Celebrating the beautiful book object – Mrs Killick’s Luck, by Christina Fitzgerald

In the past week or so, I’ve had a mounting sense that this might finally be the year that Penelope Fitzgerald gets the widespread attention that never really shone on her in her lifetime. This detailed appreciation (with its slightly bewildering for longtime devotees, but still tantalizing news of a screenplay in the works) appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, in the same week that Australian author Peter Carey revealed in his appearance at the Toronto Public Library that he was only now discovering the delights of his fellow Booker Prize winner’s slim, brilliant oeuvre. So, this is the time to celebrate this rare and quirky piece of the captivating Fitzgerald puzzle.

Those who are devoted fans of Penelope Fitzgerald’s work, or are becoming fans thanks to Hermione Lee’s definitive biography and the deserved accolades it is reaping, will appreciate that this is a very special book and a charmingly beautiful book object in its own right. To be clear, though, it is not a work of Fitzgerald herself, but of her eldest daughter Christina (Tina) Fitzgerald.

After winning a short story competition sponsored by the UK’s Sunday Express in 1960, nine-year-old Tina was given the opportunity to expand her precocious tale to book length. (The finished work is 80 pages, extensively and delightfully illustrated.) Novelist and poet Stevie Smith, who contributed to Penelope and Desmond’s World Review magazine, contributes an astute foreword. The lively illustrations are supplied by Mary Shepard, original illustrator of the Mary Poppins books and daughter of EH Shepard, who illustrated Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows. In other words, this wee book comes crammed with extensive literary pedigree.

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Celebrations of Penelope Fitzgerald’s work often have a wistful tinge to them, as the start of her literary career at the age of 58 (with the publication of a biography of artist Edward Burne-Jones) is considered almost heart-wrenchingly belated. In a nutshell, she contended – with aplomb, but setting aside aspirations – with personal and professional pitfalls and with keeping her family together and cared for as best she could. It’s all rather tragicomically symbolized by the real-life sinking of the family houseboat, which became part of the fictionalized setting of her Booker-winning novel Offshore. So, a wistful irony about Mrs Killick’s Luck is that Tina became a published author before her mother.

Hermione Lee suggests in her biography that Penelope quietly harboured her own unique flavour of ambitious and competitive spirit – later in life, Penelope even cheated at games with her grandchildren. Would, then, the opportunity for her daughter to publish a novel when she so desired to do so herself have been perhaps bittersweet? As Stevie Smith observes in her foreword:

“So altogether I think this is a very good story, with such sharp eyes at work and sharp wits like little white teeth.”

Like mother, like daughter?

The book includes a page from the young author’s original manuscript:

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In another recent “beautiful book object” post, I really loved seeing a sample of the author’s typescript. Seeing that gives you such a tangible sense of the person behind the book, doesn’t it?

Here are some of Mary Shepard’s rich and perky illustrations:

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Isn’t this a treasure?

What I read in 2014

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Here are the books I read in 2014, with links to reviews (here on this blog or on Goodreads) where I have them. As I’ve done in previous years, this is an exhaustive, “all of” list, not a “best of” list. (I definitely have “best of” list fatigue this year, more so than usual.)

I continued my commitment in 2014 to a daily devotion to at least one poem … and usually more, as friends on Twitter continued to generously share their poem choices and reflections via the #todayspoem hashtag. Now three years in, I haven’t missed a day, both contributing and enjoying selections from others in this edifying and vital communal experience. I’ve now pondered the works of nearly 650 unique poets, writers, songsmiths and wordsmiths I’ve revisited or unearthed myself, and countless more via others wielding that often revelatory hashtag. On into its fourth year, I’m continuing with my #todayspoem habit every day heading into 2015, and I hope many will continue or join anew.

I also celebrated some more beautifully built books in 2014, including:

The books I read, reread and read aloud in 2014 …

  1. All the Rage
    by A.L. Kennedy

  2. Life After Life
    by Kate Atkinson

  3. A Recipe for Disaster & Other Unlikely Tales of Love
    by Eufemia Fantetti

  4. how the gods pour tea
    by Lynn Davies

  5. Maidenhead
    by Tamara Faith Berger

  6. Crazy Town – The Rob Ford Story
    by Robyn Doolittle

  7. The Luminaries
    by Eleanor Catton

  8. Prairie Ostrich
    by Tamai Kobayashi

  9. Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life
    by Hermione Lee
    (read aloud)

