, creepy favorites: “The Man Who Could Send Rats,” “The Black Dog Of Hanging Hills,” and “The Lady in Black.” The wood cut illustrations are clever and well done. Schlosser has created a regional series of spooky stories which has an appeal for those in the areas of which he gathers his tales.

Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre by H.P. Lovecraft, illustrated by August Derleth. (Ballentine, 1987)

H.P. Lovecraft, the Über master of modern horror, earned that reputation for a very good reason. His stories are legend for their psychological thriller elements. His protagonists are rational, normal human beings who are placed in the incomprehensible and inconceivable and his stories are disturbing, weird and unsettling. Edgar Allen Poe was an obvious influence. He loves to play with the unknown, which I believe is one of the most terrifying elements in a scary story. This compilation is an excellent grouping of his “bests,” although read through in one sitting they can become formulaic and predictable.

A few of my favorites from this collection of short stories and novellas are:

– “The Rats in the Walls”: an inherited ancestral mansion has walls filled with scurrying rats.
– “The Picture in the House”: a house of refuge in a rainstorm has a disturbing picture on the wall.
– “In the Vault”: a grave digger has to dig himself out of a crypt.
– “The Whisperer in Darkness”: a scientist goes to Vermont to disprove the existence of fairies.
– “The Haunter of the Dark”: a writer creates a horrible being that can only live in the dark.

Lovecraft, practically unknown in his lifetime, set the stage, tone and a very high watermark for today’s horror writers.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (Bantam 1962)

This was my first horror novel and boy, did it do a number on me as a kid! Not only did it fill me with ideas regarding the significance of dates and hours of birth but I developed a belief in the powers of inanimate objects and it forever changed the way I feel about carnivals, carny folk and tattoos.

The story takes place in a small town that is preparing for the arrival of a carnival with fliers advertising “Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.” The two heroes, best friends Jim and Will, who were born two minutes apart on either side of Halloween, discover this is no ordinary carnival when they sneak out in the middle of the night to watch it set up. When they begin investigating during the daylight, they notice very strange things about the rides and the effect it is having on the townspeople.

Bradbury’s carnies are perfect, creepy, sleezy, dark and skeevy. There’s G. M. Dark, the tattooed freak, and his evil partner, J. C. Cooger. The carnival is also populated with The Dust Witch, a blind fortune teller, The Skeleton and Tom Fury, the dwarf. These are the carnival people you can’t resist but who fill you with terror and dread if you find yourself alone in their presence. A merry-go-round and a house of mirrors will never be the same after you read this novel.

Something Wicked This Way Comes, a classic tale of good and evil, is well written and the Gothic horror theme works well in its small-town setting, proving that even wholesome places are vulnerable to evil forces.

My, my, my how the cold winter nights will fly as you settle down with these stories and hope for spring.

October 21, 2010

Book Review: The Talented Miss Highsmith by Joan Schenkar

by thiszine

THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH: THE SECRET LIFE AND SERIOUS ART OF PATRICIA HIGHSMITH
by Joan Schenkar

St. Martin’s Press
(December 2009, $40, 704 pages)

Before you think you are going to settle down for a glimpse at what made Patricia Highsmith tick, prepare for a chronologically challenged, confusing and often repetitive narrative of the ins and outs of obsessions, ruminations, ideas and idylls that gave Highsmith’s novels like The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train their stylized edginess and cold calculation.

Patricia Highsmith the Writer was a woman to admire: she wrote in a straightforward yet brutal manner that pulls the reader right into the hard heart and cold soul of her protagonists. It is thrilling to become immersed in Highsmith’s novels because she had a grip on bad that made it so good. While difficult to categorize her in a specific genre, she was a pioneer. Highsmith may be best known for her Ripley novels but her body of work includes twenty-two novels, eight short story collections, a suspense writers instruction guide and a book for children. She published a ground-breaking lesbian novel The Price of Salt under the pseudonym Claire Morgan in 1952.

Patricia Highsmith the Woman was, quite possibly, someone best avoided. Labeled a psychopath and a “black cloud,” she was a raging alcoholic for most of her literary life. In many ways her art imitated her life – or at least the dark recesses of her psyche. She believed life didn’t make sense without a crime in it. In her one of her many self-observations she stated, “If I were to relax and become human, I could not bear my life.” A talented but flawed Miss Highsmith, indeed.

