Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reading is sexy XXVII

(Image: Young Girl Reading by a Window by Delphin Enjolras) 34. Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt. Little Black Book indeed. A.S. Byatt writes fairytales for adults wherein sometimes the monster wins, and it may not be the one expected. The Thing in the Forest is a war-time story within a contemporary frame which revisits the British-style dragon, the worm, which appeared in The Djinn in the Nightengale's Eye. It is about alienation and guilt. Body Art is an amazingly visual story, combining some of my favorite things (art, art history, history of science and cabinets of curiosity) with rounded characters and ethical dilemma. The Stone Woman is a wonderful story of geology and the modern-day, accidental, Nordic troll. Raw Material is a very dark story about writer's block - the violence is just beneath the surface. I am certain that no author before or since has ever made the Teletubbies quite so creepy, or combined them with Greek mythology, as in The Pink Ribbon. These stories appeal to our primordial pleasure in being scared just enough. Byatt has a lot of control and the confidence and insight to take the reader to the edge. Read this book.

35. The Man Game by Lee Henderson. The violence below the surface in the Black Book is let loose in the astonishing Man Game. This book won the BC Book Prize. Despite a contemporary narrator, it is mostly set in 1886 - 1887 in Vancouver, but this is no reverential historical fiction. It is more like Fight Club meets the wild west, but it is a true novel of the Canadian west, with more lumberjacks, Chinese immigrants, drug abuse, labour unrest and fewer cowboys. Beautiful newly-wed Molly Erwagen arrives in town with her recently paralyzed husband Samuel and native ward Toronto (honestly), just in time to witness a great fire which destroys most of the city. Two lumberjacks Litz and Pisk are blamed for the fire. It doesn't take Molly long to invent a profit-making diversion in the male-dominated Vancouver, combining dance, acrobatics, vaudeville and martial arts - the Man Game is a game of skill, fought in the nude (to avoid dirty tricks), illustrated in the book by a series of line drawing for the various moves. The cast of characters includes entrepreneurial opium-adicts, bookies, Chinese bakers, lumberjacks, the po-lice, snakeheads from San Francisco, a Mexican barman with a portable bar, a Bermudan barman, a cowboy "shit-disturber" (pro-labour xenophobe), the madam and the Whore Without a Face. The language is rough and tumble and full of Chinook, a dialect which allowed the major ethnic groups (miscellaneous Europeans, Chinese, Chinookan, Nootka, Salish, Haida, Siwash, Snauq, Sto:lo, Tlingit and other Native peoples) to communicate. A women is a mink or ee-na, and it takes little imagination to follow a discussion about her totooshes. Money is chickamin or blankets. The louts are bohunks, and they don't reckon, they kumtuks. I've spent enough time in BC to know what skookum means. Henderson obviously harbours a great love for Vancouver, but he keeps his eyes wide open. An overhead snipet of dialogue in the modern-day Vancouver man game left me howling with laughter ("So I teach yoga to get laid, but like, I also want to stay in shape"). He isn't scared to skewer sacred cows. Characters say "oot" and "aboot" throughout. The novel is a story of love, hatred, violence, art, men, women, cultural identity, family, labour and race relations. It is action packed. The societal issues facing 1887 Vancouver society may appear to have changed but at the core many of the issues simply appear in new guises. It calls out for a film adaptation (with built-in-product placement, what with all the Hudson's Bay blankets), except our society is afraid of male nudity. But, I love seeing this story set in Canada. I cannot believe it is Henderson's first novel. I've never read anything quite like it. I really think you'd enjoy it too, unless perhaps if you are from New Westminster.

36. Cake or Death by Heather Mallick. The problem with Heather Mallick is, in her own words, that she is "an appalling combination of socialist and snob". She shops at Holt Renfrew and wears pearls and has what I deem a perhaps overblown preoccupation with hygiene and cleanliness. However, she is often delightfully eccentric and self-deprecating. She cites Eddie Izzard for her title. She can be counted on to stand up for her convictions, and for that I admire her. She thanks Dr. Henry Morgentaler in the Acknowledgements. She calls out hypocracy when she sees it, isn't afraid of a fight and has a healthy, sarcastic and sometimes dark, ascerbic sense of humour. I recognize her descriptions of a stoic upbringing. I used to enjoy her column in the Globe and Mail before I gave up on seeing any decent newspaper published in this country. Mallick is never dull, but I wish this book were wittier. I think she is capable of it.

The essay about "why Doris Lessing will never win a Nobel" was redundant before this book even had a chance to come out in soft cover.
{Series so far: books read, more books read, books read, books read continues, more books read, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII,XIX, XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII}

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