Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2013, pt.4: Sarah Tolmie

Enjoyed in 2013
by Sarah Tolmie

What did I read this year? Not nearly enough, looking back on it. This may well be true for many of you, but I tend to go through fairly distinct input and output phases. I was definitely in output mode. Moreover, I was conducting the final editing phase of The Stone Boatmen with Kath Wilham, which seemed to involve reading the whole novel about 97 times. I am sure she feels the same -- but it will be out in April! (PR moment there, apologies.) The upside to this was that other people's prose really came as a relief...

Starting with Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria, which I bought at WisCon. As she was there, I have a signed copy. I notice I am in the company of the reviewers at The Guardian in thinking this is a wonderful book. The texture of the prose is lush but never gooey; it is learned without being overbearing, original and intensely atmospheric. It conveys with great poignancy the position of an island community off the coast of a great empire, mapping on in various ways to the historical experience of Sri Lanka to India, or Taiwan to China, or any of several island cultures off the coast of Africa. It is not constrained by any of these, however, being a very fully imagined world of its own, and like many of my favorite speculative fictions, one overwhelmingly concerned with the act of writing and its implications. In this it reminds me of several later works by Le Guin like The Telling or the Voices/Powers/Gifts trilogy, or Lavinia. All of these books share a vision of the sheer heroism of poetry (in the capacious sense that Sidney meant it in his Defense of Poetry, meaning "works of imagination") that is not the least bit Hemingway.

On the Le Guin theme, I also bought her translation of Angela Gorodischer's Kalpa Imperial while at WisCon, and enjoyed it a lot. It was a pleasure to discover a whole new magic realist that I knew nothing about, and to get another sample of Le Guin's supremely unfussed style as a translator.

And while it was definitely not a relief, I did, in the end, enjoy Don Paterson's God's Gift to Women, proof that aggressively male modernist poetry is not dead. (This collection is ten years old, by the way. I am rarely up to date in poetry.) This was a project that involved much more cursing, eye-rolling and considerably more drinking, but it was rewarding. The guy has won every award there is, including the TS Eliot prize, and he really does have the chops. Not to mention that he gets to drop all kinds of funky Scots dialect words and you can't fault him for it, as he teaches at St Andrews, and hey, the drunk man has to keep looking at the thistle, right? Otherwise it will disappear.

Also really enjoyed Lesley Wheeler's The Receptionist and Other Tales, another WisCon find, which was hilarious. I read too many poets who are desperately unfunny, and it really gets old.

Movies, forget it. I think I watched Pacific Rim, and marveled again at how long the Crispin Crispianus speech from Henry V has lasted. Other than that, what was there? Remakes, comics, mumblecore. No, no and no. People are surely making intelligent movies somewhere, but I have not made the effort to seek them out. My loss, I am sure, but there you are. I continued to watch Dr Who, and now both my children are well into it (7 and 9). Both have asked for sonic screwdrivers for Christmas. Sherlock went on enjoyably, despite the sudden superstardom of Benedict Cumberbatch (bet he's the only one in the union, huh?). Elementary really grew on me, as I like both of the leads, each extraordinarily sexy in their way. And the British series Misfits was absolutely a scream, just beautiful: world's most gormless adolescent superheroes. I kept on with True Blood, more out of loyalty than anything. Maybe 2014 will be more of an outgoing year. But, all of the above I truly enjoyed, and you can't say fairer than that.

 Sarah Tolmie is an Associate Professor in the English department at the University of Waterloo, where she teaches medieval and renaissance literature, general British literature, and creative writing. She publishes on the bizarre late medieval visionary poem Piers Plowman and its relations to logic and language and has been developing a virtual reality translation of the text — what she calls a “wearable poem” that the reader walks into via a head-mounted display — called the Salvation Suit, since 2009. This technological experiment has led to several other research-creation projects, among them building an augmented reality angel out of a human dancer and a pair of dynamically-responsive virtual wings, and making a whispering gallery of voices saying “goodbye” with a Kinect, an interactive theatre piece about mourning.  Aqueduct Press will be releasing her debut novel, The Stone Boatmen, in April 2014.

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