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

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Head's up Everyone: Road through Time Launch Thursday, April 20 at Librairie Drawn and Quarterly

The plans are firming up, and we'll have the launch of Road through Time: The Story of Humanity on the Move at one of the coolest bookstores around, Librairie Drawn and Quarterly, 211 Bernard West, in the Mile End district of Montreal. 

Then a week later it looks like I'll be taking part in the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival, although the details have yet to be announced.  Here's the link where you can find out more about this wonderful
week-long literary event. 

And of course when you finish one project, it's time to move on to another.  So I'm working on two.  One's a novel about engineers, hydro power and corruption that is a sense a follow-up  to River Music since one of the principal characters is the daughter of Gloria Murray, the heroine (is that the word? she's not all that heroic, except when it comes to her ambition) of River Music.  The other also has a lot of engineering in it, since it's about concrete.  It'll be called Rock of Ages: How Concrete Made the World as We Know It.   For both I've been doing a lot of reading.  Here's some books I'd recommend even if you don't have projects like mine in mind:

The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville: a novel by the Australian writer which throws together a woman involved in preserving ordinary things and an engineer sent to an Outback hamlet to rebuild a wooden bridge.

Concretopia: A Journey around the Rebuilding of Postwar Britain by John Grindrod.  Social history at its best. 

Concrete and Culture by Adrian Forty. By an historian of architecture and art, this semi-scholarly work covers some of the history of concrete, and speaks tellingly of how it has influenced our lives.  Two criticisms: too much about whether concrete is a "noble" material, and too small type.  The latter problem is all too common in books with a large "art" component and many illustrations.  It is almost as if the writer and publishers expect the audience to be more interested in pretty pictures than in thoughts about them.

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.