Monthly Archives: July 2008

Poetry Friday: Canada

This week contained Canada Day, and it went more or less uncelebrated in my house. (Is lounging about drinking lemonade on your back porch for hours and hours with your dog celebrating?) So here’s a great patriotic poem offering a rather romantic portrait of Canada.

Canada – by Billy Collins

I am writing this on a strip of white birch bark
that I cut from a tree with a penknife.
There is no other way to express adequately
the immensity of the clouds that are passing over the farms
and wooded lakes of Ontario and the endless visibility
that hands you the horizon on a platter.
I am also writing this in a wooden canoe,
a point of balance in the middle of Lake Couchiching,
resting the birch bark against my knees.
I can feel the sun’s hands on my bare back,
but I am thinking of winter,
snow piled up in all the provinces
and the solemnity of the long grain-ships
that pass the cold months moored at Owen Sound.
O Canada, as the anthem goes,
scene of my boyhood summers,
you are the pack of Sweet Caporals on the table,
you are the dove-soft train whistle in the night,
you are the empty chair at the end of an empty dock.
You are the shelves of hooks in a lakeside cottage:
Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh,
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson,
Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery…

For the rest, go to Poetry Foundation. Oh, and happy 4th of July!

(photo © Jordan Miller for CC:Attribution)

13 Reasons Why

I tend to gravitate towards downer books (and films and music). I like sad. Sad and romantic? Better still. Even so, I’m not sure I would have picked up Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why if it wasn’t this month’s selection over at readergirlz. At first look, the premise seems just too sad, even for me. The story is so sad, that I got suspicious. It made me think that the book was just calling out for attention or controversy. I was wrong, and I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Clay Jensen comes home from school to find a package on his doorstep. Inside the package is a bunch of cassette tapes recorded by his former classmate (and crush), Hannah Baker. Hannah committed suicide a few weeks before, and on the tapes she explains thirteen reasons for choosing to end her life. (Not exactly light reading). The novel follows Clay from the time he receives the tapes, all through the night and into the next day, as he travels around town, bearing witness to Hannah’s most difficult experiences.

This story will grab you and refuse to let go until you’re finished. In that way, it sort of mirrors Clay’s own experience with “the Hannah Tapes.” He starts listening and can’t stop until he’s worked his way through all of them. Asher really succeeds in getting you inside Hannah’s head, and that is absolutely critical to the power of his story. I suppose there’s an element of voyeurism to the tension in this book. You want to understand what would lead someone with her whole future ahead to kill herself. You’re basically listening in on a dead girl’s secrets. That’s creepy, but it’s compelling creepy. Hannah’s voice is completely honest and real, and in the beginning, not all that likeable. She’s so angry and seemingly vindictive. It’s a bit uncomfortable feeling that you don’t much like this girl, knowing her fate, but as the story progresses and Hannah’s pain and depression just seep out of every word on the tapes, you start to feel such a connection to this character. This is a deep book, and it doesn’t offer simple messages about teen suicide, which I think is just the way it should be. The ending will really make you think.

I can’t wait for the live chat with Jay Asher on July 24th at the readergirlz forum. This book – and topic – should certainly make for an interesting and important discussion.