Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"...the short story and the novel have completely different DNA"

Gil Adamson on the short story and the novel:

Keep in mind that the short story and the novel have completely different DNA. The reader's experience of the two forms might be similar. But at the nuts-and-bolts level, they share almost nothing. This, in my opinion, will explain why Alice Munro has never made the "obvious" jump to novels. The two forms are not as similar as they seem. To steal a joke from Mitch Hedberg (who was asked to write sitcoms just because he was a funny guy) it's like someone saying: "Oh, you're a chef? Well, can you farm?"

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Austere Pleasures of Nordic Crime Fiction

Laura Miller on Nordic Crime Fiction:

Despite the existential malaise that frequently afflicts the characters of Nordic noir, the stern, bare-bones simplicity of its problem-solving methods is one of the form's austere pleasures. Like the arctic cold, the rigor is bracing. It transports us to a world where charm and glamor barely exist and count for little when they do, a world refreshingly free of flimflam, hype or irrational exuberance. What matters is putting one foot in front of the other and not stopping. There's something reassuring about this faith in sheer perseverance when your surroundings are in a state of bewildering flux. It's the kind of calm you get from the simple act of sitting down to make a to-do list in the wake of an incalculable loss.

For the rest of the article, in which Miller traces the form back through current stars such as Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell, to pioneers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, all the way back to Old Norse sagas, click here.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Girl Who Hated Books

I saw this marvelous animated short over on Kerry's blog, and couldn't resist posting it here as well. It's about ten minutes long, and well worth watching.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

To Be Surprised Every Day

Daniel Burgoyne on Why Are You So Sad? Selected Poems of David W. McFadden (one of my all time favourite poetry books):

Nominated for the 2008 Griffin poetry prize, Why Are You So Sad? is the most compelling book of poetry I have read this past year. These are poems that invite perpetual rereading, alive in each instant and open upon return. "To be surprised every day" might have been a better title for the selected poems of a writer whose daily produce seems so effortless and unpretentious, whose constant innovation with the line, with voicing, with the very idea of a poem yields astonishment with the turn of almost every page.

To read the rest of Burgoyne's review, click here.

Friday, January 01, 2010

2009 Reading Roundup & 2010 Reading Resolutions

The Numbers

I read 112 books in 2009.

95 of those books were fiction and 17 were non-fiction. The fiction included 93 novels and only 2 short story collections. The genre breakdown was as follows: 45 mysteries, 8 fantasy, and 42 literary or general fiction. As far as age-range goes, 43 would be classified as YA or children's literature, and 52 as adult fiction. The non-fiction titles covered a range of topics including literary criticism, biography, memoir, essays, history, politics, food, and running.

61 were published in the 21st century, 21 of those in 2009. 51 were published in the 20th century, only 19 of those pre-1950. None were published before 1900.

73 were written by female authors, 32 by male authors, and 7 were co-authored by a combination of men and women.

24 were translations, mostly of books originally written in Swedish, but also of books written in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and Icelandic. Those originally written in English were by Canadian, U.S., Scottish, English, and Irish authors.

79 were books I borrowed from the library; 33 were books I'd recently bought or already owned.

32 were rereads.

Shifts, Continuing Trends, and Gaps to be Addressed

There is much more of an emphasis here on YA/children's literature than is ordinarily the case for me, and there are more rereads than usual. But neither of these developments is surprising given that I've been writing essays on my childhood reading and have, in connection with them, been revisiting many old favourites. This will continue in the new year. What is surprising is the paltry number of short story collections that I read and the absence of a single poetry book. But I'm going to assume that those are temporary aberrations that will correct themselves rather than actual trends that require conscious reversal.

It's good to see that the genre of fantasy has maintained a bit of a foothold, after I laboured under the misperception for so many years that it just wasn't my sort of thing. And it's not all Pratchett this time either⎯in 2009 I belatedly discovered Neil Gaiman and also steam punk, and I plan to read a good deal more of both.

I'm pleased to see 24 translations on my list. In 2006, I read only one work in translation. In 2007, I set out to up that number with my "Reading Across Borders" Challenge and, as a result, my year-end tally included 11 translations. Since then, that number has continued to rise every year without much conscious effort on my part. Long may that trend continue.

Of course, that's not to say that my reading list couldn't use further diversification. It includes more translations than it used to, yes, but it remains dominated by North American and European works and I'd like to change that. Also, it has a resolutely contemporary tilt that I'd like to shift at least a bit. So, on to the resolutions...

Reading Resolutions for 2010

Last year I eschewed resolutions opting instead to read at whim. That generally works out pretty well for me and, for the most part, I'll continue to read that way. But sometimes I need to push myself to expand my reading horizons and I plan to do that to fill some of the aforementioned gaps. So, at a general level, my resolutions for 2010 are to expand my reading beyond the borders of North America and Europe, and to delve back into the 19th century and earlier. My concrete plans for realizing these goals include a challenge, a couple of big reads, and a rereading project.

Dorte's 2010 Global Reading Challenge is the perfect vehicle to expand the continental scope of my reading. I'm opting for the "Medium Challenge" that involves reading two novels each from six continents (spanning 12 different countries).

As for the big reads, there are a few weighty, classic tomes I've long been meaning to read. Indeed, I've resolved to read them before and not made good on the resolutions. But in 2010, I'm having another go. The books in question are Cervantes' Don Quixote, Tolstoy's War and Peace, and Isaac Babel's Collected Stories. I've enjoyed dipping into all three but in each instance got distracted well before I reached the end. So, wish me perseverance this time round!

And finally, the rereading project⎯I like to periodically revisit favourite authors in a sustained way and this year it's going to be Louisa May Alcott. Not just Little Women and other beloved books from my childhood, but also her adult works (last read 20 or so years ago), her journals (which I'm not sure I've ever read though I do own them), and a biography or two for supplementary reading.

I'm in for an interesting reading year, I think.

Stay tuned for a post within the next couple of days detailing my ten favourite reads of 2009, and then it will be on to the new!