The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 25 September 2014

Maldives – Promoting Censorship

Maldives – Promoting Censorship

Hello Gentle Reader

This week is called “The Banned and Challenged Book Week.” This is where books known for their controversial view points and social criticism are often brought out from behind the barred – “restricted section,” of the library and are openly celebrated. These books are once again thrust into the spotlight, and the people who found decided to challenge them, are once again mocked as their testimony, are that of a patronizing parent who insists that they know more about what is right; not just for their children, but your children as well. Countries like China, and other totalitarian regimes, are also thrust into the spotlight for their attempts at smothering and destroying the written word, which works against the ‘party approved, ideological standards.’ The most recent country to join the list of countries that wish to stall literary progress and sharing of information and idea’s through the written word is Maldives. The Maldives Islands are a archipelago in the Asian continent, and are located in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. The country’s governments do not want novels or poetry published, that will: cause adverse affects on society; or offend the Islamic principles of the country; but also ensure that social etiquettes are abided by. The government went on to retract the statement they had made, by ensuring that they will: “respect the constitutional right to freedom of expression and allow novel and constructive ideas.” However this has all be met with suspicions of criticism that this is to revert the country back into censorship. The move has also been called draconian. Protests have already gone underway through social media to combat this. Poetry (which has not been approved) has found an outpouring through social media. Since the end of a three decade long dictatorship, and the eventual democratic process finally taking hold in the country, it all feels like it is falling apart. The former president was forced to resign – allegedly by gun point. The new president is the brother of the former dictator. There is fears that a new autocratic government is come back into power; and demonstrations to that the Maldives a ‘Islamic State,’ have been taking place through the capital.

I am a firm believer, that when one takes over a country as a dictator or a authorities leader, it is not the army one fears; it is not the political or judicial process – it is the libraries and the schools that one fears. Educated people will not act like brow beaten dogs. They have a voice; they have intellect; they are well read, and articulate in their arguments. Once these are taken away, the slow ‘brain drain,’ begins and everything falls into place of complacent sheep. The right to speak. The right to write. The right to recite verse. These are rights, that encompass more than just ‘freedom of speech,’ they engulf new worlds of perspectives, and once those perspectives are taken away – nothing remains. It is logical to suggest that the works of many great writers, will most likely not reach the shores of the Maldives, or receive the blue stamp of approval.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

The Guardian Article

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/25/maldives-censor-books-islamic-codes

Wednesday 24 September 2014

The (Literary) Novel – Is it on the Brink of Extinction?

Hello Gentle Reader

It must be human nature, to be continually obsessed with the end; that definitive finality. For the past few years, words like: ‘the end is near,’ ‘the rapture is upon us,’ and ‘apocalypse now,’ and other such slogans have been passed around the internet, through word of mouth; and could be seen in television and in film trends. The entertainment world is populated by bleak dystopian futures, or disease induced apocalyptic endings. Even the real world, has had these pessimistic idealizations creep into the thoughts of others. There was after all the two-thousand and twelve fiasco, where many people had predicted (and dare I be so audacious (?)) had hoped for the end of the world. Environmental disasters caused by our own neglect and maltreatment of the world around us. Then there was a small controversy in two-thousand and thirteen or later in two-thousand and twelve, where a pastor had predicted the end for all was upon us; once again though it ended with nothing more than a puff; and a giggle of embarrassment with the sighs of disappointment from others. Still two-thousand and fourteen has, had its own flares up of people crying that this is the end. The red moon; the abundant meteor showers; a Friday the thirteenth, with a full moon on the same night; solar flares, that could have wiped out the fragile fabricate of our modern technology dependant world. People continually go on, how we are overdue for an ice age; how we are all doomed to see another grand scale of extinction. Many prep for what they see or call the inevitable Doomsday. Others slough such an idea off, as being a wasted venture and investment. If the end of the world is to happen; as so many proclaim with such enjoyment and volatility; then it will happen. Personal thoughts included: the end (apocalypse, rapture, end of the world) will happen when it happens. It’ll come around when it comes around and that will be that. There is no need to wave picket signs, with slogans: “the end is upon us,” “the end is nigh,” “repent or burn in hell,” “the rapture is now!” there is no need for such frivolous proclamations. Drop the sign; let go of the bible. If the end is ‘nigh,’ than mankind needs only to walk, hand in hand to the inevitable extinction, which would therefore await all.

