fun stuff

My blog: visually represented as a Wordle

**Updated on November 16th, 2012. I see a few differences, though I’m surprised “cloud” and “atlas” aren’t more prominently displayed. Tea and books, though…that’s a smart Wordle:

Wordle: on Nov 16

In a shocking turn of events, I use the word “book” more than any other non-common word in this blog! Click on the image to check out my blog in Wordle form as of February 4th, 2012!

Wordle: EditorialEyes.Wordpress.Com

book review

Hell is what you make of it: A review of Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

If you’re a Chuck fan, you’ve probably already read Damned. If you haven’t read any Palahniuk before, I can’t recommend this one. While Hell itself is a great landscape and an interesting concept here, the story is dated and unfocused.


“My parents meant well, but the road to Hell is paved with publicity stunts.”
Damned, Chuck Palahniuk

Damned is an entertaining mess of a book. Told in the first person voice of thirteen-year-old Madison Spencer, daughter of a superstar actress and a Hollywood mogul, Chuck Palahniuk’s contemporary twist on Dante’s Inferno had me snickering in some places, rolling my eyes in irritation at others. I’m not a fan of Palahniuk’s—not that I don’t like him, but that I haven’t read anything other than Fight Club and Damned, so I’m not bringing the kind of author love to the table that a lot of readers are bringing (unlike, say, if I were reviewing a Neil Gaiman book).

Each chapter is introduced with a “Are you there, Satan? It’s me, Madison” as Maddy Spencer chronicles her new existence in Hell, looks back at her brief tenure on earth, and mocks we readers for thinking that we will live forever, that our bran muffins and exercise regimens will save us from her fate. It’s a strong start and it challenges the reader to remember our own mortality rather uncomfortably. Palahniuk also nails the voice of his overly intelligent thirteen-year-old protagonist. She’s self-conscious of her body weight and her intelligence—though also sort of proud of how smart she is. She often uses big words and then defends herself for it: “Yes, I know the word convey,”… “Yes, I know the word absentia.” Her repeated use of slurs like “Miss Whorey Vanderwhore” and “Miss Slutty McSlutski” gets irritating fast but keeps her voice true. Maddy has deep self-esteem issues, and she’s a difficult-to-like protagonist, which is often interesting. Her parents’ total obliviousness about her social life (or lack thereof), her profound crush on her newly adopted brother Goran, and even their cluelessness in sending a child to “eco-camp” on a newly refurbished private jet adds to the story immensely. Their tragic sadness over her death juxtaposes well with the way her mother, when Maddy was alive, insisted her daughter was 8, not 13, so she herself wouldn’t look old.

Hell itself is a great landscape and an interesting concept here. Continue reading “Hell is what you make of it: A review of Damned by Chuck Palahniuk”

book review

The Ashes That Are Left Behind: A review of Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch is part documentary, part high-seas adventure, and part book of horrors. Inspired by the historical figure Charles Jamrach and by real events, Birch crafts an exploration of 19th-century England, the workings of a whaling ship, and the very question of what humanity is.

“Three years and come back a man, come back changed. See the strange places I itch to see. See the sea. Could you ever get sick of the sight of the sea?”

Jamrach’s Menagerie, Carol Birch

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch is part documentary, part high-seas adventure, and part book of horrors. Inspired by the historical figure Charles Jamrach, who was an exotic animals dealer in the 19th century, and by real events (the escape of a Bengal tiger who picked up a small boy and carried him in its mouth; the wreck of the whaleship Essex and the crew’s subsequent descent into cannibalism as a means of survival), Birch crafts an exploration of 19th-century England, the workings of a whaling ship, and the very question of what humanity is.

depiction of the real life meeting of the boy and Jamrach's bengal tiger. Photo from

Told by Jaffy Brown as he looks back at the events that shaped his life, the tale begins in the filth of Bermondsey, England. The narrator as a small, fatherless child roams the sewers in search of pennies, living with the stench and the gnawing hunger of deep poverty. At age 8, relocated to Ratcliffe Highway in London, Jaffy comes face to face with the first major event that will change him: an encounter with a runaway tiger from the exotic animal menagerie run by Mr. Jamrach. Fearless, and with a deeply intuitive and calm relationship with animals, Jaffy walks right up to the tiger, who is “like the Sun himself came down and walked on earth,” (p. 10) and pets the creature’s nose. He is utterly guileless and not particularly aware of any danger he is in from this large, wild cat, who knocks Jaffy over and carries him in his mouth down the Highway. He is rescued by Jamrach, who is amazed at Jaffy’s fearlessness and manner around animals and gives him a job as a yard-boy in his menagerie. Continue reading “The Ashes That Are Left Behind: A review of Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch”

book review

Murder, Mayhem, and Father Christmas: A review of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley

We always get a wonderful cast in every Flavia book, be they murderous philatelists, puppeteers, gypsies, or, as is the case here, ciné folk. In Shadows, Buckshaw is being rented out by a film crew, including a famous director, actors, and their coterie.


“I had half a mind to march upstairs to my laboratory, fetch down the jar of cyanide, seize this boob’s nose, tilt his head back, pour the stuff down his throat, and hang the consequences.

Fortunately, good breeding kept me from doing so.”

