Sunday, October 23, 2011

Coast to Coast at the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival

Me at writersfest.
One of the many great things about hearing authors is learning how to pronounce their names and the names of their characters. Miriam Toews (rhymes with ‘saves’) read from Irma Voth (rhymes with ‘boat’)… except that nobody bothers with the Mennonite pronunciation in this book, so Voth rhymes with ‘goth’ instead. Toews read a compelling excerpt in which 19-year-old Irma was travelling in Mexico with her squalling baby sister. Irma admires the infant’s fierce honesty and imagines she was communicating something like: “I possess vital intangibles and when I begin to talk the world will know its shame.”

The four authors at Saturday's Coast to Coast event let their sense of humour come through in their writing. Anita Rau Badami said a sense of the absurd helps for survival in India, where she lived until moving to Canada in 1991. Her newest book has a creepy mood, however, so there isn’t much room for humour in it. She “got tired of writing nice characters” so she filled Tell It to the Trees with horrible people. The seed for this book came from visiting a family whose house was so pristine it made her suspicious of what all that perfection might be concealing. I was surprised to hear that the setting for Tell It to the Trees is a composite town in northern BC, not a real one, and I will update my review of the book accordingly.

Zsuzsi Gartner said “my favourite writers all make me laugh and then punch me in the gut at the end.” That’s exactly what Gartner does to me. She said she writes her endings first, and then figures out how to get there. The audience laughed all the way through her reading of “Mister Kakami,” a typically satirical short story from Better Living Through Plastic Explosives.

Toews signs books.
Wayne Johnston likes to “combine comedy and pathos in a seamless way.” He read a hilarious exerpt from A World Elsewhere in which a 7-year-old boy was travelling by ship from Newfoundland to North Carolina with a man named Landish. Landish explained the ship’s workers to the child: pursers look after women’s purses; stewards serve the stew; porters serve port; and petty officers are “short, unhelpful men.” Yet another book to add to my TBR pile. (Yay!)

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