Works of fiction appearing here are © 2011-2016 by Jack H. Tyler, and are not to be assumed to lie in the public domain.
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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fun Between the Covers

          Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends...  Oh, sorry, you caught me singing to myself; never a pretty sight.  As promised last time, this post is going to be about "Books and Literature."  Take note of the title, as it's catchy enough to be used a lot.  I shall begin with my review of one of the most delightful books it has ever been my pleasure to stumble across, and you'll be pleased and surprised, I think, to find that no elves, dwarves, orcs, or halflings reside therein.

          The book is Pirate's Passage (2006, Trumpeter Books) by William Gilkerson.  Mr. Gilkerson is a sailor, painter, journalist, historian, and adventurer.  Oh, and a rollicking good writer, author of the novel Ultimate Voyage, as well as ten non-fiction books on nautical topics, and his paintings are internationally acclaimed as among the finest of contemporary maritime art.  He did the simple yet elegant pen-and-ink drawings that are scattered throughout this book, and they add significant immediacy to the tale while neither becoming a distraction, nor giving away bits of the action.  He lives on the shore of Nova Scotia, where much of the book's action is set, and goes sailing aboard the Elly, his ancient cutter.  This book, Pirate's Passage, won the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature (Canada), and the New York Library Association "Book of the Season" Award (US).  The Canada Council for the Arts describes this as "a challenging children's novel with a dangerous edge."  I couldn't improve on that with any amount of effort, though I place its target audience closer to the adolescent market, probably 12-16.  Whatever you do, don't let that rob you of one of the most delightful reading experiences you'll ever have.  There is a bibliophile at work who I frequently exchange books with.  He typically keeps one for a couple of weeks, and then I find it back on my desk.  This one was back in two days.  "Didn't you like it?" I asked.  "Finished it," he replied.  "I couldn't put it down!"

          The story purports to be the memoir of an old man, Jim Hawkins, which he admits is an alias, lifted directly from Treasure Island.  He tells of the winter of 1952, when he was a miserable twelve-year old growing up in the tiny fishing town of Grey Rocks Harbour, Nova Scotia.  His widowed mother runs the town's historic inn, and struggles to make ends meet.  She is in debt to the local fatcat, who has his eye on the inn, and would like nothing better than to foreclose.  The fatcat has sons and daughters.  The daughters ridicule and humiliate young Jim every chance they get; the sons bully him daily.  Their family has a large mongrel dog who runs loose, and believes that young Jim is a delicacy on his personal menu.  His mother employs a waitress, Meg, a sassy teen who Jim secretly adores; she openly scorns him.  Every adult who survived the age of twelve will tell you, "That was my life!"
          Into this rocky port, from the teeth of a winter storm, sails a small, dishevelled boat, the Merry Adventure.  The boat, despite being beaten down to a near hulk, by some combination of skill and luck makes a perfect landing, and disgorges an ancient mariner who introduces himself as Captain Charles Johnson.  Jim's life will never be the same.  The Captain knows things that no one could know.  He knows where to find a long-forgotten treasure in the sea caves under the point.  He knows how to make the Moener Brothers turn their limited wits to things other than harassing young Jim.  He knows how to deal with surly dogs.  He preaches evasion (Never fight a battle you don't have to win?), but when all the options are exhausted, he knows how to unerringly attack an opponent's weakest point.

          But Captain Johnson's true talent is spinning a yarn.  He talks of pirates, admirals, kings and queens in a way that makes it sound like he knew them personally.  When he describes the tense pirate crew hiding below decks, waiting for the right moment to ambush a Royal Navy boarding party, it isn't just a tale.  Young Master Hawkins, and you, the reader, are right there, watching through the gratings, hand clutched painfully tight on the hilt of your cutlass, smelling the rum-soaked breath of the man next to you.  When the fight starts, and the Captain describes the blow you take on the head from a hardwood belaying pin, you feel it; you lie on the deck amid the swirling feet of desperate men struggling for their lives; you bleed.  Is it all just the spell of a skilled storyteller, or has he somehow transported Jim (and you) back two hundred years to sail with Blackbeard's crew?

          A historical digression:  There was indeed a Captain Charles Johnson, or someone who used that name, who in 1724 published a book entitled A General History of the Pyrates, which remains to this day the cornerstone of all our knowledge of these colorful characters from that time in history.  Remarkable, as Charles Johnson is clearly a pseudonym, and no one to this day knows who he was.  A line of research in the 1960s seemed to suggest that the author of this tome was Daniel Defoe, of Robinson Crusoe fame, but that has since been discredited.  Nonetheless, the book has seldom, if ever, been out of print in close to three centuries.

