Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reading Journal: A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson (1997)

From Georgia to Maine runs the Appalachian Trail, 2,200 miles of hiking path in various states of repair, depending which state you're in. And chronicling the variations along the trail is our intrepid walker, Bill Bryson, who tells of the natural beauty (or decay), kind people (or complete morons), wonderful conservationists (or land rapers) he encounters on his journey. For a trail that's been protected since early in the 20th Century, a staggeringly small number of people currently use it, and even fewer have done the whole thing. Bryson writes incredibly humourously about shopping for gear, learning to pack, relearning to walk - did you know that the average American walks way less than one mile a day? - and, of course, bears. An enchanting book laden with research that, admittedly, sags a little in its third quarter, but that is on the whole a Ciceran triumph, perfectly balancing the two needs, to teach and to delight.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reading Journal: The Antagonist, by Lynn Coady

A worthy finalist for the Giller Prize, no question, Coady's novel displays writing as vicious and vulnerable as the protagonist she creates: Gordon "Rank" Rankin, a former hockey enforcer who is repeatedly emailing erstwhile best friend Adam, who wrote a novel seemingly based on Rank's life. In particular, the first hundred pages are bilious and exciting, as Rank rails against Adam and begs that he be accurately represented. And though my interest tailed off a bit when Rank started to write his own corrective novel, in a way it was a tour de force on Coady's part to write in the person of someone writing an overly emotional draft. From time to time, it seemed that there was a writerly intelligence beyond Rank's holding the pen, and part of me thought that we would eventually hear from Adam, but the choice to alternate between the "I" voice addressing Adam via email and the third-person-narrated novel bits Rank was emailing to him was compelling enough, telling a clearly two-sided story well from only one interested party. Plus, dozens of Coady's finer brushstrokes come together for big cumulative effects in the end. In all, an excellent Canadian novel.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Launching Tuesday, June 12 at Dora Keogh: CVC Anthology, Vol. 2, featuring "Mercy"

My short story, "Mercy," was named to the short list in this year's Vanderbilt-Exile Competition, meaning that it will appear in the second volume of the Carter V. Cooper Short Fiction Anthology alongside Emerging Writers winner Christine Miscione, Established Writers co-winners Sean Virgo and Leon Rooke, and other finalists Kris Bertin, Jacqueline Windh, Amy Stuart, Linda Rogers, Martha Batiz, Phil Della, Kelly Watt and Darlene Madott. The book launches Tuesday, June 12 at the Dora Keogh, 141 Danforth Ave., Toronto, and eight of us are on the bill. Great times to follow - see you there, around 8:00pm.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Reading Journal: Where We Have to Go, by Lauren Kirshner (2009)

An excellent debut by a young Toronto writer whose strength is her application of detail. Kirshner describes very, very well, rarely over-detailing but always providing lots, which should come as no surprise: her mentor at U of T was Margaret Atwood. She slyly makes her aesthetic point near the book's end, when she gives her young woman protagonist this thought as she reflects on the events depicted, a difficult coming of age between 12 and 19: "Maybe what makes a story real are the details." After finishing, when I attended a workshop the author was giving on "writing local," emphasizing how to make place come alive, I could still remember the depictions of the dirty Murphy bed in the apartment, and the low-end name of the scuzzy apartment building - Tivoli Towers, nothing like the amusement park! - and some of the characters' appearances. Plus, early in the book, the hero ends up tagging along to an AA meeting, which is a novel and well-rendered scene, one of the book's best. Kirshner's is a fresh voice that, though its diction is occasionally odd, is one of the most promising Canadian ones I've read in a long time, particularly when you consider how early in her career she is. I'm excited to see what she does next.