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Archive for the ‘Alice Munro’ Category

McSweeney’s 49: Cover Stories: Contemporary writers reimagining classic tales (2017)

SOUNDTRACKBIG K.R.I.T.-Tiny Desk Concert #714 (March 5, 2018).

A while back I downloaded one of Big K.R.I.T.’s mixtapes and rather liked it.  Since then he seems to have become pretty huge and I feel like he has really expanded on his style.

K.R.I.T. sings/raps three songs from his new album.

4eva Is a Mighty Long Time, a double album in which he covers everything from blessings to depression while plumbing the carnal and spiritual depths of his own duality. All three songs performed here come from side two, titled after his birth name Justin Scott.

The first song “Mixed Messages” is really thoughtful.  He sings and raps

I gotta whole lotta mixed messages / in my songs am I wrong / to feel this way
I got me a lover but I still wanna cheat / I wanna be saved but its fuck the police
i never really liked the fake shit / but I’m attracted to the fake ass and fake tits
i really wanna sing but id better rap

K.R.I.T.’s backing band, which includes Burniss Travis II on bass and Justin Tyson on drums, also features on keys Bryan Michael Cox — the hitmaking producer and songwriter behind a slew of Billboard chart-toppers. Together, the trio delivers stripped-down versions of the latest thought-provoking material in Big K.R.I.T.’s catalog.

Introducing the second song, “Keep The Devil Off” he says his grandmother introduced him to gospel.  She brought him to church and “she would wake me up when i fell asleep saying wake up you gotta hear this.”  He sings beautifully.  And then the rapped verses are really well structured.

And when he stops to pay homage to his church-going grandmother before performing “Keep The Devil Off,” it’s clear that everything she instilled in him is keeping him alive, too.

Definitely in these times we need to keep the negativity away–keep the devil off.

His grandmother was clearly very important to him.

Big K.R.I.T. has kept her spirit alive through his music since his breakout mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, which he released in 2010, the same year she died.  So it only makes sense that he would bring her with him for his Tiny Desk concert.

Halfway through his three-song set at NPR Music headquarters, K.R.I.T. stops to pull out an old-school tape recorder — the same one his grandmother would use to record him singing and reciting poetry as a child. “I have to feel like my grandmother was my first mix engineer,” he says before pressing play to reveal him and his brother as kids singing a duet of R&B crooner Donell Jones’ 1999 slow burner, “Where I Wanna Be.”

He plays the tape and cracks up listening to it.  He gets the audience to sing the refrain with his younger sell.  And then his grandmother introduces he and his brother as an R&B singer, “but I’m sticking with the rap thing.”

It’s a sublime interlude — one that resonated so strongly with K.R.I.T. that he had to start his last song, “Bury Me In Gold,” over to catch the proper beat. “I’m super emotional from this, too,” he says, laughing in a moment so genuine it was only right to leave it unedited.

He says “Bury Me in Gold” is not about gold really, it’s about having something so that in the event he gets to heaven he’ll give everything away.

He tells us to remember that peace of mind and your soul are more important than gold.

I’ve always enjoyed thought provoking rap and K.R.I.T.’s lyrics combined with his voice really work wonders.

[READ: May 29, 2017] McSweeney’s 49

It has been a long time (three years or so) since the previous McSweeney’s volume.  During that silence, the publishing house went non-profit and that seems to have taken up a lot of their resources.  They even address this a bit in the interdiction to this book.

But regardless of the reasons why, it is great to have them back.

As the subtitle says, this is a book of “cover stories.” What that means is a little vague–the contemporary writers model their story after a classic story.  I try to compare it to music covers, although in music covers the music and words are typically the same with some kind of variations.  Typically, the words are the same but the music is different.  I liked to flip this idea on its head for describing these stories in that the words are different by the music is the same.

Since I don’t know most of the original stories here I don’t know how similar these are to the originals–same character names?  Same ideas?  Same plot?  I don’t know.  And perhaps it would affect the way I read these stories if I was familiar with theory original pieces.  But without knowing them, these just turned out to be good stories from good writers.

