On the Path to a New Awareness | Review of “Secret Path” by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire (2016) Simon & Schuster

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Cover of Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire. Image linked from the Secret Path website

The beauty of a well-crafted book is in the detail that goes into the enlightenment that a reader receives into an element about the human condition. The right combination of words plus the perfect shades of light and dark colours of an illustration can bring light an injustice that occurred in the world. Readers can ponder carefully over those details of that book and slowly become aware of the injustice and  – in turn –  start dialogs with other individuals about that sad element. And that complex process is what Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire have done with their graphic novel Secret Path.

The Stranger (Excerpt)

I am the Stranger

You can’t see me

I am the Stranger

Do you know what I mean?

I navigate the mud

I walk above the path

Jumping to the right

And I jump to the left

On the Secret Path

The one that nobody knows

And I’m moving fast

On the path that nobody knows

And what I’m feeling

Is anyone’s guess

What is in my head

And what’s in my chest

I’m not gonna stop

I’m just catching my breath

They’re not gonna stop

Please, just let me catch my breath

I am the Stranger

You can’t see me

I am the Stranger

Do you know what I mean?

 Downie and Lemire have done something brilliant here by bringing the story of Chanie Wenjack and the residential school system to light for the reading public. Wenjack died a young man trying to get back to his First-Nations community after experiencing brutal institutional care at a residential school. He attempted a 400-mile trek along a railway line to get home, yet the journey proved to be too much for him.

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Illustration from Secret Path by Jeff Lemire. Image linked from the Secret Path website

Lemire has described Wenjack’s story with his illustrations in a bold fashion. The frames that show Wenjack’s memories of his home have a warm rose feeling to them while the cells that show his experiences at the residential school and on his attempted journey home at cold, dark with a tinge of blue. A reader clearly senses the range of emotions that Wenjack felt as they follow the story of his trek home.

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Scanned image from Secret Path. Illustration by Jeff Lemire

Gord Downie has not only proven himself here as a classic wordsmith but also a great storyteller. While many of his fans know him as the front man for the musical group The Tragically Hip, it is bringing this story of Wenjack to life for us readers that shows his consciousness and the depth of his soul. He has carefully crafted a few brilliant phrases into our memories about Wenjack, breeding empathy in our minds for the tragic wanderer and causing us to discuss him to our peers and our leaders.

 

 

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Scanned image of “Son” by Gord Downie. From Secret Path (2016) Simon & Shuster

This book does exactly what great literature does. It brings to light an important element of the human condition that may of been overlooked through other means and creates thought, discussion and discourse among readers. It is a brilliant book and one that should be pondered over.

Quote from the back cover of Secret Path:

Chanie Wenjack haunts us. His story is Canada’s story. We are not the country we think we are. History will be re-written. All of the Residential Schools will be pulled apart and studied. The next hundred years are going to be painful and unsettling as we meet Chanie Wenjack and thousands like him – as we find out about ourselves, about all of us – and when we do, we can truly call ourselves “Canada.”

Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire is a brilliant book which should be held in prominence on any bookshelf. It breeds empathy and creates thought and discuss which, no doubt, will lead to action on improving an injustice to the human condition.

*****

Link to the Secret Path website

Link to Gord Downie’s website

Link to Jeff Lemire’s blog

Refreshing Our Understanding of History | Review of Peter C. Newman’s Hostages to Fortune: The United Empire Loyalists and The Making of Canada (2016) Simon and Schuster Canada

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Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to review history;  to refresh facts and figures in our minds. Sometimes refreshing those elements  may even gives us new perspective and understanding of our own ideals and the way we currently live. Peter C. Newman has given us the opportunity to expand our thoughts on  Canadian history with his new book Hostages To Fortune: The United Empire Loyalists and the Making of Canada.

Page 224

Most Canadians remember the Loyalists, if at all, as shadowy figures, left behind after a brief mention in a high school classroom on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. And yet, even if not claiming or getting much attention, these unassuming pioneers, sparse of speech and haunted by their history, deserved most of the credit as the founding mothers and fathers of our country. The Loyalists saw the world differently from their British rulers, and it was this margin of free choice that became a key factor in Canada’s birth.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to contend that the birth of an independent Canada grew out the Loyalists’ dreams and visions. Initially little more than placeholders for the British Empire, they moved to occupy and own Upper Canada’s available shores, untamed rivers, overflowing lakes, and – at least in theory – the whole damn country. Their ability to persevere against all odds came together in that rare moment of historical triumph that gave to the land, best captured by poet Al Purdy, as being “North of Summer.” Those tight-lipped American refugees, who had chosen to reject the American Revolution and move to Canada, were ideally suited to realizing our pioneering ethic, with their meld of self-sufficiency and willingness to challenge authority. But if this book proves anything, it is that with out them, without these ghosts of a world we scarcely knew, whose lives we would not have wanted to share – without these angels in their faded and torn coveralls, Canada would not exist.

But Newman has done a bit more than just regurgitate the facts surrounding the story of the United Empire Loyalists. He has researched details of families who endured hatred and persecution during the American Revolution and documented their hardships during their sometimes multiple relocations. There are elements of this book that have a clear literary feel to it making the facts of history come alive.

Page 41-42

When (the Revolutionary War) was finally over, all that remained for Polly Jarvis Dibblee were the bitter memories of her terrible ordeal. The revolution had driven her and her children from their home in Stamford, Connecticut; forced her into exile in, as she recalled, the “frozen climate and barren wilderness” of New Brunswick; and caused the tragic suicide  of her husband, Fyler.

“O gracious God, that I should live to see such times under the Protection of a British Government for whose sake we have Done and suffered everything but that of Dying,” she wrote from New Brunswick to her brother William in mid-November 1787.  “May you never Experience such heart piercing troubles as I have and still labour under . . .  You may Depend on it that the Sufferings of the poor Loyalists are beyond all possible Description. The old Egyptians who required Brick without giving straw were more Merciful than to turn the Israelites into a thick Wood to gain Subsistence from and uncultivated Wilderness.”

