The One Where I Gush Like an Idiot

When I moved to the Thriving Metropolis, from Prairie Upstart, I worked at a Big Box Bookstore. Our location was downtown, just off a hip stretch of shopping and boozing. Perhaps it's because of this, that many of my fellow employees were young artsy types. I worked with a jazz vibraphonist, three actors, a documentary film-maker, and a writer. It's that writer I want to tell you about.

Zoe Whittall was one of my favorite people there, but don't let that take anything away from what I tell you about her work. Whether or not you ever meet her, you'll know why I liked her so much when (not if, friends) you read Bottle Rocket Hearts. I finished the book last night, but I've been waiting for it since I heard Zoe read a snippet at the IV Lounge years ago. Then I got strep throat the week of the book launch, much to my chagrin. Anyway, I finally get the book, tore through it in a couple days, and it blew me away. Having read both of Zoe's books of poetry, I knew I wasn't going to be disappointed. Bottle Rocket Hearts probably speaks to me -- in part -- because Zoe's pretty much exactly my age, and she captures such a formative time (the years of 19 - 21) in a person's life so perfectly, and with such clarity. There's something dreamy about Bottle Rocket Hearts, like a slight haze of nostalgia is hanging over every crisp, perfectly rendered detail.

In the first installment of this blog, I said I'm not a book reviewer, and the above is a good example of why. Let's let the professionals do it for a bit:
Whittall's writing is eloquent and infused with snippets of Canadiana such as, "I learned everything I know about sex from Degrassi Junior High." Her writing style is Coupland-esque, which is fitting as she uses a quotation of his for her epigraph.
Bottle Rocket Heats is full of sarcasm, name-dropping and style punctuated with a queer, feminist twist.
It's a book I devoured page after page, yet (yes, it's a cliché, but true) one I didn't want to end.
-Jenn Labrecque, Calgary Herald

Zoe Whittall might just possibly be the cockiest, brashest, funniest, toughest, most life-affirming, elegant, scruffy, no-holds-barred writer to emerge from Montreal since Mordecai Richler staked out the moral terrain that would define and shape his work with A Choice of Enemies in 1957.
-T.F. Rigelhof, The Globe & Mail

Could I sound like anymore of a drooling fan girl? Look, I'm a book nerd. I mentioned in the Book Expo post how I get weird around authors I like. The above content is about someone I like, who's an author. I get weird because it amazes me, all the time, that people can do this. I've certainly tried my hand at it, with mixed results (from bad to terrible). So for me, a good book is a little bit of magic. I was a solitary kid, but I always had my books. I will always have my books. And yeah, I'm totally blown away that someone I know, someone I think is pretty awesome, created this amazing work, this good book. It just makes her more awesome. So she gets a bunch of paragraphs, where most authors only get a couple. Too bad.

More on the JT LeRoy/Laura Albert story:
Slate says what I meant, but far, far better.
But step back for a moment: Sarah is a novel, not a memoir. It contains the same events, in the same order, no less "true" or "false" than they were before the hoax was exposed. What, with Albert unmasked, did Antidote lose? The answer, it seems, is that Antidote wanted, and paid for, and lost, the right to call Sarah a product of LeRoy's life. "We bought the identity of the book's author," one Antidote employee said. The value of the novel, in Antidote's view, depended not on what was between its covers, but on who the producers thought the author was (and on their belief that the novel derived directly from events in his life). Almost all the press around Albert's deception—including stories about the trial—has treated "LeRoy's" fiction the same way, as something akin to falsified autobiography.

And I still need to tell you about The Birth House, and Moral Disorder. I'm a blogging machine this week!

Crap, I'm Wearing a Tank Top Today

Like many bloggers, I have a stat counter on my site that tells me where my hits are coming from, referring pages, that sort of thing. It also tells me what google search strings lead to my blog. With a nod to Reject the Kool-Aid, I bring you:

Screen-cap of a google string

You can click on this image to make it larger

Just in case you're not sure what you're looking at, the google user typed in "Rebecca + Eckler + Annoying." Now look at where the user is located.

It's all conjecture of course. There must be thousands of people in Calgary who find Rebecca Eckler annoying. Or maybe... Anyway, it gave me a good chuckle this morning, while I waited for my Unix system to GET ME THAT REPORT ALREADY. *ahem*

As you were.

The Middle Ground and Assorted Media

I once read an issue of US magazine that a had cover shouting "Mary-Kate is too thin!" and an inside article blasting Brittney for being "too fat." I think the two women were within five pounds of each other at the time. I'm reminded of this issue because there's been talk recently, about literature, being either too "fake" or too "real."

