575 words on UTOPIA (working title), a novel for adults; support me in the Clarion Writeathon at http://www.clarionwriteathon.org/members/profile.php?writerid=293388 #dailywords (short word count, family holiday)
Douglas writes, “My rooted CyanogenMod phone got hacked at HOPE X. I’m planning to get it write-blocked and imaged to crowdsource forensics.”
Earlier this month, I wrote about Voyageur, a storied, marvellous guitar pieced together from emotionally charged physical objects from across Canada, from the local to the national. Voyageur is a remarkable thing, a deliberately created talisman that was created by selecting 64 significant objects, combining them with skill and craftsmanship, and then bringing it across the nation, back and forth, back and forth, to draw out the personal magic of all kinds of Canadians.
Voyageur’s story is collected in a remarkable book, Six String Nation: 64 Pieces, 6 Springs, 1 Country, 1 Guitar, written by Jowi Taylor, the guitar’s overseer. Both the book and the guitar are quintessentially Canadian, attempting to unify a nation that is inherently synthetic, filled with people whose claim to “Canadianness” is recent, contingent, and fraught. It’s not just non-indigenous people; Canada’s “First Nations” struggle just as much with identity, the result of a combination of state policies that ranged from the merely discriminatory to the outright genocidal and the diversity within indigenous communities, whose makeup includes Cree and Six Nations and other “original” indigenes; Inuit people who found the continent much later, and metis and other “mixed” people who lay claim to multiple heritages.
Growing up Canadian, I fully internalized the idea that countries are just arbitrarily delimited places filled with people from all over the world, that prejudiced nationalism wasn’t just ugly, it was nonsensical. “Canadians” aren’t Canadian because of where they were born or because of who their parents were — they’re Canadian because they call themselves Canadian. It’s no wonder that the winning entry in a famous CBC contest to finish the phrase “As Canadian as…” was “…possible under the circumstances.”
Jowi Taylor’s book, his guitar, and his remarkable quest to bring an object “made from hockey sticks and canoe paddles and grain elevators and baseboards and boats and antlers,” to as many Canadians as possible, to have it played by as many Canadians as possible, are a uniquely Canadian endeavor, a synthesis of all the different ways there are to “be Canadian.”
Structurally, the book is a great mix of short reminisces, portraits of the guitar and the many people who’ve honored it, and an inventory of the pieces that form it, from ancient rock to Rocket Richard’s Stanley Cup ring to Pierre Trudeau’s canoe paddle to a piece of the sacred Haida Gai tree to a piece of John A Macdonald’s sideboard to a piece of the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children to a bit of a soup paddle from Hoito Restaurant, a worker’s co-op started by Finnish trade-unionists in Northern Ontario. Braiding the stories of the guitar, its pieces, and its fans makes for a powerful back story, a kind of magic that is positively galvanizing.
Whether or not you are Canadian or care about Canada’s endless identity crisis, “Six String Nation” is a remarkable account of how humans infuse objects with meaning and story and turn them into powerful, awesome symbols.
After writing my earlier post, I heard from Jowi, who reminded me of a delightful personal connection, as his mother told him, “You and Cory Doctorow played together in [Toronto’s] Earl Bales Park at the NDP [New Democratic Party] Picnic when you were little”! It’s a small world and a small country, indeed.
The first four issues of Michael Kupperman’s awesome comedy comics zine Tales Designed to Thrizzle have been collected into a single hardcover volume that is a superdense wad of funny, surreal, bent humor, including The Buzz Aldrin Mysteries (the radio operator has been murdered, any one of the seven people on the moon could have done it!); two cowboys kicking the hell out of each other for 10 panels while shouting “I’d say comics are serious literature” and “I say they ain’t”; the World Famous Apairy Hat (Girls Love it, Bears Want to Stick Their Paws In It!); a thirties nostalgia comic about an unemployed former courtroom ghost who is shrunk down and has nothing but amoebas to eat for two years; and a video game called Big City Marathon (“Keep your finger on the forward arrow key for 26 hours to win”). This is weird, funny, Subgenius-esque toilet reading that will keep you very regular.
When Iain Banks announced in April that he was dying of gall bladder cancer, he said that his forthcoming novel The Quarry would be his last. I’ve just read it, and though I came to it with high expectations, I find that I was still surprised by just how good this novel is, and how it revisits so many of the motifs from Banks’s earlier novels, and what a spectacular blend of emotions it carries.