Until the 1770s, life had bee good for Polly, the daughter of Samuel and Martha Jarvis of Stamford, and a sister to Munson and William, two of her nine siblings. She was born in 1747 and grew up as her siblings did, heeding their parents’ credo to “fear God and honour the King.” By the time she was sixteen, Polly had married her sweetheart, Fyler Dibblee, a twenty-two-year-old lawyer and the son of Reverend Ebenezer Dibblee, the past of St John’s Anglican Church in Stamford, and his wife, Joanna. A graduate of Yale University, Fyler must had studied or “read law’ with a local lawyer or judge for two years before he was admitted to the bar. He was ambitious and a community leader. He headed Stamford’s militia company with the rank of captain and served as the town’s representative to the Connecticut General Assembly. When the revolution began, Polly and Fyler had five children – Walter, William, Margaret (Peggy), Ralph, and Sally – and owned a fine house with its own library, a sure sign that they valued reading, an interest hey would have imparted to their children. Benjamin Franklin, who conceived the public library, wrote in his Autobiography, published a decade after the Revolutionary War ended, that his lifelong passion for learning and literature started for him as young man with his father’s small collection of books.

Newman has collected here not just a story of a group of people, but manages at times to capture their thoughts and influences. Yes, he has done his research, but he also uses some imagination to reflect on the ideals that the United Empire Loyalist had and brought forth in to the land they settled in. It may be small, unique details he brings forward, but adding those details adds new colour to the concepts of the Loyalists.

Page 170-171

A Loyalist pioneer diet was what you might expect: lots of pork and occasionally fish – bass, pike, pickerel, salmon – which was plentiful in Upper Canada’s rivers and streams. Boiled cornmeal sprinkled with brown sugar was a favourite for breakfast, as were cornmeal pancakes. For a long time, Loyalists refrained from cooking American-style johnnycakes, a cornmeal flatbread, because as (W. S.) Herrington writes, “it was regarded as a Yankee dish.” The women picked wild strawberries, raspberries, and gooseberries and prepared jams,, and they taught their daughters to sew and weave clothes on a spinning wheel. Nearly everything the Loyalist wore was homemade including their leather boots, which involved moths of tanning, kneading, and rubbing using solutions of lye and oak bark. Making decent boots was a skill that was much admired and in demand. In the winter, fur from bears, foxes, and raccoons were used for thick hats, and in the summer, rye straw was utilized for straw hats. Neighbours watched out for each other and large tasks were accomplished with cooperative “bees” -everything from logging and stumping to quilting and paring bees.

Peter C. Newman has certainly refreshed the understanding of the  Loyalists for many people with his book Hostages to Fortune: The United Empire Loyalists and The Making of Canada. A unique and interesting read for sure.

*****

Link to Simon and Schuster Canada’s webpage for The United Empire Loyalist and The Making of Canada

 

 

Illustrating Canada One Letter At A Time | Review of “Canada ABC” by Paul Covello (2016) HarperCollins Canada

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Scanned image of my copy of the cover of Paul Covello’s Canada ABC (2016)

Since I have been asked to give my opinion about childrens’ books, I have been impressed with the details, the planning and the design that goes into what appears at first a simple item. And that is what I found interesting about Paul Covello’s Canada ABC book too. But as I flipped through the book, I found myself thinking that there may be another use for his book as Canada prepares to celebrate it’s 150th year since Confederation in 2017.

hockey
“H is for Hockey” Illustration by Paul Covello. Scanned image from my copy of Canada ABC by Paul Covello (2016)

Covello has a great book here. He documents every letter from A to ‘Zed’ with unique Canadian concepts and icons. The images at first appear to be simple. (For example – A setting with three or four animals). But then one looks at the pictures and realized there is a bit of hidden detail here. (A collection of leaves, a grove of trees which use geometric shapes, colours that compliment each other and so forth.) The joy of this book is not just looking at the definitions and the images that are here, but to look at the details and – if one is sharing with others – discuss the details of each of the images.

beaver
“B is for Beaver.” Illustration by Paul Covello. Scanned image from my copy Canada ABC by Paul Covello (2016)

While this may be a book for little minds, I believe that I will be giving copies of this book out to visitors to Canada who come to see me during the celebrations of our country next year. The simple concept would help people whose English skills may be limited still understand the concepts of what makes up Canada today. And the brightly illustrated pages are more unique than any tacky souvenir that is available for purchase.

voyager
“V is for Voyager” Illustration by Paul Covello. Scanned image from my copy of Canada ABC by Paul Covello (2016)

Paul Covello’s Canada ABC may appear to be a simple book, but it is a unique discussion piece when one gives a few careful moments to look it over. It is a perfect gift for so many people as Canada prepares to celebrate it’s 150 anniversary since Confederation.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s webpage for Canada ABC

Link to Paul Covello’s website

Deep Empathy from a Small Novella | Review of “The Sky Was Copper Blue” by Zack Metcalfe (2016) Iguana Books

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Literature works wells when it brings to light a universal thought or emotion that we all have yet never have considered. A story should cause a reader to ponder and reflect on that emotion, then use it as a catalyst for discussions with friends, family, audiences, etc. That has been the hallmark of many great pieces of literature and that is the formula that Zack Metcalfe has used for his novella The Sky Was Copper Blue.

Page 2-3

Madelyn adored this slice of wilderness, even now before the sun had given it colour and charm. The forest was quiet, every sensible living thing still asleep, and in spite of her thick clothing, Madelyn was cold. For a fleeting moment, thoughts of her warm bed returned to her.

