World Cup of Literature: Group H

Group H is the final group in the World Cup. It is comprised of Belgium, Algeria, Russia, and South Korea. Here are the books that will be representing them:

Belgium: Julio Cortazar, “Hopscotch

Algeria: Albert Camus, “Exile and the Kingdom

Russia: Vladimir Nabokov, “Lolita

South Korea: Matthew Salesses, “Our Island of Epidemics

This group is all about people that were born in one place and then moved to another. First up we have Belgium and Julio Cortazar. Argentines are so good at everything that they are even great at being Belgian. Cortazar was born in Belgium to Argentine parents who worked for some Argentine diplomacy group there. The Argentine governent has since denied that the Cortazars were working for them. Hopscotch is a wildly inventive novel. There are actually two different ways to read it. The first is from beginning to end like a normal book, and the second is to read the chapters in a sequence that is recommended by the author in the introduction, thus making the reader have to jump around and back and forth, like they were playing hopscotch. Excellent!

Albert Camus was born in Algeria but was French and lived in France mostly. Most known for his The Stranger novel, the collection of stories in ‘Exile and the Kingdom” show another side to Camus’ writing. The stories are set in north Africa, Paris, and even Brazil. Camus can do!

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is one of the great books of the last 100 years. Nabokov was born in Russia but later moved to Paris. An interesting note about this book is that it is written originally in English. Nabokov is a master of language and storytelling and even though the subject matter of Lolita is not for everyone, his writing powers should never be underestimated.

Finally we have South Korea and Matthew Salesses. Matthew was born in Korea and adopted by an American family when he was two years old. Our Island of Epidemics is an enormously entertaining collection of tiny tales. It’s got more imagination in one page than most novels have in the whole book. Matthew is a great writer and a great person. We are friends on Facebook but have never met.

My soccer picks: Belgium, South Korea

My literature picks: Russia, South Korea

World Cup of Literature: Group G

Group G for the World Cup is comprised of Germany, Portugal, Ghana, and the USA. Here are the books that will be representing these nations:

Germany: Gunter Grass, “The Tin Drum

Portugal: Jose Saramago, “Blindness

Ghana: Ayi Kwei Armah, “The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born

USA: David Foster Wallace, “The Pale King

There is a good reason why this group was named this year’s Group of Death. It’s because all of these teams are powerhouse teams and all these books are powerhouse books. Anyone of these teams can go very deep into the tournament.

Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum is about a dwarf named Oskar Matzerath who narrates the story himself from inside a mental hospital. This is the story of his survival through World War II Nazi occupied Poland.

Jose Saramago was Portugal’s best known writer. Blindness is a chilling novel of a mysterious epidemic and a society’s disintegration. Bleak? Yes. Boring? Never.

The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born was recommended to me by a library customer. This is a book that has still stayed with her many years after reading it. It’s about a man trying to reconcile himself with post-independence Ghana and the new challenges it brings. If you read Swahili you can check it out of the EPL. The original version was written in English.

Is there a book that better exemplifies the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) than David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King? Certainly not. A hulking 534 page, unfinished novel by an author who killed himself at the peak of his powers. A novel about the stifling bureaucracy and boredom of the IRS where the main protagonist is also named David Foster Wallace. The Pale King is just like the USMNT. They are both complete yet incomplete at the same time. The Pale King is an unfinished novel that was put in proper order posthumously by its editors. The USMNT has sent a full squad to Brazil but could their squad really ever be full if it doesn’t include Landon Donovan? Certainly not. If you ask American fans, the USMNT is favoured to go deep into the tournament but they will inevitably end up leaving the tournament earlier than expected. The Pale King was lauded by critics when it was released and, despite being unfinished, still managed to be shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize, ultimately losing out to NOBODY in 2012. That’s right, The Pale King was so good but also not good enough to win the Pulitzer in 2012. A year in which the jury decided to not award a prize to anyone that year. It would be like if the USMNT made the World Cup finals this year but right before the big game FIFA decides to cancel the game because neither team is really good enough or worthy of winning the World Cup trophy.

That would suck.

