Monthly Archives: October 2013

Book Review: Cataract City by Craig Davidson

What’s better than reading a book you really like? Meeting the author who wrote that book and telling him in person that you really liked his book. What’s better than telling an author in person that you really liked his book? Telling a group of book-lovers in person that you really liked his book in a semi-formal event setting where they are forced to listen to your opinions. Well, I’ve done the first two things, and I’m crossing the third off my list on Nov. 5.index

I raced through Craig Davidson’s Cataract City about a week ago, reading it in about three days, which is all the more impressive because its about 400 pages long (hardcover folks!). Similar to the writing of D.W. Wilson, Davidson’s books are typically focused on male characters doing manly things (boxing, dog-fighting, etc.), but he does a wonderful job of making these grimace-inducing situations readable, incorporating beautiful descriptions into the tense moments he depicts. Another reason I loved this book was the setting-Cataract City is actually Niagara Falls, which to be honest I haven’t visited often, even though I grew up about an hour away from it. Davidson exposes the underbelly of the tourist town, digging past the wax museum and kitsch shops to reveal the desperation underneath it. This general restlessness triggers most of the plot points throughout the book, which I should mention are plentiful. There is lots of action throughout the book, and life or death moments do come up regularly (as they typically do in a man’s life, right?), which is probably another reason I read it so quickly.

As many of you book-lovers may know, Davidson’s book was shortlisted for the Giller Prize a few weeks ago, which means its not only a worthy read, but there are a ton of  reviews out there that describe how good it is and why, so I’m struggling a bit to come up with some original observations. This being said, I thought I would pass on some interesting facts about the author to make this post a little more unique: for instance, did you know that Craig Davidson once pumped himself full of steroids and took on a professional fighter in order to promote his last book, Rust and Bone? I know authors who are reluctant to create a facebook page for their own book for god’s sakes.

So, it didn’t get a chance to confess all my strong feelings about the book when I met Davidson after one of his events at WordFest, but I did get a chance to tell him I was speaking at the Giller Light Part on Nov. 5, and that I’d be defending Cataract City in an attempt to convince the audience that his book should rightfully win (and that they should all purchase a copy of the book as soon as they could!). He was probably a bit surprised at my enthusiasm, as I might have come across a bit too excited. That was a particularly stressful week at work for me, so when I saw him at the event I probably appeared a bit more ‘jazzed up’ than most of the attendees, but he graciously humored me all the same, and signed my book with the following message: “Please represent me with all due care and consideration, very best, CD”. I’ve included a picture for people to see-above is what I think he wrote, but I could be wrong about that, his  handwriting is admittedly hard to read.20131027_182836

So, come to Lolita’s Lounge in Inglewood Calgary on Nov. 5 to see yours truly attempt to convince an audience of people that Cataract City is worth winning the 2013 Giller Prize. What tactics will I use to fortify my argument? My witty comments of course! And if that doesn’t work, bribery is always a great fallback. Don’t worry Craig, I will do you proud either way!

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Book Review: Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland

As I begin to write this review, I’m not really sure how I actually felt about this book. As the title suggests, the main character is a bad person, someone so despicable you can only shake your head at his wretched antics, finding yourself shocked when he carries on a semi-polite conversation with someone else in the book for longer than a couple of seconds. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it, but that doesn’t you mean you should read it either. Let me explain…

Isn't this a hilarious photo? There's a reason why this isn't the one Random House uses when promoting the book...he probably despises it.

Isn’t this a hilarious photo? There’s a reason why this isn’t the one Random House uses when promoting the book…he probably despises it.

I guess what I found most troublesome about this book is the silliness of it all. I don’t typically like ‘silly’ books, mostly because I want to feel like I’ve accomplished something by reading it, but as other reviews have suggested, you should read this book in one sitting, because it’s not a deep piece of thoughtful literature that you should return to time and time again, after having time to contemplate what’s between the covers. Maybe that was my mistake with this book-I shouldn’t have read it over the time span of a week, it gave me too much room to actually think about what I was reading, rather than just plowing through for the fun of it.timthumb.php

There are a few things going for this book. Similar to a Chuck Palahniuk book, the absurdity and foul language come together to create the perfect plot and read for someone like my husband, who (apparently), loves this sort of thing, and got a real kick out of the passages I read to him aloud. Although he barely reads, he seemed to really enjoy the snippets I shared with him, and because one of the last books he read in its entirety was Tell-All, I’m not surprised Worst. Person. Ever. seemed to delight him.

