As My Nephew Descends into the ‘White Noise’ of our Civilization |Review of “White Noise” by Don DeLillo (Originally published in 1985, this Viking Critical Library edition released in 1998)

WN

My nephew is about to graduate from university. He is about to find out that a lot of his ideals and training are going to crash with the realm of the ‘real world.’ So how do you prepare somebody for that? Lord knows the miles of suggestions and advice that I was given to when I was that age sure didn’t work for me. So how about a great piece of literature?. There is one book that I wished I had read when I was younger and had taken to heart. At least it would have prepared me for the complex insanity of the ‘real world.’ And that book is Don DeLillo’s White Noise.

Page 16

That night, a Friday, we ordered Chinese food and watched television together. the six of us. Babette had made it a rule. She seemed to think that if kids watched television one night a week with parents or stepparents, the effect would be to de-glamorize the medium in their eyes, make it wholesome domestic sport. Its narcotic undertow and eerie diseased brain-sucking power would be gradually reduced. I vaguely slighted by this reasoning. The evening in fact was a subtle form of punishment for us all. Heinrich sat silent over his egg rolls. Steffie became upset every time something shameful or humiliating seemed about to happen to someone on the screen. She had a vast capacity for being embarrassed on other people’s behalf. Often she would leave the room until Denise signaled to her that the scene was over Denise used these occasions to council the younger girl on toughness, the need to be mean in the world, thick-skinned.

It was my own formal custom on Fridays, after an evening in front of the TV set, to read deeply in Hitler well into the night.

‘White noise’ is the sound that accompanies static from our electronic devices. And even more so now than in 1984,  when DeLillo wrote this book, our electronic devices seem to be spewing more noise at us causing people to do foolish things. Or has humanity always been doomed to follow false reason and act in selfish and fatalistic manners?  Readers certainly must ponder that thought as they follow protagonist Jack Gladney through his life. Gladney worked through a series of marriages and must deal with a pack of children and step-children. He works at a liberal-arts college in a mid-size town, which provides him ample opportunities to observe humanity at both its finest and more often its worst. And he teaches ‘Hitler Studies’ which gives him insights on the motivations of the past.

Page 46

I woke in the grip of a death sweat. Defenseless against my own racking fears. A pause at the center of my being. I lacked the will and physical strength to get out of bed and move through the dark house, clutching walls and stair rails. To feel my way, re-inhabit my body, re-enter the world. Sweat trickled down my ribs. The digital reading on the clock-radio was 3:51. Always odd numbers at times like this. What does it mean? Is death odd-numbered? Are there life-enhancing numbers, other numbers charged with menace? Babette murmured in her sleep and I moved close, breathing her heat.

Finally I slept, to be awakened by the smell of burning toast. That would be Steffie. She burns toast often, at any hour, intentionally. She loves the smell, she is addicted; it’s her treasured scent. It satisfies her in ways wood smoke cannot, or snuffed candles, or the odor of explosive powder drifting down the street from firecrackers set off on the Fourth. She has evolved orders of preference. Burnt rye, burnt white, so on.

I put on my robe and went downstairs. I was always putting on a bathrobe and going somewhere to talk seriously to a child. Babette was with her in the kitchen. It startled me. I thought she was still in bed.

“Want some toast?” Steffie said.

“I’ll be fifty-one next week.”

“That’s not old, is it?

“I’ve felt the same for twenty-five years.”

“Bad.  How old is my mother?”

She’s still young. She was only twenty when we were married the first time.”

“Is she younger than Baba?”

I have had many copies of this book on my shelf which I have handed out  to family and friends. And it has been the topic of many conversations and online chats. It isn’t a book that is going to provide answers or profoundly correct the ills of the world. Its narrative is simply a brilliant reflection off our time. And when crisis and silliness occurs in our lives, it is something to reflect back upon and compare our lives too. And find some comfort that we are not alone with our frustrations and fears. And maybe we should just brush ourselves off and try again.

Pages 325-326

The supermarket shelves have been rearranged. It happened one day without warning. There is agitation and panic in the aisles, dismay in the faces of older shoppers. They walk in a fragmented trance, stop and go, clusters of well-dressed figures frozen in the aisles, trying to figure out the pattern, discern the underlying logic, trying to remember where they’d seen the Cream of Wheat. They see no reason for it, find no sense in it. The scouring pads are with the hand soap now, the condiments are scattered. The older the man or woman, the more carefully dressed and groomed. Men in Sansabelt slacks and bright knit shirts. Women with a powdered and fussy look, a self-conscious air, prepared for some anxious event. They turn into the wrong aisle, peer along the shelves, sometimes stop abruptly, causing other carts to run into them. Only the generic food is where it was, white packages plainly labeled. The men consult lists, the women do not. There is a sense of wandering now, an aimless and haunted mood, sweet-tempered people taken to the edge. They scrutinize the small print on packages, wary of a second level of betrayal. The men scan for stamped dates, the women for ingredients. Many have trouble making out the words. Smeared print, ghost images. In the altered shelves, the ambient roar, in the plain and heartless fact of their decline, they try to work their way through confusion. But in the end it doesn’t matter what they see or think they see. The terminals are equipped with holographic scanners, which decode the binary secret of every item, infallibly. this is the language of waves and radiation, or how the dead speak to the living. And this is where we wait together, regardless of age, our carts stocked with brightly colored goods. A slowly moving line, satisfying, fiving us time to glance at the tabloids in the racks. Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead.

I am not sure how my nephew is going to react to White Noise by Don Delillo. He might gain profound wisdom from it. He might shake his he in frustration over it. He might just place it unread as a replacement leg for his old couch. In any case, it is a book that I consider one of the most profound reflections of our era, and I give it to him for at least to share a bit of wisdom.