Interspersed between the stories were poems and, in a wonderful commentary on our current shitty president and the cowardly house of representatives who on the day I finished this voted to strip 24 million people of health care, are comparisons of classic historical figures’ speeches with the petty garbled tweets of out current crap in chief.  Can we impeach this motherfucker already?  And send the whole lot of them to jail, please.  #ITMFA

As many McSweeney’s do, this one opens with letters.  And of course they aren’t really letters at all, even if they are addressed to McSweeney’s.  Many deal with cover songs, but a few are much more serious, political and right on.

WAJAHAT ALI writes from Camp FDR in Washington DC where he and his fellow prisoners were finally able to cobble together WiFi.  Ali explains that the Executive Order was inevitable the ban, the vetting, the registry were all just prelude. The need to protect against terrorism outweighs the individual rights and the rights of American Muslims…read the Supreme Court decision.

NICK JAINA writes about the Sept 23, 1970 episode of The Johnny Cash Show in which Ray Charles appears and plays “Walk the Line” and then “Ring of Fire.”  The letter states that the creator of “Ring of Fire” is actually mis-attributed.  The story is that June Carter wrote it after seeing a page in her uncle’s book of Elizabethan poetry.  But Johnny first wife claims that Johnny wrote it while drunk about a certain female body part: “all those years of her claiming she wrote it and she probably never knew what the song was really about.”  Then it reverts back to Ray Charles’ performance with an unseen band playing behind him–especially a great baseline–and as the song ends he lets out one last shudder and cackle like he just invented the orgasm.  “Johnny returns to the stage looking like a man who just watched someone have sex with his wife but was so in awe of how good he was at it that he could only thank him.”

ROBIN TERRELL talks about trumpmania in the Czech Republic from the perspective of a black woman, lesbian, child of civil rights activists, mother of a black man living in Prague.  The look in the eyes of people after the election: The U.S. is going to fuck us over again.  It stunned Europeans that the U.S. could generate someone fouler than Europe’s own crop of white male extremists.  She is now a refugee from her own country.  #RESIST #ITMFA

KIMBERLY HARRINGTON says she always believed that even in the darkest times humor has its place.  But lately she’s been bursting into tears rather than cracking a smile.  She hopes she can find things to laugh at–even death in these horrible times.

MARY MILLER says that for the longest time she thought her uncles wrote “Stagger Lee.”  Her uncles were musicians who wrote songs but also threw some covers into their shows.  She believed that “Stagger Lee” was one of theirs. She realizes that they are not famous and that no one will remember them–but she promises them that she will remember them.

RICK MOODY writes at length about Elektra’s 1990 tribute album Rubaiyat: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary.  I remember it coming out and I remember not getting it because it was too expensive. But Moody talks about what a great conceit this collection was to have contemporary artists cover classic songs.  He also talks about how the tribute album was quite popular in the 1990s (was it ever).  Some thought: He loves Bjork, but he thinks of the Sugarcubes as a cheeseball imitation of the B-52s (and that their “Motorcycle Mama” is pretty bad.  He mentions a few great tracks, like Kronos Quartet covering “Marquee Moon,” Metallica doing “Stone Cold Crazy,” and even a Howard Jones cover of “Road to Cairo” by the cult hero David Ackles.   But he says fully half of the collection is bad, some of it even awful–not worth its list price at the time but it has a great number of masterpieces on it.

Will Buttler (from Arcade Fire) wishes to make some amusing corrections: some errors during concerts, and apologizing for singing “I’m So Bored” with the USA because he is not.

ARIEL S. WINTER-This is an interesting philosophical question wondering whether or not Marty McFly actually created “Johnny B. Goode.”  How could he cover it before Chuck Berry had released the original.  As a child this blew her mind.  This facile beginning then goes on to say that before recorded music the notion of a cover didn’t really exist.  And indeed in the 1950s people recorded songs without concern for copyright.  It’s also true that when Chuck Berry plays Johnny B. Goode live, it’s not considered a cover of his original.  She concludes by that the Back to the Future is probably the first time she ever heard Johnny B. Goode.  So Marty McFly’s is the original to her (as it is to all the kids at the dance).  So in addition to a song having an original for the performer there is also an original for the listener.  Anyone who has loved a song for years before finding out that it’s a cover has had that experience.

