Sunday, November 15, 2015


Written in the third person, Richard B. Wright’s memoir reads like a novel, yet is highly personal. When you think about tackling several decades of your life, it can be daunting to capture what that little girl or boy inside you was really like. Wright’s choice of using the third person is a wonderful tool to frame his life story.

This entertaining read starts out in Midland, Ontario, where Wright grew up during the 30s and 40s. At that time, the Midland port, with shipbuilding capabilities and large granaries, was a hive of activity that supported wartime commerce opportunities.
Having read many author biographies and interviews, I so enjoyed the commonplace human things that Wright includes in his memoir. Early in his career, for instance, while in a sales role, he states he had in his "new attaché case, 3 sales memos, a tuna fish sandwich and a paperback copy of Zorba the Greek…” which painted a delightful picture of the balance between the banalities of work life and learning his craft. 
Halfway through the book, I’m thinking, I like how this young boy has evolved to adulthood. He was creative and lucky in landing his first few jobs by that age-old method of sending out masses of letters offering up his skills. His first few bosses were interested in his humour and talent for using his words well. It made me want to meet this character – the man who would become “author Richard B. Wright.” Another warm image that resonated for me was Wright’s early and steadfast awareness of his love of words, his desire to be around them every day, and for words to factor in his daily work. While I might share that love of words, I, along with many others, remain in the "wannabe" writer camp!
Wright recalls advice from early mentors that “he had to remember that a serious writer was interested not just in providing entertainment but also in using the power of language to understand experience.”
Another aspect of Wright’s ‘writerliness’ that I enjoyed was the varied techniques he employed to tackle the work of writing, which includes determining how to overcome the inevitable struggles. “Thinking and feeling his way into this book … after a while (he) began to feel and sense those times…” of which he is writing, captures how he launches into a new project. Clearly having an innate penchant for early editing, he “knew he had to overcome this compulsion to tinker endlessly with his sentences.” Wright would often reflect on his father’s snow shoveling advice, evolved as a result of the regular and heavy snowfalls of Midland winters: “Just go through and don’t try to make it perfect. You can widen it later.” He applied this to his editing process over time.

As I came to his third last chapter, “The Age of Longing”, his memoir was beginning to feel like a mystery novel with the ever-mounting tension suggesting that a difficult life experience was imminent. Not so. As it turns out, Wright’s tension was more about what is usually experienced by published novelists who regularly have the “will (I) be able to write another book that the publisher would accept” type of anxiety. Considering this, my admiration for Wright grew after seeing the impressive list of 13 books that he has written to date.

I appreciated his comments following his mother’s death: “After the death of parents we make our own grim calculations; now orphans in middle age we consider, if only briefly, the time remaining to us…” This leads me to the one area of disappointment in Wright’s memoir: I would like to have heard more about this talented man’s emotional and social experiences. We’re not given much understanding of the nature of his family life, or that with friends and colleagues. References to his wife are positive. His wife Phyllis clearly has supported him throughout his career, including moving to different locations and changing occupations from time to time.

But as I write this and re-read some passages, perhaps there is more about his inner life than I realized. When Wright reflects on his own journal comments during his writing process, “… I offer a few random notes from journals, kept under lock and key lest they fall into the wrong hands and my lazy and infrequent observations be revealed for what they are, a perfunctory record of banality…” So apologies, Mr Wright if there is more here than my remarks suggest and, I would be delighted to know more about you as a husband, friend, or father should a ‘memoir sequel’ be something you consider!

Wright’s closing essay, “What Happens When We Read Stories”, is brilliant. He writes: “Without words we are reduced in our capacity to endure vicissitudes or express our wonder at being alive.” May I express my sincere gratitude to Richard B. Wright for sharing his life’s work to date in this beautifully crafted memoir. He provided me with inspiration and entertainment. I expect it will for others: readers and wannabe-writers alike. 

Jennifer Mackie has lived in Guelph for over 40 years, is a business consultant with never enough hobby time for reading, sports, online puzzles and quilting. She reads for entertainment and to discover the world of ‘curious’. Along with finding value in the story, she enjoys experiencing different writer’s styles and methods for how they entice one into their made up worlds.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Soundless is one of my favourite reads of the year! This book simply can’t be described in full without spoiling it, but I do highly recommend that it goes on everyone’s TBR list! Richelle Mead has created this amazing one-of-a-kind concept, an exotic and gorgeous setting, and an extremely likeable main character.

This novel has one of the most unique and interesting concepts I’ve read in quite a while. In Soundless, the all characters but the main are deaf. The way the world is imagined without sound is extremely intriguing. Sign language is used instead of words, and the news is painted by apprentices. What is really special about Soundless is the fact that since the characters can’t hear, there is no actual dialog. Yes, the characters communicate, but there are no quotation marks, since they don’t actually speak… They sign. When they communicate, the words are instead italicized, so don’t worry about the book being hard to follow.

