I don't generally keep track of my reading on any sort of statistical level. I read what I read for reasons that are as much about the mood I'm in when it comes time to start a new book as anything else (probably more than any other reason, to be honest). This means that my reading choices over the course of a year tend to be not particularly considered.

But this year everything I read got logged into Goodreads, and for the first time in a while I wasn't actually paid to read anything, so I thought I'd take a look at what I read in the absence of any direction (beyond a handful of books that were for my steampunk book club). Here's the breakdown:

I read 65 books in 2013; 39 of them were written or edited* by men, 24 were written or edited by women, and 2 were written or edited by a mix of both men and women. Only 2 were written or edited by people of colour (to the best of my knowledge; I thought the number was higher, but at least one author who I thought was black turned out to be white and it turns out that several books I thought I had read in 2013 were actually from my 2012 list).

In terms of percentages, that's 37% by women, 3% by people of colour, and just because we should cover all the bases for our anxieties, 25% of those books were Canadian. Books written or edited by both men and women were not included at all in those statistics, as I felt they would cancel each other out, so to speak. I thought of looking into how many of the books I read were by queer authors, but that's problematic for any number of reasons. I know that several were, because I know the authors, but I'm not interested in prying into the personal lives of authors to the degree where I would know the details of their sexuality, so I can't give you any statistics.

My favourite books of 2013 (in the order that I read them) were:

  • Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan
  • How to Get Along with Women, by Elisabeth de Mariaffi
  • Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
  • Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes
  • The Showrunners, by David Wild
  • Born Weird, by Andrew Kaufman
  • Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
  • The Summer is Ended and We Are Not Yet Saved, by Joey Comeau
  • We Can Build You, by Philip K. Dick
  • Ghosts, by César Aira
  • Food and Trembling, by Jonah Campbell
  • The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs

Anyway, back to statistics. What I learned from my reading list for 2013 is that I need to make more of an effort to diversify. I thought I had read more like 40-45% women authors last year, and closer to 10% authors of colour, but the numbers show that I wasn't as aware of my own habits as I thought.

So this year a minimum of 50% of the books I read will be written or edited by women. I've made no specific targets about books written or edited by people of colour, but I have already acquired more books by people of colour for my 2014 list than I read in 2013, and I plan to look for more. Books written or edited by a team of both men and women will, as in 2013, "cancel each other out," and count toward neither gender's total. Books I began reading in 2013 but did not finish will count towards the 2014 list (assuming I finish reading them in 2014). One additional rule: if, at the end of 2014, I find myself having read an equal number of books by both men and women and only have time to read one or two more books before the end of the year, those will be books written or edited by women.

I've already made good headway. I'm currently on my 9th book of 2014, and have so far read four books by men and four by women. I'm keeping things simple, alternating between books by men and women. Early in 2015 I'll write another post like this to let you folks know how things went.

Happy reading!

*I use the word "edited" throughout this post to refer to the editors of books that are anthologies and other kinds of collections, not to the editors of single-author volumes and so on.

2013 Reading Summary and the Plan for 2014

Jan 30, 2014 1:16 PM

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posted in: Literary, News, Personal

It's been a long time since I've updated. Some things have happened that have kept this blog a low priority: I did some freelance work, switched jobs a couple of times, and have gone through some personal issues.

I've taken on a new job in northern Saskatchewan, where I will potentially be without regular Internet access three weeks out of every month, for non-business related things, anyway. The job is set to last about two years, so vestige.org will be quiet for most of that time. I'm going to try and update once a month or so, mostly with quick personal notes or nature photos and stuff (there will be lots of nature to photograph), just to let everyone know I'm alive and still reading, but the silence that has become usual around these parts is probably going to continue.

The job is a good opportunity, for a whole bunch of reasons, but some things will have to go by the board to make it work. This is one of them. I'm not shutting down, but expect an extended hiatus.

A Bit of News

Jan 04, 2013 11:17 AM

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posted in: Personal, Site News

So last night's post about the blues was sort of accidental. I had intended to write about what I listen to when I read. For years I was the sort of person who could read anywhere, regardless of what was going on around me. In university, when reading suddenly became important to my future (in terms of my career, I mean; I'm a book critic—as in, reviewer—now, but I once wanted to teach university-level English Literature and work as an academic critic/theorist), I lost the ability to read in the same room as someone watching television. And then I couldn't read while listening to music with lyrics. And then I couldn't read while listening to any sort of music.