INTRODUCTION BY THE EDITORS

This introduction talks about how the first time they did a “cover story” was in 1999 in issue 4.  Rick Moody covered Sherwood Anderson’s “The Egg.”  They had been planning to do an entire issue of covers as far back as two years ago and then things happened in the McSweeney’s universe to delay it.  And now : this issue is being born in a moment of racial, social and economic reckoning and imminent fascism…into a country that looks much different from the one in which it began, fronted now by a mean and disingenuous imitation of a president.   As such: Tucked between these thirteen beautiful renditions of thirteen classic stories are instances when a cover is not an homage but rather a perversion of its predecessor”  And by that they offer examples of eloquent speeches by former leaders and then tweets from our pervert in chief.

GARY BURDEN-excerpt from Nobody Knows (an autobiography)

Gary Burden created the cover images for this issue.  I had no idea who he was, but this autobiography tells me just how interesting a fellow he was.  He has been responsible for some of the most iconic album covers of the last 60 years!

These excerpt shows his origin story–he was 8 on December 7, 1941 and he has had vivid memories of WWII.  When he was 16 he joined the Marines.  But he was restless, got involved in bad things, was dishonorably discharged and got mixed up with even worse people (he says he can’t believe the things he did back then).  In 1964 he met “Mama” Cass Elliot. They spent a lot of time together and this opened him up to meeting all kinds of people: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash.  Eventually he met and hung out with Jim Morrison and designed Morrison Hotel (a fascinating story that).  In one of the nicer things I’ve heard someone say he says that Jim was a real poet, someone who was unafraid of delving deeply into life irrespective of the personal cost.  Then he met Neil Young. He says that Buffalo Springfield has been his favorite band and then one day Neil came to Mama Cass’ house in his 1948 Buick Hearse.  He was also hanging around when CSN decided to become CSN&Y and then he and Neil became friends. and Neil sold him his house in Topanga.  Eventually he made the cover art for After the Gold Rush (and he gives a little story about the old lady there on the cover).  I’m kind of curious to read this whole book now, especially if it includes album covers.

EMILY RABOTEAU-“The Babysitter” after “Some Women” by Alice Munro
This is the story of a babysitter for Mrs Fagan.  She is a young girl and her employer is very rich and locally famous.  And quite eccentric (she went to East Africa and allegedly witness the Ark of the Covenant and then wrote a controversial book about it).  But in their town she was known as the white lady with black kids (Maya 3, Eddie 10 months old).  The story reflects back on the babysitter as child (she is now the same age as Mrs Fagan was when the babysitting began.  The babysitter’s mother is kind of jerk and is very sarcastic about this babysitting arrangement.  She is also a very strict Jehovah’s Witness, so when the narrator gets her first period rather than tell her mom, she just takes products from Mrs Fagan.  As the story opens Mrs Fagan’s son has just arrived and that changes the dynamic in the house.  How will Mrs Fagan take it when the narrator accidentally sets fire to the kitchen? I really enjoyed the way the end of the story plays on the notions of memories and the impact people have on others.

MEGAN MAYHEW BERGMAN-“The Lottery, Redux” after “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Lottery” seems like a pretty easy story to cover–I think everyone knows everything about it and it has been covered in things like The Hunger Games in their own ways.  I don’t know if this story references the original (with the redux),  for this story the people of the island of Timothy were exiled from America fifty years earlier for crimes against the environment.  They were gathering on July 27th, the day of the lottery.  And indeed the lottery is a death sentence, although it’s not entirely clear why.  Interestingly, the story is more about the girl chosen and what her life up to that point has been like.

