The Press Gallery

K.I. Press on writing • literature • publishing

Category: Books

Books I Have Loved: Alice in Wonderland

I posted last year about my reluctance to see the Tim Burton Alice movie. I’m a die-hard original Alice fan, so I was afraid it would disappoint. Still haven’t seen it. Maybe during the holidays? In December? 2021?

Alice was another book I write about, more than once in my “book about books” book. What is it that makes me love Alice so much? (If I ever get another tattoo, I’m thinking on Alician lines.)

Hard to pin down, but I’ll take a stab (to combine two very sharp clichés), and I’m sure there are as many and varied reasons to love Alice out there as there are memorable characters and lines in the book. Getting ahead of myself.

1. Memorable characters.
At one point as a child I actually had a crush on the Mad Hatter (also on Hamlet, Stephen Dedalus, and some other literary characters, too).

2. Memorable lines—and I mean that literally.
I wrote last time around about how Jabberwocky was the first poem I memorized. I went on, around age 10, to memorize all the poems and songs in the two books. I can no longer remember all of them, but I try to keep in practice with “Jabberwocky” and with “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” Today I’m afraid most people don’t even know where the phrase “of cabbages and kings” comes from. Er, actually, I’m thinking maybe people don’t even use that phrase much any more, but that’s your loss, people.

An aside about me is that I was a kid who read obsessively rather than omnivorously, which is partly why I memorized things. I’ve always had a thing about reading a book that I like over and over again, rather than moving on to another one. This is probably why the shocking gaps in my reading knowledge, which we just won’t speak of.

3. It’s both silly and terrifying. It’s the imagination run off in all directions. And imagination is my greatest friend.

Those are my top three reasons. I’ve never seen the entirety of the Disney Alice movie, so I can’t blame that on sending me to the book (though that movie did leave us with the “unbirthday”—something decidedly not in the book, but a very useful cultural invention).

Which reminds me that I must run, because it’s my unbirthday, wouldn’t you know it, and it’s getting late.

Books I Have Loved: Jane Eyre

I’m starting an occasionally series of posts in which I can wax sappily about some of my favourite books. Kenton, before you ask me what a book is, I’ll point out that the one below, at least, is public domain and I’ve already downloaded it for free on my iPod, you know, just to have at my disposal at all times.

The first book up is Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. I’d already determined this when this blog post about why Mr. Rochester is a creep made the rounds of my linked-up literary friends. This made me feel kind of psychic (like Jane; see below).

Jane Eyre is one of those books reviled by folks who “had” to read it in high school. I did read it in school, but for fun rather than for profit. The first time I read it, I stayed up all night to get to the end as fast as I could. A page-turner for me, Jane Eyre. I was 14.

It’s one of the books I featured in my second book, Spine, a book about reading. I imagined a world in which Anne of Green Gables and Jane Eyre met, as adults, and complained. They turned out to be very self-centred voices, pleased to commiserate, but not really listening each to the other. I imagined how they did not, not, get happy endings; it’s just that we weren’t told about them in the books.

Jane Eyre, like Anne, is a heroine who runs into trouble because she’s intelligent, poor, and “plain” (at least, that was always my interpretation). That’s why she’s loved by mousy, nerdy girls. Unfortunately, and this is dealt with plenty elsewhere (see above link, among others), the Rochester figure as a hero merely encourages girls to love inconsiderate (among other things) bad boys.

Good on Jane, though, that when enough is enough—er, when she finds out that he’s been hiding his first wife in the attic, which, I’ve got to admit, she should have been kind of suspicious about earlier—she just says no and runs away, and narrowly escapes becoming a missionary in China.

Timothy Dalton: Better as Rochester, or as James Bond?

Here’s where the book did break down for me: it’s when she hears Rochester calling, “Jane! Jane!” and she knows she has to return to him, and it turns out that he was calling because his house was burning down (see first wife, above) and now he’s blind and therefore humble and no longer such a creep. (In my version, he was still a creep anyway, because if you think you can burn that out of a character, you are much mistaken).

It’s the only place the plot resorts to the supernatural, to Jane’s apparently limited telepathic ability, and I just didn’t buy it.

In today’s world, Jane would have just seen Rochester pop up on “suggested friends” and know that it was a sign.

Writer’s Gym ed. Eliza Clark

Cover of Writer's GymRecently come across my desk: Writer’s Gym: Exercises and Training Tips for Writers, edited by Eliza Clark.

A lot of creative writing “how-to” books land on my desk. I skim through most of them and maybe, if I’m lucky, pick out one or two exercises or examples I want to use in class. But really, those how-to books are usually stuffy, sometimes pompous, and almost always big and heavy and intimidating. They aren’t inviting, they don’t offer a good entry point for me (or, I think, for students).

Writer’s Gym is completely different, so much so that I am tempted to start assigning it as a textbook (except for that students could look ahead for the punchline of each exercise!).

For one thing, many of the writers who contributed are Canadian (like the editor, Eliza Clark, and the publisher, Penguin Canada). Not that that is in any way a requirement for a good creative writing book, but it’s a good entry point. The fact that I’ve met and/or actually read the books of a lot of the contributors at least makes me, the instructor, unusually enthusiastic about it as a textbook.

(Some of the contributors are Andrew Pyper, Michael Redhill, Steven Heighton, Priscila Uppal, Lee Gowan, Antanas Sileika, Greg Hollingshead, Marnie Woodrow, and Catherine Bush. The heavy-hitters include Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland, and Dave Eggers.)

The book, and the essays, are short and pithy. (The book is less than 200 pages.) Because it’s an anthology, the exercises exhibit great variety in style and approach, something that’s often missing from the same-old how-to books. Some of my current favourites are Dave Eggers’s exercise (in which students interview each other and then put their classmates in stories as fictional characters), Andrew Pyper’s (in which clichés are ruthlessly exposed), and Steven Heighton’s (in which great prose is cluttered up and then de-cluttered again).

Look for those exercises in a classroom near you.