books

The M Word Launches in Toronto

I have an essay in The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood called "Babies in a Dangerous Time: On Choosing to Be Child-Free." It's a non-mom essay in an anthology that's very mom-oriented--kinda like non-moms in a very mom-oriented world. Anyway, I'm heading to Toronto for the launch on Tues., April 15, 6 p.m., at Ben McNally Bookstore, 366 Bay St. I'll be reading with other contributors and there'll be a discussion. Gonna represent for the child-free! Woot!

After this I hope I never ever have to explain why I'm not having kids. I know I probably will, but, hey--wouldn't it be nice if I never ever had to ever again? Dreams...

"We will sample it judiciously!"

"When Olena was a girl, she had called them lie-berries--a fibbing fruit, a story store--and now she had a job in one. She had originally wanted to teach English literature, but when she failed to warm to the graduate study of it, its french-fried theories--a vocabulary of arson!--she'd transferred to library school, where everyone was taught to take care of books, tenderly, as if they were dishes or dolls."

--from Lorrie Moore's "Community Life," Birds of America (1998)

Venn Diagram

The Berth House

In response to Bookninja's 're-masculate' contest, the goal of which was to 'masculine-ize' a chick lit. title, behold, The Berth House, by Andi McKay.

Here's the synopsis: Donahue “Huey” Rare is the first boy in five generations of Scot’s Bay, Nova Scotia Rares to reject the family carpentry business and head to the high seas, despite the family sea curse. In his youth, Huey apprentices with Mr. Comeau (“Mr. C”), a salty Acadian sea captain infamous for his sea chanties and mean-spirited blind parrot, Chico. After a decade at sea fighting pirates, Germans and sea monsters, Huey returns to Scot’s Bay with his crew of misfit sailors to prove his worth, winning the love of the village hooker, Ruby. When a harrowing fire set by a new American carpenter threatens the berth house his father and brothers built, only Huey can save the village. But will he?

(note #1: I'm posting this here because, what happened to this contest? Seems they got a bit of press in The Guardian and that was that. Away into the ether)

(note #2: You can read the ridiculous synopsis to the extremely ridiculous original Birth House, which has one of the worst, most sexist covers ever, here)

Into Thin Air


Just read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. Normally, I hate non-fiction. Hate. It's boring; it's dumb; it's repetitive. Repetitive. No wonder non-fiction's so popular with the masses. Mostly non-fiction is a stretched out magazine article that shouldn't have been stretched out. This book is not. It's got plot, suspense, big words. It's what most fiction should be and isn't. I couldn't put it down, which I've said about other books, but not because it was easy to read. Because the story was compelling. As was the writing.

It creeped me out. And now I can't stop thinking about mountains. I'm dreaming about them. I've never seen a snow-capped mountain; I've seen Vermont's Green Mountains, but they're green, and not so tall. I gotta go see the Rockies at least. That and the Pacific Ocean. Maybe before I die...

Mount Everest is so high it's top cuts into the jet stream. Holy shit. About 1 in 4 people die trying to get there. And you need a hell of a lot of money to get there. At least $60,000. That's about 3 times as much as I make in a year. But now that I can apply for a Canada Council grant, maybe I should propose a trip? Then I'll write some poems. Big poems. The biggest in the world.

When people die on Everest, most of the bodies are left there. And 'cause it's so cold, those bodies stick around for decades. Imagine hiking on up a glacier, your brain's fucked up from lack of oxygen, and there's someone's lower torso from 1987. What do you do? Look away and keep on marching. Like war. And teaching.

Victim Lit

When was the last time I read a book in one day? I don't know. I forget. I know I've spent a lot of days marking lately. Too many. I hate June. Every kid suddenly realizes, "Hey, I'm graduating (I know, I know, I've known this for ten months) and I need my English mark. Here are eighteen assignments--can you mark them tonight? If not, I won't graduate, won't go to university, won't get a job and it will be all your fault!" Maybe some of these kids shouldn't go to university. Seriously. Take a few years off. Drink without paying thousands in tuition.

