Kimbofo reviews ‘ 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl’

September 26, 2016 by

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat GirlWell, this seems rather meta, writing about my own review published on my own site.

It also seems rather fortunate that the one book I managed to read from the Giller Prize longlist just so happens to have made the shortlist.

Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is a short story collection disguised as a novel. It charts one woman’s trajectory from chubby teen to a painfully thin woman whose weight loss has not made her happy: she’s hungry and angry all the time and her relationships, particularly with her husband and work colleagues, are strained.

As I wrote in my review:

It mines a dark psychological seam of people who have an unhealthy relationship with food. It’s wry and funny, but also unsettling, for not only does Awad turn her sharp, perceptive eye towards the all-consuming issue of weight control, she also focuses on how this affects relationships between mothers and daughters, female friends, colleagues, sexual partners and the people we marry.

To read my review in full, please visit my blog, Reading Matters.

Has anyone else read this book? Do you think it will win the Giller Prize when the winner is announced on 7 November?

2016 Giller Prize shortlist

September 26, 2016 by

The wait is over! Earlier today the 2016 Giller Prize shortlist was announced.

The list is as follows:

  • Mona Awad for her novel 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
  • Gary Barwin for his novel Yiddish for Pirates
  • Emma Donoghue for her novel The Wonder
  • Catherine Leroux for her novel The Party Wall
  • Madeleine Thien for her novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing
  • Zoe Whittall for her novel The Best Kind of People

The Shadow Giller jury will now swing into full reading and reviewing mode as we try to determine who we think should be the winner. We will announce our chosen title a few days before the official winner is named on Monday 7 November.

In the meantime, if you are on Twitter we’re happy to announce that we have set up a Shadow Giller account. You can follow us @ShadowGiller. Please use the hashtag #ShadowGiller

Naomi reviews The Party Wall

September 21, 2016 by

While we wait for the shortlist to be announced next Monday, members of the Shadow Giller jury are reading a few titles from the longlist.

The Party WallNaomi has kicked off her Giller reading with Catherine Leroux’ The Party Wall, the only translated title on the list and one which has already won a prestigious award: the France-Quebec Prize.

Naomi says the novel, which was translated by Lazer Lederhendler,  “is more rewarding the less you know about it”— and her review, which does not give anything way, makes the case for reading creative forms of storytelling:  The Party Wall is made up of interconnected stories.

Connections between the stories are fun, but they’re not the only reason to read this book. The writing is wonderful. And the stories are strong enough to stand alone, or show their connection through theme; duality and siblings are strong themes in this book, in unique and surprising ways.

To read Naomi’s review in full, please visit her blog, Consumed by Ink.

It will be interesting to see whether this one makes the cut. Anyone else read it? Do your views chime with Naomi’s?

The Shadow Jury is back for 2016!

September 12, 2016 by

Shadow Giller logo

Hello, this is Kim from Reading Matters once again. I’m pleased to let you know…

**drum roll, please**

…that the Shadow Giller Jury has decided to return for 2016!

Ever since the longlist was announced last week, we’ve been talking behind the scenes to see whether it was possible to shadow the prize again without our much-loved chairman to guide us along. It feels bittersweet to continue what has become an annual tradition without Kevin steering the ship, but we felt it was the best way to honour him and I’m sure it’s something he would like us to do given that championing Canadian literature was so dear to his heart. And, as the kicker says on Kevin’s banner above, “the show must go on…”

(Regular visitors will know that Kevin chaired a “shadow jury” since year two of the Giller — you can find the story of its history here.)

The make up of this year’s jury will be slightly different to previous years. I will be continuing as per usual, as will Alison Gzowski, who is an editor at The Globe and Mail. Sadly, Trevor Berrett, who blogs at The Mookse and the Gripes, has decided to bow out owing to other commitments (he’s judging the Best Translated Book Award), though he may chime in with comments and perhaps review one or two shortlisted books on his blog. We are sad to see him go.

In his place, we’re excited to announce that Naomi MacKinnon, who blogs at Consumed by Ink, has agreed to take part in this year’s jury. Naomi, who is from Nova Scotia, is another enthusiastic champion of Canadian literature and if you haven’t discovered her wonderful blog yet, please do pop along and check it out.

