Initially I was a bit confused by the title of Karen Solie's third book of poetry, Pigeon. Upon a bit of reflection, it seems fitting. Pigeons: part o...moreInitially I was a bit confused by the title of Karen Solie's third book of poetry, Pigeon. Upon a bit of reflection, it seems fitting. Pigeons: part of the natural world, yet associated with urban spaces. While they aren't strictly imagined by urban planning, they are nonetheless an essential part of the city (a bit of the wilderness that is necessarily a part of the human world). Being unimagined by the human, they are seen as ugly in their abundance in our spaces; yet, if one were to look at a pigeon long enough, they are undeniably beautiful creatures. Our cities wouldn't be quite complete without them.
Solie's poems, too, sit at this intersection between the human world and the wilderness, the rest of the world. Some poems are simply love songs to the world, as in "Bow River Preludes". The river, like pigeons, can so easily be consumed by the human world. The river is a source of electricity, of fish (resource), of entertainment (beaches). Poems like this remind us that the river exists beyond these human stories, and attempts to see beyond them. She'll never quite describe the green of the river, but there is a beauty in the attempt, a love in the paying attention to it which gets us closer. A good reminder that our stories will never contain the world.
Others, such as Tractor, remind us of the contradiction we must hold in our love for our technologies. On one hand, tractors are beautiful, and a perfect manifestation of our desire to make home with the world. And yet to participate means to contribute to the devastation humans wreck on the world. The poem flicks back and forth between praising the tractor, and mourning the extracting of fossil fuels and reshaping the earth. Solie doesn't attempt to reconcile the contradiction; rather she lets it sit, and calls attention to the fact that this is part of being human.
My personal favorite, An Acolyte Reads..., looks at the place human language and the world meet. Tim Lilburn (also from Saskatchewan) is an obvious part of this tradition as well. Language is how humans can come to know the world; yet the world is essentially unknowable to language. Language can only create a sort of illusion of knowing. Only through emptying ourselves of language's noisiness, can we contemplate the world as it is, and let our language be reshaped by what we find. Just as the pigeon invades our cities, we must let the world invade our language .
It's a complicated relationship humans have with the world, and Solie's poems compellingly pay attention to this complication - to this space where humans and the world meet. Solie's poems ask us what kind of relationship we want to have with the world, and what it means to live with the world well.(less)
Modern and Normal, Karen Solie's second book of poems, turns a mirror on the all-too modern and normal aspects of our culture to call their authority...moreModern and Normal, Karen Solie's second book of poems, turns a mirror on the all-too modern and normal aspects of our culture to call their authority into question; her poems take the everyday myths that shape our lives and cracks them open to reveal something of the world itself (and all those things that the "modern and normal" would ignore, or even attempt to erase). To resort to a cliche, her mission here is to make the familiar strange. Her targets range from our mannerisms to scientific thought.
In poems such as "Nice" and "Self Portrait..." Solie uses humour to take on some commonplace voices of our culture, and show them in a ridiculous light. There's something in these "normal" voices that doesn't allow us to thrive as human beings. Wouldn't it be altogether too awful if everything was so nice all the time? Not to mention boring? Why such a focus on being nice when sadness or anger (to name a couple) are such necessary emotions of life? "Self Portrait..." takes on the voice of someone giving a professional assessment, thereby asking us to question how the economy and job markets value humanity. What about all those things that aren't strictly "useful" in the professional world? What about all our tender little quirks that make us so sad and loveable? And yet we are so quick to listen to these voices.
Poems such as "Emergency Response" continue Solie's concern with ideas of wilderness and its interactions with the human world. If left to its own devices, the human story would have us believe our technologies and our homes are impervious to the elements, transcend them even. But this separation we create between human things and the rest of the world is artificial. The hierarchical binary falls apart when we simply pay attention to the world. True, our homes will fall into disrepair in their interactions with the world, yet this is no reason to despair (as Solie so clearly points out). This poem calls attention to the processes of the world, that we are beings among beings, and that this continual process of home making (and repair) is a necessary part of living well in the world. Yes, we love our technologies, our homes; this is only appropriate since they help us make sense of the world and our place in it. And this is why we must consistently be engaged in repairing them, showing them care and attention so that they can always improve and continue to give us meaning in this world. To show this sort of care for our homes is to demonstrate our love for them, and for the world they occupy. We cannot live completely in a state of wilderness (to let our homes fall totally into disrepair); but neither can we expect our homes to be impervious to its forces: interacting with wilderness is a necessary part of our lives, and there is a joy in this process of repair.