WNsigned

*********

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for White Noise

 

 

Looking At Us Instead Of Our Gadgets | Review of “The Amateurs” by Liz Harmer (2018) Alfred A. Knopf Canada

amateurs

There are many of us who are required to use technology in our day-to-day lives. Those devices have a certain appeal to us at first but then we realize that they seem to control us. The photocopier that never works. The printer that always jams. The computer that runs slower and slower. We finds ourselves being submissive to more and more devices than to actual human supervisors and wonder if that submission is healthy or even that necessary. Liz Harmer has taken those  angsts about technology and given us readers something truly something scary yet familiar to ponder over in her novel The Amateurs. 

Page 34-35 The Dreamers

Long before most of the world had drifted away in lifeboats, long before port was anything more than a theory of Albrecht Doors, Marie and Jason had been newly married and living in romantic squalor. Just downtown and near the church where Philip now held sway, their apartment on Caroline was partitioned within a larger building that had once been called Home for the Friendless. The ceilings were high, and next to their working refrigerator was an icebox that might have worked, too, if they’d known what to do with it. The claw-foot tub in the bathroom was stained grey where it wasn’t chipped to reveal charcoal-hued metal underneath. Its late-addition shower nozzle always pointed in a direction that invited mould into the crevices where no mop could reach. From outside, the red brick building was stately as a manor. For while Marie believed that her artistic fantasies of a place like this had been so strong, she had conjured it.

Both Marie and Jason were still students, and most of the time when they were home they walked around half dressed. Marie kept her fingernails short, and always had blue and black stains on her finger pads. She had set up folding tables in the living room where she listened to singer-songwriters or riot grrrls as she made her prints and hung them along the many rows of twine stretched across every wall; these served as the apartment’s only decorations. Romance had confused her. She had believed in the saddest Leonard Cohen songs, that a song was enough that art was enough She would sing along, pulling a squeegee through a silkscreen frame. At regular intervals, Jason would poke his head out of the second bedroom – his office – to admire her in her paint-stained shorts, her thin bra. To make more coffee, he unplugged the refrigerator. Otherwise the fuse would blow.

One should not think this is a book about the evils of technology but more a peak into the human condition and our relations to our gadgets.  Or as Harmer so poetically  told me in a Q&A about this book: One big inspiration was a fantasy of the good life and how to find it. (Link to my Q&A with Liz HarmerThe plot deals around a odd device called ‘port’ which consumers have found irresistible. Yet since the arrival of the device, the world has started to seriously depopulate. The story covers two groups of people, one living in fading ruins of a major northern city while the other is centred on the remainders of the executives of the parent company of “port” who are trying to come to terms of the outcome of their device. Harmer brilliant captures different personality types and varied states of emotions that truly reflect the human condition.

Page 115 The Optimists

People’s faces were lit bluish by the moon- and LED-light. They were now rising from their seats at the many tables, dancing on the soft artificial turf. During the droughts of the years before port, read grass had become more taboo than smoking or gas-powered cars. The turf was already marred by dents and scratches, coming apart like an old carpet, and the had nothing to replace it with. Soon some of them would probably be enlisted to lay tile.

“Desire used to be the main thing we wanted in a good design,” Dawn said. “But what is desire being replaced here?”

There was no logo for Stable. It was only a word in a person’s mind or mouth.

“With stability,” Brandon said. His thin slices of turkey were complemented by a salad of dandelion greens and balsamic vinegar, and its sharp savour filled his mouth. The scent of manure wafted towards him, but they had got used to the smells of life near poultry, and without indoor plumbing or frequent showering.

The compostable plate was sagging in Brandon’s left hand, so he sat down cross-legged on the turf and tried to balance the plate on his knee.

“I guess so. I haven’t figured out yet what the design principles of stability would be, this sort of stability, or how one would make a logo for it,” Dawn said. She laughed half-heartily. “A few years ago, you know, I would have said, ‘Who wants stability?’ Give me chaos any day.'”

“We’re part of a corporation in the true sense,” Brandon said. “From the Latin corpus.” We’re all parts of a living body, despite our stability. Stability is not unchanging.”

“Latin, huh?”

This is one of those types of reads that is difficult yet worthy of making one’s way through the book and pondering over the themes for a few minutes at the end. Most of our lives are filled with muddled thoughts and fragile emotions and Harmer has brilliantly explored what would happen to us beings if our devices brought out an element of human nature that would ruin civilization. The wording is perfectly crafted and planned. This book took Harmer a bit of time to produce and her time was certainly worth the effort she put into it. This would be a perfect read for a book club to use and discuss.

Page 205

It was too dark to see what made the leaves tremble, what those branches crack. Animals. Wind. He wanted to pore over the memories as one did and archive, to hang onto each morsel from the world he knew. Librarian. Philip McGuire, MLS. He wanted to page through his whole pathetic, lost life: the faces of his children at each stage, the backyard slide stuck with autumn leaves, his wife before the divorce with a red scarf in her black hair. But he was here.

Still, these images made up a self, and he felt as though he’d stepped into the waiting armour of his body, had fastened each of its parts tight.

Landing here and now was to be held under water by a bully. Under water – here – this was all there was. His eyes were open wide now. See? See? You happy now?

“I am most certainly not happy,” Philip whispered, though in the middle of the night he could find a certain kind of pleasure: a moment’s peace, the reward of rest after a long difficult day. Was his presence here a prank? Had everyone been thrown somewhere hard to land, bewildered?

“How do I get home? I want to get home.”

Liz Harmer has documented strong elements of the human condition in her book The Amateurs. It is certainly an unique read yet also one that is worthy of thought and discussions. Certainly a great piece of literature.

****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for “The Amateurs”

Link to Liz Harmer’s website

Empathy and Understanding Along Life’s Journey | Review of “After Drowning” by Valerie Mills-Milde (2016) Inanna Publications

after_drowning_web_final

There are always events in our lives that seem to cause us to pause and sputter. We know we should move on or correct our lives because of those events but the shock still seems to cause us to dwell and ponder upon the effects of those events, even though we think we should move on. But eventually we do move on, even if we need to atone for our actions because of those events. And that is the theme that Valerie Mills-Milde documents in her novel After Drowning.

