Tag Archives: literature

Ruby is Painfully Beautiful and Worth Every Minute



Cynthia Bond has written about how terrible human beings are in the most beautiful way possible.  I never really needed to use the term “lush prose” until I read this book.  The words are fat, and gorgeous, and paint a picture that you wish was not quite so vivid because Ruby is full of horror and misery, and a tiny bit of loveliness.

The story of Ruby is the story of a young black woman who tried to outrun her past, and found that it wouldn’t stay in the past.  Mostly set around the time of the Washington Riots, a letter from a beloved friend reached Ruby, and she made the choice to return home to her small town.  Once home, she found small minds, judgement, and secrets waiting to tear her down, and Ruby’s descent into mental illness is met with smugness and derision, not compassion.  Many of the characters are just horrible, but Bond doesn’t let you have the satisfaction of completely despising them, because almost all of them have some horrible happening in their own past that twisted them – and it almost makes it worse, because they could maybe have been good people.  Maybe.

Some of the characters are truly evil.  I’m talking gag inducing, have to put the book down for a while evil.  This book has child abuse, sexual abuse, and rape in it, and you should be prepared for that.

If you can manage it, read it.  It is heart searing, dreadful, flashback prompting – beautiful.  And there is a little hope for humanity in there, I promise.

Don’t be surprised if this starts showing up as required reading for English Literature classes.  Wow.  One of the most powerful books I’ve read in a long time.





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Banned Book Week: The Testament of Mary

In honour of banned book week, a different perspective.  A guest post from a fabulous woman, a colleague and friend.

I needed to take a break from a particularly heavy book I was reading, so in a smug Richard Dawkinsian moment I decided on The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin.

I had heard little about this book, only that the Mary in these pages didn’t believe that her son was the son of god in what seemed like a retelling of the bible in the style of Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ.  I quickly realized that this was more broadly the story of any woman’s attempt to save her son and live with the consequences and that is why I ultimately liked this book.

Rather than the serene Mary that we are familiar with, we are presented with a woman who recognizes the futility of her son’s situation, flees for her own life and lives out her days in a bitter, paranoid seclusion. In one memorable scene she pulls a knife on a man for sitting in her dead son’s chair.
My favourite parts of the book are the scenes where her son’s followers visit her in her old age; they are writing a book about the events surrounding her son’s life and are encouraging her to report her experiences as would be consistent with their doctrine. Using a quick-witted humour and stubbornness, she refuses to play ball, instead focusing on details they don’t care about or points of view they don’t want to hear (“He gathered around him, I said, a group of misfits, who were only children like himself, or men without fathers, or men who could not look a woman in the eye. Men who were seen smiling to themselves, or who had grown old when they were still young. Not one of you was normal.”).

I recommend that you read this book whether you are secular, an open-minded Christian or just interested in reading about the life of an interesting woman living in interesting times. It’s a quick read, and you can impress your parents by reading a Man Booker prize nominee.


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Banned : Scary Stories is Scary!

Anyone else remember this book?  I loved Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as a kid.  I used to go into the garage, close the door, and read the stories to friends by flashlight.   The book gave you directions on how to read the stories for maximum scare factor, and some of them had a built in scare at the end, where you would do something or yell something to make your friends jump.  This, to us, was the height of entertainment.

The stories are gathered from older folklore and modern urban legends, the kind of classic chilling tales that end up being told over and over through generations.

Oddly, this is one of the most frequently challenged books, going back years.  The reasons listed vary, but are mostly that the book series mention the occult, satanism,  and violence.   Basically, the objection seems to be that the scary stories are… scary.

Now, I wouldn’t read these to a kindergarten class.  But these stories are aimed at eleven or twelve year olds, and that’s where they’re shelved in the book store.   Teachers are reading them to kids of that age.  Parents can feel free to make choices based on their knowledge of their own children, and whether they would find the book thrilling or nightmare-inducing.

The thing with banning a book is that no one gets to read it, not just the kids who maybe aren’t ready for it.   The kind of book that gets kids to decide on a sunny afternoon that they all want to listen to stories is a book you want kids to have access to.

This is a fantastic book to read aloud around Halloween, or on a night when the power goes out.

Happy (scary) reading!



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Sylvia Plath Paper Doll

Thanks to Lisa Perrin for the image, and Dawna Rae for the link.

I’m pretty sure I’m a bad person for thinking this is funny.  But it is.


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Guy Gavriel Kay Just Got A Little More Awesome

As longtime readers of mine know… I can say longtime readers! I’ve been doing this for more than a year!  <cough> Sorry.  As I was saying, I love Guy Gavriel Kay.  He is my favorite author, and that’s saying something when you’ve read literally thousands of books.

I have been waiting anxiously for his newest novel, River of Stars to be released (It’s coming in April, the second, to be precise, not that I’m jumping up and down with excitement or anything).    From what I’ve read, it looks similar to Under Heaven, which was amazing.  So what, you may ask, can possibly make him better?

