I don’t know anybody else that collects signed novels, and mine is hardly a collection. Fourteen is a loosing football score – -*update* I added a new one since I began writing this blog. Now it is a Canadian football score. It is not a particularly impressive collection, even if you are a fan of Canadian literature. Nothing rare. Nothing I will ever make money off of. These are not Babe Ruth signed books, this is Canadian Literature. *yawn*
I am a fan of Canadian literature, and in my opinion, we should all be fans of it. The books I read all seem to offer an insight into humanity I do not find elsewhere. I am sure they exist. But not like in Canada. Our little pond is full of big fat fish.
I will start off with my Newfoundland collection. I like Newfy authors. They are possibly the most honest people on the planet. When you read a Newfy author, you often get a deep look into your own soul. Isolation psychology?
> Every Little Thing by Chad Pelley
This is not my favorite book, but Chad might be my favorite author. He is a literature pusher. His now defunct blog Salty Ink has been a Can-lit stalwart, and he recently launched a new magazine in St. John’s called The Overcast, Newfoundland’s Arts and Culture Magazine. He has visited us in Saint John at least twice. I have eaten a meal and drank beer and coffee with him. Chad is a literary rock from The Rock, and I am proud to own a book signed by him.
> The Deception Of Livvy Higgs by Donna Morrissey
I enjoyed this book, but it is not on my top ten lists. I attended a workshop Donna ran while she was here, and it and her reading were amazing. Energetic and animated do not begin to describe Donna Morrissey, yet she combines her liveliness with such thoughtful insight. She is an introvert in and extrovert’s clothes. The perfect combination for a writer? A book to remind me that writing is hard work and needs our passion and energy. It motivates me to look at the back of this book.
> Finton Moon by Gerard Gallant
Gerard has stopped by at least twice. His tours seem to zig zag around Atlantic Canada. Newfs apparently get lost on the mainland. He also ran a workshop here, and I thought it really helped me understand some of my writing. I realized I tend to write to me, and that may not be a good thing; or it might be. Gerrard went to the same University as I did, Acadia, and I suppose we share a bond in it. Stand Up And Cheer, Gerrard. I was at Acadia at the same time as Russell Wangersky. I don’t have any signed Wangerskies, and I don’t remember or know him, but we feel like family to me. Ha. Next…
> The Colony Of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston
> The Son Of A Certain Woman also by Wayne Johnston
I carried Unrequited around for six months. I read it in the car while I waited for my wife after work. Five minutes here, twenty minutes there. It has that slept on the floor of the car lustre. Sorry Wayne, but it’s beat to shit now. I have yet to crack the other book, but I plan on it soon. My reading pile … piles are too high.
Wayne is the funniest reader I have ever listened to. Seriously, he could be a stand-up comic. He is dry and knows a good story. Wayne is an easy read (a compliment), so I should get at it. I also have a few other of his books I picked up but never got signed.
Now I move to the mainland’s authors.
> The Free World by David Bezmozgis
This story wasn’t the most exciting, but it was interesting. It is a peek into the life of 1970’s Russian Jews emigrating to Canada (and to the USA and Israel). This is historical fiction that should be read by all simply for its insights into this little written about aspect of our history. I think it has potential to be an important addition to historical literature. David was a fine reader and it was a big crowd, a very enjoyable evening. I am proud to own this book.
> Dogs At The Perimeter by Madeleine Thein
Madeleine has amazing control of the English language. I will admit I expected the stereotypical struggling Asian English. No. She puts everybody I’ve ever known or heard to shame. I sat and listened dumbfounded. Her character’s voice also jolted me. It was first person present tense — similar to the voice I was playing with for the novel I am now writing — and I noticed it jumped around from present to past to inside the character’s head. I immediately felt an affinity with the voice and I bought the book and chatted with her about the voices. She signed it “To John, in celebration of the beautiful present tense.” I cherish this book.
Dogs is an important book. There are very, very few novels about the Cambodian killing fields. This is not about them but about escaping them, coming to Canada, and returning to find the lost … names. People lost their names in those times. To keep one’s name was to associate with the enemies of the Khmer Rouge, to mark yourself as an enemy. The few who managed to flee came with an emptiness that Thein wields expertly and gnaws at you throughout the book. It is not a book about the torture but about rediscovery of self. It is powerful and moving. A very well written and important book.
> The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon
I enjoyed Annabel’s reading and was intrigued by her background stories. She has studied Aristotle and this story is largely about her theory he suffered from bipolar disease.
I did not enjoy the book so much. I found it thematic with thin characterization and thinner plot. It was a worthy read. I now view thematic novels as something to avoid, yet I also try to write to strong themes. I think this book has helped convince me a strong plot is needed in a novel. I carry an opposition to MFA style stories, I think, and this book has played its part in me building this wall.