The untitled poem mimics the ironic and detached voice that has become all too popular in post-modern writing and turns it on its head, thereby showing the value of expressing genuine emotion in contemporary art. For an incredible reading of this poem (that does more than I ever could), see Adam Sol's reading of this poem, here: http://lemonhound.com/2012/09/21/adam... .
This is a really lovely book of poems, that shows some obvious improvement in Solie's style from her first book. By looking at the modern and normal aspects of our culture, Solie delves deeper into her concerns of what it means to be human in the world (and live well doing it).(less)
Karen Solie's first book of poetry places her (at least somewhat) in the tradition of eco-poetic thinkers, particularly Don McKay and a bit of Tim Lil...moreKaren Solie's first book of poetry places her (at least somewhat) in the tradition of eco-poetic thinkers, particularly Don McKay and a bit of Tim Lilburn as well. Her style, here, feels very different from those poets, however; in this book her voice is grittier, and a bit understated. Considering she grew up in a heavily industrialized southern Saskatchewan, this might make sense. I feel her newer books have a more lyric feel, so fans of that style of poetry might start with her later books.
McKay's idea of "wilderness" plays an obvious role in some poems scattered throughout the book. The popular poem "Sturgeon" is an clear example (for a super gritty reading from Solie herself, see this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0Yl1d... ). McKay uses the term to mean anything in the world that evades human conventions / modes of thought etc. Or, aspects of the world that don't fit neatly into the all-too-human story. Solie focuses her poetic practice on the world, and as a result her poems ask us to pay attention to the world. In "Sturgeon", the fish represents the unimaginable ancientness of the world; or, the order of the world that is beyond the human order. The humans, who are "teenaged and bigger than everything" toy with its life as if this means nothing, and "wrap it in poison arms". Obviously, here, we can see Solie engaging in an environmental ethic as well. Poems like this call attention to the part we all play in perpetuating harmful relations to the land. Through paying attention to aspects of the world that don't inflate the human ego, we find a humbling of the human. And it's also important to consider that the "wilderness" exists inside us as well: by making the world ugly, we make ourselves ugly.
Reading many of these poems from the perspective of home and home-making is interesting as well. There are many poems throughout the collection about being transitory, with many references to hotels. On one hand, this might call attention to the fact that all homes are temporary. No human settlement can truly claim the land it settles on. However, I think Solie is also acknowledging that we don't make home very well, either. Making home well involves an exchange with the place you live: letting the place shape you as much as humans try to shape the place. Many of Solie's characters, on the other hand, are isolated in hotel rooms. In the poem "Day's Inn", for example, the right angles of the doors, the metal tongues clicking home, only creates a false sense of being at home. The man inside the room is unable to communicate with anyone around him (despite being so spatially close to the speaker). Hotel rooms are sterile, and isolate the human into an exchange-less condition: truly alone. The speaker herself packs light, never lets herself settle too long in one place. Perhaps a little engagement with the "wilderness" would do these characters some good?
Along with this focus on how humans engage with the world, Solie also has an interest in technology. As much as the human ego would like to see technology as making us masters of our environments, Solie points out how inadequate our technology can be when confronted with the world. In the poem "Skid", the humans desire a picture-perfect white Christmas. Yet it is these same conditions that cause snowfall that also build black ice on the road and cause the car to skid (and possibly crash). In my experience, whenever poets start talking about technology, it is also worth considering language itself as a form of technology (something that allows us to interact with the world in a certain way). Language, too, can be inadequate for engaging us with the world. But this isn't to say that we should abandon our technologies, or stop speaking, or stop living in homes; rather it is to say that we need to engage with our technologies in thoughtful ways. It is this sort of thoughtfulness that one can sense coming through in Solie's use of language, and in her poems about technology. Tim Lilburn is an obvious influence here, as well.
