Monday, April 30, 2007

Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw

I've just finished a course on teaching writing. One of the main questions we struggled with in our twice-weekly class discussions was how to escape from the dreaded 5-paragraph essay format when creating writing assignments. I'd like to give a copy of Will Ferguson's Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw to each and every high school teacher with any kind of connection to teaching Canadian history or geography. Ferguson gives an excellent example of how writing about history doesn't have to be boring! (In fact, it can even be funny!)

My friend Lynne says that this book is what inspired her to travel across Canada. I can see why! Ferguson does a good job of making the everyday interesting. (Read this book and you'll have a new level of respect for the cultural significance of a grilled cheese sandwich, for example.) Continuing on the grilled cheese theme, some chapters in the book are a little...dull and synthetic. Those would be the ones stuffed into the middle--the three-chemicals-short-of-a-garbage-bag filling that holds the gloriously toasted bread (ie. the opening and ending chapters) together.

My advice to somebody who's thinking about reading this book: if a chapter gets boring, skip on ahead to one that looks more're not going to miss much! This would be a good book to find on tape for a road trip, or to read at a summer cottage....or even to read aloud with a group of friends, if you're into that sort of thing. Ferguson's skill with language makes this a book that sounds good (ie. even funnier) out loud.

Another disappointment I had with the book is that so many good sights and sites are skipped over. I suppose that could be part of the point of the whole book. For each and every, "Oooooh. I wish he'd included a chapter about...." there's a fascinating history assignment waiting to be written.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Larry's Party

I am buoyant with joy, having just finished Larry's Party by Carol Shields. The book is almost completely responsible for this buoyancy, but the sunshine streaming in the window; the coffee in my hand; and the sudden realization that I love the word buoyant and all its variations--all of these things are helping, too.

So, Larry's Party is a recent acquisition, but Carol Shields is an old favourite of mine. This book is Amelie-like in its exploration of the beauty of triviality, the excitement of mundanity... It's a look at the life of Larry Weller, one average guy from Winnipeg whose passion for mazes turns him into something of a novelty. The book is all about Larry--his life, his work, his wives--but really the entire novel leads up to a final chapter--the description of Larry's dinner party--where a relatively mundane occurance becomes a beautiful end. I'm still too buoyant to give this note any justice, but I would highly recommend this book for just about anybody. There are times when Shield's attempt to write from a man's perspective seems a little off (but really, who am I to judge, not being a man myself) but if you can get over and through that, you're on your way to a wonderful read!