Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Jean Béliveau

Why the need to speak of him?
Why the need
To tell stories
About the time 
You saw him play
The game
In person
Or on TV
Or never did?
Or about the time 
He was there
In the flesh
You waited in line
And he took the time
To talk to you
To ask you how you are
Shake your hand
Smile?
Or the time he pointed
Called you over
Yes, you,
Offered to sign your shirt
Or an old program
Or a card?
Why the need to speak 
Of his presence
His prowess
His charisma
His talent
His common touch
His grace
His elegance
His humility?
Why the need to speak of him
as if you lost 
a mentor
a teacher
a neighbour
a father
a close friend?

Why the need?
Indeed.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Microserfs
Microserfs by Douglas Coupland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The thought that I had as I came to the conclusion of this novel is that if this book were transported back in time 100 years readers from that time would barely recognize it as written in English. I mean we read novels written 100, even 200 and 300 years ago with ease and pleasure (Dickens, Jane Austen etc.) They are stories we can still recognize. The language starts getting dicey for us about 500 years ago, Shakespeare's time. The language requires deciphering, and the references some research and context. Now I'm not saying that Douglas Coupland is the Shakespeare of the digital age - he doesn't possess Shakespeare's gift for drama, narrative or lyricism. But there is something undeniably compelling about a writer who can absorb so much of contemporary culture, process it through the machine of his imagination, and fashion a document that accurately and poignantly captures the strangeness, rhythm, language, and condition of our special time and place. So will Microserfs, a book that describes a group of coders working for the GM of the digital age, be read 100 years from now? It just might.    


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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the WestBlood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy


Either this is the classic of American literature that people say it is, or it's a bloated, essentially characterless, thinly-plotted, portrait masquerading as a novel. I'm not sure, so no stars, but it's probably both. One thing I do know is that reading this novel was an ordeal in almost every sense of the word, no doubt intended by the author, which is why it's hard to recommend. It's unlike anything I've ever read. There are characters, but they remain essentially faceless throughout. There is gory violence on virtually every page as the narrative meanders through the starkly beautiful epic landscape of the American west circa 1870s. The mountains, plains and deserts are in fact the only relatable character, and they are rendered in a language that is lushly gorgeous and draws attention to itself with jargon and syntax that is almost biblical - echoing a biblical/religious subtext and theme throughout. I have no doubt that this depiction of the bloodlust, brutality and immorality that characterized the conquest of the American frontier is closer to the truth than anything that has been written before, or perhaps since. So is the novel important? I guess so. But unless an ordeal is what you're looking for in a novel and one without characters to relate to, and very little in the way of plot or redemption, I can't recommend it.


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Monday, July 28, 2014

Approaching 50

As I approach 50 -  

I laugh less but appreciate it much more
I enjoy Johnny Cash's music
I find women of different shapes and sizes beautiful and attractive
I understand the value of hard work
Why it happened doesn't seem to matter as much as the fact that it happened
I am slower to anger, quicker to cry
I am slower at almost everything, but time seems to move faster
Memories are less about events and more about people
Family is more important
I fear less in general, except flying (which I fear more)
I take myself less seriously and others more seriously
I appreciate a good pair of shoes
I don't think about the goal as often
I appreciate a good night's sleep and take it less for granted
Words matter more
On some level it all feels like entertainment
I appreciate animals more but want to own one less
I believe more in fate, intangibles, positive energy, karma
Children seem smarter
Music seems more miraculous
It's more about finding enjoyment, pleasures in small things
I am happier to be exactly where I am

Monday, July 21, 2014

God Telling A Joke by Dave Margoshes

God Telling a Joke and Other StoriesGod Telling a Joke and Other Stories by Dave Margoshes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once I started reading this splendid new collection of stories I could not put it down, one story led seamlessly and effortlessly into the next. Notwithstanding his 16 books of short fiction, novels, non-fiction and poetry and his many awards and citations, Dave Margoshes remains a relative unknown, which is perplexing for such a fine writer who has been producing consistently good writing for decades. This new collection is as good as anything he's ever written, graceful, moving, witty, polished stories filled with a diverse range of authentic memorable characters. Even better is the humour that runs through the book - which might be Dave's funniest - but I don't mean Jerry Seinfeld funny, I mean a rich resonant earned humour that is the product of a seasoned pro. This is a writer who's in it for the long haul, who understands that clever does not mean good, and that the journey is greater than the destination.