Page 5

On the day Ben Vasco drowns, the lake is graduating shades of greys, browns, iridescent greens. No white caps. the sky is a definite blue, with slow, cheerful clouds pinned above the beach as if to a child’s felt board. A summer sky over a brooding lake, a coarse, sandy beach curled around the rim of the town, beginning at the painted oil tower and ending where the high, wind-eroded bluffs rise abruptly from the lake’s edge.

Pen watches Maddie scamper from the nearby gully, a plastic pink watering can clutched in her hand. She has on a purple two-piece bathing suit and her belly protrudes, round and tanned. She is small for a four-year-old, and still delicious, thinks Pen. A piece of fruit. Maddie has collected an odd assortment of beach objects: a tick, a seagull feather, five stones varying in size and colour, a worn piece of green glass. She has laid them out in a pattern, with the stones making a circle in the centre, and now she waters the strange collection as though watering a row of pansies, for the moment preferring this to wading.

Pen has chosen a thinly populated spot on the beach, close to where the grasses start, and a distance from the waterline where many families plash in the shallows. The beach, she notes remains remarkably unchanged since she grew up in this small fishing town. She makes the calculation: fifteen years of living away.

There is something unique about a story written from somebody who’s career is not just focused on literary endeavours. Valerie Mills-Milde is listed in the biography of this book as clinical social worker. And this story is filled with personal unease that is common among us that  a reader cannot help but feel empathy with the characters. For me, the book was especially vivid seeing it was set in a port town near Lake Erie. I could easily relate to not only the settings but understand well the angst each of the characters feel as they witness the skillset they learned to earn a living become redundant. This was a complex read but definitely a read I could relate to on so many levels.

Pages 95-96

She stops reading. The article bears the hallmarks of a home editorial, just short of a rant. To her left, awkward and improbable and mounted on a pole, is a giant fiberglass model of a sturgeon. It is all spikes and teeth. A dinosaur. Port’s great hope. She looks at the lake, pinned down by a heavy layering of cloud. Port is difficult on days like these, the lake’s moods souring life in the town A septic place to live, and yet people persist.

Rod had persisted. Pen knows how bad off the fishing industry was back then, the lake poisoned by a steady seepage of phosphorous into its tributaries. Dead fish washed up on the beach. And the algae. Wherever the water was caught up in inlets, small coves, not worried by waves and currents, a green sludge formed on its surface. In 1969, before she was born, the waters of the Cuyahoga River, a faithful tributary of the lake, became so choked by petrochemicals it caught fire. The authorities had been embarrassed by the incident, pledging a massive clean-up, but the glory days of the commercial fishery were gone. There was nothing glamorous left in that life particularly here.

The memories of Rod that she carries are of a man who was not defeated or even worn, though she knows he must have been near exhaustion, getting himself out by five in the morning, working in all kinds of weather. When  Rod tucked her in at night she wrapped her arms around his neck, his skin chafing reassuringly against hers. Although she can’t recall everything, she still holds a bone deep certainty that he loved her.

And there are vivid descriptions in this book. Not just of scenes and other visual items but especially of feelings and emotions. This was a book that was easy to sink into a read and develop empathy for the situations that many of the characters were going through. And that is a rare quality in many works of fiction these days.

Page 127

They are comfortable people and completely gracious. Lea leads them into the house and Maddie immediately disappears into her room to change into a suit for a swim. “Hot, hot, hot…” she chants. The men slide out toward the back and Lea sets down two wine glasses on the stone counter, and opens a chilled bottle of Chablis. Pen knows that after she told him to leave, Jeff would have confided in Bill. If asked, Jeff wouldn’t have been able to provide and explanation for why they separated, and Pen feels certain that Lea and Bill believe she initiated it. Although they aren’t people to jump to conclusions about other people’s lives, she has wondered whether they have told Jeff to cut his losses.

Through the large glass doors, Pen can see Jeff and Bill standing over the barbecue, Jeff with a look of intense interest on his face, tossing out a comment to Bill who is nodding his head in agreement. Jeff has opened up two beers for them, taken from the fridge in the garden shed. Bill looks mellow, vaguely patrician, which Jeff is muscled and eager.

Valerie Mills-Milde has written and detailed and honest look at modern life and it’s cause/effect cycles with her novel After Drowning. It is reflective and thought-provoking and certainly a read worth pondering over. In any case a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to Inanna Publications’ website for After Drowning

Link to the Writers Union of Canada bio page for Valerie Mills Milde

Link to Inanna Publications website for Valerie Mills-Milde’s latest book The Land’s Long Reach

” I can’t talk to everyone I want to about writing in person, but this way young people and adults who want to write can watch videos or do writing exercises whenever they want to.” | Q&A with author Alice Kuipers on her new chapter book “Polly Diamond and the Magic Book.”

Polly

I think we all fondly remember that experience when we were first introduced to the joys of reading. Somebody carefully took us aside and showed us the magic of those little lines. And that is what talented writer Alice Kuipers is doing with the first of her chapter books about Polly Diamond – trying to encourage younger readers to want to read and write more. It is a real privilege to be part of Kuipers’ blog tour of “Polly Diamond and the Magic Book” and have her answer a few questions for me.

********

1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “Polly Diamond and the Magic Book?”

Polly Diamond receives a book. Everything she writes in it comes true. Polly is lively and creative and she wishes for, well, everything! She turns her house into a palace and her sister into a banana. With beautiful illustrations by Diana Toledano, Polly’s adventure is to figure out how to get exactly what she wants!

2) Polly seems to be a very unique character. How did you come up with her? Was she inspired by a real-life person?

