Monthly Archives: August 2014

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:

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.


“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.

Book traffic report #5

As this household continues to brim with books, we’re also continuing to take a year-long look at how books make their way into (and out of) this place. This report reflects the months of June and July, more than halfway through the year.

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

Incoming: 10

  • All incoming books were paper.
  • 7 of the books were fiction, 2 were poetry collections, 1 was non-fiction and purchased as a gift (so it quickly became an outgoing book).
  • 6 of the incoming books were purchased in bookstores (Book City and Ben McNally’s).
  • 1 book was purchased online, via Amazon.

Outgoing: 8

At the end of July, the whiteboard tally was as follows:

Incoming: 9

  • 1 of the incoming books was purchased in a bookstore (Book City).
  • 5 received books were complimentary copies from publishers or authors.
  • 1 book was purchased online from Amazon.
  • 1 book received was a gift and 1 was work-related.

Outgoing: 11

2014 to date: 70 books incoming, 90 books outgoing

So far this year, the ratio of read to unread book incoming or outgoing is pretty much 1 to 1. More outgoing books are leaving here read rather than unread, which 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. (Well, that makes me feel somewhat less guilty … does that make sense?)

So far this year, 36 fiction, 15 non-fiction and 19 poetry books have arrived, and 45 fiction, 30 non-fiction and 15 poetry books have departed. One observation: many of the departing non-fiction books are admittedly out-of-date technology or topical content that perhaps doesn’t have great historical value (but who are we to judge … perhaps some Little Library acquirers of those books will feel differently …?)

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?


The whiteboard is erased and ready for another month of flying books …