  10. Bark
    by Lorrie Moore

  11. Waiting for the Man
    by Arjun Basu

  12. The Lease
    by Mathew Henderson

  13. Grayling
    by Gillian Wigmore

  14. Sun Bear
    by Matthew Zapruder

  15. Ocean
    by Sue Goyette

  16. Cockroach
    by Rawi Hage
    (reviewed for bookgaga by Paul Whelan)

  17. Dog Ear
    by Jim Johnstone

  18. New Tab
    by Guillaume Morissette

  19. Congratulations, by the way
    by George Saunders

  20. Based on a True Story
    by Elizabeth Renzetti

  21. Americanah
    by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  22. All My Puny Sorrows
    by Miriam Toews

  23. The Rise & Fall of Great Powers
    by Tom Rachman

  24. Swann
    by Carol Shields
    (reread)

  25. Everyone is CO2
    by David James Brock

  26. Juliet Was a Surprise
    by Bill Gaston

  27. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing
    by Eimear McBride

  28. Elizabeth is Missing
    by Emma Healey

  29. The Couch of Willingness
    by Michael Pond & Maureen Palmer

  30. Gone Girl
    by Gillian Flynn

  31. The Alphabet in the Park
    by Adelia Prado, translated by Ellen Watson

  32. In the Approaches
    by Nicola Barker

  33. Broom Broom
    by Brecken Hancock

  34. Us Conductors
    by Sean Michaels

  35. Paradise & Elsewhere
    by Kathy Page

  36. [Sharps]
    by Stevie Howell

  37. Lila
    by Marilynne Robinson

  38. Love Enough
    by Dionne Brand

  39. Thunderstruck & Other Stories
    by Elizabeth McCracken

  40. Paddy the Wanderer
    by Dianne Haworth
    (read aloud)

  41. American Innovations
    by Rivka Galchen

  42. The Gallery of Lost Species
    by Nina Berkhout

  43. Out of It
    by Michelle Kadarusman

  44. Sweetland
    by Michael Crummey

I read 30 works of fiction (novels and short story collections), 9 poetry collections and 5 works of non-fiction.

The 44 works I read this year were written, co-written or translated by 46 individuals – 33 of them women. While I thought the #readwomen2014 effort was an admirable initiative, I didn’t purposely set out to focus or skew my reading in any fashion, but I’m still happy to see that it turned out this way.

Currently in progress, heading into 2015:

  • Hard Light
    by Michael Crummey
    (reread)

  • Into the Blizzard – Walking the Fields of the Newfoundland Dead
    by Michael Winter
    (read aloud)

Looking back fondly on my 2014 reading, looking forward eagerly and with anticipation to my 2015 reading, I’ll simply conclude (as I’ve done in previous years) …

It’s not how many you read that counts. It’s that you read that counts.

2014 literary events … and aiming for more of the same in 2015

We’re tremendously blessed here in the Greater Toronto area and beyond that, to southwestern Ontario, with a year-round wealth of live events through which one can experience the joy of the written word. You can hear those wonderful words read aloud, you can meet the writers, you can purchase their works (and often get them signed or inscribed), you can celebrate with fellow booklovers. The places in which these experiences take place run the gamut, from libraries, bookstores, lecture and performance halls, to pubs, coffee shops and living rooms. More and more, those places are also in the ether, as readings and panels are broadcast and livestreamed online – so you can be in a remote location and/or in your jammies and can still partake of literary delights.

Looking back over 2014, I’m delighted to recall just how much I took advantage of what was available to an avid reader hereabouts. My goal in 2015 is to do even more, if I can, to support authors, publishers and booksellers by attending and talking about their events.

January 26, 2014
Transatlantic Poetry
Venue: Google +
Writers: John Glenday and Dorianne Laux
Host/moderator: Robert Peake
Poets John Glenday and Dorianne Laux took part in this unique virtual event, with Glenday reading from the Scottish Highlands and Laux reading from her home in North Carolina. Read more about it here.

pivot-readings
January 29, 2014
Pivot Readings
Venue: The Press Club, Toronto
Writers: Eufemia Fantetti, Julie Joosten, David McGimpsey
Host/moderator: Bianca Spence
Curator/organizer: Jacob McArthur Mooney
Learn more here about the well regarded and always warmly anticipated Pivot Readings series. They present monthly “the writers breathing life into Canadian literary culture. Established and emerging, time-tested and fresh; we’re what’s happening in literature, right now.”

