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Category Archives: challenge

>Late To The Table

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>I don’t know how I let this challenge almost slip by me. I’m definitely in, tying on a napkin and going for the Bon Vivant level (4-6 books). This is the prompting that I need to finally read Becka’s copy of Chocolat, which I borrowed last fall. It’s also a great excuse to go shopping for some of those food memoirs I’ve been coveting. In addition, maybe this will compel me to stop circling copies of Good Morning, Kimchi! and take the plunge. The upcoming Readathon just got a little tastier. Is this ironic or just merely funny?… it’s the middle of the night, and I’m awake and wandering around in Blogland because of indigestion.


>Canadian Reading Challenge: Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir

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This graphic novel? picture book? by Graham Roumieu is a delightfully and grubbily illustrated no-holds-barred memoir written in Biglish (Bigfoot English) is so much fun. Nasty, silly, profane, a gross-out fest, an encyclopedia of yuck — I can’t praise it highly enough.
Bigfoot tries hard to get by in the world and be a “forest gentleman” but the world often makes him “angry like Henry Rollins”. One of his few human friends, Chet, compares himself and Bigfoot to Han Solo and Chewbacca. Bad move, Chet:
I wake up next day with Chet scalp in mouth. Seriously, I not Chewbacca. Dude.
In Japan, he dons a mawashi and sumo wrestles wild animals:
Not want to toot own horn or anything, but I really good. I Harlem Globe Trotter of Sumo. Tear head off puma, throw head in garbage can 50 feet away and pretend play rest of body like guitar…walk down street everybody whisper: ‘Bigfroot! Bigfroot!’

He readily admits that his luck with women isn’t too great: Most of them run away, a few haul out the pepper spray, but Worst is when they do silent scream and vomit trickle down chin like hot fudge on sundae.

Even on the bad days, Bigfoot can always take comfort and pride in being one of a kind:
…me very proud of being on endangered species list because of all privalege of being in exclusive club. Some day, I just pick up phone, call Black Rhino and shoot the shit. I can even use the word rhino and shoot in same sentence and nobody think twice. Crazy! I get away with murder cause everyone think I fragile since I last of kind and so on.

Of course, the downside of being a rarity is that Bigfoot also attracts a lot of poachers. A safari hunter who had a yen for Bigfoot’s organs stalked him and studied his habits. Learning of Bigfoot’s love for Count Chocula cereal, he hid in the refrigerator, disguised as a carton of milk.
Unfortunately, for the hunter, Bigfoot had just decided to go on a low-carb diet:
…so no Chocula. Man freeze to death in fridge. Bigfoot also have cirrhosis at time so it convenient for me use him for liver transplant donor. Bigfoot enjoy irony.

Blame it on the compost smell or maybe that family of voles nesting in his armpit, but I find him pretty damn irresistable, and can’t wait to read his follow-up memoir, Bigfoot: I Not Dead.

>Canadian Reading Challenge: To Paris Never Again – Al Purdy

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>I don’t know any good living poets. But there’s this tough son-of-a-bitch up in Canada that walks the line.
-Charles Bukowski-

Apparently, the hard-bitten admiration was mutual, because the first poem in Al Purdy’s last poetry collection published during his lifetime is “Lament for Bukowski” in which Purdy says, “You wrote like God with a toothache” and leaves even the most casual reader of Bukowski, or anyone who’s ever seen Barfly with this spot-on image:

Pop Bukowski in his coffin
dead as hell
but reaching hard for a last beer
and just about making it

The second poem in the collection, “On Mexican Highways” is a disturbing memory of being able to see the final expressions of a family in a car in the last seconds before they plunged from the trecherous road and down the mountainside. He compared it to a photo. Spooky stuff, the seeds of future nightmares.

