Sunday, August 27, 2017

Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn: Comparing English and French Editions

L'Arbragan won the French language TD Canadian Children's Literature Award in 2016. Created by Montreal-born geologist and artist Jacques Goldstyn, it's a sweet, imaginative picture book about an introverted child who is content with his status as a loner, and his close friendship with the immense oak tree that he calls Bertolt. The quiet, expressive artwork captures feelings of joy and sadness. There are delightful details, like the way the child's toque resembles an acorn.

I was interested in the differences between the original Quebecois edition (La Pasteque) and the American English translation by Claudia Zoe Bedrick (Enchanted Lion Books). As you can see in the top photo, even the cover choice is different. I guess the winter scene captures the "mon pays c'est l'hivers" spirit of Canada, while the summer scene is more relatable for south-of-the-Canadian border readers.

- Gloves become mittens in the English text (even though they clearly look like gloves in the illustrations). I can only guess that the reason might be that children are more likely to wear mittens than gloves?

- Hand-lettered text versus a serif font. This changes the effect: the former emphasizing the individualistic personality of the child, the latter giving it the look of books designed for emerging readers.

- White page background versus a buff background. Again, it changes the effect or mood. White adds a crispness to the contrast with the colours in the delicate illustrations, and is particularly effective in the snow scenes. Buff gives more of a nostalgic feel.

- Text placement. In the example shown above, this subtly changes the feeling evoked by the illustration: instead of walking into fresh unmarked territory, the child has something solid below his feet.

Two pages are entirely cut from the English edition. They show some of things the boy can see from his perch high up in Bertolt. I guess a priest peeping at his sunbathing neighbour is considered too risqué for certain audiences. Also cut: an old woman stealing from someone else's cherry tree, a graffiti artist at work, and a "lawn maniac" with a giant canister of weedkiller spraying a dandelion.

Both editions have the same gorgeous endpapers, created by Goldstyn. The most disappointing difference in the English edition is its didactic tone, which is not present in the original. I prefer the original, but the translated edition is almost as nice. For ages 6 and up.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sarah by JT Leroy

I remember wanting to read JT Leroy's work back in the early 2000s when Sarah and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things came out and there was a lot of buzz about them. Before I got to them, however, a literary hoax scandal broke about the author's identity. After I learned that these supposedly loosely autobiographical novels were written by a straight woman, Laura Albert, and not by a gay man with a tragic personal history of being forced to turn tricks as a child, I lost my desire to read them.

Author, a documentary about Laura Albert and her use of the persona JT Leroy, came out in 2016. Watch the trailer: Albert/LeRoy's story is quite astonishing. The film generated more controversy, revolving around archival tapes used without permission from the famous people who didn't know they were being recorded, folks such as Dennis Cooper, Gus Van Sant, Asia Argent, Courtney Love and Bono.

Sarah was reissued in 2016 (to coincide with the documentary) and chosen for my Feminist Book Club, so I've finally crossed it off my TBR. At our meeting, we spent a lot of time talking about how the story surrounding the author's identity affects the way we read her work.

We also tried to figure out how we would categorize this novel that Tom Spanauer called "road-kill beautiful." It reminded me of a cross between something by Chuck Palahniuk, and Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.  A dark fairytale: raw, horrific, funny, whimsical, offensive and sad.

The first-person narrator is a twelve-year-old boy - who likes to pass as a girl - living with his mother Sarah at a truck stop, part of a group of prostitutes working under the authority of a man named Glad.

I take daily lessons from various boys of Glad's, who affectionately refer to each other as baculum, which Glad tells me means 'little rod' in Latin. I practice rolling a condom on a man with my teeth without him knowing.
I had to google images of raccoon baculum after reading this.
Turns out, many kinds of mammals have penis bones.

Sarah always says before she goes man shopping, 'I look so good when I enter this bar, I'll make all the bitches nervouser than long-tailed cats at a rocking chair convention.'
(Other colourful expressions include "faster than a feather singeing in hell,""ready as snippers at bull-ball cutting' time," and "Don't pee down my back and tell me it's raining!")

I notice her left eye behind her Hollywood sunglasses is half shut in black-and-blue lumps hardly concealed by streaks of powdery beige foundation.
'The trick is to use an oil-based, yellow-tone foundation. You should never use matte!' Sarah would say, wincing while tentatively sponging on tan goop. 'I swear it should say so on the bottle: 'Do not under any circumstance use matte to cover your man's fist kisses.'

'I had my triplets using five layers of rubbers with a layer of tin-foil gum wrapper thrown in for good measure...' says a woman so narrow and white she looks like a body-of-Christ wafer.

'Mary Grace, you just got hit with very acidic ejaculit,' says another woman. 'I heard of truckers' juice so full of strip-mine slag they can burn through a wooden condom!'

