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September 28, 2010

On rereading Nikolski

During Canada Reads 2010, I was championing the champion Nikolski, but of course I was a little bit concerned because I’d read the book two years before, and what it if had changed in the meantime? Because books do that, of course, or at least their readers do (which I had to discover with a great deal of nausea once the day I sat down to reread that once-beloved Priscilla Presley autobiography Elvis and Me, but that is another story). So I decided that I would reread Nikolski, to ensure that my championship remains appropriate, and it’s with a great deal of pleasure and relief that I can announce that it has. I will say, however, that it’s not a book that is necessarily better the second time around (as Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin is, which is why I’ll be reading it for a third time in the next week or so) but it’s just as good, the prose just as rich, the text just as, um, textured. It’s a puzzle of a novel whose pieces fit together absolutely perfectly, the sum of its parts less remarkable than the fact of the summing itself, which is brilliant. In short, Nikolski is a book about books, the spells they cast, the paths they travel, and the paths they set us on.

March 12, 2010

Nikolski wins Canada Reads!

This is even better than that hockey game everyone was talking about a few weeks back. Because here at Pickle Me This, we love Nikolski. We’ve loved Nikolski for two years now, and we’ve given the book (in French and English) as gifts, and we’ve urged it upon friends and family, and never once has anyone who’s read it been sorry. And yes, perhaps it’s a book you have to work for (though that’s not what I remember about it), but it’s fun work, and altogether worth the trouble.

I would have taken a picture of Harriet posing with Nikolski and Century, but it is difficult enough to keep Harriet (who is totally dressed up as a boy today– check it out!) from ripping apart one book, let alone two. (And speaking of books and Harriet destroying them, she’s totally into “lift the flap” these days.)

Anyway, it’s a good day for Canada’s readers. Congratulations to Nicolas Dickner, whose wonderful book is going to get many more new ones, and to panelist Michel  Vézina, who stole the show.

March 8, 2010

Canada Reads (The Original!) Begins!

I’m listening to Canada Reads on my beloved CBC Radio One right now and immediately finding the panelists much more compelling than last year. And though I’ve not been reading along these last few months, once more I want to throw in my support for the wonderful Nikolski (which is NOT “a dude book!” Or rather, it is far more than one). It seems to have a wonderful champion in Michel  Vézina too (who dares to accuse those who’ve found it “thin” of “reading it thinly”. Roland Pemberton is also winning me over. Samantha Nutt put me off by suggesting that fiction has to have something to teach us about ourselves. Perdita Felicien and Simi Sara are also putting in a good show. Unless Nikolski is out tomorrow (heaven forbid) I’ll be listening all week.

February 22, 2010

Canada Reads 2010: UPDATE 6

Four down, one to go, and I know lots of other readers are making good progress. Pretty soon I’ll be providing details of the vote we’ll be using to determine which title comes out on top, and I hope you’ll all show support for your favourites.

In the meantime, there’s plenty of reading going on– my husband is eating up How Happy to Be as I type this, and August Bourre had plenty of good things to say about Katrina Onstad’s novel: “Onstad’s send-up of self-important celebrities and the media apparatus that seems structured soley to support their egos is dead-on… and I laughed out loud more than once while Maxime was interviewing Ethan Hawke. It all seems like such a laugh, really, watching Maxime deliberately sabotaging her career, eviscerating her coworkers with her wit, navigating parties and talk shows and fucking Ad Sales out of boredom. And then for a moment it’s all ripped away and we can see the insecurity that underlies it all…”

This week, Charlotte Ashley read Moody Food and found it “engrossing, a genuine page-turner, and uncomfortably evocative of a seriously messed-up time.  But so very not my thing.” Buried in Print read it too, found it not exactly up her street, but wrote, “The dialogue is truly stand-out. It’s walk-off-the-page good. Not overly clever, just damn straight and believable. ” Writer Guy reads Century and suspects it’s untoppable: “Ultimately, the real strength of this work is Smith’s assertive and limpid (a word he actually uses at least three times!) prose. There’s a confidence in his style, a writer who’s totally in command of the language.”

In wider Canada Reads news, can I please credit the CBC people for being so cool and supportive about their imitators? For taking it all on as flattery instead of threat? And certainly, there is much flattery– the National Post announced their Canada Also Reads shortlist, which includes Pickle Me This favourites Come Thou, Tortoise and Yellowknife. And having read Julie Forrest’s review, I’m also going to read Stacey-May Fowles’ novel Fear of Fighting (which is available for free download). And then the fantastic KIRBC pepole bring you Civilians Read, which is the CBC Canada Reads lineup, but with a different panel of defenders. And so it will be interesting to see how things go down there.

March promises to be quite the showdown .

December 18, 2009

Why a bias towards fiction is essential

Douglas Hunter’s recent article on readers’ bias toward fiction made me consider that literary non-fiction benefits from a reading public hungry for Wayne Rooney’s autobiographical volumes, Sarah Palin’s memoir, Eat Pray Love, The Secret, that book about the world’s worst dog, Skinny Bitch Bun in the Oven, and Mitch Albom no more than literary fiction does. In fact, literary non-fiction (which, according to Hunter, is usually about ice and written by men called Ken) probably ends up worse off, because “literary non-fiction” is not a term so flung around anyway, and most of us fictionish folks do imagine the Kens basking out there in the glow of bestsellerdom, along with Mitch Albom. Non-fiction sells; everybody knows that, and we’ve just never cared to break it down any further.