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Alan Bradley

Even if you haven’t read them, you’ve probably heard about the Flavia de Luce mysteries, which all started with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie . Set in the rural English town of Bishop’s Lacey in the 1950s, Alan Bradley’s world is a wonderfully charming place to sink into. And his protagonist, the eleven-year-old Flavia, is one of the best amateur detectives in recent literature. Young Flavia is a chemistry nut—with a special interest in poisons—and when she’s not contemplating the delightful properties of cyanide or lacing her older sister’s lipstick with an extract made from poison ivy, she’s zipping around Bishop’s Lacy on her trusty bicycle (whose name, incidentally, is Gladys) and finding her way into the hearts of murder investigations.

A review of a Flavia book really has to be about two things: the self-contained story within the book, and its place in the overall series, specifically how it forwards the overarching stories and mysteries of the de Luce household. Continue reading “Murder, Mayhem, and Father Christmas: A review of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley”

book review

The End of the World as We Know It: Review of A.S. Byatt’s Ragnarök

Ragnarök offers a chance to peek into the author’s mind.

“There are two ways, in stories, of winning battles—to be supremely strong, or to be a gallant, forlorn hope. The Ases were neither. They were brave and tarnished.”

Ragnarök: The End of the Gods, A.S. Byatt

This is not exactly a novel. Not exactly fiction, not exactly autobiography, not exactly allegory. Ragnarök: The End of the Gods, A.S. Byatt’s reweaving of the Norse cycle of myths is, for such a short book, epic. Ragnarök is part of the Canongate Myth Series, which since 1999 has published retellings of famous myths by accomplished authors the world over (you might recognize Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad or Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ from the list of Canongate titles).

Ragnarök loosely tells the story of the thin child, an otherwise unnamed waif who is a loose representation of Byatt in her childhood, sent to the English countryside during World War II. She finds herself surrounded by flora and fauna that differs greatly from her city world, and she finds a book about the Norse gods, written by a meticulous German scholar, that opens up her imaginative playground and, indeed, her world view. We follow her as she traipses, book-bag in one hand and gas-mask in the other, through fields of flowers and dreamscapes of great Norse battles, puzzling out what she believes to be true about the world around her. Continue reading “The End of the World as We Know It: Review of A.S. Byatt’s Ragnarök”

literary event

The Event: IFOA Readings – Boyden, Taylor, Maracle | Beaton, Knelman, Glass

The Event: IFOA Readings – Boyden, Taylor, Maracle | Beaton, Knelman, Glass

“A lot of people in history die: I don’t want to spoil that for you.”

– Kate Beaton, IFOA, October 30th, 2011

Part two of my venturings through the always interesting waters of Toronto’s International Festival of Authors brings you two sets of readings events, each quite different in tone. A disclaimer before we begin: each reading included a poet, and I am supremely unqualified to comment on poetry, so I will not be spending much time with either David A. Groulx or Ken Babstock in this post.

October 26th: Joseph Boyden, David Lee Maracle, Drew Hayden Taylor, David A. Groulx

“Thanks for coming out in such miserable weather,” said host Stuart Woods, editor of Quill & Quire, on Wednesday October 26th. Indeed, the frigid autumn rain was pouring down, and the glassed-in terrace that had been turned into a stage area was not the coziest place to be.

As is the case with many IFOA readings and roundtables, I didn’t know the work of everyone I was to see that evening. I’d come for Joseph Boyden, with whom I’d fallen deeply in love after reading Through Black Spruce (with much of my family coming from northern Ontario, I enjoy orienting myself geographically in his work, and his ear for dialectical differences region to region). That Drew Hayden Taylor of Motorcycles and Sweetgrass fame was there was a bonus. I was unfamiliar with the other half of the program, Lee Maracle and David A. Groulx. It’s part of the fun of IFOA, the possibility of discovering an author without whom your literary world is incomplete. Continue reading “The Event: IFOA Readings – Boyden, Taylor, Maracle | Beaton, Knelman, Glass”

literary event

The Event: Will Ferguson (the Amusing) and the Translators (the Awkward) at IFOA 2011

“Pierre Burton showed me a Canada that was worthy of passion.”

Will Ferguson, IFOA, October 22nd, 2011

The events: International Festival of Authors: Shelagh Rogers interviews Will Ferguson; Wayne Grady hosts a roundtable on translation

When you’re preparing to host or be a guest at an International Festival of Authors event, part of your process should be a consideration of why people have purchased tickets. Why are you expecting a group of like-minded literary types to come down to Harbourfront and spend an hour of their time with you? What is the advertised topic of your event, what is the author’s style or genre, what interesting stories do you want to share with your audience so they feel like they’ve been a part of a fun or stimulating day?

October 22nd: Shelagh Rogers interviews Will Ferguson

I ventured down to the Festival twice this weekend. First up was Shelagh Rogers of CBC fame interviewing Will Ferguson, prolific humourist and most recently author of the book Canadian Pie. Rogers, I think, was as much of a draw as Ferguson. It’s always fun to see the face behind a radio voice, and Rogers was fearless as she started off the interview by reminiscing about the first time she and Ferguson met—“cheek to cheek” and naked but for a screen separating them as they received on-air massages at Temple Gardens spa in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. (Side note: I’ve been to Temple Gardens for some truly excellent mineral bathing and spa treatments, including an hour spent in zero gravity in the sensory deprivation tank.) Continue reading “The Event: Will Ferguson (the Amusing) and the Translators (the Awkward) at IFOA 2011”