Book Review: The Heart Goes Last

fiction by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is well known for her dystopian worlds and in this one the novelist peers owl-eyed at coupledom. There is much to recommend about The Heart Goes Last but it’s not one of her best works—and saying so makes me feel like some wrathful CanLit god might come hurling down from the sky and smite me upon my foolish head.

the heart goes last

The narrative structure and plot are constrained within a hetero-binary and the story plods along between its lead characters, Stan and Charmaine; the result is a slow-footed one-two-him-her rhythm, back and forth, back and forth, until it feels less like a masterful hypnosis and more like the result of an insufficient editorial process.

Plot complications come in late and though they somewhat expand, complicate and provide levels of narrative, the complications are kept in service to the couple and their complicated, unrequited, imperiled love. Frankly, I just didn’t care about them. So there, I’ve said it, and my foolish head is still attached to my shoulders.

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Technocreep ~ with security tips and how we’ll order pizza in the future

Technocreep, The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy, published 2014

by Thomas P. Keenan —  technologist, professor, computer security expert and government advisor

“The first step in formulating an intelligent response to growing technocreepiness is to understand who is after your information and why they want it…”

Somebody recently said about the internet, these days it’s a sign of mental illness if you’re not a little bit paranoid. In that spirit, this book is a must-read with chapters titled Intelligence Creep, Camera Creep, Bio Creep, Deception Creep and Anti-Creep. You’ll learn the fun new term glasshole, and the not-so-fun terms wireheading, swarm intelligence and the cyber trickery known as dark patterns.

“There are things you can do to throw people off your cyberscent and retain as much privacy and freedom as possible, but you need to start taking action now…”

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Book Review: They Called Me Number One

…Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School. A memoir by Chief Bev Sellars

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Canada, like every country on earth, has its share of dirty secrets and there’s no dirtier secret than its maltreatment of First Nations peoples for several hundred years. Just like the family with the proverbial elephant in the room, without an understanding of historical, colonialist oppression, our nation will remain dysfunctional and our maturity will be blocked. It’s shameful that even today, in 2015, so many Canadians have a racist view of Aboriginals. This shouldn’t be a surprise, I suppose, given that we still live in a world dominated by white guys doing it by themselves. Nevertheless, there’s a growing sense that it’s time to cease our collective ignorance and Bev Sellar’s extraordinary memoir, They Called Me Number One, would be an effective way to begin that process.

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Book Review: Rumours of Glory

Memoir by Bruce Cockburn (co-written with Greg King)

Devoted fans and admirers of Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn will enjoy this tome. At over 500 pages, it’s like spending a short vacation with the man, during which you sit beside a cozy fire or maybe on the stool next to him in a palapa bar somewhere in the tropics and night after night he tells you his life story, until you are so enthralled you wish the experience will never end. He’s a fascinating, courageous, multi-dimensional poet of a man.
Musician readers will be delighted as he generously describes how and why his songs came to be. Recording sessions and live gigs with the likes of T Bone Burnett, Jackson Browne and Bonnie Rait will make guitarists salivate. I have to confess that I’ve been more of a fan of the man than his music, mostly because though his lyrics are poetry, they are often too much to bear. I tend to swim in the deep end myself so I usually prefer music that lifts my spirit or helps me escape altogether. Nevertheless, a few of his songs became totems during the years I moved fearlessly through Central America and saw the darkness of geopolitical warfare, such as this one:

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Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

20150826_133410long-awaited fiction by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is Harper Lee’s first and now-canonical novel and I wanted to love the sequel, Go Set a Watchman, just as much. I got my hands on a copy as soon as I could and planned to devote an entire evening to the event. The evening came, I poured a glass of red wine and tucked into the book. The first chapter was polished and strong and I was delighted to be in the author’s company again. But then, disappointment set in. Gradually the plot became indulgent, superfluous and seemingly aimless. There were pages upon pages of dialogue so slow and boring it made me feel the oppressive southern heat, and I’m pretty sure this wasn’t intentional. By page 100, there was little or no evidence—subtle or otherwise—of rising tension or meaningful plot implications. And that’s where I stopped reading. Sorry to say, but Go Set A Watchman, Lee’s long-awaited second novel, does not warrant all the hype.

Book Review: Bear

fiction by Marian Engel

Though Bear was first published in 1976 it’s still being talked about so I felt compelled to read it. Bear won the Canadian Governor General’s Award and this is partly because the bestiality was clothed in some correct CanLit attire: the requisite references to myth (none of which were satisfying) and the intertextuality of the library setting. At the heart of the plot is a fallacy that blocked my full appreciation of the qualities for which the book has been lauded. A tour de force, said the New York Times. A startlingly alive narrative of the forbidden, said the Washington Post. Canada’s Lolita or Lady Chatterley’s Lover, said the Globe and Mail. Margaret Atwood called it “a strange and wonderful book, plausible as kitchens, but shapely as a folktale, and with the same disturbing resonance.”

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Book Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

non-fiction by Jon Ronson

A timely subject given the unmediated power of social media, a survey of some of the ways the shame monster breathes its foul breath upon our lives. The book is a quickie tour, though, so readers looking for a deep-end analysis are likely to be disappointed. Ronson’s reportage can be amusing, as in his description of himself as the “tweedy and owl-like” observer in a San Francisco Kink factory. I know that writing a book entails too much solitude and a lot of ass-numbing work so I guess it’s hard to blame the guy for slipping some kink tourism into the research budget. For all the good it did him, though, the sexual atmosphere must have overwhelmed because the tweedy owl’s observations about shame fell short of relevant.

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