November 8th, 2010

Baby and me

Not quite perfect

Perfect Books isn't quite the perfect bookstore (kind of like this cheap opening sentence isn't a perfect hook), but wandering the eccentric and obviously personal selections lining its shelves was a breath of fresh air after having spent some time at an enormous Chapters the day before. (Though really, memo to Perfect Books: Since you own the domain, perfectbooks.ca, having your homepage default to villagewitch.ca is just confusing. But I digress.)

I — in truth, we, though Raven kept to the sidelines and only briefly said hello to Moggy, shortly before we left — made my first visit to Perfect Books I think since I lived here around the time of the First Gulf War (you do the math arithmetic; I haven't the heart for it).

Anyway, we were there for Vonandmoggy's book-launch, the unveilling of Von Allan's second book, Stargazer. Happily, and more than a little to my surprise, there was a line-up (smallish, but a line-up) waiting to talk with the artist-writer when we arrived, and so Raven and I first did a brief auto-tour of the store itself and it seemed, as I said, to be a very good one. The SF section in particular managed, with three (maybe four) shelves, to provide me with as many interesting-looking books as Chapters managed in thrice or four times the space.

Anyway, I cut that short and wandered back to Von's table, and introduced myself. "I'm ed-rex," I said and to my pleasure my presence seemed to be his pleasure. We talked — mostly about comics and quite a lot about Dave Sim — until Moggy pointed out that he, once again, had a line.

Raven snapped a few pics (forthcoming), I paid for my book and we paid our respects then headed back out into the night. I haven't had the chance to read the book yet, but the Big C took a look while I was working in the kitchen last night and was more than a little impressed, using words like, "Great art-work" and "This is really good." I mentioned to Von that True North Perspective has a "Book End" slot and would love to feature Stargazer in it. And yes, I need to send him the promised email as soon as I finish this meandering entry.

Right. On to that email, then to finishing up a review and then to getting down to paying work.

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Baby and me

Review: Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente

The wound of the 'sexually-transmitted city'

In a recent blog entry Catherynne M. Valente offered a sardonic reply to reviewers who have used phrases like "not for everyone" and "dense" to describe her work.

"'Not for everyone' is certainly one--dude, no book is for everyone, why does this need to be said, even the most popular books have entire cultures of hate around them, if books were either black or white, for everyone or no one, then there'd be five books published a year and that would be it. No one would have to write reviews."

Having now read the Hugo Award-nominated Palimpsest, I find it hard not to echo the phrase, "not for everyone".

Palimpsest is far from your average genre novel, and a reader seeking from it the comforts of the familiar is likely going to wander away confused and disappointed. Palimpsest does not boast a standard plot or setting and features no obvious hero or villain. And then there's the language ...

Worse then the lazy descriptions of her work as "dense" and "not for everyone", says Valente, "is the oft-repeated saw" that she writes "more poetry than prose".

Valente's second objection is simply correct. Her prose is complicated and artful, loaded with imagery and metaphor, but it is not poetry, stealth or otherwise. It is presumably sometimes mistaken for poetry because Valente dares to dance from present tense to past, from second person to third (and back again). She is a writer willing to play with language, to push and pull it into new and interesting shapes — almost always, I am happy to say, while keeping in mind that she is first of all telling a story — however (ahem) difficult or even "dense".

None of which make of a piece of writing, poetry, any more than inclusion of parts for viola and bassoon of necessity make of a piece of music, a symphony.

All that said, is Palimpsest a good novel?

On first-reading, yes it is. Very much so.

Click here to catch a glimpse of the 'sexually-transmitted city' (no significant spoilers).

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