Polly made herself know to me in that strange way that characters have of appearing in the heads of writers. Then as I was re-drafting an early version of the book, I met a girl at my children’s school. The girl seemed to be so much like Polly that I interviewed her to get to know what it was like to be eight-years-old and full of dreams and hopes. The real life girl and Polly have similarities, but they also diverged as the book kept being rewritten. Polly got louder and clearer the more I worked on the book!
Polly Diamond Illlustration by Diana Toledano 2_preview
Illustration from “Polly Diamond and the Magic Book” done by Diana Toledano

 

3) Is there anything you are hoping this book will accomplish? If yes, what exactly is that?

I would love for the book to inspire a young writer. I have made a free online course for kids who want to write, which any of them can find here: https://writingblueprints.com/ p/writing-course-ages-6-10/ –hopefully this course gets young writers inspired to create their own stories. One of my favourite things about being a writer is seeing the work that kids create.

4) You live in Saskatoon while the illustrator  – Diana Toledano – is listed as living in San Francisco. How did the two of you work together on this book. (Travel to meet? Internet?)

This answer may surprise you, but Diana and I have never met. Not even that, we’ve never even spoken! In my experience, the way that illustrated books work when published with a traditional publisher is that the book designer and the editor co-ordinate the images and the text and, certainly for me, the illustrator and the author communicate through the publishing house, rather than through each other. It’s been an amazing process to see Diana’s illustrations come to life, and it has been surprising, fun and thrilling to see her vision for my words.
Polly Diamond Illustration by Diana Toledano 1_preview
Illustration from “Polly Diamond and the Magic Book” done by Diana Toledano

5) Are you planning a book tour with this book? If yes, are there dates/events you are looking forward to attend?

I’m traveling with TD Bookweek though Vancouver Island from May 5th-12th. I love going to schools and spending time with young readers. They make me laugh, make me think, make me want to write–it’s a real honour to be allowed to talk about my writing life with my children. Traveling though Vancouver Island will be a highlight for me as a writer!

6) So you seem to be active online with both social media and your writing courses through your website. Are you hoping to engage young fans through those tools with the creation of this book?

I’m hoping that I can spend a bit more time on my own writing by sharing my ideas online like this. I love to talk about writing and I have lots to say, but I also want there to be a resource on my website for people who want to explore some of my thoughts in their own time. I can’t talk to everyone I want to about writing in person, but this way young people and adults who want to write can watch videos or do writing exercises whenever they want to. Hopefully the courses are engaging and super fun. I have about 800 students taking my Chapter Book Blueprint and my Middle Grade YA Blueprint courses, so the online reach is huge and I think people like being able to write at their own pace.

7) Will there be more adventures for Polly in the future? If yes, when can we expect another book with Polly Diamond in it?

The second Polly Diamond book is already written and illustrated. It is due to come out a year from now–so, while I’ve been sharing this first book with the world, I’ve been copy-editing this second book. I love writing about Polly–she makes me laugh so much! And I love seeing Diana’s illustrations burst the story into life.

8) There seems to be a lot of thought and creativity in this book. How long did it take to bring this book from first notion to publication? Were there any serious roadblocks or hardships you encountered during that process in bringing this book forward?

So, the second Polly Diamond book took a year to write. But the first book took seven years. I wrote the first draft of that first book when I was pregnant with my daughter, who is now nearly seven. I had to redraft that first book many times, think, learn, redraft again. The earlier book was nearly published with another publisher, but in the end that didn’t work out. When Chronicle Press offered to publish, they wanted some rewrites, and so I was back to the desk. It’s always hard to face edits, well, it is for me. But they always push me to make the book stronger. And now the world of Polly and her magic book is established, it’s much easier to write about her, which is why the second book was written so much more quickly.
My daughter read Polly Diamond and the Magic Book to herself. It is the first ever chapter book she has read to herself, so the very long writing process worked out beautifully!

9) In our last Q&A you mentioned a few novels you were working on. Are any coming to be published soon? Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I have a non-fiction book coming out with Kids Can Press in a year. Currently it is called Always Smile and it is based on the life of Toronto teenager, Carley Allison. There is a film about her on Netflix called Kiss and Cry. It was an honour to interview her family, boyfriend and friends to make this book happen. I’m also working on two YA novels, and another book of non-fiction for teenagers about anxiety disorder, travel and writing. Of course. I’m always writing about writing!

 

*****

Link to Chronicle Books’ website for Polly Diamond and the Magic Book

Link to Alice Kuipers’ website

Link to the free online writing course for children 6-10

 

A Quiet Melancholia to a Profound Pastime. |Review of “Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions by Alberto Manguel (2018) Yale University Press

library

A few weeks ago, I witnessed a young twentysomething stand in front of a large shelf of books and comment how she wanted to be photographed on the floor in front of the books wearing a huge, bulky sweater. Her friend, another twentysomething, did not chide her in any way but agreed to photograph her.  They both carefully looked at the spines of the books, debated which ones to place around her on the floor, and then took the photo. They then  both looked at me at one point if they were committing a transgression in our digital age but I merely smiled at their actions. Of course, they are not alone in their desire of reading and reflection in this digital age. But the desire and the action of reading seems melancholy and antisocial in our busy reality. And that is the same feeling I felt as I read Alberto Manguel’s Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions.

Page 13 First Digression

All our plurals are ultimately singular. What is it then that drives us from the fortress of our self to seek the company and conversation of other beings who mirror us endlessly in the strange world in which we live? The Platonic myth about the original humans having a double nature that was later divided in two by the gods explains up to a point our search: we are wistfully looking for our lost half. And yet, handshakes and embraces, academic debates and contact sports are never enough to break through our conviction of individuality. Our bodies are burkas shielding us from the rest of humankind, and there is no need for Simeon Stylites to climb to the top of a column in the desert to feel himself isolated from his fellows. We are condemned to singularity.