March 5, 2014
Brockton Writers Series
Venue: full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, Toronto
Writers: Michael Fraser, Angie Abdou, John Degen, Veena Gokhale
Host/moderator: Farzana Doctor
Founded in 2009, Brockton Writers Series has aimed from the outset to host writers who reflect Canadian literature and Canadian diversity. That definition of diversity includes: established and emerging writers, writers of colour, queer writers, younger and older writers, aboriginal writers and other writers who might not always have the platform to showcase their work. Learn more about the series here.

ifoa2March 13, 2014
International Festival of Authors (IFOA)
Venue: Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Claire Cameron, Karen Russell, Helen Walsh
Host/moderator: Emily Keeler
Read more about this event here.

Since its inception in 1974, the International Festival of Authors (IFOA), which started as the Harbourfront Reading Series, has played an important role in the cultural life of Canada. IFOA presents the finest international novelists, poets, playwrights, short story writers and biographers, and provides Canadian writers with an internationally recognized forum in which to present their work. IFOA events range from weekly readings to their annual fall literary extravaganza to initiatives for younger readers.

March 24, 2014
International Festival of Authors (IFOA)
Venue: Brigantine Room, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writer: Lorrie Moore
Host/moderator: Jared Bland
Read more about this event here.

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April 1, 2014
National Poetry Month with the League of Canadian Poets
Venue: Ben McNally Books, Toronto
Representatives of the League of Canadian Poets gathered to celebrate the start of National Poetry Month and to announce the shortlists for their slate of poetry awards: the Raymond Souster Award, the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the winner of the Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award. It’s all detailed here.

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April 16, 2014
Wolsak & Wynn / Buckrider Books launch
Venue: Gladstone Hotel, Toronto
Writers: DD Miller, Erina Harris, David James Brock
Host/moderator: Paul Vermeersch
As they describe themselves, Wolsak and Wynn is a quirky literary press based in the heart of Hamilton. With steel mills on one side of us, the Niagara escarpment on the other and Toronto somewhere off in the distance we spend our time producing brilliant, highly individual and sometimes provocative books. Learn more here.

anansi-logo
April 22, 2014
Anansi Poetry Bash
Venue: The Garrison, Toronto
Writers: Sarah Lang, Garth Martens, Anne-Marie Turza, Matthew Zapruder
Host/moderator: Damian Rogers
This was an evening of compelling readings from the latest crop of fine poetry coming from House of Anansi Press, a storied Canadian publishing company founded in 1967 by Dennis Lee and David Godfrey, and early publisher of Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Matt Cohen and other writers forming the foundation of modern Canadian literature.

brickbooks-logo
May 9, 2014
Brick Books launch
Venue: Ben McNally Books, Toronto
Writers: Joanna Lilley, Jane Munro, Arleen Paré, Karen Enns
Host/moderator: Kitty Lewis
This was a celebration of the latest poetry releases from Brick Books, a press specializing in publishing poetry founded in 1975 by Stan Dragland and Don McKay … and now celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2015.

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June 4, 2014
Griffin Poetry Prize 2014 shortlist readings
Venues: Koerner Hall, Toronto + livestream
writers: Rachael Boast, Carl Phillips, Brenda Hillman, Tomasz Rózycki, Mira Rosenthal, Anne Carson, Sue Goyette, Anne Michaels
Host: Scott Griffin
Founded in 2000, the Griffin Poetry Prize is the world’s largest prize for a first edition single collection of poetry written in English, with international (including translation) and Canadian prizes. The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry aims to spark the public’s imagination and raise awareness of the crucial role poetry plays in our cultural life. One of the most coveted Canadian arts events tickets are those to the annual Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist readings, which are now generously shared via livestream so poetry lovers around the world can enjoy them.

June 25, 2014
International Festival of Authors (IFOA)
Venue: Brigantine Room, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Emma Healey, Linda Holeman, Tom Rachman
Host/moderator: Becky Toyne
Read more about this event here.

type-books
September 16, 2014
“Domestic Chaos” book launches (Arsenal Pulp Press, Coach House Books)
Venue: Type Books, Toronto
Writers: Angie Abdou, Brecken Hancock
Host/moderator: Trevor Cole
In the cozy setting of beloved Type Books in Toronto, Angie Abdou read from her novel Between (Arsenal Pulp Press) and Brecken Hancock brought to life selections from her poetry collection Broom Broom (Coach House Books).

