Wednesday, April 29, 2009


"You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter". This is the opening to Mark Twain's ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN(notice the missing "THE" in the title)which for me is without a doubt the greatest American novel---or at least one of them. Written in the vernacular, they say it took Mark Twain years to write. Perfection takes time. This is the only novel I've read numerous times intermittently throughout my life. I read it first as a young boy and lately about eight years ago(God! I'm old) I'm planning to read it again soon if I can find my copy. I have many copies of this classic, but for some reason seem to mislay it somewhere when books are shuffled around. My wife found two copies of Huck a while back and said, "For God's sake, put these some place safe, we're overrun by Huck Finn". She always exaggerates.

So what can I say about this beautiful novel that could possibly do it justice? It involves a trip on a raft down the Mississippi river with an awkward but sincere boy Huckleberry Finn, and his best loyal friend Jim who happens to be a runaway slave. This is excellent literature touching on themes controversial at the time and even pertinent today. I have to tell you about one scene especially. Runaway slaves were hunted down by unscrupulous characters driven by monetary gain as well as sinister cruelty. On this foggy night on the Mississippi river, these slave hunters yell out to Huck and ask him if the man next to him on the raft is white or black. Huck always strives to be good and do the right thing, and weighs in his mind what would be the RIGHT answer. Here Twain puts Huck in a moral dilemma so powerful and weighty that reading it causes you to pause and think of its true meaning. Just because Jim is such a good friend, and nothing more, convinces Huck to shout back,"White". This is excellent stuff.

The only weakness in this novel is the point near the end where Tom Sawyer appears and seems to take over the action. Tom Sawyer is such a dynamic character that he upstages Huck in the final scenes, and the novel suffers from this. I usually rush through these pages. Perhaps Mark Twain should have taken another year to secure a more tightened conclusion.

It just completely puzzles me and completely angers me to see this great book on the banned book list. I really don't want to get into the weak, ridiculous arguments proposed by these short-sighted people. It's such a shame.

So if I can find one of my copies of Huckleberry, I just may start to read it(the novel I'm reading now is weighing me down heavily). Maybe I'll ask my wife.

Next: Electronic/Digital books (ugh)

Monday, April 27, 2009


What is the greatest American novel? That question is just annoying because novels are so subjective, don't you think? I had a philosophy professor one time who just came over from Scotland; a very learned man, very intelligent. He told me he taught at a university in the United States for two years before coming here, and while there he befriended an English professor. He asked this English prof just that question, and was referred to Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. My Scottish prof then said that this English teacher is an idiot. I was surprised and asked why he would say that, to which he answered, "Have you read it?". I didn't read the book proper at that time and had to say no. He curtly answered, "Read it". I did years later, but always remembered that puzzling conversation.

Moby-Dick is widely considered to be the greatest American novel as well as one of the most important books ever written. I have a huge problem with this honorific label, and am well aware academics will come gunning for me if I say anything elsewise. But, hey, I've always taken Academic's gobblygook as a suggestion, not necessarily the truth---got myself into a lot of trouble at university because of that, but that's another story.

Herman Melville is one of the greats, don't get me wrong. His novels TYPEE, and BILLY BUD,SAILOR are absolutely wonderful, beautifully written with universal appeal. His short story BARTLEBY THE SCRIVENER is an excellent little tale. And MOBY-DICK is a fascinating, beautifully written novel which takes on themes of human strengths and weaknesses with a powerful persuasive style. My favorite scene is the one where the captain of the other whaling boat pleads with Ahab to abandon his search for Moby-Dick and help him look for his son who was washed overboard and is somewhere out in the ocean---time is of the essence. Ahab declines, the captain curses him and moves on. It's brilliant! It's like the gods have sent Ahab a test which he has ultimately failed and therefore is propelled to his doom. The cost of blind, evil obsession. Good stuff!

BUT, (here it comes), this novel is filled with useless, repetitive, erroneous, often silly, extremely boring, information on whales and whaling. It does go on and on. Some reviewers have said that Melville is saying this as Ishmael in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, but I say you really don't know this, he could be serious. Any way you look at it, all this "fill" is not needed and should have been discarded immediately if Melville had a good editor, in my opinion. I think it is this that greatly demeans the importance of this novel.
Also Melville somewhere around the middle of this epic breaks into just dialogue in a play-script kind of way. I really like this, it brings out variety in narration and a different point of view. BUT he doesn't finish it or wrap it up; it just gradually reverts back to prose again. I always thought that if he was going to attempt this original style he should put an effort into creating a short play which could possibly be taken out of the novel itself to be performed. That would be quite amazing, but he didn't do that. So what was the point of the dialogue written in this style?
He also borrows heavily from Shakespeare, but that's OK, Shakespeare borrowed from everybody. There are other things also, but I'll stop picking on Melville. Besides, killing whales doesn't jive with this century's sensibilities, it's not nice. I really like whales.