To Paris Never Again consists largely of memories of the past that seem to have been covered in his earlier volumes, but this is no shambling about in old age — he’s revisiting these scenes expertly, eloquently. There are also meditations on approaching death and coming to grips with the passage of time:

The Clever Device
Time is a thing you invented
for a point of reference
for yourself
–after three score years
and ten of your clever device
you point to yourself
in the mirror
and say POUF
you no longer exist
and laugh
or not be able to laugh

I’m a little sorry (“soar-e”, as the Canadians would pronounce it) that Al Purdy wasn’t more of a fiction writer. (He wrote one novel rather late in his career, A Splinter in the Heart.) He had an endearing gift for detail and setting a scene. In “Case History”, he goes back to the 1950s and early 60s, hardscrabble years when he and his family were just barely getting by. They lived in an “A-frame house, half built” and he did a variety of odd jobs: “collecting scrap iron, picking tomatoes, selling apples door-to-door”. When even the odd jobs became scarce, they subsisted on “Kraft Dinner [macaroni and cheese] and cooked road-killed rabbits.”
One day, Purdy discovered the garbage dump near the Mountainview RCAF base and found discarded food rations. He brought his family back and they scavenged cans as well as “boxes of quarter-inch plywood and cans of red and black paint.” This “manna” meant that not only would they be able to eat better, he would be able to make progress on the A-frame:

With literary confidence
I didn’t really feel
Stashed the worksheets of a poem
inside the house overhang
along with a note
directing future discoverers
to take the sheets to the English Dept.
of any Canadian university
and receive as reward
for this unknown masterpiece
one small case of beer
or more likely
an embarassing question
“Purdy — who he?”

In another meditative poem, “Happiness”, Purdy has a lovely image about writing that echoed exactly how I feel about reading his work and just about reading and books in general:

the writing itself
the words exploring
all my veins and arteries

Then, there’s that exquisite grappling again with life and time and what it all means:

–and by this time
it has become plain to me
that I’m not writing about happiness
at all but the puzzle of being alive

Purdy is also generous in making sure that people who helped him get credit. During the road-killed rabbit and Kraft Dinner days, there was an editor, Bob Weaver, who evidently saw promise in him and other struggling poets. “Do you need any money, Al?/Just send me some poems/I’ll make sure you get the cheque fast.” Purdy remarks, “Bob Weaver was Santa.”

I don’t know if he ever got any thanks
or for that matter wanted any
for making the connection
that these rather scruffy human beings
with all the faults of everyone else
were responsible (though very rarely)
for something that leaped up from the printed page
dazzled your brain
and fireflies whizzed in the cerebellum.

Another Carveresque short story masquerading as a poem, “Aphrodite At Her Bath” takes the reader back to Montreal, 1957 and relates an odd incident. Purdy’s wife’s cousin, a beautiful young woman is newly married and newly pregnant. She doesn’t want the baby and has heard that the combination of beer and a hot bath would induce a miscarriage. Purdy’s wife goes off to work and leaves the two there alone, the cousin sitting in the bath and Purdy fetching more and more of his home brew. They’re both getting sloshed, then abruptly, Purdy flashes-foward. Aphrodite is sixty now, he tells us, with two kids:

And now the venue changes
from Montreal to Sidney BC
Anno Domoni 1995
near forty years later
where I sit writing
these words on paper
trying to avoid the eyes
of quite a large crowd
of pro-life denonstrators
gathered threateningly
around this poem.

One of the last poems in To Paris Never Again is about Marius Barbeau (1885-1969), a Canadian ethnologist and folklorist. Barbeau spent years during his career living among the Native American tribes. One evening, when Barbeau was older and largely retired from field work, Purdy asked him about Tsimsyan drumming dances. Instead of telling, Barbeau said he’d show him. Purdy writes that Barbeau really got into it and forgot everything, “focused on only the mountain at the end of the sky.” Purdy admits that at the time “I was embarrassed for him/but now I’m embarrassed/that I was embarrassed/Barbeau was one of the ancient rememberers.”

I first became acquainted with Al Purdy’s work in his 1984 collection Piling Blood. I’m now reading 1965’s The Cariboo Horses and meeting the younger Al(fred) Purdy, with smiles and shocks of recognition, a growing affection and that deepening sense of sadness readers get when they freshly discover someone who is long gone. I want to know all the incarnations of Purdy, all the way back to 1944 and his debut collection, The Enchanted Echo.

