Tag Archives: Alan@WPL

You Maniacs! You Blew It Up!

So this happened this morning: I was on the phone, making sure this blog post would go according to plan, when the person on the other end started telling me things I didn’t want to hear. My legs went wobbly, I stumbled forward trying to maintain my balance and as the cord on my phone grew taut I fell to my knees and wailed: “You maniacs! You blew it up!”

But I should probably start at the beginning. I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Monday. [Editor’s note: at this point the author goes on to recount his life in a verbose manner that blatantly rips off David Copperfield. It was cut for the sake of brevity and the reader’s sanity.]

It was at this point in my life that I stumbled across Everything That Remains, a memoir that recounts two guys’ journey from a lifestyle of corporate excess to a minimalism. And that was my eureka moment! I would write a blog post about minimalism. My frantic research on the subject quickly drew my attention to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I thought I was set, but to my horror further research revealed it was a #1 New York Times best seller AND over 3 million copies had been sold. Minimalism was mainstream. Too old hat to share with my readers.

I needed a new angle and quick. Wracking my brain resulted in a quote from Everything That Remains. But it wasn’t just a quote. The authors were quoting themselves having a conversation in which they were quoting another book.1 This was my egads moment! The quote nested itself so beautifully it was as if it were straight out of the plot of Inception. And this, I thought, was my lightbulb moment!  For the book they were quoting was Fight Club.

It became so clear: nerd minimalism. I could recommend Inception (the movie) and Fight Club (the book or the movie). One more recommendation and the nerd trifecta would be complete. Following the tenets of minimalism I conducted a thought experiment. If I could keep only one book on my shelf, what would it be? Obviously, the nerdiest book on my shelf. A book so nerdy, many nerds don’t even know this franchise started as a book.

As excited as I was, my lightbulb quickly shattered. When I double-checked the library catalogue to ensure it was available to borrow, it wasn’t.  The last copy had recently been withdrawn. Of course, it’s nobody’s fault. It happens all the time. Books get dirty, and worn, and damaged to the point where they can no longer stay on the shelves. An Old Yeller moment, to be sure, but it has to happen. I made the necessary calls2 to try and get another copy re-ordered and every effort was made, but ultimately, the book is currently out-of-print.

There is a bit of a silver lining. You can borrow the movie, the remake of the movie, the sequel to the movie, the prequel to the remake of the movie, or any number of graphic novels based on the franchise. And, best of all, the truest form of the book is still available to borrow in the original French (which, alas, I cannot read3). Barring all that, you can still see if the library is able to bring in an English translation using our Inter-Library Loans service.

So what is this franchise you ask? Alas, still so distraught are my feels, I can’t yet bring myself to type its name. Though, dear reader, if you Google the title of this blogpost the answer will be revealed. 4

Alan

1Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, Everything That Remains: A Memoir by the Minimalists (Asymmetrical Press, 2013), p. 90

2See the first paragraph.

3My good friend Tim, who does read French, swears the original version is so much better because the author makes clever use of verb conjugation that just isn’t possible in English. I believe him, mostly because ‘Tim’ is such a trustworthy name.

4“You maniacs! You blew it up!” if you’re too lazy to scroll back up to the top.

I Love the Smell of Rich Mahogany in the Morning! or Why eBooks are Okay Too.

Books! Good old fashioned physical books! Nothing beats them and it hurts to be beat by them. If you’re like me and I know a lot of you are, then you love books too. Books are made of trees. Wood is made of trees. Mahogany is a type of wood. Therefore, books, or at least the best books, smell of rich mahogany. Some people may try to tell you that you can’t smell what type of wood a book is made of. Those people are not discerning readers.

Now, you may have heard of these so-called ‘eBooks.’ These eBooks are not made of wood. They are made of wires. I know what you’re thinking; I was the same way—skeptical. After all, when you’re sitting next to the fireplace, in your leather arm chair, a snifter of cognac in one hand and a bubble pipe in your mouth, and you look down in your lap and see A PILE OF WIRES, you’ll know something is missing. The smell of rich mahogany.

 

carrieBut say you want to read a good horror novel. I recommend Carrie by Stephen King, mostly because it rhymes with scary, which it is. You don’t want to read this book next to a fireplace. You want to read this book in a house with creaky floors and tree branches tap-tap-tapping at the window. You’ll also want to be in bed so that when things are at their absolute most terrifying you can pull the blankets over your head. Now think about it, with the blankets over your head and a regular old physical book you’re missing something. Light! And without light you’re approaching heart attack levels of scary, compounded by the fact that you can’t read in the dark. It turns out most eBooks have a nifty feature called a backlight which provides just enough light to read under the covers but not enough to ruin the ambiance.