This is an interesting and engaging first collection from Karen Solie, and shows that she deserves the recognition that she is receiving. There are a few really great poems scattered throughout the book, and each poem at least contains a moment of brilliance. However, if you read the book as I did, from cover to cover, there's quite a bit of mediocre poems you'll have to slog through. I would have preferred a book that contained some sort of conceptual coherence throughout; instead this book feels like a collection of individual poems. While it is a promising first collection, and adds thoughtfully to the interests of contemporary Canadian poetry, it remains a first collection. Thankfully, Solie has already demonstrated that the promise she shows in this book is worth pursuing, as each book she publishes is better than the last.(less)
I'm not really sure what the point of this book was, or why Atwood felt it was necessary to even write this book. After reading this, I have a hunch t...moreI'm not really sure what the point of this book was, or why Atwood felt it was necessary to even write this book. After reading this, I have a hunch that Atwood didn't originally plan to write a trilogy when she wrote Oryx and Crake (the book that has become the first in the trilogy). Another possibility is that she just doesn't know how to write a trilogy. Oryx and Crake stands alone quite well; and The Year of the Flood (the second book) is a necessary companion book. This book, however, just baffles me. Nothing is added to the overall canon that we didn't already know (except, perhaps, the fairly minor detail (view spoiler)[that Pilar gave the experimental killer pills to Crake). (hide spoiler)] And Zeb's storytelling about his past (which takes up at least half the book) is completely pointless, as it adds nothing, and has no relevance in the story's present; not to mention his stories are fairly boring, and mostly involve (view spoiler)[ him running away and hiding from his dad and just generally not knowing what's going on. (hide spoiler)]. And why is Ren thrown into the background? Why bother introducing her as a main character in the previous book? With this book I feel as though Atwood is sticking to her tried and true novel format, but all the life I felt in some of her previous novels is absent. (This format: a character in the present reflects on the events of their past; chapters alternate between present and past (Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood...)) The one aspect of the book I did really enjoy was the Crakers: they are interesting to think about as post-humans, and it was nice to have them fleshed out a bit more. Not to mention they're really funny. Unfortunately, this one element isn't enough to save the book or make it compelling in any way. The new elements that are added to this world (such as the Church of PetrOleum) are heavy-handed and obvious; they lack the subtlety that was present in the previous two books, and make me feel like I'm being lectured to (something the first two didn't make me feel). Overall, a pointless and uninspiring book. There is so much wonderful, compelling literature being written today in Canada (not to mention in the Science Fiction world); seek it out, and don't waste your time here.(less)
This second collection of essays by Tim Lilburn takes its point of departure from George Grant's Technology and Empire. Grant says that European-desce...moreThis second collection of essays by Tim Lilburn takes its point of departure from George Grant's Technology and Empire. Grant says that European-descended North Americans are doomed to ever be at home here; our home-building here was based on violent colonialism and subjugation, and we perpetuate this legacy today. Our ideologies, our philosophies, religions, well never allow us to sink into this place, because they are not of here: they are of elsewhere, and therefore will always separate us from this place - never let us be at home here. Lilburn takes this statement as his starting point, but throws away its pessimism. Lilburn agrees that we (I say "we" because this book seems to be addressed to settler culture) are not living here well, and are not at-home in North America, but disagrees that this is an impossibility. European Enlightenment, rationalist thought has dominated our cultural imagination, but Lilburn sets out to unearth texts in the classical Western tradition that can give us nourishment to be at home in the world. These alternative readings, and buried texts, are a part of us, Lilburn says, even if we are unaware of it. A single-dimensional approach to the world has dominated European thought, and here Lilburn sets out to re-reveal those other dimensions. Lilburn's main focus for this project is some classical Greek texts, including Plato, and also some early Christian (and mystical) texts. The narrative that joins all these texts, for Lilburn, is a strain of thought related to erotics, and the contemplative tradition. From them (I think) there follows a sort of radical respect for everything of the world that is not the Self, and a keeping of the Self's ego in check.