          The seductive, teasing suggestion made in the book is that the Captain Johnson who climbed off the Merry Adventure to change the life of twelve-year old Jim Hawkins forever is actually the same Captain Johnson who wrote the book on pirates 227 years previous.  Of course, that would be impossible, wouldn't it?  Because nobody lives that long, do they?  The genius of this work is that Gilkerson doesn't overtly announce that magic is at work, nor does he explicitly announce that this is or isn't the case; he weaves a tightly crafted narrative spanning 362 pages, and after you have "examined the evidence," as it were, you are invited to draw your own conclusions.  This is truly a book in which the outcome will reflect the outlook and experiences of the reader, and as a wanna-be author myself, I cannot imagine a greater achievement.  The book is readily available, and inexpensive to boot, on line and in stores.  It is truly a delightful experience, a magnificent escape, and dare I say, too good for just kids!  Buy it.  Read it.  You can thank me later...

          My other book for this post is a complete change of pace, and it is my honor, and my pleasure to be able to review a book by my good friend Kristine.  In this age of blogs, tweets, and Facebook pages, there is a tendency to grossly overuse the word "friend," and in fact, I have questioned on these pages whether someone you know through a random photograph and a dozen lines of text is deserving of that particular term.  Now, Kristine and I live on opposite sides of the Pacific Rim, and as of this moment, the only way we are ever likely to meet is if a tsunami washes one of us up on the other's favorite beach.  Nonetheless...  Kristine and I have recently had our relationship tested by the antics of an arrogant horse's ass who probably lacks the grace to wash his hands after he uses the bathroom; we have emerged from that particular unpleasantness with our relationship closer and stronger than it was before, so I'm sticking with "friend."

          Kristine Ong Muslim's new book is We Bury the Landscape (2012, Queen's Ferry Press), subtitled An Exhibition-Collection.  It is an apt description.  I have never encountered anything quite like it; in all fairness, I have the reading tastes of a twelve-year old boy, but nonetheless, I do have some awareness of things beyond my nose, and this is so unique that you'd think I would have heard of it if it was out there.  What the lady has done is to study, examine, get a feel for a painting, some famous, some new, or by new artists, and once she has wrapped her head around what it says to her, she has then written a flash story, or prose-poem about it.  The story has nothing to do with the life of the painter, or what the painting is meant to represent, or how it was painted, or any of the things typically found in a book about paintings.  It is visceral, compelling, possibly a bit controversial (though controversy, as always, resides with the reader), and invites you, the reader, to step into the art and examine what it says to you.  There are 100 of these little essays contained between the very colorful covers of her book.  The paintings are not included, which is not a problem if you have a computer (which you do if you're reading this); just Google them, and there they are.  I am in the process of savoring one essay each day.  Sometimes I look at the painting first, and try to imagine what a mind of the opposite gender from another culture might make of it.  Other times, I read the essay first, then look at the painting.  I think I prefer this latter method.  I always seem to get the added benefit of a belly-laugh or a sharp gasp of surprise when I do it this way.  The stories run from a few lines to slightly over a page in length.  None of them are challenging reads, but they will burden your mind with challenging ideas; I like that.  I'm going to reproduce one of the shortest essays here, along with the painting, to whet your appetite for this work, because I lack the words to fully describe what I'm so deeply enjoying, and you should have a complete understanding of what this is, because you need this book on your short list.  It is unthinkable that anyone who likes a good read should miss this!

          Allow me to present, then, Startled Emu, after John Olsen's Startled Emus:

          "The hunter crouched in the bushes.  A cramp was starting to form in his left leg.  When the shot rang out, the emu assumed it was the target.  Being the center of attention meant being the first to die.  It was the hereditary conditioning of prey.  Panic caused its lopsidedness, a dainty stick figure with no ambition.  It sprinted.  It would never look back, would never, even for a second, turn to discover which of its companions lagged behind."


          There are 99 more stories waiting to be savored in this delightful little work, and I can't recommend it strongly enough.  There is something here for every taste, and I'm certain that no one who takes on this very interesting read will be disappointed.

          It might be natural to assume that, given the relationship I so proudly described with the author, that I'm gilding the lily in this review.  Don't.  I don't review things that I don't like, and if I tried, I wouldn't have the skill to hide it from you.  The fact that Kristine is a charming wit who apparently shares her tropical home with some very territorial ghosts only adds to the fun.  Kristine Ong Muslim works in various short forms, chapbooks, short stories, and poetry, and has literally hundreds of pieces published in collections and magazines all over the world.  She has won too many awards to list here, and garnered many more prestigious nominations and honorable mentions.  She is also a cherished denizen of the Hideout, and I carry a permanent link to her website in the sidebar @ Kristine Ong Muslim; I'm not trying to hide her!

          It has been a not-so-secret ambition of my adult life to be a published author, and I always thought that if I ever met one, I would be consumed with jealousy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  This young lady is delightful!  Do yourself a favor and pay her a visit.  She'll pique your interest, make you think, or tickle your funny bone, but you won't come away unchanged, and you won't be sorry...  You have my word on it!