ANTHONY MARRA-“The Tell-Tale Heart” after “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
This story doesn’t diverge all that much from the original except for the wonderful modern twist on the beating heart.  It’s hard to say more without giving things away but I loved the modernization.

JESS WALTER-“Falling Faintly” after “The Dead” by James Joyce
I didn’t know all that many stories before hand, but I knew this one very well and this is wonderful homage.  It is not in any way rewriting the story–it’s a very different story, but it alludes to the Joyce story and directly mentions it and it is quite clear where the connection between them is.
Michael is a writer.  He is married with kids but has moved temporarily out to New York to write for this new police procedural.  The show is doing well and the female star is quite beautiful.  They bond over cigarettes–she is foreign and smokes like a European, he recently started again.  As stories like this tend to go, Micheal gets the wrong idea about this young, hot actress.  And given that she is not American she misunderstands the subtleties of his behavior (which isn’t very subtle admittedly).  But he wants her to know that his story is a tribute to Joyce’s “The Dead.”  When he talks about the dead she thinks he means real dead people and is pretty freaked out.  This leads to a restraining order and a police intervention–not how he thought his life in New York would go.  What doe sit have to do with “The Dead”?  Well they are standing smoking in the snow as it gently floats to the ground falling through the universe, faintly falling.

LAUREN GROFF-“Once” after “Wants” by Grace Paley
I loved the way this story started.  I saw my enemy at the beach.  With that as a groundwork we slowly learn just how this woman has an enemy (it’s an old boyfriend’s mother) and how they have grudgingly begun to respect each other decades after the two broke up. I really enjoyed this short piece.

ROXANE GAY-“Men on Bikes” after “Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood
I can’t imagine what the original of this story is.  The actual story of this is pretty peculiar itself.  Basically, the men in town have all started riding bicycles everywhere.  It started when one of them was arrested for drunk driving.  He didn’t lose his license but his wife took it away from him.  He dug out a bike and began riding it.  She thought he looked ridiculous, but when another man had his license taken away, they began riding together.  It was quite a sight, although I’m not sure what the point of it was.

NAMWALI SERPELL-“Company” after “Company” by Samuel Beckett
I like Beckett, and I know that he can be confusing.  I don’t know what “Company” is about so I have no idea how it relates to it, but man I did not get this at all.

It was confusing and really long.  It is broken into many small sections which might be connected.  The first is about the brightening which happened although many people missed it. Then we learn about the ship which is electro epidermal, which is cool but not really explained  and then the story turns into a quest for melanin and just when you think it’s a sci-fi story, it becomes a story about race.  There is a pale man tied to a tree hitting a sack (pound pound).  There’s a lot of vomit.  If the white man inseminates even one person, finding pure stem cells is impossible.  Dark skin marked you as  lucky when the darkening came.  But then she says the mission is over.  There’s more vomiting.  A fellow is supposed to be invisible in the village but Pound sees him.  There’s more vomit, a section titled rape, where Pound rapes Lila every once in a while and then who the hell knows what happens at he end.

KIESE LAYMON-“And So On” after “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
Weeks ago 64 black folks changed the world.  You are the 11th.  Aside from the direct address to the reader the story is pretty straightforward and interesting.  Chanda Stewart was 8th, the narrators research assistant was 9th and Doug E., Chandra’s boyfriend was 1st.  They are at a fancy restaurant, Chandra, the narrator and you.  She swears that Doug is a porn star, but the narrator argues that having 1089 twitter followers and awkward consensual sex with a few white women filmed on an iPhone 2 in his fake Timberlands, blue knee brace and yellow wrist bands makes you a porn participant, not a star.  The story comes down to which side the narrator is going to choose.   sides or run for our lives.  Because while they were talking, Doug E. and about sixty young black kids were marching down the street.  To the school.  They each had an ax and a shovel.