During the course of Giller Prize season, Kevin’s blog will feature excerpts of reviews by Naomi (with links to the full version), I will crosspost my own reviews here and on my own blog, and Alison promises to contribute a few guest posts and be actively involved in the comments, too. Because of the short timing between the longlist and shortlist announcement, it’s unlikely we’ll be reviewing the entire longlist, but we will endeavour to read every title on the shortlist and take it from there…

In the long-established tradition of the Shadow Giller Jury, we will announce our winner a few days in advance of the official Giller Prize announcement on November 7.

Please do add comments and chime in with your own thoughts on the titles as we review them. Taking part in the Shadow Giller has always been a highlight of my reading year, but it’s made all the better when booklovers from across the world jump in and take part.

2016 Giller Prize longlist

September 8, 2016 by

It’s that time of year again: the longlist for the Giller Prize has been announced.

The list comprises 10 novels and two short story collections by a mix of mainstream publishers and independent presses.

The list is as follows (hyperlinks take you to publisher websites):

  • Mona Awad for her novel 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, published by Penguin Canada
  • Gary Barwin for his novel Yiddish for Pirates, published by Random House Canada
  • Andrew Battershill for his novel Pillow, published by Coach House Books
  • David Bergen for his novel Stranger, published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
  • Emma Donoghue for her novel The Wonder, published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
  • Catherine Leroux for her novel The Party Wall, published by Biblioasis International Translation Series, translated by Lazer Lederhendler
  • Kathy Page for her story collection The Two of Us, published by A John Metcalf Book, an imprint of Biblioasis
  • Susan Perly for her novel Death Valley, published by Buckrider Books, an imprint of Wolsak and Wynn Publishers
  • Kerry Lee Powell for her story collection Willem De Kooning’s Paintbrush, published by HarperAvenue, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
  • Steven Price for his novel By Gaslight, published by McClelland & Stewart
  • Madeleine Thien for her novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada
  • Zoe Whittall for her novel The Best Kind of People, published by House of Anansi Press Inc.

The shortlist will be announced on Monday 26 September, and the winner of the $100,000 prize named on Monday 7 November.

To find out more about the Scotiabank Giller Prize, please visit the official website.

KfC — a transition

April 9, 2016 by

Dear Friends of KfC,

This is MrsKfC, and I would first like to thank everyone for the heartfelt, gracious comments on this blog in response to Trevor’s touching post announcing the death of my beloved husband, KevinfromCanada. Your tributes were so comforting to our family and friends, and helped us understand the impact this blog has had.

Several people said that although they felt they knew Kevin very well from his blog, they didn’t know what he looked like, and wished they had had a chance to meet him. So, here is a picture of the KfCs in the best of times:

The KfCs: Sheila and Kevin

 

And to hear what Kevin sounded like, please click here.

This is from CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers, an esteemed journalist in Canada, who followed this blog for its whole life. She is a fantastic person, and a good friend of the KfCs, but more importantly, an advocate for and supporter of Canadian literature. In this piece broadcast in 2011, she and Kevin explore the origin of the blog, and his thoughts about Canlit in general.

And for those people who said they wished they had met Kevin, I will tell you about him.

He was brilliant. He had an astonishing memory, and retained everything he ever heard or read. He was generous of spirit, and took everyone as he found them. He always looked for the best in people, and his default setting was to believe they were well intentioned and ethically motivated. He was very generous.

Most of you know the story about the Hudson’s Bay blanket he sent to Dovegrey Reader in the UK. When he told me about it, I wasn’t really surprised, as he was always giving of his time and his treasure.

He loved sending people books, especially if they had young children. He spent a long time thinking about the exact right books for people, and ordered nicely bound hard cover editions to be sent to them.

He sponsored several artists who were struggling by providing “loans” to them so they could finish something that was important to them. When they offered to repay  him, he asked them to pay it forward some time with someone else.

He mentored countless people, during his career and after, and always cheered for them to succeed.

He was non-judgemental and kind. When we had our horse racing business, there was a rogue named Jake the Rake who hung around at the track. He was a mooch of epic proportions, and knew Kevin was a soft touch. Kevin put him on an allocation of four beers a night so Jake would go away and stop interfering with his handicapping.  When Jake got too obnoxious (his speciality), Kevin would fine him by suspending his beer for two or three nights. Jake took his suspension very well, and on the stroke of the minute the suspension was lifted he would be back, and Kevin would pony up again. This cycle repeated itself for years. The truth is, Jake was an alcoholic whose life was seriously off the rails. Kevin recognized that Jake needed someone to be kind to him, and never judged him or tried to “fix” him. He bought him four beers a night. That’s how he was.

Kevin had a wonderful sense of humor, and could be very goofy. Whenever I went to the grocery store, the rubbish bin, to China or hiking in the Rockies, he would always mimic Vera Lynne and warble “I’ll Be Seeing You” as I left. His singing voice was brutal, but that didn’t matter.  I loved that.

He was always very proud of my accomplishments, and supported me in every way in every endeavor.

His illness was a nightmare. For 17 months he suffered every single day. He never once complained, and was brave and dignified throughout. When he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, he said two things:

  • “I will never mourn for the life I don’t get to live. I’ll be happy for the great life I have lived.”
  •  “This is going to be hard, Sheila. Above all, we have to be dignified.”

That was KevinfromCanada. He was very modest, and he would be gobsmacked by all the accolades, the tributes and the outpouring of affection.

As for me, I am so privileged to have been MrsKfC for 40 years, and I am grateful to have this forum to pay tribute to Kevin, and to give you a sense of who he was.

He loved this blog. I know he would have wanted it to continue to be a place where people can come and have genuine conversations about books that really matter. I am thrilled that this blog will continue under the leadership of three of KFC’s favorite people: Trevor Berrett, whose own blog Mookse and the Gripes you probably all know; Kim Forrester, who you also know from her blog Reading Matters; and Alison Gzowski, a gifted editor, friend of KfC and expert on Canadian literature.

These three friends are all members of the last Shadow Giller jury Kevin selected, and I know he would be thrilled to hand over KevinfromCanada to their keeping. I look forward to watching this blog thrive in its new life, and I know Kevin would too.

With love,

Mrs KfC.

A tangible way to honour Kevin

April 7, 2016 by

Hello all,

This is Kim from Reading Matters. It’s been a difficult week for those of us coming to terms with Kevin’s passing. Even though we may never have met him in person, we have all developed individual relationships with him via this blog and our shared love of literature.

I asked Sheila, his wife, whether there was some tangible way that Kevin’s online friends could honour him; was there a charity, for instance, that people could support?

This was Sheila’s response:

“We are asking that people donate to Bow Valley College’s 1000 Women Rising.

“This  is a fund that Kevin and I made a large donation to in order to help get it started last June. Bow Valley College is a wonderful institution that caters to immigrants who are trying to get accreditation to get jobs and start their lives in Canada. Many of the students are single mothers, who have come here to make a better world for themselves and their children.

“The 1000 Women Rising fund was set up to help women overcome that very last barrier to getting a job. Once they graduate, they might need child care, transportation to an interview, accent mitigation help, interview skills workshop, some personal grooming help…etc etc. We love the idea that a small barrier, which must seem insurmountable, can be knocked down by providing a person with the modest monetary resource they need for that last step. We also love the idea that by making the money available, the women feel that the community has their back, and we WANT them to be successful and have a wonderful life here in Calgary.

“Kevin used to be on the board of Bow Valley College. He would come home from board meetings and go on and on about how much he loved the place, because the students were so determined, and were heroic in overcoming so many barriers to pursue their dreams.”

Sheila also said that during Kevin’s illness, many of the caregivers — at home, in the hospital and in the hospice —  were graduates from Bow Valley College’s Licensed Practical Nurse program. That, alone, is a wonderful reason to support it in whichever way you can — no donation is too small.

To find out more about the charity, please visit the official website.

To make a donation, please click here.

If you’re on social media do feel free to use the hashtag #1KWR to raise awareness of the charity.

Dear Friends

April 1, 2016 by

Dear friends of KevinfromCanada,

This is Trevor Berrett from The Mookse and the Gripes blog. I’m so sad and heavy-hearted to let you know that, after a lengthy illness, Kevin passed away on Wednesday evening. We will miss his enthusiasm, his intelligence, and his kindness. I know many of you have already heard the news, and words of sadness, love, and appreciation have been flowing.

I first ran into Kevin back in 2008 on the now defunct Man Booker Prize forum. He dove into those conversations with gusto, unafraid to voice his opinion and push others to articulate theirs as well. He loved to read and to talk about books. I was just starting my blog, my career, and my family, and Kevin befriended me and encouraged and supported me in every aspect. Though he was the one experiencing physical pain and eventually fighting cancer, he was always upbeat, clever, funny, and amiable, even when pushing me out of my comfort zone.

I was excited when Kevin started his own blog — this one — in January 2009. Because he had already become a part of the community, there were many welcoming voices, thrilled that Kevin had his own platform we could come to for steady and solid conversations about books. He didn’t let us down, posting over 500 reviews here in the next few years. Looking back at his first review just now, a review of Patrick McCabe’s The Holy City, I chuckled when I saw the first comment from his lovely wife, Sheila:

I am Kevin’s wife, and am much relieved to see that he has been “pursuing his joy” and blogging about great literature. I was a little afraid he was a drug dealer, or perhaps running some hedge fund from his computer, given all the time he has devoted to his workstation.

Imagine my relief — I can certainly relate to how Harold Nicholson must have felt.

Sheila frequently commented to encourage Kevin and to befriend his readers.

On this blog and through private correspondence, Kevin engaged lovingly and passionately with the online reading community. For me, relationships with people like Kevin, that are deeply meaningful regardless of the miles between our homes, are the best parts of having an online book community. The books are great, but it’s sharing them that really counts.

To that end, not long after I met Kevin he started sending me books by Canadian authors. I am not the only person to receive such a package from Canada. Kevin was proud of his country’s literature, and he introduced me to many authors I’ve been following ever since. Soon he invited me to join him, Alison Gzowski, and Kim Forrester on the Shadow Giller Jury, giving me the wonderful opportunity to engage with Canadian literature and, even better, discuss it with the group.

I’m thankful he was my friend for the past eight years. He’s been a force for good in my life and in the book blogging community, touching many of us through genuine friendship that went beyond the books themselves. I will miss him.

Below are some words from other people Kevin befriended and supported, often with but not limited to wonderful discussions about books.

Alison Gzowski: I met Kevin (and his wonderful wife Sheila) for the first time in Chester, Nova Scotia. They were friends of my father and his partner and I’d heard so much about them that I would have been intimidated . . . but in minutes somehow Kevin mentioned that he’d read and loved Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I don’t think anyone else there had even heard of that book and we were off to the races, starting a reading friendship that is decades old. And it was more than just reading of course, though his passion for reading opened up worlds to me. He was a wise advisor, a helpful friend and great company. Even when what he said took me by suprise. Once about three years or so ago I went to Iceland and somehow boarded in Toronto and landed in Reykjavik with a passport that had expired six years earlier. After the airport police released me, I had to go to the Canadian embassy and apply for a document so I would be able to fly home eventually. The woman there, named Elizabeth, sat me in her office and said I had to get four people to vouch for me over the phone. I called Kevin first. I told him the problem, passed the receiver to  Elizabeth who put him on speaker phone. She asked how we knew each other (through my dad, but now the Giller). What I did for a living. Check. Then asked him to describe me physically. “Well, you can tell that she doesn’t go to a gym, and she looks like she doesn’t believe in hair salons.” Once again he nailed it!

Kim Forester: I never met Kevin personally, but I felt like I knew him. We often exchanged emails about books we’d read or ones to look out for, but our online friendship went beyond literature: he used to provide excellent career advice when my own journalistic career went through a few bumps in the road. His wisdom and kindness always shone through, and he was always very encouraging. I imagine he would have been inspiring to work for. It was through Kevin that I discovered an interest in Canadian literature. When he asked me to participate in the Shadow Giller Prize in 2011 I was honoured and delighted: it promptly became the highlight of my reading year. I will particularly miss Kevin’s blog. His reviews were insightful, erudite and forthright, and I have him to blame for an ever-growing pile of novels I bought on his recommendation. The book blogging world won’t be the same without him.

Linda Grant: Kevin was a man after my own heart, a journalist with an enormous love of and understanding of literature. He read to understand, to make sense of, and of course for pleasure, but with his newsman’s ear he seemed to sort through the rubbish and find what was worthwhile. I only met him once, when I was speaking at the Calgary literature festival. We spent an entertaining few hours in his study where he mined me for information about the literary scene in Britain. He was confined to a small space but commanded everywhere with his intelligence and curiosity.

Max Cairnduff: Kevin’s was one of the first voices I started to follow online in the world of literary blogging. He wrote with all the skill and insight you’d expect of a veteran newsman, and with a warmth and sense of humour that made him an essential read. Conversations with Kevin inspired me to start my own literary blog, and I know he did the same for others. Those blogs he inspired in turn helped inspire a few more, which makes Kevin part of them too. His words continue to ripple out, inspiring people in some cases who never read him but whose own efforts have been encouraged by those who were first encouraged by Kevin. Kevin helped introduce me to Rocky Mountain Cuisine and to a wealth of great literature. He was a fine and good man and will be much missed.

Lee Monks: Kevin was a fantastic guy. His excellent blog was always a great place to find things to add to the TBR pile, and I always looked forward to another of his affable, pellucid reviews. You felt his love for literature in the reviews of books he didn’t like as much as those he did; he always managed to suggest sadness that he couldn’t be more positive about something. There seems to be fewer and fewer people as passionate as Kevin was about literature. His example is there to be followed, and I hope there are enough willing to follow it. I had fun corresponding with Kevin intermittently, on all manner of subjects. But the turn of all conversations always veered back to books, of course. He had 4,000 of them in his basement; I wish I’d wandered around in there with him just once, and I’ll always regret never meeting him, but it was privilege enough to know I could email him from time to time and get the usual generous response. He will be sadly missed by an enormous number of people, which tells its own story. Thank you, Kevin.

The 2015 Shadow Giller winner is…

November 8, 2015 by

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…Martin John, by Anakana Schofield.

First a note on this year’s judging. I sampled all five short list titles but my medical condition meant I finished none and did not take part in the balloting. Again this year, each juror was given 100 points to disperse and here were the results:

Kim — Archibald 40, Schofield 35, Cusk 10, O’Neill 9, Alexis 6

Alison — Schofield 24, Alexis 20, Cusk 20, Archibald 19, O’Neill 17

Trevor — O’Neill 30, Schofield 25, Cusk 20, Archibald 15, Alexis 10

Totals: Schofield 84, Archibald 74, O’Neill 56 , Cusk 50, Alexis 36

My observation would be that it was an evenly matched bunch, with no one title rising above the others. We opted to go with the Schofield because both Trevor and Kim said they were happy with it as a choice.

You can find Kim’s full review here — here’s an excerpt that I think captures her thoughts:

If I’m making the book sound a bit oppressive, I don’t mean to. The serious nature of the crimes committed here (none of which, by the way, are ever trivialised) are lightened by humour. The prose is ripe with witty remarks and ridiculously funny, if absurd, situations, so much so that you can’t help but feel a little empathy for Martin John. Yes, he’s manipulative, yes, he’s a liar, yes, he harms others, but somewhere along the line you realise it could all be stopped if he received the right treatment, for Martin John is not normal.

And Trevor had this to say: I wouldn’t mind if this one won, and it battled for the first spot on my own list. On the one hand, it was the most compelling read, and the compulsion to keep reading was helped by the streamlined style as we go through the fragmented thoughts of a sexual offender and those who must associate with him.

With that, we turn things over to the Real Jury. They have shown a taste for the experimental in their choices so far — who knows how that will play out next Tuesday.

2015 Giller Prize shortlist

October 5, 2015 by

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Here’s the official Giller Prize shortlist for this year:

  • Fifteen Dogs, by Andre Alexis
  • Arvida , by Samuel Archibald
  • Outline, by Rachel Cusk
  • Daydreams of Angels, by Heather O’Neill
  • Martin John, by Anakana Schofield
  • The Shadow Jury doesn’t have much to say about the choice: except for Kim’s reading of Fifteen Dogs (which she didn’t like at all) and Alison’s reading of Outline (which she liked), none of us have read the other three. I’m a bit surprised to see two short story collections, Archibald and O’Neill.

    Now the serious work begins for the Shadow Jury. I’m hoping to get to the entire shortlist.


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