Joan Schenkar tasks the reader mightily as Highsmith’s biographer. She forgoes the traditional chronological approach and instead groups the book into Highsmith’s themes/obsessions: How to Begin, A Simple Act of Forgery, La Mamma, Les Girls, Alter Ego, Greek Games. Nine divided parts jump into different times and places in Highsmith’s life. It is a meandering wander, a hippy Christmas that is difficult to follow and makes for unsettled reading. Schenkar’s method is the polar opposite of her subject; Miss Highsmith kept detailed lists, diagrams, maps and charts throughout her life. Schenkar’s unusual style does allow one to flip through the book without really missing a beat. Unfortunately, it is a beat that resonates with an uneven repetition of themes regarding Patricia Highsmith’s internal drives, which were apparently fueled by alcohol and cigarettes. There were women – many women – and occasionally a few men, in addition to her racist attitudes and actions, her aversion to comfort, avoidance of truth, self-history revision when convenient and an intense desire for privacy. Ah yes, and the collection of three-hundred snails Highsmith kept as pets. Highsmith loved snails because of their ambiguous shell and difficult gender identification. When bored at a dinner party, as she often was because she disliked food, Highsmith would pull a snail out of her purse or bra and play with it on the table cloth.

The eight years Schenkar spent perusing 18 diaries, 38 cahiers (writer’s notebooks) and 8,000 pages of her unpublished work sit uneasily in nearly 700 pages. Patricia Highsmith’s personal thoughts and opinions are not pleasant places to linger, despite her talent. It is disturbing to see her age ungracefully from svelt sphinx to a craggy, hunched gargoyle. Phobias and fantasies become more prominent in her later years. After reading her biography, it can be safely said that one of Highsmith’s most admirable qualities of character is that she wrote about her demons rather than acting upon them.

Sweetman

October 16, 2010

Edna Staebler Award Winner

by thiszine

BY JOHN COLEMAN

This week, Kitchener, Ontario author John Leigh Walters was awarded the 2010 Edna Staebler Award for creative non-fiction for his first book A Very Capable Life: The Autobiography of Zarah Petri.

Walters’ A Very Capable Life is the story of his mother, Zarah Petri, and her life as an immigrant during the twentieth century. Walters is being heralded for mastering the first-person autobiography of another person. He writes Petri’s stories in her voice, from her point of view, and creatively reinterprets landmark twentieth century events through her perception.

Now retired, Walters hosted and produced television shows in Canada and the United States for most of his life. Most recently, he hosted a program on CTV in Waterloo.

The Edna Staebler Award, established by Staebler in 1991, annually acknowledges the best first or second non-fiction work of an author that significantly portrays Canadian culture or takes place in a Canadian locale. The winner receives $10,000 from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. Wilfrid Laurier University recently published a collection of Staebler’s diary entries entitled Must Write.

Edna Staebler was one of Canada’s most well-known writers, regarded widely for her Mennonite cookbook series Food That Really Shmecks. She also wrote for popular Canadian magazines Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Reader’s Digest and Star Weekly. In 1996 she was awarded the Order of Canada.

October 15, 2010

Video of the Week: Emma Donoghue

by thiszine

In the video below, Emma Donoghue reacts to a creative book display at the Next Chapter Bookshop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and discusses her book Room with an audience gathered for a reading.

Room was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize.

October 12, 2010

From Shortlist to Winner, the Man Booker Committee Pulls an Upset

by thiszine

Howard Jacobson‘s novel The Finkler Question was announced the winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize in a London ceremony earlier today, dispensing with Tom McCarthy’s C, which was considered the front-runner for winning the prize and even caused the British bookmaker Ladbrokes to close betting on wagers for the prize after they received nearly $24,000 USD in a single day.

Jacobson’s previous novels include Who’s Sorry Now and Kolooki Nights, both of which we shortlisted for the prize in 2002 and 2006, respectively. The prize comes with a $79,000 USD monetary award and an almost guaranteed bestseller status in the United Kingdom. Assuring the winner’s book will fly off the shelves in North America is another matter, one that last year’s winner, Hilary Mantel for her novel Wolf Hall, surprised with its commercial success abroad. Wolf Hall went on to win the National Book Critics Circle Award in the U.S.

October 10, 2010

Book Review: Henry VIII: Wolfman by A.E. Moorat

by thiszine

HENRY VIII: WOLFMAN
by A.E. Moorat

Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
(July 2010, $9.55, 416 pages)

Once upon a time, I was offered the chance to review Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter, A.E. Moorat’s first novel. I almost passed on it because I was a little wary of historical fiction mash-ups, but I knew it had zombies in it, so I figured it was worth reading at least once. In the novel, Queen Victoria fights the evil clan of Baal with the help of the Royal Protektor, Maggie Brown. Most of England is completely ignorant of the demonic dangers, so the Royal battles are suppose to be kept secret.