MEG WOLITZER-“If You’re Happy and You Know It” after “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” By J.D. Salinger
I haven’t read this Salinger story in a long time, so I don’t really know how it connects to this, but I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the way that it was written which was a little confusing but in an intriguing way.  Set in a hotel on Miami there is the young woman in 609 who arrived with her new husband.  She’d sent him off to the beach.  We see her telling her parents that he is taking it easy, but they want to know if he is taking the Klonopin.  Later that night in the lobby, a four year old girl, Chloe, is in the lobby of that hotel watching a man play piano.  The man is a guest also and he is playing and really getting into it.  Another boy asks if he can play This Old Man and the player jokes about the boy calling him old.  But Chloe asks if he can play “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”  He says he might be happy but he may not know it. She is puzzled by that.  He says she is breaking his heart.  We soon realize that the pianist is the Klonopin man, and while things don’t get dark exactly, they certainly get strange.  And Chole’s parents have foisted her off on a poor babysitter the whole time.  This was one of my favorites in the book.

T.C. BOYLE-“The Argentine Ant” after “The Argentine Ant” by Italo Calvino
I can’t imagine what the original story is like, but this one from Boyle was really icky and really fantastic.  Its’ a fairly simple premise–a family moves to a rental property in Argentina, only to find that it is swarming with ants.  The ants are everywhere–even crawling all over their baby.  They run to the next door neighbor’s house only to see that they know about the ants and might have a secret weapon.  But mostly they just seem to be putting their furniture in jugs of water–presumably as a deterrent.  There is also an Ant Man who might be fighting the ants or who might actually be bringing more.  What is great about the way Boyle writes this is that the guy renting the house is working on an academic theorem that his wife thinks is rather frivolous.  And that tension underpins everything.

ALICE SOLA KIM-“One Hour, Every Seven Years” after “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
Again I don’t know the original, but this story was great, and also weird. The weird part is that the story seems to start over multiple times. And that’s because there is a kind of time travel component to it.  The title refers to how often the sun comes out on Venus.  There is a girl, the main character, named Nargit. She was born on Earth and so she saw the sun.  The other kids are pretty angry at her for it (as if it’s her fault).  They are abusive to her, and the time travelling is the girl’s attempt to protect her younger self.  Many things go wrong but they bring about different results.

CHRIS ABANI-“Sleepy” after “Sleepy” by Anton Chekhov
This story was pretty horrific.  Kemi, a sixteen year old black girl who is now an orphan is working for a white family.  The family has two little children, one of whom is a baby.   The family is horrible to Kemi.  Pretty unrelentingly horrible.  Kemi is tired and never gets a break and the baby cries all the time.  She can’t soothe the baby and the family blames her for her failures.  Her exhaustion builds and builds until you pretty much know the ending several pages before it happens.

TOM DRURY-“The Yellow Wallpaper” after “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I know the original story although not super well.  But this version feels almost exactly the same. I honestly can’t tell what the difference is (without having re-read the original again to compare).   Jane and John are renting a place on an island for the summer.  John thinks Jane is not strong and keeps her hidden away in a room with yellow wallpaper.  He more or less runs everything in her life until she starts seeing people through the wallpaper.  You know things can’t go well from there.

POETRY:

REBECCA LINDENBERG-“Having a Coke with You” after “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem for Keats” after “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

STEPHEN BURT-“A Nickel on Top of a Penny” after “Piedra Negra Sobre Una Piedra Blanca” by César Vallejo

BRIAN TURNER-“The Metaphor Program” after “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams

STEPHEN BURT-“Roofers” after “The Armadillo” by Elizabeth Bishop

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem on the Occasion of a Weekly Staff Meeting” [the first two lines are taken from “A Poem on the Occasion of the Consecration of Sandford and Shippon Churches” by Rev. F. Wilson Kittermaster, 1855]

STEPHEN BURT-“Suspense” after “To Brooklyn Bridge” by Hart Crane

KEVIN MOFFETT-“Second Wonder”-a monologue that will air on The Organist.
I found this puzzling at best.