It is fair to say that these essays take a very academic approach. You're enjoyment of Lilburn's writing here might depend on your experience in the academic world, especially in classics and philosophy. I found this book very interesting on an intellectual level, and I particularly like the goal that drives the book, but I didn't enjoy the book as much as I've enjoyed his other writing. In these essays, Lilburn has made a separation between his ideas and the enactment of those ideas. I very much preferred his first book of essays, Living in the World as if it Were Home, as I felt those essays combined his philosophies and their enactment simultaneously. However, there is obviously still a place for this sort of writing, and what he has to say remains incredibly important.(less)
This book can serve as a really great "best of" collection for Lilburn (up until 2003, at least). It is a concise book, leaving only room for some of...moreThis book can serve as a really great "best of" collection for Lilburn (up until 2003, at least). It is a concise book, leaving only room for some of his best work. It could also serve as a really great introduction to his works. Like I said, all the poems are wonderful, so would be a good place to start in that regards. But there is also a really great, accessible introduction to his work written by the compiler, Alison Calder. The essay very clearly places Lilburn in his context, including his place and life; and it places him in a prairie's writerly tradition. It also clearly states some of the philosophical ideas that drive his work (which he has written about in his essays). From there, the collection is not too long (39 pages of poetry), and so is not overwhelming and is more easily digested than a typical "selected" collection. This collection also makes having some of his earlier poetry in your collection possible, as his early books are long out of print. Thankfully, this book pays equal attention to each of his books (up to Kill-site). This collection also has a thoughtful and engaging afterword written by Lilburn himself. In it, he gives a personal reflection on his family history; his ideas of silence; of being born into a colonial intellectual tradition; of being a settler on stolen land, and what that means in terms of how he relates to the land; and of his ideas of poetics and language, and how engaging with them thoughtfully can lead to better ways of being. This is a really great collection of poems, and is particularly good if you haven't yet read Lilburn's poetry widely, and would like to have an entrance into it. My only advice is to make sure you're reading the poems out loud! They are incredibly musical and joyful to hear spoken.(less)
This is a really great collection of poems. Making my way through this book is one of those rare poetry-reading experiences where each poem is better...moreThis is a really great collection of poems. Making my way through this book is one of those rare poetry-reading experiences where each poem is better than the last, it bubbles up in your chest with an excitement that is partly physical - a feeling that causes you to run to the nearest person and babble in run-on sentences about how great these poems are and why everyone should read them right now! I imagine the feeling I get reading these poems is a similar feeling Lilburn had when he was writing them, or the feeling he had as he contemplated the river the poems run after. Surely translating that feeling is the clear sign of a poet at the top of their game. This is poetry that, if you let it, sinks into all your body's senses, your mind, and your heart. It engages all these in equal measure - if you try to isolate it to one (the mind, say) you'll be lost. It's poetry that engages your whole being, and that's a pretty joyful thing to experience.
These poems chart a journey of the speaker to the river, both physically and philosophically. As you read, you can feel yourself making your way through the trees, through the wheat field, along the riverside. The speaker is intensely aware of the the physical landscape, and so this is a very beautiful, clear engagement with Lilburn's home, Saskatchewan; this is place-poetry of the finest sort. Alongside this physical awareness is Lilburn's spiritual awareness. This side of things is represented by the darkness present in the poems. The human intellect is eager to shine it's light on everything; but this light, by its nature, obscures and is unable to see this darkness in things. To begin to perceive the other side of things, we need to engage with everything else that makes us human - not merely the intellect.