Every new technology, however, offers another hope of reunion. Cave murals gathered our ancestors around them to discuss collective memories of mammoth hunts; clay tablets and papyrus rolls allowed them to converse with the distant and the dead. Johannes Gutenberg created the illusion that we are not unique and that every copy of the Quixote is the same as every other (a trick which has never quite convinced most of its readers). Huddled together in front of our television sets, we witnessed Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, and not content with being part that countless contemplative crowd, we dreamt up new devices that collect imaginary friends to whom we confide our most dangerous secrets and for whom we post our most intimate portraits. At no moment of the day or night are we inaccessible: we have made ourselves available to others in our sleep, at mealtimes, during travel, on the toilet, while making love. We have reinvented the all-seeing eye of God. The silent friendship of the moon is no longer ours, as it was Virgil’s, and we have dismissed the sessions of sweet silent thought which Shakespeare enjoyed.

Alberto Manguel has been one of the few non-fiction writers these days that I insist on reading. He captures a love of not only the craft of reading but the solitude that readers require for their habit in a way that encourages those of us who still race home from a long day to read a volume and ponder it’s meaning. His book A History of Reading is a cornerstone in my personal library, and I have given many copies of that book to friends as a must-read and a testament that quiet reason exists in the world. He has written many other enlightening and heart-warming volumes since that book but it was his volume The Library at Night that made me seriously begin to organize my bookshelves.  I shared Manguel love of organizing books in my own fashion as he did for his library in Loire, France. And I lamented lost books as he did as well. (I sadly left a copy of The Library at Night on a table at an ex-girlfriend’s, in hope that she would rekindle her love of books and me but I fear that either she or one of her following loves may have used it’s pages for rolling papers for smoking dope.) But now we come to this book where Manguel must pack up and leave his library in order to take on a new career.

Page 31 Packing My Library

There can be no resignation for me in the act of packing a library. Climbing up and down the ladder to reach the books to be boxed, removing knick-knacks and pictures that stand like votive figures before them, taking each volume off the shelf, tucking it away in tis paper shroud are melancholy, reflective gestures that have something of a long good-bye. The dismantled rows about to disappear, condemned to exist (if they still exist) in the untrustworthy domain of my memory, become phantom clues to a private conundrum. Unpacking the books, I was not much concerned with making sense of the memories or putting them into a coherent order. But packing them, I felt that I had to figure out, as in one of my detective stories, who was responsible for this dismembered corpse, what exactly brought on its death. In Kafka’s The Trail, after Josef K. is placed under arrest for a never-specified crime, his landlady tells him that his ordeal seems to her “like something scholarly which I don’t understand, but which one doesn’t have to understand either.” “Etwas Gelehrtes,” Kafka writes: something scholarly. This was what the inscrutable mechanics behind the loss of my library seemed to me.

Manguel has a gift for documenting something more than books and reading with his writing. He has captured something of the zeitgeist. I know I am not alone in my life surrounded by technology and egoists that I want to come home and ponder one of the many volumes that are on my shelves. Not only do they provide me with quiet enlightenment but act as insulation from busy, intrusive world. Any time I must pack up my shelves, I feel the same melancholia he does, until the items are unpacked and displayed again.

Page 50

The books in my library promised me comfort, and also the possibility of enlightening conversations. They grant me, every time I took one in my hands, the memory of friendships that required no introductions, no conventional politeness, no pretense or concealed emotion. I knew, in that familiar space between the covers, that one evening I’d pull down a volume of Dr. Johnson or Voltaire I had never opened, and I would discover a line that had been waiting for me for centuries.  I was certain, without having to retrace my way through it, that Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday or a volume of Cesare Pavese’s poems would be exactly what I required to put into words what I was feeling on any given morning. Books have always spoken for me, and have taught me many things long before these things cam materially into my life, and the physical volumes have been for me something very much like breathing creatures that share my bed and board. This intimacy, this trust, began early on among readers.

Alberto Manguel has given us readers something unique and quietly profound in his book, Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions. While it is somewhat melancholy at times, many of us do not feel alone now with literary wants and desires after reading this book. As I am certain my young friend will too when she wears her bulky sweater and reads this well-crafted volume.

*****

Link to Alberto Manguel’s website

Link to Yale University Press’ website for Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions

 

 

“The Dark Divide is a bittersweet love story coming back to a more familiar place, allowing the reader to fall in love with the true beauty of Waterton” | Q&A with author D. K. Stone

There are many good suspense novels available and a good-many of them offer sequels to their original story lines. But none seem to offer the unique level of dedication that D. K. Stone offers to her books set in Waterton Park, Alberta. Her first novel ,  Edge of Wild (Link to my review), was gripping enough but now Stone is release the second novel in that series – The Dark Divide (Link to my review). Stone answered a few questions for me about not only her new book but how the level of interest her fans show to her, help her in her writing.

TheDarkDivide&EdgeOfWildTogether

1) First off, could you give a bit of an overview of “The Dark Divide”?

The Dark Divide is the second of a three part series that takes place in the small Rocky Mountain town of Waterton Park, Alberta, and it directly follows the dramatic events of book 1. In The Dark Divide, Rich Evan is on trial for the arson which destroyed the Whitewater hotel he once managed. There is one niggling doubt, however, a single fingerprint—linked to a decades-old unsolved murder—which suggests someone else in town might have started the hotel fire. As police try to uncover who the real criminal is, the danger that this “other” person presents becomes abundantly clear. Louise, the keeper of the town’s secrets, is caught between wanting to help Rich and needing to protect her friends. And when a mysterious stranger shows up, ready to expose these secrets, chaos is unleashed.

2) This is the second book that you have set in the rugged area of the small town of Waterton. How has the reaction been to the first novel. Are there any memorial comments to the first book you care to share?

One of the notes I most regularly received after Edge of Wild was that readers wanted to know “more about Lou”. The Dark Divide is, at its heart, Louise Newman’s story. Her history and secrets shape the story’s plot and her decisions cause the main events to unfold. I was happy when readers were pulled back into her story. “Picking up right where Edge of Wild left off, we are once again pulled into the magic of Waterton…” and “Reading this book was like getting reacquainted with old friends.” But my all-time favorite comment (perhaps ever) is this one that captures everything I wanted to do: “If Edge of Wild was an exploration into the wilderness and unnerving and jagged sharpness of an outsider trying to fit in, The Dark Divide is a bittersweet love story coming back to a more familiar place, allowing the reader to fall in love with the true beauty of Waterton, and an understanding of what warmth can come from such a crisp and cool place.”

