Sunday, September 29, 2019

Book Review: The Pearl by John Steinbeck (short novel)

Update Amber Iven left a comment about this book review on Linked In. In her comment, Amber mentioned the John Steinbeck Museum. 
Museum, I thought, how cool. A little digging and I found--National Steinbeck Center.

The Pearl (a 90-page short novel written as a parable) opens with a heart-warming yet simply written scene--the morning activities of a peasant family. Without Steinbeck stating it, you know that Kino (the father) is content you see it, you feel it. Kino loves his family with such force you want everything to be okay for them, you long for perfect happiness for them. But Kino hears the song of evil... The scorpion strikes, stinging Kino's son. Coyotito will die without treatment. Knowing this, Juana (Kino's wife) gathers brown seaweed and makes a poultice. 'But the remedy lacked...authority because it was simple and didn't cost anything.' (p. 15) The town doctor refuses to treat the baby because Kino is unable to pay.

First published in Woman's Home Companion as 
"The Pearl of the World"
First published by Viking Penguin Inc. 1947
First published in Penguin Books 1976
Reissued in Penguin Books 1986

I was introduced to The Pearl in junior high (middle school). This story has haunted me ever since. I was profoundly saddened (outraged) by the family's struggle. I understood the story's moral as a caution--know your social status and don't reach beyond it for if you do something bad will happen to you and your family. 
'It is not good to want a thing too much.' (p. 18)
Yet what Kino dreams of--the right to marry, the right to clothe his family, the right to educate his son--should be granted to all men.

John Steinbeck gave voice to the labourer, brought them to life on the page, and made us care. That was his genius.

'Mayne Island' photo by ldyck

On this blog in October...

We're in a little bit of a rut. We need to shake things up. So, we'll start October with two lists.

October 6:  Writing about writing quotes (list)

This list is in celebration of this blog's 9th anniversary. Yes, we're nine. We made it. Over the years, I've shared tons of book reviews with you. Recently, I re-read my notes and found wonderful quotes about writing. And I thought, what better way to celebrate than to share them with you.

October 13:  Book Reviewer Blogs (list)

I searched the blogosphere and found these book bloggers. If you're an author with a new book... If you're a reader looking for a new book... These blogs are an invaluable resource.

October 20:  The Craftsman (short story)

While in elementary school, one of my short stories was published in my community newspaper. Where is that short story now? I have no idea. 
Grey clouds gathered overhead and...
Wait what's that lump under all that dust?
Huh, it's the plot.
Click went the pen. Word after word and the story appeared.
And now I can't wait to share it with you.

October 27:  The Picture of Dorian Gray (book review)

The Picture of Dorian Gray has long been one of my favourite movies (the 1940s film). I thought it was high time to read the gothic novel. Here's what I thought...

'Abby in arms' photo by ldyck

Sharing my Author Journey...

This week I entered a writing contest--The CBC Short Story Prize...

Sunday, September 22, 2019

My first writers' group (short story) by Leanne Dyck

In elementary school, I wrote a poem that was published in my school's newsletter and a short story that was published in my community's newspaper. I can't remember my life without stories. But the decision to become an author took a lot longer. As all journeys should, it began at a party. I casually mentioned to a friend that I wanted, um, learn how to write books and stuff.

That friend said, "Why don't you start a writing group?"

Smart friend.

I followed through on that plan.


photo by ldyck

Their stories are full of words I have to search for in my dictionary. Words that make me question my intellect, my worthiness.

Of my stories, they say, "You're a minimalist writer. There isn't enough on the page. We're lost. We need more. We know this is hard to hear. All we want is to help you improve."

They don't see me cry. They don't hear me question, "Will my writing ever improve? Will I ever be able to call myself an author?"

The mountain I must climb to become an author seems insurmountable. Yet month after month, I sit at that table of writers--me and my not quite there stories.

Next Sunday evening...

I first read The Pearl by John Steinbeck in junior high (middle school). Recently, I re-read this short novel. Next Sunday I'll share my experiences as a reader then and a reader now.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Book Review: Bunny by Mona Awad

This book's message:  How you feel about me is none of my business. How I feel when I'm around you is.

Published by Viking
an imprint of Penguin Random House
Published in 2019

Buy this Book

Samantha Heather Mackey is enrolled in post-graduate studies in creative writing at Warren University in New England. An important component of the program is Workshop--an opportunity to give and receive feedback about your work with your peers. Samatha's peers are the Bunnies--four closely bonded women.