Most of that has passed, and I can once again listen to music while I read, although anything too heavy or uptempo, or with complicated lyrics I like to get lost in, is still a no-go. It's as though they occupy the same space in my brain as whatever it is I'm reading.

But anyway, I thought I'd give you a brief list of some albums I like to listen to when I read (my total "Reading" playlist is 1,983 songs, or approximately 6 days of continuous listening, so I won't be including it all), and if you like you can make suggestions for your own additions in the comments.

  • Various Artists - In the Mood For Love Soundtrack
  • Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton - What Is Free to a Good Home?
  • Alpha - Pepper
  • Various Artists - Cinematic: Classic Film Music Remixed
  • Cliff Martinez - Solaris Soundtrack
  • Kronos Quartet - Pieces of Africa
  • Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
  • Alexandre Desplat - Birth Soundtrack
  • Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
  • Matt Sweeney & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Superwolf
  • Esthero - We R In Need Of A Musical Revolution
  • Headless Heroes - The Silence of Love
  • José González - In Our Nature
  • Barbara Morgenstern - Nichts Muss
  • Masha Qrella - Unsolved Remains
  • Massive Attack - Mezzanine
  • Shugo Tokumaru - Night Piece
  • Sparklehorse - Dark Night of the Soul
  • True Widow - True Widow
  • Warpaint - Exquisite Corpse
  • The London Haydn Quartet - Haydn: String Quartets, Op. 20
  • Auryn Quartet - String Quartets Op. 76, nos. 1 - 6 (Haydn)
  • Hesperion XXI cond. Jordi Savall - Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805): Fandango, Sinfonie & Musica Notturna di Madrid
  • Various Artists - Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World Soundtrack
  • Vangelis - Blade Runner Soundtrack (Extended Bootleg Version)

Again, I'd love to hear your recommendations in the comments.

Music to Read By

Jan 21, 2012 2:37 PM

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posted in: Miscellaneous, Personal

I don't do resolutions. Not because it's a cliché; I sometimes think those are all right. Rather it's because I just don't ever stick to them. Things happen, blah blah blah. I could give you excuses, but that's how things wind up going. So, inspired by Adrienne's post (and obviously aping her post title) I'm going to say a few words about what I hope the new year has in store.

First of all, I'm going to get a new job. This really isn't optional, since I've just been freelancing since August (and I'm definitely going to be doing more of that; I've already been doing some freelance editing this year, and I've been back from the holidays for less than a week), but at this point anyway, it's not paying the bills. I'm trying to keep optimistic, but this is honestly going to be simultaneously the hardest and the most important part of my new year, both in terms of the task itself, and keeping my spirits up.

I want to read more poetry. And I've already started! I'm nearly seventy pages into Wallace Stevens' Collected Poems. I've said for a long time that he's my favourite poet, but I'm not sure if that's necessarily the case. I really admire his work, and "The Idea of Order at Key West" is my favourite poem of all time, but maybe that's not enough. I'm going to start with books of poetry already in my collection (the Stevens is a textbook left over from a Modern American Literature course I took with Stan Fogel as an undergrad), which means poets like Anne Sexton, E.E. Cummings, Anne Carson, Don McKay, Ezra Pound, Adrienne Rich, David Donnell, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and a bunch of others who show up in various anthologies. I admire poetry as a form, but I don't feel like I understand it very well, particularly contemporary poetry, and I find that I either connect instantly and profoundly with a poem, or it bores me and I want to move on. I don't know if this is normal, but it's starting to bother me, and I want to work on it this year.

I want to start writing and blogging more, particularly about television. I've said things like this before, and it would be easy to say "and this time, I really mean it," but I've been a serious fan of television as a medium my whole life, and at this point I think I have a strong enough grasp of what's going on and the necessary critical language to write about it seriously. It would be nice if I could get paid for it, but I've come to realize that if I've got something to say I should just say it regardless. I plan to start with a series of posts about the amazing sitcom Community—and before you say anything, I've already got drafts started. As for blogging about other things, I also have drafts of book reviews and other posts, I just need to finish them. To be honest, the biggest obstacle is the stress of looking for work; it's difficult to concentrate on the writing I do for myself with that looming over my head. (I would also like to say that 2012 is the year I stop making excuses, but really, nobody keeps that resolution.)