The sun was fast approaching the horizon, and with it came a symphony of birds. They began timidly at first, taking turns shyly breaking the silence, but soon broke out into a full-hearted chorus.  With renewed enthusiasm, she opened her Tupperware container and withdrew her digital camera. It felt strange to bring her equipment out here, but the heft of the camera was comfortable and familiar in her hands. Placing the camera’s strap around her neck she then withdrew her tripod, set it up and attached it to the base of her camera.

The sun broke the horizon and bathed the forest in red and yellow light. Golden hour had begun.

Madelyn remained very still as he scanned her surroundings. With patient fingers she played with the settings of her camera and toyed with her lens’ manual focus, framing the fleeting beauty of the early morning in its viewfinder. Then she took a shot.

Metcalfe has enveloped a unique range of human emotions into his story of Madelyn Hathaway. Readers can easily relate to her fatigue of her job photographing weddings, birthdays and political protests. But even more so, readers can empathize with Madelyn going out into environment and exploring the natural beauty that exists in the world. And most definitely, readers can relate to Madelyn’s thrill and excitement when she finds something thought lost to history in her exploration of nature.

Page 28-29

The kitchen table had become a lab desk, a place of clinical observation which Terrance and Madelyn didn’t dare disturb. Instead they began to cook, preparing the promised stir-fry without a word between them. Only the sizzling of veggies and the ruble of boiling noodles combated the silence. The food was ready and scooped onto plates when Joan began crying softly in front of the computer Roger’s eyes were red too, but he wore a wide smile.

Food was brought to the table and Madelyn pointed Terrance in the direction of the wine bottles. One was uncorked and four glasses were produced.

“Who…” Joan began, struggling with the words, “… who sent these to you , Terrance?”

Terrance stopped in the act of pouring the wine and looked up.

“No one, Joan. Madelyn took them.”

Now Joan turned to Madelyn, who had just sat down. In her eyes was surprise and gratitude, perhaps even adoration.

“Madelyn … you saw these birds?”

“Just yesterday.”

“And you had a camera with you?” Joan closed her eyes and shook her head, embarrassed. “Oh, you’re a photographer, damn it. Of course you had a camera, I remember Terrance mentioning that. I’m sorry. I’m flustered. Do you remember where they were?”

“Yeah, they’re in the park behind the house. I can show you…”

But Joan’s lip had begun to quiver.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m making a perfect fool of myself.”

Terrance laughed sympathetically.

“Joan,” he said. “Don’t worry. If that’s the case, you’re among fools.”

While Metcalfe may have included his knowledge of environmental issues in this story, it is his passion and his personal feelings that make this story so profound. Yes, the plot includes facts and concerns that stick in the reader’s mind as they read the book but it is the emotions, desires and passions of the characters that breed empathy with reader, causing the story to be a memorable one.

Page 42-43

“What made you go out there?” asked Terrance, lying on his side and looking toward Madelyn. They were only black outline to each other in the dark room.

“It started the day I brought Joan out to see the pigeons,” said Madelyn. “I started to feel like … if I wasn’t trying to save the species then what was the point? I knew that couldn’t happen unless I found some more of them and so I went looking. I guess I felt helpless. A little stupid too.”

“Now how do you feel?”

“Scared. We’re so close to doing something important and I’m scared we’re going to screw it up. Or maybe I’m scared other people won’t care enough to do something about it. I don’t know. I’m a little out of my depth with this stuff.”

Zack Metcalfe has used a great deal of personal passion in his novella The Sky Was Copper Blue and it shows. The book has all the hallmarks of a good piece of literature including breeding empathy into a reader about an element of the human condition. Well worth reading.

*****

Link to my Q&A with Zack Metcalfe – “Above all I want readers to go outside, so embrace the natural world in whatever way they see fit, and to know that what’s in front of them pales in comparison to centuries past”

Link to Iguana Books website for The Sky Was Copper Blue

 

All the Emotions of Youth and Fandom | Review of “All The Feels” by Danika Stone (2016) Swoon Reads

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The relationships that younger people have today are complex and far-reaching. They spend a lot of their time in the realms of digital media and popular culture, hence some of the terms they use – like fandom – are odd and confusing to us. But Danika Stone has written a novel that not only allows many of us some insight into the world of fandom culture, but gives younger readers some groundwork to start a discussion about their obsessions. So readers can explore All The Feels on a multitude of levels.

Page 15

If she’d been feeling ambitious, Liv might have picked up groceries and persuaded Xander to teach her another of his “soon to be famous” recipes. With three little brothers and a mom who worked nights, he had taught himself how to cook. As Xander always said, “it was that or starve,” but Liv had been proctoring in the audio lab all afternoon – adjusting audio levels for amateur musical performances – and by the time she made it back, she was wiped. Besides, Liv reasoned, whenever Xander cooked, he talked . . . And tonight she wasn’t in the mood to hear about his latest cosplay ideas, or – worse yet – his last date with Arden, his bubbly girlfriend. The duo make a striking couple. (Liv could see that as much as anyone.) Arden was light and laughter to Xander’s brooding looks, but Liv wasn’t in the mood to hear about their evident happiness.

She was grieving.

Liv flopped onto the couch and pulled out her phone to scroll through the latest postings on the various Spartan websites. Almost a week after the Christmas Eve release, there were spoilers everywhere. The entire Starveil fandom was in an uproar over Spartan’s death. Liv’s throat grew thick and painful, and she searched until she found a fix-it AU, posted just today. She was halfway through reading it when she heard the garage door open. Katherine swirled through the doorway, coat flapping like the sails of a ship.

“Dinner’s on!” she called, dropping a moisture-soaked bag onto the floor of the entrance.

Stone has brilliantly wrapped up so many concepts and issues in her story about college freshman Liv. We do read about Liv’s obsession about the “Starveil” movie franchise but we also get to experience Liv’s anxiety about: friends, relationships, her mother, death, school, money, and so forth. But Stone has managed to keep all those issues flowing through the story, making the plot easy to read.

