Archive for the ‘Reading Aloud’ Category

I Can Say Interpellation by Stephen Cain

I Can Say Interpellation

Stephen Cain

Illustrated by Clelia Scala

Bookthug, 2011.

My husband was given this book as a gift this weekend (thank you, Greg and Lisa!), and I think it’s one of my all-time favourite parodies. In I Can Say Interpellation Stephen Cain uses the familiar rhymes and rhythms of children’s books to make exquisitely barbed comments on contemporary politics.   “Marx on Box,” for example, is a wonderful riff on Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks, set in the streets of Seattle during the WTO riots.  (He reads it in the video below, but he is far too modest a reader.  I am giddy with admiration for the book and I would like to be able to share a clip of a much more animated reading.)

In “The Very Hungry Capitalist,” the capitalist’s feast climaxes thusly:

On Friday he ate up all the funding for social housing, public transportation, feminist research, environmental initiatives, unemployment insurance, universal daycare, Native land claims, and all the funding for the arts.

That night he felt a little guilty.

If you recognize the original and you sympathize with the sentiment, then this book is meant for you. 

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and even Go the Fuck to Sleep, gave me a chuckle, but the joke wears out quickly; it’s novelty comedy.  Parody is the frame for what Stephen Cain is doing here, but the value of the satirical commentary in the poems is far deeper and far more resonant.  This is a book for adults, particularly left-leaning adults with children to whom they have read the originals of these poems over and over and over again.  Parody with a healthy dose of moral outrage.

The illustrations by Clelia Scala work perfectly with the text, with collages that pair familiar images from fifties domestic scenes and Victorian illustration, with memento mori that highlight the theme of death and destruction in so many of the poems. 

Stephen Cain’s modest demeanour does not do justice to how fantastic I think this book is, but if you want to hear the author read some of the poems, here he is reading from the collection

and here is in an interview about the book.

Thanks again, Greg and Lisa, for doing my holiday shopping for me.  I will be buying multiple copies of this book for gifts this year.

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The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared

Alice Ozma

New York: Hachette, 2011.

Most of the time, when I go to the literary criticism or essay section of a bookstore, my first instinct is to look for books I already have or know about.  It’s a kind of settling in ritual, scanning the shelves for familiar colours and fonts, seeking similarity to my bookshelves at home or to the very bookshelf I’m looking at as it appeared the last time I was looking at it.  Was that book here last time?  Do they keep a good supply of Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris in stock?  I want to see my interests and erudition reflected back to me.  It is rare that I feel a surge of joy at a new discovery, because, let’s face it, books about books are not published every day.  Last week I found two new books that made my heart beat faster: The Reading Promise and A Jane Austen Education (more about which soon).

Alice Ozma was named after two characters from children’s literature: Alice, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and Ozma, the ruler of L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz.  Her father, Jim Brozina, a children’s librarian, chose them as her middle names.  She has adopted them as her first and last names, an apt decision for a girl who was brought up on books.

When she was in Grade 4, Alice and her father made a pledge: they would read for 100 consecutive nights.   While celebrating the accomplishment, Alice upped the ante: what about going for 1000?  They got much further than that.  From Grade 4 until her first day at university, Jim Brozina read aloud to his daughter every single night.  Including prom night.  They called it The Streak.

I read this book in one sitting tonight, my own version of a streak, as I am not often alert enough to read for so long, no matter how much I may want to.  But this book had me hooked.  It’s a book about books, it’s a book about children’s books, it’s a book about a committed teacher (cue the tears), it’s a book about the enormous value of libraries in schools (cue more tears), and it’s engagingly written.  

The book has its rough spots; it is Alice Ozma’s first book, and it gets off to rather a mushy start.  But it was also a page-turner.  I wanted to know what challenges the pair would face and how they would overcome them.  Aside from the fact of their amazing streak, this is also an engaging memoir structured around reading.  There are chapters on her parents’ divorce, on book sales and sick days, on funerals and date nights, on car crashes and suicide.  The chapters are timed and structured well, and each ends with a punch line.  Ozma’s humour is dry and self-deprecating, and she tells her story well.  The final chapter on her father’s beloved school libraries being turned into computer labs and emptied of books had me on the edge of my seat.  That chapter should be required reading for every school administrator.

After being asked by a slightly bemused friend if the routine did not get boring after a while, she realizes

We were already good at routines, but The Streak was anything but.  Every night was different because every story was different.  Even when a book started to drag, as some did late in the second half, there was still the thrill of getting closer to our goal to make things a little more interesting.  But as my father told him, and as anyone who reads regularly might agree, the only thing that has to be similar from night to night is the act of turning pages.  Everything else changed as soon as we picked up a new book, plunging us deep into a new landscape with unfamiliar faces.  The Streak was routine, yet it was as far from routine as anything a parent and daughter could do together.

Reading to my boys at bedtime is my favourite time of day, but there are days, lots of them, when it just does not happen.  (This is because I’m a stickler about bed time.  Jim Brozina was not.)  Nevertheless, this book made me want to enlist the boys in a big poster-making project: a huge 10 by 10 calendar to mark off our own unbroken streak of 100 days of reading.  As her father says in his preface to the book, “Nothing that lasts has been accomplished without effort.  The things that we are most proud of took quite a lot to achieve.”  This book makes me want to pull out the stops and make no excuses.

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I am in the middle of Lisa Moore’s February, and I am in love.  On the strength of half a novel she has become a MRE (must read everything) author.  (Thanks to Buried in Print for the means to make sure that my TBR list never, ever shrinks.  Check out her Reading Projects tab for a list of books that is truly daunting.)

In last weekend’s Globe & Mail, with which I only caught up today, there is a lovely snippet from Moore about her daughter reading aloud to her as they drive.  I’ve been looking forward to the day that Griffin learns to drive (yes, he’s only 9, but I don’t drive, so an additional driver in the family will be a boon), but I like this idea much better.

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