The Quarry is the story of Kit, an 18-year-old boy on the autistic spectrum who lives in a tumbledown house with his father, Guy, who is dying of cancer. Guy was once a legendary bohemian and nonconformist, the lynchpin of a tight-knit group of friends who all attended film-school with him. Kit has spent his 18 years living with Guy and their housekeeper, in Guy’s family house, which is slowly coming down around their ears, literally shaken to pieces by the regular blasting at the nearby quarry. Soon, Guy will die and Kit will be forced out of the house by the quarry’s expansion.
There’s time for one more reunion, though. One weekend, all of Guy’s old university friends descend upon the house for a final hurrah — a last chance to say goodbye, a kind of Gen-X Big Chill with the corpse present and alive for the wake. They’re there to settle old scores, to say goodbye, and to locate a mysterious and all-consuming video-tape with the only known copy of a student film they made and that must never get out, lest its mysterious contents destroy all their lives.
The scenario plays out with nods to so much of Banks’s best work. Kit is a kind of saner avatar of Frank Cauldhame, the reclusive narrator of Banks’s 1984 debut The Wasp Factory, and like Frank, the circumstances of his parentage and childhood are shrouded in mystery. The country house setting took me back to 1996’s Whit. Kit is an avid — and semi-professional — gamer, a central premise of Complicity, whose cancer subplot was so strong that it took me within inches of quitting smoking in 1993 (I ended up quitting seven years later). There’s even some stage business with mobile phones that took me back to 2002’s Dead Air, the first thriller that made peace with cellular telephony and figured out how to integrate it into suspense plots.
Guy himself is an acerbic, dying mouthpiece for the author, a tragic figure whose unbearable pain and horrible behavior are a sad reminder of Banks’s own final time. He won’t suffer fools, but neither will he turn away from his oldest friends, and there is, shot through all of his acid speeches and disoriented protests, a sense of deep love for the people who he brought to his side in his last days. Banks’s final book isn’t just 325 pages of FUCK CANCER; it’s also a sorrowing and sweet love note to the world and all us poor bastards left in it.
I have loved Banks’s writing since I was 13 years old. He was one of my literary heroes. His death was heartbreaking. I would rather he had lived 40 more years and written 20 inferior novels than have had him go at the age of 59 with a brilliant book like The Quarry. But if he had to write a final book, this is the final book I’d have had him write — a goodbye letter to the world and all of its wonder and terror.
This weekend, I discovered to my absolute delight that Sue Townsend had published another volume in the Adrian Mole diaries, a series I have followed since I was a teenager. The new book, The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole, 1999-2001, was published in hardcover in 2008, but I missed it until now — it’s just been released in paperback.
The Adrian Mole diaries start with The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 (published when I was about 13 3/4, explaining, in part why I’ve found these books so compelling over the years) and they chronicle the improbable adventures of Adrian Mole, a lower-middle-class would-be intellectual from the English lowlands. Adrian’s life is plagued by parental insanity, poor romantic relationships, ill-advised pregnancies, angry pensioners whom Adrian inevitably ends up caring for, doctors frustrated by his hypochondria, and a streak of hilarious and painful self-sabotage as wide as Basil Fawlty’s.
In The Lost Diaries, we get a bit of in-fill on the series, a documenting of the years leading up to the War on Terror, during which Adrian reaches a low point, living as a single father in a terrible council estate, his parents again divorced (then remarried, then divorced, then remarried), his two sons stuck in a miserable educational situation, and his finances and mood in the pits of despair.
But Adrian soldiers on, as he always does, blissfully unaware of the comedy in his tragedy, writing a terrible kids’ story about pigs, another terrible murder comedy about builders; discovering globalism’s seedy underbelly through the lens of a road-size fry-stand where he meets truckers bound for and from every part of the Eurasian landmass; contending with pernicious headlice, authoritarian schoolmasters, foot-and-mouth, and a petrol shortage, and all the while chronicling it all in Townsend’s deadpan style.
I purely love these books, every word of every one of them. Townsend’s gift is to make you choke with laughter and tears at once, to create a nebbishy antihero who is both terrible and lovable, and to torture him mercilessly for our benefit and edification. And I was fantastically happy to see at notice at the book’s end that another volume is due in November, Adrian Mole, the Prostrate Years.
The largest online comics distributor, owned by Amazon, will let you download comics in your library in DRM-free formats like PDF and CBZ, where permitted by the publisher, for your own long-term archiving and use.
It’s raised more than $7M so far, with promises of a cooler that charges your USB devices, crushes ice, plays music through a waterproof Bluetooth speaker, and supplies a cutting board.
The “father of the Internet” explains why the Congressional posturing and global freakout about the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration stepping back from management of the Internet domain name system is misplaced.