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Birrell, Heather

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning

It’s been a while since I’ve last read, for reasons whose details I won’t serenade you with, but which have to do with huge, overwhelming, life-changing projects that ultimately will leave me with more time to do this more often (I’ll need a little luck, if you want to drop some in the mail), but which, at the moment, have me submerged and often feeling not unlike drowning (or what I imagine drowning is not-unlike. I’ve never actually drowned.)

Then I received an email from Evan Munday at Toronto’s Coach House Books, asking if I had interest in reading from Heather Birrell’s latest collection. Let me assure you now that a response of “WOULD I‽” does not come across to full effect in email if not accompanied by a look of wide-eyed promise and a rare display of teeth (even with the interrobang). Some of you might remember my enthusiasm at reading Birrell’s Trouble at Pow Crash Creek (from I Know You Are But What Am I? a couple of years ago. I promise you that the new collection, Mad Hope, is, impossibly, even more beautifully wrought, more intellectually finely tuned, and more gut-wrenching. You’ll see what I mean when you listen.

(Thanks Evan and Coach House for the book. Thanks Heather for the collection. Lest you think this is shilly, I was under no obligation whatsoever to read from the collection. Like most makers of book-derived things on the Internet, publishers send me books all the time, which I often read and sometimes like, but which are rarely suited for the little sanctum I’ve got here. Happy weekend!)

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Birrell, Heather

Trouble at Pow Crash Creek

It’s probably one of the better things in life — right up there with creative breakthroughs and lasting love and the slurp of streetside oysters — to have one’s hat tipped to new and great authors. In my case, it doesn’t happen often, because I’m finicky and discriminating with my own tastes, or as others have said, snotty. Some of my closest friends, in fact, have sworn never again to share enthusiasm of their own discoveries, for fear of my response. I’m not proud of this.

So, several months ago, I may or may not have been at a certain big bookish event, and I may or may not have chatted briefly with a representative of an independent publisher known for foresightedness and inventiveness and openmindedness and other qualities sometimes surprising of publishing types. And during this chat, that may or may not have happened, the publisher may have mentioned an author in her catalogue that may (or may not) gel with my very fussy and finicky tastes, and later, I may or may not have gotten my sticky mitts on an illicit copy of that author’s book of short stories.

And it’s hard to say whether or not any of this actually happened, or whether or not this story is related to that anecdote. I mean, it was several months ago, and we all know what happens to memory. But however I may have come across tonight’s author, when I did it was not unlike experiencing a breakthrough while slurping an oyster on the street with one’s lasting love.

If we’re lucky, you’ll feel the same.

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Shields, Carol

Various Miracles

More Canadian Short Fiction? You damned well bet– just check the calendar. On that note, I’m starting to think Carol Shields herself is somewhat of a miracle. For starters, look at this, from an interview on Canada as a landscape for writers:

“We’re not big on heroes, either. The concept of heroes is alien. And I think that’s a very telling piece of our national ethos – no one deserves to be better than anyone else.”

If I didn’t already secretly pine for Canada on an almost daily basis, this tips the scales to metric. And here’s another quote, which (for any Carol Shields scholars) I’d love to find in its original context and in full:

“I’m concerned about the unknowability of other people…. That’s why I love biography and the idea of the human life told or shown. Of course, this is why I love novels, too. In novels, you get to hear how people are thinking. That’s why I read fiction.”

In my (not nonexistent) experience, fiction is worth loving as it brings the reader insight into what an author must think is unknowable about people, which is often extremely dissimilar to what I find unknowable about people. But I think the gist is there.

A disclaimer: You should know that this is the story that opens the collection of the same name. You should also know that the stories in this collection, while not mutually dependent, are definitely mutually more fascinating. Which is just a tip that if this is your cuppa, you should run out and snag yourself a copy, and read every last one.

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MacLeod, Alistair

The Boat

Canadian Short Fiction Month continues, as promised, with a story that seems obviously designed to be delivered from the lips straight to the ears. There’s so much beauty tucked away in here of the sort you wouldn’t necessarily see on the page, unless you read to yourself with one of the voices in your head.

Critically and academically, it’s the opening of this story that tends to get the most attention. But there’s an incredible rhythm throughout (the magnificence of which I likely don’t give justice), and it’s the ending that really got the chills going in this reader. I’d say more, but that’d spoil it.

