Please vote!

Exciting news! The Pepsi Refresh Project is back with a whole new batch of fantastic projects to vote for!

Not sure if anyone has heard of the Pepsi Refresh Project, but it’s a really cool program. Individuals and organizations can apply for funding from Pepsi, but it’s the Canadian public that decides who is worthy of this funding by voting for their favourite proposed projects. People just have to create an account and they can vote 10 times per day for different projects.

I am particularly attached to a certain project because The Word On The Street is participating! It’s Toronto’s Book and Magazine festival, who I am partial to because I may or may not work there. But I’m really excited about this project we pitched for the Pepsi Refresh Project. See our applications here.

We want to bring our festival children’s authors to Toronto schools! These authors would give mini presentations, similar to what happens at our Children’s Activity Tent, to the students by reading from their books and engaging the students with fun, interactive activities. This is a literacy initiative of  The Word On The Street Toronto. We want to provide an opportunity for Toronto kids to engage with Canadian children’s authors. We hope that this will foster a love of reading in Toronto children at a young age and therefore they will grow into readers.

So please vote for us, because I really want to do this!

Still Life With June

I have written about Still Life with June by Darren Greer in a previous post. As you may already know, I love this book and Darren Greer is my male author crush. He even posted a comment about that post! Definitely made me day.

This is what you would call a ‘gem’ of a book. It is a delicious find but is easily lost amongst the Dan Brown’s of the world — sadly — even if it was the winner of the 2004 ReLit Award, shortlisted for the 2003 Pearson Canada Readers’ Choice Book Award and was named one of the Top 10 books of 2003 by NOW Magazine. I only happened upon it because I wanted to prepare for an internship. And I am so glad I choose this one amongst the many others.

The main character is Cameron Dodds, a struggling/washed up writer working at a Salvation Army Treatment Centre where he basically steals the lives of patients for writing material. He becomes obsessed with one particular patient, Darrel Green (a shout out to the author, perhaps?) who hanged himself earlier that year. He immerses himself into Darrel’s past, and eventually visits his sister June, who has Downs Syndrome, and embarks on the first meaningful relationship of his life; a relationship that finally forces him to stop running from reality.

My own summary does not do this book justice, and is possibly a little too melodramatic. The problem in describing this book is that it isn’t necessarily the plot that grabs you — although it does add to its greatness — it’s the character’s voice, the writing. I have never read a character like this before, and I have never been grabbed by a character so quickly. Cameron Dodds is addicting. The book is comprised of several short chapters, each presenting short snippets of Cameron’s life written in a journal entry style. I love short chapters, it makes the book read faster.

This is actually the part that truly sold me:

VII


Re: my cat. 


Shortly after I got her, I found myself wishing what everyone who owns a pet and isn’t entirely happy with the world wishes occasionally: that I could be her. Just for a day — to lie around my apartment and glory in my sloth, without having to wonder who I am or what my life is about. I wouldn’t have to worry about God. Dogs may see their owners as gods of sorts, but don’t fool yourself about cats. They see us as nothing more than elaborate feeding mechanisms and mobile heat radiators. 

I have often wanted to be my pet.

The publisher recently made a book trailer for Still Life with June, and it is one of the few book trailers I actually like. I think they captured Cameron and the feel of the book really well.

My love of this book led me to read his first published novel Tyler’s Cape (review still to come). It was completely opposite to Still Life with June, which was both a little disappointing and a huge relief. Even in a completely different writing style, Darren Greer still amazed me therefore cementing his title as my male author crush.

The Last Song

And the last book I will ever read by Nicholas Sparks.  The problem with working in a bookstore is that when a book, whatever book, is constantly placed on your cash counter and shoved in your face your curiosity can’t help but get the better of you.  Why is this book a bestseller? What is so great about this book that I am constantly forced to get up and get it for customers?

In this case, this book was The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks. The fact that it was becoming a movie definitely helped sales, the fact that it had Miley Cyrus on the cover (movie edition) still questionable as to whether that helped or hindered sales. Never having read a Nicholas Sparks book myself, I decided that it was time to embrace the dark side.

The book was set up for me to love. I have a thing for teen drama: I love teen movies and I love Family Channel. It’s a sad, but very real, guilty pleasure. And this book was all about the teen drama. The main character, Ronny, was a product of a divorce and very angry at her father as she believed he left her and their family. Because of this betrayal, she stopped playing piano, got in with the “wrong crowd,” became a problem child, and was shipped off with her brother to spend the summer with her father. Obviously she was not happy about this. She spent the first half of the summer miserable, missing her friends, trying to make new friends, getting in with the wrong crowd AGAIN, and fighting with her Dad. The second half of the book she spent getting away from her new friends, falling in love with a boy (who, of course, was so different than her), fixing her relationship with her father, and turning to Jesus (it was at this point that I knew Sparks was not the author for me). It was a fairly predictable read. If you have seen the movie ‘Life as a House’ you have read this book, and the movie is better (it has Hayden Christiansen in it, need I say more?).

I actually really enjoyed the first half of the book, the lead-up to the relationship with the ‘popular, so not her type’ guy is my kind of teen drama. But it became boring in the second half, her switch to the ‘good side’ was too drawn out. And it became annoying constantly watching her make the wrong choices, her life was miserable because she made it that way. It also became extremely religious, and there was this whole baby turtle thing. It was a little too much for me that the birth of baby turtles was a metaphor for Ronny’s ‘transformation’. Sadly, and I am slightly ashamed to admit this, I did cry at the end. Damn you Nicholas Sparks!

It was worth the read though just to experience the Nicholas Sparks effect that has everyone hooked, but now that I have tasted it, I have no desire to go back.

I may not have enjoyed the book, but I still want to see the movie. The teen drama has just too great a pull.

Uh oh

So I just realized at this exact moment that I have 16 more books to read in 3 months. I think I started this ’50 books quest’ in mid-Jan, so I have till mid-Jan to finish this quest. That is a lot of books to squeeze into a time frame that involves a lot of Christmas shopping and watching Fall t.v. Although my cable has decided to stop working for the last 10 minutes, so this may not be a problem after all. I had such high hopes for Rogers, but now 2 out of 3 of their products have stopped working. So unimpressed right now. Off topic.

I took a huge reading break for the month of September as my life was consumed by Canadian publishing in general instead of one individual book.  I work for a Canadian literary festival, and it ate up a lot of my time. In fact for an entire month my life consisted of working and sleeping (a little packing/unpacking here and there as well). It was hell, but then festival day came and it made it all worth it. Mainly because I met Yann Martel and spent the day watching him bounce his baby on his lap while his wife read on stage. So sweet! And then my two-year-old nephew decided it would be a good idea for him to run around Yann (Yes, we are on first name basis in my mind) while he was being interviewed by CBC. Funny, but not ok, especially since I had the name of my festival plastered all over me and I felt chasing my nephew around our headlining author may not have been the most professional idea of the day. He is a lovely man though.

Ok. This is my goal. September still feels like the start of a new year to me, even though I am no longer a student and do not start school in September anymore, and I have decided to make a Sept. new years resolution. I will blog once at least once a month, but will strive to finish all 50 reviews before Feb. Hefty goal, mainly because I am lazy and a procrastinator, even with my extra-curricular activities. It is amazing I ever finished school.

Cheers.

A Study in Scarlet

I’ll admit it.  The main reason I read this novel – the first in the Sherlock Holmes series by Arthur Conan Doyle – was because of the movie released last year starring the dashing Robert Downey Jr. Although it had always been in the back of my mind, the film edged it to the front of my “to read list.”  I know, I am almost as bad as the pre-teens who flock to the nearest bookstore just twice a year to pick up the latest Nicholas Sparks book turned sappy movie.  Slightly better though because it was Sherlock Holmes, and not a book with Miley Cyrus on the cover (although I have also read this book, don’t judge me.  More about that catastrophe later).

A Study in Scarlet was quite entertaining.  I’m always slightly weary when I read any classic because sometimes the language and style of the book are so different than what I’m used to, I have trouble getting into it.  I want to read them, because I feel, as a lover of literature you must read the classics to truly appreciate it, but to be honest I don’t want to.  There’s just too much wonderfully delicious contemporary literature calling my name that the classics lay forgotten on my shelves.  I own them, they just remain unread.  I try to crack into a couple each year, I have found success with Jane Austen’s novels, and now apparently, in Doyle’s.

I actually enjoyed his very proper use of language – and having a British accent in my head for a couple hours a day – and, of course, I grew found of his complex characters, and I enjoyed the organization of his mystery novel.  It was very different than any other mystery I’ve read.  It was split into two stories.  The first part explored how Holmes and Watson met, how they came to live with each other, and eventually spark a friendship and working relationship.  At the same time Holmes solves a murder case, but, as the reader, you don’t know how, you just know he does.  At first, this upset me because it seemed completely unbelievable that Holme’s knew who the murderer was based on very minor details and the murderer just happened to visit his home that day.  At least in the movie, it gave you a glimpse of how Holme’s brain works but in the book, he completely leaves you in the dark.

But than you begin the second part of the novel, which back tracks to the beginning of the case, from when the murder actually occurred to when Holmes was hired.  This is where you get a glimpse into the brilliant mind of Sherlock Holmes.  I liked how the two parts complimented each other.  Since I knew the outcome of the murder case I wasn’t distracted by it and this left me free to truly enjoy the mind of Sherlock Holmes: his intelligence, his wit, his unique way of thinking.  This is how it differs from typical mystery novels, it allowed for character development, which is probably why I enjoyed it.

I’ve already bought the second one in the series and I’m looking forward to reading it.  Plus they look so good together; Penguin came out with these awesome vintage covers and I really want the complete set!  Here are four of eight of them.

Also, it didn’t hurt that the entire time I read it images of Robert Downey Jr. (who played Holmes) and Jude Law (who played Watson) were racing through my mind.

P.S. Any suggestions of must-read classics?

Help Me, Jacques Cousteau

It was the title that drew me to this book.  Help Me, Jacques Cousteau is the first novel by Canadian author, Gil Adamson – she has now become an award-winning author with her second novel The Outlander. Not much happened in this book, but I still enjoyed reading it.  Adamson has a good voice, kind of similar to Miriam Toews in her topic matter and character choices, but not quite up to her excellence – Toews being my female author crush.

This novel didn’t really have a plot, it was simply snapshots of Hazel’s life (the main character) randomly put together not really in any order, from crossing an ocean to move from Vancouver to Australia, to watching Bambi in the theatre with her father snoring beside her.  It read like linked short stories.  It was described as being a book about a family of “modern-day eccentrics” on the back, which is one of my favourite book topics (I love eccentric and quirky characters), but by the end they seemed like any normal family, the difference was that they weren’t afraid to keep their crazy relatives and eccentricities out in the open.  The main link between all of the snapshots is her relationship with her mother, and her mother in general.  Hazel lives through her parents divorce and her mothers eventual abandonment, and she seems to dwell on the events that led to this. Adamson does capture this family well, making it very believable – it’s easy to imagine this family as any family living on your street.

But while it was an enjoyable read, it wasn’t really memorable.  I did, however, still pick up her more famous novel The Outlander during my book buying binge where I spent over $130 on books in three days – I have a serious problem but its partly because I am abusing my discount at the bookstore while I still have it, I recently just quit because of other job opportunities, yay!  – because I enjoyed her writing style.  I easily become attached to authors if I enjoy their voice no matter their subject matter.  So maybe that book will be more memorable.

Alternative Canlit

It’s sad that people only define Canadian literature by a few names:  Margaret Atwood, the Queen bee; maybe Alice Munro, the queen bee of short stories; and, if we are really lucky, possibly Douglas Coupland.  Either that or people only see it as the Canadian books they were scarred with in high school, a.k.a. Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf and Timothy Findley’s The Wars – really? Those were the best books our schools could come up with?

From the beginning, Canadians are taught that the great masters of literature are American, British or Russian; in school, we read the classics: Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and a couple Canadian novels are thrown in their for the necessary “Canadian content.”  But, at least when I was in school, these Canadian novels bordered on torturous – I just don’t care if some guy chooses to live in the Arctic among wolves, I can’t relate to that when I live in Toronto, a place where you do not have to pee around your property to declare it yours – and the Canadian novels were few and far between, leaving many to believe that Canlit “sucks” as a current high school student and a colleague of mine from the bookstore said.  She is badly misinformed, through no fault of her own but of our school system.

We have been infiltrated by American publishers who have the financial means to do so because they are a much older and more established industry than Canada’s own stuggling publishing industry.  Both America and Britain, being far older countries, had the means to cultivate their cultural industries by closing their borders to other countries, in order to give their cultural industries a chance to thrive with no competition from the outside world, and as a result they built a thriving cultural empire thick with tradition and reputable artists.  Canada – being less than 200 years old, a former British colony and a product of its love/hate relationship with the states – has never had that chance.  Whenever we have, or had, the audacity to mention “closing the border,” it is thrown back into our faces as a form of violating freedom of choice, violating the very premise of capitalism, and being a very nationalistic idea.  So many Canadian books/writers, however fantastic, die a quiet little death because they can’t afford to compete, unless they are Margaret Atwood or, more recently, Yann Martel.  But they are out there still, they just only reach a small audience, a.k.a. me.

As I delve deeper into the Canadian publishing industry I’ve discovered an entire underground Canadian literary scene – it doesn’t mean to be underground, it’s just hardly given the chance to come up for air – and it is a wonderful world; A world that actually takes Canadian events, Canadian voices, historical moments/figures and turns them into fictional marvels.  So I present an alternative to the traditional Canlit – my tiny rebellion against our school boards – novels that can relate to a younger generation and hopefully inspire them to respect and admire their own literature:

Zoe Whittall doesn’t write of a future distopian world, but of this world.  In Bottle Rocket Hearts she explores the separatist act and its impact.  In Holding Still for as Long as Possible, she talks about the twenty-somethings of today, who grew up in a world with a war on terror, SARS, anti-anxiety meds, text messaging and social networking which blurs public and private lives.  I find she is a voice for my generation, for people who may not be able to relate to Atwood as easily anymore.  She emulates the strength Atwood brings to her novel but in a more relatable way.  You can see yourself in Whittall’s novels, where you fit in or where you were when these events happened.  I really enjoy that element of the novel; she’s a voice for a younger generation of Canadians.

Douglas Coupland to Darren Greer.  Greer doesn’t quite have the pop cultural appeal that Coupland has but still brings that unique voice.  Still Life with June has one of my favourite characters to read, ever.  He was hilarious, I laughed out loud, but he dealt with heavy issues, including drug abuse, suicide and mental health.  He was able to examine and tackle difficult and serious topics with humour, similar to Coupland and some of his novels.

There are alternative Canadian short story writers to Alice Munro.  I recently picked this book up and am so excited to read it because it sounds hilarious.  Edited by Zsuzsi Gartner, she compiled twenty-three stories by different Canadian writers – including Jessica Grant, Douglas Coupland, Pasha Malla and Yann Martel – that delve into the future and parallel universes answering questions such as, “What if someone decoded the DNA of Jesus Christ? What if Prince were the last man on Earth? … What if private golf clubs were the new nation-states? And what if your BlackBerry could be programmed to predict the future?”  How could I resist?

People tend to only see Canlit as serious and very literary, which it is, but it is also ironic, filled with dark humour and poignant stories.  I’m not saying that I’m not a fan of Atwood, Coupland and Munro, because I am, I just think its sad that they were my only source of Canlit while growing up.  I didn’t really know of other Canadian authors until I reached university and I started looking, and until now when I started working in the industry.  It took me about twenty years!  I grew up listening to and reading other people’s cultures.  It’s just upsetting and disappointing that there are so many Canadian writers whose careers fizzle and die because Dan Brown, Nora Roberts, Charles Dickens filled our bookstores, our schools and our consumer’s shelves first.  I just hope that one day it will take people less time to truly appreciate their country’s voices.