I have completed Monique Gray Smith’s ‘Tilly and the Crazy Eights’. This was a fun book to read and I think I learned a lot while reading it. Native/Aboriginal/Indian issues are in the Canadian mainstream right now so this book has found a fertile time to land.
It is a bit too sweet at times and definitely pulls on the heartstrings of the reader. If you don’t laugh and cry while reading it, you should probably get your heart checked. It is an entertaining read with an interesting ensemble of characters.
But, it is the characters with which I find the first weakness of this brave novel. I had trouble picturing these people in my mind’s eye. There is very little physical description of them and few quirks, habits or tells to queue the reader to them. The voices are not distinct between them so following dialog relied on Tilly said, Sarah said, etc. I think this was a flaw that made it harder for this reader to associate and empathize with the characters. I little more description and personalization of the characters would have gone a long way. I wondered what nation these people were from, but had to guess.
There was quite a bit of ‘Telling’ versus ‘Showing’. We are told Rose is gruff and cold, we are told Pancho as a good heart. These things ‘shown’ would have made a better novel.
And the choice of omniscient point of view is something I don’t much like. Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy pull it off, but I feel it keeps the reader from getting into the heart and mind of the characters. A good reason to read is to experience what the characters in the book are experiencing, without the risks involved. To fall in love, to watch a loved one die, to dance in a Pow Wow. This experiencing is best done with close third person where the reader becomes the character, immerses into their world experience. This wonderful spell is broken in omni, especially when the author jumps between points of view. I would be experiencing something from Tilly’s POV then suddenly head-hop to Pancho’s POV. The spell is broken.
There is some tough material covered in this book and I salute Gray Smith for taking it on. Truth and Reconciliation, Residential schools and the sixties-scoop, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Life on the rez.
The book led me to look up Pendleton blankets and to watch a You-tube video of the world Pow Pow in Albuquerque. I must try out fry bread. And like I said above, I did both laugh and cry. A good read that I recommend.
Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, Albuquerque NM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGAThB2D2T0
I just completed re-reading D. H. Lawrence’s ‘The Rainbow.’
I first read it as a young man in my early twenties. Then I was struck by the relationship of Tom Brangwen and the older, more sophisticated Lydia Lenski. I thought I had forgotten the book, the characters and the story until I wrote a novel myself.
Mine is a story of a younger man falling in love with an older woman. I chose the name of my main female character (MFC) as based on the older sister of a friend when I was in High School. A crush. And then I wanted to explore, in my novel, the horrible experience of having been cheated on by a lover. I had gone through that. So I began reading old journal entries from over twenty-five years ago. Unfortunately, there was nothing there to help me with source material. I had simply stopped writing for six months when that happened.
Ah, but what a pleasant surprise I found. My notes and thoughts about the aforementioned Lydia Lenski. She is the only main character who we don’t get inside. She remained enigmatic, aloof, and so incredibly attractive. And, I began to question why and how I had chosen the name Lydia for my MFC. I would need to re-read ‘The Rainbow’. I am so glad I did.
It is considered Lawrence’s best work. I think so.
It follows the sweep of three generations of the Brangwen family at the turn of the twentieth century in the mid-lands of England. It begins with Tom and Lydia, follows their daughter Anna, and then Anna’s daughter Ursula. I won’t spoil the story or plot here. But the plot was not what makes this novel great.
It is the characters, the relationships, the deep introspective points of views that are unlike anything that I have ever read. The intensity of the feelings, thoughts, wants and fears are overwhelming at times. And Lawrence’s ear for the speech and actions of his characters puts a reader right there in the scene.
His descriptions of the farms and meadows, the animals, the smells, sights and sounds are immersing. The sounds of the rail cars and the descriptions of the miners trudging home from a shift at the pits, covered in black coal dust. But this isn’t a Dicken’s tale, railing on the Pit owners and romanticizing the workers. They are just decent hardworking men coming home for tea.
The countryside is a character as much as Tom and Anna are. It is easy to tell that Lawrence loved this country. It is in every word of his wonderful descriptions.