Page 112

“If you wanted to go out to a movie sometime,” she gasped. “Like  . . . Like a date or something.”

The bomb dropped.

She waited, but Hank didn’t move. He stared at her for a long time. Live felt like she was caught in a movie, and everyone else had switched into slow motion, but she hadn’t. She was certain at least thirty seconds passed before he blinked, like the film he was in had been on pause and he had abruptly caught up to her.

Hank smiled, but his time it was a different sort of smile. A weaker one. “Liv, I  . . . I don’t know what to say.” He beamed down at her, but it wasn’t the toothy grin she knew. This was something else. Something that hurt the inside of her chest. “I’m flattered. Really, I am. But I have to say no.”

“What?” The word was the sound of someone kicked in the gut.

Hank’s smile faltered. “I can’t. I mean, I’d love to, if I didn’t have a girlfriend.” He winced. “And I felt that way about you.”

Liv turned away from him. Her stomach roiled. The only possible way this situation could get worse was if she did throw up. “Oh my God.” She pushed past a gaggle of girls lingering outside the doorway and headed down the hall. She needed to get away!

“Liv wait!”

She waled faster, vision tunneling down. Now she felt like she might pass out. Oh God, her mind screamed. What have I done?

Not only has Stone kept the language clear and concise here but uses phrases and terms appropriate to the age. Many of my followers have stated they have had problems finding books for younger readers because much of the  language used in today’s selections seem stilted and dated. This book uses terms and phrases that are common usage today. Stone has not only come up with an interesting story line here but also must have researched terms and technology well.

Page 160-161

Liv glared at the laptop screen, the cursor pulsing in time to her thoughts. There was footage on her hard drive: used segments from the bonus features of various Starveil films and twice as many outtakes with Xander, music and audio clips. It was all there, ready to make and #SpartanSurvived vid.

She just needed to break her promise to do it.

“Liv?” her mother called from outside her bedroom “Can we talk?”

“No.”

Liv slid her chair over to the door and locked it.

“Liv, sweetie,” her mother pleaded, “I know you’re angry I talked to Gary, but if you’d listen you’ll-”

Liv put on her headphones and hit Play.

The well-known trill of the Starveil theme flooded her ears, and she let out a sobbing laugh, overwhelmed by emotion. This was it. This was where she felt at home. Not at the dinner table with Gary! Not doing stupid school projects that didn’t matter. The sound of her mother’s knocking faded, and Liv sighed in relief. She needed this the same way she needed air. The last few weeks, she’d felt trapped, but now she was free.

Decision made, Live opened the video editor and smiled.

It was time to bring that passion back to fandom.

Danika Stone has written a great and modern book with All The Feels. The story line is easy to read yet covers a multitude of issues that concerns younger readers. In short a great and enlightening read for any age.

******

Link to Danika Stone’s website

Link to Swoon Reads’ website for All The Feels

Link to my Q&A with Danika Stone -“I was eager to find a Canadian press for Edge of Wild, since it’s a Canada-focused story.”

 

Carefully Pondering Crafted Words Over Time | Review of “Kids In Triage” by Kilby Smith-McGregor (2016) Buckrider Press

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There are books that sit on beside my bed or on my shelves that I leave for a while in the middle of reading. They perplex me. Their words are deep and introspective and I am not certain if they are good or bad. I have a hard time when I first start reading them that I decide I need to put them away for a while and review them again when I have a quiet moment. And when those quiet moments do finally come, I pull them out and read them and read them again. Then, in some cases, I find they are worthy of my time. And Kilby Smith-McGregor’s collection of poetry in Kids In Triage is just such a book.

Morphogensis (for Alan Turing) (excerpt) page 50-51

***

Yet every Cambridge, every set of oxfords raises a fresh god;

everything that is the case against you, the world broken

down to word between wars between words between man

and his mirror, the master. Anti-realist vet vs. Government Code

& Cypher School; Guys vs. Bletchley; dick-measuring sequence:

those high gilt zeroes and one run through to the hilt with logic’s

 

sharp. These days it’s seamlessness; embedded logic

of razor-blade apples, pills, chips slipped beneath skin to out-god

even the notional autonomic gnomic gnostic mimic – sequenced:

an evolutionary narrative’s lithe tail, forked and broken

over a war’s chair’s back, chained to pipes, to pixel-ratio, time-code

plus today’s paper evidenced in the frame-by-frame of X man

 

though known (or lost).

***

I admire writers that can make me think or question something in our society. The craft of sitting down and turning a careful phrase must take time to create. And the time to sit down and read that phrase and ponder it takes time as well. No doubt, Smith-McGregor must have taken time to reflect and write these phrases for her poetry. They are deep, sharp and introspective. And I feel guilty taking my time reading this book, but I wanted to give each phrase careful consideration and reflection. So for the past 5 months, I have read and re-read this book several times when I found myself a few moments solitude. And I found the experience worthwhile.

Chapter II: The Pool of Tears (Excerpt) Page 52

I wish I hadn’t cried so much . . . I shall be punished for it now,

I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears.

-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The river of my childhood is the Speed River. Starting near Orton, Ontario, it flows south through the city of Guelph.

Archivists have described it as wide, shallow, rapid, unnavigable – also: a source of power. That seems about right.

The river that runs just beyond the view of my window.The one where I have caught crayfish and cast sticks to watch them whisked away. Living on Rural Route Five

in the lower half of a large split-level which had once been a school, I sit at my small desk by this window drawing a series of trap doors in a green Hilroy notebook.

It is an illustration for the kind of Alice story that consumes a certain span of youth encompassing coming into the world, and is later returned to, looking for a way out.

I wish I hadn’t cried so much.

There is introspection and reflection here, and there is also some ponderings about the human condition. Smith-McGregor notes  small items of society and enlarges them for us readers to see. Again, it must have taken time to think about these details and create the perfect phrase to describe her thoughts. But the result is what many readers crave in a good piece of literature.