He auctioned off three ARCs of this book for charity, to raise money to help pay the medical bills of people in the sf/fantasy community who are struggling, starting with legendary bookseller Duane Wilkins from the University of Washington bookstore.  He is the first beneficiary of a charity has been started for the community at Grim Oak Press.

But wait, there’s more.

He also is offering the first book off the press up for auction (it’s already started, hurry), proceeds going to the Love of Reading foundation.  You guys may remember me passing the hat for these guys last fall; they raise money for the literacy programs of high-needs schools across Canada.  With your help last year, we raised around $7,000 for one of the schools.  Sadly, I do not have the money to participate in this kind of auction, because if I did I wouldn’t even be telling you about this.

Here is the official <insert trumpet heraldry> announcement by Penguin:

A chance at auction to win the FIRST copy of Guy Gavriel Kay’s RIVER OF STARS

To celebrate the worldwide launch of international bestseller Guy Gavriel Kay’s much anticipated new novel River of Stars, Penguin Canada is auctioning the first book of the first print run, autographed by the author. Signed and verified by the printer and the publisher, this first copy includes a product identification slip and letter from the printing press identifying the book as the first copy printed of the first edition.

All proceeds from the auction will be donated to Indigo Books & Music, Inc.’s Love of Reading Fund. The fund directly supports high-needs elementary school literacy programs across Canada.

Inspired by the glittering and decadent Song Dynasty, River of Stars immerses us into an epic tale of prideful emperors, battling courtiers, nomadic invasions and of a woman fighting to find her place in the world. Guy Gavriel Kay, once again, astonishes with his skilled balance of fantasy, historical fiction, romance, and literary style and craft that results in an unforgettable journey destined to be one of his greatest achievements to date.

River of Stars will go on-sale in Canada and the United States on April 2, 2013.

The bidding is open until March 10th, and here is the official bidding link: River of Stars Auction

If, you know, you wanted to buy it for me as a present, I’d be okay with that.

Happy reading!





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The Hunger Games: What’s all the fuss about?

Pretty much anyone not living under a rock, and probably some who are, have heard the phrase “The Hunger Games”  lately.   With the movie about to release, and the merchandise going crazy (check out the display at Chapters if you doubt me), it can be a little tough to tell whether the trilogy is really worth reading, or whether it’s just Hollywood sparkle.   As someone who has actually read The Hunger Games, and, in fact, read it when it originally came out, I think I can give you a review minus the hype.

The Hunger Games was published as a teen book, but I think that it’s a good enough story that adults can enjoy it too.  This is a classic adventure novel, full of action.  There are moral quandaries, questions of ethics, but they are fuel for the drama.  The setting is a classic dystopia, a post-apocalyptic world where all wealth is centred in The Capitol, and everyone else lives in one of twelve districts, where all food and resources for The Capitol come from.  The people in the districts are little more than slaves, and their lives are short and bleak.  The one event that can change that: The Hunger Games.  Teams of two, one male and one female, chosen from each district, compete to the death in an arena full of genetically altered animals and horrific booby traps.  At the end of the games, only one person will stand.    The whole thing is televised, and winning partly depends on capturing the attention of the audience, since audience participation is encouraged, and audience members can send food and medical supplies to favored competitors.

The story follows one of the competitors from district twelve, a girl named Katniss Everdeen, and how her life is changed dramatically when she volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the games.  The victor’s district will receive additional food supplies.  Imagine suddenly being the symbol of everyone’s hopes – especially as a teenager.

I’m not going to get into the description of the other two novels, since that will essentially act as a spoiler for the first one.

I do recommend these books.  The storyline is interesting, and offers some great visuals.  Once the story hooks you, it becomes one of those books that you drag everywhere with you, and don’t go to bed, because you  need to know what’s going to happen!  The other two books are excellent as well.   There are many debates about how the trilogy is ended, not everyone likes it, but that’s not unusual.  No one ever really wants a series they enjoyed to end, and in a story like this one, there are probably a lot of different ways people would have liked to see the story end.

Trust me, buy the trilogy, because odds are you’re not going to stop at one.   And from the number of adults snapping up mockingjay pins, I’m definitely not alone in enjoying the series.  It’s a fun read, is really what it comes down to.  Don’t read it for great literature, or thought provoking philosophy.  Read it for the book equivalent of an Indiana Jones movie, or Star Wars.  It’s a great adventure story, and well worth the purchase.  It is available on e-book, too, which is nice.


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Romance…Why the Shame?

I’ve noticed a weird phenomenon with women buying romance novels.  There are a lot of excuses. “I started reading them in high school, and I can’t stop.”  “They’re for my mom, really.”  “I don’t usually buy this sort of thing…”  “I just need a little break from Tolstoy.”  “I know they’re not exactly literature.”

It sounds more like teenage boys buying an issue of Playboy.  The wording of the excuses, obviously, differs (at least I hope it does), but the tone doesn’t.  In fact, people buying erotica aren’t as shamefaced as some of these ladies.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading romance.  Some of the authors are very talented as writers, if in no other way than the ability to deliver what the reader wants, time after time.  If it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, like indulging in Godiva truffles, that’s fine, but why act like they’ve been caught drinking vodka straight from the bottle?

To me, one of the reasons reading is wonderful is that it can create so many different experiences.  Not every book you read has to be “literature”, and you don’t have to like all the literature either.  I, for one, despise Joyce’s Ulysses .   Also, if you want a light read, a story with a happy ending, what basically amounts to an adult fairy tale, that’s romance.  They can be formulaic, sure – but most fairy tales, both romance and adventure, are.

The original definition of romantic meant knights, adventure, true love, duels, etc.  The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers are romance.  The Princess Bride is romance. Robin Hood, Canterbury Tales, stories of Arthur and Camelot, all classic romance.  Somehow, though, even though modern romance novels contain many of the same elements of heroes, villains, derring-do, true love, reconciliation, and happy ending, they are sneered at as being “fluff”.

Well, I like fluff.  I sometimes like a story where I know it’s going to work out ok.  Sometimes there is enough tragedy and politics and brutality in real life, and it’s nice to, for a while, live in a world where you know the hero or heroine will always save the day, the couple will always kiss and make up, and the bad guy will get what’s coming to him/her.   And the lovemaking never fails to be spectacular.  Every time.  Hey, it’s fantasy, right?

Romance and adventure novels (and many combine both elements) are, for me, the book equivalent of comfort food.  In fact, if I can read them while eating comfort food, that’s even better.   Ladies (and gentlemen, of whom I see even fewer buying romance), there is no shame in buying romance.

Reading Harlequin is not a crime.    It’s ok to have a bodice ripper next to Kafka.  Keep in mind that Shakespeare was the Michael Crichton of his time.   Or perhaps Steven Spielberg.

Bring your romance novels to the counter proudly, knowing that you’re going to have way more fun than the people in line who are only reading a book to impress their friends and colleagues.

Later, we can sit around, eating chips (from the bag), and drinking beer (from the bottle), and having a fabulous time.   Maybe we can convince those other guys to join us.



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The Lorax


With The Lorax movie coming out, I thought about the original book, which I read as a child, and shared with my children.  I didn’t realize it had such a controversial history.

For those of you unfamiliar with the book, it is the story of a young boy who lives in a polluted, ugly world. He asks a character (who is never seen, except for his arms) called the “Once-ler”, what happened to make his world the way it is.  The Once-ler tells the story of how the world was once beautiful, with lush forests and plentiful fauna.  The Once-ler, however, had an invention he was convinced was a necessity for everyone to own.  And this invention could only be made from the truffula tree.  So he began cutting down truffulas, to make his invention.  A creature called the “Lorax” (which looks kind of like an orange walrus) tried to warn Once-ler of dire consequences to the world, if he continued cutting down so many truffula trees.  The Once-ler ignored the Lorax, and continued chopping down the truffula trees, until there were no more left.  The animals left, the land was out of balance, and the Once-ler went bankrupt.  At the end of the story, the Once-ler gives the boy the very last truffula seed, and instructs him to nurture it.  The implication is that there is a chance to restore the world to its former beauty.

This is not exactly a subtle allegory, a story of the danger of destroying nature until the world is ruined.   A story to teach children about the environment.  There are many stories like this, but I’m not sure how many created as much controversy, perhaps because, for one reason or another, Dr. Seuss books tend to stay with you, and perhaps this one would leave a legacy.

In California, in 1989, some parents requested that the book not be part of the second grade curriculum, as it was unfairly critical of the logging industry.  One of the parents was employed by logging-equipment company.

There was a book published by Terri Birkett, whose family owned a hardwood-floor manufacturing compnay, called “The Truax”, which offered a more logging-friendly storyline (see the book at http://www.myteacherpages.com/webpages/NDow/files/TRUAX1.pdf ).  The book was published by NOFMA,  the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers’ Association.

A critique written in the journal Nature, written on the occasion of the book’s 40th anniversary, criticized the character of the Lorax as being a “parody of a misanthropic ecologist”. She called the book “gloomy”, and perhaps unsuitable for young children.  She did praise the book, however, for its understanding of “the limits of gloom and doom” environmentalism.

Apparently the story was also amended to remove a reference to Lake Erie, after the lake was cleaned up.

It speaks to Dr. Seuss’ influence, how threatened some very big companies were, by a short tale for children.

Me, I thought it was a good story to teach children about the consequences of our actions, the perils of ignoring other points of view, and the importance of not taking our world for granted.



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