There’s no point in me giving much detail around the plot of this book, because it’s really secondary to the intent of the story (or at least, what I imagine Coupland’s intent is, or resembles). Raymond Gunt (yes, I know) gets hired to work on a reality television show being shot on a remote island somewhere in the Pacific, and its his adventures of not only reaching that island, but his time on the island and the people on it that make up the majority of the story. Instead of trying to entice people to read it, I should probably warn people instead: don’t read this book if you get easily offended by racism, sexism, or foul language. If you enjoy the game Cards Against Humanity and can appreciate a good laugh, even if its at someone else’s expense, you’ll probably like this book, or at least get a real kick out of the dialogue and ridiculousness that comes along with it.

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Book Review: Festival Man by Geoff Berner

You should read this-but wait, a word of warning to any who would like to read this book before you rush off to buy a copy. If you are at all squeamish,  uptight or believe being politically correct is important, you will not like this book. However, if you’re like me and can relate to a different sense of humor, and laugh at things that you feel guilty about laughing at, then you will LOVE this book. It’s short, fun and hilarious. And, for my Calgary readers, it takes place in very familiar territory (The Westin downtown by Eau Claire Market, and Prince’s Island Park), and I know this sounds strange, but reading books that take place in your own ‘hood are so much more fun to read.index

Festival Man is written by a Vancouver-based musician named Geoff Berner, who in his own words in an email to me earlier this year, stated that he frequently sells out his concerts at the Ironwood, so I’ll take that to mean that he plays good music. He also writes some good prose, which this book is evidence of. One of my favourite chapters is called “Soundman’s Guide” which acts as a toolkit for people who want to eventually become a ‘soundman’. It includes such helpful tips as the following: “If a musician makes a request for help or information, try to feign deafness and walk away”. Before anyone gets too offended, I feel obliged to point out  that as someone in the music ‘biz’, Geoff is allowed to take these sarcastic pokes at other people in the industry since he’s been a part of it for so long!

Having been a part of the festival industry in Calgary, I appreciated so many different aspects of this book. From the description of helpful Festival volunteers to the craziness of the late-night artist parties, so many things run true in this novel. Hell, the Festival I worked at is based out of the Westin too, so I could easily picture everything that Berner referenced. So I’m biased of course, because this book really speaks to my experiences and love of the Calgary Folk Festival, which acts as the feature setting for the story.

I think I’m going to amend what I said at the beginning of this post, and recommend that even if you are easily offended, you should buy the book anyway, because it comes with a free download of a Geoff Berner CD that features other artists, and the music is so good it’s worth it. Besides, even if you don’t want to read the book in its entirety, the chapter titled “Arrival: Cowtown” offers a wonderfully sarcastic description of Calgary, which honestly, all Calgarians should read just for the fun of it. What’s better than that? Seeing Geoff perform live, which you can do this week at Wordfest!

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Book Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

It’s been awhile since I’ve devoured a 500 page book this quickly. You would have seen this coming, if I had been able to post my reading status on goodreads, but for some reason this book wasn’t on it yet, and I’m too lazy to add it myself, so you’ll have to take my word for it that I started reading this on Friday, and finished it 5 days later. In case that wasn’t clear enough, I’ll repeat: I loved this book.

I mention goodreads ironically in the first paragraph of this review because this book is essentially critiquing our reliance on social media, and our compulsion to alert or update others on our daily activities. Essentially, The Circle is warning us of the darker side to our insatiable need to be connected to each other, and what happens when privacy is eliminated through the virtual monitoring of our lives.

What’s great about this book is that it successfully leads us along the same path that the protagonist Mae goes on, luring us into this perfect-seeming ‘campus’ that will solve all our problems, but the deeper we dive into the business, the closer we get to realizing that the sacrifices she/we have to make to buy into their corporate mentality are all-consuming and dangerous. However, the reader’s path quickly moves in the opposite direction of the character’s; the more Mae buys into the promises of the corporation,  the further it pushes the reader into suspicion, and eventual horror at what is being proposed by The Circle.www.randomhouse.com

Everyone loves a book that confirms their own personal suspicious and biases, so of course this is another reason why I enjoyed the message that Eggers offers us. Many people think I should join twitter to help promote this blog, and to be honest they’re probably right. However, the very thought of having to post something online EVERY SINGLE DAY sort of sickens me, it sounds like way too much work, and I don’t have the time to do it anyway. In fact, I congratulate myself on going an entire weekend without looking at a computer screen, although this is getting harder and harder to do when you have a netflix account.*

“It’s like a  modern-day 1984″ is most likely what people will say after they read this book, and they have good reason to, considering the dystopia that Eggers is creating with this latest story. Granted, he didn’t have as far to jump as Orwell did, what’s described in The Circle could be in the making as we speak, and Eggers draws obvious comparisons to the monolith Google when demonstrating the power of the fictional social media company that bears the title of the book, so the imagination didn’t have to stretch very far when coming up with the elements of this plot. But it’s a well-written, and highly readable story that leaves you frantically turning the pages to find out what happens, and it may force us all to think twice about posting that next status update on facebook ,which is always a good sign when reading fiction (or should I say, what I hope will remain fiction).

