Apr 302010

This is mini-essay I wrote to accompany a photograph in a lovely book of Canadian author pics by the Israeli photographer Danielle Schaub. (The photograph in the book is dg reading under an awning at the Eden Mills Literary Festival and should not be confused with the photo on the right, which is a picture of rat.) The full reference is Reading Writers Reading, Danielle Schaub, editor and photographer, University of Alberta Press, Edmonton, 2006. The essay was subsequently reprinted in Geist 62, Fall 2006. I post it because there is a rat theme developing (see the post below as well as the villanelle contest where one of the entrants has linked in a photo of a rat, some kind of performance art, one assumes). There is also a reading to your children thread following the Steven Heighton poem posted a week or so ago. The convergence of vectors forces me to take desperate measures.



My mother read to me, and now I read to my boys. They are twelve and nine. Their mother and I are divorced; they spend half the time with me. We live in shabby upstate New York suburbia with a variable menagerie of pets: dogs, squirrels, rats, cats and, once, an opossum. (Some things an innocent parent should never be exposed to: Walking into the boys’ bedroom one evening, I was greeted by Jonah shouting, “Look, Dad! Bungee rat.” Poor rat.) Last year we read David Copperfield, mostly in the evenings before the boys went to sleep. We read in my bed because we can all get in it together (along with the dogs and the cat). The boys still shout, “Donkeys!  Janet! Donkeys!” when they’re in a good mood and want to remember the pleasure we shared over David’s aunt and her front yard obsession about donkeys. Or Jacob will look at me slyly and say, “Barkis is willin’” or “I’m a lone lorn creature.” And I still remember the aching sadness of David’s realization that he had married a child wife and not an adult companion of his heart. One day, the last of the rats, a beige female the boys had christened Rex (don’t ask why) collapsed in her cage, eyes shut, her breath coming in quick, shallow pants. We’d been through this before. We knew she was dying. I made a nest for her in a shoe box and kept her beside me in my study all day. And when the boys came home from school, they took up the death watch. Rex never regained consciousness but did manage to breathe into the evening. As usual we climbed into bed with tea and David Copperfield and began to read. We had reached the tempest chapter, that terrific moment of convergence when David watches Ham throw himself into the surf to swim to a sinking ship and simultaneously realizes that the nefarious Steerforth, who has seduced Ham’s little Emily and ruined her, is a passenger on the ship. Ham swims; Steerforth dashes about on deck; the storm rages. Suddenly the ship, Ham and Steerforth disappear beneath a huge wave. Simultaneously, a desperate little sigh burst from Rex’s shoe box deathbed. The boys and I jumped up to look. Rex kicked her back legs once, trembled and died in what struck us immediately as a Dickensian coincidence of life and literature. (As I write this, Jonah reminds me of the other great Dickens moment in our house: when the boys discovered the character in Oliver Twist known as Master Bates.)

—Douglas Glover

Apr 272010

Jacob Paul is a former student of mine, a VCFA graduate, a ferocious mountain climber, and the only person I know who was in the World Trade Center when the planes hit on 9/11. He had bicycled to work that day and was taking a shower when his floor was evacuated–but I’ll let him tell his own story: see his website for the details.

This is a hot-off-the-press excerpt from his first novel Sarah/Sara, a book that reflects Jacob’s own orthodox Jewish upbringing, his love of Nature’s astringent extremes, and, yes, the haunting mystery of political terror and death.

Buy the book.

from Sarah/Sara

August 10

What will become of me? Yesterday, I skipped out on Shabbat. I wrote all day, cooked over my stove, didn’t da’aven. Basically, the only violation that I could conceivably have done, but didn’t, would have been to travel in my kayak.  And that’s the one thing it might have made some sense to do (though the fog was really too thick to travel; it seems to be fog season here). Today, on the other hand, I da’avened three times, morning, noon and night (the distinctions between which I’m coming to accept as any sense of ongoing wonder at this unmitigated day bores me now).  It makes no sense.  I don’t transgress smartly.

And here is the other thing that doesn’t quite jive. Those days on which I da’aven, do follow my structure and order, are my best; and yet I so rarely bother to pray anymore. But really, today was a perfect day. I woke up on time; promptly washed my hands and said the bruchah for that; doused myself in mosquito repellant; said Shemah and Shemonah Esrai; ate, saying bruchahs before and benching afterward; rowed out past the breakers in the fast sea like I am trained; pulled ashore for lunch saying bruchahs before eating, benching afterward, and then saying Shemah and Shemonah Esrai before getting back in the boat.

The afternoon session on the water was equally productive. I felt strong and elected to row rather than sail, blissfully blanking my mind in an exegesis of physical endurance. A small pod of white whales breached intermittently on my left – generally a common sight but anomalous in the dense fog – atomizing a sardine-scented mist that drifted in wisps of otherwise indiscernible wind and precipitated along the lee side of my boat and myself. I really stink now.  And then past that interlude, and late in the day, I rounded a rock-corniced jetty, a jumble of leaning shattered gray rock testifying to a lost glacier’s ocean border. On its far side, a concavity of black sand beach steeply shelters the facing side of a frigid trickle rushing through tundra from the hills. I set up camp on a step in the beach’s curve well above the high-water mark. Above the beach, all still passes for summer, but the sun will set soon, and once it starts to do that, darkness grows like a bad habit, staying out a little longer each night until it loses itself in a months long binge of black night and effervescent celestial light and death-cold.

Read the rest!

Apr 262010

Though I’ve known and admired Jack Hodgin‘s work for ages, we actually hadn’t met til we ended up on the same judges’ panel for a literary award three years ago. Usually, these things are tense affairs, but Jack, our third panelist, the novelist Joan Barfoot, and I had such an agreeable time together we became internet friends, a tiny community of three sending group emails back and forth. Joan lives in London, Ontario, and Jack lives far, far away on Vancouver Island. He has been known to complain ruefully, upon finding a sequence of emails from Joan and me, that everything happens in the rest of the world before he even wakes up in the morning.

Jack has been a huge and beneficent presence on the Canadian literary scene for a couple of generations now. You can find all this for yourself by exploring his website (which, incidentally, contains a generous amount of writing advice). I love the list of prizes he’s won; it’s almost as long as the number of books he’s published. I am also fascinated by his real life relationship with the fictional character Dr. Jack Hodgins in the TV series “Bones.”

This little essay is just a taste. I like it because it reminds me of all the friends who have made the pilgrimage to Oxford–so many of us loved Faulkner and yet had to fight our way out from under his stylistic shadow.

Jack has a new novel coming out in May. It’s called The Master of Happy Endings. This is what Alice Munro says about it: “From one of Canada’s master storytellers comes a powerful new novel about memory, belonging, helping others, and the vagaries of the human heart. It is also a compelling story about how a man in his later seventies manages to conjure one more great adventure for himself.” Buy the book.



Walking up the pathway towards the front steps and white pillars of the house known as Rowan Oak, I was aware of a chill that lifted the hairs at the back of my neck. William Faulkner had lived here, had written most of his novels here, had walked up this pathway, perhaps had even laid this herringbone brickwork in the pathway himself. The man would not be inside, of course – he had been dead for several years – but the house was open to visitors, with a resident guide from the nearby university.  Still, I was about to reach the destination in what was really a sort of pilgrimage.

We had spent a few sunny April days in New Orleans before driving the little rented car north, pausing only briefly in Baton Rouge before passing into Mississippi. We’d visited the ante-bellum houses in Natchez and toured the 16 miles of Vicksburg battleground before driving on up the highway through pine forests in the direction of Oxford.

In the direction, that is, of the town where once lived the man whose books had thrilled and inspired me, and whose powerful voice and vision had so invaded me as to destroy all my earliest attempts at writing – two bad novels and several stories, all rejected and abandoned — before I’d eventually found my own place and my own voice. Still, though I may have shaken off much of the power I’d once allowed him to have, I had not abandoned my admiration for the man and his work.

Of course the first indication we were entering Faulkner country was the little signpost naming the Yocana River, which was just a narrow yellow creek barely moving at the bottom of a muddy ditch.  It was not easy to imagine this “Yoknapatawpha” in anything like flood, or to believe in the difficulties it gave the Bundren family when they crossed it with the mother’s coffin, heading, as we were, for the town where “Pa” would get a new set of teeth, bury his wife, and find himself a new one. I hoped this was not a hint of more disappointments ahead.

Read the rest!