It’s reviews like THAT which keep writers writing!

3) You mentioned in your Q&A with me a few years ago that you were going to call this book “Hinterland?” Was there a reason for the change?

You’re right! It was called Hinterland until the very last round of edits with my editor, Dinah Forbes, who suggested that I change the title to create a more evocative feeling. I honestly had no idea WHAT to call it, so I enlisted the help of my readers online. Eventually I had a massive list of possible names. Though none of them were exactly The Dark Divide, a number of them had to do with borders and darkness, and with that nudge in the right direction, I was able to rename. Once I said The Dark Divide aloud, I knew it was ‘right’.

4) Are you planning a book tour with this book? If yes, are there dates you are looking forward to attending?

Given my location in Canada, I tend to do more online book tours, and this year is no different. I’ll be doing a two week online tour with my Street Team. I’ll be posting links to all sorts of content starting April 14th. As for scheduled appearances, I will be at the Stonehouse launch in Edmonton at the Boyle Street Community League April 14th at 7:00p.m., at CrossIron Mills Indigo on June 6th at 5:00p.m. and at San Diego Comic Con (yes – you heard that right!) from July 19th through 22nd. I will have more details on panels as the date nears.

WatertonPic-DanikaStone

5) Have you been working on this book steadily since 2016? Was it a difficult book to write?

A portion of this book actually started off as part of the original first draft of Edge of Wild, but the story was so large and unwieldy that my agent suggested I try to break it in two. I drafted out a plan for two books—found that it was STILL too long—so I added a third, and suddenly I had a trilogy. I picked up those “pieces” early in 2016 and was able to complete the editing process by the end of the year. It was actually significantly easier to write The Dark Divide because it felt like I already “knew” my characters, whereas in book 1, Edge of Wild, I was still trying to get their voices right.

After months of writing and revising, I finally had something I felt comfortable sending to Stonehouse. I was terrified, but quickly heard back from then. They signed The Dark Divide in 2017 and the final polishing began. For those of your readers who are worrying that they take “too long” when writing, keep in mind that the first part of this book was written in 2012. That is quite a gestation from idea to bookstore!

6) How did you like working with Stonehouse Publishing for this book? 

Stonehouse Publishing is a young independent publishing house, with plenty of hands-on connection to its authors. You never feel like a “cog” in a machine when dealing with them, and I received outstanding support for my writing. They knew going in that I was writing a trilogy and they were supportive of that, without pressuring me to a deadline. (I really appreciated that, as I had other YA books on my plate at the same time.) Seeing The Dark Divide in print, I know that I made the right decision to connect with Stonehouse. From editors to designers to promotions staff, they are an incredible group!

7) You mentioned in a previous Q&A that you eagerly interact with readers via the internet and on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Was that experience true with “The Edge of Wild” and are you eager to interact with fans to discuss “The Dark Divide” in that manner?

Absolutely! One of my favorite things to do is to connect with my readers. A friend of mine beta-read a (new) story of mine the other day and live-tweeted her reactions. I laughed so hard I was crying! That kind of thing just doesn’t happen if you never chat. So, yes! If you’re reading The Dark Divide, I’d love to hear who you think the murderer is. I warn you though… even my editor didn’t see the twist coming, so it might be trickier than you think! (I also won’t tell you if you’re right. Ha ha!)

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

Right now I’m working on a couple young adult novels, one that is a contemporary YA, the other that is scifi YA. I’m also working on the as-yet-untitled book 3 of the Waterton series. On that note, if you have a title suggestion, I’d love to hear it!

Thank you so much for interviewing me, Steven. It was great to chat again!

My pleasure. Good Luck with the launch!

*******

 

Book trailer for The Dark Divide: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCZBNt1LlZY&feature=youtu.be

Danika Stone, Author Bio:

Danika Stone is an author, artist, and educator who discovered a passion for writing fiction while in the throes of her Masters thesis. A self-declared bibliophile, Danika now writes novels for both adults (The Dark Divide, Edge of Wild, The Intaglio Series and Ctrl Z) and teens (Internet Famous, All the Feels and Icarus). When not writing, Danika can be found hiking in the Rockies, planning grand adventures, and spending far too much time online. She lives with her husband, three sons, and a houseful of imaginary characters in a windy corner of Alberta, Canada.

Ms. Stone is represented by Morty Mint of Mint Literary Agency.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Danika_Stone

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/danikastoneauthor/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danika_k_stone/

Link to the Stonehouse Publishing website for The Dark Divide

The Thriller in the Wilds Continue . . . | Review of “The Dark Divide” By D. K. Stone (To be released April 15, 2018) Stonehouse Publishing

A big thank you to the author of this book for sending me (a fan of her work) an advance reading copy of it to add to my bookshelves.

divide

It is enthralling to loose oneself in a good thriller. After a long day spent, it feels great to slip into a realm filled with intrigue and suspense and become engaged with another unique sent of problems for a while. And D. K. Stone has done that for many us too as she revisits the remote mountain-community of Waterton in her book The Dark Divide.

This story is a continuation of the plot that Stone so brilliantly brought forward in her first book Edge of Wild. (Link to my review) Stone has continued explorations of the frustrations of her protagonist Rich Evans and his stay in the small community of Waterton. He finds himself jobless and listless after the destruction of the hotel he once managed and under suspicion of its arson. Only one person believes in his innocence – local Louise Newman – and although she truly loves him, their relationship comes under severe strain as the suspicion of his actions is called into court and he needs to deal with proving his innocence.