September 17, 2014
International Festival of Authors (IFOA)
Venue: Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Ben Lerner, Ian McEwan
Host/moderator: Carol Off
Read more about this event here.

October 24, 2014
International Festival of Authors (IFOA)
Venue: Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Colm Toibin, Marilynne Robinson
Host/moderator: Eleanor Wachtel
Read more about this event hereand listen to it here.

October 25, 2014
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – Poets’ Summit
Venue: Studio Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Gary Geddes, Catherine Graham, Julie Joosten, Jacob Scheier, Adam Sol, David Martin
Host/moderator: Mary Ito
Read more about this event here.

October 26, 2014
International Festival of Authors (IFOA)
Venue: Brigantine Room, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Oana Avasilichioaei, Martha Baillie, Nick Cutter, Gary Geddes
Host/moderator: Farzana Doctor
Read more about this event here.

October 26, 2014
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – Outer Influences
Venue: Studio Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Adam Sol, Matthew Thomas, Russell Wangersky
Host/moderator: Steven Beattie
Where does a story come from? A poet and two novelists shared their influences and inspirations. Read more about this event here.

October 28, 2014
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – Penguin Canada’s 40th Anniversary
Venue: Brigantine Room, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Joseph Boyden, Lee Henderson, John Ralston Saul, Johanna Skibsrud
Host/moderator: Jared Bland
… at which everyone was provided with a glass of champagne to toast Penguin Canada, thereby setting the tone for a most lively occasion. Read more about this event here.

October 29, 2014
International Festival of Authors (IFOA)
Venue: Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Joseph Kertes, Laila Lalami, Eimar McBride, Kathleen Winter
Host/moderator: Nathan Whitlock
Read more about this event here.

October 30, 2014
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – Crowds, Comments and Community: Understanding Writing in the Digital Age
Venue: Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Emily Lindin, Sina Queyras, Anna Todd
Host/moderator: Mark Medley
Read more about this event hereand listen to it here.

November 1, 2014
International Festival of Authors (IFOA)
Venue: Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Dionne Brand, Frances Itani, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, Kate Pullinger
Host/moderator: Ania Szado
Read more about this event here.

November 2, 2014
International Festival of Authors (IFOA)
Venue: Brigantine Room, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: David Bergen, Michael Crummey, Charlotte Gray, Claire Holden Rothman
Host/moderator: Jacob McArthur Mooney
Read more about this event here.

scotiabank-gillerprize
November 3, 2014
Scotiabank Giller Prize 2014 finalist readings
Venues: Koerner Hall, Toronto + livestream
writers: David Bezmozgis, Frances Itani, Sean Michaels, Heather O’Neill, Miriam Toews, Padma Viswanathan + guest presenters
Host/moderator: Carol Off
The Giller Prize was founded in 1994 by Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller, who passed away from cancer the year before. The award recognized excellence in Canadian fiction – long format or short stories – and endowed a cash prize annually of $25,000.00, the largest purse for literature in the country. Over 20 years later, the prize now provides $100,000 to the winner and $10,000 to each finalist. Part of the celebration of the finalists for the prize includes public readings and presentations of the nominated works, which are also presented via livestream.

wild-writers-litfest
November 7, 2014
Wild Writers Festival
Venue: CIGI Campus Auditorium, Waterloo
Writers: Emma Donoghue, Ann-Marie MacDonald
Host/moderator: Craig Norris
Now in its third year, the Wild Writers Festival presented by publication The New Quarterly, Words Worth Books and other generous sponsors pays tribute to “the fearless readers and writers who open up new worlds. Who revel in a well-turned phrase and a well-worn page.”

ecw-press
November 20, 2014
ECW Press fall book launch
Venue: Cadillac Lounge, Toronto
Writers: Tony Burgess, Catherine Gildiner, Paul Illidge, John Jantunen, Paul Vermeersch, Bruce Whiteman
Founded in 1974 by Jack David and Robert Lecker, ECW Press started as a Canadian literary magazine named Essays on Canadian Writing. Learn more here.

I’d love to get your comments, here or on Twitter (sent to @bookgaga, please), on your favourite literary events of the past year, and what you’re looking forward to in the new year.

  • Did you attend any of the events listed above?
  • Did you see any of these same authors, but at different festivals, venues, etc.?
  • What were your favourite literary events of the year?
  • Did you attend any virtual literary events last year?
  • What literary events are you looking forward to attending in the new year?
  • Who would you like to single out for praise for championing and organizing literary events in your community?