I find it rather unfortunate, that this mass paranoia and desire for the great curtain call, seems to slip its way into everything. It’s a tedious nuisance on its own; which only breeds simpleton thoughts and general paranoia that leads to existential malaise. In this case however, it’s more of an annoyance. There has always been that chatter between the bookshelves of a big box bookstore – which is: the novel is declining. The narrative art on a written page is on the decline some say. Though others have refined this to being more specific of what is declining in the literary world: literary narrative art is on the decline. The popular novels that are populated by sparkling vampires, boy wizards, dystopian futures, and sadomasochistic pornographic fantasy for the everyday mother, and housewife – are still in popular demand. Yet literary fiction? The novel of artistic integrity and literary merit? Well it is on the decline according to some. Will Self, wrote an article on “The Guardian,” on May second, declaring that the literary novel, and its height and dominance of culture and cultural prestige and intellectual authority, have waned over the years. According to Self, the literary novel will become a ‘specialized field.’ Though Will Self brings up many good points in his long article; the digital revolution of the information age; Self also fails to realize the possibilities this revolution leads for the novel, as well as its tenacious desire to live – literary or not.

I am a reader who enjoys the literary novel. The mass marketed books of romances, or romantic comedic novels, and adventure novels, and suspense and thrillers, as well as fantasy and science fiction, no longer engage me the way that literary novels do. When I was younger, I certainly enjoyed graphic and gory murder mysteries. I read Dan Browns Vatican novels, when I was in in my younger years as well, as that was the craze then. Yet after the discovery of more intellectual novels, and the larger world and its own offerings, in regards to literature – provincial and international concepts; I became far more interested in a novel that frustrated me and pushed my patience to the breaking point. Numerous times I’ve been forced to put a novel down, cross my legs, flare my nostrils for a few minutes, and walk away; only to be drawn back to the novel, re-read what I could not fathom or comprehend before, and finally understand it. This continual tease and frustration is what brings me back to a book of literary fiction. It never reveals itself in a straightforward manner. A literary novel is like a childhood friend who knows a secret and won’t tell you that secret. It angers you, frustrates you, and makes you want to learn the secret even more – no matter how mundane or trivial it is. Literary fiction as a whole is well crafted, secret keeper. It’s deeply written, and written with everything the writer has in them at the time. That being said literary fiction – even to the highest degree is not without its shortcomings. This kind of fiction is often convinced of its own self-importance, and this arrogance can show, and deters readers from reading the work any longer or daring to go into further realms of literary fiction. It’s often contrived that it is better, then other books – and it maybe better than other books; this pompous assurance once again is off putting to some readers. My favorite shortcoming of literary fiction is it can become very patronizing to a reader. It’s generally written by a writer who only wishes to write to show how clever they are. Their word play; an overuse of polysyllabic words, and often repeating themselves in the same sentence with words that share the same meaning, creating a sentence that is in the end a redundant waste of language and vowels. No reader wants to feel like they are being talked down to; or are being demeaned by a condescending writer, who metaphorically pats them on the head while saying with such a smug tone: “you gave it a good go. Maybe next time you’ll be able to get it.”

If the literary novel is to survive it is to recognize its shortcomings; and realize that it balances between intellectual growth and understanding; and its contrite self-importance and arrogance. Literary fiction will need to adapt to a world of shorter spans for reading and the attention required to reading often becomes limited as well. It’s a world where technology is taking over. Conversations are becoming increasingly difficult for some people to manage. Dinner no longer takes place at a dinner table; but rather with a ‘TV tray,’ and microwave convenience food. Playing outside appears to be abandoned, by many. That being said technology has helped many people out in many ways. The ability to stay connected is a godsend to many. The world is capable of moving at a fast paced, and changing that pace at a moment’s notice. Inevitably though, technology has engrossed on other areas as well. Music can be digital downloaded for free, at the rage at the poor sucker who paid the money to record the song in the first place. Who could forget the court battle with Napster and recording musicians, who protested the free trade of their own work? Now the same is happening to books, and literary works. With the rise of the kindle, ipad, kobo, nook – all of the e-readers now threaten writers, publishers, and independent booksellers. As the music industry would tell you though, it grotesquely survived; as it continuous to churn out young people with little talent, but the ‘appeal,’ into the world, and their eventual spoiled nature, in regard to money and the eventual law conflict with one another. Then if one were to learn from the music industries near meeting with the end; then the publishing world is in semi-good company.