Stone not only weaves a great tale of suspense and intrigue here but she captures great elements of the human condition. We have all encountered some sort of suspicion and fear when we have visited close-knit communities. And her exploration of the troubles between the relationship of Rich and Lou while are troublesome, are very real and familiar to many of us. This is a story that is unique and yet very familiar for many readers.

The Dark Divide is a great read filled not only with suspense but documents some deep-seeded emotions and feelings. It is not only a great read but a unique one as well.

*****

Link to Stonehouse Publishing’s Spring 2018 Catalogue which  features The Dark Divide

Link to D. K. Stone’s website

 

 

 

A Novel that Gives Readers Definitions to Complex Social Ills | Review of “Brother” by David Chariandy (2017) McClelland & Stewart

Brother

There are terms that social scientists and politicians throw around to describe our society and it’s illnesses. But those terms are meaningless if one cannot understand what those terms truly mean. A good piece of literature should create empathy to a social situation with it’s readers and create a better consciousness about our society. And that is what David Chariandy has done with his novel Brother.

Page 1

Once he showed me his place in the sky. That hydro pole in a parking lot all weed-broke and abandoned. Looking up, you’d see the dangers of the climb. The feeder lines on insulators, the wired bucket called a pole-pig, the footholds rusted bad and going way into a sky cut hard by live cables. You’d hear the electricity as you moved higher, he warned me. Feel it shivering your teeth and lighting a whole city of hear inside your head. But if you made it to the top, he said, you were good. All that free air and seeing. The streets below suddenly patterns you could read.

A great lookout, my brother told me. One of the best in the neighbourhood, but step badly on a line, touch your hand to the wrong metal part while you’re brushing up against another, and you’d burn. Hang scarecrow-stiff and smoking in the air, dead black sight for all. “You want to go out like that?” he asked. So when you climbed, he said, you had to go careful. You had to watch your older brother and follow close his moves. You had to think back on every step before you took it. Remembering hard the whole way up.

He taught me that, my older brother. Memory’s got nothing to do with the old and grey and faraway gone. Memory’s the muscle sting of now. A kid reaching brave in the skull hum of power.

“And if you can’t memory right,” he said, “you lose.”

This has been a notable book on a number of lists now – being nominated and winning numerous awards and the book that the London (Ontario) Public Library is encouraging its members to read right now. (Link to the One Book, One London webpage hosted by the London Public Library). This is a book that gives one pause to consider urban angst and poverty in ways most people may not understand. Readers are vaulted into the lives of Michael and his older brother Francis. They are both trying to come to terms with their Trinidadian heritage while living on the outskirts of a major urban centre. They deal with a barrage of prejudices and “low expectations” because of who they are and the colour of their skin.

Pages 46-47

“A girl,” said Mother, as if to herself, “A sleeping child.”

Since witnessing Anton get shot, Francis had been a zombie, his eyes glazed and evasive. But Mother’s words appeared to shake him awake. For a second he met my eyes, but then dropped his. Mother was now staring at him.

The cops reassured her that we were not under investigation. Already there were leads on the names and whereabouts of the suspects, but since we had been in the vicinity of the shooting, they might want to interview us as the case developed. They voiced concerns about Francis’s connections to some of the suspects. Mother nodded and said twice that her boys would cooperate fully. The cops encouraged her, also, to get in touch if she felt she could offer any relevant information. It would all be anonymous, they insisted. Our identities would be protected.

“We will cooperate,” said Mother again. “We promise. Thank you, officers.”

She continued thanking them as they walked away. And then she held the door open for Francis and me to go inside. She shut the door very carefully behind us and took her time letting go of the handle. She seemed to muster all of the energy in her body just to face us.

“You will . . . tell me . . . everything,” she said.

Chariandy has a direct style here but the book gives a vivid description of a life of a young urban man trying to find his place in a cruel world.  It is a small volume of a book but deserves complete attention by any serious reader. The settings he describes alone are so true and feel so alone. This is a must read for any person who believes in the power of literary empathy.

Pages 90-91

Jelly must sense my wariness towards him, because shortly after the tea, he leaves without a word. Through the window, I see him pass Mrs. Henry, who stops to stare before shaking her head and muttering something disapproving to the invisible congregation of souls forever accompanying her. If Jelly can hear the rebuke, he very wisely doesn’t respond and continues walking down the avenue. He’s taken his backpack, and for a moment I wonder if he’s left for good. Should we have tried to talk? Ten years and not a single word between us. Should I at least have said goodbye? I feel more relief than guilt. But in a couple of hours he returns with his backpack full, as well as two plastic bags of groceries in his hands. And there’s another surprise.

He can cook.

He moves fluently through the inexpensive ingredients he’s bought, bags of vegetables as well as dried peas, rice little containers of seasonings he produces from his backpack. He chops like a chef, the sharp steel edge loud and quick upon the wood. Soon he’s got the edge loud and quick upon the wood. Soon he’s got the entire kitchen in chaos, no free space on the counters, all stove elements on. Mother has begun to pitch in too, and she sorts dried peas at the kitchen table, dropping them into a ceramic bowl with the sound of small pebbles. Even Aisha is participating, fetching pots and pans, washing vegetables in a big colander at the sink.

Brother by David Chariandy is a novel that gives definitions to many of the social ills we hear about. It is not only a book that should be read or pondered over but discussed in great detail. In any case a great piece of literature worthy of it’s many accolades.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for Brother

Link to the London (Ontario, Canada) Public Library’s website for the One Book One London project

Link to my review of David Chariandy’s previous book Soucouyant

 

A Work of Writing That Feels More Like a Good Conversation | Review of “A Generous Latitude” by Lenea Grace (To be Published April 2018) ECW Press

Lat

I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book from the publisher.

Most of us crave a published work at times that feels like we are having a conversation with a group of friends. When one thinks of those conversations, one often reflects on serious elements as well as goofy comments and moments of quiet pondering. There is something enlightening as well as uplifting to our psyches after those types of conversations. And that is what reading Lenea Grace’s A Generous Latitude feels like. Less like a collection of poetry but more like a good conversation with a good friend.