And the sex. It was a banned book when published. Today is to laugh. But sex and loving are always part of the relationships of the men and women. And there is a very close look at those thoughts and feelings. The physical, intellectual and emotional wants and needs. The love. The passions, the hurts, the hopes, the gentleness and the striking out.
It can be an emotional roller-coaster to read. As can any great love affair. But it is well worth the time and effort.
I recently read ‘North of Normal’ by Cea Sunrise Person.
I can see that this book took a huge amount of courage to write. I hope I can find that courage in my writing. Recognizing that bravery I am reticent to throw stones, but I feel the book slightly misses the mark.
Spoiler alert, I am going to discuss content.
As I read the book, following the story of young Cea, I was puzzled by my reaction. The story is written in First Person Point of View (POV). This usually leads the reader to get very close, intimately close, to the main character and narrator. But I didn’t feel that. It was always as if I was watching the action and the behaviour of the people around Cea. I wasn’t getting an emotional reaction, I wasn’t feeling either the joys or disgusts that I would think the narrator experienced. Or the fears.
This lead me to the larger question: What do we want to get out of great literature? Why do we read?
I think it is to get those experiences. I want to know and feel the joy of falling in love when I read. What does it feel like, what is the effort, challenge and excilaration of climbing Mount Everest. And then losing friends up there.
Can I bare the fear of walking through a jungle as a platoon trooper on patrol in hostile territory?
What is it like to be in the command of a mad man chasing a white whale around the globe? Or serving under Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar?
The anguish of rejection by a lover.
The fear of the totalitarian state.
The overcoming of incredible obstacles.
The loss of holding a dying child in your arms.
I want to feel and experience these things, without the costs and effort they would take in real life. And that is what a great book delivers. Not a view to the action, but a role to play and experience in that action. To live it in our minds.
‘North of Normal’ only gave me a peak at the action. So it is good, but not great.
I read Anthony Doerr’s ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ in about 4 days. It was one of those books I didn’t want to put down. It is truly wonderful. The best book I have read in at least a year. Superb.
The main characters, Marie-Laure and Werner, are wonderfully developed. You care for them, you worry about them, they light up the book.
You see characters act with courage in fightening situations. The huge scope of war with armies moving across Europe tosses all the characters about. So many show goodness and compassions, and some show greed and malevolence. As in real life.
I give this book 5 stars. I wish I could write this well.
I finished Emily St. John Mandel’s ‘Station Eleven’ this week. Really enjoyed it. A dystopian novel with some nice people.
There are 4 or 5 main characters that are tied together through 20 years, tied back to the night it all began. And St.John Mandel does it really well. Little clues like the name of the dog, Luli. What are the chances? The intersection of Kirsten, Jeevan and Arthur. It held the book together.
I like books with characters you come to like, or at least come to care about what comes next for them. This book has that.
And I like books with a positive message. This book sort of has that. As compared say to Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. Finishing that book was painful.
I didn’t understand howTyler could go so bad, and I would have liked to know. But then I am not sure how the good characters went and stayed good.
And a few of the plot elements didn’t quite work, like believing that nobody at the airport was exposed to the flu. Or that such a devastating flu could not be caught, like ebola or Sars was before it. But never the less, I enjoyed it. Well worth a read, and I will look at reading other books by the author.
I finished reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises last night.
Spoiler alert: I am going to discuss the plot, characters and themes as though I have read the book. And I didn’t like it.
About half way through the book I nearly put it down. The characters are mostly horrible people. I was struggling to find a reason to keep reading. I actually read a couple of reviews, and they raved about this as Hemingway’s break out novel and that it was a novel that came to epitomize that ‘Lost Generation’. So I stuck with it. I was hopeful the nihilistic characters would learn, would grow and would become better people. It doesn’t happen.
I worked in a bar while in University. I learned about myself that I don’t really like being around drunks if I am not drinking myself. Well this book was about being around drunks all the time. They were either drinking, planning on where to drink, getting over the affects of drinking or behaving poorly while drunk. One character, Jake, calls Brett, the woman he loves, ‘a drunk’. They are all drunks.