Purdy died in 2000, three years after To Paris Never Again was published. His stuff (I don’t mean “stuff” trivially or dismissively. I mean it in the baseball sense, in which a pitcher is lauded for his “stuff” — his talent and skills) makes me wish I could have met him and shared a glass of his home brew.

I’m really grateful to my Canadian friend, Jim Cooper, who is sharing his Al Purdy collection with me. I’m also glad that John Mutford continues to host the Canadian Book Challenge. Wish I could give my thanks in the shape of a poem, guys.

>TBR Try

I participated in the TBR Dare during the month of January. Knowing myself, I didn’t think I’d be able to read my own shelves until the end of March. I was right.

Most of January went according to plan, but on January 24 I saw a copy of Loving Frank at Leigh’s house and borrowed it, meaning to read it sometime in February. Back at my apartment, I only meant to read the first page, but somehow ended up polishing it off that evening. Then I lit into White Noise, which I had borrowed from Paul. At the BOOKLEAVES meeting, Jill handed me a copy of Parched, which I read in the waning moments of January 31.

To sum up, I read a total of 12 books in January. Three of those books were someone else’s. Nine of them were from my TBR, so that’s a 75% success rate if you look at it that way. I steadfastly TBR’ed until my downfall on the 24th, or 77% of the month. I know that I can succeed at this challenge. Just wait till next year.

>TBR Dare

> C.B. at Ready When You Are, C.B. is hosting a TBR challenge. This challenge lasts from January 1 until April 1, 2011 and readers can go the distance or pledge to read only the tomes on their own damn dusty shelves for as long as they feel they can hold out whether it be an hour, a day, a week or more.

I really need a nudge like this. My TBR is in danger of turning to dust because I’m terribly slow about getting around to it, so I’m going to resist shiny new objects and other play-pretties dangled before me for the entire month of January. There’s enough on my TBR to keep me both entertained with fun stuff and focused on my challenges. Hell, there’s even work stuff lurking there should I start feeling ambitious.

C.B. also said something about creating a Western challenge, so I reckon I’ll be moseying back over his way while the trail’s still pretty fresh.

>All About Alcott


It’s a little late in the year, but I simply cannot resist this challenge. Louisa May Alcott — my fellow Sagittarian — wouldn’t want me to, either.

Wish me luck and pass the blancmange.

>Library Loot: Inspiration

It’s still too damn hot to make a proper visit to my library, but I can’t stay away completely. Heather inspired me to climb those 118 steps a couple of days ago and brave the heat once more. In a recent post, she wrote about how she and her husband DNFed The Red Badge of Courage. Yep, they made Stephen Crane pack his Naturalist bags and exit their audiobook world.

In a flash of what seems to be reverse psychology, I was inspired, seeing a chance to tackle two challenges at once — the Support Your Local Library Challenge and the Book/Movie Challenge. As luck would have it, my son bought me the 1951 film version starring Audie Murphy for Mother’s Day last year and I haven’t watched it yet. I also figured that wouldn’t hurt me to do a reread since I read this book rather hurriedly in 1986 when I took Dr. Larry Shanahan’s American Novel class.
Furthermore — not that this influenced my decision or anything — The Red Badge of Courage was published in 1895, which I was sure would make my Tough & Cool Inner BookSnob happy. Instead of a delighted squeal of thanks, all I heard some snide murmuring about how Crane’s first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets was published two years earlier. Oh, Tuffi, stick it in your bustle! Bookbitch.
Navigating swiftly in the stifling stacks, I located the sole copy of The Red Badge of Courage at my library. This printing has Korean footnotes explaining particular (or peculiar) expressions in the novel. They’re a little distracting, but I’ll manage:

Note in the picture below that I wasn’t exaggerating about the 118 steps. Now you can fully understand why I prefer to be greeted with air-conditioning when I get to the top, but I’ll put up with pretty much anything…because…because… I love you, Library! Let’s hug — after the heat wave, of course.