Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Ernest Buckler

"Writing is regarded as at most a harmless eccentricity, like an abnormal appetite for marsh greens."

I liked this quotation of Ernest Buckler's which I read on this short bio of this Nova Scotian author from the NS archives for the 25th anniversary of his death .

I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read one book by Ernest Buckler. I would say his work isn't well known at all although he is described as a " one of Canada's pre-eminent authors of the time." This article made me want to read more of his work and I was able to satisfy some of that urge immediately on the NS archives site as it has, among the other documents from the archives on him, an article he wrote which was published in The Atlantic Advocate in 1962 entitled "Bestsellers make strange bedfellows,." It is a time capsule of sorts, a view of what was "popular" reading at the time, as Buckler points out, a very eclectic mixture of the silly and the sublime - "...baffling incongruities abound!" - and his consideration of what common factors if any combined to rack up sales.
"All this seems to prove that, in novels at least, subject matter is not the big thing in making a best seller, " And "It is a mistake to suppose that sex by itself can make best sellers ..." and "...it is simply not true that excellence is inevitable poison at the box office.."

He seems to think advertising made little difference, at least if the book was without merit. I am not sure I would agree with him on that point but perhaps it was true in the sixties. He did admit that once a book had reached "best seller status", readers wanting to read what everyone else was reading tended to "perpetuate its tenure there." But what gets the book to the top in the first place? The title? The author's name? He comes in the end to the conclusion that the book has to have "personality" , an intangible quality akin to a person's which intrigues. He ends with a touch of humour telling the story of a reader who wrote him to praise his book for its "good clear print."

The short story "The Line Fence" published in the magazine Better Farming in 1955 promised better reading but unfortunately the site only offers the first few paragraphs! Later in the set of documents shown however is a newspaper photograph of Buckler at a reception where he received the Order of Canada and which includes a picture of Miss Evelyn Garbary of Wolfville.

I guess I should head down to the library to see if they have a copy of The Mountain and the Valley.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


The NY Times has a little section which I often enjoy reading -

Schott's Vocab

Schott’s Vocab is a repository of unconsidered lexicographical trifles — some serious, others frivolous, some neologized, others newly newsworthy. Each day, Schott's Vocab explores news sites around the world to find words and phrases that encapsulate the times in which we live or shed light on a story of note. If language is the archives of history, as Emerson believed, then Schott’s Vocab is an attempt to index those archives on the fly.

This week Ben Schott has a Proverb contest which would be fun to think about. The challenge is to take a traditonal proverb and update it for modern times, or make up a completely new one, with reference if possible to current events. He gives a few examples to get us going :

A Rolling Stone gathers Kate Moss.
Actions speak louder than tweets.
Where there’s a will there’s a lawyer.
If you can’t stand the heat, get as far away from Gordon Ramsay as you can.

Readers have already offered some good ones. Not sure which is my favorite. Perhaps "Don't put all your nest-eggs in one basket."

If I come up with one of my own I'll add it. I'm going away to put my thinking cap on.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

For grammar grumps

I have my pet peeves when it comes to grammar and punctuation. I am a fan of Lynne Truss and I have passed on my enthusiasm to our daughter. She has been know to use "The Panda says no" stickers when she sees a misplaced apostrophe. But I have to admit I am sloppy sometimes in my writing and I am always willing to improve so I found the NY Times article, Tangled Passages, on some points of "grammar, usage and style" of interest. The author (Phillip E. Corbett) gives several examples of confusing style. I think avoiding this is so instinctual that good writers don't even notice. I don't agree in some ways about the long sentences with phrases. Perhaps it is not the best style for newspaper articles but sometimes longer sentences with complex phrasing can be quite understandable to a well read person. I do agree with him about having too many commas. I like to use them only when they are absolutely needed; as a result I probably use them too little. He makes some good points about hyphens being used inappropriately.

Mr. Rattner and other government officials have repeatedly said they have no interest in running the company day-to-day.

If the phrase were used as a modifier before a noun — “day-to-day operations” — then we’d use hyphens, as in “door-to-door” above. They hold the modifier together and make it easier to read. But in an adverbial phrase like this after the verb, there’s no need.