> Attack Of The Copula Spiders by Douglas Glover
> Savage Love also by Douglas Glover
Doug just finished a stint as the writer in residence at UNB in Fredericton, an hour and a half drive from me. I have emailed him too often, met him three times, and attended a workshop of his. He is MFA through and through, but even so, I was quite effected by his essays in Attack Of The Copula Spiders. This is perhaps the most important book I own. And I am not going to say anything more. Sorry. It’s one of those leading a horse to water scenarios. I am not going to try and make you drink, and don’t even ask to borrow my copy. I now look forward to reading Alice Munro and Ernest Hemingway short stories because of Doug. I now read much slower and more carefully because of Doug. I now read with a pencil because of Doug, I now write paragraphs like this one because of Doug. Nuff said?
I haven’t read his Savage Love yet. As I just stated, I am a slow reader, but it is in the queue behind about a hundred other books.
> The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason
Don’t tell Riel she is an inspiration for me. Of course any local author who gets published is, but she is more than that. She can also write. This is a very well written first novel. There is much in it working against my liking it — a young woman’s coming of age story, a literary bent, more of a young adult story, and I may be the only reader to ever not like the character Percy, but the story works. It really works.
I have heard her speak three or four times. We say hello to each other in the mall and we both smile. She congratulated me when I won second place in a local short story contest. You know? It’s great to have successful authors around you waiting to pat you on the back. It’s important. If I ever succeed at getting published, Riel will get a thank you from me.
> The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam
Vincent was an awesome reader. He is full of energy, wit, and well written words, and he was very engaging. Again I have not yet read his book, but it is creeping towards the top of the pile. It is another Asian story, Vietnam during the war. I think it is another important historical story.
> Road To The Stilt House by David Adams Richards
This is DAR country, yet I have only ever been in the same room as him three times. I have only every read one of his books. I am torn about whether I like his writing or not. On one hand he does so much wrong. “For Those Who Hunt The Wounded Down” read like a mentally challenged twelve year old wrote it, yet it was also captivating. His characterization is paramount.
I think hearing him read helped explain his voice. He reads emphatically. He almost shouts like he is tone deaf. He forces the words on you, and once he starts, he does not want to stop. Once he starts, you don’t want him to stop. When he reads his stories they sound true and clear, like a book you have to buy and read, yet when I read the same passages, I shake my head and wonder what I was thinking. Enigmatic to the core.
Anyway, he didn’t sign this for me. I found it in the stack of DAR novels for sale at Loyalist City Coins. I picked it up, saw his signature, and thought it was worth the $4 they were asking for it. *grin*
> Accusation by Catherine Bush
Another book I have not yet read. During her reading it became very apparent her story had lots of parallels to a story I was planning to write for NaNoWriMo 2013. That’s why I bought it. I got it signed just because I bought it and she was there. I cannot say anything good or bad about this book except it is small and easy to carry around. It is near the bottom of my to-read mountain.
> Carnival by Rawi Hage
Rawi blew me and everybody in the room away with his reading. When he finished there was absolute silence. He asked for questions, nobody moved, and he almost walked away. I told him afterwards it was because we were all stunned by his reading and he seemed confused, like I was joking. I joke not. He writes like a male Alice Munro. The images he created in my head were layered, grew with the tension of the chapter, and at the end exploded in street themes. I was not planning on buying this book or staying for a signature, but I couldn’t help it.
This reading was also not long after he battled on CBC’s Canada Reads with The Orenda. So he was up there in everybody’s mind. Just writing about this reading has moved it up near the top of my reading list. I think it might get read next. Alice, you’ll have to wait again. *grin*
Perhaps my most treasured signed book.
> The Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Pat Rothfuss visited us in early October 2013. He spent a day at our local university, UNBSJ, for an event called “One Campus One Book.” The school paid Pat a ridiculous amount of money to spend a full day at the school interacting with students who all received — and were expected to read — his book. Later that evening he spoke to The Lorenzo Society, the university’s author touring platform. And after that, Pat spent another hour or more on a patio bar discussing the publishing industry. He drank coffee and I drank beer. Yes, autumns in Canada are beautiful, mostly. Sometimes.
I was born in Wisconsin and it felt good talking with a homey, but honestly, his book didn’t do much for me and neither did he. I know he has a large fan base, and while I cannot speak negatively of him or his writing in any way, I am just not a fan. I cannot choose what or who I like.
> Child Of Change by Garry Kasparov
In 1988 I helped organize The World Chess Festival held in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. We hosted some 300 of the world’s top players and included a Candidates’ elimination round for the FIDE World Championships. I played several named players including Mikhail Tal who won the first World Blitz Championship. Kasparov came but didn’t play in any tournaments but the Blitz Championship. He put on a simultaneous exhibition and also sold and signed his new book.