So, MOBY-DICK as the great American novel? Nah, not in my befuddled mind. MOBY-DICK as one of the best books ever written? Yes. However, it needs heavy editing. I could do that. That would be huge fun! If anyone reading this wants to pay me to edit MOBY-DICK for publication, please phone. My rates are cheap.
Oh, by the way, the opening line of MOBY-DICK---Call me Ishmael---is the most famous opening line and the one known by most people of all of literature. I would edit that out, of course---redundant (just kidding).

I'm going to submit my choice for THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain as the greatest American novel. But there's troubles here too---from the outside.

So, Huck Finn next.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


OK, My wife tells me I have done a great injustice to Anne Rice because I just about dismissed pretty well all her novels after "INTERVIEW". I reminded her that I was concentrating mainly on vampires in the review, but this small bit of information went unheeded to my wife's concerns. I am to report that Anne Rice's THE WITCHING HOUR plus SERVANT OF THE BONES (I didn't read these, ahem) are truly remarkable, groundbreaking novels on witches where Rice works her magic in exceptional prose on themes mostly grazed over by other authors. OK? There you have it.

However, this constructive conversation with my wife led her to propose that we have a talk. I mean a "Talk", one of those we-got-to-go-over-a-few-things talk. I filled my favourite blue cup with fresh Java Blend organic coffee, sat down, and awaited this seemingly important discussion. It went this way:

Wife: Bernie, listen to me. You can't review books on your blog when you haven't read them.
Bernie: Oh sure I can.
W: No you can't!
B: Yesss I can.
W: OK, put it this way: You shouldn't review books on your blog that you haven't read.
B: How so?
W: I think it would be obvious. If people are reading your blog and want to read a particular book, and you tell them it's crap, and all along you haven't read it...well, it's not a reliable source, is it? I mean, it's like telling someone a movie is no good when you haven't seen it.
B: Oh I can do that too.
W: Oh dear.
B: What books did I review that I didn't read?
W: Well, you dismissed Anne Rice's books beyond "INTERVIEW", THE SHACK, Pretty well most of Margaret Atwood.
B: Yeah well, she had it coming.
W: Most of the books in Canada Reads. Tell me then, how do you rationalize this dubious review technique?
B: Well, I've been reading books for 60 years...
W: You weren't reading novels when you were 2 years old now.
B: Yes. My parents never read to me, so I joined the Book-Of-The-Month Club.
W: (laughs) Go on.
B: There are books that are just crap, you know them, you can smell them. They are usually the ones that soar up the best-seller list in all their effluence. They have words in their titles like: butterflies, angels, unicorns, heart, Jennifer, wings/doves things,...
W: Yeah, yeah, go on.
B: These books are not literature. They follow certain proven formats that attempt usually successfully to appeal to people's sentimentality. Over-sweetened, as it were. You have to be wary of them, they're everywhere, and can strike at any time. You have to be vigilant at all times else you become ensconced in sticky goo. Ugh.
W: And that's a bad thing?
B: Oh yeah! And in these books it's imperative to have a kid, and even better if the kid is somehow different and has an uphill battle going on. Or the poor soul who has lost everything and finds solace in his cat. That sort of thing. And other books are just not good, not good at all. You can tell they're rushed by reading the first ten pages. I guess I don't have any patience with books like those anymore. I've read my fill.
W: OK. Anything else?
B: Do you want to go out for dinner?
W: Sure.

That was it. Now that that's behind us we'll move on to Danielle Steele's many novels which I have not read, and trash them. What do you say?

Next: Classics

Friday, April 17, 2009


A man has an interview for immigration into Australia. The interviewer says to him, "Do you have a police record?" "What?" replies the man. "Do you still need one to get in?"

Question: What's Australian for foreplay? Answer: When the man says, "Wake up, Sheila."