Red (Excerpt) Page 27

Red glares

Red is a reflection, a fetish, transgression. Red dresses

     a theme of sharp points.

Red eyes: bruised wells, betrayal of the photographer’s flash

I’m sorry but it’s anger.

Red crosses. Even in love.

It is history and injury. The history of injury

Masculine attention

I will not go on about wounds, scars protracting the red-white

          continuum through time.

This is not a productive conception of time (toward white) –

     it is a concession.

Someone else’s idea of healing.

Yes, the apple.

It was a Red Delicious. Even the flesh was red,

     blood apple. They write that out of the Bible.

White is an invention of History.

Kilby Smith-McGregor collection of poetry called Kids In Triage is deeply introspection and reflective but is unique and enlightening. Although I felt badly for taking so long to read this book, I am glad I took the time to savour it. It is a read that should not be raced through.

*****

Link to my Q&A with Kilby Smith-McGregor -“I love that the title resonated with him. I could see it in his face. It helps remind me of poetry’s potential to reach humans-at-large, not just writers and their friends.”

Link to Kilby-Smith McGregor’s website

Link to Wolsak & Wynn’s webpage for Kids In Triage

 

Defining the Desperation of Violence | Review of “Waste” by Andrew F. Sullivan (2016) Dzanic Books

Waste

We tend to look at violence as a simple act. But we never really look at the complex roots of what causes people to turn violent. What makes one person act out with anger and malice?  What is the result of violence after the act? Those and a myriad of other issues surrounding violence are the thoughts that one ponders after reading Andrew F. Sullivan’s complex novel Waste.

Page 11-12

Connor Condon always hated his name. He hated the concussive force of those two C’s crashing out of his mother’s mouth every time she was pissed, back when they’d lived in his grandmother’s apartment. The sound chased him from room to room, rattling the dusty shelves and weaving its way through porcelain bears to find him hiding under the pullout couch he shard with his mother.

“We need you to wake up, and don’t you dare puke again.”

It wasn’t until sixth grade that Connor’s name truly became a curse in the outside world. The new bus driver, Marlene, believed she had to take attendance. Her tongue seemed far too big for her mouth when she drawled out his name through pierced lips.

“Tommy, just slap his face to wake him up. One good slap.”

All Connor heard were titters of laughter from the backseats. The bus driver’s massive tongue had mangled his name somehow. Kids stopped sitting beside him. Connor Condom. The name followed him for years, hunted him down hallways and trapped him in bathroom stalls, kids breathing down his neck, asking if his father was a Durex or a Trojan.

“Probably would have been easier if he was wearing clothes.”

A Thursday. It was a Thursday in tenth grade when they pulled the plastic bag over his head on the bus. The driver was too busy navigating a left-hand turn to see Connor’s face slowly turning purple as the bag pulled tighter and tighter. Connor remembered now that there was a green Chevy stalled in the turning lane. Before he passed out and smashed his face against the window, he noticed there was a receipt for Kmart in the bottom of the bag.

“Did you bring extra batteries, Al?”

For the next week, they had Connor in the hospital, measuring his breathing and brain activity every hour. They drained fluid from his brain on the second night. Connor did not remember that week. Two weeks later, he emerged with a new learning disability, a severe lack of hand-eye coordination, and a constant migraine. He walked home from the hospital.

Sullivan has done a brilliant job in taking a look at a ‘macro-sociological’ issue and brought it down to a level that many of us can relate to. Set in the city of Larkhill in 1989, we follow a group of the town’s citizens attempt to survive an economic downturn. Yet as one act of violence  – a car accident involving a pet lion, a murdered individual found in the woods months after his demise – seems to bring on a call for revenge or fear by a one or two people of the town. And the ‘infection’ of violence seems to grow.

Page 33-34

Everyone called the rambling motel Da Nasty. It leered out over the other smaller buildings on the block, five stories of clapboard and stucco. Moses had moved Elvira from motel to motel over the first few years of their exile, dodging the police and Children’s Aid while riding his bicycle to school. Elvira started collecting her bowling balls again, taking them into the shower with her. There were always complaints from housekeeping staff and neighbors concerning missing missing credit cards and stolen purses. Aliases like Allison Cooper, Joanna Page, Paula McCartney, and Gina Simmons littered the guest books of the tired, neon-coated hovels along the wide strip of the utility road.

Moses hated elevators. The spaces were too small, the walls always mirrored. Reflection after reflection of his pimply skull refracted to infinity till each pore glared at him. He always took the stairs up to the second floor and walked along the thick orange carpeting running his hands along the wall, looking for an open door, a wallet sitting on a dresser, a purse left in the bathroom. Occasionally he walked in on couples locked in complex positions he’d  only seen in the pay-per-view movies. He would only order those after his mother passed out in the other double bed, moaning about her poor doggies and the betrayal of Big Tina.

“Mom, you around? I didn’t end up bringing back any food yet?”

The room still smelled liked moth balls and Pepto Bismol. The dark purple carpet was covered in cigarette burns. The blinds to the balcony were closed. Most of the balconies in Da Nasty were locked. There were too many lonely men romancing the concrete five stories down. Pigeons and a lone red-tailed howk now ruled the balconies, slowly coating the rails in white each summer, only to have it washed away by the rain and snow every winter.

“Hey, Mom, you here?”

Sullivan weaves a great mise-en-scene with this book by going from descriptions to thoughts/conversations of one of the characters. In taking one’s time in reading the book, we get a feel of a general situation and understand why the characters are pushed into doing what they do. We are forced to ponder each situation and reflect on it later on. The language is simple and frank at times but that adds to the colourful story.

Page 107

B. Rex had a new tattoo emblazoned on his neck. It was dripping

“You didn’t do that one yourself, did you B?” Moses said.