My Soccer picks: Germany, Portugal

My Literature picks: Ghana, USA

World Cup of Literature: Group F

Group F consists of Nigeria, Argentina, Iran, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here is who will be representing these countries in the World Cup of Literature:

Nigeria: Chinua Achebe, “Things Fall Apart”

Argentina: Jorge Luis Borges, “Ficciones”

Iran: Marjane Satrapi, “Persepolis”

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Ivo Andric, “The Bridge on the Drina”

Group F is another where the real battle is the battle for second place. Argentina is favored heavily in both the soccer and literature World Cups. Borges is the king of literature. His Ficciones collection is a seminal work that collects some of Borges’ most inventive and influential works. He’s the best. Argentina is the best.

Speaking of seminal works, Chinua Achebe is the author of one of the most important works of African literature, Things Fall Apart. It is required reading across Africa and in University English courses around the world.

Iran’s selection is another graphic novel. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is an autobiographical tale about her childhood during the Islamic Revolution.  A film adaptation was also made of the graphic novel and released in 2007.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s team is perhaps the most unknown but they are out to prove themselves as a contender. Ivo Andric was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961 and his novel, The Bridge on the Drina is the most recognized of his works. It tells the story of the destinies and relations of the inhabitants of a small town on the Drina river over four centuries. It looks like a good one. This is my dark horse.

My soccer picks: Argentina, Nigeria

My literature picks: Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina

World Cup of Literature: Group E

Group E is made up of Switzerland, France, Ecuador, and Honduras. Here are the books that will be representing them:

Switzerland: Hermann Hesse, “Steppenwolf

France: Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables

Ecuador: Jorge Enrique Adoum, “Between Marx and a Naked Woman”

Honduras: Eduardo Bahr, “The War Story”

What is the deal with this group? I have no idea. Did you know that before Les Miserables was a movie it was also a musical? And before that it was also a book, did you know that? It is the classic tale of heroism, betrayal and redemption at a turning point in France’s history. The book has very little singing though.

Hermann Hesse is a former German turned Swiss citizen. He was a novelist, poet, and philosopher. Steppenwolf is a blend of eastern mysticism and western culture. It is Hesse’s most celebrated book and it looks like a wild ride. Let me know if you’ve read this one before.

Did you know that Jorge Enrique Adoum was Pablo Neruda’s personal secretary for two years in Chile? I didn’t know that before I looked it up on Wikipedia. Adoum’s novel, translated as “Between Marx and the Naked Woman” won the top literary prize in Mexico, which was the first time it was ever awarded to a foreigner. The novel was also made into a film in 1996 and was nominated for several Spanish language film awards around the world.

Finally there is Honduras. Little is known about Eduardo Bahr’s novel “The War Story” except that it is about the conflict between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969. He seems like a cool guy but Honduras beat Canada in qualifying last year and I’m still upset about it so I won’t say anything more.

My soccer picks: France, Switzerland

My literature picks: France, Ecuador


World Cup of Literature: Group D

Group D play begins tomorrow. The group consists of Italy, Costa Rica, Uruguay, and England. Here are the books that will be representing these nations:

Italy: Italo Calvino: “If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler

Costa Rica: Fabian Dobles, “Years Like Brief Days

Urugay: Horacio Quiroga, “Cuentos Escogidos

England: MJ Hyland, “Carry Me Down

This group is WIDE OPEN. Italo Calvino’s “If On A Winter’s Night…” is a genre-bending meta novel that makes the reader feel like he/she is literally inside the book and alongside the action. It’s a fun and clever book and it celebrates that greatest of all things: books.

Costa Rica’s entry this year is almost a total unknown. Fabian Dobles’ novel is about an old man taking stock of his life and coming to terms with his past. It looks like a good book. Perhaps we should ask the EPL to order a copy for us?

Uruguay’s representative is just like its soccer team: unpredictable, dangerous, depressing, powerful. Horacio Quiroga is the epitome of the tortured artist. His father accidentally shot himself, then his step-father shot himself on purpose, his wife killed herself by ingesting Mercury (and it took 8 days for her to die) and then he himself, while dying of prostate cancer, took some cyanide to end his life at the age of 59, all alone in the jungles of Argentina. Pretty chipper, right? Wait until you read his fiction. Quiroga was like the Edgar Allen Poe of South America, but better. His short stories are all about love, death, and the jungle. Do yourself a favour and learn Spanish or find an English translation of his work and enjoy.