Will Self predicts the end of the novel – the literary novel, with his article with “The Guardian.” Tim Parks from “The New York Review of Books,” offers a more positive outlook on the lasting impression of the literary novel. Parks immediately admits the reality: the current environment is not all that favorable to reading. However, as Parks notes immediately the literary novel will adapt to these changes. As Parks notes in his article the current world and environment is filled with distractions. By that ask yourself how many times you check your phone for a text you sent five minutes ago; how many times a day on average do you check your e-mails; how many times a day on average do you check your facebook? Now one needs to ask themselves how invested are they into the replies? Surely there must be some investment as one continually checks the phone, checks e-mail, or the newsfeed. It’s a world of disrupted attention; and a very small attention span, trying to multitask and focus on continual points of interest at once. At the same time, people today are inclined to interruption. We are prepared for it, and often seek it. In a sense, there must be something new and shiny out there for each of us to feast our eyes on in some way or another; as the current fixation has become dull and less lustrous.

Yet as Parks notes once again, long novels continuo to be written. Karl Ove Knausgaard for example continuous to be something of an amazement to many readers, who pick up his gigantic novel (in volumes) and read each translated volume, with eager delight and pleasure. Looking around people still pick up the bloated “lord of the rings,” and devour it as they had done in their adolescents. Just recently literary novels are picking up their own word count and page count. They are now towering in at seven hundred pages, or eight hundred pages. Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer prize winning novel “The Goldfinch,” is almost eight hundred pages long, and was shortlisted as well as suspected to win the, Baileys Women Prize for Fiction; and has been tipped off by many critics as being a contender for this year’s ‘open,’ Booker Prize. There again just look at last years Booker Prize winning novel: “The Luminaries,” by Eleanor Catton, is just over eight hundred pages long. Larger literary novels do exist; though they are not for me personally. Anyone who needs to write over five hundred pages (and even that is pushing it) has nothing wroth saying. Shorter novels of more intense work and language I often find, have a greater depth and appreciation for language; which brings me to the end of Parks article. Parks predicts the novel (of literary inclinations) will break itself up into shorter chapters and shorter sections and parks, to offer a quick pause and break for the readers, in a world that is surrounded with distraction. Whereas the larger novel or rather the more popular novel, will simply fall into more repetitious patterns, and more of a similar formula that it will be copied over and over again, following the same dynamic of an elementary school teacher, teaching their class the parts o a story: the beginning (introduction) the conflict (problem) rosining action, then declining action and the end (conclusion). Where the literary novel will continue to thrive in its complexities – self-important or not; contrived or not; the more popularized novel will fall into a pattern of a heart monitor continually rosining and falling, with occasional flat lining; as its pace and rhythm.

I do think that both Will Self and Tim Parks make very good points. However I always put ‘predictions,’ to the wind, and think of more serious matters. There is no doubt that the current environment is going to respect a writers idea to write a eighty page chapter, that moves at a snail’s pace. Yet it is very audacious to state that the literary novel is dead. Yes there are plenty of novels out there, that are surviving, and excelling. However, the world at large, the literary world, is far from over, and I do not think it will ever end – at least not so easily. I personally hope that Parks prediction is true. May literary writers, learn a lot from the short story, and stop writing phonebooks – not everyone has a book shelf made out of steel or iron; and not everyone has the time or patience to read that kind of book. At least I do not have the time to invest in that large of a novel. Personal tastes dictate smaller more explosive works, that showcase their capabilities with a mixture of telling and leaving some unsaid, only to be discovered later. That and the language can be utilized far more appropriately and can be more intense with hindrance to the actual book itself. In my opinion the novel; literary and not; is not necessarily endangered or on the verge of extinction. It will learn to thrive in this new world. As poetry would tell you from its crows net on top of its ivory tower, nothing dies without a fight. Demand declines, but surviving and reinventing as well as renewal never hurt, to approach a ever changing world.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Thursday 18 September 2014

The German Book Prize Shortlist

Hello Gentle Reader

Autumn is a season of awards – literary awards that is. The Booker Prize, The German Book Prize, The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and of course the Nobel Prize for Literature, which will announced early to mid-October; depending on when a consensus has been reached. Still here is the shortlist for the German Book Prize; I will leave a link to the website in which I have got this information, and you can read the list, and the blurbs about the books there.

Thomas Hettche, “Pfaueninsel,”
Angelika Kl├╝ssendorf, “April,”
Gertrud Leutenegger, “Panischer Fr├╝hling,”
Thomas Melle, “3000 Euro,”
Lutz Seiler, “Kruso,”
Heinrich Steinfest, “Der Allesforscher,”

There they are Gentle Reader, The German Book Prize shortlist, six authors, with six different viewpoints, tackling diverse subjects and themes.

http://www.dw.de/german-book-prize-announces-short-list/a-17911881

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Wild Cat

Hello Gentle Reader

Well Gentle Reader, the technical difficulties are no more. The problem has been solved. However, as one will notice with this blog in particular, that it mentions a seasonal change; and I do apologize for the lapse in temporal, in that it is being posted later than it was originally planned. Either way Gentle Reader it is good to be back; and it is nice to have the technical problems all figured out, and working again.

