Select Gerry

Quick readings here, latest at the top:

Ok, this part of the blog has lagged, but

After a lull of fifteen years since reading this novel for the last of about two dozen times, I picked up In the Skin of the Lion again. An utter marvel. About what history-as-knowing is, what Toronto history is, what deriving meaning from language means, what open forms can do, how lyric and narrative intertwine, and the rest of it.


I loved Connie Gault's A Beauty both as familiar and as strange (the story, that is). What came from its shadows. The characters, the ending, lots of surprises.

The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger

Heartbreaking as always, Holden making his way. I can't wait to talk with a class full of first-year students about that voice, that point of view, that language. It's a first-person world we all experience, and Catcher, in a literary way, is where it started.


The Empathy Exams
Leslie Jamison

Wonderful. Inventive and smart essays willing to go anywhere.
Farther Away
Jonathan Franzen

Essays, sharp ones, written with serious flair and a wide but personal range of seeing.
All The Names
Jose Saramago (trans. ?)

The premise (a bureaucrat breaking out, or further in, from his career/obsession), unpromising, delivers. In the end we marvel that we got there and how. Deep thematic territory, oddly traversed.

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis
Jose Saramago (trans. Margaret Jull Costa)

Second time for this novel, both times read where it's set, Lisbon, specifically, the book haunting my walk through the streets on which it's set. That fact that the title character is a heteronym of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who is also a character in the novel, and that Pessoa--like Saramago, Reis, and Hill--writes from where he lives, even lives from where he writes, well, that all animates my reading. Saramago does go off the rails here and there, I suppose, to voice his own thoughts on communists or the church or Portuguese society, but let's call it satire and enjoy it.

The Book of Sand and Shakespeare's Memory
Jorge Luis Borges (trans. A.Hurley)
A compilation of his last two books of fiction. Words like "story" and "imagination" might not mean much until we pick up some Borges. I love the purity and bravery of his journeys, the sense that the fantastic is immanent. And that innocent/learned voice.

Poet in New York
Federico Garcia Lorca (trans. Simon and White)

As a record of Lorca's stay in the U.S. in 1929-30, these poems are marvels of interplay between language and the new place. And of how surrealism stirs. Reading it during my own travels to a new place, Lorca's Andalusia, has been moving and instructive.

Death in the Afternoon
Ernest Hemingway

This book, a treatise on and defense of the bullfight, is very good in those terms. It feels like a hack job for the former journalist, though. He seems to lose interest at times but keeps going. The fabled Hemingway prose style is much in evidence, and was kind of fun to experience again. And the book is, as I say, really good as an anatomy of the bullfight.

[Two Ian Rankin mysteries; I forget the names.]

But at least I read them, something new for me. Excellent beach fare for the Yucatan. Much as I admire the complexity of the characterization and the intricacy of the plotting, in the first book "eyes narrowed" at least six times. Do eyes ever narrow? (And do any of us ever gasp, sigh, raise an eyebrow or roll our eyes?) For me, this is the problem with genre fiction: too many stock expressions, language enlisted into the service of genre requirements rather than allowed its own sweet devices. But I damn near bought Rankin's new Insp. Rebus mystery for my flight to Lisbon. (Instead: Saramago on my tablet reader.)

Lisa Moore

I can't say much about this yet. It's a test of e-reading on my new Microsoft tablet, the SurfacePro2. Seems heavy when I lie on my back and read up. "I always do it on one side or the other," says one of my daughters. Really I'm storing the Moore and that NZ woman who won the G-G for my overseas flight in January and what might be readable hours after that. I've also downloaded a free sample of Hunger Games on that same daughter's recommendation. If the seat on my Air Transat flight is narrow, I'll read.

Anyway, yes. Finished Caught in Puerto Moreles. Loved its gritty story, artfully told. Some day I'll try what Moore does: Suppose I have two scenes to convey. Instead of one then the other, mix 'em, letting a line for one not show up until later among the lines for the other. One chapter has the main character, an ex-con trying another drug run, had him wondering about a word all chapter long--thinking that his mother used it, or he'd heard it somewhere else--and the woman he thought it might apply to, whom we get to know a little. We never get the word, until the very end. Vixen.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Haruki Murakami

I can't wait to use this in my writing class a year from now. Sly, simple, deliberate, thin, good-natured, true, so it seems.

A trio for Grasslands National Park: Each of these next three rode with, at times drove, my five days in the landscape of Grasslands and the townscape of Val Marie.

Small Beneath the Sky
Lorna Crozier

A straight-ahead memoir neatly built around the notion, adapted from Aristotle, of first cause.  In Crozier's context that means light, dust, wind . . . story. I'm going to use this in my Sask Lit class this fall. 

Vintage Lopez
Barry Lopez

A compilation of essays and stories. "Landscape and Narrative" was the highlight for me--the network of possibilities attached to these terms explored most usefully. The collection is filled with commitment to chasing down ideas, especially those from nature.

The Lost Carving
David Esterly

Expert carver restores a 17th-century master's carvings damaged in Hampton Court fire, 1986. Such a synopsis doesn't begin to get at the wonders of this book. a must-read for any maker.

red doc
Anne Carson

These poems are a sustained juggling act, the right dynamic of tip.

Irma Voth
Miriam Toews

Also a juggler, that first-person, young woman's voice lost and engaged, a world that threatens and sustains, utterly fresh.