These poems, true to Lilburn's ideas, move closer and closer to the river, but are never able to get there completely. Language, being a human thing, will never truly re-present the world to us. The essence of the river will never be revealed to us through the word "river". Thoughtless language-use will only bring us further away from the world and obscure it for us. However, thoughtful language-use can aim towards what it speaks of; through repeated attempts, it can begin to sense the shape of a thing. This is the sort of engagement that Lilburn is involved with. The importance behind this exercise is related to how humans treat the world. Understanding that the world is not-us, is not-human, allows us to see the radical differences between everything. By coming to a place where we can respect those differences, we move away from seeing the world as resource only, as valueless object. We come to a place where we can respect it as a fellow being. There's no romantic b.s. in this. This is about recognizing that there is something beyond the human story, and that we must be aware of this if we want to live well in the world.
I love these poems, but I admit that Lilburn isn't for everyone. It probably isn't entry-level poetry. He takes work (or maybe it's the opposite of work: un-work?). If you are having trouble with these poems, my first advice would be to breath deeply, and start reading them out loud. These poems are intensely musical, and that becomes immediately apparent when you hear it. There's a lot of joy in that, alone. These are love poems to the world (to a part of Saskatchewan); let yourself feel it.(less)
I was pretty impressed with this book. The whole time reading this, I could feel my teenage self (buried under the layers, somewhere) getting very exc...moreI was pretty impressed with this book. The whole time reading this, I could feel my teenage self (buried under the layers, somewhere) getting very excited at the ideas being presented here. It reminded me of reading 1984 when I was younger (for obvious reasons). This is a book demonstrating the importance of being technologically and media literate, as well as politically engaged. All very important messages to be sending to young people (and people in general, for that matter). One of the big things that stuck out for me was the idea that we should know our technology so that it does what we want it to (instead of being controlled by it) - and how true is that? This book is filled with really interesting info-dumps about how computers work, and the types of things you can do with them once you understand how they work. Each explanation was fascinating, and made me realize how little I know about the computers I use.
Obviously, this is a very focussed book, that sets out to do something very specific. This type of book has some obvious advantages, like inspiring readers to be more politically engaged (never a bad thing!). However, because it is so focussed, it might lack the sort of subtlety that certain types of readers might appreciate in a book. As a result, some of the "bad guys" are a little one-dimensional: put there merely to reinforce the point of the book. You might say the same thing about the plot in general. I'm kind of in the middle on this one: it'll never be my favourite book, but I see why it's useful and appreciate that.(less)
This book is postmodern theory set to a narrative. For those who love postmodernism, this book is for you. I am not particularly one of those people,...moreThis book is postmodern theory set to a narrative. For those who love postmodernism, this book is for you. I am not particularly one of those people, but my feelings on postmodernism aren't that simple either. Did I enjoy this book? No. Does this book have some interesting things to say about culture / the world? Yes. I found a lot of things in this book very thought-provoking and interesting - but I barely enjoyed a second of it.
There are many things I appreciate about postmodernism. As it relates to this novel, I'm particularly interested in the interruption of modernist thought, and the authority given to its master narratives. Postmodern theory interrupts these narratives, calls their authority into question, and explores those narratives that have been pushed to the margins. I think this is great, especially if we hope to live well in the world and with other people. The book replicates this idea by starting several stories (books within the book) and cutting them off when we're most caught up in its charms. Where me and postmodern theory part ways is when it is taken a step further, and proclaims that coherent narratives can't be told at all. Yes, the world is incredibly complex, and not easily boiled down to fit in with simple human understandings - but the world is still coherent. The world is incredibly ordered and organized. We've just been telling the wrong stories. After reading this book, I feel it reiterates this idea of the world being incoherent, and so this is where, philosophically, I part ways with it.
Another pillar of postmodern art is the demand to be self-reflexive about ourselves. So in this book, we are reading about reading. There are books within books. I think this is a really neat and necessary thing. Self-awareness is key if we are to prevent ourselves from being controlled by those master narratives. What does it mean to be a reader in such-and-such a cultural context? In the context of the publishing industry? When we understand that there is no single narrative that can be told, even about a single book? These are all interesting questions which the books asks you to think about.