The car bounced over the potholes on the utility road. The neon lights of the highway strip faded behind them as the Buick nursed its way through the slush. No one came down here.

“Yeah. This morning. Had the money, finally, not like it was a big job, but I’ve been getting stiffed by the folks lately. Think they’re still mad about me trimming the hair.”

B. Rex had the worst ingrown hairs of the three, mainly due to his refusal of the disposable razor at Logan’s house a few months earlier. He brought his grandfather’s straight razor from World War II instead, a family heirloom his grandfather kept in the study with his tax receipts and old Playboy magazines. B. Rex cut himself eight times before finally accepting the shaving cream and disposable Bick. He wore a hat for a while afterward until the scabs fell off.

“They still won’t let you work, huh?” Moses said.

“Nope. Mom says as soon as I start earning my own money, that’s the last they’ll see of me, and I mean, they’re right,” B. Rex said. “Oppressive as shit. I can’t even take like a shit without my dad asking about the size and color.

Andrew F. Sullivan has created a great book about people dealing with desperation and violence in Waste. It is a read that should be carefully read and consider but definitely one that has all the markings of the start of some great thoughts and discussions.

*****

Link to Andrew F. Sullivan’s website

Link to Dzanc Books website for Waste

Link to my Q&A with Andrew F. Sullivan -“I wanted to write a Canadian book that dealt with violence, small scale, but very real violence we often ignore or don’t read about. It’s a currency we trade with each other.”

 

Exploring the Meditative Components of the Printed Page | Review of “The Joyful Living Colouring Book” by Teva Harrison (2016) House of Anansi

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It seems odd to use this space to proclaim the meditative capabilities of the printed page. Cyberspace is where many of us find ourselves this days. We need to be here for; our jobs, to communicate with family and friends, and even to inform and educate ourselves. But for those of us who still pull ourselves out from the collected ramblings and sighs found on electronic means to reflect on the human spirit via print, we know a certain quiet pleasure. Teva Harrison knows that pleasure well and she has created a colouring book that enables people to share that joy her illustrating on paper brings her. And The Joyful Living Colouring Book does in its own quiet way help in bring an ease to busy and noisy world.

Introduction – The Joyful Living Colouring Book by Teva Harrison

For me, drawing is magical. It’s cathartic and transformative. It lifts me up when I am low. It fills me up when I am empty. It calms my nerves when I have anxiety. And when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, drawing pulled me out of the deepest depression I’ve ever experienced.

Now I have to admit I am not the best colourer. (And the paint job I did on a garage wall last summer bears a collection of empty spaces and crooked lines in my attempt to be artistic.) But I know many people who do colour. They are well-grounded and professional adults who are dedicated not only in their careers but in their everyday actions. And one such person is Sara, who agreed to check out the book for me and let me know her thoughts about it

I’ve always loved to color, but I’ve become more fascinated by it in the last couple years. I think it’s great that you can go to Chapters, or even Wal-Mart, and find all of these great adult coloring books.

-Sara Owanis from a personal conversation with me via Facebook.

Sara is a regular fixture at her local library. Her smile brightens the place up for both staff and patrons as she works as a “page” sorting books and setting up rooms during her shift. But one has to wonder how a young person in their twenties can manage to be upbeat as she struggles with electrical cables, chairs, heavy volumes and even the remainders of moldy fruit stuck in sink drains. But she does it. And it is even more amazing to find out that she is eagerly working on a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing when not at the library.

Link an image Sara Owanis’ Instagram page

After I made arrangements to receive a copy of this book, I contacted Sara to ask her for her assistance in reviewing it. She eagerly agreed and we set a time to meet at the community centre at the university she attends. It was a deary Tuesday in November. The sky was about to rain, which is to cause everybody to become cold and wet on their way home. The room is filled with loud people and litter fills the few empty tables available. Sara meets me after writing an exam. Her usual smile is drained a touch after a long day. But when I pulled out the book,  she brightened immediately.

Thank you so much! I can’t wait to color!

-Sara Owanis from a personal conversation with me via Facebook.

There is something about the printed page that when we look at it, feels empowering and personal at the same time. The idea of meditation over something we create – no matter how small it is – uplifts the psyche. That is, no doubt, what happens to Sara when she colours. And in turn helps her in her busy and plentiful lifestyle.

I went to a wellness workshop once and I learned that the time spent coloring puts your mind in a similar state to meditating. That’s probably why it feels so peaceful

-Sara Owanis from a personal conversation with me via Facebook.

And this is exactly what Harrison wanted to do with creating this colouring book. As an illustrator, she was able to use her skills in uplifting her mood as she dealt with her cancer. Those drawings became her best-selling memoir In-Between Days (Link to my Q&A with Harrison) and now Harrison has created this colouring book in order to share with us the joy she has found in drawing. And it seems that,  according to Sara,  has worked.

Link to an image on Sara Owanis’ Instagram page

Introduction – The Joyful Living Colouring Book by Teva Harrison

Here is my challenge to you: Carve out some space in your day. Breathe into it and feel it expand. Open yourself up to the delight and the possibility of this moment. Keep breathing. Reach for a colour that makes you happy. Bring the light, the brightness, and the levity of the colour to the paper. Get lost in the act of colouring by focusing on this moment. That’s where you find the magic.

And while Sara may have been aware of the “magic” of colouring before she came across a copy of The Joyful Living Colouring Book by Teva Harrison, no doubt the few moments lost in colouring in this book will aid her in keeping those smiles up in her job at the public library this week and in a successful career in the health-care sector later on in her life. Kudos to Harrison for uplifting the human condition in her own way through this book.