Hunter’s point that literary non-fiction gets short shrift is a valid one then, but I felt Canada Reads as his target was strangely misdirected. The point of Canada Reads is the novel, so it’s unsurprising that a word of non-fiction has never been included. Perhaps that a similar campaign does not exist for non-fiction makes more sense to consider, and Hunter does go on to show the underwhelming amount of attention paid to the Governor General Literary Award’s non-fiction nominees as opposed to the fiction, or to the Charles Taylor Prize compared to the Gillers.

But it is here that I want to stand up and state the importance of Canada Reads being about fiction, and the importance of fiction in general. Because there are certain instances in which a book is not just a book, and I think that a remarkable novel is one of them. There is an exercise in imagination necessary for fiction that non-fiction does not require, which is not to say that the latter is inferior, but rather that the effect of a group of people reading the former is a far more powerful thing. Reading not necessarily to learn, not to be transported to a place that has ever existed, sans political or cultural agenda (most ideally), to conjure a world that has been created out of air… and words. A book that exists for the sake of itself.

I think it’s important that if as a nation we’re to read just one book that that book be a novel. Perhaps my bias toward the authenticity of fiction is showing, but it has more potential to take us places together. One nation, one book, and that one novel will be a different book for everyone doesn’t matter any less, for that’s the very point of it.

December 4, 2009

Canada Reads 2010: Independently

I continue to swear by the aphorism, “the best antidote to the disappointment of the literary life is to read”, but the literary life must be something disappointing because this comes up a lot. Lately, it’s the whole Canada Reads 2010, which I’m not going to knock because I love the spirit behind the whole thing, and I’m going to be following the campaign, but it just wasn’t the reading list for me. What I wanted was what I found from (most of) the 2009 lineup– book recommendations out of nowhere, books I’d never pick up otherwise, that challenge my sensibilities, and that I might just fall in love with.

And so in deciding to go seek those recommendations myself, I am thrilled to bring you Canada Reads 2010: Independently. In which I’ve enlisted my own awesome celebrity panel of five– authors, illustrators, critics, publishers, editors among them (one of each and some of both) who’ll each be selecting a book to champion. And I will be reading each of these five books, which I expect will be various, some out of my comfort zone, and examining them from my own critical perspective. Ranking them in order of my personal preference to pick my favourite of the lot. I am very excited.

I would love also if some others might follow along, as to find out how my tastes compare with other readers’ only will enhance my own reading experience. I’ll be posting reviews throughout the winter of the books I read, and I’d appreciate any comments.

I realize that my being excited and letting you know that in just two weeks my celebrity panelists and their picks will be revealed somewhat contradicts my earlier assertion that “anticipation will get you nowhere.” Pickle Me This, however, makes a point of being inconsistent.

In this case, also, I really don’t think I have much chance of disappointment. So stayed tuned. Cool things are indeed afoot. And thanks to my husband for the logo on demand.

December 1, 2009

Anticipation will get you nowhere

Today was a smaller day than projected. First, we got to the doctor and found out that our appointment wasn’t actually scheduled (which wasn’t my fault, for once). And then the Canada Reads 2010 lineup was revealed, and I’m not so excited now. Though it’s not all bad– Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner is on the list, and I’m pretty passionate about that novel, so I’m pleased it’s going to get wider exposure– it was one of my favourite books of 2008, and you can read my review here.

But I find the rest of the lineup distinctly blah: I read Generation X years ago and might like to revisit it, particularly as it’s such a reference point, but I don’t know how satisfying that reread would be. I read Good to a Fault last year, and though many many people loved this book, I didn’t. Which was odd, because its domestic realm is a place where I spend a lot of my literary time, but the story needed a good edit and didn’t come alive for me. I have never read Fall On Your Knees, though I’ve started it a thousand times but never got very far in (oddly, however, McDonald’s The Way the Crow Flies is a book I absolutely adore). The only book of the bunch that was new to me is Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony, which I’m going to read now.

Participating in Canada Reads this year would involve me buying two books I used to own but gave away, and that’s never a good sign. So I suspect I’ll not be taking part, and I’m really disappointed about that. Last dear I so enjoyed reading all the books, looking at them critically, attending the Canada Reads Panel at the Toronto Reference Library, and listening to the broadcasts in March. Last year, however, I was inspired to get involved by a list of book I had a genuine interest in visiting (or revisiting, in one case). In particular, I liked the inclusion of a quirky book from a small press (Fruit), and that I got to discover an important Canadian writer I’d been neglecting (Tremblay). I am not so convinced that year’s list would reap similar rewards.

I’m also not convinced that any of these are books I’d recommend for all Canadians to read, though does any book, I wonder, hold such general appeal?

December 1, 2009

A Big Day

Tomorrow is a big, big day. Biggest of all, Harriet goes to the doctor for her six month checkup, so she’ll get shot up with powerful poisons and we’ll find out how many point how many pounds of enormous she is. What this means, however, is that I won’t be able to head down to the CBC to see Canada Reads 2010 unveiled. I’m honestly sad about this, and looking forward to finding out this year’s books (which I may or may not read, depending on what they are). In related news, Julie Wilson is guest-hosting the CBC Book Club. In Julie Wilson-related news (and there always is some. I am sort of a Julie Wilson fanatic, actually), tomorrow also starts Advent Books— a book a day to satisfy your holiday shopping-recommendation needs.

I am now reading Gaudy Nights, and I’m surprised to find that it is a fairly demanding read in terms of length and content. Maureen Corrigan also ruined the ending, but I think I’ll still enjoy the ride.

Mitzi Bytes

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