This will surprise no one who knows me well, but I'm kind of a geek. I like Star Trek and Star Wars, video games, science fiction novels, anime, and roleplaying games (well, some). I own complete runs of Cerebus, Preacher, and The Sandman (or did before some folks borrowed some of the latter without returning them). Hell, I even got about a third of the way into writing my own tabletop RPG once. Yeah, that's right, I'm that guy. But over the years I've drifted away from those roots. I don't read as much SF/F as I used to, I haven't played an RPG in years, and I can't even remember the last time I watched a new anime series. The truth is, the deeper I got into "fandom," the more I found two equal but opposite impulses within the community extremely unappealing. The first was the impulse from some in the community to relentlessly nitpick every trivial little thing that was even a tiny bit inconsistent or outside their expectations—which goes beyond criticism and into entitlement—and the second was the impulse some have to go easy on people working in genre because it's been ghettoized for so long and "we're all in this together" (or some other sentimental nonsense the critic in me can't abide), which helps no one, as it gives us a false sense of the work. Anyway, neither of those impulses are representative of the fan community as a whole (and it's more a collection of related communities than a unified entity anyway), but they made me not want to be a part of it all the same. I got into James Joyce and art films, A.S. Byatt and The Wire, and for a long time didn't look back.

The thing is, you can't read a lot of contemporary literary fiction, or watch a lot of television and film—not even the art house versions of same—without seeing how they have been influenced by and intersect with what we talk about as genre work. I'm not ashamed of being a big nerdy goof. Long time readers will know that I've blogged extensively about William Gibson's books, for example, plus reviewed his last two for Quill & Quire, and even interviewed him for Canadian Notes & Queries; additionally most of my professional book reviews have been of books that straddle the line between genre work and "capital L" literature. But I never felt a kinship with the community, and drifted away in favour of other priorities. This year I want to change that. I spent most of December reading Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, and now I've moved on to H.P. Lovecraft. I've also, almost clandestinely it feels like, been reading Raymond Chandler, Ian Rankin, Stieg Larsson, Elmore Leonard, Fred Vargas, Michael Dibdin, David Montrose, P.D. James, James M. Cain, and so on, and enjoyed pretty much all of them unequivocally. So I'm going to read a lot more genre fiction this year, and even try and see if I can connect a little with the community. We'll see how it goes. I may even write about some of it.

So that's a lot of rambling nonsense, but those are things that I hope will happen in the coming new year. As usual, comments and suggestions are welcome.

Looking Ahead to 2012

Jan 05, 2012 1:23 AM

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posted in: Film / TV, Literary, Personal

After a spurt of activity, vestige.org may be going dark again for a few weeks, and I thought I'd tell you why. First, there are health issues, and then there are job issues. Let's start with the health issues.

For years now I've been sick with a disease that I thought was Ulcerative Colitis. Recently I started seeing a new doctor who believes I have something far less severe. He ran some blood tests and scheduled some other things. So far all I've got are the results of the blood test, but he determined that I've had a severe vitamin B12 deficiency, probably for the better part of a decade, and that judging from my symptoms it's been getting worse recently. The side-effects of this deficiency include: severe fatigue, severe depression, forgetfullness, difficulty sleeping and focusing, and a bunch of similar things that have made doing anything other than my day job and a few (paid) freelance gigs all but impossible. I was napping twice a day, almost falling asleep at my desk at work, and even doing something simple like washing the dishes was so exhausting it would put me out of commission for days. The blog was not a priority in such a situation.

My doctor put me on 1000mcg (that's micrograms) of B12 per day, and I feel like a new man. I'm sleeping well for the first time in years, I have a full day's worth of energy, my moods have improved dramatically, it feels like a fog has lifted from my memory, and I can feel my thinking getting sharper and clearer every day. I feel stronger, more capable—hell, smarter—than I have since I was living in Sudbury in 2004. This is why there's been such a flurry of activity on the blog lately. I suddenly not only have goals and ambitions, I also find myself with the energy and confidence to achieve them.

Which leads me to the job issue, and why the blog will probably be silent again for a while despite all this good news about my health. I got laid off on Thursday. It wasn't just me; two-thirds of the staff where I work were laid off. There're no hard feelings about this: my boss had some tough decisions to make, and the circumstances were entirely beyond his control. Nobody's happy, but my split from my employer is entirely amicable. I still believe in the project, and I wish them all kinds of success in the future, and I get the impression they feel just as much good will towards me. But I'm still out of a job in a little over a month, and I don't make enough money to put the job hunt off by even a day. All my energy will be going into finding work, be it a full-time gig or more freelance writing assignments. The blog is important to me, but paying my rent is even more important.

