Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Cremation Of Sam McGee

Remember being in grade school and the teacher would read to you? Sitting crossed-legged on the carpet, your elbow on your knee and your chin resting in your palm, listening to your teacher read the words and the sound the pages made when she flipped them over. I miss those days, don't you?

For me there was one book in particular that cast its spell over my eight-year-old imagination, The Cremation of Sam McGee. Originally written in 1907 by Robert Service, the poem was paired with the exquisite illustrations of Ted Harrison and published in 1986.  The artwork, as much as the tale, inspired a sense of national Canadian pride and thus began my period of drawing like (or so I wished) Ted Harrison, albeit in crayon. I became proficient enough that my third grade teacher entered one of my drawings in the town fair and I won $2. At that point I thought I hit the ceiling on my talent and never tried replicating Harrison's style again.

It wasn't until this summer while I was visiting a museum in Banff that I saw the familiar artwork. There it was - the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of The Cremation of Sam McGee. I bought it on the spot and hugged it to my chest for the better part of that day and strolled the tourist-lined streets with a goofy grin.

The story is about a pact two prospectors make while in the Yukon. Near death Sam McGee from Tennessee wants to be cremated, to finally feel the warmth of home and escape the clutch of north cold. The lyrical poetry in this book pushes past the grim reality of the words and evokes such beauty. While some might find the book morbid, there is so much of life and mystery you can't help but read on.

If you haven't read it do yourself a favor and race to your nearest bookstore. The poem will haunt you and the artwork might inspire you to win a couple bucks.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sorry for the absence...

but I'm reading. And it's hard work, not to be interrupted by posts. Next book to be reviewed will be Doestoevsky's The Possessed. Who would've thought human nature doesn't ever change.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

So True...

From Quill And Quire:

“Kafka wrote a perfectly fine beginning to The Castle, then threw it out for a better one.  So can you. Revise.” – Leon Rooke

Commonwealth Writer's Prize 2010

In 2007 I had the privilege of attending Varuna's Masterclass Residency, where I met four other wonderful writers. We were selected out of close to four hundred other novelists across Australia. So for us four it was  a crapshoot as to who we'd meet, and furthermore who we'd nurture on-going relationships with. For me all the writers were amazing people; they were talented, friendly, and lovely to spend the evenings with.

One of those writers has turned out to be a dear friend of mine, Kirsten Reed of Brisbane. Maybe it was a bond formed by our North American upbringings and our shift to Australia. Who knows. We decided to exchange work here and there over email, after all I was in Melbourne and she was in Brisbane. Through our correspondence I was privileged to read her novel The Ice Age. Over the course of a late night, I read the manuscript in one large gulp. It's a slip of a thing, not as long as a more 'conventional novel' but it pacts an emotional tale of a young girl hitching her way across America with an older man she loves and fantasizes about him being a vampire. It read like creative non-fiction because of the protagonist's utterly believability.

It was soon after that Text Publishing recognized the novel's beauty and published it. Now I'm proud to announce that Ms K Reed made the short-list for First Book in the South Pacific Region of the 2010 Commonwealth Writer's Prize! A hearty congratulations.

For a complete Commonwealth Writer's Prize short-list go here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Because of Winn Dixie

Second book in my 52 Books A Year was Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn Dixie. I was having trouble sleeping and thought it was the prefect time to indulge in something a little sweet. Admitingly today wasn't a great day. I was feeling lonely. So I thought a little pick-me-up was in order.

Unlike DiCamillo's previous book for children The Tale Of Despereaux, Because of Winn Dixie is a realistic tale of ten year old India Opal and her stray-turned-best-friend dog she names Winn Dixie after the local shop. Both are new to town that summer and with Winn Dixie's smile and Opal's friendliness they quickly shuffle around town striking up friendships and filling the hole where Opal's abandoning mother should be.

First they meet ex-convict Otis who works at the local pet store. He's no criminal but a gentle soul with a gift for guitar. Then they meet the librarian Miss Franny Block who tells them the story of her great grandfather who fought in the American Civil War,and the story of how he came home to find his family dead (yes, all of them kaput) and how he walked to Flordia to fill the world with sweetness; the result was a hard candy with the secret ingredient of sadness. Which is sad! So sad. In fact, at this point I'm thinking DeCamillo went out of her way here to make this story melancholy. Then she meets a girl whose brother drowned the year before, whose face is always 'pinched'. They also meet the local witch, who isn't a witch at all but an old woman going blind. Opal fills up the hole her mother left in her heart with all her new friends, but the lines of sorrow still mark the breaks.

The writing is as simple and succinct as always. There's beautiful relationships formed and passages about the ghosts that haunt us and the horribleness of life are are a little sentimental but also tender. The story does redeem itself so that a semi-happy ending is given to the reader like a Littmus Lozenge, sweet yet sad.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Poetry Find: Chris Gilpin

So after the Olympics ceremony, and perhaps one too many wines, I came home, slept an hour or so and then woke up in back pain. What's a gal to do? Look up all literary freebies on the web. And by geez, the folks over at Geist have published a keeper. It's a poem called Dear Sasquatch by Chris Gipin. I thought you might like to head over and read it for yourselves.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book 2 In 52 Books In A Year

Just a heads up. Book two in my 52 books for the year is (drum roll, please) is Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

My Favourite #1: Dlyan Moran From Black Books On Rejection

Ever wondered what would happen if Bernard Black wrote a book? Watch and find out. It makes me smile every time.

Youtube clip here

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Postponement, An Apology and A Hearty Recommended Read

Due to foreseen illness I have delayed the first book of 52 for the year. I assure you it was worth the wait. So much so that - and this is highly unusual - I refuse to finish the book. It's that good. I've put off the last 50 or so pages because when it is done it will no longer be a parallel world, it will simply be a story in the past. I've come to terms with that and have set a side 3 pages a night, like dessert. My only solace lies in the fact Joseph Boyden has two previous novels awaiting my attention.

The book in question is Canadian writer Joseph Boyden's Through Black Spruce. The story unravels by alternating between two narrators. The first is Will, an aboriginal bush pilot with a penchant for alcohol. He is in a coma and begins to wander through his life, telling his story to his two nieces Annie and Suzanne.

Suzanne, a successful model disappeared with her boyfriend Gus Netmaker, the youngest in the Netmaker clan. A clan well known to import cocaine and crystal meth into the community of Moosonee with help from their underworld connections. While her family holds out little hope that she's alive, her sister Annie continues to hope. Annie follows her sister's life through the modeling world in Toronto then New York, wearing her clothes, meeting her friends, staying at the same places and even sharing the same modeling agent.

Annie comes home to Moosonee and talks to her uncle in a coma, telling him everything of her life for the past few months. Her only solace lies in the mute aboriginal man she found in Toronto who knew something of her sister. Together they live in a small cabin, writing notes, trapping marten and commuting to town by snowmobile.

The danger of two first-person narratives situated in the past is that there is no present story arc and little suspense. However, Boyden manages this extremely well, making sure there is a present story and the reader is compelled to read on to find out how this all unfolds.

Boyden depicts the harsh Canadian landscape with love. With each character and event the small town gains weight, fleshing out the story so it seems real, that these are real people and this story is the only one they belong to. Overall a ten!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dear Writing, In Your Absence...

I am aware of the infrequent posts here on Devoted To Books. Fortunately my writing is going far better than my blogging. Yay for me! Every day I'm getting closer to completing the major over-haul on my novel and it's turning out better than I could've thought. There is one reason for this: reading. Reading copious amounts of literature. Good and bad.

Books. For some reason reading places me in the correct headspace to write. Books are why I started this blog in the first place. Admittedly I'm not a critic. Nor is it my desire to be. I once told Steven Hall (Raw Shark Texts) that I bought his book because it received rave reviews, which I don't usually do - I liked to purchase books with crappy reviews because I felt bad for them and because I thought it built up decent karma. I digest what I'm reading, sure, and I'm able to (on the most part) recognise literary nuances. But write about them? And I have one of the worst memories on the planet (what was that song again?) so I'm not going to regurgitate my undergraduate knowledge here. I'm going to tell you bluntly why I enjoyed the book, and what I didn't. Think of it more like talking to your book club (without the stuffy members and unsatisfied married women).

One thing that keeps my writing on track is a deadline. Thus, a deadline is needed for this blog. I pledge from now on to review a book weekly for one year. That's 52 books. It's an easy target. However to write about them will be interesting. I hope you think so too.

The first book up is Through The Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden. Besides his white straight-as teeth and dashing good looks, this 38 year-old writer is Canadian. And Canadian literature is something I'm embarrassingly starved for. Review to come next Saturday folks. That's Sunday for all you Australians.