Book traffic report #7 – fall book launches, festivals and all such occasions for bookish temptation …

littlefreelibrary2This latest book traffic report covers the months of September, October and November, that time of the year that bursts with fall book launches, author readings, festivals and literary prize shortlists and winner announcements. How did this household fare in terms of forging a spare bit of space for something other than books – was it even possible? – as we continued to take a year-long look at how books make their way into (and out of) this place?

At the end of September, the two columns on my home office whiteboard tallied up as follows:

Incoming: 29

  • All incoming books were paper.
  • 21 of the books were fiction, 5 were poetry collections or works, 3 were non-fiction.
  • 4 of the books were purchased online from Amazon.
  • 1 book was purchased online, directly from an independent bookseller in the UK.
  • 4 books were purchased from independent booksellers – Ben McNally and Type Books – at book launches and readings.
  • 2 books were received as gifts.
  • In a first even for this admittedly book-focused household, one book was purchased three times. We obtained a special limited first edition of The Children Act by Ian McEwan from the London Review Bookshop, purchased a second book as a reading copy, then purchased the book a third time to give it as a gift.

Outgoing: 33

  • 32 outgoing books were contributed to three local Little Free Library boxes.
  • The outgoing books were a fairly equal mix of fiction, non-fiction / reference and poetry.
  • 1 book was the aforementioned The Children Act by Ian McEwan, given as a gift to a friend.

… and at the end of October, the two columns read as follows:

Incoming: 8

  • All incoming books were paper. (We don’t really seem to be big acquirers of digital books, do we?)
  • 6 of the books were fiction, 2 were poetry collections.
  • 2 books were purchased online from Amazon.
  • 3 books were advance reading copies from publishers.
  • 1 book was purchased from an independent bookseller at a literary event.

Outgoing: 12

  • All 12 outgoing books were contributed to three local Little Free Library boxes.
  • Again, the outgoing books were a fairly equal mix of fiction, non-fiction / reference and poetry.

… and at the end of November, the two columns read as follows:

Incoming: 10

  • All incoming books were paper.
  • 7 of the books were fiction, 1 was a poetry collections, 2 were non-fiction.
  • 2 books were purchased from independent booksellers or directly from publishers at literary events.
  • 2 books were purchased from independent bookseller Book City.
  • 3 books were purchased online from Amazon.
  • 3 books were purchased online, directly from an independent bookseller in the UK.

Outgoing: 20

  • 17 outgoing books were contributed to three local Little Free Library boxes.
  • 3 books were given to friends.
  • 16 outgoing books were fiction, 4 were non-fiction.

2014 to date: 121 books incoming, 203 books outgoing

Again, our outgoing numbers continue to confirm that we have an abiding affection for our local Little Free Library boxes. How would we have made it through this exercise without them? Certainly, they’ll continue to be a resource, an outlet and a good habit for us long after we stop tabulating our bookish activities in this fashion.

In fact, Little Free Library boxes were a comfort to us during this period. This fall, my in-laws moved from the family home to a seniors’ apartment. It is a change with many more positives and than negatives, but the considerable downsizing of all the things, such as the books, has had its bittersweet moments.

Because my dear mother-in-law lost her vision several years ago, her beloved books were already gathering dust. (Thankfully, she has since become a regular and very avid user of CNIB resources and services and therefore continues to be an active and engaged reader.) While it felt odd to carry away many books we’d originally given her as gifts, it was heartening to feel the books continued to be gifts to new recipients as we took them to the several Little Free Library boxes with which we’re blessed here in east end Toronto.

I’ll save for the end of the year a final, detailed breakout of books read and unread, types of books, etc. For now, I’ll observe that our sprint through the fall season was less bookishly profligate than I would’ve thought. I must say, though, that my favourite way to purchase books is at literary events, where you can celebrate and mingle with other booklovers, and you can transform those purchases into special treasures with inscriptions and memories of connections made and words exchanged with the authors.

We have just one more month left in our year of flying books …!