The good news is that thanks to my doctor, I now feel like I'm able to take on this challenge, and maybe even find something that will help me get closer to achieving loftier goals than simply paying the rent. Thanks for hanging on all this time; I'm optimistic that I'll be back to posting in short order.

Recent Events

Jul 09, 2011 5:07 PM

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posted in: Personal, Site News

Kelli Korducki recently posted an interesting essay on Thought Catalog, in which she opined if a relationship has to end, she would rather be the one dumped than be the one who ends it. Her chief argument seems to be that the person who ends it is deliberately taking on the role of the Bad Guy, which is the harder role to play because, in the absence of mitigating factors like abuse or deceit or what have you, it comes with no sympathy, no legitimate period of mourning, no way to acknowledge that it too might be painful. That got me thinking about how my own relationships have ended, and while I agree with some of her points, I think fundamentally her thesis is wrong.

Before I get to that, there are two minor quibbles I'd like to deal with. First, there's this paragraph about people behaving poorly when they end a relationship:

I know some people who have been dumped in cruel, unforgivable ways. I know someone who got married, paid off their spouse's credit card debt instead of their own student loans, and dutifully served as the household breadwinner before being swapped after 9 months for the town exterminator. In that case, I side with the dumped—even though one might argue that this person had their own poor judgement to blame for the situation—because, in that particular instance, the dumped had been completely disrespected, used, and discarded. It was about more than romantic rejection.

She's absolutely right about that sort of thing being cruel and unforgivable (I have considerable experience being on the receiving end of that behaviour), but her suggestion that her friend might have "their own poor judgement to blame for the situation" is straight up victim blaming, and it bothers me a lot. Like Korducki, I have not had a great many relationships, but unlike her I'm not an expert on dumping: I'm an expert on being dumped. I've been dating for close to twenty years now, and one of those relationships lasted nearly a decade, so I feel that, again, like Korducki, I understand how a number of different kinds of relationships work, and some of the different stages they go through as they evolve. Her friend trusting his or her partner may have turned out to be a mistake economically and tactically, because they were betrayed and their finances ruined, but it was still the right thing to do. Love and trust go hand in hand as the cliché goes, and if you aren't ready to trust your partner then you aren't grown-up enough to be in the kind of relationship that has shared finances, or perhaps in any relationship beyond casual fucking. Having one foot out the door or one eye on the piggy bank in case your partner might walk off with it is not only disrespectful of your partner, it's disrespectful of the relationship, and yourself. Besides, nobody will ever be able live up to your trust if you aren't willing to risk trusting them in the first place. The risk is worth taking, but not only that, it must be taken.

My second quibble is something that was brought up in the comments; Korducki gives no consideration at all to laziness or cowardice. Ideally we do a tremendous amount of soul-searching before ending a relationship. Sometimes a relationship can't be salvaged. Sometimes it shouldn't be salvaged. More often than we'd care to admit, however, folks will end relationships because, though they know that they can—and in some cases should—sit down with their partner and together do the work that will save it, they see how hard that road is and turn away because they are afraid of the difficulty, or because they would rather have an easier reward with another partner today than a richer one with their current partner tomorrow. Laziness and cowardice: they are human failings, and we can understand them—may even suffer from them ourselves, as I surely have at times—but they deserve no pity, and will find none here. I've been dumped in this way more than once, and when I read in Korducki's essay that "[s]ome might argue that it's even (!) a mutually beneficial act," I'm reminded that those were the times I heard that sentiment the most. It's what's best for both us. The arrogance of such a statement is beyond words.* I've been accused of arrogance more than once myself, and almost as often as not the accusations have been just, so I know arrogance when I hear it. It's also an easy shield to hide behind when we'd rather not look too closely at our own motivations.

But these are really minor things. Folks who know me will know that I've been dumped at least twice as much as I've done the dumping (I hate this terminology, but what can you do?), and they will also know that I take being dumped hard, as I don't enter relationships lightly in the first place, not being particularly fond of or good at "casual." Unfortunately this will sound like sour grapes to them, but a lot of this comes from thinking long and hard about why I am how I am, and why I want what I want and expect what I expect.