 

count-of-monte-cristoeBooks, I’ve discovered, are also fantastic if you lift weights. Now leg days will never be an issue. But if you’re like me, and I feel a lot of you are, on those days when you’ve finished a set of arm curls with 500lb.* dumbbells picking up a book can be jello-arm inducing. Especially when you’re reading a tome such as The Count of Monte Cristo which is over 1000 pages of dead wood. Now with an eBook you can bend the laws of physics and that 1000 page tome is going to weigh about as much as a paperback.

 

infinite-jest

As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, I’m smart. Smart enough to know that it’s spelled ‘smrt’ but when you write it out the ‘a’ is silent. That being said, I’m a humble man. So, when it’s time for my weekly read of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest I use a dictionary because that guy is mad smart and I need it. Every. Single. Page. Before eBooks it used to be a physical dictionary and that was kinda bad because the dictionary is like 1000 pages and Infinite Jest is like 1000 pages because it uses pretty much every word in the dictionary—so yeah, arm days. So I know what you’re thinking, bending the laws of physics. And yes, there’s that. But they’ve also managed a feat of alchemy and put a dictionary into every single eBook so that all you have to do is tap the word and BOOM the definition comes up on the screen!

 

masteredLastly, and this one is important because it involves safety, sometimes I like my books hot. This is a problem because as we’ve discussed books are made of wood. And I’m smrt so hot and wood make fire. So when I’m reading Maya Banks’ Mastered on the bus and it bursts into flames on my lap I can get some weird looks. eBooks don’t catch on fire so much so people on the bus just can’t tell how hot my book is getting.

 

So, yeah, I don’t often stray from that rustic mahogany smell (pine is nice too!) but when I do, I always choose eBooks. Let me know why you choose eBooks in the comments below.

~ Alan

*Editor’s note: We had a lengthy discussion about whether or not there was one too many zeros in this number. The discussion ended with the author effortlessly carrying a set of said dumbbells into my office. I’m currently in the process of fixing the hole in my floor.

Time Enough At Last

If all is well, by the time you read this blogpost I’ll be hunkered down in my living room taking a much needed vacation, and playing the highly anticipated post-apocalyptic video game Fallout 4 — hopefully, with my glasses intact. As I bide my time waiting for the (nuclear?) launch of this game, I thought I’d take a walk with you, dear reader, through the irradiated wasteland that is post-apocalyptic fiction.

Under the umbrella of science fiction and fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction exists as a sub-genre.   But whereas fantasy is often used as an escape from reality and science fiction uses allegory to explore possible futures, post-apocalyptic fiction often strips us to the bone and forces us to look at ourselves separated from society.

Within the post-apocalyptic sub-genre there are a variety of sub-sub-genres which are usually identified by the way in which the world ends.

 

The Zombie Apocalypse

I’ve never really been a huge fan of zombies. As antagonists in fiction I find them lacking in intelligence. Luckily, in post-apocalyptic fiction, why the world ends is often much less important than the story of the survivors, so I find when the zombie apocalypse is written well I can often ignore the zombies themselves and focus instead on those left intact.  Among the best in this sub-sub-genre is the The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman.  Both the graphic novel  and the television series have excellent characters who struggle to retain their humanity as they survive a world overrun by zombies.

 

wd

The Pandemic

Pandemic post-apocalyptic fiction is the realm where my favourite book of all time resides:  Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.  It follows the story of Snowman, the last surviving man in the wake of a global pandemic, and his begrudging role as caretaker to a group of primitive sentient beings known as Crakers.  Orxy and Crake is the first in a trilogy that includes The Year of the Flood  and MaddAddam, and was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2004.

 

The Nuclear Apocalypse

My favourite post-apocalyptic sub-sub-genre, the nuclear apocalypse is often the most terrifying. It highlights man’s capacity for supreme self-destruction; not only of humankind, but of all life on earth. Most of the classic post-nuclear works were written in the shadow of the Cold War, when it seemed that nuclear annihilation was a real possibility.

My first experience with post-nuclear, post-apocalyptic fiction was when I pulled Alas, Babylon off my mom’s bookshelf.  The title had always intrigued me, as did the cover, which shows a group of survivors wandering a wasteland under a hot sun.  The story also had an impact on me and I will never forget the goldfish. Yes, the goldfish.

 

One Last Selection

If you’ve never seen the classic television show The Twilight Zone, I urge you to check out the first season of the original series.  I lifted the title of this blogpost from one of the episodes.

tz

If I’ve missed any of your favourite post-apocalyptic stories, please share them in the comments below.

– Alan

Alan can be found at the Transcona Library where he may or may not have grown a third arm after his vacation.

po e tree

2146221973_ca0a73d7e4_zPoetry:  many people cringe at the word. It brings up grade school memories of obtuse arrangements of the English language and the mandatory memorization of their meter.