PATTY YUMI COTTRELL-excerpt from Sorry to Disrupt the Peace
I read this book not too long ago.
This except was about two young children who invented a game called “Confession” in which the boy confesses his real or imagined sins to his sister.

~~~~~

The comparison quotes are called Great Speeches from History vs. the Tweets of Donald J. Trump:  I can’t bring myself to write any of the jerks tweets.

Mahatma Gandhi from the “Quit India” speech, 1942 vs. a Feb 4 2017 tweet

Abraham Lincoln’s “The Gettysburg Address” 1863 vs. a Feb 18 217 tweet (about fake news)

Martin Luther King Jr from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” vs. Feb 21 2017 (crowds planted by liberal activists)

Frederick Douglass from “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery” 1852 vs. Feb 6 2017 (negative polls are fake news).

Franklin D. Roosevelt, inauguration speech 1933 vs. Jan 22, 2017 (including all my enemies)

 

The bad thing about this issue is that the last four or five stories were all real downers, making it a pretty tough slog.  But I loved the idea, and I liked that they found the time and space to point out how stupid trump sounds and looks and is.

For ease of searching, I include: Cesar Vallejo

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON (December 11 1996).

This is the final show on Rheostatics Live in which the band is opening for The Tragically Hip.

For this show, the intro music is also from The Wizard of Oz, but this time it’s Judy singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  It’s just one verse before fading out and then guitars fading in for Martin to play “A Mid Winter Night’s Dream.”

Turns out that this setlist is similar to the one from Buffalo with a lot of new songs.  Although there are a few older/more popular songs in places.

The new songs include “Fat” which sounds great of course.  I gather they are maybe sharing a microphone because at the end Dave says “See you in the next song, Martin.”  “Okay, Dave.”  This leads into a perfect version of “All the Same Eyes.”

Martin says “We are the Rheostatics.”  Dave says “We are the Rheostatics, not to be confused with The Howell Brothers (?).  They couldn’t make it but we got their jackets.  It’s nice of you to come out early.  We’re playing selections from our new record. Get it before it’s reduced to clear.”  (You can hear someone laugh on tape).

This is a segue into the single “Bad Time to Be Poor.”  It’s followed by another Tim song, “Claire” with the acoustic guitar opening in place.  There’s another lengthy guitar solo, although it’s not quiet as exciting as some of the other ones.  But Martin was saving up for a spirited version of “California Dreamline.”

They end their set with a rough rocking “Feed Yourself.”  During the spoken part, they slow things down to just a bass and washes of guitar.  It’s a pretty intense ending and a good preparation for The Tragically Hip.

[READ: June 25, 2017] The Story of Canada in 150 Objects

In celebration of Canada’s 150th year, Canadian Geographic and The Walrus created this special issue–a fun way to describe many elements of Canadian culture through “objects.”

The objects are grouped in vague categories.  Some have just a few words written about them while others get a few pages.  Some are humorous, some are more serious.  Most are happy or amusing, some not so much.  And all of it together paints a diverse and complex portrait of the country–as well as teaching this person from South of the border a number of things I did not know.

It’s with comic pride and humility that the first object is politeness (which is not an object at all, of course).  The amusing thing about this article about “politeness” is that while the author of it is very pleased to be so polite, he also can’t wait for his fellow Canucks to forget to be polite so he can rub it in with a extra smarmy “You’re Welcome.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SARAH SISKIND-Tiny Desk Concert #23 (July 27, 2009).

sarahsI don’t know much about Sarah Siskind.  She is a country-ish singer who seems to have gained some fame once Bon Iver started covering her song “Lovin’s for Fools.”  She tells a pretty interesting story about how he came to learn her song (by looping it–thereby missing out on the words to the second chorus.  And yes she did wonder why he didn’t play that chorus).

She plays three songs in this Concert. I like her guitar work, especially on the first song, “Falling Stars.”  But there’s something about either her voice or her delivery that I just don’t really like. I’ve listened a few times ow and I have grown to appreciate her style, but it’s just a matter of personal taste that I don’t really care for her.

Listen for yourself.

