Monday, April 28, 2008

Fusing a Visceral Impulse with a Cerebral One

David Lehman on the broad appeal of crime fiction:

From the start the detective story offered a formula or a form that was elastic enough to allow for infinite repetition and variation. The plot centered on life-and-death matters that were stark enough to please a mass readership. On the other hand, the hero was distinguished by properties of mind that ensured the interest of an intellectual class. To this day, no other category of popular fiction so cleverly fuses a visceral impulse with a cerebral one—the physical action of the crime, the mental action of the detection—or so easily accommodates the best efforts of the Oxford don and the former steelworker, the prolific spinster and the pseudonymous journalist, the hard-edged experimentalist and the hard-line feminist, the Anglophile and the Anglophobe...

From David Lehman, The Perfect Murder: A Study in Detection (2nd edition, 2000).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Anne of Green Gables at 100

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Lucy Maud Montgomery's classic novel Anne of Green Gables and the occasion is being commemorated in a myriad of ways in a multitude of places.

Several books related to Lucy Maud Montgomery and to Anne have been or will be published this year to coordinate with the centennial. The one which has garnered the most attention so far is the prequel, Before Green Gables, authorized by Montgomery's family and written by Budge Wilson. (I have so far resisted reading this one out of loyalty to the original Anne but, having recently ventured into the realm of LMM research, I've been persuaded that I ought to give it a go out of scholarly interest, so you may hear something from me about it soon.) But there are many more. For example, there's a lovely re-issue of the novel that reproduces the cover of the 1908 edition. And there are a number of books that will be of great interest to scholars as well as general readers including the marvellous Looking for Anne: How Lucy Maud Montgomery Dreamed Up a Literary Classic by Irene Gammel (I promise to post a review of this one soon), and the one I'm most excited about, due out in October, Mary Rubio's biography of LMM, Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings (it's the first biography to draw upon LMM's voluminous journals and I've been eagerly anticipating it since cracking open the first volume of those journals back in 1985).

And there are events galore: book launches, exhibits, scholarly conferences, and celebrations of varying degrees of formality. Just a small sample includes conferences due to be hosted by the University of Prince Edward Island ("L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables & the Idea of Classic") and the University of Guelph ("From Canada to the World: The Cultural Influence of Lucy Maud Montgomery"), an exhibit ("Anne of Green Gables: A Literary Icon at 100") organized by Irene Gammel which has just opened at the Spadina Museum in Toronto, and celebrations in Leaskdale and Uxbridge (two Ontario towns where LMM once made her home), St. Paul, Minnesota, and, of course, all across Prince Edward Island.

Reflecting on all of the foregoing, it seems to me that Anne's centennial ought to be duly commemorated in the blogosphere as well by doing what we do best: reading (or rereading) the book and sharing our reflections on it with one another. So how about a group read of Anne of Green Gables? The novel's original publication date was June 1908, so I'm proposing that our group read commence on June 1st. That would give all those interested in participating a bit of lead time to acquire a copy of the book and to read it. In anticipation, I've set up a dedicated blog to serve as a home for our discussion where we can post our thoughts on the novel and all things related to Anne and her centennial. Let me know, via email or the comments section below, if you're interested in participating. It would be wonderful to have a range of participants, some encountering the book for the first time, and others revisiting a childhood favourite, thereby giving us a broad scope to explore its enduring appeal.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Jhumpa Lahiri on the Short Story

Jhumpa Lahiri on the short story:

In the wider world, there is a terrible hierarchy that people have between stories and novels. There is a sense that bigger is better and smaller is a diminutive, lesser thing. It's maddening to me because I don't understand it. I just think that if one is a serious reader of fiction, that argument doesn't really hold very much water because some of the most remarkable works of fiction are short.

To read the rest of Vit Wagner's interview with Jhumpa Lahiri in today's Toronto Star, click here.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Next Up at the Short Story Discussion Group

The story selected to serve as the focus of the next discussion at A Curious Singularity is Roald Dahl's "The Way Up to Heaven", a story that was first published in 1954 in the New Yorker. Though I'm familiar with Dahl's books for children, this will be my first exposure to his writing for adults and I'm looking forward to it.

The discussion will begin on Tuesday, April 15th; participants are invited to begin posting their thoughts on the story at the A Curious Singularity blog then. Click on the title of the story above to access it online.

If you're not yet a member of the short story discussion 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, April 06, 2008

Commemorating Virago Modern Classics

There’s a marvellous essay by Rachel Cooke commemorating the 30th anniversary of Virago Modern Classics in this weekend's Observer. I know that many of you experience the same excitement I do upon catching sight of one of those green spines on the shelves of a used bookstore, and that you will read Cooke's article with the same sense of kinship that I did. You'll find it here.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Lewis Thomas on the Semicolon

Lewis Thomas on the semicolon:

I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added; it reminds you sometimes of the Greek usage. It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn't get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.