Here's the crux of things: Korducki writes that "when referring to garden-variety 20-something relationships (the ones that don't involve life savings and/or offspring, say), being dumped doesn't automatically equate being wronged," and that just isn't so. Dumping, as I'm using the word (and I hope Korducki will forgive me if I'm misunderstanding her use of it), is the unilateral ending of a relationship, as opposed to ending it after honest and heartfelt discussion between all parties. Even when unilaterally dissolving a relationship is the right thing to do, the necessary thing to do, you are always wronging the other party because you are using your agency in a way that explicitly denies them the use of their own, and for that express purpose. Even twenty-somethings can play for keeps, and as with the body, so too the heart: sometimes when we hurt people, they don't ever get better, regardless of our intentions. So we have the absolute responsibility to understand that when we dump someone, especially someone we still care about, we are potentially altering the direction of their lives, and we are doing so by explicitly denying them input. In short, when you dump someone, you rob them of their agency, and that is always a "wrong,"** even when it's the right thing to do. We all have the right to determine the course of our own lives, to choose our partner, to love whomever we will, but sometimes our choices don't line up, and in those cases the person who doesn't want a relationship always trumps the person who does. That is as it should be, but it doesn't change the fact that one person has been denied the right to exercise their agency, and that is never a small thing.***

Korducki is absolutely right that anyone with any self-respect at all will sometimes feel pain, even tremendous pain, when they dump someone, but she's wrong about why. It's not because they've taken on a necessary responsibility. It's because they've wronged someone they care about by taking away the very rights that they themselves are exercising. All acts have consequences, and the pain felt by a self-respecting dumper are those consequences being acted out on their heart or soul or body or psyche, whichever of those things you prefer to believe in. Having looked back at all my past relationships, the most terrible thing anyone has ever done to me, the absolute worst betrayal, has been taking away my power to choose. I would be the Bad Guy a hundred times over before I'd want to face that again even once.

*I don't think that Korducki was saying that's her actual stance on the issue, only that some folks make that argument, so bear in mind that I'm not attributing the arrogance to her.

**In the sense that it causes legitimate harm, even when it is a morally justified act.

***Here I am still talking about ending relationships that already exist; beginning a new relationship is something else entirely.

Is It Better to Be Dumped?

Jun 17, 2011 9:23 PM

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posted in: Personal

My relationship with James Joyce has never been simple. I tried to read Ulysses in high school, knowing (though not really why; I don't remember anyone ever actually introducing me to the book) that it was something great, something that as a lover of books I would have to come to terms with eventually. I found a much-abused copy at my local literacy centre, where they had a shelf of books that you could either use as a lending library, or just buy outright. I bought Ulysses, and that night sat down to read about stately, plump Buck Mulligan.

Ulysses kicked my ass. I don't think I made it more than ten pages in on that first attempt, nor on the five or six others I made in the two years before leaving for university (it was not one of the volumes to make the trek to Waterloo). In my first year I read Dubliners as part of a survey class, and I hated it. In fact, I hated all the Modernists at first, and had the hubris (me? hubris? noooooo.) to suggest that maybe it was a just a bad book, and wasn't really worth my time. It shocks me a little to think that I held such an opinion, and held it so earnestly, especially since a) as a writer I believe that innovation and artistic achievement only happen in the crucible created by a strong tradition, and b) by the end of my university career I came to revere the Modernists as some of the finest artists to ever put pen to paper. (I re-read Dubliners in grad school, and loved it, leading me to believe that I just wasn't ready for it the first time around.)

I took another shot at Ulysses in my fourth year as an undergrad as part of a Modern British Literature course taught by Danine Farquharson, who is now part of the faculty at Memorial. We used the annotated student edition (pictured above), and took the book one chapter at a time. It was one of the most remarkable experiences I've had with a book, and ties with my year-and-a-half-long study of A.S. Byatt's The Biographer's Tale for best academic experience with a book. Danine's approach to Ulysses was open and expansive and full of humour (much like the novel itself), and I think the class owes her a great debt for showing us just how accessible Joyce's doorstop really is, and letting us know we didn't have to be intimidated by it.

After dropping out of grad school I finally went back and read A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man and found it a dour, sickly thing, mostly valuable as a stepping stone between Joyce's two great spurts of genius, though I suppose it also gave us Stephen Dedalus.

I lost my much-loved copy of Ulysses when my apartment flooded, almost three years ago to the day, alongside nearly a thousand dollars worth of other property, mostly books. Ulysses was the first thing I replaced, and there it sits, waiting.