He gives other examples of bad style, some nice reminders to keep our writing neat and tidy.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Libraries raised me

I was quite a science fiction fan in my youth. I still love science stories and Sci Fi movies, and although I don't read as much science fiction as I used to, Ray Bradbury's name in an article can still attract my attention, especially when it is in connection to libraries.

...among Mr. Bradbury’s passions, none burn quite as hot as his lifelong enthusiasm for halls of books. His most famous novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” which concerns book burning, was written on a pay typewriter in the basement of the University of California, Los Angeles library; his novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” contains a seminal library scene. Mr. Bradbury frequently speaks at libraries across the state, and on Saturday he will make his way here for a benefit for the H. P. Wright Library, which like many others in the state’s public system is in danger of shutting its doors because of budget cuts.

Pretty good for a guy who is 90!

“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

And he was probably better read than most college students then and certainly of today!

Anyway, he is going to try to help raise money for a library to cover a shortfall dues to property tax decreases. I look forward to the day when Margaret Atwood will be doing the same.

Mr. Bradbury is not fond of the internet, which is surprising, given his scientific bent; he thinks it a distraction from gaining real knowledge. Maybe he is right.

Fiscal threats to libraries deeply unnerve Mr. Bradbury, who spends as much time as he can talking to children in libraries and encouraging them to read.

The Internet? Don’t get him started. “The Internet is a big distraction,” Mr. Bradbury barked from his perch in his house in Los Angeles, which is jammed with enormous stuffed animals, videos, DVDs, wooden toys, photographs and books, with things like the National Medal of Arts sort of tossed on a table.

“Yahoo called me eight weeks ago,” he said, voice rising. “They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’

“It’s distracting,” he continued. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

That's not what they tell us. They tell us that once it's out there in cyberspace you can't get it back. Hard to burn anyway which is how many libraries were lost. But that's neither here nor there; we applaud Mr. Bradbury's spirit and his continuing support for literature, books and libraries.

When he is not raising money for libraries, Mr. Bradbury still writes for a few hours every morning (“I can’t tell you,” is the answer to any questions on his latest book); reads George Bernard Shaw; receives visitors including reporters, filmmakers, friends and children of friends; and watches movies on his giant flat-screen television.

He can still be found regularly at the Los Angeles Public Library branch in Koreatown, which he visited often as a teenager.

“The children ask me, ‘How can I live forever, too?’ ” he said. “I tell them do what you love and love what you do. That’s the story on my life.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

Jane Austen atwitter

As my friends and family, and perhaps my few readers here might know, I am a Jane Austen fan. My daughter is perhaps following in my footsteps; she came across a cute and funny piece and posted the link on her facebook page. It is Pride and Prejudice played out as if the characters had twitter and blog technology. You perhaps have to be at least slightly familiar with twitter to appreciate the humour fully but if you are familiar with the plot and characters of Pride and Prejudice you will still "get" the joke. I'll copy an excerpt and if you like it you can read down to
LizzieB: @Darcy I heart you. Truly.
And don't neglect the music links!

A Mr Bingley--worth 50,000 followers a year--has joined Twitter! He's brought a friend, Mr Darcy--worth 100,000 followers a year! Pls RT

@JaneB @LizzyB @MaryBsaphorisms @KittyB @LydiaB I will have one of you girls married into internet fame yet. Just you wait.

@MrsB But mother, I think we can pull ourselves up by our dooce-straps just fine.

Blogcasting: How to find husbands for your daughters: http://tinyurl/momblog Now with free giveaway from our Etsy embroidery shop. Pls RT

@JaneB If I could love a man who would love me enough to take me for a mere 50 followers, I should be well pleased...
Oh @LizzyB, it is my ardent wish to marry 4 love. Love, respect AND dual laptops would be most agreeable. #iamdullbutpretty

Does anyone know what #Bingley is and why it’s suddenly the no. 1 trending topic?

@CubicleSurfer I think #Bingley’s a he and I’m pretty sure he just died.

@CubicleSurfer @BoredInTheBurbs No, I’m pretty sure #Bingley’s the new Idol. That doesn’t explain why he’s the no. 1 trending topic, tho.

It behooves us all to resist the temptation of #Idol chatter

I can’t believe I lost 5 followers with that last Tweet. What’s WRONG with you people?

@JaneB @LizzyB @MaryBsaphorisms @KittyB There's going to be a dance!!! Squeeee!!! I won't sit down all night.