[READ: January 17, 2014] “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”

One thing that I like so much about Alice Munro is that her stories are so timeless.  This story was originally published in 1999 (wonder why they didn’t re-publish that first story which I wrote about yesterday), but there are no real indicators of when it was written.  (There are some clues to the time frame of the story, but it was clearly not set in the late 90s).

This is a straightforward but fairly complex story, with a lot of emotional heft.  A married couple, Grant and Fiona, have been together for a long time.  Fiona had always written notes to herself, but Grant sensed recently that the notes were becoming somewhat alarming.  Instead of books to read or appointments to keep, she was writing “cutlery” on the kitchen drawers. Then she started forgetting normal things–like how to drive home or that something which she thought had happened last year had actually happened 12 years ago. Not major problems, but causes for concern.

And so, Fiona was sent, at first temporarily, to Meadowlake.  And Grant was not to show up for the first month–they found that patients settled in better if they were not reminded of their house and old life.  After a month of wondering about her and thinking about her, Grant goes to Meadowlake, excited to see Fiona.  But when he arrives she is not in her room–the touching reuniting scene will not be enacted as he pictured.  And the nurse seems rather impatient with him when he asks where she is. (more…)

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2014-01SOUNDTRACK: NOBEL PRIZE PLAYLIST-CBC Radio 3 (2013).

cbcIn honor of Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize, CBC radio has a playlist of “Literary Music.” Now, I have made many literary playlists over they years myself (including “My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors” by Moxy Fruvous which is not included here), but this one consists of a few bands that I don’t know (and two that I do).

  • Library Voices–“Generation Handclap”
  • The Darcys–“Pretty Girls”
  • Kathryn Calder–“Right Book”
  • AroarA–“#6”
  • Arkells–“Book Club”
  • Dan Mangan–“Road Regrets”
  • John K. Samson–“When I Write My Master’s Thesis”

Samson is the only artist I know well, although I know Dan Mangan a little.  It’s a good listen and I’m sure if you scrutinize the lyrics you’ll find their literary worth.

Listen here.

[READ: January 18, 2014] “Her Big Break”

I’ve been a fan of Alice Munro for a while, and I’m always happy to see her in the New Yorker.  Strangely, I have never read any of her collected short stories.  Maybe some day….

When Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature, I imagined she’d get a lot more press.  And then I realized that it’s a literature prize.  And she’s Canadian.  So, perhaps a few columns in Canada’s The Walrus is all she’ll get.

But this article, which is really entirely this below letter and a brief introduction, explains that on November 18, 1976, Charles McGrath, a fiction editor at The New Yorker, sent Alice Munro her first acceptance letter from the magazine for her story “Royal Beatings.”  Soon after this, she signed a first-reading agreement with the magazine, which I gather means that they will see any of her short stories before she can send them anywhere else.

I am including this letter in its entirety because I assume that most people, like me, have never actually seen an acceptance letter from a magazine for a piece of fiction (I have several rejections).  But even if you have seen an acceptance letter, I can’t imagine that it will every be as thoughtful and considerate as this one.  i also love that as recent as 1976 The NEw Yorker was kind of prudish about their fiction.  I mean, now, the cursing is rampant, but back then the fiction was a more genteel breed.

I have not read “Royal Beatings,” but you can bet I’ve added it to my short list. (more…)

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I Just Read About That favorite Alice Munro just won the Nobel prize for Literature!alice I love this picture (from 2009).

Munro is the 13th woman (shocking) and 2nd Canadian born writer to win the Prize.

Read about it at the CBC.

Fantastic news.

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aug2013SOUNDTRACK: JIM GUTHRIE-Tiny Desk Concert #294 (August 10, 2013).

jimgI was unfamiliar with Guthrie before this set and I almost didn’t play it because of his mustache–he just looks so country to me.  But then I read that he and his band drove 9 hours from Ontario just to do the show (which is 11 minutes long, so that’s pretty crazy).  But the set is really good.

