The Event: A Tribute to Alice Munro at IFOA 2013

Alice reading Alice, © Getty Images
Alice reading Alice, © Getty Images

On the evening of November 2nd, 2013, a sold-out crowd at the International Festival of Authors rose in a standing ovation at the urging of editor extraordinaire Douglas Gibson, who asked us to “hoot, and holler, and clap our hearts out” so that Alice Munro could hear us all the way in Victoria, BC, where she’s wintering with her daughter. The Fleck Dance Theatre was packed to the rafters, and we were all on our feet, shouting out our love and admiration for the divine Ms. Munro.

Alice Munro has been a quiet giant of the Canadian and international literary landscape for decades, publishing short fiction that reverberates with authenticity about lives, journeys, small towns, and the roles women play. On August 1st (two months before Ms. Munro became the first Canadian ever to win the Nobel Prize for literature), IFOA announced a tribute to her, a “‘who’s-who’ of Canada’s literary community, including other writers, close colleagues and family members, as they present readings of Munro’s work.”  From newer works such as Dear Life and Too Much Happiness to canonical classics Lives of Girls and Women and Runaway, Ms. Munro’s short stories have been a touchstone and a revelation to me—and to many others. The promised who’s-who brought a thrilling mix of authors to the stage: joining host Gibson was Jane Urquhart, Miriam Toews, Colum McCann, Alistair MacLeod, and Margaret Drabble.

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Saturday Sundries: My favourite books of 2012

Monoceros This is how you Lose Her Zoo City

I can’t help but take stock at this time of year. The time between Christmas and New Year’s always feels so liminal, a week in between the year that was and the year that is yet to be. I’m so pleased with how the blog has grown this year, and in particular with the interest and participation in the Cloud Atlas readalong.

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I’d like to thank all of you who have read my ramblings and my opinions, and who have taken the time to comment, as well!

And now, after much pondering, I’ve come up with a list of my favourite-favourite books of everything I read in 2012! If there’s one thing going through this list has taught me, I’m a little bit lax in reviewing books I love. I tend to put them aside, bathing in their glow and planning on writing nice things about them, and then moving on. So, if ever there was a book-related resolution for me, it’s this: write the glowing five-star reviews just as often as I write the more critical reviews!

In chronological reading order, my favourites of 2012 are:

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Absences and memories: a review of Dear Life by Alice Munro

This review has taken a long time to write. How do you review Alice Munro? It’s akin to being an art critic who looks at the Mona Lisa in order to write a review—only this is a brand new work, not an age-old classic.

 “People were always saying that this town was like a funeral, but in fact when there was a real funeral it put on its best show of liveliness. She was reminded of that when she saw, from a block away, the funeral-goers coming out of the church doors, stopping to chat and ease themselves out of solemnity.”

 “Corrie,” from Dear Life, by Alice Munro

This review has taken a long time to write. How do you review Alice Munro? The task is akin to being an art critic who looks at the Mona Lisa in order to write a review—only this is a brand new work, not an age-old classic.

I’m always a bit twitchy when a new work comes out from an author I love. What if it doesn’t live up to my expectations? (See, for example, J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. I may review that book here if I ever force myself to finish slogging through it.) I needn’t have worried, though. In her latest collection, Dear Life, Munro surpasses herself. This is a gathering of stories set mostly in rural Ontario (“Munroland”), mostly in the not-too-distant past, that are as much about what is remembered by the narrator as what isn’t, as much about what is left out of the story as what is brought into it. This book is a work about the shifting nature of memory and the way we build and rebuild our own narratives.

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