Read the rest- click here

Friday, March 27, 2009

Book sale books

You can tell a lot about a person by the books they read. Today we went to buy books at the giant book sale which a local group holds every year, raising money which is put to good use in the community. The bargains are real and I always come away with a big bag full, but I can't buy everything - as much as I might like to- and I do have to make choices. The ones I picked out say something about me and my interests at the moment, so I thought I might list them, with a few comments, for the pitifully few readers of this blog.

The first section I was able to get to through the throngs of eager buyers was the spiritual life section. This is always of interest to me, even more so as I age, it seems. I always wish however, that I had thought to write down a few authors in particular that I value, as there is a wide range always in the quality of books offered and I often feel that those which are really worth reading don't get given away for resale. In the past I have picked up books which appeared interesting but which turned out to be patent nonsense disguised as spiritual guidance or inspiration. Nevertheless I was fortunate this time to spot a book by G.K Chesterton, Heretics/Orthodoxy in a nice hardcover copy ( 2000 reprint edition) which looked almost new. Actually this volume is two books in one as it combines his book Heretics, with his response to critics who said it only told one side of the story. A pretty good buy for $4 .

I turned then to the paperback fiction table which had cleared enough to let me browse there. I was going to be very picky here as I already have quite a few fiction books at home which I haven't got around to reading. I am less interested than I was in fiction as lately non-fiction or biography appeals more to me. But one title intrigued me- Cathedral of the Black Madonna by Jean Markale. I thought it was a mystery at first as the sub-title was The Druids and the Mysteries of Chartres. Perhaps the book sale organisers made the same mistake as it really should have been on the non-fiction table. It is a book, in modern soft cover, about the famous and beautiful French Cathedral - its history, its construction, and its images of the virgin including the "Black Madonna". This combination of history, mystery and religiosity was irresistable. Another $4.

I'm not sure where I found The Overloaded Ark by Gerald Durrell. There usually is a nature section but I think it was again in the paperback fiction section. I love Gerald Durrell's books and so does my daughter and we already have most of his work. But I didn't recognise this one. It is an old Penguin paperback edition with yellowing pages but for $2 I figured worth picking up. Now that my daughter is thousands of kms away we will have to fight over these books anyway so a second copy will not go amiss. I've already started reading it and I am again charmed by Durrell's vivid descriptions of both scenery and animals, and the deft humour he peppers his narrative with. Oh, to write like Gerald Durrell.

At the Biography table, miracle of miracles, I found Merton, A Biography, by Monica Furlong. I had just been thinking about her the other day and said to myself " I really should find one of her books to read", and here one was as if in answer to an unspoken prayer. Furlong was one of the best religious writers in the UK and a fervant activist in the Church of England. And had I had a choice of only one of her books, the biography of Merton would probably have been my pick. A nice hard copy edition with slip cover for another $4

It pays one to go round the sale room several times, wending your way past the other browsers, so on one of my circuits I found myself back again at the paperback fiction section, and here I picked up Joanna Trollope's Brother and Sister for $3. She is an author who I enjoy and I had not read this one. Friends of mine, just the other evening, were praising The Choir which was a BBC mini-series based on one of her books. I wish I could have also found that book but I hope to get a hold of a dvd copy of the series to watch somehow.

So, for a grand total of $17 I have a wealth of good reading which should keep me busy for a few months at least.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Toxic books?

Is this for real? It is hard to believe there are people in government who have so little sense of proportion. Have the environmental protection people been smoking something that has addled their brains? They want to ban old books because of minute, and we mean very minute, quantities of lead in old illustrations.

... under a law Congress passed last year aimed at regulating hazards in children’s products, the federal government has now advised that children’s books published before 1985 should not be considered safe and may in many cases be unlawful to sell or distribute. Merchants, thrift stores, and booksellers may be at risk if they sell older volumes, or even give them away, without first subjecting them to testing—at prohibitive expense. Many used-book sellers, consignment stores, Goodwill outlets, and the like have accordingly begun to refuse new donations of pre-1985 volumes, yank existing ones off their shelves, and in some cases discard them en masse.

