Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Back in the land of wind and shadows

Well, I'm back ... and was nearly knocked off my feet by the wind the moment I left the terminal. Ah, it's good to be home here in the land of wind and shadows, which is incidentally also the place that Mr. Sparkle banishes dirt. Or is that the land of wind and ghosts (which may or may not be Labrador)? I get confused.

So, 2007 eh? That doesn't seem right, somehow. It was bad enough when I'd think back to something that happened in the late 1990s and realize how long ago it was ... now I'm doing the same thing with the early 2000s. Not happy about that. Also not happy that I turn 35 at the end of the month, but that's a whole nother kettle of anxieties.

Here's another reason I hate New Year's: my year doesn't begin in January, but in September. And yet here comes December 31st, and I fall prey to all the retrospective musing and maundering that is in the air. I hold the whole New Year's resolution thing in about the same amount of contempt as I do New Year's Eve celebrations, but I find myself making them anyway. It takes a conscious effort not to start making promises to myself about the ways in which I'm going to shape up in the new year -- it seems to be almost an instinctive thing. Which is very annoying.

So I've decided to just surrender myself to the impulse. I won't bother sharing the usual raft of resolutions (eat better, drink less, lose weight, write a book, and win the Ultimate Fighting Championship), but the one I've been shamefully putting off can go out there for suggestions: READ NEWFOUNDLAND FICTION.

Yup, there it is. I've been living here a year and a half (almost), and still the only two local novels I've read are The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnston and The Nine Planets by Edward Riche. Sad, really, that in such a vibrant literary culture I haven't made myself more at home. I'm overdue, and must rectify that in the next year -- if for no other reason than it seems impossible to go into a pub in St. John's and not run into one of our literary luminaries. And really, it gets a bit embarassing when you haven't read a word of their prose.

So here's the request: I have a rough list of books in my head I should read, but I ask, nay, implore my Newfoundland readers to make suggestions about what I should add to it (and with a nod to one of my occasional commentators, This Much is True by Tina Chaulk is on the mental list already).

Speaking of good reading, I read a trio of excellent books over the holidays -- two of them, I'm happy to say, recommended to me by students. The first of the three was Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods. As I''ve mentioned before, I do love the SF and fantasy, provided it's done well. And I've always loved Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic-book series, but I've never read any of his novels -- excepting the very funny Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett. American Gods proceeds from one of the ideas he develops in Sandman, namely that gods' strength and indeed existence waxes and wanes with the devotion, fervor and sacrifice of their human followers. Thus, in contemporay America, the old gods that followed the original settlers still live on American soil but have weakened in the face of such new gods as media, fame, technology and (I loved this one!) conspiracy. And an epic showdown is in the offing ...

Next I read Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier and Clay, a novel about the golden age of comic books in the late 1930s. I won't even begin to get into the plot here: suffice it to say that Chabon very deftly and elegantly touches upon the deeply-inscribed need, expressed in superhero comics, for fantasy and escape ... and believe me when I say that summary does no justice whatsoever to this wonderful novel.

Mind you, given how many times over the holidays I recommended this novel to people who had already read it, this is likely old news to my readers here. I think I might well be the last person in the English-speaking world to have read it at this point.

Finally, I read Michael Berube's book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?, which was a gift from Kristen. As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I am a huge fan of Berube, both as as an academic and a blogger himself. He regularly engages with right-wing attacks on academia -- especially those of David Horowitz & co. -- with wit and a keen intellect, and What's Liberal is his book-length response to the charge that the university is unfairly skewed toward leftist viewpoints and that liberal professors are indoctrinating the youth with their cant. Though this is not (with the exception of the occasional Margaret Wente column) quite the same issue in Canada, I highly recommend this book to academics and non-academics alike for its intelligence, lucidity and eloquence. I especially recommend it for anyone who's curious about what it means to be a professor today -- Berube does an excellent job of outlining what's at stake in our jobs and in the academy as a whole.


izenkumon said...

Don't you just hate the fact that in Ontario, it is damn near May-like weather, but here winter is in full blast?

izenkumon said...

but while we are on the subject of Newfoundland fiction, I quite enjoyed this book:
Bishop's Road by Catharine Safer.

and no venture into the world of Newfoundland writing would be complete without a copy of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.'newfoundland+dictionary'

Mandy said...

my personal newfoundland fiction pick is percy janes' house of hate. not a barrel of laughs, but it captures the seamier side of life in the developing mill industry in corner brook ("milltown" in the novel), as well as one family's story of abuse, desperation, and the search to define oneself in the face of a despotic father. amazingly written, i think.

Luke said...

I have also not read nearly enough NL fict., but I cannot stop recommending almost anything by Michael Winter- This All Happened and his short stories from One Last Good Look.

And, while I haven't read it yet, Joel Hynes' Down to the Dirt is definately on my list (I believe it's written entirely in a NL dialogue, which is rare, if it has ever happened. Also on my list is to finally read something by Kenneth J. Harvey.

Kind of the New Wave, I guess. . . but hope it provides some help!

Tina Chaulk said...

Thanks for thinking of this much is true. I would recommend Bernice Morgan's Random Passage and Waiting for Time, Riche's Rare Birds (the movie was great but the book was even better, even if Andy Jones wasn't in it), and Michael Crummey's brilliant short story collection Flesh and Blood, just to name a few. Oh and I second the Down to the Dirt recommendation.