Half-Blood Blues
Esi Edugyan

I'm slow getting through it but it settles easily every time I pick it up. Written in dialect, voice of a musician, pre-war Germany. I think what works is that we totally believe the scenes.

trans. Anne Carson

Wow this would be fabulous for an intro Creative Writing class. Graphic novel meets ancient play meets voices we all hear. The lightest possible touch that keeps themes heavy, might be one way to say it. Poetry, fiction, drama--and any blends and variants thereof--could spring from every page.
At the level of raw surprise, Carson always delivers.

Will Ferguson

I was packing it to Vancouver when I heard it had won
the big prize. I was into it all day, which is what a flight from Regina to Vancouver becomes, when I take it. I must say, I skipped bits, compelled to read on. The book generates a neat hook into the reader's neck--I could smell the diesel over the lagoon and hear the motors.
I guess I'm surprised it won the prize, the Giller. But what does that matter.

Alice Oswald.
After her Dart, I'm keen to see whatever else she does.
Treat the Iliad as "oral cemetery", much in the form of soldiers' monologues, each of which echoes deeply,
gorgeous long poem.

The Things THey Carried
Tim O'Brien

This book will be good for how we read, what we want from a book, and how we write. My Engl 100 students this fall will be the readers/writers. They'll encounter much death and much wartime (Viet Nam) and they'll marvel, not for the first time, I hope, at what memory makes (us do).

The title story has long been a fav--text that does exactly, and completely, even in the abstract, what the title names. Powerful as a war text, it's also rich for parody: what do you carry, I'll ask my students. Write it into a story/essay, as O'Brien did.

The Man Within My Head
Pico Iyer

Hauntedness, to quote Iyer. That's what this curious memoir, biblionotation, novel, travel essay and so on delivers. In his case, it's Graham Greene--Greene and any character Iyer himself may have encountered over the continents and cities and years. Framed, sort of, in a present-tense travel account (which in turn is framed in _____). If nothing else, it will send you to Greene. I admit that the title may not generate much appeal, but Iyer hops and steps his way along (48 pages at least)--I'm good for more.

Devon Krukhoff

We'll talk about where the endings leave us--like a tv season's worth of stories, each linked to a specific bird evoked in a few sentences as mini-prologues (feature of bird = , or flies over briefly, feature of character in story).
And the world these stories create.

"Two Versions of 'Knight, Death, and the Devil'"
Borges, Poems of the Night (not sure about translation)

A case of modifier overload, as I might say to writing students, but how about this going after knight, death and the devil. Makes the modifier concept look pretty cheap. And a horesman and a mob, an "ashen old man with the hourglass". Fate and two roads and "enduring dream of Durer" [two dots over the u].

Here I salute Borges and, in general, the latin American and Euro prose poems in that Benedict anthology (out of print) that Fred Wah turned us on to years ago. Fabulist indeed.

The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder
ed. Bill Morgan

Man, those guys got around. The letters span about 40 years and every part of the globe. I'd have to say there's not much in this volume, except evidence of an enduring friendship (which maybe is enough) and, like a phantom, times passing just beyond the beginnings and ends of letters.

The Natural Way to Draw
Kimon Nicolaides

Decades past, this book was a must-read (for lots of people like me who buggered off to Europe after high school), along with One Hundred Years of Solitude, Siddhartha, The Little Prince, Slaughterhouse 5, The Whole Earth Catalogue, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, Lord of the Rings, A Child's Garden of Grass (which advised, correctly, to swallow your hash brownies just before 2001: A Space Odyssey began so you'd be highest for the light show), any J.P. Donleavy or Tom Robbins, and others I can't remember at the moment. First published posthumously in 1941, it offers moments like this: "There is only one right way to learn to draw and that is a perfectly natural way. It has nothing to do with artifice or technique. It has nothing to do with aesthetics or conception. It has only to do with the act of correct observation, and by that I mean a physical contact with all sorts of objects through all the senses." Maybe it was "natural way," but this was the book if you were in to drawing. Then, as now, I didn't work through it.

Phil Hall
(Disclosure: based on the first poem "Adios Polka" only, and distracted  by England-Italy)
This is a poem that plays with our and its lyric-poem expectations. If we want to pull purpose from this poem, as first poem in the book, let's salute its first line "Whenever I get lost" and its last two "there is nowhere to go off / but wordward".

A day later: "Bess & Lloyd"
I was just talking about these things, an old man and an old woman, their spouses dead, connecting again, as they had 60 years before. And I confess to answering "Joe's Pool Hall" if my daughters call. A curious whole and wholey poem brings the dead familiar and the dead strange.

Angela's Ashes
Frank McCourt
Haven't finished it yet. (In fact, I won't have finished many of the books here). We feel for every day of hunger for this family. I don't know how he brings back the details. (I guess I know how generally, but man, this writing really delivers.)
(Found this book in the laundry room. During the semester I'd found one of the Twilight books. One glance, I knew it was awful writing so I took it too class, asked students to rip out a page at random. Later, as much as a month later, I heard: It doesn't feel right to rip up a book and I thought Gerry was suggesting the writing was good.)

Li'l Bastard
David McGimpsey
They're agile, these 16-liners he calls "Chubby Sonnets". A hoot, some of them. A tad thin here and there, where the ease of play gives way. Where the flag loses the flagpole, so to speak.