Because so many children will chew pages from old books.
The problem is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), passed by Congress last summer after the panic over lead paint on toys from China. Among its other provisions, CPSIA imposed tough new limits on lead in any products intended for use by children aged 12 or under, and made those limits retroactive:
And they aren't talking 1885- they are talking 1985!
A further question is what to do about public libraries, which daily expose children under 12 to pre-1985 editions of Anne of Green Gables, Beatrix Potter, Baden-Powell’s scouting guides, and other deadly hazards. The blogger Design Loft carefully examines some of the costs of CPSIA-proofing pre-1985 library holdings; they are, not surprisingly, utterly prohibitive. The American Library Association spent months warning about the law’s implications, but its concerns fell on deaf ears in Congress (which, in this week’s stimulus bill, refused to consider an amendment by Republican senator Jim DeMint to reform CPSIA). The ALA now apparently intends to take the position that the law does not apply to libraries unless it hears otherwise. One can hardly blame it for this stance, but it’s far from clear that it will prevail.

Aren't there people paid to think of the ramifications of such laws and to suggest reasonable exceptions to laws like this? This is the kind of legislation which makes one agree with Bumble:

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass—a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.”“

Can we hope and pray that Canada does not fall victim to such foolishness and retains some common sense? But we are prone to such government meddling here as well. The future does not look pretty.

Whatever the future of new media may hold, ours will be a poorer world if we begin to lose (or “sequester” from children) the millions of books published before our own era. They serve as a path into history, literature, and imagination for kids everywhere. They link the generations by enabling parents to pass on the stories and discoveries in which they delighted as children. Their illustrations open up worlds far removed from what kids are likely to see on the video or TV screen. Could we really be on the verge of losing all of this? And if this is what government protection of our kids means, shouldn’t we be thinking instead about protecting our kids from the government?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Art is long

" Life is short but Art is long" - as some ancient Greek said once. This has been taken many ways but one way of looking at the meaning is that while a man (or woman- I am not being sexist here) dies, his art (skill, knowledge) can live on beyond him and others build on the work of those before.

The artist Wyeth died the other day:

The son of famed painter and book illustrator N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth gained wealth, acclaim and tremendous popularity. But he chafed under criticism from some experts who regarded him as a facile realist, not an artist but merely an illustrator.

He is not the first artist who is looked down upon because a) he is a realist and b) he is popular.

Some critics dismissed Wyeth's art as that of a mere “regionalist.” Art critic Hilton Kramer was even more direct, once saying, “In my opinion, he can't paint.”

The late J. Carter Brown, who was for many years director of the National Gallery, called such talk “a knee-jerk reaction among intellectuals in this country that if it's popular, it can't be good.”

I can think of Canadian instances- Bateman and Danby for example. Colville may have escaped the sneer but there is this bias, especially recently, for more modern, experiential stuff.

Like this Montreal exhibit which I read about in the Globe and Mail yesterday morning, the same day as the article on Wyeth.

It's one of the few times passing gas in a public presentation probably got murmurs and nods of approval from anybody but the most sophomoric.

But Cloaca No. 5, a mechanized sculpture that reproduces the human digestive system in every stomach-churning detail, gave a little hiss and launched a nose-wrinkling sulphuric barrage a few times yesterday as creator Wim Delvoye explained his creative process.

Cloaca, a towering steel, rubber and glass contraption, is fed twice a day with cafeteria leftovers during the exhibit, which opened Thursday and runs until Valentine's Day at the Université du Québec's art gallery in Montreal.

It processes the food - which includes the Quebec favourite, poutine - and then poops once a day.

"Let's make a bet. Which artist's name and works will be remembered 50 years after his death?

Mr. Delvoye described Cloaca as a reflection on human identity and the creative process.

"It's about all of us," the Belgian artist said in an interview.

But is it art?

"I think it's art as long as it's in an art museum," Mr. Delvoye said. "If it's in a garage, it's an interesting machine."

The artist said he wanted to make something that was "absurdly unnecessary" and drew inspiration from Charlie Chaplin, oddball cartoonist Rube Goldberg's elaborate and goofy machines, and Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory. ...

And which one was better value for money? Wyeth's Christina's World apparently was originally bought for $1,800.

Laval resident Clemence Bernard wrote to Montreal La Presse, saying she is "revolted" by the exhibit, which she called a "waste of $35,000 of taxpayer money."

But Louise Dery, the director of the university gallery, said it was $30,000 that came out of a Canada Council fund for exchanges of contemporary art. The money is being used to cover shipping costs.