*****

I will be adding photos from Sara’s colouring here as they come available. Teva Harrison will be speaking at Wordfest at Museum London (Ontario, Canada) on Sunday November 6. (Link)

Link to House of Anansi’s webpage for The Joyful Living Colouring Book

Link to Teva Harrison’s website

“It took me one year to complete Skunk On A String . . .But it took me nearly a decade to figure out how to get the skunk down from the balloon.”| Q&A with Illustrator Thao Lam

For many of us, (And especially for those of us who must engage the world in a digital manner) illustrations are something we glance over and pass by. But in many cases, illustrators are people whose skill and craft adds a complex dimension to a book for readers to enjoy. Thao Lam is a illustrator whose ideas come through in careful planning and detail. She recently answered a few questions for me about her work.

skunk

1) How long did it take you to create “Skunk On A String?” Was there anything specific that inspired you to create the book?

It took me one year to complete Skunk On A String. This includes storyboarding and illustration. But it took me nearly a decade to figure out how to get the skunk down from the balloon. Many years ago while I was in the shower, an image of a skunk tied to a balloon popped in my head. I never proceeded with the story because I couldn’t figure out how to get the skunk down from the balloon. Over the years I thought of many scenarios, like having the skunk rescued by an astronaut because he made it to the moon via balloon, but all those scenarios were too far fetch.

2) Where did you find your materials to create ‘Skunk On A String?’ Any idea on how many pieces of paper it took to create the complete book?

I lost track of how many pieces of paper were used in the making of Skunk On A String – too many to count! The assortments of paper came from papers I collected over the years; The Paper Place in Toronto; art stores around the city, and I order a lot of stuff from www.scrapbook.com

3) How has been the reaction to ‘Skunk On A String?’ Has there been any memorable experiences you care to share because of the book?

So far the reaction to the book has been really positive. The trailer for book has hit an all time high for Owlkids Books https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S781wbPaQ_k. It’s received great reviews and even a star from Kirkus. Since Skunk On A String is my first book, every moment has been memorable. I think my favorite moment was spotting copies of Skunk On A String at my favorite children’s book store, Mabel’s Fables. I have been going to this book store for years and would spend hours at the store browsing for inspiration and discovering amazing books, authors, and illustrators. It blew my mind to see my book in print along with those I admire.

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Image from “Skunk On A String” by Thao Lam. Image linked from the Owlkids website

4) What inspired you to go into illustration? Who are some of your fellow illustrators that you admire?

As a kid I would spend hours in the children’s section of the library pouring over books — something I still do as an adult. The idea that you get to spend your day drawing and being creative was mind blowing so there was never any doubt in what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Illustrators I admire: Jon Klassen, David Wiesner, and Isabelle Arsenault are my top picks if I were to get stranded on a desert island.

5)  Do you do many public events in relation to your work? If yes, is that something you enjoy doing?

I totally enjoy doing public events (though I still get stage fright each time). Skunk On A String has opened many opportunities and has introduced me to many folks in the industry as well as book fans. For example I got the opportunity to talk to some librarians and teachers at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference (OLA), which was great because I learned a lot about reading a wordless picture book to an audience. I am a big wordless picture book fan and have quite a collection of them but I have never shared one with an audience before so the advice I got from the OLA came in handy when I did my first reading. I especially like doing school visits, seeing kids get excited over books makes me smile!

6) You seem to be active on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter? How do you like using those apps. in relation to your work?

I am not really good at posting and tweeting, I have to keep reminding myself to be social. I find it especially hard to do while I am working but I guess posting and tweeting is working, just the marketing side of work (I prefer the creative side of work).

 7) You talk on your website about your love of children’s books. What are some of your favourite books?

Oh, that would be a long list! Currently “Dear Mr. Blueberry” written and illustrated by Simon James, the “Gerald and Piggie” series written and illustrated by Mo Willems, “The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend”  written and illustrated by Dan Santat, and “The Day the Crayons Quit” written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers are read on a continues loop in our household.

8) Have you given any thought into creating another book? If yes, are there details you care to share about it?

I am working on a second book with Owlkids Books. It is about making friends something I had a really hard time doing when I was a kid because I was shy and didn’t have confidence. The launch date is set for Spring 2018.

9) Your biographies list you as living in Toronto? How do you like living there? Are there items in Toronto that inspire you as an illustrator?

Toronto is so vibrant! There is so much diversity, culture, arts that something is always happening all year long. It is hard not to be inspired when there is so much going on. For inspiration I usually head to my favorite bookstores like Mabel’s Fables, Little Island Comics, or I just visit my local library. There are also great book festivals throughout the year, my favorite is the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The organizers do an amazing job every year, it just gets bigger and bigger and the list of featured guests is stellar, so much inspiration under one roof and it is free to attend.

*****

Link to Thao Lam’s website

Link to Owlkids website for “Skunk On A String”

Link to my review of “Skunk On A String”

 

“I love that the title resonated with him. I could see it in his face. It helps remind me of poetry’s potential to reach humans-at-large, not just writers and their friends.” | Q&A with Poet Kilby Smith-McGregor

Kilby Smith-McGregor has had a busy time since her book Kids In Triage came out last May. But being busy for her may not be a bad thing for somebody as insightful and talented as her. In the Q&A listed below, she talks about the book, other projects and her upcoming schedule. No doubt we will be hearing a lot more about her soon.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of Kids In Triage? Was there something specific that occurred that made you want to write the book?

Late last winter I was visiting my uncle’s family farm near Fordwich, Ontario; he knew I had a book coming out and asked me what it was called. I said Kids In Triage and he took a moment’s pause and replied, “I guess that’s…a whole generation…more than one.” He’s a brilliant guy, a geologist, but not a ‘lit-culture’ guy. I love that the title resonated with him. I could see it in his face. It helps remind me of poetry’s potential to reach humans-at-large, not just writers and their friends. The most amazing part of publishing a book so far has been hearing from readers, real people, who bring their own context and perspective to the work.