So, while postmodern literature is interesting and necessary, I just don't enjoy it very much. Postmodernism, taken to its logical end, just isn't a way to live. I am simultaneously thankful that it exists, and that the world has moved on.(less)
Wow. What an interesting and completely frustrating book. I'm glad this wasn't my first experience with Delany, as I likely would not have returned to...moreWow. What an interesting and completely frustrating book. I'm glad this wasn't my first experience with Delany, as I likely would not have returned to him. So, if you haven't read Delany before, I wouldn't recommend starting here (Dhalgren is amazing. Nova is also a good choice). However, as frustrating as the book and the main character are, this is a finely crafted book written with lots of intention; it's also a book that manages to do what it sets out to do, perfectly. So, on a technical level, maybe a good book, but not a very enjoyable one. But, as I've also found, it's a fruitful source of conversation/discussion.
This book is mostly a character study of Bron. While the book is a third-person narration, it's presented from the limited perspective of Bron himself. There are some larger things going on in the background of the novel (like, a war between the planets and moons of our solar system), but they are always presented as being secondary to what's going on in Bron's head/world. This is one of the things I find interesting about the novel: most science fiction books (at least of a certain kind) tend to focus on these bigger events, like war and politics. Here, however, Delany very purposefully puts them in the background and tells us that Bron is more worthy of our focus. This reversal is neat, and subverts these more 'masculine' topics (war, politics, etc.).
Bron himself is not meant to be a likeable character. In fact, he's kind of a dick. In this imagined world where heterosexism and homophobia have apparently vanished, he is homophobic, sexist, and basically the worst humanity has to offer. He's also incredibly selfish, and has no emotional intelligence to speak of. Basically, he's a dude. He's a "nice guy". Interestingly, one of the people the novel is dedicated to is Isaac Asimov. I still remember reading Foundation and being completely shocked upon realizing that I had gotten most of the way through the novel without a single female character even making an appearance (but don't worry: in the last story there's a wife who nags at her husband...yep). I think I can see why Asimov would be there: this novel exposes the ugly sides of sexism, homophobia, and racism that is implicit in Asimov's works (but is obviously not addressed in any way in his novels - it's simply the norm). Also, to go back, Asimov was someone who looked only at the big things (politics, etc.), and would never have investigated his character's basic, problematic assumptions about life. While I think that the sort of work Delany is doing here is really interesting and important, my only complaint about it is that, as a result, Bron is not a very realistic character. Bron is the worst we have to offer, and while there is a little bit of Bron in all of us (we all have problematic shit running wild in our heads), there are very few human beings who deserve as little compassion as Bron does. In this way, he is a caricature. I wonder which method would have been more effective: the one Delany gives us, a caricature; or a more realistic character, which might perhaps give us some insight into why people do awful things. I'm guessing both methods have their place. With Delany's method, it is easier to identify Bron's problematic aspects, but (I think) harder to identify him in ourselves.
Something that is awesome about Delany, and for which he is well-known for, is his giving queerness a place in literature, and especially in science fiction (which had, until around this time, been notoriously heterosexist). The queers are everywhere in this one! While we aren't given a beloved queer hero, queerness is made very visible and given space in this human landscape. (Although I have to admit, I don't know how I feel about the idea of gay / straight co-ops. Sounds more like a porno fantasy than an actual way to live. I'm also not a huge proponent of segregation. But I get it Delany... I get it.) There's also a trans character in this novel which I think is done very well, given the time it was published. For most of the narrative, we aren't told this character is trans, then, suddenly, this fact is relevant for a paragraph, then we move on. Great. Bron has a very brief struggle with pronouns, gets over it, and moves along. Good job Bron. [spoiler] In the last section of the novel, the sex change operation is used with a character to make a point; however I think it would be problematic to see this character as being genuinely trans (you'll see what I mean). However, pronoun changes / etc. are flawless, and I think this could be very eye-opening for readers who've never known trans folks in real life. On another note, there's a lot less gay sex representation in this one (too bad!); but you can always read many of Delany's other novels, if that's what your needing!