And for those who are here on academic assignment, you shouldn’t take this as any sort of criticism against the value or impact of the opener — listen to your teachers or professors. The opening is worth study. But listen through to the end (yes, it’s almost an hour long).

It also makes prominent use of the word GALUMPH, a word that doesn’t see nearly as much usage as it deserves. Coincidentally, when out for a woodsy walk this morning, my co-perambulator noticed a set of tracks in the snow and noted that they likely belonged to “something large, galumphing.” And following so closely on the heels of my reading, left me all kinds of tickled. So we walked on, me in galumph-appreciative reverie, and stumbled upon a dead porcupine.

I’m not sure if that was an omen or, more importantly, what it has to do with galumphing.

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Buckler, Ernest

The Orchard

If you’re reading this before listening to the podcast… and you know, I have no idea whether you read or listen first, or if you just read, or just listen, and find yourself lost on those rare occurrences where I can hold a thought long enough to prattle BOTH orally and epistolarily about it… but anyway, if you are, reading, and you also listen (but haven’t yet), and you’ve followed all this so far, then I’ll have to announce to you that, thanks to an email from an intrepid and observant listener (and/or reader; I don’t know), it has come to my attention that there aren’t enough Canadian authors represented here.

Now, when this was first revealed to me, my knee started jerking and I impulsively wanted to hurl out BUT WHAT ABOUT Mavis Gallant! And Morley Callaghan!! But then I realized… that’s two names out of a BUNCH, and it’s about time I do something about it. And so, welcome to Canadian Short Fiction Month… yes, beginning almost half a month behind.

For starters, I thought Mr J’s lovely comment deserved another school-age-worthy meditation courtesy of Ernest Buckler.

And next? Send me the Canadian authors you’d have me read, and I’ll see how many I can get in. And if there are other groups under-represented, you should send them too. You can leave a comment, as always, or email me at miette (@) miettecast (.) com. The more you send, the more I’ll try to read this month, even with a throat full of (audibly detectable?) mucus. Deal? For Canada!

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Gallant, Mavis

His Mother

In general, I don’t like to use these few pre-sound-bytes of Web page space to be topical for reasons that I hope are obvious (I’m not here to depress you), but I can’t help but make note of the talking chimps who’ve gabbed their way back to the news. Now, there are plenty of questions here for an autodidactic but still dilettantish (honestly pedestrian) linguist who moonlights as podcastresse– questions such as whether their form of expression can be considered “language,” whether we’re even close to interpreting what they’re communicating, ad putrefaction. But I happen to know a talking chimp, and it’s a good story even if it does take a sharp right turn at wishful-thinking craftiness, but do you want to know the real point, the thing that excites me most and threatens me just a little?

Talking chimps bring us one step closer to reading chimps. And it’s just the tiniest step from chimps that can read to chimps that can podcast bedtime stories.

Today, the great Mavis Gallant, with a deep tip of hat in Hugh’s direction.

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Callaghan, Morley

A Wedding Dress

So sport seems to be in the air these days. There’s something going on tonight involving hundreds of pounds of helmets and costumery, complete with grandiose spectacle and and pretend warriors, and I’m told this has nothing to do with Wagner. We’ll see. And the Internet tells me the Olympics are coming up soon, though I thought we just finished with one of them? And let us not forget a tiny little event called the World Cup…

But all this reminded me of Morley Callghan, the Canadian spitfiring writer who regularly and famously boxed with Hemingway with Fitzgerald in the French Judge role of timekeeper. And if you don’t know about this landmark event in literary history, and you want to, you might benefit from clicking that link up there to a CBC profile, because I won’t repeat it all here.

And then that got me thinking: I’m not much for violent athletics, of course, but what if my colleagues in the land of literary podcasting got together for some friendly sporting matches? Could I beat the beloved Mister Ron in a tennis tournament? Who would win if I took to water polo with the Librivoxers? With Kaseumin, I don’t know, I envision a heated round of beach volleyball, because really: have you ever seen those women?! And eighty years from now, who knows, maybe they’d still be talking about the legacy born of the frenetic bobsledding competition between me and Scoot. That’s right, I am, as they say, ready to rumble.

Just go easy on me.

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