Soundless is set in a mountain village in China, which I have always wanted to visit. Something about China is so majestic and is the perfect place for a book like this to take place. The descriptions of the setting are so beautiful and vivid, so the reader can actually see the mountains and the mines. These descriptions make this book even more incredible than it already is!

I really enjoyed the main character in Soundless, Fei. She is an artist, and since I have been really into art books lately, I especially enjoyed this characteristic. Fei is the only person in her village who can hear, and it must be terrifying hearing sound for the first time and not be able to describe it to anyone. She handles it well and uses her ability to help her friend. Fei doesn’t whine, which can be irritating in a book, and is quite strong. She is actually the perfect character for this book, and I’m glad that she is so enjoyable.

Soundless has a super unique concept, a breathtaking setting, and a likeable main character. This book is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year! If you are a fan of mythology, this is a must-read!

- Olivia Whetstone

Sunday, November 1, 2015


My first encounter with Mr. William Shakespeare was in a Grade 7 English class. We studied Romeo and Juliet, watched the modernized film version with Leonardo DiCaprio, and acted out scenes from the play. A decade later, I am delving back into Shakespeare with the role of Malvolio in a Laurier production of Twelfth Night. Our director’s vision is to be free with time and era, providing some fresh air to the play. This seems to be the trend with presenting Shakespearean plays today as well as in film, opera, and other works – reinterpreting old classics in contemporary ways.

Jeanette Winterson’s new novel The Gap of Time is indeed such a modernization. In fact, it is one of a series of retellings of Shakespeare's work by a plethora of renowned authors such as Margaret Atwood and Tracy Chevalier. The Gap Time is a "cover" of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, which has little to do with the infamously cold season. For those not familiar with the 17th century play or intimidated by Shakespeare’s early modern English, Winterson helpfully provides a summary of the play at the outset of the novel. For those less faint of heart (such as myself), reading the original Shakespeare will make comparing and appreciating Winterson’s cover much easier and more interesting.

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale centres on the crazed King Leontes of Sicilia, who accuses his wife Hermione of adultery along with the visiting King Polixenes of Bohemia. Their infant daughter, once born, is banished and raised by a shepherds, only to return to her native Sicilia at the close of the play to be reunited with her family. Winterson updates the novel to the present, with many clever name changes and surprises. The antiquated Kings Leontes and Polixenes become Leo and Xeno, two childhood friends who in Winterson’s novel were at one point also lovers as teenagers. Leontes’ pregnant wife Hermione is reincarnated as a famous French singer named Mimi. Their daughter retains her name of Perdita, which still refers to her exile.

Winterson’s retelling is substantially darker than the Shakespeare play. Leontes’ sexual obsession is exaggerated, the famous bear which attacks Antigonus is translated into murderous robbers, and the bucolic shepherd scenes are scrapped for an African-American family living on modest means. Winterson’s novel explores Shakespeare’s themes of Othello-esque jealousy, class, and family in further depth than a play is able. She also underpins her rendition with further themes, many of which would not have been comprehensible in Shakespeare’s time – technology, sexual identity (or lack thereof), and celebrity culture.

Winterson’s tale edges more on the perverse and sexually charged at times, which creates a new “Leo” that is perhaps more understandable to modern audiences in his sexually-charged, businessman guise than a King that seems to descend into madness by accusing his pregnant Queen of adultery. Mimi is a more talented Hermione, but she does not die, become a statue, and then magically return to living human form again. Following the original Hermione storyline would certainly not be as credible to modern audiences as realistic fiction – unless Winterson decided to write The Gap of Time as a sci-fi fantasy. Oddly enough, as musical as many of Shakespeare’s plays are, there is not much music in the original Tale. Winterson rectifies this, with Mimi’s vibrant musical career, Shep’s piano bar, the HollyMollyPolly band, and many other occasions for music-making.

The Gap of Time is a meticulously constructed and interesting re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s play. Although in English-speaking countries Shakespeare may seem ever-present in classrooms, there is still so much to discover in his brooding and humourous work, especially remarkable given that he predated the field of psychology by so many centuries. Winterson affirms that Shakespeare is as as relevant as ever in his mastery of the art of storytelling and his probing insights into the human condition that still ring true today. From The Gap of Time, to the Met’s new, controversial production of Verdi’s operatic adaptation of Othello which has done away with blackface, to the upcoming film adaptation of Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, Shakespeare is very much alive and kicking, in a countless array of guises and disguises that continue to startle and amuse contemporary audiences. I look forward to recreating my own version of Shakespearean magic with my reincarnation of Malvolio in January. In the mean time, I have lines to learn!

Mike Fan is a Chinese-Canadian classical vocalist. Mike plays five instruments and speaks three languages fluently (with a few in progress). After obtaining degrees in piano performance and biomedical science, it became clear that music would win out. On the literary side, Mike wrote 365 sonnets in his teens and writes for his poetry blog Some Turbid Night. Follow @MikeZFan for Mike's adventures, musical and otherwise.