So I took Sunday off from the marking and read Towelhead, about an American girl who moves in with her Lebanese-American dad and proceeds to discover Playboy, racism, masturbating, orgasms, rape, sex, the (first) war in Iraq and good and bad neighbours. Did I mention it's another example of victim lit? Yet another passive female narrator. Sigh. Lullabies for Little Criminals, the American version. I find it problematic that so many women and girls in literature and movies get raped. I don't think rape is entertaining. So why are these stories so compelling? Why does victim lit sell?

Course, before she gets raped, almost the first half of the book focuses on the main character's discovery of masturbation and orgasms. Holy crap that was a lot of masturbating. Then, wham, rape, and, you know, it made me feel a bit off. Yet I couldn't put the book down. I finished it in one day. It was a damned easy read. I know some people think this is a mark of good literature, but a metaphor or two would have been nice.

And that was the big problem--not the masturbating, not the rape, but the simple, childish voice. She's thirteen. She sounded like she was six. What thirteen-year-old growing up in the U.S. is this sheltered? Growing up in the U.S. off a Mormon farm, that is.

Ok, and the rape was bad too. A girl discovers her sexuality and she gets raped, i.e. female sexuality should be punished. I'm surprised she wasn't murdered, got pregnant and/or got hooked on heroin. But then again, not everyone can write Lullabies for Little Criminals.

Lullabies for Little Criminals Sucks

I don't get it. Lullabies has won or been nominated for a lot of awards. A lot. Here's the list:

 

  • Winner of Canada Reads 2007
  • Shortlisted for Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award 2007
  • Shortlisted for the Amazon.ca/ Books in Canada First Novel Award 2007
  • Shortlisted for Governor General's Award 2007
  • Winner of the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Best Novel 2007
  • Shortlisted for the Grand Prix du Livre de Montreal 2007
  • Longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2008
  • Shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2008

 

But you know what? It sucks. Sucks! I am so damned tired of reading novels and short stories that involve victimized, passive female protagonists. Ladies? We have the vote. We have birth control. We can leave our abusive partners/parents and don't have to get pregnant or turn tricks to do so. What happened to feminism? What happened to roaring? I fear we're just going to lose our right to choose with a meek shrug and whimper. Hillary Clinton loses out to Obama and everyone says great! Phew! We almost had a woman leading a country. That was fucking close. We can't let a vagina anywhere near the oval office, unless she's down on her knees, blowing the president where she belongs!

Ok, what's all that have to do with the novel? Simple. The more we embrace these meek-ass characters, the further backwards we go. Stop being afraid. There is more to life than shopping, crying, dollies and marriage. Women have won more Oscars for playing prostitutes or rape victims than any other characters. And yet there are three times as many women graduating from Canadian law schools than men.

Here's an excerpt: "As I walked in (to my bedroom), I saw a horrible sight on my floor. While I'd been out, Jules (my father) had knocked over all my things. He had torn up the homework I had left lying on the bed. I would never be able to finish my project on time now. But then I saw something even worse. There, lying on the floor, was my rag doll, its arms and legs ripped off. I dropped to my knees and picked her pieces up. I'd never get another one. Jules never thought to buy me pretty things like that. That doll had been like a miracle to me. It had reminded me that I'd been loved by my mother. Now I was nothing, a real nobody."

Ok, I counted the word "that" three times near the end. This is so simply and dumbly written, my sixteen-year-old students could write better than this. It's a YA novel with swearing, drugs and hookers. Poor, poor Baby (oh, yeah, that's her fucking name. Could she be even more of a victim?) Grow up! What I don't get is it's written in first person, when Baby's older, so why does it sound like it's still written by a twelve-year-old? Seriously. Try to read this shit out loud. You can't. The words get stuck in your mouth 'cause the word order is so awkward. "A real nobody." Wah! Why does this shit sell? So middle-aged housewives can feel bad reading about the street kid in their plush family rooms? I bet those same women would call the cops if Baby ever took a walk in their gated communities.