From Lewis Thomas, "Notes on Punctuation" in The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1979).

Friday, April 04, 2008

Dawn Powell to Charlotte Johnson

Dawn Powell to Charlotte Johnson in a letter dated December 6, 1918:

Do you know I've lived about twenty years since Sept. 2—the date of my arrival in New York? Everything whirls around you all the time and you grab what you want and then let it resolve again. It makes me dizzy to think of all the warm friendships and Passionate Affairs I've been through in three months. The funny part of it all is that you have to come to New York to appreciate the virtues of a small town just as you have to go to college to learn how easily you can do without a B.A. And all the men say "I love you" and look at you with long wistful "I-surely-am-hit-now" gaze and you kiss them and say this is the first time I've ever cared like this and then you never see each other again. And on the subway in the mornings you suddenly find yourself talking to a man or girl who is a genuine soul-mate. They get out at Times Square and you see them looking back at you through the windows and both of you know you'll never meet again. Somehow there's nothing tragic in it, though. You recognize and love it all as Life—the World—Humanity—whatever it is.

From Tim Page, ed., Selected Letters of Dawn Powell 1913-1965 (1999).

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Les Misérables: Take Three

Three times I have resolved to read Victor Hugo's Les Misérables.

The first was when I visited Hugo's tomb in Paris at the age of seventeen. It seemed a properly writerly thing to do to visit his tomb, but I did recognize that it would have been a more meaningful pilgrimage if I had actually read the man's work.

The second was a few years later when I stumbled upon a black and white film adaptation on late night television that thoroughly piqued my interest in the character of Jean Valjean. (I think it was this version, but I'd have to watch it again to be sure.)

The third was earlier this year when Danielle proposed reading it en masse.

Alas I did not follow through on occasions one or two. I don't think I even got as as far along as checking the book out of the library. But I feel sure that the third time will be the charm with me and Les Misérables, particularly now that Danielle's suggestion has crystalized into a formal group read with its own blog home, Into the Parisian Underworld, set up by Ashleigh. I'm confident that the enthusiasm of my fellow bloggers for the enterprise will buoy me up if my own flags.

I concede that the early passages about the bishop aren't exactly gripping. (Is it sacrilege to say that I understand why the movie didn't begin with him?) But the odd line has made me laugh out loud and I'm sure things will liven up when Jean Valjean enters the narrative.

So look for more posts on Les Misérables as I progress through it. And please join us at Into the Parisian Underworld if you fancy reading along. I anticipate much interesting discussion of the book among the group read participants.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Modest Poetry Challenge

April is National Poetry Month in Canada and the U.S. and in honour of the occasion I’m proposing a modest poetry challenge. I don’t need a challenge to get me reading poetry. I read lots of it on a regular basis. But I don’t post about it very often. I feel confident of my capacity to distinguish between good, bad, and mediocre poems and to allot my reading time and book buying dollars accordingly. But I find myself at a bit of a loss when it comes to articulating precisely how and why I arrive at these judgments. I feel as if I don’t have an adequate critical vocabulary or a broad enough frame of reference when it comes to writing about poetry.

On the one hand, knowing my own limits and showing a bit of humility doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. But on the other, I recognize that poetry gets precious little review ink, and it seems almost irresponsible not to do my bit to spread the word about poetry that I think is worth reading. On the latter ground, I’ve decided it’s time to shelve my writing about poetry inferiority complex (no doubt related to my writing poetry inferiority complex) once and for all.

I know that some of you are avid readers of and articulate writers about poetry; indeed, some of you are accomplished poets. But in the grand scheme, while I see quite a lot of posting of poems on blogs, I don’t see a lot of posting about poetry, at least not in comparison to the plethora of posts that regularly appear about fiction and non-fiction titles. This leads me to believe that some of you may share my hesitancy to write about poetry and welcome a challenge aimed at moving beyond it. So, on to the challenge.

The challenge is simply to post about poetry at least once in the month of April. The post could be a review of a collection of poetry, a broader meditation on the work of a favourite poet, or a detailed analysis of a single poem. Simply posting a poem doesn't count unless you go on to say something about that poem. The idea is to dare to be critical (as in analytical, not necessarily negative) and venture an opinion.

No one need commit to this challenge in advance. Just let me know, via e-mail or the comments section below this post, when you make a poetry post and provide me with a link, and I’ll do a grand roundup at the end of the month. There will, of course, be prizes! Everyone who makes a poetry post will be eligible for an end-of-month book draw. If you make multiple poetry posts, your name will go into the draw drum multiple times thereby increasing your chances. I haven’t yet settled on precisely what the prizes will be, but I have in mind a number of fine contemporary Canadian poetry collections that would make a welcome addition to any library. So, go forth and read poetry and then share your impressions of what you've read with the rest of us!