It turned out to be one of the best novels I have ever read. I was expecting a mix of Brian Keene & Phillipa Gregory; instead, Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter was more like “Army of Darkness” meets “The Mighty Boosh”: a very entertaining fantasy-adventure, but not quite horror. The novel made me a Moorat fan, so I was very excited to read the next novel.

In Henry VIII Wolfman, the King also deals with the clan of Baal but the novel is very different from Queen Victoria. In an extremely long and elaborate flashback between the prologue and epilogue, mainly told from Henry’s point of view, Henry VIII: Wolfman is an alternative historical account from a universe completely different from the believable, behind-the-scenes story of real historical events in Queen Victoria. Even though I didn’t find Wolfman nearly as amusing as Moorat’s first novel, it was a great psychological-horror story about a king struggling with a major life change while trying to save his people.

In the prologue, Henry has transformed into a werewolf and has devoured the Queen, though which wife is not specified. He then remembers everything that led up to the moment described in the prologue: Henry is beginning to get fat, he’s in the Palace of Greenwich and Anne Boleyn catches his eye. There are also hints at a romantic interest with Jane Seymour, who turns out to be quite the noble woman.

Henry’s major problems begin when a wolfen cell, led by a werewolf Malchek and tired of being the lowest rung on the ladder among the Baal descendants, uses King Henry as a pawn by infecting him with lycan blood. The king tries to hide this turn of events from everyone at court. Meanwhile, Sir Thomas More is falsely accused of being a werewolf by fake witchfinders and, due to court politics, Thomas Boleyn and the Duke of Norfolk refuse to come to his aid. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who is searching for More, is desperate to find a reason for the Pope to declare war on the Wolfen, despite the treaty signed at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, or else convince the King to abandon his quest for revenge.

The best parts of this story, for me, were the witchfinders, Hob and Agatha. These two reminded me of the entertaining Lord Quimby and his man-servant Perkins in Queen Victoria. I wish there had been more of their humor in this novel. I wasn’t sure what type of mash-up the author was trying to write aside from the obvious twist on Henry’s reign. I am still a fan of Moorat, though I’m hoping he will finally give Lord Quimby and Perkins from a spin-off novel of their own.

Ursula K. Raphael

October 7, 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Laureate in Literature, Breaks Eurocentric Streak

by thiszine

Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature today, ending what some have decried as the prize’s long Eurocentric streak. Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian native, is probably best known for his novels published in the 1960’s and ’70’s, including The Time of the Hero, The Green House and Conversation in the Cathedral, all of which are deeply political works that examine the pervasive corruption in Latin America.

Vargas Llosa is the first South American writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since Gabriel Garcia Marquez was awarded the prize in 1982; Mexican novelist Octavio Paz, the most recent Latin American to win, was awarded the prize in 1990.

Vargas Llosa has been criticized for a shift in his politics. Initially a supporter of the Cuban revolution, he took a political step away from Fidel Castro in the 1970’s and ran for the presidency of Peru in 1990 as a right-center conservative. Despite the political nature of his work and its examination of corruption in Latin American, his alignment with policies and economics of the right have left hard feelings among some writers and politicians in Latin America. According to the Wall Street Journal, Vargas Llosa punched former friend and ally Gabriel Garcia Marquez at a movie premier in Mexico City in 1976. The two writers have not discussed the feud publicly.

Vargas Llosa currently teaches Latin American studies at Princeton University. Last year’s Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to German-Romanian writer Herta Muller.

October 2, 2010

From the ‘zine: Nicholas Y. B. Wong, Poet

by thiszine

In our current issue, we debut our Poet Spotlight by featuring the work of Hong Kong-based poet Nicholas Y. B. Wong.

Here’s a taste of Wong’s poetry from our issue:

Kiss a Door
by Nicholas Y. B. Wong

You gave
me a
closed space
and yourself
an open world.

The door
was slammed.
I kissed
it right away.
Even the lock
asked for more,
then the hole,
then the key,
the walls and
the carpet below.

I kissed
almost
everything
in the house,
but you
kissed
better. They
never
kissed back.

. . . . .

continue reading Kiss a Door

September 25, 2010

Banned Books Week

by thiszine

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!

by thiszine

We can’t believe it’s true!

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

September 22, 2010

Oversung and Underpraised: Overrated and Underrated Canadian Writers

by thiszine

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.