Happy Bloomsday

Jun 16, 2011 8:02 AM

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posted in: Literary, Personal

I'm discontinuing my "Reading 20XX" series, starting immediately. It's not because I agree with Mr. Beattie's opinion on "challenges" and quantity tracking or what have you (though I very much do agree with his call to read better). I think that paying attention to the numbers, and participating in things like the Canadian Book Challenge simply appeals to a kind of quirk, a kind of geekiness, that Mr. Beattie doesn't have. It's much more prevalent in fans of science fiction, fantasy, video games, and so on (and I qualify, in a, er, qualified way), and I don't think there's a right or wrong in it. It's an impulse to classify, to organize, to manage and compartmentalize. In my case it manifests temporally; even my bookshelves are organized (when they are organized) to reflect when a book came into my life, or when in that author's career that book appeared. I just think that these "challenges" and so on reflect another way in which that kind of impulse manifests. As Mr. Mutford said in response to Mr. Beattie's post, if these things truly robbed readers of the pleasures of reading, they would probably drop out entirely. One would hope.

The problem is that it's starting to feel like an obligation. There are some books I read, and I can't wait to share them with you, and others where I may struggle for days or even weeks to find something to say about them. (There is the odd case, like Pattern Recognition, where I have a lot to say, but am simply having trouble figuring out how to say it, but that doesn't feel so much like an obligation.) I'm letting those books that don't move me get in the way of writing and thinking about those books that do, and that's not good for me, or for this blog. So from now on I'm only going to write about those books about which I actually have something to say. I will be completing the Fourth Canadian Book Challenge, if for no other reason than because I'm almost done anyway, in terms of the reading, if not writing. That I may not participate in the next one should not be taken as a condemnation of the challenge itself, nor of such projects in general.

I've also been doing more and more professional reviewing (among other things) that's getting in the way of blogging, and that work is really important to me right now. I don't want to feel like I'm neglecting something when I'm doing that work, because it is—as it should be—a higher priority for me. Making this change will eliminate the feeling that it's "getting in the way." That work is the goal, not the obstacle, and it feels good to be doing it.

I'm also going to try and use this as an opportunity to expand what I write about here. I've said in the past that I'd like to write about television and so on, but it's never materialized. At the same time I see the amazing work that folks like Tim Maly and others are doing, and I feel like I've carved myself too specific a niche here to engage with it. And I really want to engage with what those folks are doing, because I think there's potential for a lot of crossover with the literary world.

So anyway, that's what's going on here this year. I'll still accept review copies of books, and I'll still review every book I accept (I currently have four in the pipe), but otherwise no more writing unless I have something to say.

Best wishes to you all for the new year.

Some Changes For the New Year

Jan 13, 2011 12:22 AM

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posted in: Literary, Personal, Site News

Back in the fall of 2002, when I was an undergraduate going into my final year at the University of Waterloo, I realized that, while I was doing okay for money that term, things were going to be tight once Christmas was over. I'd worked two jobs in high school (at one point working sixty hours a week on top of being a full time student, and maintaining a solid B+ average) and had been so burnt out by the experience that there was no way I would be able to get a job and deal with the workload of being a fourth year university student. I saw an ad for a short story contest, and decided that I would get a little bit of cash by winning that. There's no way I could manage that level of hubris today, but back then I was kind of like that sometimes. (It didn't help that, aside from chronic money troubles, everything I'd been working toward for nearly seven years was falling into place almost exactly as I had planned.)

So I wrote a story. The first draft took me about three hours, and the second draft took me two, maybe three days. It was six pages long, and has been described by most who have read it as "experimental", though I deliberately used no techniques developed more recently than the 1920s. When it comes to my writing, I'm a Modernist at heart. I packed as much stuff into those six pages as I possibly could. A dissolving relationship is front a centre, a common theme in my work even then, despite being nearly five years into a relationship I thought would last the rest of my life, but there are other threads there that still matter to me. Different ways of using language—and dialogue in particular—for different modes of narration. Paranoia about sexual acceptance, the faithful incorporation of real places and things, pop culture references, literary theory references (and theories of mind, etc, incorporated into the structure), and heavy borrowing from and hat-tipping to writers I respect from the last three hundred years. If you know how to look for it, there's even a remix of some Beck lyrics, and a little bit of HTML/CSS. Like I said, I packed a lot into those six pages.

I won the prize. Ridiculously, I submitted the same story to another contest, and won that prize too. Like I said, the world wasn't really helping to keep my hubris in check back in those days (in 2005 the world realized that I'd been obscenely lucky for too many years, and pulled me back down to earth so hard I'm still not back on my feet yet).

I submitted the story to two magazines. First, The New Quarterly, a bunch of folks I know and respect, but for whose publication it was entirely wrong. They rejected it, and rightly so. I next submitted it to Carousel, and they accepted it as written. It was exactly what I had expected to happen, and I've been paying for that particular moment of hubris with a bushel of "we like it, but we're not going to publish it" rejection letters for every single piece of fiction I've written since. The piece, "A Story With No Title Whatever" (because I'm saving "Untitled" for something special) was published in Carousel's fall 2004 issue, number 16. It's a pretty gorgeous magazine, and I'm proud to have been in it.

I've been neglecting this blog for mental health reasons (I really just needed a break from my life, and plus I've been reviewing books for the great folks over at Quill & Quire, who pay me, which means stuff for them comes first), but the publication rights to my one little published story reverted to me pretty much immediately after it saw print, and I thought I'd share it with you folks, you know, for free. It's a PDF, just a quick export from MS Word, because epub (the ebook format I want to support) isn't actually capable of handling my formatting decisions, which I feel are essential to this particular story. When I get a better handle on Adobe InDesign, I'll replace it with something prettier.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. Download "A Story With No Title Whatever", by August C. Bourré (PDF).

Some Short Fiction

Dec 03, 2010 6:16 AM

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posted in: Literary, Personal, Writing

There are questionnaires that float around the Internet. I'm sure you've seen them. Facebook and Livejournal in particular are overrun with them. They are sometimes very, very long, and ostensibly reveal personal things about whoever has filled them out, but there's also a distance implied. Most people fill them out, pass them on, and then later claim to hate them. I'm going to let you in on a little secret: if you catch me at just the right time, I kind of love them.

Rebecca Rosenblum has recently filled one out, apparently based on a series of "getting to know you" emails that were passed around when she was in her first year of university (we didn't do that at my school; we actually stood in the common area of our dorm and our don made us introduce ourselves and give a little spiel). Not long after, Amy Jones, who blogs exclusively in list form, filled it out as well. Well! With the gauntlet dropped, or rather the bandwagon set in motion, I had to climb aboard.

1. What did you do on your last birthday?
I actually don't remember. I took the evening off, and I think I stayed home and read a book. My friends were busy, so we made plans to meet on another day to celebrate. I had known in advance that it would play out that way, but I was still down about it for a little while (in 2006 I was supposed to spend my birthday with A Certain Young Lady, and she came to my apartment the night before to tell me she wouldn't be coming, because she was going camping with some guy she had just met instead; it was too late to make plans with my other friends, and while it wasn't the first birthday I'd spent alone, ever since then I get melancholy if I can't see people I care about on that day). In the end, though, it was relaxing and stress-free, which made it a good day.

2. Name something awesome about you that you've never been able to market properly.
If there is a piece of information available in the public record and I want to find it, I will find it. I am very, very good at this sort of thing. Long out of print album or film? Yeah, I can find you that. Phone number of a lost love? Yeah, I can find you that. Adoption records? Okay, that last one I found by accident, when I was looking for something completely innocuous, and it even creeped me out. But I found it. (And note to US adoption agencies: lock your shit down, you know? Not everything should show up on Google.) Anyway, if it can be classified as "information," and it's available in the public record (preferably online, but I've been known to go offline for things), then given a little bit of time, I can find it for you. This particular skill, along with training in policy analysis and basically a mind that can't stop trying to find connections between bits of information, actually made me want to apply to work as an analyst for CSIS, but there are other qualifications (like bilingualism) that preclude me from doing such a job.

3. What book do you have to resist trying to force other people to read?
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, by David Simon. I'm not generally a reader of non-fiction, but that book has been influencing me, directly or indirectly, since I was a teenager. It's just phenomenal, and I think it provides a number of insights about the nature of violence that I just don't know how, as thinking person, you can function without.