See also:

BOOKS / When your neighbour’s yard is a library
by John Lorinc
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 12, 2014

Photograph of Little Free Library box from BookRiot

Where to find Canadian poetry online

bookcover-lemonhoundPoet Jacob McArthur Mooney recently sparked a discussion on Facebook about online publications with a mandate to publish new work by Canadian poets. With his go-ahead, I’m moving the list that resulted from the discussion here. Where I can find them, I’ve added links and Twitter handles. Broadening the definition just a bit, there are some publications on this list that have a print counterpart. I’ve also added a few web sites that go back a bit in terms of Canadian poetry history and archives, and some that might be now defunct in terms of publishing new material, but still offer interesting selections and back issues (and hey, you never know – sometimes these things come back to life!)

The intent here is to give people a starting point to explore and discover poetry created and published by Canadians. Are there any sites or resources that should be included? Let me know via the comments here or by email at vicki@bookgagabooks.ca.

Celebrating the beautiful book object – The Children Act, by Ian McEwan

The special limited first edition of Ian McEwan’s latest novel, The Children Act, is not only a beautiful book object, but it offers some striking visual insights into the author’s creative and editing processes.

This edition charms right from the slipcover …

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… which contains not one, but two pieces …

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… the leatherbound edition of the book, plus an additional treat exclusive to the first 25 of the 100 copies of this specially crafted version.

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The unique addition is a selection of facsimile pages of notebook manuscript and one page of hand-corrected typescript from an early draft of the novel, all supplied by the author – an intimate look into the author’s work and fascinating pieces to pore over and scrutinize.

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See also:

Satisfying Clicking Sound, by Jason Guriel

“Avoid writing if you can. If you can’t, avoid cliché, and be precise. Don’t try to ‘express yourself’; self-expression usually amounts to expulsion. Try, rather, to connect with another: picture a smart but demanding reader, and try to hold her attention.”
- Jason Guriel … on hoarding and keeping your best lines off Twitter

I’m pleased to welcome back guest book reviewer Rebecca Hansford, who previously reviewed Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood here on the the Bookgaga blog. Rebecca recently graduated from Queen’s University, where she studied Biology and Psychology. As she previously observed, “Majoring in science instead of English was a tough choice for me as I have an electric passion for reading. I particularly enjoy fiction that integrates scientific facts, environmental issues and dystopian societies.”

bookcover-satisfying-clicking-sound

In Jason Guriel’s Satisfying Clicking Sound, the poet explores the contrasting elements of nature and technology currently existing in our society. Guriel’s style is of writing demands the reader’s attention in a profound yet disturbing way. For instance, Two Girls Splitting a Set of Earbuds describes two girls as flesh conjoined by an iPod, illustrating our dependence on our newfound technology and our inability to communicate without it. This brutal yet honest style of poetry is seen throughout his work, causing any reader to pause and ponder his thought, even possibly becoming repulsed at times. In his poem Poetry is Barbarous, Guriel fully exposes the vulgarity of his writing, as he compares a snowfall burying plastic swans and rabbits to real animals being buried to the throat. This vicious, yet captivating style of writing is seen throughout most of Satisfying Clicking Sound.

Although most of Guriel’s poems are blunt and difficult to digest, there was some free verse poetry with a more flowing style. In the Washbasin, Guriel compares painting and watery reflections to emphasize how the narrator feels he can live up to his father’s shadow. This poem was genuine, and the painting metaphor was beautifully tied into the poem. Dead on Arrival was another poem that appealed to me. Guriel remarks that stars are not aware of the fact that they burned out light years ago and therefore, they may not be aware of who they are themselves. Similarly, since we live our lives with the knowledge that we will die, is life futile? Will we ever know who we truly are?

In short, Jason Guriel’s Satisfying Clicking Sound is a fantastic read if you are interested in a more modern style of poetry. However, the last half of his work does bring forth some beautiful poetry with a less hard-hitting and vulgar style. Nonetheless, Guriel uses imagery in an astounding manner as he broadcasts his ideas regarding technology and society in a brutally honest manner. He will almost certainly hold your attention throughout his work.

Thank you to Véhicule Press for providing a review copy of Satisfying Clicking Sound by Jason Guriel.

Book traffic report #6 – an especially giving month

carrying-stack-books

This household continues to brim with books – but is maybe starting to offer just a wee bit of breathing space – as we continue to take a year-long look at how books make their way into (and out of) this place. This report reflects the month of August, which even though it included a cottage week during which all we did was read books, we still somehow managed to have a record month in the “outgoing” column.

At the end of August, the two columns on my home office whiteboard tallied up as follows:

Incoming: 4

  • All incoming books were paper.
  • 2 of the books were fiction, 2 were poetry collections.
  • 3 of the incoming books were purchased in bookstores (Book City and Sunworks in Red Deer, Alberta).
  • 1 book was purchased online, directly from an independent bookseller in the UK.

