Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Return of Bookish Fever

I haven't been blogging much lately; but I have been reading and following other various literary pursuits. I've been reading some of the quotes that participants in this week's Weekly Geeks have been posting; I really meant to sign up, but where did the week go? And I haven't posted about any of the many library books I've been whizzing through.

I listened to all the Canada Reads debates (and read a few different responses to them as well, here , here and here). The winner of the competition this year was Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes, a book that seems so Good-For-You that I have little interest in reading it. I will read Brian Francis' Fruit, Gil Adamson's The Outlander, and the one which holds the most interest for me, Michel Tremblay's The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant (which I can't believe I haven't yet read, after spending eleven years living in Montreal, four of those years at university.)

However, because one of the main effects of Canada Reads in my day-to-day life at the library is to create waiting lists for each of the selected books, I can not get my hands on any of them presently. I am certain I have a copy of the Tremblay book somewhere in my boxes and shelves but do not know where (is this a sign I need to reorganize?) It's not as if I don't have -- literally -- eight other books at bedside currently, but when has there ever been a surfeit of desired reading? Still, to meet my desire to read some Tremblay I selected one of his works which has been on my read-someday list, his Birth of a Bookworm. (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2003). Written in 1994, it was translated into English in 2003 by Sheila Fischman. It traces Tremblay's creative development as a reader and a writer from his childhood onward, by tracing the effect of specific books in each chapter. I began it two days ago and am nearly done already; it's very funny, and a delight for a fellow book lover to read. A few things I've discovered already include the fact that his mother is half Cree and is from Saskatchewan! How did I miss knowing that? I thought I had a handle on Saskatchewan's literary ties. He writes of his encounters with Tintin, with Jules Verne, with writers on the Catholic Index Librorum Prohibitorum (and the necessary penance for reading such authors), of his continued use of the Municipal Library, and of his love for the world of books in general. Here are a couple of excerpts:

I'm lying on my back. Reading. Like every night before I go to sleep. ... I followed my usual ritual: I sat on the edge of the convertible sofa that served as my bed, held the book against my chest after letting its odour seep into me, said a quick prayer, not to God but to the joy of reading -- so strong, so powerful -- that I was afraid of losing when I got old (I'm maybe ten at the time and naively haunted by the thought that someday I'll be blasé because I'll have read everything, so I pray for my joy to remain complete until I die and for the authors of books to go on writing!), then I stretched out on my back with the pillow folded underneath my neck. The pleasure of opening the book, of cracking the spine, of checking to see how many pages are left to read...

It's said that desire is more thrilling than possession. That's not true for books. If you've ever felt that warmth in the stomach, that burst of excitement in the region of the heart, that movement of the face -- a small tic of the mouth, perhaps, a new line on the forehead, the eyes that search, that devour -- just as you are finally holding the longed-for book, when you open it, cracking it but just a little so you can hear it, anyone who has experienced that moment of incomparable happiness will know what I mean. Opening a book is one of the most exhilarating, the most incomparable experiences that a person can have in his life.

This is a book worth reading just for the conversations between Tremblay and his mother, arguing about books they've both read. Or the dialogues between his mother and father, and his beloved grandmother who lived with them. It made me laugh out loud in parts, had moments recognizable to all bibliophiles, and was really touching in the descriptions of his familial relationships. It's a wonderful book and I am glad I finally decided to read it!


  1. Birth of a Bookworm sounds wonderful. If I'd stumbled upon it on my own, the title alone would have prompted me to pick it up! With your recommendation, I will definitely be seeking out a copy.

  2. I've not read any Michel Tremblay, but I'm adding this to my TBR list. Trying to add more Canadian authors--it's not as though there's only Carol Shields and Alice Munro! Oh, and Margaret Atwood!

  3. Kate - I think you'd like it! By the way, the French title is completely different. I don't know enough French to grasp its associations, perhaps you will be able to!

    Priscilla - there are endless names I could give you... but have you looked at the Canadian Book Challenge over at the Book Mine Set? That should give you a few to choose from!


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