4. How good a swimmer are you?
I am a good swimmer, but not a strong swimmer. I took swimming lessons all through my youth, and got as high as the level below lifeguard qualifications, so I'm capable of using all the major strokes, doing basic lifesaving, and so on, but I had a couple otherwise minor health problems that have reduced my ability to breathe. In normal everyday activities it doesn't have an impact on me, except that I can't take in quite as much air through my nose as a regular person. But when it comes to strenuous activities, like swimming and running, I have to work much harder to regulate my breathing and take in enough air. As a result I am a decent technical swimmer, but can't swim for long without having to stop and rest.

5. Ideal pet?
I'm quite fond of cats, and my cat Molly is pretty close to the ideal temperament for living with me. I also really like having a fish tank with neon tetras in it. I find looking at them very soothing.

6. if you don't have to compromise with other diners or pay for extra toppings, what goes on the pizza?
I am about to impart to you the most epic pizza ever. Behold: pepperoni, red onions, artichokes, tomatoes, and goat's cheese in lieu of regular cheese, all with an herb-heavy sauce and a thin but firm crust. Go forth and rejoice in your new-found pizza glory.

7. Can you, in your own estimation but also the viewpoint of the real world, sing?
No. Not even a little.

8. What are you wearing right now?
Boxer-briefs and a blanket. But I'm writing this within minutes of waking up, and I absolutely do not ever get dressed before my morning shower.

9. When, in your opinion, is it appropriate to chew gum?
Well, on your own personal time, clearly, but I'm okay with it if you're at work and have a job that doesn't involve contact with customers (or if it does, then it's only okay if you're at someplace relatively informal that doesn't involve food or whatever, like a gas station) or lots of verbal communication between employees. I think it's perfectly acceptable where I work, for example.

10. What book did you read as a teen that made you realize how smart and misunderstood and *deep* you are?
I don't know that reading did that for me as a teenager. It was more music. I really enjoyed reading as a teenager (and, believe it or not, Carol Shields' The Stone Diaries absolutely blew me away), but music was definitely where I turned to plumb emotional depths.

11. What magazine would you never buy yourself but always sort of hope is in the stack at the doctor's office?
Back when the Foth was still writing the back page, it was Maclean's. These days I bring a book, because there aren't really many general-interest magazines that I think are worth reading that I don't already subscribe to.

12. Can you bake a pie?
No. I can't bake worth a damn.

13. Who lives next door to you? What is your relationship like?
There's only one apartment per floor in this building. I don't really know the people directly above me, except they shift on a regular enough basis for me to believe they are students, and with one exception they've been pretty good about noise, and we just ignore each other. The guy on the top floor is a record producer or something, and he is a huge asshole, getting into everybody's business all the time, largely because he's been in the building the longest and can. Nobody likes him, not even the landlord. The building next door houses a gaggle of female university students in the basement, who have recently acquired a yappy dog, and some new tenants upstairs that I haven't met yet.

14. What is the easiest way for you to learn a new skill?
Depends. If it's a physical skill or a language, show me a few times one-on-one, and then give me lots of time to practice, or even better, lots of time where I have no choice but to practice, and give me regular feedback. If it's something like an analytical skill, then I learn best from a regular classroom, or if it's something I'm really interested in, time alone with a stack of reference material and the tools necessary to practice will usually do the trick.

15. What is that book you keep meaning to read and haven't, and feel bad about every time it comes up in conversation?
Doesn't really work that way for me. I generally don't give a damn about whatever book is "hot" at the moment, and that's usually what the conversation is about. I'm not interested in what's new as a reader, I'm interested in what's good, so my reading list jumps all around from one era to another, regardless of what the "conversation" is doing.

16. What are you listening to right now?
My fridge is making some noise, and so is my dehumidifier.

17. Do you remember what you wore on the first day of high school? If so, what? If not, substitute some other important day when you remember what you wore.
I probably wore jeans and t-shirt on my first day of high school, because that's what I always wore back then (I have much more vivid memory of what my deskmate, Lisa, was wearing, but that's largely because I fell in love with her the instant I laid eyes on her, which lasted all through high school, and I still get that twinge a little when I think of her today). I do remember that I wore a suit on New Year's Eve 2007, which was possibly the happiest day of my entire life. In fact, you can see a photo of me, taken on that day by A Certain Young Lady, on my About page.

18. What are you doing tonight?
Not sure. Probably some reading, some writing, watching some television.

19. What's the last thing you ate?
I had a slice of pizza last night.

20. Why did you do this questionnaire?
I find I often cannot resist these things.

Rebecca Rosenblum's Frosh Questionnaire

Oct 03, 2010 3:29 PM

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posted in: Personal