I've heard it said too that women have brought their husbands that won't quit drinking their hairspray and nail-polish remover. Mommas have brought their strip-mine babies born with arms growing out of their heads like rabbit ear antennas. Grandparents have brought their grandchildren blinded from masturbating. Not one of them was ever cured.

The quotes above will give you ample notion of what you are getting in for with this novel. The sense of humour left me feeling a strange mix of charmed, dismayed and horrified. I recommend this novel only for those who are curious, and prepared to feel queasy over the portrayal of a child prostitute who has been taught to equate with love with abuse. It's also good for discussing issues of appropriation.

The Feminist Book Club followed up our discussion of Sarah by selecting a memoir written by an actual queer sex worker for the following month: Amber Dawn's How Poetry Saved My Life. I whole-heartedly recommend it.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Books Round-Up: Best of May

If you are looking for some recommendations, it doesn't matter that these are from a few months ago, does it?
Best Thing I Read in May: Who Will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore
The way we invent ourselves, even without realizing what we are doing; the weight of our formative on our adult selves; the way a perfect moment can sustain us through all the tougher daily grind of living: Moore puts it so well in this melancholy and enchanting novel.

"There were soft tall weeds growing up from the lake bottom, and they would do a charming kind of hula and then wind around your legs in a death grip."

"In Paris we eat brains every night. My husband likes the vaporous, fishy mousse of them. They are a kind of seafood, he thinks, locked tightly in the skull like shelled creatures in the dark caves of the ocean."

Best NonFiction Audiobook: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
[audiobook narrated by author: 3.5 hours]
I loved this so much, I listened to it twice in a row. Stars that jiggle, spherical cows, dark matter as our frenemy, the badassery of Einstein, and envisioning the density of a pulsar as like stuffing 100 million elephants into a chapstick casing: Tyson is endlessly entertaining in addition to being informative. 

"For all those who are too busy to read fat books, yet nonetheless seek a conduit to the cosmos."

Best YA Audiobook: The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
[audiobook narrated by Bahni Turpin: 11 hr 45 min]
The last author who sent me to find Tupac's music on YouTube was Jacqueline Woodson (After Tupac and D Foster). Thank you, Angie Thomas, for pointing me in that direction again. Starr is the brave star of this ripped-from-the-headlines novel: she's real and whole: a fictional teen who will live long in my heart. All the empathy and all the stars for this, and I hope they make the movie soon because I want to see that too!

Best Novel-Told-in-Short-Stories Audiobook: 
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
[audiobook narrated by Kimberly Farr: 8.5 hr]
If you loved Olive Kitteridge, as I did, then you will also enjoy Strout's latest collection of interconnected short stories. They are about various small-town people, all loosely connected to another of Strout's characters: Lucy Barton.

"As Patti drove into her driveway, and saw the lights she'd left on, she realized that Lucy Barton's book had understood her. That was it. The book had understood her. Lucy Barton had her own shame, and she had risen right straight out of it."

Best Poetry: Passage by Gwen Benaway
I re-read the poems in this collection compulsively, trying to come up with a coherent review, getting sucked back into the pages each time. Powerful words about all kinds of passages: childhood into adulthood; abuse into healing; city life into wilderness; coupledom to single; male to female. Outstanding queer Indigenous poetry.

"It's my promise,
an oath to the land,
to bear my wrecking with a certain grace.
not the grace of trees,
the smooth breasted laughter of bluejays,
but the grace of mollusks:
bottom feeder, black rimmed,
sharp under foot, slit mouthed,
small and as inescapable
as hunger."

Best Novel in Translation: Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi
translated from French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Alternating POV between four young teenagers who are so real my heart breaks. The poverty and violence of their home - the slums of Mauritius - brands them all, but in unique ways: these are individuals. Knowing them has enlarged me. Transcendent prose lightens this fierce, short LGBTQ novel.

"I wipe my neck. The coarse feel of it surprises me. The lack of hair makes me feel more naked than ever. Then I remember: my mother sheared it off. When I saw myself in the mirror, I saw that I had a lioness's head. I had a mane of hunger."

Best Historical Fiction: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
"It's a poor woman whose ambition is only to be loved. She has better things to be getting on with." And that's exactly why I enjoy the female characters in this novel so much: they are busy doing interesting things. Lots of unrequited love and complicated friendships in an atmospheric Victorian setting.

Best Fantasy Graphic Novel: Eartha by Cathy Malkasian
A unique and dreamy world; memorable and endearing characters; gorgeous art; an adventure quest into a dangerous place - Malkasian gets all the elements right in this immersive, moving fantasy/fable for adults. Muted tones; a hefty 255 oversized pages. Queer content.

Best Arthurian Retelling Graphic Novel: 
Yvain by MT Anderson and Andrea Offermann
A rich, evocative retelling of one of the Arthurian tales, one that highlights the differences between men's and women's lives of that era. A happily-ever-after for the knight is merely obligation and constrained options for the queen. It's bitter and I prefer this kind of story over traditional romance. Gorgeous art with lots of movement.