 

The word triage is a medical and military term for classifying and prioritizing injuries in a mass casualty situation. In this collection of poems, I wanted to explore how we identify and deal with emergencies, both public and private. The contemporary world is a mess; the 24-hour news feed is on fire; so, where do we put our energy, where will our care and intervention make a difference? The book is also very much meditation on the body, on gender, violence, and the dynamics of families. These are abiding personal and philosophical obsessions for me, so it doesn’t completely surprise me that the material I eventually shaped into my first book circles around these questions.

2) Your website lists you as both a writer and a graphic artist. Is there one occupation you prefer over the other or are they both compatible in enjoyment for you?

Writing can be a near-transcendent vocation, but it is an absolutely terrible profession. I can think of maybe two or three writers in this country who make a living from literary writing alone. Many teach or work as editors and copywriters, and that can siphon off a lot of your literary juice, depending on your temperament. What I love about being a commercial graphic artist is that it’s creative, but in a completely different way. Even when I act as my own art director, my graphic design projects are in service of someone else’s vision or message, and I like collaborating with clients on that, using my skills and experience to help them represent themselves aesthetically.

 3) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

The major touchstone writers of my literary coming-of-age—for different reasons—are likely JM Coetzee, David Foster Wallace, Marilynne Robinson, and Canadian novelist Michael Helm. Until recently, even my work in poetry has been primarily influenced by prose writers. These are amazing writers, but also not culturally or linguistically representative of the full scope of brilliant stuff that’s available out there. I’ve been diving into the work of contemporary Canadian writers who are relatively new to me this summer: Cherie Dimaline’s story collection, A Gentle Habit (Kegedonce, 2015), and Vivek Shraya’s novel She of the Mountains (Arsenal Pulp, 2014); in addition to Madhur Anand’s Index for Predicting Catastrophes (M&S, 2015), and Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell: poems for a girlhood (Pedlar, 2015), on the poetry front. Then there are recent works by American poets Ocean Vuong, and Jericho Brown, as well as the stunning lyric memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place (Graywolf, 2011), by Binyawanga Wainaina. Wainaina’s book follows his coming-of-age in Kenya, and I had the chance to read it while travelling in Kenya in August—a real treat. I have a lot to learn and discover as a reader and I’m always eager for recommendations.

4) Is there much of a book/reading tour being planned for Kids In Triage? If yes, are there any specific events that you are looking forward?

I’m thrilled to be reading with poet Roxanna Bennet at knife | fork | book, a new Toronto series, on November 3rd [event link: https://knifeforkbook.com/2016/09/11/poets-meet-november-3rd/]. k|f|b is hosted by ever-dynamic reader and curator Jeff Kirby, who has launched a poetry-and-small-press-only bookshop at Rick’s Cafe in Kensington market. You can check out his amazing blog, pictures of the shop, and info about in-store readings on his blog [link: https://knifeforkbook.com/]. I’ll also be in Hamilton, Ontario, at the Lit Live Reading Series [link: http://litlive.blogspot.ca] on December 4th, with friend and fellow Wolsak & Wynn poet, James Lindsay, as well as some other interesting writers across genres.

In the new year I’ll be visiting the Queen’s University undergraduate creative writing program, run by poet Carolyn Smart, and then Carolyn and I will travel from Kingston to Montreal to read together at the Resonance Reading Series [series link: http://www.resonancereadingseries.com] on February 7th. I’m thrilled to be touring with Carolyn; she’s a remarkable poet for her unflinching treatment of violence—as exemplified the brilliant, dark monologues of Hooked, and her new collection Careen, which undercuts the Hollywood treatment of Bonnie & Clyde. The trip is also significant to me because she’s the founder of the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, which I received in 2010, and has continued to be a kind supporter of my work from afar. I’m looking forward to the chance to spend some time together talking about poetry, prose, and Bronwen.

New events are updated regularly on my website: kilbysm.com

 5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I’m a spectacularly slow prose writer, but in the wake of publishing the poetry collection, I’ve doggedly returned to work on my short story manuscript, All Swimmers. I’m hoping to finish a full draft in the spring. The story collection shares many points of intersection with the poetry, so I hope it will be of interest to readers of Kids in Triage when it eventually comes out.

6) You seem to be an active participant on Twitter. How do you feel about the use of social media in relation to promoting your work? Will you be expanding your presence onto Facebook and other social media platforms?

I joined Twitter in the fall of 2015 and I thought I would hate it. But the access to interesting links and current conversations in the community won me over. I’m not sure it’s a very reliable way to promote your own work if you’re not engaged with it at a professional level (i.e. curating regular ‘branded’ content and using platforms like Hootsuite to manage your activity)—but I do think it’s nice to have a record of things you’re interested in, if people want to know more about you. It’s also a quick, friendly way to give a shout out of support and amplify the voices of others. I have no plans to join Facebook, though the pressure from my family is unrelenting.

7) Your bios have you listed as spending a lot of time in the Guelph-Toronto area? Is that where you currently reside? And is there a lot in the way of cultural activities in that area that keep you engaged?

I lived in Guelph for some of my childhood, and I also taught fiction at the University there as part of the Open Learning Program, but Toronto is my home these days. Toronto offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of cultural and literary events. Not-going-out can prove more difficult than going out, but I find it’s important to take time to curl up with my dog and just read or watch TV some evenings. Some of my favourite ongoing lit events happen here, though. I’m a huge fan of the HIJ House Reading Series [link: http://bookthug.ca/hij-house-reading-series/ ] graciously hosted by BookThug publishers Jay and Hazel Millar in their family home. Hazel bakes homemade pie for each installment, which is a pretty amazing feat—so come for the readings and stay for the pie! I also love the Pivot Reading Series [link: https://pivotreadings.ca], which has been run by Sachiko Murakami, and most recently Jake McArthur Mooney, and will be transitioning to a new host in the coming months; it has a great legacy and has showcased writers of all different stripes from across Canada and beyond.

*****

Link to Wolsak and Wynn’s website for Kids In Triage