Outgoing: 48

  • 32 outgoing books were contributed to three local Little Free Library boxes.
  • 7 books were given to friends.
  • 5 books (mostly technical references) were donated to a workplace.
  • 4 books that were damaged or grievously outdated references were consigned to the recycling bin.

It pains me to have to put a book in the recycling bin, but on occasion, that seems like the only sensible thing to do … that really, it’s just going to take up precious space in a Little Free Library box and really, no one is going to take that wrinkled, discoloured Windows 98 technical reference manual.

2014 to date: 74 books incoming, 138 books outgoing

The ratio of read to unread book incoming or outgoing is still pretty much 1 to 1, with slightly more outgoing books leaving here read rather than unread. As I mentioned before, this makes me feel like we’re sending mostly loved or at least acknowledged books back out into the world, versus having more books pass through our home to which we haven’t given any attention.

So far this year, 38 fiction, 15 non-fiction and 21 poetry books have arrived, and 61 fiction, 53 non-fiction and 24 poetry books have departed. One further observation to one I made in our last report: many of the departing non-fiction books are admittedly out-of-date technology or topical content that perhaps doesn’t have great historical value. We are consciously adjusting so that if we are going to read non-fiction or reference that might have a “best before” date, we more likely to borrow that from the library now rather than purchase it. Perhaps that’s a “well, duh” realization, but anyhow …

Our outgoing numbers continue to confirm that we have an abiding affection for our local Little Free Library boxes. If those didn’t exist, I wonder if we’d be carting more boxes of books to garage/yard sales and the like. Somehow, Little Free Library boxes seem more thoughtful, don’t they? (Do many books still make their way through Freecycle, I wonder?)

The whiteboard is erased and ready for another month as we head into the home stretch of our year of flying books …

Carrying a stack of books. Photograph: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images (via The Times)
(http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/arts/books/article3307489.ece)

With each social media milestone, a continued commitment to literacy causes

I’ve mused in previous blog posts about the importance of literacy. From those musings, coupled with wise advice and support from book and publishing friends and acquaintances in real life and online, I’ve made a commitment to supporting literacy initiatives and programs … every time I hit a followership milestone on Twitter.

This time, I’ve made my donation as follows:

copian-logo
For 25 years, non-profit organization Copian (previously known as the National Adult Literacy Database) built Canada’s largest and most comprehensive digital collection of Literacy and Essential Skills tools and resources. This database/collection was a vital resource to numerous grassroots literacy organizations, libraries and individuals, not only providing materials but also comprehensive online training.

Earlier this summer, the Government of Canada withdrew vital funding, forcing the closure of Copian. The following coverage and reactions capture the dismay, confusion and disappointment:

Mainstay of Canada’s literacy movement topples: Goar
Literacy workers distraught as Ottawa eliminates their national database and resource centre.
by Carol Goar
Toronto Star
July 3, 2014

Q Essay: Literacy isn’t just a job skill
Q with Jian Ghomeshi
July 10, 2014

As Jian Ghomeshi points out in his audio essay: “Reading, writing, being able to find your way around your world safely and intelligently, all seem like the kinds of things anyone in Canada would support.”

The government says it no longer wants to spend money on “administration and countless research papers,” and instead want to prioritize literacy for the purpose of obtaining employment.

But literacy, notes Jian, does more than make you employable – it enriches your life.

Update: On September 24, 2014, Copian announced that they have been able to restore a streamlined version of their online library. While the content is not maintained as regularly as before, Copian hopes this will tide over everyone depending on this information until the organization can devise an ongoing sustainable business model.

As I’ve mentioned previously on this subject, much more important than numbers of followers or influence scores or whatever is that we are in this social milieu reading and writing and talking … about books and literature and print and digital formats and reading devices, and on to bookstores and libraries and the vital reading and writing experiences in all their forms. I value those who follow me and converse with me, those that I follow and learn from, and those that I come across even fleetingly in this vibrant tweeting, retweeting, chattering, enthusiastic and engaged environment. It’s not the numbers of them (although that there are an endless potential for book friends out there continues to take my breath away), but the quality of the discourse and the spirit, dealing with fundamental issues, not to mention myriad delights.