So let me start with a story instead. Once upon a time I took a creative writing course in poetry. It was in university. It was for credit. And when the instructor, an established poet, walked in and jovially stated that he didn’t like 90% of the poetry out there, my stomach sank uncomfortably deep. I swallowed hard and looked around the classroom: of the ten of us, did this mean that only one would receive a passing grade?

My friend dropped out of the class. She was a songwriter, a lyricist, and much more terrified of the class than me. I stuck with it though.  I was curious.  My instructor was humble and this intrigued me. He told us that this was his first time teaching a university course, and sometimes I got the feeling that he was more terrified of his students than we were of him.

As the course went on, I was exposed to more and more poetry and I made more of an effort to understand the poetry I consumed. What choice did I have? How could I write poetry if I didn’t understand poetry? Most of the poetry was take it or leave it, but every once in a while there was a gem. A poem that made me say:  “Wow, I like this!” and the crazy thing was, sometimes that was followed by “I’m not even sure if I understand this.” My instructor’s words took on new meaning:  It’s not that 90% of the poetry out there is garbage (although garbage poetry exists). Only about 10% of the poetry out there is going to intrigue any given reader.

Today I’m going to share with you some of my favourite poets. They may not speak to you the way they speak to me, so if not, I encourage you to go out and find a new favourite poet.

bpNichol

There is a school of thought in poetry that when composing a poem one should always keep in mind how a poem will sound out loud. This is because poetry is the oldest genre, one that predates writing. In a time when it wasn’t possible to record a poem on paper, many of poetry’s conventions, such as rhyme, meter, etc. were meant to ensure poems could be easily committed to memory.

bpNichol deliberately eschews this school of thought. I first encountered bpNichol flipping through 20th Century Poetry & PoeticsI had no choice but to stop at his poem Blues, in an anthology of poetry it was most immediately like no other. While it certainly uses letters and words, it is nearly impossible to describe using letters and words. Blues, like many of bpNichol’s other works is a painting done with characters instead of a brush. For an introduction to bpNichol I recommend An H in the Heart which is a compilation of his work selected by George Bowering and Michael Ondaatje.

Bill Bissett

scarsI, perhaps like many of you, first met Bill Bissett on the bus. Not literally, but as a part of the Poetry in Transit series that appeared amongst the advertisements on city busses in 2013-2014. The featured poem, it usd 2 b, reads like the text of a modern teenager. But if you look at his bibliography, Bill Bissett has been omitting vowels since 1966.

There is a tendency to think of 733+ speak as lazy and/or obnoxious, but Bill Bissett’s poems help to make a case that writing in such a style can be used in a very deliberate fashion. It usd 2 b can be found in Bill Bissett’s book scars on th seehors.

Marlene Nourbese Philip

I encountered Marlene Nourbese Philip’s work while taking a course on diasporic Canadian literature. Her book She Tries Her Tongue Her Silence Softly Breaks is a collection of poems that addresses the challenges of finding a voice as an immigrant, a woman, and a Canadian. In her poem Discourse on the Logic of Language I was immediately fascinated by the way she uses a ‘/’ to conserve space and combine the words ‘languish’ and ‘anguish’ into ‘l/anguish.’ Philip is another example of a poet who manipulates the way characters are printed on the page to enhance the meaning of her poems.

John Weier

John WViolenMakereier taught me that when writing good poetry, you only get one shot at love. Love is to poetry as avoidance is to the plague:  cliché. So write your love poem, because every poet must write at least one.

There are so many poems about love that the word love is a cliché. If you want to write poetry, go ahead and write your one love poem. Then go and write all the rest of your poems and see what else the world has to offer. After that, check out Weier’s book, Violinmaker’s Lament and count how many times he uses the word love.

Poetry at the Library

April is poetry month! I didn’t want to mention it until now, because I didn’t want you to think that I was writing about poetry just because it was poetry month. If you’re interested in learning more about poetry, check out the following events at the library:

Hidden Poetry at Osborne Library
Saturday, April 25: 2-4pm
Hidden poetry is a fun, easy way to create your own poetry.  You simply black out words on an existing page of text, and what remains is your poem!  You can also use our button maker to make your poetry portable!

Speaking Crow: poetry open mic at Millennium Library
First Tuesday of every month
Share your own poetry with others, or just sit down, relax, and hear what other local poets have to say.  Speaking Crow is Winnipeg’s longest running Poetry Open Mic.

On The Same Page at onthesamepage.ca
Cover image for North End love songsOn The Same Page is Winnipeg’s largest book club. The selection for 2014-2015 is Katherena Vermette’s Governor General’s Literary Award winning book of poetry:  North End Love SongsJoin Katherena Vermette and other members of the Indigenous Writers’ Collective for a live reading on Tuesday, May 28th at 7:00 pm at the McNally Robinson Booksellers, 1120 Grant Ave.

Alan