But worst than drunks they are terrible people. Lady Brett has sex with every main character. They use and abuse others. They toss people aside like disposable possessions. None of them display any empathy or even decency.
I suppose the elite that like this book find it thoughtful and edgy. But just as Mike tries to be edgy by being mean and rude to Cohn, so most of this book is just rude.
Why the narrator, Jake, was made to be impotent has me scratching my head. He certainly lacks self awareness. But at least he has a job. Most of these characters are unemployed bums.
I am at the point where I read books as a writer, looking for what the writer does and how she accomplishes things. The prose is nice and tight. Some of the descriptions are beautiful. A lot of the action they observe is great. But they just observe, they never engage. And I found I got sick of how ‘Swell’ everything was.
A while ago I re-read Hemingway’s short story ‘Hills like White Elephants’. It is a wonderful piece. But the man in that story could be one of the characters in this book. He probably is. And he sucks.
It is not often I don’t finish a book. If this had not been a NVCL book club book we reviewed as a group March 2nd, I would have dropped it.
I found the book a little bewildering. What exactly was the point? It wasn’t about empathy so much, as pain. Did the author want to share her pain, bare her soul? Well she didn’t. She shared a few times she was hurt. And shared the same experiences more than once. But I never felt empathy. Her writing didn’t work to do that, if it was the point.
The part I liked. The Immortal Horizon, about the Barkley Marathons. Not incidentally, the essay where Jamison most steps back and doesn’t find a way to make it about her.
Other essays I couldn’t understand. The Lost Boys, as much as I read it I couldn’t understand the facts of the case, why they were found innocent so much later. Like it wasn’t important.
The academic language. “I am just so tired of Sylvia Plath”. That stinks of ivory tower elites who are so much better than you and me. And Jamison exhibits a bit of that intellectual arrogance herself.
The foul language of the final essay. Blood, menstruation, wounds, abortions, self pity, Steven King’s ‘Plug it Up’. I can’t say I understand women any better for having read this.
And then I was asked ‘Why do you think she wrote this?’ To exercise some demons? To really try to understand empathy? To explore pain and sympathy? To tell us all about her personal experiences?
My thought was more cynical. This was an academic exercise. She told us many times she was at Harvard & Yale. Her career needed a book. She dusted off some old essays, and without even editing them to remove the repeats of stories and events, she pushed it out as a book. She is in that ‘Publish or Perish’ environment and this is what she pushed out.
A swing and a miss.
This is a tough book to read. It is an important book and so many people talk about it that I felt as a reader and a writer I needed to be able to say I have read it.
I am not sure that Magical Realism is my thing. And there is not doubt this book is blasphemous. It would not be published today. Parts of it I really liked and some of the characters I really liked, such as Allie Cone, and the Ayesha that leads the townspeople to Mecca. And there are some very funny parts, like the Jahalia whore house scenes.
But there are dozens of characters, and some that have the same name. Keeping them all straight is just too much work.
I can say I have read it, and understand parts of it too. But I will not be recommending it to any friends. Maybe to someone I don’t like at that much
I can imagine a Klondike miner calling out with joy at finding a big nugget of gold. For a writer this book is such a nugget.
I am working on a re-write of a larger project and it is hard. Hours spent thinking about word combinations, structures, plot points and metaphors and all the issues any re-write entails. It is hard and long and sometimes exhausting. So this book was a gift.
The Writing Habit gives a writer hints and tips, thoughts and processes, and most importanly to me, it gave me energy. It helped light the fire and get the wheels going again. On the weekend I finished reading Huddle’s book I completed more writing and re-writing than I had in a month.
The timing was perfect. The advice was specific and timely. It provided a shot in the arm when I needed it.
The only other book I have found that also helped in this way was ‘A Passion for Narrative’ by Jack Hodgins. The two books will be on my shelf forever.
The Writing Habit talks especially about that, how to make writing an integral, or THE integral part of your life. Not since I read Dorothea Brande’s ‘On Becoming a Writer’ have I seen such real world helpful advice. You must write, everyday, and you must make time for thinking and reading and working on your craft.