Numbers are just numbers. But then again, we can use those numbers in creative ways to challenge ourselves to remember, to recognize, to give back. Through this exercise, I’ve learned about other organizations and institutions supporting literacy, literary causes and books that I’d like to recognize in future, so I’m going to set a goal to do just that whenever I hit one of those “number” milestones. I challenge other book tweeters and bloggers to do the same.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride

In A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, Eimear McBride takes you inside a young woman’s mind teeming so violently, body pained so volcanically, soul torn so profoundly that you’re left shaking by the last page … if you last to that point. You might not. As McBride inhabits this character at the cellular level, the effect is scorchingly intimate, uncomfortable, unbearable and possibly unreadable for some at times. The rewards and insights are great, though, for the reader that can persevere with this thorny, brilliant debut novel.

This young woman gives vivid voice to her troubled upbringing, her sexual abuse at the hands of a manipulative family member, and the self-abuse she plunges into to simultaneously feel and not feel what has happened to her. That voice is only tempered with tenderness and sweet, wry humour when she speaks of and to her brother, set back in his own life’s progress by early childhood illness that comes back to afflict him and unravel their already fractured family.

While always defiant and spirited, that vivid voice is not entirely discernible, however. Spewing a churning wellspring of language that is somehow both dense and fragmented, this unforgettable narrator’s words regularly tumble into inarticulate ranting, but can just as easily take exuberant flight as she wields her unique form of black humour. Even as strict meaning is sometimes blurred, though, you will somehow manage to feel, sometimes be strangely charmed and almost constantly be rendered uncomfortable but still compelled by this woman’s intensity, however desperate, misguided and destructive she is, to herself and those she loves.

Through her voice, you also gain a powerful sense of her physical presence. As striking and verging on impossible it is to take in the indignities visited upon her and that she seeks out, it is a comparatively minor impertinence with her deceased grandfather that oddly but most affectingly connects with the physical intimacy, sympathy and even empathy of the final days with her brother. Even if some of her capacity for fearless physical connection has been made in the most horrific ways, you can’t help but feel a breathless, twisted admiration at her perverse determination to survive.

Her particular ability to understand her brother’s confusion and humiliation is both disquieting and profoundly moving to witness – and still, miraculously, leavened with that feisty dark humour – even when her beloved sibling’s existence has ground down to the miserably mundane. Somehow, she alchemizes that misery into something expiatory and transcendent:

“Something. Words words. I’ll go on my own. Your temper that’s the devil up. Normal almost sight again. Pull the bed but melt like water. Gone to hell. All your muscles. You’d give me a hit but can’t. I. There. Lie back. Lie back. You have to. Don’t do this you say.

“Don’t. You have to. And I turn away. I say. Just go don’t worry it’s. Normal now. It’s fine. You. Strapped up in your body. You don’t live there. I. Don’t look. I hear you. Crying.

“Going in the nappy. Rage. Not fair. Not fair. You wait til I’m well. You can definitely kill me then I say.

“Quiet.

“Turn and you are back asleep. I. Know I life the cover. Clean up. And now you’re gone fast far. Breathing. Don’t see me. Don’t know I do. New one. Clean you. Put it in the bin. See. My one act. I might be a person. Beneath the. Where horrible can be a good act of contrition. Shush there. You there sleeping. My boy. My brother. Wish my eye for yours tooth for your tooth. You’re a better. No. It’s all fuck gone. Gone to the gone to the wrong wrong wrong. Be shush for you. I can.”

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is perhaps best read in as few sittings as possible to stay with the narrator’s linguistic and emotional rhythms. Ironically, maintaining that sustained attention is like gazing into the sun. You have to stop. You have to look away. You have to take a breath before resuming. In particular, the book’s last 50 pages (pretty much the entirety of Part V, The Stolen Child, an at least two-pronged title) are suffocatingly intense and emotionally lacerating as the heroine’s – yes, she is heroic – anguish reaches a crescendo.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing joins admirably other works known for distinctive if fractious voices that veritably leap off the page. The comparisons to Joyce are plentiful and warranted. More titles that come to mind include Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman and How late it was, how late by James Kelman.

Eimear McBride’s admiration of James Joyce and Edna O’Brien is immense and unabashed, as she reveals in this Guardian essay. Her tribute to Joyce can also be well applied to the rewards to the reader who stays with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing to the end:

Difficulty is subjective: the demands a writer makes on a reader can be perceived as a compliment, and Joyce certainly compliments his readers in what he asks of them.

See also:

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for providing a review copy of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride.