Tag Archives: Arts

Too Much Happiness: Alice Munro


Congratulations Alice Munro on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature!

‘There’s nothing much to write about here except go read Alice Munro – go now – read her . It’s true.  She must be experienced. She kept me up at night well past my bedtime pulling me line by line into each word and sentence, into each complete world she creates in every single one of her stories. Wow. And yet the stories she tells is the stuff of every day life and I have to insert ‘and yet’ in here again because there is an  unexpectedness of where these stories travel and take us to, their breadth, their depth, their ability to capture an entire world and still draw you into some lurking darkness of life’s ordinariness, the incremental blocks that build a life’s arc, a character’s failure or their greatest moment. Wow. Did I say that already? Read “Child’s Play” and see the twists and turns she takes us on or the story of a young woman who sits nude reading poetry for an older man – nothing happens yet everything happens.  Does Alice Munro write with that beautiful turn of phrase that  great literature often seduces with? No, not really. She doesn’t actually have to. She builds her stories more surgically than that – that is her master craft. Have I said ‘wow’ already? Wow, go read Too Much Happiness. Go read any one of her collections.

Not surprisingly this weekend’s Globe and Mail did a story on Alice Munro: 10 Telling Details Behind the Genius of Alice Munro.


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Photograph by Dave Vanderkop

Beautiful and Sweet

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February 7, 2013 · 5:21 pm

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss: Book Review

I’m not a stickler nor am I a grammar geek, but I loved this funny, witty, entertaining and informative book on the history, misuse and yes, the importance of English grammar. My mother always said that a good cook was someone “die en drol lekker zou kunne maken”, which roughly translates as “someone who could make a turd taste good.”

Well, that’s exactly what Lynne Truss does in Eats, Shoots and Leaves. A dry topic in anyone else’s hands becomes an entertaining, learning experience thanks to her wry sense of humour and expert knowledge of the English language.

But Truss’s outrage at the decline and misuse of English grammar isn’t simply a stickler’s whine, she uses example after entertaining example, of the confusion that ensues when we don’t understand how and where to place commas, apostrophes, colons, semi-colons etc…

The title, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” is a joke about how the misplaced use of a simple comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Pandas, who “eat shoots and leaves” is completely different from the panda who walked into the bar, “eats, shoots and leaves”. The latter clearly is a more wild west version of the gentle panda bear than the former.

I write quite a bit and I only occasionally reach back over the (decades) to remember the finer points of early grammar classes.  Then, through the haze of these dodgy memories, I think to myself, “Sure, the comma should go right here and this apostrophe will come after. Or was it before?” But one thing I learned in Writing 101, or Writing for Dummies during my first year of university – when I discovered that I couldn’t write – was that clear prose signals clear thinking. That much I know.

The idiosyncratic system of black marks and notations that we have come to know and love as Grammar,  came into being as a result of the development of printing technology. As the printing press developed, conventions for the clear understanding of the written word were required. Now that we’re in the midst of yet another communications revolution, our language is rapidly changing with words being shortened, punctuation removed or changed. This is even more reason to ensure that guidelines for clear communication survive well into the next generation as our language and style of communication evolves during the Era of Internet Communications.

Nobody can offer better compelling reasons to learn grammar  than Lynne Truss so here goes:

“One of the best descriptions of punctuation comes in a book entitled The Fiction Editor, the Novel and the Novelist (1989) by Thomas McCormack. He says the purpose of punctuation is “to tango the reader into the pauses, inflections, continuities and connections that the spoken line convey.”:”

Punctuation to the writer is like anatomy to the artist: He learns the rules so he can knowledgeably and controlledly depart from them as art requires. Punctuation is a means and its end is: helping the reader to hear, to follow.’

I did my best to write this with Lynne Truss in mind. Having said that I KNOW there are grammatical errors in this post. Please advise and I will revise!

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Blurbondency: how do you react to bamboozling book blurbs? (via Lynsey May writes down the night)

I love Lynsey’s rant on “blurbondency”. I have to say, I’ve run into this myself from time to time.

Blurbondency – The feeling of let down and confusion that follows reading a book because it has a blurb from one of your favourite authors, only to find the book disappointing and unreadable. Self doubt and a re-examination of bookshelves is also to be expected. Blurbs are powerful things. They act as the same kind of seal of approval you’re looking for when you’re eyeing up a potential date. I’ve picked up and taken home plenty of books thanks t … Read More

via Lynsey May writes down the night

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My Great Reads 2010

I started 2010 out with the ambition of reading 100 books this year. Like all great plans mine was waylaid by the exigencies of life. I did, however, still manage to read some great books.

My top reads this year are:
1. My absolute favourite read this year is Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann – a great literary read that uses an interesting cultural device to tell an expansive and wonderful story.

2. Brief Interviews with Hideous MenDavid Foster Wallace – Wow, I found this book to be a breath of fresh air. It’s very literary but it breaks free from the usual storytelling devices and then on top of that it contains some really amazing stories. It’s changed the way I believe people can write about things.

3. The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery – This is just a wonderful read. Written by a French writer it explores unlikely friendships within the quagmire of the French class system. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to read it again.

4. infidel Ayaan Hirsi Ali – I don’t read very much non-fiction but I thought this offered a glimpse into a world I know very little about. It makes me want to know more about women and Islam.

5. Freedom Jonathan Franzen – Because he tells a great story that speaks to our times. And he gets bonus points for making me laugh.

6. Loving Frank – Nancy Horan – A great story about Frank Lloyd Wright‘s lover Martha Borthwick. It’s one of those books you can’t put down.

7. Room – Emma Donaghue – Well there’s no question that this is a creepy story about a woman who gives birth to a little boy while she is enslaved in a small room for seven years, but wow does Emma Donoghue ever create a singularly believable voice for young Jack.

8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer – I’m a sucker for any books on war and this one is a great read. I’m now eager to travel to Guernsey now that I know it exists.

9. Mansfield Park – Jane Austen – I completely immersed myself in Ms. Austen’s world when I was reading this. What a testament to the durability of great literature.

10. Tuesday’s With Morrie by Mitch Album – Because this book helped me understand dying better and that’s something I needed to learn about this year.

I’m starting next year’s list which includes:
Irshad Manji – The Trouble with Islam Today
Sea Sick – The Global Ocean in Crisis
Malcolm Gladwell – Blink and What the Dog Saw

I would love to hear from others any recommendations you might have for fiction or non-fiction that I can put on my ‘must read’ list.



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