G'day Mate, Don't be a drongo, We'll hit the turps in the land Down Under with the roos and Joeys and have a ripper time. You got to love Australia. And Australia is no slouch when it comes to the arts: literature, acting, directing, producing, music, and so on. They easily find an international market. There are many great works that come from this wonderful country. However, I'm only going to talk about two authors, one director, and one movie here mostly because they all have made such an impression on me.

My favorite Australian author is without a doubt Peter Carey. I think he is an amazing writer who has garnered many awards for his works including the Booker Prize which he won twice, the only writer along with Coetzee to have done so. Foremost in importance for me are his novels OSCAR AND LUCINDA and THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG. OSCAR AND LUCINDA which won the Booker in 1988 is an excellent story based in Australia centering around a wild adventure, a love affair, and a gambling bet. You can't get a better combination than that. It was made into a successful movie in 1997 with Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett.

But for me THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG was the novel that established Carey as one of my favorite writers. Written in 2001, winning the Booker(again), this is an Historical rendition of the murderous life of Ned Kelly, that notorious Australian outlaw. Actually, the TRUE in the tittle of this book is erroneous because Carey took many liberties with the documented facts, but that's OK---it's a novel, not a history. What is astonishing about this book is that it's written by Ned Kelly himself as the narrator trying to explain his behaviour to his daughter. Therefore, it's written in the vernacular with sometimes poor grammar and no punctuation, BUT(emphasis here) the writing just flows. It's quite a feat. I could imagine only a great writer can do that. Mark Twain also in Huck Finn(talk about that wonderful novel later). This is a really good book.

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK by Joan Lindsay is a novel and subsequent film version of the extremely mysterious circumstances that happened to three young girls and one of their teachers from a prestigious boarding school in Southern Australia in 1900. The story goes that one very hot day a group of school girls accompanied by their teachers took a trip to picnic near a odd looking rock locally called Hanging Rock. By the end of the day, three students and a teacher completely disappeared. Even after an extensive search by pretty well the whole town, nothing was found to be amiss. To this day, the girls were never found, nor the mystery solved. The novel is written in a documentary style which lends itself well to the subject. Yet again it is a novel, not a history.

Australian director-- and one of my favorites--Peter Weir made a movie version of this novel. PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK was released in 1975 winning international acclaim. Weir gave his film a dreamlike aura, and along with a spooky soundtrack he manages to heighten the mystery behind this strange occurrence yet keep the mundane activities of a turn-of-the-century school picnic in focus. It's a wonderful movie that is still spellbinding today.

Well, I think I'll have a cut lunch and a coldie, good onya, mate.

Next: Classics

Monday, April 13, 2009


Last week my wife and I were shopping for a couple of books at one of our Coles'Bookstores. By the way, I see no sense having two bookstores that are practically the same within spitting distance to each other. I have written to Heather Reisman, CEO of Chapters/Indigo books, many times over the years outlining the obvious advantages for her--as well as us--to the idea of closing both Coles and erecting a nice, big Chapters Bookstore on Spar Road next to WallyMart and Depot. Unfortunately, my letters go unheeded, and I have a suspicion are filed under the Crank/Odd/Weird category in the cabinet. However, if we all shout long enough and loud enough, just maybe someone will hear us---it seems to be the Cape Breton way. To have a big Chapters store here makes perfect sense to me. But I'm off track; we're talking about Vampire books? Right.

Yes, my wife and I were in the process of buying a couple of books at Coles. I slipped in TWILIGHT by Stephanie Meyer hoping my wife would not notice, and also hoping she would read it so I could get a review. This ingenious manoeuvre on my part has worked with aplomb many times in the past. However, since reading my post of THE SHACK, she has become wise to my intent, and at the checkout, without looking, passed the book behind her for me to discard from the pile. Rats! She said, "If you want it, you read it. I can't waste my time" referring, of course, to my slip when I said the same in regards to her reading THE SHACK. Like the great elephant, my wife never forgets.

So I don't have a personal review of TWILIGHT by Stephanie Meyer. However, it is a vampire book, a huge bestseller as are all Meyer's other books of the same theme, and a craze now spreading across North America, and a successfully popular movie to boot. The book(s) are geared to young girls around the age of 12, but lately a lot of moms are reading them too. In these novels--so I hear--- suspense is high, danger is evident, romance is palpable, plot is important(as opposed to detail), and sex is hinted at. What ever happened to Heidi?