Laura Albert, the author formerly known as JT LeRoy, was found guilty of fraud by a Manhattan jury last week. Albert's book Sarah was optioned by a film company, but when Albert was "exposed" as the real author, the work somehow lost merit. Personally, I think it's a load of crap. I haven't read the book, but it seems symptomatic of our sensationalist age the author's personality and back story are more important than the work itself. The author wasn't a young hustler, working the truck stops of Virginia; the author was a mother from Booklyn Heights, and that doesn't sell.
According to the New York Times "[a]fter the revelation, the company took the position that Ms. Albert had used the JT LeRoy “brand” — the same that had attracted them — as a celebrity magnet to draw attention to her books." See? The work isn't important, only the angles that will get media attention are. Sell, sell, sell. That's why movies are so shitty these days. Sensation, not content, is of the upmost importance.

In a drastically different story, an author was assaulted when he returned to his hometown in France, because the book he wrote was a bit too real for the villagers of Lussaud.
[I]n July 2005, when Jourde, whose previous works include unflinching and controversial portrayals of the worlds of literature and academic scholarship, arrived with his family for a summer break, six villagers appeared outside his house shouting insults. Blows were exchanged and stones thrown. A car window was smashed. Jourde's 15-month-old baby was slightly hurt and his mixed-race sons were called 'dirty Arabs'.

You can't win, folks. I'm sitting here trying to think of (popular?) books that just breeze by, and all I keep coming up with is controversy. Not that literature has ever been immune from this sort of thing. Literature has power, huge power, and because of that, there will always be crazies trying to ban Potter for fear of witchcraft, and people making poor King adaptations (and King writing poor novels, but I digress). I just found those two stories an interesting comparison, coming through the grapevine when they did.

In other media, Wil Murray is coming to my town next month, and he's bringing his tight pants with him. Check out the excellent article in Toronto Life and head on down to the Loop Gallery to see what happens when you "let the paint do what it wants.*" Now, someone just has to get Lee Henderson's butt out here, for the full Alberta posse effect.

*Actual quote, circa 1998. Love ya!

"I'm confused; is this a happy ending or a sad ending?" Book Expo 2007

•A friend from the Penguin booth grabbed me the last William Gibson galley.
•I missed the Kelly Armstrong signing, and it totally ruined my entire day.
•Met Clare Clark, author of The Great Stink, at the pre-party Saturday night. She was lovely, charming, funny, and totally sweet. Good for someone like me who gets completely tongue-tied around authors I like.
•The time seemed to go by much faster this year. Not sure why. (Confession: I'm one of those unfortunates stuck in a booth for two days.)
•Sausage McMuffins are imperative on Sunday morning.

This was the coolest thing ever (and I realise that by saying that I am branded -- now and forever -- a humongous dork*):

*The PhD used to call me that. It was affectionate. I liked it.

A Tale of Second-Hand Book Shops

I went back to the homeland a couple weeks ago, and tore through some reading material. Vacation, to me, is lazing around reading in my parents' backyard, and yes, that's just about perfect. Perfect, other than the day I left here (32°C), and landed there (2°C and snow). Anyway, here's the lowdown from my trip to Cowtown.

Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity, came with a recommendation from Busy Hands. Normally anthologies are a bit tough to get through, since the quality of writing varies widely. However, I loved this one, from start to finish. Nobody Passes should be the primer of third-wave thought. Nowhere else have I found such amazing examples of how sex, gender, race, class, ability, and a whole host of other markers of "otherness" all play a role in defining the experience of each person's life. Not one essay in Nobody Passes repeats a feeling, an experience, or viewpoint, from any other essay. Every piece is fresh, individual, and ultimately educational. Even the ones I identified with gave me new ideas. Cheers to the editor, Mattilda, for a job extremely well done. An early version of the introduction is up on hir site, if you're curious.

I hit my second favourite used bookstore while I was out and about (my favourite having been closed down and turned into a tanning salon, or some other nonsense. And the people at Bookninja are trying to tell me that Calgary's not the evil yuppie nonsense scene that I know it to be. Puh-leeze). While there I picked up a random Anne Tyler book, having remembered another Femjay recommendation. I was not pleased. Ladder of Years is predictable in the extreme, and reads a bit like the romance novels the main character is addicted to... without the romance. Requisite happy ending, after specious empowerment journey. Hey, I'm down with low-lit, and "beach reads" and all that, but this one was just meh. Since I was not pleased, you don't get a picture for this one.

On my last day, needing something for the plane, I popped into the only remaining used book store in Kensington, and grabbed Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I've been intrigued by this book for a long time, but never managed to pick it up. I do like a good Southern Gothic, and this had all the elements. Often non-fiction reads a bit too much like a dry newspaper article. Midnight reads like literary fiction, and that's a high compliment coming from me. I got home to the shock high humidity, and a book about Savannah was an excellent accompaniment. Now I want to see the film. I think it's important for you to know that I never see movies. Can't be bothered. So actually wanting to seek one out is pretty rare.

I've had 1984 on my bookshelf for years now, and never got around to reading it. Being without any new reading material, I finally cracked it open. Good timing, as The Guardian just did a little article on it being voted as "the definitive book of the 20th century" by its readers. I have this crazy idea to read some Joyce next (filling up all those "classics" I never did in high-school or Uni). I'm just not sure I really want to tackle something like Ulysses with my head being so scattered. Though it may make for good distraction. I'll likely buy a used copy, hopefully with someone else's notes in it, and see where that takes me. One of the things I have always loved about used books, is the anonymous thoughts you sometimes find in the margins. I always get out my pencil and respond.

The Word for Today is "Entitlement."

Eckler bashing is a bit "old meme" at this point, but there's a reason this all came up again in my head. So read on...

I remember telling a mama friend of mine about Rebecca Eckler's Wiped! when it came out. Well, more specifically, I was telling Mama about the review I read in the Quill & Quire (Canada's publishing trade magazine). Go ahead and read that review, then come back here. I'll wait.


Don't you just want to find her and give a stern lecture? And by "stern lecture," I mean "a couple blows about the head." This is entitlement parenting at its most obnoxious. Most mamas I know, even the ones with "good jobs," struggle to make ends meet, and they do it without a nanny. I'm not going to say that raising an infant is easy work, no matter how much help you get. What astounds me, is that Eckler (and her editor[s?] and publisher) really thought that anyone would care about her particular "struggles."

I'm not a parent, but I'm pretty annoyed at this whole treating your child like just another accessory thing going on here. I can't imagine anyone with kids, who didn't have the privilege that Eckler has, would be able to spend more than five minutes in Wiped World, without ripping the book to shreds, in a sort of voodoo ritual. Eckler continues the whine fest in her own blog (oooooh, I wonder if she's looking for trackbacks). "I think to find a reviewer who would 'get' and be open to someone like me would be very hard indeed," she writes. "I mean, how many other writers in Canada write openly about getting knocked up in a drunken state? (Trust me, I know a lot of babies are made that way.)" Probably a lot of 'em would, Becky, but they don't have the connections, and the cash flow to allow them to take time out from their child-minding duties to write the damn book.

We all "get" that it's not what you know, it's who you know, and we know Eckler knows some folks. The bad reviews weren't generated because no one really understands her (the rallying cry of adolescents everywhere); the reviews exist because we know her -- and her type -- far, far too well. While fictional, and fraught with its own problems, a book like I Don't Know How She Does It sold exceedingly well because the everymama could relate, at least on some level, to the real exhaustion portrayed in those pages.

I have a feeling Wiped didn't sell too well, and here's some interesting backup for that feeling (and the raison d'être of this post):
"Eckler says film Knocked Up too close to home" (via Bookninja). Yep, she's suing because "'Alison' was an up-and-coming television reporter; in my book, I was an up-and-coming newspaper reporter." Oh, and the baby daddy was Jewish. And the pregnancy was the result of a drunken one-nighter. (Wait, wait, wait, didn't she say in her blog "Trust me, I know a lot of babies are made that way." She knows a lot of babies are made "that way". But she's suing?) Clearly, we're talking Viswanathan-esque levels of plagiarism here! Except, not. We're talking about a woman who
whines about having to spend two months in Maui and begrudges her fiancé’s frustration as he forks out for endless new portable DVD players after the baby destroys them. She inadvertently spends $400 on a jean skirt for the child on a weekend trip to Paris and $1,500 on her second birthday party [...]*
The hilarity. It burns.

By the way, if you or anyone you know has ever gotten pregnant accidentally, by Jewish guy, while being an up-and-coming something-or-other, do let me know in the comments, won't you? Just don't bother writing a book about it.

Edit: Steven W. Beattie at That Shakespeaherian Rag takes apart the whinge post here.
Eckler threatens job action against those would would critique her. Well, not if they're "just some weirdo 60 year-old who still lived in his parents basement who made fun of me." It's really threatening to have educated, successful types disagree with you, ain't it? "I'm laughing so hard I basically have tears streaming down my face." Sure, hon. Her blog, it burns.
Here is the parody blog. Go to June 1st for the redux of the "threatening" post I link here. Holy cow, who knew there was all this hubub around one self-centred *expletive*?! And now I'm feeding it (not that anyone actually reads this). UNCLEAN!
Globe and Mail commenters go to town.

*Quoted from the linked Quill & Quire review by Emily Donaldson. A woman. Not the "middle-age men [who] wouldn't exactly get where I'm coming from." Though what the hell do I know? I'm just a childfree person, struggling to pay the bills.