Of Workshop, Samantha says, 'Just me and them in a room with no visible escape routes for two hours and twenty minutes. Every week for thirteen weeks.' (p. 10)

Samantha says that the Bunnies are completely 'immune to the disdain of their fellow graduate student. Me. Samantha Heather Mackey. Who is not a Bunny. Who will never be a Bunny.' (p. 4)
And I think she has no desire to be a member of that group of friends. But when Samantha  receives an invitation from the Bunnies, she feels 'a weird and shameful swelling in [her] heart.' (p. 10)

During each Workshop, the Bunnies gave each other way too sticky sweet praise but looked 'down at each story [Samantha] submitted like it was a baby that just gave them the finger.' (p. 24) As a result, Samantha stops writing... But that isn't the end of the story.

Mona Awad's writing is graphic...

'My throat is a red, pulsing fist in my neck.' (p. 190)
and poetic...
 'Being with you is like being in literature. I have no idea where you'll lead me next.' (p. 236)
and memorable... 

Bunny is a weird, twisted ride into truth. Truth about friendship true and friendship false; about finding your true self even though others may attempt to hide her from you; about how to nurture your art--and how not to; about... 


Also by Mona Awad...

My book review of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

"Bunny" Shows MFA Programs for the Dark Horror They Truly Are (a book review and interview with the author) by columnist Deirdre Coyle

Please join me next Sunday evening...

My first writers' group

Years ago, at a house party, I told a friend of my desire to develop my writing muscles. Her advice, form a writing group. Please read this short story to learn what happened next...

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Afi (short story) by Leanne Dyck

I'm blessed with a wonderfully supportive family--and friends--who have nurtured my writing. Here's an early example...


My mom's parents--my amma (grandma) and afi (grandpa)--lived on School road. I visited them before and after school and during lunch. Amma taught me crafts. Afi taught me how to play gin rummy. He was a grizzly bear, belting out Icelandic folk songs. He was an unbearable force but... One day, I saw him shake. I thought it was odd and then I knew it was scary. Amma had to guide him into a chair. I stood there staring not knowing what to do or where to go--not wanting to see. 

Afi noticed me. Amma remembered that I was still there.

"Leanne, elsken (my dear), it's time to go home, " she told me.

I left but I couldn't stop worrying about them. Would Afi be okay? Would Amma?

Afi came home from the hospital--a shell of the man he'd once been. I think he knew he was passing away; I think he knew it won't be long.

Mom judged attending Afi's funeral too emotionally upsetting for me. I stayed home but Afi was with me. He remained with me. So when my language arts class was required to write a character sketch I knew who would be the subject of my essay. Mom helped me with the spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but the words were mine.

Knowing Amma was lonely without Afi, we visited her as often as we could. 

In Amma's living room, Mom sat in the turquoise chair with the wooden arms. "Mom, Leanne has something she'd like to read to you. It's about Dad."

Amma joined me on the sofa.

I wanted to tell her that my essay wasn't very good, that I wished it was better. But I didn't. I just read... 

"I am sure in your life you have met someone who really made a lasting impression on you. Possibly they taught you how to look at life and maybe even yourself a little differently. This special person in my life was my afi.

"Afi once told me that if you were liked by both little children and dogs you had to be doing something right.

"He was and he did. You would probably like to know his secret. Well, it was not really that mysterious. In fact, it was a very logical approach. He was always the straight goods. He never tried to hide any aspect of his character. Nor did he try to create a ribbon and bow effect. It would have been nearly impossible to camouflage any aspect of his strong character, anyway. So, why try?

"Case in point, he was as stubborn as an old mule." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Amma grin. "And very opinionated. Yet he did not try to push his ideas on anyone. This was not what Afi hoped to do by stating his views. His goal, instead, was discussion. He had the love of debate of a lawyer."

Amma sniffled and pulled a tissue out of her sleeve. 

"I'm sorry, Amma. I didn't mean to make you cry. I'll stop."

"Oh, no, Elsken." She gave me a smile. "They're tears of joy. Please keep reading your story."

"He would argue that white was black if he thought it would lead to a debate. It was like an obsession with him. Freedom of thought, action, and discussion rated high in his books. He viewed debates not only as a parley of words but also as a sharing of thought. He regarded each person no matter what age, sex or race as having something special to share. Gregarious was his nature and debating his tool."


"The end," I said so that Amma would know I was done.

"Oh, Elsken, that's wonderful. You are a wordsmith."

When I graduated from high school Amma gave me a pen and pencil set.

"So you'll continue to write, Elsken." She told me with a hug.

Next Sunday evening...

Bunny by Mona Awad
'Just me and them in a room with no visible escape route for two hours and twenty minutes. Every week for thirteen weeks.' Workshop is protagonist Samantha Heather Mackey's personal hell.