England’s selection is a very personal one. MJ Hyland was my professor at the University of Manchester and she is excellent at writing and at teaching. “Carry Me Down” is about a 12 year old boy in the body of a full grown man. He thinks himself a human lie-detector and is obsessed with the Guiness Book of World Records. Are you hooked yet? If not, you should know that this book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2006. MJ Hyland is so great. You should read some MJ Hyland.

My soccer picks: Uruguay, England

My literature picks: Italy, Uruguay

Diamonds in the rough


I’m from the Northwest Territories, the diamond capital of Canada. I don’t have a lot of diamonds, and, at this stage of the game, don’t really desire any. I do, however, know that writing, laying down that first awkward draft, is much like mining, bringing up to the surface the unlovely bits that, with spit and polish, revision, are gems.

I speak a lot about the reptilian brain, the subconscious that dictates the words, memories and ideas we chose when facing the blank page. We decide unknowingly and sometimes in the spur of the moment what to write and we learn about why we chose that particular word/image/idea in the act of revision.

I tell my students and clients there are gemstones in their writing and I don’t say this lightly. It’s work to get something on the page but you can’t fall in love with the unfinished rock, the chunk of text that surrounds the yet-to-be revealed diamond. The shale, the granite, the grey powder must be chipped away, the stone manipulated, tumbled, refined and then polished and polished again. It’s there. You have chosen to write about something for a certain reason and it may be a reason that is unclear to you. Trust the process. Mine your image, find the beauty beneath what first appears and  keep working it. As in all things, the light, the meaning, the reason for the writing will appear and dear writing friends, in has the potential to be very, very bright.

World Cup of Literature: Group C

The World Cup of Soccer officially begins today in Brazil. There is an opening ceremonies, which is weird, and then the first match of the day with Brazil playing Croatia.

Group C play begins later this week. The group consists of Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, and Japan. Here are the books that will be representing them this year:

Colombia- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “One Hundred Years of Solitude

Greece- Homer, “The Odyssey

Ivory Coast, Marguerite Abouet “Aya of Yop City

Japan, Haruki Murakami “Kafka on the Shore

This group is completely wide open. Both in the soccer group and the literature group. In the literature group, however, I would say that the conversation is really about who will be second place to Colombia. This year is all about the South American teams and Colombia is no different. They have put together a very strong team this year with one of the greatest books of the 20th century written by one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Marquez is God in Colombia. At least I assume he is, or should be.

Greece is a total wild card, you never know what they’re going to do. This year they are fielding a team that includes a 2500 year old epic that (fun fact!) you can find in the non-fiction section of the library. I don’t know why that is. The Odyssey is the classic there-and-back-again hero’s tale. There are monsters and giants and ghosts and sirens. Expect Greece to put up a good fight.

Who here likes graphic novels? Everyone, right? They’re all the rage right now. There is something about words + pictures that makes everyone excited these days. Ivory Coast’s representative is a very cool graphic novel series by Ivorian writer Marguerite Abouet. This series tells the story of West Africa’s working class and the best part is that you can check out these graphic novels from the Edmonton Public Library right now. Check them out.

Japan’s team this year is completely bonkers. Nobody really ever knows what Japan is going to do in the World Cup and this year is no different. Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’ has talking cats and fish falling from the sky and spirits that do nasty things. Some people might say that Murakami is Japan’s answer to Marquez. Would I go that far? I don’t want to speculate on speculation.

My soccer picks: Colombia, Ivory Coast

My literature picks: ColombiaJapan

World Cup of Literature: Group B

Group B in the World Cup of Soccer includes Spain, Netherlands, Chile, and Australia. Here are the books that will be representing these nations in the World Cup of Literature:

Spain- Miguel de Cervantes, “Don Quixote

Netherlands- Margriet de Moor, “The Storm

Chile- Pablo Neruda, “World’s End

Australia- JM Coetzee, “Disgrace

Now the obvious controversy here is with Australia. Coetzee is a well known South African writer but he now lives in Australia and has Australian citizenship. Australia is pulling out the big guns for this event. In a double-whammy move they are submitting a book that is about South Africa by a former South African. All controversy aside, Coetzee is one of the greatest living writers of any language right now. Read any of his books. They are powerfully good.

