Archive for the ‘Fiction’ category

The Thirty-Eight Books That Made My Suitcase for Dawson City

July 3, 2011

Hi everyone.

So I’ve been in Dawson for a few days now, after a 72-hour layover in Whitehorse to start my travels. It’s nice here at Chez Pierre. Lots of comfy rooms and comfy people and even a fainting couch, which is something I’ve always wanted. I’m teaching myself to bake. So far I’ve made biscuits (from scratch, and incredibly well) and cornbread (from scratch and, er, from scratch). I’m hoping to return to Toronto when my travels are through with the title of “World’s Perfect Man” sewn up for the rest of the decade.

Packing books was an immense undertaking for me. Obviously, I couldn’t take very many, and even the much-edited booklist I eventually put together cost me about $70 in heavy luggage charges first from Air Canada and then Air North. I had to throw three heavies poetry anthologies to the roommates on my way out the door because I couldn’t get my suitcase to close all the way. They were this one on early 20th Century Canadian poets and this collected Ted Hughes (said Latosik: Thanks. Um, didn’t I give you this Hughes book as a gift?)

I thought people would like to know what made the cut. I finished a lot of books in the lead-up to leaving, in an attempt to keep things reasonable. Here’s a list, divided into my standard three categories of book:

The view outside the Berton House at 45 minutes after midnight on June 2nd.

Line Breaks:Looking it over, this section is dominated by books I’ve already read but wanted the opportunity to get into again. When I’m supposed to be writing, I tend to use poetry collections as reference books, things to dip into on occasion in search of inspiration or distraction. Re-reads are good for this.
A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People by Gabe Foreman
Campfire Radio Rhapsody by Robert Earl Stewart (The last book I bought before leaving Toronto, at the Mansfield launch last week.)
The Collected Poems of J.H. Prynne (I’m coming around to the realization that Prynne is the guy I’m going to spend my life obsessive over and trying to emulate. Not a bad choice, for that.)
Hole in the Wall, Selected Poems by Tom Pickard
How We All Swiftly, Selected Poems by Don Coles
Mask by Helen Guri (Needed to give this one a re-read with a little less background noise in my life)
Mirabel by Pierre Nepveu
The Mourner’s Book of Albums by Daniel Scott Tysdall
Open Letter, The Humour Issue, ed Ball & Fitzpatrick
Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the 20th Century in Poetry (This is a cool idea, a sort of subject/chronology switcheroo with the standard 20th C. Poetry anthology. Anyone else ever read this?)
Selected Poems by Earle Birney
Slant Room by Michael Eden Reynolds (Michael took me around Whitehorse a bit when I was up there. He was gracious and funny. His book is really exceptional, in particular the second of its four parts– the long lyrical elegy done right.)
Penned: Zoo Poems ed Bolster, Grubisic & Reader
The 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology ed Tim Lilburn
The Best American Poetry of 1992, ed Charles Simic (Why 1992? Because that’s the version the used bookstore had in stock.)
Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry ed Robyn Sarah

No Line Breaks, Fictional: The theme here seems to be books I haven’t read by authors I love. Whereas fiction is what I plan on working on up here, this part of the list was kept light.
20 Grand: Great American Short Stories ed by Bantam Pathfinder Staff (This book is begging to be left behind on a park bench when I return Southside. It will get its wish.)
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
Flight Paths of the Emperor by Steven Heighton
In the Skin of the Lion by Michael Ondaatje
Mao II by Don Delillo
Samuel the Seeker by Upton Sinclair
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima
The State of Constraint, New Work from the OULIPO ed by McSweeney’s Editorial Staff
Young Romantics by Daisy Hay

No Line Breaks, Not Fictional: Tends to be the major part of my reading, and it is here too, though poetry outnumbers it in titles, those slim volumes get massively outweighed by their denser cousins.
Aesthetics and Politics: Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch, Brecht & Lukacs (Amazon link not intended ironically, was all I could find.)
Aesthetics: From Classical Greece to the Present, Monroe C. Beardsley
Essentials of Home Cooking, Bonnie Stern
Europe on a Shoestring and Europe through the Backdoor (For my further adventures this year. I’m going sneak in the backdoor on shoestrings.)
Europe: A History, Norman Davies (The greatest living English-language historian. Fight me over it.)
Heart of Europe, a History of Poland, Norman Davies (I’m reading this not because I love Polish history, but because I like how this book is ordered. It’s written in reverse chronology, from Solidarity backwards to the Barbarians).
A History of Pornography by H. Montgomery Hyde (What? It’s history.)
The Critical Object (Digital Redux), by Jeanne Randolph (My predecessor at Berton House, she does philosophy-meets-pop culture exceedingly well.)
Lapham’s Quarterly, the “Sports & Games” and “The City” Issues (This periodical is the caviar of bathroom reading.)
Turco’s Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics by Lewis Turco (Only the classics for me, thanks.)

I had also loaded up a few dozen titles on my Kobo eReader, thinking that such ethereal digital things would take up less space than print and paper. And they did, but they are also kidnapped by their own devicehood, and when the device breaks, as mine did as I took off from Whitehorse on Friday, the texts become unreadable. Joke’s on you, modernity. Or I suppose modernity’s joke is on me.

Exhibit A:

That's cool. I didn't need the words in the bottom left-hand corner of every page.

Exhibit B:

In this wider-angle shot of the above, Pierre's old Remington typewriter can beseen smirking.

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Can Someone Recommend Some Good New Short Fiction for Me, Please?

May 28, 2011

See above.

I just finished my friend Carolyn Black’s book The Odious Child and before that I read Stuart Ross’s Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew and before that I read Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and Devon Code’s In A Mist. I liked all four very much. I’m thinking short fiction could be the next thing I get into, reading-wise. Can someone suggest me some more? As an aide, here are some things I’ve noticed I like.

1. Stories that serve in some part as excuses for fucking around with the material of stories.

2. Stories that do not hold “the story” up as the default sense-making paradigm for the activity contained in a human life.

3. Stories that have jokes about sex.

4. Stories in which the main characters, such as they are, do not act like the main characters in a novel. I say this because I don’t want to move in with them, I just want to be entertained by them for five to thirty minutes.

5. Stories in which the main characters, such as they are, do not act like the main character in my life, or in “real life”. This has always bothered me about stories, in part because I don’t *believe* in them in the way I believe in the lyric or the novel or the play. I don’t believe that their propensity to accurately reflect the true nature of human life is reflected by the faith we put in their ability to do that. I like my stories shifty and unhuman. I want to make use of the fact that short fiction is, at present, the scariest kind of reading I can imagine.

6. Stories that tell larger stories, with a general but not oppressive thrust towards a shared narrative arc. The Ross and Egan books did this especially well, methinks.

7. Stories in which none of the characters have names. Or in which all of the names are adjectives. Or in which all of the characters are adjectives.

8. Stories by authors who give off the sense that they could have been poets if they wanted to.

9. Stories that are not stories but actually glossaries, or inventories, indexes, lists.

10. Any story set within a fifteen block radius of my apartment.

Your help here would be muchly appreciated, internet. It’s been so long since we talked.