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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Songs of the Wichita Lineman

According to the Wikipedia entry on the song Wichita Lineman, "...the BBC referred to it as 'one of those rare songs that seems somehow to exist in a world of its own – not just timeless but ultimately outside of modern music'." I know this because I looked it up last week. I've loved that song my whole life, and more, it's held a certain mysterious fascination with me, one that I've never been able to explain in words. The chord changes, the lyrics that are somehow both simple and artfully complex, and Glen Campbell's understated yet sophisticated rendition, down home and dramatic at the same time, understated and soaring, plaintive and triumphant. When I read, "not just timeless but ultimately outside of modern music" I nodded to myself and said, yeah, that's it, there are some songs that have that strange quality, they achieve that inexplicable tension and resolution that transcends the artform. It's not just musicianship, or the compositional skill they embody but something that is so soul-stirring as to be sublime, resulting when the right song and the right performer come together. Which got me thinking about other songs that achieve that level. What I found when I started compiling my list is that they cross the genres. But the one consistent thing is that they are all songs that I've heard most of my life and never got tired of. Even from the first time I heard them they seem to have always existed, like nature itself. They're songs that aren't just good or great but they produce chills every time. Here it is, in no particular order. Commentary added when it occurred to me:

Wichita Lineman (written by Jimmy Webb, performed by Glen Campbell). An aria sung for the ages by a cowboy.

Promises, Promises (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, performed by Dionne Warwick). Composed for Broadway, a unique arrangement with hybrid instrumentation, a bizarre change in tempo mid-song that works, and a complete lyrical/narrative arc, matched beautifully by Warwick's achingly heartfelt vocal performance. This song beats out Walk On By by a nose hair. 

I've Got You Under My Skin (written by Cole Porter, performed by Frank Sinatra). Sinatra's voice and delivery were made for this song. It swings; the very definition of 'hip'. Simultaneously fearless and vulnerable, soft and strong. Gives me goosebumps on top of my skin every time.

Let it Be (written by Lennon and McCartney and performed by the Beatles). Practically a prayer.

Born to Run (written by Bruce Springsteen, performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band). Anthemic, booming, operatic, raw, romantic, gritty and triumphant. A paean to youth, young love and American idealism. This album was the reason I stopped 'studying my pain' (Thunder Road), in fact, stopped studying altogether.

This Guy's in Love With You (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, performed by Herb Alpert). An example of a song and performance that are so understated and spare, they soar. I will not argue that Herb Alpert can't sing worth shit, and yet every note is somehow spot on.

Close to You (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, performed by the Carpenters). Karen Carpenter's singing is positively ethereal.

Hallelujah (written and performed by Leonard Cohen). Leonard Cohen makes Herb Alpert look like Pavarotti. He is Karen Carpenter's exact singing opposite, the fallen angel to her angel, which is why his rendering of this simple song qua poem works so exquisitely. 

Fire and Rain (written and performed by James Taylor). The song that every songwriter wished he could have written and every guitar player wants to be able to play and sing like James Taylor. 

Bridge Over Troubled Water (written by Paul Simon and performed by Simon and Garfunkel). The greatest song ever written about hope and self-sacrifice. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Salesmanship: Three Stories - FREE

My story collection Salesmanship is now available for FREE for your Kindle e-reader at Amazon.com or for your Kobo at Goodreads

Wondering what it takes to get into heaven these days? B. Glen Rotchin takes us on one human’s whimsical encounter with his maker. In another story a cynical aging textile salesman's attempt to humor a Lubavitch boy unexpectedly brings him closer to personal truth. In the last story a fateful basketball game brings together two Jewish boys from opposite sides of a cultural divide. The author of two novels, The Rent Collector and Halbman Steals Home, the dark humour and layered meaning that characterize Rotchin's work are on fine display in these three poignant tales.

Here's what one astute reviewer wrote about the title story: 

".. it is a brilliantly told story about a rapidly aging man trying to determine what his life, or life in general, has amounted to. And as the title aptly implies, Salesmanship, after years of having said “no” to the Lubavitcher boys and to faith, he finally says “yes.”