"A girl was never ruined by books," my mother used to say. I've spent most of my life trying to prove that wrong.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Hearts, Valentines and Maylis de Kerengal

It's been quite a while since I've posted here--many, many things going on, including much reading for my various projects.  But today is a quiet Sunday, so I want to catch up.  First up here's an appreciation of one of the best novels I've read in years.

The illustration is a Valentine  heart, made with a not-too-steady hand in Photoshop.  Nice to know that I don't do much cardiac surgery, right?

As it happens, though, I've been reading the wonderful novel by Maylis de Kerengal, variously called RĂ©parer les vivants (in French) or Mending the Living (translation by Jennifer Moore) or The Heart translation by Sam Taylor.  In it, a young man dies and his heart and other organs are donated to others.  Sounds gruesome, but it is exalting.  The French is poetic, evocative and engrossing, while the translations (why there are two, I haven't been able to determine, but both are quite good in their own way) carry the reader along through all the agony of the young man's family and medical professionals who will see that he lives on in others.

In France, organ donation is the default situation: a person must opt out, or it is assumed that he or she has agreed to have organs donated.  In North America, the reverse is the norm, so that unless one has specifically signed a statement approving donation, they won't be.  I'd always been a bit ambivalent about this, and while I've signed the statement on my driver's license agreeing to donation, I had no strong position.  After reading the novel, I'm far more positive.  Read it, and check out where you can sign up. In Canada: here.  In the US: here.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Nobel Prize for Literature is VERY political

So Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature?  Everyone was surprised: bookies in London had put his chances at 50/1.  Some were shocked: 

Some merely said that the choice is only following the path the Nobel committee embarked on a few years ago in awarding the world's most prestigious literary prize to genres other than the novel or poetry.  The Canadian Alice Munro who won in 2013 was the first short story writer to be so honoured, while last year Russian  writer Sventlana Alexievich became the first non-fiction writer.  Why not at this juncture give the prize to a bard?

But so far no one I've read has mentioned the way that Nobel prizes, particularly the ones for literature and peace, have a political subtext.  Look who won the prize for Peace this year: the Colombian president who had only days before lost a referendum on a peace accord with the guerilla group FARC.  Or the fact that between 1966 and 1991 no woman won the prize for literature, a 25 year period in which many women were producing fine writing and demanding a voice in all domains of society.  (The story is that one of the members of the jury insisted that no woman could produce great literature, but when he died the committee played a bit of catch-up.)

As Alex Shephard wrote in The New Republic last week: "The Nobel Committee would love nothing more than to send a passive-aggressive signal to America by awarding the prize to someone who stands for everything Donald Trump opposes. But none of these elder statesmen and -women (which he lists as America's finest) really fits that bill. That none of these Americans can really claim the mantle of The One True Great American Novelist makes it even harder."

However, the committee found a way to finesse that by thinking outside the box and giving the prize to a man who has been the conscience of his country for five decades.

Dylan's poetry?  I can't judge it, I'm appreciation-impaired when it comes to that genre.  Some of his songs are great, though, and I can sing a half dozen of them.

What has the Donald said about this?  Probably that he wished he'd bet on Dylan.  That would have been a "brilliant business move" of the sort he brags about.  But I imagine he didn't, just like he didn't do so many other things he claims to have done.

Note: Shephard explains how he turned out to be so fantastically wrong here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

On the Road toward Road through Time

For the last few days I've been correcting the copy edit of my new book Road through Time: The Story of Humanity on the MoveAnd just as I was finishing up, I received the cover.  Pretty nice, eh?

Here's the bumph from the University of Regina's Spring 2017 catalogue:

In this thoroughly researched and beautifully written history of roads as vectors of change, Mary Soderstrom documents how routes of migration and transport have transformed both humanity and our planet.
Accessible and entertaining, Road Through Time begins with the story of how anatomically modernhumans left Africa to populate the world. 
She then carries us along the Silk Road
in central Asia, and tells of roads built for war in Persia, the Andes, and the Roman Empire. She sails across the seas, and introduces the  rst railways, all before plunking us down in the middle of a massive, modern freeway.
The book closes with a view from the
end of the road, literally and figuratively, asking, can we meet the challenges presented by a mode of travel dependent on hydrocarbons, or will we decline, like so many civilizations that have come before us?
Sound interesting?  If I hadn't written the book, I'd want to read it, says she, smiling!  The catalogue gives the pub date as April 15, 2017, so I guess we'll have to wait a bit to do that!