I'm going to go with Wyeth. How about you?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Globe and Mail's Book Site

A year or so ago the Globe and Mail phoned us up to ask us to renew our subscription which we had let lapse a few years ago. We told them no thank you, there wasn't that much in it that we wanted to read except in the book section, so we only get the Globe and Mail on the weekends. Perhaps we aren't the only ones that have told them that as the G&M have revamped their book section and alleluia, they have put much of it online.

Have just taken a look at it to see if it takes our fancy. First of all we notice it has best seller lists. Handy, but only if you are aware what best seller lists represent. We don't believe for a moment that best seller lists really mean what they pretend. Instead these lists are mainly a measure of publication push - the books the publishers are promoting heavily. And the ploy often works. Still we don't mind looking at the bait with a critical eye.

Joseph Boyden seems very in right now. We see His book Through Black Spruce is on the hard cover fiction list. We read his Three Day Road a while back and although we liked it, we had this nagging feeling he borrowed a lot of his material. I'm afraid that's one of my pet peeves. When authors use material I expect the author to at least make a nod to the source. But that's an aside. On the softcover fiction list we see books by Jodi Picoult and by Khaled Husseini. I wouldn't mind reading Husseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns since The Kite Runner was so good. I've read 3 books from the non-fiction lists which seem to have books that have been around a while. Then there are Canadian lists for those who want to restrict themselves by nationality! The lists by genre are useful too. I see a couple of appealing titles on the mystery list.

But I am less interested in the lists than the reviews and other articles on the site. Having belonged to a book club for several years, I liked the profile of a Montreal Club which has been meeting for 30 years. The Globe says:

This is the first instalment in a new series in which Globe Books will shine a light on Canada's legion of book clubs.

Each month over the course of four Saturdays, we will introduce you to a new club, the book they are reading, their history and traditions, and their verdict about the book.

Gee, maybe they will do a profile of my women's reading group! If I was still in my book group I could write in and tell them which book we were reading. [Mamie take note!] They say there will be an online book club coming and a blog coming too.

Besides the articles and reviews, (they say there will be one every weekday) there are some online "ask the author" sessions lined up. One with Joseph Boyden this week (Didn't I say he was in right now?) but I am more interested in the one with P.D. James, which is scheduled for the week of Jan 24-29th. I'd ask her if it is too late for me to become an author at my age.

There is a video Blurb promoting all the bells and whistles of the site here.
I think I'll be checking in regularly.

Friday, January 02, 2009


In the Christian Science Monitor which I sometimes look into ( not often enough) there is an article by Kathryn Streeter on reading Shakespeare. She made it a 2007 New Year's Resolution to read a drama a month. It got me thinking about making a reading, and writing, resolution. Since I no longer belong to a book group it seems a good idea to put some discipline into my reading myself, or at least try to, by setting a reading goal. I don't think it will be Shakespeare, though. And as for writing, there again, I need to set myself a writing goal, otherwise the pages remain blank.

On my trip west I didn't get to write but I did read. I didn't get as much reading time as I hoped on the train trip as there was more socialising than I thought. But I finished two books both by James Lee Burke. My husband enjoys his books so I thought I would try them out. I had already read one of his books before I left, a collection of short stories, under the title Jesus Out to Sea. I found the writing good and the stories gripping so I packed a couple of his other efforts to take with me.

I finished The Tin Roof Blowdown set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and then polished off another in the Detective David Robicheaux series, written earlier, which is set before Hurricane Katrina, Pegasus Descending. Both were excellent reading, neither too light nor too heavy for reading in airports, planes and trains.

Burke is a deceptive writer, like Stephen King; his work appears to be in the action/crime/mystery genre but I find his work quite profound with a moral sense most of that ilk don't have. His settings in Louisiana are wonderfully described. You can feel the heat and the humidity and the scent of the bayous. His main protagonist David Robicheaux, a Cajun, is a flawed character and much of the action stems from his anger at the lack of justice in the world, and the baggage he carries with him from a troubled past. The plots are twisted and complex but didn't feel artificial. Burke's wide life experience shows in his novels.

I liked the books and I am set to read another in the Robicheaux series, Crusader's Cross, working backwards as it were, as this was written earlier again than the other two I read. It isn't Shakespeare but it is a start.
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)