[ I ]

Closed on Account of Nostalgia

Reading is an intense love affair that only bibliophiles and the most avid of readers, will understand. Sometimes after reading there is a need for an almost post-coital cigarette. Jacques Poulin’s novel “Wild Cat,” required just that. After reading a hundred pages, nonchalantly over the course of a few nights, the last seventy-eight pages were devoured in frenzied, manic enjoyment. When the book ended there was a bitter sweet and melancholic realization that: this affair between book and reader had come to a startling – if a bit; expected end. While enjoying my ritual cigarette, there was a sneaky suspicion that the book realizing then, the end of the affair, would quietly slip out of my home and into the warm humid August night. The scent of backyard fires stinging the nose; would be a constant reminder of our time together. Their eyes would glaze over with nostalgia, come future Augusts, and they would be reminded of that blazing night that outshone the moon, and yet was quiet and all that more tender. Nostalgia however is always tinged with melancholy. Our affair based around a shared passion for words, the literary, and the enjoyment of the quiet beauty in its most sublime; could never have held the weight of a long lasting and committed relationship. Where this affair (that’s what it was), was an intense forest fire – it lacked the necessary winds to stoke the coals. It had to end like a, August day: hot and oppressive, which eventually cooled with the onslaught of night.

Autumn is around the corner. Soon the north wind will blow. The leaves will no longer sway as they have with the south wind. They will shiver and change colour, and eventually fall. Autumn brings a sense of trepidation with it. Autumn is the red carpet, before the arrival of winter. Winter is on the horizon. Jack Frost will have already made his rounds to crisp up the ground, and freeze the windows. Yet autumn is my favourite season. With its: long evenings and nights, inviting bonfires; and vibrant colours always around the bend.

[ II ]

“Wild Cat,” by the Quebec author Jacques Poulin, is a novel that toes the line of sentimentality and melodramatic, very often. However, it often catches itself just before crossing, and retreats back into self-restraint. The novel is about Jack, a professional ‘public writer,’ who writes letters, and documents for a living. His life is quiet, and there is nothing special about it. People come to him, to compose letters, and he provides that service to them. Whether it is helping create a lexicon of translated sports words into French; or consultation on helping to write a speech; or the personal and intimate love letter; Jack is your mine. His apartment is shared with his friend and ‘lover,’ Kim a psychologist and psychotherapist; who generally, works nights, so her patients to come see her; and generally up the fire escape as to not wake Jake on the level below. That is the amount of detail one is to expect from Poulin. His writing is restrained, to the point that details or unnecessary or complicated information becomes obsolete; as it would be considered pointless and meaningless data.

Reading Poulin, is reading a novel that has been compressed to the point, that the characters act as if being observed. Personal histories and back stories become rarities. There are few flashbacks, and when there are, they are snapshots. It would appear that Poulin’s characters have a, certain distrust for nostalgia and dwelling on the past. They live in the here and the now; and cannot be bothered to open up about their prior experiences. Yet there is not a sense that they are cold or distant characters; they are warm and receptive. Jack for example is timid, and passive in character. Yet with their lacking back stories at times, it becomes difficult to understand the characters relationships with each other. There is at times a miscommunication between the book and the reader, of how the characters interact. There is no neat organized explanation of the characters relationship. In fact the characters relationships are at best superficial. Yet the writing is calm and meditative. It’s constantly deliberating in its next move. One that happens without action or surprise. It happens in the most mundane ways possible. “Wild Cat,” is a novel without a traditional story. The storyline of Macha and the mysterious Old Man, who Jack takes a interest in, loosely define the book; but there is something to the book then just that.

In a sense reading “Wild Cat,” often came down to Jack’s experiences. His own pathetic (his words) attempts at being a detective; and shadowing the Old Man, trying to find out details of this mysterious gentlemen, who had come to ask for Jack’s assistance on writing a letter. A love letter nonetheless, that is to be sent to his absent wife. The rest of the novel is made up of everyday observations and details. Pretty Cat, for example makes continually appearances. Often lounging in the ‘cat tree,’ or devouring kibble, and cleaning off the plates of Kim and Jack. Pretty Cat, much like Mister Blue from Poulin’s other novel “Mister Blue,” is more a part of the scenery, then the citadel of Quebec. The cats of Poulin’s novels, are treated with compassion and fondness, but are observed, just as if one were observing the passing seasons.

