New Murakami Film Set for 2018 Release

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Lee Chang-dong, one of Korea’s most celebrated film directors (Peppermint Candy, Oasis, Poetry), is set to release an adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning,” which was originally published in The New Yorker in 1983 and subsequently as part of a short story collection called The Elephant Vanishes.

The movie, titled Burning, is a mystery thriller that follows two men, one of whom is a novelist, and a female model after they get involved in a “strange incident.” It stars Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, and Jeon Jong-seo.

Click here to read the full article and learn more details about Lee Chang-dong and the movie itself.

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How It Feels to Write a Book

Love, love, LOVE this little diagram! Thanks to @thelaceylondon for tweeting this out earlier.

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By Endurance We Conquer

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Or in Latin, Fortitudine Vincimus: “By Endurance We Conquer.”

Writing for @NewYorker, David Grann has an article titled “The White Darkness: A solitary journey across Antarctica” that is nothing short of mind-blowing, breathtaking and inspiring.

The piece follows the journey of Henry Worsley, a 55-year-old British Army officer, who attempted to become the first person ever to trek the entire continent of Antarctica on his own, without the aid of animals or servants or, I don’t know, valets.

A thousand miles. Up 10,000 feet to the summit of the Titan Dome and then down to the other side, from the bottom of South America to the bottom of New Zealand.

Why would someone do this? The reasons are many and varied, but Mr. Grann does a thorough job in exploring the historical background, both of Mr. Worsley and his family as well as one of the continent’s most legendary explorers, Ernest Shackleton.

The story is captivating in and of itself, but for me it brought to mind one of my favourite pieces of CanLit, Wayne Johnston’s The Navigator of New York,  a work of historical fiction set at the turn of the 20th century as (mostly) Europeans and Americans attempted to “conquer” the Arctic. Johnston, the author of another brilliant novel called The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, has long been compared to Don DeLillo, so if you’re a fan of the Underworld author, definitely check out Wayne Johnston – and David Grann’s piece from The New Yorker!

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Russian Storytelling

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As many of my friends and followers will know, I am a big fan of Russian literature. From Pushkin, Chekhov and Dostoyevsky to Tolstoy, Turgenev and Bulgakov, the country has long seduced me with its books from a young age.

Now Karl Ove Knausgaard over at the New York Times has penned a great piece titled “A Literary Road Trip into the Heart of Russia.”

If you like/love Russian literature, read this piece. It goes out to my friend elisabethm at A Russian Affair.

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Best/Funniest Book Titles

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It’s that time of the year once again for the best book title lists. (Actually, that’s not true. I’ve never put together a list like this before.)

I was  reading something in the newspaper today and it got me to thinking about great book titles, both memorable and humorous. So, after some Jack Handy-like deep thoughts, I put together the following list. If you have any suggestions or feel a title is missing, please feel free to leave a comment below. I’ll try and update the list as I hear back from people.

BEST TITLES

Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald; The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera; A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje; Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman; The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner; Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway; Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Murakami Haruki; Catch-22 by Joseph Heller; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

FUNNIEST TITLES

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss (the joke here being that with a single comma, panda bears are suddenly serial killers); Dude, Where’s My Country? by Michael Moore (apparently still MIA); How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young (don’t we all secretly want to know the secret to this?); The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks (the best part of this title is that Dr. Sacks treated a patient who actually thought his wife was a hat); Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach (solid reading for your toddlers); Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off by Cara North (doesn’t it for all of us, though?); Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining by Judy Sheindlin (Judge Judy has spoken!); A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (great title, even better novel)

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New Self-publishing Podcast

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If you’re thinking of self-publishing a book, you need to do as much research as possible beforehand. Inevitably, something will go awry in Denmark along the way, but as long as you’re well-armed in advance, you should be okay.

IngramSpark is one of the giants in the industry (along with Amazon’s CreateSpace) and they have lots of great resources for writers, one of which is their new podcast service.

Check out the IngramSpark website if you’re thinking of going down the self-publishing path, then give these podcasts a listen. At the very least, you’ll learn about other people’s experiences in this industry and there’s no such thing as too much knowledge.

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Our Continued Search for Meaning

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“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I reread Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning last week and was reminded from the very first chapter why it has become an essential part of the 20th-century canon of literature. It’s exquisitely written, touches on the most important elements of survival, and is a firsthand account of what has perhaps become synonymous with the most base evil we are capable of as human beings: Auschwitz.

I remembered the profound lessons from my first reading, lines such as the following:

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“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”

But what I forgot in the ensuing years is something perhaps even more remarkable. Frankl survived Auschwitz. Just saying that one name makes me, the casual observer 70 years on, shudder in revulsion. By all rights, Frankl could have Nazi-bashed his way through the book while imparting these pearls of wisdom. Another one of which is the following:

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“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

Instead, Frankl humanizes his Nazi captors and tormentors. He gives them a sense of self, of feeling (or non-feeling), of emotion, and of human traits latent within us all. That, quite honestly, is what shocked me most the second read through.

If you haven’t read Man’s Search for Meaning, I highly encourage you to do so. It is a most sobering account of the human condition in the most extreme of situations.

I end this post with one of my favourite quotes from the book, one of those passages you have to read, again and again, because it’s both otherworldly profound and yet so basic a concept one can only scratch their head and think, Now why didn’t I ever look at it that way?

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”

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2018 CBC Nonfiction Prize

Calling all nonfiction writers! Now’s your chance (assuming you’re Canadian) to earn $6,000 and a little fame along the way.

If you’ve got a piece of nonfiction writing (pretty much anything) and you’re willing to invest $25 in yourself, then click here to learn more about the contest.

Deadline is February 28, 2018 and there’s a strict word count limit, so make sure you read the rules and regulations thoroughly. Good luck!

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Insomnia: The Silent Killer

I am one of the roughly 70 million North Americans who suffer from insomnia. Not bad sleeps or broken sleeps or light sleeps – insomnia. There is no grey area with this condition, and let me tell you something: It sucks big rhino horn.

Recently, I overcame my latest bout of what the dictionary defines as “habitual sleeplessness; inability to sleep.” In truth, it is so much more – and worse than that.

Per an NPR article:

Scientists know relatively little about how chronic sleeplessness works or why it disproportionately affects women and people over the age of 65. Roughly 60 million Americans are affected by the sleep disorder each year, and scientists disagree on the best ways to treat it.

In Stephen King’s novel Insomnia, he has one of his characters experience insomnia, and per a Wiki summary, this is part of what it had to say:

As his insomnia develops, Ralph begins to see things that are invisible and intangible to others: colorful manifestations of life-force surrounding people (auras), and diminutive white-coated beings he calls “little bald doctors”, based on their appearance, and gradually comes to believe these are genuinely present on a different level of reality

Good for Mr. King on getting this right. Not sure if he suffers from insomnia (wouldn’t surprise me…how else do you write 20 books a year?), but he’s captured one important element which I’ll return to shortly.

For those lucky enough not to suffer from insomnia, I have gone through it so many times that I can pretty much give you a day-by-day breakdown should you ever fall prey to its viciousness.

After one night of sleeplessness (24 hrs.), you may feel groggy or even energized. Weird how that works.

After a second night (48 hrs.), you can most certainly function at a relatively high level, especially with lots of coffee.

After the third night (72 hrs.), this is where things start to get dicey. My advice is if you reach the 72-hour mark, see your GP at once and talk about proper sleep aids. In my experience, every OTC sleep aid is a piece of crap. This is where you ask your doctor for  zopiclone, a non-benzo sleep aid that works magic. (From what I’ve been told, zopiclone is safe to use without fear of addiction for up to 20 days, but my GP never gives me more than a week’s worth.)

By that 72-hour mark, you might begin to hear voices and sounds and music playing randomly in your head at all times of day and night, especially when you try to sleep.

If you reach the fourth night without sleep (96 hrs.) this is where things begin to get dangerous. Like Stephen King’s character above, you will likely see auras, apparitions and perhaps even ghosts. You will startle easily; loud, sudden noises will send a jolt of electricity through you. Your eyes may start swelling and you’ll have trouble focusing.

The U.S. Army defines 96 hours as the breaking point for sleep deprivation torture (coupled with loud music and flood lights of course), but even without the lights and music it’s torture. The first time I hit the 96-hour mark I found myself talking out loud a lot, both in public and when I was by myself. If it sounds frightening that’s because it is.

Now, up until this last bout, I’d only reached 96 hours, but last week I hit 125 hours and discovered something I’d never experienced: my body actually began to fall apart by that fifth night. My sense of balance was screwed up, I lost the ability to walk more than a few feet, and my whole upper body felt like it was shutting down.

That’s when I went straight to my GP without passing Go, got some zopiclone, and started sleeping that same night. Like I said, if you hit the 48-hour mark, be safe and proactive and get in to see your family doctor ASAP. I was an idiot this last time around and paid the price; even with the zopiclone, it took me three days of sleep to begin readjusting once again. Never again, says I.

During my first rodeo with insomnia, I got scared because I knew nothing about the condition and so headed straight to a hospital ER. Bad idea. You’ll have a psych team evaluate you for hours as they try and decide whether you have mental health problems or are simply suffering from insomnia.

To repeat, see your family doctor ASAP, before you hit the 72-hour mark, and let them guide you through this scary process in a safe, practical way.

On that note, happy sleeping!

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The Essential Fantine

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Fantine.

Not only is she one of the most sympathetic characters in literature, she is also the woman responsible for my favourite song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” in my favourite musical, Les Misérables.

Fantine is in some ways the archetype of the ultimate mother, a woman deserted by a callous man, only to raise her little Cosette all on her own. However, she has no money to support herself and soon turns to prostitution to raise her daughter, going so far as to sell her teeth and hair. Along the way, she loses her beauty, her health and, finally, her hope.

This is what she reflects upon while singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” a song most recently popularized by Susan Boyle. Yet it’s the video below, in which Anne Hathaway sings the same song, which I believe best captures the pain Victor Hugo was trying to infuse into Fantine. It’s a tragedy that has resonated with audiences for years, but this particular version is especially poignant. And for me, it sings with the magic of melding art and music, something so difficult to do for any performer in any age.

 

As an aside, if you missed this live performance at the 2013 Oscars of the entire Les Mis crew, watch it. It’s pretty spectacular.

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