Grace’s observations here are vivid, at times delightful and sometimes insightful. It is rare to note something like the fact that Guy Lafleur played hockey without a helmet led to his decision to record a disco album. Or that one sharing a video of one’s daughter bowel movement would be lead to a strong social-media friendship. But those are the types of comments that Grace has set in a lyrical yet unique fashion here.

A Generous Latitude by Lenea Grace is a fun yet  enlightening read. It felt comfortable at times and certainly worthy a few moments to read and enjoy.

*****

Link to Lenea Grace’s website

Link to ECW Press’ website for A Generous Latitude

The Enjoyment of a Complex Read | Review of “The Rule of Stephens” by Timothy Taylor (2018) Doubleday Canada

Stephens

We all try to plan our lives out in some order. But those plans are interrupted violently at times by some sort of external force and we are shocked into making new plans for our goals. That transition can be confusing –  and even heartbreaking –   for many of us. That transitional stage is the element of the human condition that Timothy Taylor documents in his book The Rule of Stephens.

Page 13 DIYagnosis

Catherine Bach was thirty-five years old when AF801 went down. In the year prior, she had managed to take a single week off, a poorly considered trip to Cabo San Lucas with a man she’d only been out with a couple of times. Liam. They shared a room, had sex once but wet to sleep in separate beds. He hated the food. They broke up on the plane home, amicably enough, and she hadn’t heard from him since. Other than that, life was work. It had been a single frantic year since Catherine had stopped her practice at the clinic to plow all her still-meagre savings into DIYagnosis Personal Health Systems, a next-generation health-tracking wearable that monitored user vital signs and that would – assuming they succeeded in building and testing the various prototypes – feed back to the user a whole range of vital stats, from blood pressure to respiration rates, BMI, T-cell counts, liver enzymes.

Know your body. Change your world.

This book is a complex read but it is an intriguing one.  The main character is Catherine Bach. Although Bach is a founder of  a start-up biotech firm, she is frustrated that everybody around her focuses their attention that she one of a few survivors of a horrific jetliner accident a few years before. As she deals with both the trauma of the event and the frustrations of rolling out the new product, she finds that her life is guided by events that can be attributed to the works of two archetypal Stephens  – the complex and ordered world of Stephen Hawking or the “paranormal aberrations” of Stephen King.

Pages 7-8

Catherine didn’t like thinking this way. Luck, fate,  destiny. There were conceits, offensive to rational thought and logic. The universe, like the human body, was complex and on occasion surprising. But it remained an ordered and structured thing. The Rule of Stephens, she’d lectured her sister, Valerie, as far back as when they were still in high school. That would be Stephen Hawking or Stephen King. There were the laws of physics and then there was everything else. You had to choose which set of rules explained life best.

Valerie, three years younger and an aspiring stage actress in her teen years, had always seemed faintly dissatisfied with natural explanations. She was then, in Catherine, who shared the same strawberry ginger hair inherited from their mother, the same fine, fair features and intense green eyes. Catherine remembered the lunches she and her sister had shared in an empty chem lab, half an hour over salads they made together before school. Half an hour before Valerie’s friends came to find her and Catherine herself turned to whatever homework needed her attention, whatever book was on the go. She recalled one occasion, running late, a mid-term afternoon in April or May. She’d rushed in flustered and talking already about her English teacher’s marking scheme: so subjective, so lacking in rigour. And there was Valerie wiping away rear, trying to cover up the horoscope that she’d been reading.

Friends can be deceiving. And as Saturn squares with Venus, beware the one friend who . . .

Valerie distraught. Catherine instantly furious. Saturn said no more about Valerie’s chances in love or friendship than it did about Catherine’s English grades. There was this matter of physical causality, Catherine ranted. And since she was also carrying around a copy of A Brief History of Time that year, in the cause of sisterly, protective love she resorted to it. That really was her up at the chalkboard drawing cones that me at their points, trying to explain how the speed of light quite tightly proscribed what could affect a given moment, just as it limited how a given moment could affect the future. Catherine with chalk in her hand, drawing pictures, trying to explain Hawking’s “hypersurface of the present” just as the lab door burst open and Valerie’s drama club friends poured in.

Taylor is one of those rare writers who documents elements of the human condition that are just outside of our perception. Careful readers will note the points he is making through the telling of the story of Catherine Bach in their own lives yet may have never noted the situations of emotions until reading this book. Certainly this is a unique book told by a unique and talented writer.

Pages 92-93

Catherine felt sick, like she’d been punched in the stomach. Oxygen deficiency and a spreading numbness within.

Phil took a big breath. Then he leaned forward and brought his face quite clos to hers. Voice almost a whisper now.

I would never knowingly deceive you,” he said. “I think you know me well enough to believe that. And I’m going to go one step further. I I thin you also know that the time has come to walk away. I know you can do it. You’re the kind of person who can. I knew you before the accident, Cate. And I’ve seen you struggle since. May Morris turns DIY into his billion-dollar unicorn, rides the whole thing to some huge exit. But honestly? Probably a hundred things. In the meantime his offer is a good one and would allow you to step back and think about yourself for a while. Yourself. Your health. Your future.”

Phil the eminently reasonable. Phil who actually cared about her as a person. Phil who, it wasn’t hard to see, under different circumstances for both of them might well have been something more.

Catherine was nodding to herself now. But for all his understanding, Phil still wasn’t getting it. He wasn’t getting what it felt like to have someone swivel their attentions on you, decide that what you had built, what you had cared for, what you had now within your grasp might very conceivably be their own.

“So I sign,” Catherine said. “Your best advice.”

Timothy Taylor has constructed a complex yet enlightening read with his novel The Rule of Stephens. It is definitely not a light read nor is it one that should be rush through. But, like all of Taylor’s other book, it shines a light on a spot of the human condition. In short, a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for The Rule of Stephens

Link to Timothy Taylor’s website