Yet it is Poulin’s observations by his fictional characters, that I enjoy the most. The mundane is soon rendered to the mystical:

“The night was just beginning. Between the illuminated towers of the big hotels west of the parliament and the green and yellow diadem crowning the Chateau Frontenac along the St. Lawrence, there was evidence of night life in the lit up windows, the car headlights pouring onto the streets, and the moonlight shimmering on the tin roofs. Kim had told me one day that in Manichean belief, the moon was considered to be a ship that had the mission of once a month taking on board the final spark of life of those who were about to die and transporting it to the sun, thereby preventing it from being lost forever.”

If you are looking for an easy yet literary read: Poulin is the author that can deliver. However, do not expect the book to end neatly with every loose end quickly tied up. “Wild Cat,” is a short book, which amounts to one hundred and seventy eight pages long. It holds literary merit, and aesthetic value, with its minimalist cover of: royal blue and a small window of golden light with a precarious cat sitting, regal and reticent staring off in the distance. Despite its length, and the sparsity of its prose, it is a novel that plays its cards close to its chest; and does not completely reveal its mysteries. The novel itself is simply written – in a style that is Hemmingway-esque, yet it is far more gentle then Hemmingway’s prose. It appears more sincere; and less journalistic. The novel itself is filled with the ruminations, and meditations of the main character Jack. A lot is left unsaid in the novel, and this can be frustrating. But redemption comes with patience, and I suspect re-reading. For the novel is filled with beautiful descriptions and poignant observations. It deals with love in a manner that comes close to sentimentality; yet distances itself just as quick. The mundane observations and the eccentricities of the landscape and its characters, make the novel come alive such as: The Watchman, and the waitress Maria. The novel stands and supports itself on its subtle writing, its rooted sense of place, and its deliberating observations. There’s a feeling that in a Poulin novel that anything can be considered possible. Just be aware that, the behavior and connecting the dots of the characters interactions and motives, can be difficult to pin point and come to understand.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Tuesday 9 September 2014

The Booker Prize Shortlist

Hello Gentle Reader

This year’s Booker Prize with its ‘global reach,’ has turned out to be rather disappointing. Of the six shortlisted authors, two are American; two are female – which is surprising, taking how few female authors had made it onto the longlist; and the other four are men. What makes the list disappointing however is that David Mitchell and his new ambitious novel “The Bone Clocks,” did not get on the shortlist, despite being favoured to possibly win by many. It has been reported to have been his best novel since his groundbreaking novel “Cloud Atlas.” Once again however, the Booker Prize judges have decided to play it conservatively and safely; rather than award such a genre bending unique novel, with ambitions that is upsetting the literary establishment. In the end the shortlist as follows:

“To Rise Again At a Decent Hour,” by Joshua Ferris
“The Narrow Road to the Deep North,” by Richard Flanagan
“We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” by Karen Joy Fowler
“J,” by Howard Jacobson
“The Lives of Others,” by Neel Mukherjee
“How to Be Both,” by Ali Smith

In the end its another disappointing dud of a year, with no book that truly stands out as anything but the conventional, that screams the usual, of what to expect from English language prose.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Monday 8 September 2014

Claudio Magris wins FIL Prize

Hello Gentle Reader

[ a quick note Gentle Reader – I still have not recovered the lost data, but am still doing my best to recover it. ]

The Italian novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright and translator, has received this year’s FIL prize. The award itself goes to a romance language author, as a life achievement award. The Italian author and Germanophile Claudio Magris is the recipient of this year’s award. Many readers will know Magris for his monumental travelogue/drowned novel, “Danube,” that traces the Danube and its history; from its disputed beginning to its eventual conclusion. The book is rich with stories, culture, history, and a writing style that is engaging, warm, lyrical and not written in typical textbook style. Magris however has continued to write and translate, with novels, short stories, and essays under his best. The FIL jury released the following statement praising Magris:

“A thinker in diverse languages, Magris encapsulates the best humanist tradition by combining his own experience with the collective memory of the history of central Europe as a space for dialog between the cultures of the Danube and the Mediterranean.”

If “Danube,” states anything about Magris as a writer and a intellectual, it is that he is a thinker in the humanist traditions, of combining his own experience with the collective memory of history; but also taking the stories of history and the everyday and mixing them into a tapestry that showcases the diversity of the human experience.

Congratulations Claudio Magris

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary