Book Club Notes: April

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For the month of April we are delighted to welcome author Cordelia Strube to lead our Book Club! She invites us to read Kate Caley’s How You Were Born. Here is why she chose this book.


I hadn’t read Kate Caley’s work before pulling How You Were Born from a box, one of ten or so boxes delivered to me as a juror for the Trillium Book Award.  Jury duty in the literary world expands the margins of writers’ minds because we are forced to read books that we might not otherwise have noticed, not because the books aren’t good but because we haven’t heard about them.  An independent publisher as outstanding as Pedlar Press does not have a publicity punch equal to that of corporate-powered Random House.  Jurors are given the opportunity to see beyond the packaging and promo and assess books from all publishers, large and small, that meet the award’s submission guidelines. get-to-know-them-first-how-you-were-born-short-stories-by-kate-cayley_alu_blogfeatured

Testing the pulse of each literary work, we diligently wend our way through the big name authors, best sellers and award winners as well as the emerging or lesser known ones.  Occasionally we are gobsmacked by a book so masterful that we write it down immediately in felt marker, alongside the penciled titles.  Kate Caley’s collection How You Were Born was such a marvel for me.  Two years later, her stories Boys and The Fetch continue to linger in my imagination.  Her skill as a playwright is richly evident in her use of dialogue.  Characters are revealed through behaviours and their use of settings, enabling us to learn about Caley’s worlds as her characters move through them.  Her use of specific, animate detail never slows the narrative and eases us into the complexity of the human condition.  With grace and pathos, Caley teases out unexpected insights, connections, dark secrets and moments of transcendence.

How You Were Born well deserved the Trillium Book Award.


Strube, Cordelia _by Mark Raynes RobertsCordelia Strube is an accomplished playwright and the author of nine critically acclaimed novels, including Alex & Zee, Teaching Pigs to Sing, and Lemon. Winner of the CBC literary competition and a Toronto Arts Foundation Award, she has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Book Award, the WH Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. A two-time finalist for ACTRA’s Nellie Award celebrating excellence in Canadian broadcasting, she is also a three-time nominee for the ReLit Award. Her latest work On The Shores Of Darkness, There Is Light won the City of Toronto Book Award.

The Roads Taken: place, plot and process

By Brianna Goldberg

“I just started writing and writing until I had a 300 page blob,” said Andri Snær Magnason of his award-winning novel, LoveStar, “and then I started un-writing.” And it was this process of un-writing, revealing how authors discovered the narrative paths their stories have followed and all the many ones abandoned along the way, that was the focus of Saturday evening’s round table discussion, The Roads Taken.

Steven W. Beattie, Emma Donoghue, Andri Snær Magnason, Alix Ohlin and Cordelia Strube at IFOA 2012 © readings.org

At the table was a varied bunch: Emma Donoghue, Irish-Canadian author of award-winning novels including Room and the new historical short fiction collection, Astray; Alix Ohlin, author of the Giller-nominated novel Inside, about a Montreal therapist and a man who attempts to hang himself, and a recent short story collection, Signs and Wonders; Magnason, the Icelandic renaissance man who has directed documentaries as well as written fiction (such as the above-mentioned LoveStar), non-fiction, plays, best-selling collections of poetry (yes, you read that correctly—best-selling poetry) and children’s books such as The Story of the Blue Planet; and Cordelia Strube, award-winning playwright and author of eight novels, including her latest, Milosz, about a friendship between a man and a young autistic boy.

With a group as diverse as the one gathered, and a topic as wide as the process of writing, demands on the moderator are great if the audience is to fully understand and engage in the conversation. Thankfully, Steven W. Beattie, writer, critic and reviews editor for Quill & Quire magazine, was at the helm, steering the conversation with confidence as well as a deep knowledge of each of the authors’ works.

Much of the evening’s talk emerged from the dichotomy of intuition versus structure at the beginning of a project. While Ohlin said she arrives at the realization of her stories “spastically, through intuition,” Donoghue admitted that if she followed her intuition alone she would be able to write no more than a one-page story. Strube described her desire to fully disappear into the world of the novel she creates, befriending the characters and totally living in their world for years at a time, and that this desire structures her whole approach to writing a story. Ohlin and Donoghue, though, said they enjoy the freedom of the short story format to take risks such as experimenting with new genres or bizarre constructs.

Ohlin also recounted advice she once received from an agent, suggesting she remove Canadian references that might make her work more difficult to market in the USA. She said that the stories this approach resulted in felt, to her, shallow and generic, and that she now prefers to feature details like the word “depanneur” in her work, as it is the challenge of using such culturally specific terms in an accessible and meaningful way that makes a story compelling.

Cordelia Strube added that she feels a responsibility to reflect such specific cultural details, believing it is the job of a writer to “document our time.” Donoghue, meanwhile, admitted that in writing she desires “the freedom to travel” to different eras and different geographies, which certainly opens access to a whole new set of roads to take.

Find out more about Goldberg on her website, or follow her on Twitter @b_goldberg.