*although I appear quite ‘down on social media’ at this point in the post, I want to stress that I fully realize you’re all looking at a computer screen to read my blogs, and I really want you to keep reading my blogs, so don’t take what I say too seriously

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Book Review: Hellgoing by Lynn Coady

Short stories aren’t for everyone, I realize that. In my personal experience, only the dedicated book lovers can really grow attached to short stories. They’re rarely on the best-seller list, and Indigo doesn’t really push them, so many publishers are reluctant to publish them for fear that they won’t sell well. Which, quite honestly, they probably won’t (unless you’re David Sedaris).

You will never sell as many books of short stories as this man

You will never sell as many books of short stories as this man

I always like reading the acknowledgements in the back of a book, for the pathetic reason that because I worked in publishing, I like to see how many names and references I  recognize. You can also learn about strange relationships and connections that are hinted at in this section, at times even shocking realizations can be made if you read in between the lines. Frequently,  acknowledgements in short story collections will also explain where the stories have also appeared, typically literary magazines I never read (feel free to leave outraged comments below about my lack of interest in these magazines, but for god’s sakes I can only read so much, and I’ve chosen to focus on books).978-1-77089-308-5

I’m hoping that Lynn Coady will bring a few people into the short story fan club. This most recent collection is whip smart and smug, with a healthy dose of laugh-out-loud hilarity. The stories are also painfully realistic at times (the title story for instance, nails female gab fests, making me both proud and embarrassed to be a woman all at once). The last story of the collection, “Mr. Hope” is somewhat disturbing, but the childhood memories are priceless, and I marvel at how well Coady can write internal monologues. “Body Condom” is also really funny, although I will say I found the protagonist Kim to be a bit moody for my liking, which was probably purposefully written that way.

You may have noticed that I review short stories quite a bit on this blog, obviously because I like them. Although YOSS may have ended few years ago, I’m still riding that bandwagon, and I’m hoping to pick up some new believers along the way. Because I value honesty and directness, I will tell you right now that you should go out and buy this book, especially if you don’t like short stories, because this will be the beginning of your short story love affair.

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Ps-The Scotiabank Giller Prize is going to announce its shortlist this week, and Lynn Coady is on the longlist this year, so she has a good chance of making it to the finals again! Stay tuned…

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Book Review: Everything is So Political, A Collection of Short Fiction by Canadian Writers

This book is a bit of a departure for me, not only in tone and format, but also in publisher. Everything is So Political boasts a topic I typically wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot-pole. Why? Because politics make me nervous, I don’t like discussing them in group situations, and I usually find the subject terribly boring when reading about it. However, my opinion was most recently swayed. This collection of short stories includes an introduction by the editor Sandra McIntyre, who explains that all fiction is political in its own way, because every writer will have opinions about something or someone, which is impossible to separate from your own work. This idea is quite basic, but I totally agree with it. In a previous post of mine, I argued that I didn’t like when authors shoved their opinions down a reader’s throat, however the stories in this collection do the exact opposite; they force you to question what you’re reading, and examine their stories within the context of your own opinions. So_political_comps_EditRound3

The perceived seriousness of the topic should not reflect the collection itself  because many of the stories are lighthearted in their own way, and all are very different from each other as well. There are twenty different stories in all, each by a different writer, so if you liked the anthology I reviewed here, this is a very similar format that you should enjoy. Some stories lean towards the romantic (one might even argue, erotic), while some have a sci-fi feel to them. One of my favourites was “Elephant Air” by Fran Kimmel (full disclosure here, Fran is a friend of mine). I had no idea she was involved in this collection until I came upon her story, but I found it one of the most affecting because a particular scene she describes involving  an elephant and a very young girl literally took my breath away. I was reading it on a train ride home after work one day, and after I finished reading a particularly striking sentence I had to look up and out of the window because I needed a moment to catch my breath and reflect on what I had read (I hate to sound corny here, but that doesn’t happen to me often).  But I’m not the only one who enjoyed this story, Kimmel won an award for it, so that proves it’s a piece of writing worth raving about.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that this book was a departure for me in publisher as well. Why do I say that? Because I’ve worked in the publishing industry, I pay close attention to the publishers of the books I read. I can honestly say I’ve never heard of Fernwood Publishing, but now that I’ve read one book of theirs, I’m confident I could enjoy some of their other offerings. However, I will say their slogan made me a bit uneasy: “Critical Books for Critical Thinkers”. I’m a critical person when it comes to reading, however I wouldn’t say I gravitate towards “critical” books, because I like a good dose of fluff on my bookshelf when possible. But maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit? If I can read and enjoy a book with the word ‘political’ in the title, the sky’s the limit!

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