This is a wonderful book and one I will read again in the near future. And it also points to some source material that I am already trying to find, things like JD Salingers ‘For Esme with Love and Squalor’ or anything by Eudora Welty.
My one knock on the book is that it underates the importance of Story. If the story doesn’t engage the reader you are wasting your time. I think.
Nuance is dead. I am working on an idea that we need to become more able to disagree without being disagreeable. Can we have a difference of opinion without calling each other stupid or hateful names? Not sure we can.
So I come to Ms.Klein’s book ‘This Changes Everything’ with this thought in mind. I start by saying I think she is well intentioned. The slogans she passes off give way to a real concern for the planet, our society, and what we are leaving behind for our children. She means well.
I am not a climate change denier. Although I consider myself conservative, even Libertarian, I am not an ostrich hiding my head in the sand. I think that Climate Change and finding a solution to this problem will be the defining issue of our time. And a good book to read on the subject is “The Rough Guide to Climate Change” by Robert Henson.
We look back on history and we wonder: Did the Inca civilization see the collapse coming that took them down? Did the Mayas of South America see it coming? Did the leaders on Easter Island have some idea of their imminent collapse? Were the Romans aware that their society was in decline? Will we see the signs and be able to avert our collapse?
Climate Change could bring about a similar collapse to our entire world. Ms.Klein documents well the issues, the costs, the current political situation. That some many on the right of the political spectrum are in denial is disappointing to say the least.
But the failure in this book is not in describing Climate Change or calling for us to address it. The failure is that Ms.Klein creates a false dichotomy that there is a choice between addressing the Climate Change issue or continuing with Capitalism. How she makes that mental leap is impossible to follow. I think it is a supposition and position she brings to the effort. It was already decided before she started to write. Which is a shame.
The extreme left, including Ms.Klein and her husband Ari Lewis (who made a movie of the book at the same time), hate Capitalism. And hate is such an awful thing. It eats up the hater more than the hated. It clouds vision, twists judgment, impairs thinking, leads to lazy logic and makes rational discussion impossible.
Ms.Klein makes the mistake to think that only by abandoning our economic and political freedoms will be be able to solve climate change. She sees addressing climate change as an opportunity to address every social ill she can conceive of adding to her laundry list. It goes so far in the wrong direction I wonder if she really cares about addressing climate change?
Why would you try to load down addressing climate change with so much extra baggage and costs?
When we fought Polio, we fought polio. We didn’t try to change peoples religious beliefs.
When we see cholera outbreaks, we know that people need clean water. We don’t say they need a new political or economic order.
When we fought fascism and the Nazi scourge we didn’t abandon our freedoms to make the case we couldn’t win with free speech and economic liberty holding us back. These are the things we fought for.
Yet Ms.Klein would have us abandon Capitalism, free enterprise and most individual freedoms to address climate change. Which leads to understanding why.
Ms.Klein has a comment where she accuses her political opponents of ‘Arrogant Ignorance’. Yet reading her book, it is impossible to see that she has any understanding of economics, or even a basic understanding of budgeting and book keeping. She dismisses Free Trade agreements without even lip service to why the vast majority of economists know they are a good idea: Free trade lowers costs of goods and services to everyone.
She suggests that Western governments subsidize Oil and mineral extraction, when the exact opposite is obvious. When Oil and commodities fall governments all over the world are impacted by falling revenues. Governments are addicted to the money they take from Oil and gas taxes.
She means well. Climate change needs to be addressed. The way to address it is to reduce the amount of Carbon Dioxide we push into the atmosphere. Start with that truth. Start with half of the CO2 created is for transportation. Cars, Trucks, Trains, Ships and Air craft. How can we reduce this? Not even a hint in her book.
Steven Covey used to say ‘Start with the Big Rocks.’ That is a good approach. We need someone to start at the beginning and look at these big rocks. With a blank sheet of paper and no dogmatic preconceived solutions. This is a big problem people. We need to bring our best and brightest to bare on it. Our civilization depends on it.