The three songs come from Guthrie’s new album Takes Time (his first solo album in ten years).  And I was hooked…not right from the start, but 15 seconds into “The Difference a Day makes” when the guitar plays the chorus riff.  There is something so… Canadian about the melody line.  It reminds me of Neil Young, Sloan, Rheostatics, even Kathleen Edwards, all of these great Canadian songwriters who play with slightly different melodies.  The fact that he sings “doubt” and “out” with an Ontario accent solidifies it.  It’s one of my favorite mellow songs of the year.  “Before & After” sounds a bit like  Barenaked Ladies mellow song, like something  written by Kevin Hearn.  I tend to not like the Hearn songs, but I thin kit’s that I don’t like Hearn’s voice, because I like this song quite a lot.

Guthrie has a delicate but strong voice–I can’t imagine him screaming, but he conveys a lot.  Especially in the final song, the more mellow (and minor key) “Like a Lake.”  I’ve heard Tiny Desk shows that go on for five or six songs.  I wish that Bob and Robin had let them play for ten more minutes. Now I’m off to find his records.  Check it out.

[READ: September 10, 2013] 3 book reviews

Tom Bissell reviewed three new books in the August 2013 issue of Harper’s.  I like Bissell in general and since I’ll probably wind up writing about these when they get collected anyway, why not jump the gun here.  Especially when there’s three good-sounding books like these.

sagamoreThe first is Peter Orner’s Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge.  I know Orner from McSweeney’s mostly, where I’ve read a few of his things  But one of the stories that Bissell mentions from this short story collection sounds familiar and yet it doesn’t seem to be something I’ve read.  Hmmm.  Well anyhow, he says that Orner’s previous book (with a title that Bissell assumes he had to fight to keep–The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo) was a great piece of fiction about Africa, and that his previous collection Esther Stories was also very solid.

This book is a little stranger—bundled into 4 sections, it includes more than fifty “stories” and is all of 200 pages.  (Sounds like just the kind of thing I can get into).  Bissell suggests that the stories have a layer of remove, like someone telling a story about someone telling a story.  Or, if they were about a bank robbery, the story would actually be about someone describing having once met the guy who sold the robbers their ski masks.  But the real selling point for me was this pithy description of the collection: imagine Brief Interviews with Hideous Men written by Alice Munro.   That sounds hard to pass up. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BAND OF HORSES-Live on KEXP , April 13, 2006 (2006).  

Band of Horses played KEXP in 2006.  They had been around since 2004 but their debut came out in 2006.  Since they are a Seattle band, they are treated as yet another Seattle band, which is kind of funny as they would be huge not long after this release (okay technically in 2007).  This show takes place about a month after the debut album came out (although the DJ says they’ve been playing them for a while).

I did not know that many of them were in a band called Carissa’s Weird (nor had I heard of that band), but thanks to the KEXP DJ for bringing that up.  I also found out that “Wicked Gil” is about baseball player Gil Meche.  The band sounds great–not quite as polished as on record, which is to be expected of course, but the vocals all sound great and the band is very tight.  They also play “Part One,” “The Great Salt Lake” and “The Funeral.”

It’s fun to hear a band before they became famous.

[READ: September 3, 2012] “Amundsen”

I read this story a day or two before I got laid off.  Unsurprisingly I didn’t feel like posting about it then.  But now it’s time.

This story is  about a young woman, Vivian Hyde, who is to be the new teacher at a rural santitorium.  She has traveled from Toronto to work at the ward where the girls have TB.  She has a B.A. and wants to work on her M.A, but she thought she’d earn some money for a time, first.  The story is set during the war, and the nurses are doing their wartime duty.

The first girl she meets, Mary, is the daughter of one of the employees who lives there.  She doesn’t have TB and does not participate in the studies that the TB girls do.  Vivian likes her but the headmaster, Dr. Fox, scolds the girls and sends her away so that Vivian can get settled in.

Munro is wonderful with details, like when the doctor asks is he knows anything about  tuberculosis:

“Well I’ve read–“

“I know, I know. You’ve read The Magic Mountain.”

[This is novel by Thomas Mann from 1924 that dealt with TB.  I love how Vivian does not respond to his comment one  way or the other]. (more…)

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