The next front runner in this group would be Chile. In the World Cup of Soccer it would seem that Chile may be in a dog fight to reach the round of 16 but in the World Cup of Literature they are a lock to advance with one of the greatest poets of all time, Pablo Neruda. It didn’t matter what book of his they chose, Neruda is king and expect Chile to advance and challenge to reach the Elite Eight.

Netherlands are a scrappy bunch. They could surprise everybody this year with their choice of Magriet de Moor’s harrowing story of two sisters separated by the great Dutch hurricane of 1953. If anyone has read this book please let me know. It’s available at the EPL right now.

Spain are reigning champions but even they may have gotten too cocky by choosing a book that is over 400 years old that nobody has ever finished. If anyone has claimed to have finished this book they are lying. This epic tome by journeyman Cervantes is a true classic and always deserves consideration in any discussion of great literature but this just might be the year that Spain takes a back seat to some younger whippersnappers.

My soccer picks: Spain, Chile

My literature picks: Australia, Chile

Another reminder that there is still room to register for my talk on self-publishing this evening at 7pm in the Riverbend branch. You can learn more about the talk and sign up here.

See you then.

The World Cup of Literature

June is finally here and the World Cup of Soccer (in Europe they call it Soccer Football) starts on Thursday in Brazil. Some people say that it’s impossible to mix reading with sports. I disagree. More on that later.

First of all, there has been a lot of talk and snobbery in the social media sphere lately about YA literature and who should or should not be reading those types of books. I wrote a little bit about this subject on my other blog (yes I do have a life outside the library). You can read it here.

Secondly, my talk about the trials and tribulations of self-publishing is tomorrow evening at 7pm at the Riverbend EPL branch. Online registration is free and recommended. There are still spots available. More info here.

Thirdly, there is a great writer who exists in the world right now. His name is Shane Jones. I think he lives in Buffalo, or maybe Albany maybe? He is the author of Light Boxes, and Daniel Fights a Hurricane. You can check out his books from the EPL RIGHT NOW. His newest book is out today and it is called Crystal Eaters and it looks amazing. You can put a hold on it right now from EPL. I think Mr. Jones is one of the best young writers out there today. Check him out.

Lastly, like I said earlier, the World Cup starts this week. This is an exciting time for sports fans but it can also be an exciting time for readers as well. I’ve put a little something together I like to call the World Cup of Literature (please don’t sue). The World Cup of Soccer is a great time to learn about players from other nations so why can’t it also be a time to learn about writers from other countries? Right? Great idea, I know!

Today we will look at the first group of the tournament, Group A. Group A consists of:

Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, and Cameroon. Here are the works of literature that will be representing these countries at the World Cup of Soccer:

Brazil: Clarice Lispector, “Agua Viva

Mexico- Juan Rulfo, “Pedro Paramo

Croatia- Slavenka Drakulic, “S: A Novel About the Balkans

Cameroon- Ferdinand Oyono, “Houseboy

The first three of these books you can check out from the EPL. Juan Rulfo’s book is only in Spanish though. Sorry.

My picks for the two countries to advance to the round of 16 in the World Cup of Soccer are Brazil and Croatia. Brazil is too good and Croatia has really funny shirts. I think they will upset Mexico in the tournament. In the World Cup of Literature, however, I choose Brazil and Mexico. I am biased because I have read works by these two authors and haven’t read anything by the other two. If you think I’m making a bad decision then write to me and tell me why the other books should be given a shot. Use the comments section for good, not evil. Personally, I think Clarice Lispector is a brilliant short story writer. She will always have a place in my heart. Juan Rulfo’s short novel “Pedro Paramo” is a completely bonkers story about dead people. It is crazy good and weird and sad. Check it out.

Slavenka Drakulic’s novel S is about crimes against women during the Bosnian war. She gets points because she is the only living author in this group.

Houseboy, by Ferdinand Oyono is a critique on colonialism. Originally written in French and later translated. Oyono died in 2010.

That’s it for now. Tomorrow we will talk about Group B and also, please come to my self-publishing workshop/seminar thingie.