Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Story's Signature Space of Tethered Ferocity

Clark Blaise on the short story:

By turning away from the need to explain too much, to create, construct and establish, the story opens a space that is not available to the novel. It is the story's signature space of tethered ferocity, the eruption of gesture and repression, the accountant of the unconscious presenting his bill, the Joycean epiphany. It is the reason I call the short story an expansive form, and the novel, contrary to most opinion, contractive. The story says the most that can be said about a restricted moment in time and space. The novel says the least about a great many more.

From Clark Blaise, "The Craft of the Short Story" in Canadian Notes and Queries, issue 72.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Book You'll Never Write

Today, during a noon hour browse at my university bookstore, I bought a most intriguing book by George Steiner titled My Unwritten Books. Its arresting cover image prompted me to pick it up, and its premise, as revealed by a quick flip through, proved irresistible. The book is comprised of seven chapters, each of which describes a book that Steiner hoped to write but didn't. The reasons for not writing them are as diverse as the topics the unwritten books were to have addressed. The jacket copy catalogues some of those reasons as follows: "Because intimacies and indiscretions were too threatening. Because the topic brought too much pain. Because its emotional or intellectual challenges proved beyond his capacities."

I have no doubt that you'll hear more from me about this book as I read my way through it. But in the meantime, I invite you to think about the books you'll never write. There's been a meme circulating recently which calls on participants to list the identifying features of a book they would write ("10 signs a book has been written by me"). So how about something of a counter-meme? Tell me about the book you'll never write, the one you'd like to tackle but won't, and why not.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Robert Lecker on the Responsibilities of Criticism

Robert Lecker on the responsibilities of criticism:

I began to see that there were responsibilities attached to criticism. If you were going to be really honest, you would have to show how the reading process could throw you off track, take you away from what you were supposed to be focusing on, run you around and around until you saw all the routes you could take that you weren't taking, all the things you should know that you didn't. You could keep all those inadequacies and detours out of the reading, or you could take the risk that maybe a few other people might be interested in the problems posed by reading, and not just the reading itself. For it was the problems that made the process interesting and valid as an aesthetic pursuit.

From Robert Lecker, Dr. Delicious: Memoirs of a Life in CanLit (2006).

Profile of Fred Vargas

There's a profile of my new favourite crime novelist Fred Vargas in this weekend's Guardian. Click here to read it. I promise a post soon on why I'm so taken with her Commissaire Adamsberg novels.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Short Story Challenge List

I've begun my Short Story Challenge reading but haven't yet posted my list. This is because I keep changing my mind about which collections should be included on that list. I decided that the form my challenge would take would be to read ten collections by ten authors whose short stories I've never read before. But even with a generous allotment of ten books and the stricture that they must be by authors new to me, I've been having trouble narrowing it down. There are so many collections out there that I already wanted to read. And, of course, the great reviews that are accumulating now on the Short Story Challenge Blog are tempting me in a multitude of new directions. But then it occurred to me that I've pledged to read a minimum of ten not a maximum, so I need not feel constrained by the posting of my list. The following is my provisional list then, and please keep the recommendations coming!

Eileen Chang, Love in a Fallen City;

Amy Hempel, The Collected Stories;

Laura Hird, Hope and Other Urban Tales;

Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners;

Leonard Michaels, The Collected Stories;

Z.Z. Packer, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere;

Nathan Sellyn, Indigenous Beasts;

William Trevor, Cheating at Canasta;

Simon Van Booy, The Secret Lives of People in Love; and,

Tim Winton, The Turning.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Next Up at the Short Story Discussion Group

The votes are in, and the story selected to serve as the focus of the February short story discussion at A Curious Singularity is Alice Munro's "The View From Castle Rock". Click on the title to access the story online. Of course, you can also find it in Munro's most recent book which takes its title from the story.

As usual, the discussion will begin on the second Tuesday of the month: members of the group are invited to begin posting their thoughts on the story at the A Curious Singularity blog on February 12th. I'm looking forward to reading what everyone has to say about it.

If you're not yet a member of the group and you would like to join, please e-mail me. New members are always welcome! Of course, anyone can contribute to the discussion through the comments sections of the posts without officially joining the group.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Judy Blume's Forever

Judy Blume on her frequently-suppressed novel Forever:

I ask her whether she was aware when she wrote Forever - at once her most loved and most reviled book - of the effect it would have. She shakes her head. 'No, no, no. Who knows things like that? If you do, then you are not going to meet with success because it's going to be so contrived.' She says she wrote the book for her teenage daughter: 'She asked me for a story about two nice kids who have sex without either of them having to die,' recalls Blume. 'She had read several novels about teenagers in love. If they had sex, the girl was always punished - an unplanned pregnancy, a hasty trip to a relative in another state, a grisly abortion, sometimes even death. Lies. Secrets. Girls in these books had no sexual feelings and boys had no feelings other than sexual.'

For the rest of Melissa Whitworth’s interview with Blume, click here.

I’m not sure that I ever read Forever. But I do vividly recall being taunted with sexual terminology from it by one of the popular girls in my sixth grade class along the following lines:

Popular girl: Do you know what _____ means?

Me: Of course I know what _____ means.

Popular girl: Tell me what it means then.

Me: Um...

Because, of course, I had no idea what _____ meant.

However, I had read all of the Blume books that were available in the children’s department of the library (Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; Deenie; and, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t all stand out in my memory), and my experience with the sixth-grade bully didn’t sour me on those. It just made me determined to find out what _____ meant. All of which reminds me that I’ve been meaning to get a copy of Everything I Needed to Know about Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume, a collection of essays by noted female authors about Blume's enduring influence on their lives and work. Perhaps I should have a go at writing such an essay myself…

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Vote for the next Story Selection at A Curious Singularity

Three contemporary Canadian stories have been nominated to serve as the focus of the next discussion at A Curious Singularity (scheduled to begin on Tuesday, February 12th). The three nominees are:

Caroline Adderson's "Falling";

Alice Munro's "The View From Castle Rock"; and,

Leon Rooke's "The Yellow House".

Please let me know, in the comments section below this post or its duplicate at A Curious Singularity or via email, which of these stories you would prefer to discuss.

In the meantime, there are still ten days left to contribute your thoughts on Nikolai Gogol's "The Overcoat", the story currently under discussion there.

Canadian Reading Habits

The Globe and Mail reports today on “an ambitious, 102-page study of Canada's retail book sector conducted for Canadian Heritage” which “provides a panoramic survey of the industry.” I’ll have to read the study in its entirety to absorb its full implications, but in the meantime the Globe’s summary offers some food for thought. Clearly the report contains disturbing news about the state of bookselling in Canada. But it also provides encouraging statistics about Canadian reading and book buying habits including the following:

average time spent reading: 4.5 hours a week;
average number of books read each year: 17;
percentage of Canadians who buy at least one book a year: 81.

Those numbers seem to me to provide a nice rebuttal to ubiquitous claims about the death of reading.

For the Globe and Mail article, click here, and for the full report, The Book Retail Sector in Canada, click here.