Info-dumps are another thing science fiction is well-known for. I think Delany uses them in a very interesting way here (although they still made me groan a bit, even if they are making an interesting point). Delany uses scientific thought as the basic assumption for his info-dumps, but he turns this scientific thought into metaphor. This is obvious only a short way into the book where Bron is explaining "metalogic" and he gives us a ridiculous equation that's filled with mathematical/scientific symbols - but there's no way this equation actually makes any sense. I think these ridiculous (but very convincing) info-dumps that are presented with scientific language / structure serve to show us that the authority that is science, is just another arbitrary form of knowing. By taking that scientific structure (for examples, the equation) and presenting it to us while it is explaining something to us that does't actually make any sense, shows us that part of what makes science so legitimate to us is it's style. While reading through these info-dumps, you get the sense that they should make sense. For the thoughtful reader, this might open up the idea that there are other, legitimate ways of knowing. Scientific knowing is just the one we have given authority to.
Anyway, I'll stop there. But needless to say this is an interesting book. There's a lot to talk about, and have good conversation about. It's just too bad that it isn't written in a way that is engrossing. I like it when books have a more intellectual side, I just prefer it to be coupled with good storytelling, which I don't think Delany achieves here. Seriously, just read Dhalgren.(less)
This book is one that shares its wisdom only gently, and subtly. Try to force it and you'll only come up empty handed. Read too casually, and you'll s...moreThis book is one that shares its wisdom only gently, and subtly. Try to force it and you'll only come up empty handed. Read too casually, and you'll see only empty surfaces (Dillard knows that deep wisdom is right on the surface of things, transparent, easily overlooked). This book doesn't call a lot of attention to itself, and will be easily forgotten by those who haven't learned to pay attention (the way Dillard pays attention to her place). There is definitely a message here in all these personal reflections, but she doesn't say it straightforwardly, because there's no straightforward way to say it. Like poetry, her wisdom is deep, and on the surface of things. So, I feel there is very little I could say about this book without betraying it, so you'll just have to read it for yourself!
This book is a meditation on Pittsburgh and growing up there during the 1950's. Dillard shows a great deal of love and respect for both. Her love for this place comes through in the attention she pays to its details; being at home is a sort of digging in. I appreciated how she resists moralizing her youth from the perspective of an adult. She simply presents her childhood as it was, and let's it be (which is surely a form of wisdom).
I also appreciated the way she plays with the American symbol of the "frontier" - the need of the individual to possess the freedom to always be escaping to the new. Right from the beginning she plays with this idea by depicting her father leaving home and sailing down the rivers to New Orleans. Halfway through this journey he gets bored, sells his boat, and returns home. As a child she delights in the details of her home, but nearing the end of the book she is a teenager eager to escape her family and home; escape to her romantic ideas of war, or bigger cities. At the end of the book her father reflects on a Kerouac passage that claims there is a place where the music will finally be "loud enough" (after her mother has asked him to turn the volume down). In the last line, Dillard asks, "if you could get to New Orleans - would the music be loud enough?" There's nowhere you can escape to that will bring you home. You are already there. Dig in.(less)
Now if only this book had been around for my high school history classes. I think this book was a pretty great introduction to Louis Riel and the role...moreNow if only this book had been around for my high school history classes. I think this book was a pretty great introduction to Louis Riel and the role he plays in Canadian history. I feel I have a much better sense of that part of history after reading this book, and I think that has a lot to do with the visual component of the book. I admit this is my first time reading a graphic novel (shame, shame, I know), and so I was a bit unsure what to expect going into it; after finishing this I can see how the visual component is particularly useful for visualizing our history, and making it more "real" (if I can say that) than a textbook (or wikipedia) would. History has always been a form of creative story telling, and it's nice to see that being acknowledged and enacted thoughtfully. I definitely recommend this book for people, such as myself, who are a bit fuzzy on this part of Canadian history and need an accessible entrance into it. The author also has a handy section at the back which expands on some of the historical situations being depicted in the drawings, and that clarifies some of the inaccuracies that arise from story-telling.(less)