Vampires, of course, do not exist; let's get that clear. Vampires and vampire lore have been around for hundreds of years mostly based on ignorance and superstitions. It always amazes me how a huge body of information, description and literature can amass around something that doesn't exist. Man truly is an imaginative being. And the one writer who contributed the most to this was Bram Stoker with his book DRACULA. It really is a great novel, and just about everyone knows a scene from it.

Interesting to note that DRACULA is a epistolary novel meaning the story is told through a series of letters. Since this is the 19th century and letter writing was extremely popular(think Austin), it stands to reason that certain novels are written in this style(another being Mary Shelley's Frankenstein). If it was written today it probably would be in text since letter writing has fallen out of favour. Imagine. What would it look like?: Drac cam 2 c u 2 byt u'r nck, lol, lol. (By the way, there's no novels written yet in TEXT style, so if you now decide to write one in this style, you'll have to give over 20 percent of the profits to me for the inspiration fee. lol) Today the epistolary novel is rare, but young writers like Lionel Shriver have used it quite effectively in her award-winning novel WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. I'm off the track again.

But if you're interested in vampire literature, you really should read Irish writer J. Sheridan Le Fanu's controversial novella CARMILLA. Written around 1860, CARMILLA was the first lesbian vampire novel. This novella is quite powerful and it was proven to have a direct influence on Bram Stoker's DRACULA which came later. CARMILLA is still in print today but not that easy to find a copy.

The novel or novels that have stoked the fire of vampire lore in our century are those written by Anne Rice. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE was her first and absolutely the best of the bunch. It really is quite the original take on the old bloodsucker genre. Nicely written, evenly paced, with unbelievably gory scenes. Rice also introduced human conscience and guilt into some of her vampires and therefore elevating the story to one with a moral dilemma. It is suburb. It was Anne Rice who restarted this whole vampire craze today. Her second novel VAMPIRE LESTAT was also very good. However, with fame and wealth now shrouding Anne Rice, I found her successive vampire books weak---the blood was diluted, so to speak. I hear that she has given up writing about vampires and writes exclusively about Jesus now. Interesting leap, don't you think?

Next: Australian writers(some)

Monday, April 6, 2009


So what's the story about matching the right wine with certain foods? I always adhere to my own credo that if a particular dish doesn't jive with the wine you're drinking then ditch the food. I love wine. I love everything about wine. I love the taste, the smell, colour, even the unique shapes of the bottles. And I believe that the question should NOT be which wine goes with which dish, but which food interferes less with your wine. But if you must know the best resolve to this question than you should definitely consult Natalie MacLean.

There's no one in this great country of ours---and other lesser countries, for that matter---who's more an authority on everything pertaining to wine than Natalie MacLean. In a relatively short time, she's been elevated to the position of being the world's foremost wine writer. Natalie is a personable, intelligent, likable young woman, And a former Maritimer. I even heard from a most reliable source that Natalie was once a Highland dancer. How great is that?!

Her bestselling wine book RED, WHITE, and DRUNK ALL OVER is quite an enjoyable overview of the wine business. It's enjoyable mostly because, unlike most wine writers who take a devilish delight in explaining wines to the thick masses and dazzling them with expert knowledge, Natalie in her personable manner informs us of the process. There's a big difference between "explaining" and "informing". She has an easy, fluid style of writing that seems to take the reader by the hand and enables him or her to share all the delights of the wine process that she experiences. You feel like you are actually there in the complicated(to me) wine provinces of France or the hot valleys of California. Pretty cool! She writes with a great sense of humour which highlights her openness and charm. It's an excellent read. Even if you are not that into wine(I can't imagine why not), you will enjoy this book, I promise. Natalie knows wine like no other, that's for sure.

You can check out Natalie's excellent web site at or contact her at Her free Newsletter contains a huge amount of amazing information on wine.

Food: They say that CAPE BRETON TASTES by dramatist, teacher, and food connoisseur Gary Walsh with photos by award-winning photographer Warren Gordon is excellent. Gary has told me that he constantly gets emails from people who have successfully followed the recipes in this book with delicious results. I know Gary well and am still waiting for my autographed, complimentary copy.(just kidding).

Another Cape Breton book well worth mentioning is NANCY'S WEDDING FEAST: AND OTHER TASTY TALES by Cordon Bleu chef Yvonne Levert with Local historian James St. Clair. In this book you have extremely interesting stories of Cape Breton along with proven recipes. It's a delight.

Well, I think I will now open that Pinot Grigio chilled to the exact degree suggested by Natalie, and cook...ahhh, nah, I'll just have the wine. Cheers.

Next post: Vampire books