Hideout Happenings

          Heard on the BBC:  A firm in England is working on a pair of glasses that contains a head-up display on the lens to give you information about the world around you.  Ultimately, the individual user will be able to tailor them to his or her own needs, from running a guided tour of a strange city to highlighting the nearest repair shop when your car breaks down.  GPS, a breeze.  Restaurant reviews printed on your lens on demand.  Where can a diabetic purchase a supply of insulin in an emergency?  They'll tell you.  The other edge of that sword, as you might expect, is marketing.  See, at the other end of the transceiver is a piece of software that will track everywhere this pair of glasses goes, everything the wearer's eye lingered over, and what you were looking at when your pupils dilated!  Think tailored ads on your computer screen are annoying?  Tekkies are going to love this!  Privacy advocates, maybe not so much.

          Blog surfing Monday night, ran across a site taking the position that blogs are a dying breed, in the process of being replaced by Facebook.  To put up a blog post, the premise goes, takes time, preparation, dedication, and some degree of intelligence.  Facebook doesn't.  That, at least, is true.  I know I spend hours preparing this stuff you see here.  I'm generally proud of my content, and thrilled when somebody takes the time to read, and if I'm really lucky, comment on my work.  Facebook works well for those who think that a coat of paint represents depth.  Seriously, ten hours doing research and preparation for a blog post, or ten seconds to post a snapshot of what you had for breakfast, with an in-depth commentary like "Eggs were greasy - Coffee to die for!"  The difference is, Facebookers, nobody really gives a $#!+ what you had for breakfast.  I go around the blogosphere, and find blog after blog whose most recent entry is three years ago, and I realize now that these are people who lacked enough substance to bring anything meaningful to the table; they moved on to Facebook because they found it to be just their speed.  The ones who are still around are the ones whose minds need more than "OMG just saw cutest shoes - must return payday, LOL!"  So, I'll be around for the foreseeable future, mining the blogs in search of the next Nerd Lunch, the next Raising a Revolutionary, the next Back to the Keep.  They're out there, and one by one, I'm finding them.  I just want to say thanks to all of you for keeping up your sites.  I'm not always into the subject matter, but the level of effort that went into it pretty much always compares to a Facebook post like an H-bomb compares to a kitchen match.  I'll know when human intelligence has bottomed out; there won't be any blogs left.  Then it will be time for me to go.

          As it is now.  Hope all my Christian friends had a Happy Easter.  I don't have much in the way of happenings because of the short turnaround on this issue, so I'll just cut to the chase:

Get out there and live life like you mean it!

9 comments:

  1. Kristine Ong Muslim! Woot woot! I love her short stories! Thanks for the heads up on her new book, Jack! You rock!

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    1. Good to see you, brother! It is my pleasure to turn you on to Kristine's work; I'm kinda fond of her myself. I only wish I had a billion readers to send her way. Don't miss Pirate's Passage in the excitement, either. I know you read YA from time to time. So do I, and this is the best I've ever seen.

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    2. Thank you so much! Thank you so kindly.

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  2. It's always interesting to me to see how other people interpret things. When I looked at the same painting, I saw a painting that was half sky, half earth. "Buried" in the dirt were the bones of the long extinct Brontosaurus (sp?). Running above the buried fossil was the closest living relation, a chicken (or osterich)! I have no idea how a chicken is related to a dinosaur, or even if there is a connection genetically speaking, but that was the immediate thought that popped into my head. How I would work that into a poem or short story I have no idea, but it's interesting to hear about what others see.

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    1. Hi, Nine. Velociraptors have feathers. That was probably how the early birds evolved -- from reptiles.

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  3. Very interesting book review on both books! One the first one, it makes me want to read it again, and I shall; on the second one I haven't read it, but since I love to paint I think it will be interesting to see how others can see things that perhaps the artist never dreamed of when doing the painting itself. It also looks very interesting and I shall be delighted to delve into that as well. Since I am home and have so much free time, I will take my time and savor all the books I can. Thanks for such a good review...stirs the senses!
    Bonzo

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  4. Hey Jack. Nice of you to visit. That first book "Pirates Passage" sounds good especially as it's set in Nova Scotia. I'll be checking you out more often.

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    1. Hey, Bonnie, we've met a couple of times before, and it's always good to see you! Glad I could be of service.

      Welcome, Sandy! Do yourself a huge favor and read Pirate's Passage; Amazon has it if you can't find it locally. Probably the best YA I've ever encountered. Well, as you can see, the Hideout is a place where fun lives, and even though I go far and wide, I hope you enjoy it enough that I see you around frequently. I post about once a week, give or take, so I hope to be talking with you. Keep safe - Jack

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  5. Yeah Jack i'm gulity as charged. I used to go on facebook everyday until I started to see the ugly truth to a good portion of the website. Look at me, look what i'm driving, look what i'm wearing, look at what I had for breakfast.........aaaggghhhhhhhhhh! How about instead of showing us a picture of how perfect your buncake turned out, slap a recipe underneath it so it can be somewhat useful. Needless to say, I do not participate on the facebook nowadys. No offense to any facebookers by the way. But it is nice to share family pics and greetings to unkown or distant relatives.

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