Monday, 2 May 2011

my mother's books

Every spring when the ground thaws and green buds appear as if by magic on trees and shrubs, my mother reads Mary Stewart's Thornyhold. These two events are so intertwined for me that I am not sure if it is spring that sparks the reading or the reading that sparks spring. Last week, I moved back to my hometown and back to my parents' Victorian house, a house that is peopled by my mother's eclectic reading collection. This collection has of course grown and evolved with our family, but the books of Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Rosamunde Pilcher have been with us for as long as I can remember. 

Sunday, 17 April 2011

reading roundup

Here's some links to stuff I've been reading this week:

Lidia Yuknavitch's short piece on all the places she writes.

David Bezmogis thought that he wanted a dog. He may have been wrong.

You know you want to read Fey's memoir.

Sigrid Nunez is talking about Susan Sontag

Wallace's "Backbone" about a boy who wants "to press his lips to every square inch of his body."

Illustrator belle mellor's Backbone. More work here.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


from Random House

Last year I did some research on the social effects related to the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima during WWII for a course that brought together literary and public health discourses. I looked at Kamila Shamsie's, Burnt Shadows, a novel with an immense temporal and geographical scope that puts the fallout from the bombing of Hiroshima in dialogue with the aftermath of 9/11. Rather than focus on the intensely spectacular immediate effects of these events which have been readily and repeatedly represented by the media, Shamsie's novel takes up an important question: How can the kind of "slow violence" associated with the long term aftermath of these events be represented with the same kind of urgency created by images of burning towers and mushroom clouds? 

"Evening Glow Over Hiroshima"

The task is a difficult one but Shamsie's focus on Hiroko, a survivor whose body is forever inscribed upon by the bomb, successfully represents long term trauma by focusing on a personal narrative rather than on the big picture.

          Hiroko leans out the window, forgetting she is almost entirely naked. Something is wrong with her                     
          eyes. They see perfectly until the bottom of the slope and then they cannot see. Instead they are 
          inventing sights. Fire and smoke and, through the smoke, nothing.

Some of the most interesting research I undertook (and perhaps the most relevant to the current threat of radiation poisoning in Japan) deals with the hibakusha, "atom-bombed people" in Japanese. Many of the bomb survivors suffer from "atom bomb disease," an insidious affliction often accompanied by latent health problems. Along with this physical affliction, the hibakusha must also deal with social stigmatization which involves the marking of survivors as dangerous and contaminating peoples. This stigmatization is especially potent for hibakusha women, whose bodies have come to represent the suffering of the bombing and the potential threat of passing on this trauma to future generations. Part of the stigmatization of the hibakusha involves the perception that these bodies have been invaded by a nationally foreign presence, and as such, they pose a threat to the Japanese nation and Japanese culture. As events unfold in Japan, after the spectacular images of the tsunami recede and the threat of nuclear contamination intensifies, Japanese constructions of the hibakusha will likely resurface and, perhaps, undergo significant changes to account for this homegrown contamination.

Friday, 8 April 2011

rumpus book club

I recently joined the Rumpus Book Club and received Lidia Yuknavitch's beautiful and evocative memoir, The Chronology of Water, which I think is a memoir for people who don't like memoirs. The great part about this book club is that the book selections are unpublished, a detail that makes me feel like a true member of a club with special privileges and maybe even a secret handshake. Visit the site to learn more about the club and sign up to learn the secret handshake.

Monday, 28 March 2011


Zachariah O'Hora is the author and illustrator of the children's book Stop Snoring, Bernard!

from Amazon

I first came across his work at Tin House, where O'Hora contributed the banner illustration for the site's blog. Here are some of his other illustrations, which I think combine whimsy with drudgery quite nicely.

His work reminds me a litte of Richard Scarry and a little of Wes Anderson. Check out more of O'Hora's work at his website, Fuzzytown, where you can also find links to his blogs.

Images from Fuzzytown

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

flash review

Tintin in the New World: A Romance
Frederic Tuten

Tuten's novel explores Tintin's transformation from an idol of untouched youthfulness and innocence to a fickle adult, plagued by earthly appetites, desires, and longings. Tuten's prose and plot are most accomplished in the extended and surreal dream Tintin shares with his new love. Here, Tuten recreates the excitement and adventure of Hergé's Tintin, while also heightening this style with language that is both beautiful and mystifying. The most interesting aspect of this novel is that Tintin does not end up where you would expect: Rather than being bogged down in the muck of an adulthood defined by the interests and limitations of the body, Tintin passes through the corporeality of the grown-up world to become a transcendental figure, speaking a universal and forgotten tongue and communing with a universe that is now transparent.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

boy wonder

Every morning before school, I sat on the floor with a bowl of cereal to watch The Adventures of Tintin on my family's thirteen inch tv. I'm still not quite sure why I liked this show about a boyish reporter and his dog, but I suspect it had something to do with the ritual of it all. Every morning the same cereal, in the same bowl, with the same tv shows, before I walked the same way to school. Tintin is like this too, routined, formulaic. Always a call to a different city, but every Tintin adventure involves the summons to duty, the journey, the slapstick humour of Thomson and Thompson, the inventiveness of Tintin, the untangling of plot, and the all important and satisfying resolution. Crime identified and criminals captured. Tintin, along with the viewers and readers, can rest until the next call to duty, which is, of course, inevitable. So I think I enjoyed The Adventures of Tintin because there were no surprises, just the pleasure of an ever resolving narrative.

Hergé (his real name was Georges Remi) was a gifted illustrator working for a Belgian newspaper, when he was asked to contribute to a weekly supplement for children. Influenced by trends in America, he set to work on a cartoon strip and Tintin debuted in 1929 to chase after Bolsheviks in Moscow. Of course, Tintin's early years were in black and white; but as Hergé grew as an illustrator, the Adventures of Tintin became increasingly complex and hopelessly devoted to realism. But some of the most interesting adventures deal with the unknown: Hergé read and researched widely, but he never really travelled which meant that many of Tintin's adventures reflect widespread assumptions about the "new world." As such, Hergé and Tintin have received accusations of racism, but it is perhaps more accurate to say that Tintin reveals the Western cultural assumptions about the newly discovered world. Here are some of the images that Hergé has been criticized for:

Despite accusations of cultural insensitivity, Hergé's Tintin is popular all over the world and the cartoon strip has been adapted for film, radio, television, and theatre. Nowhere is the popularity of Tintin more surprising than in Black Africa. On the cover of Graham Huggan's book, The Postcolonial Exotic, stands a Tintin look alike. His skin is darkened, but he wears the ubiquitous Tintin suit and sports the ubiquitous Tintin flip of blonde hair. 

from goodreads

Huggan reports that doll-sized fake Tintins like the one pictured above are available all across Black Africa, which as symbols of continued imperialism seem to contradict the post in postcolonial. But, as Huggan points out, if we look closely at these fake Tintins from around the world; it is clear that the image of Tintin as a white colonialist is being subtly undercut as he comes to reflect the image of those who made him. The different likenesses of Tintin perhaps point not to the endurance of colonialism, but to the flexibility of iconic images and to the pleasure of re-making colonial images to reflect different worlds.

Stay tuned for my quick review of Frederic Tuten's Tintin in the New World: A Romance, which is a strange novel that forces Tintin to grow up.