Thursday, May 24, 2012

Books: Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are? is a book of related short stories by Alice Munro, published in 1978. That same year it won the Governor General's Award for English Fiction.

Alice Munro has truly mastered the art of writing a short story. The narrative is so natural and honest that is seems effortless, but anyone who ever tried to write a short story will know what a challenge it is to write a good one - let alone craft such masterpieces as does Munro .

This book is a collection of 10 short stories, each one tightly woven and superbly written. Yet while each could stand alone, they are all about the same person - a woman named Rose.

Rose grew up in a difficult household, surrounded by poverty. She was beaten by her father and step-mother and in school she "learned how to manage in the big fights that tore up the school two or three times a year." As she gets older and tries to build a future for herself, she still struggles finding her place in a world that can be harsh and unforgiving.

Rose is not one of those protagonists that I identify with or am inspired by. But through Munro's gifted writing, she does become very real - and like people who are real, she possesses strengths and faults. Her choices are not mine, but I am able to understand why she makes them.

Interesting that I should have happened upon this book after reading Larry's Party, for that was also a work of fiction arranged as a collection of short stories. Both books offer the reader glimpses into the central character's life. The authors do not attempt to construct a chronological breakdown of every significant event - and yet they create vivid and memorable characters with their of revealing the unique essence of an individual.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

3 years-old

To celebrate turning 3, Miya invited approximately 30 guests to her back yard for a spring planting party.

Each young guest received a clay flower pot. There were paints for parent-assisted decorating (water-soluble paints don't work so well on things that will be watered), dirt to fill the pots with (or just dig around, as many chose to do), and flowers to plant.

Giving toddlers opportunities to play in the dirt is a pretty safe bet for a easy entertainment - although parents may have wondered about the combination of dirt and finger foods. Would you like some potting soil with that penguin cracker?

 Miya's daddy produced some fantastic cupcakes - the chocolate ones with sprinkles on top were a big hit, both a tasty snack and a fashion accessory.

A new website

Having recently returned to freelance/consulting work, I've been itching for projects to dive into. So this last week I dived into one of my own making.

I created the site Critical Social Justice as a platform to write about the issues I care about and follow - and to engage with others in the community. I've also inviting people to write guest articles and hope to develop a rich resource for those interested in social and criminal justice.

For anyone who has been following this anitaxpressmyself blog, some of the entries may seem familiar since I adapted several of the blogs I wrote over the last year for this new site (which had the extra benefit of not only giving me some quick content, but making it look like the site has been around longer than it has).

Since my goal is to find writing, research and public engagement gigs, I plan to use this site to demonstrate my style of writing and engage with individuals and organizations in the social justice community. The whole self-promotion side of being a consultant has never been my strong suit, but I'm working on that.

Feedback and comments on my new site are most welcome!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Books: Larry's Party

Larry's Party, by Carol Shields (Random House, 1997) is a beautifully constructed maze of words which twist and turn, leading us into the person of a man named Larry Weller.

Shields is an exceptional, Pulitzer Prize winning writer. When I read her novels I'm immersed as much in her style of narrative as I am in the story itself. She's a writer's writer who inspires me to write and to think about the craft of story-telling and novel construction.

Larry's Party is about a rather ordinary man, born in 1950 to working class parents. He lives what could be described as an unremarkable life driven by happenstance, yet his remarks and observations, his questions and uncertainties, about this life are what make this work so remarkable.

Partly by chance, Larry becomes a florist after high school. During the honeymoon in England with his first wife, he wanders through a maze and eventually into a career as a maze maker. Mazes become a theme throughout the novel, explored as metaphors and subjects. This is effective, especially given Shields's narrative approach which winds around events rather than coming at them straight-on. As readers, we never witness the key events in Larry's life - his two marriages, the birth of his son, the death of his father - but these and other events are central to the mazes of his life and we walk him as he skirts around them, drawing closer and then father away.

The book is broken into thematic chapters that don't follow strict chronological line, but move both forward and backward, advancing the narrative but also returning to previous events and encounters. This suggests a series of related but stand-alone short stories - each one its own maze. My one complaint is that when reading this book quickly - as I did over the course of a few days - the repetition of certain facts (i.e. that Larry earned a degree in floral design in 1969) can become tiresome. Yet if you think of how we narrate and describe our own lives, there is often just such looping back and repetition of certain key facts.

Overall, this was a very satisfying read and a book I would highly recommend. Its funny, wise and well-crafted - a book which Maclean's fittingly described as a "resounding confirmation of the mystery of the ordinary."