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May 2012

A Wolf Pack

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To offset possible accusations of wolfism or “giving wolves a bad name,” let it be officially noted that I am very fond of wolves. Truly. I am aware that wolves, in addition to their unruly qualities, can be quite shy and are often congenial. One of the first non-fiction books I can recall reading was Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat. (I remember thinking that it was a surprisingly funny book and wishing that I could learn the “wolf language” described within.) One of the first audio stories my children ever heard was Prokoviev’s Peter and the Wolf, conducted and narrated by Leonard Bernstein. (They still both love the finale when Peter urges the hunters to spare the wolf so that the wolf can be taken to the zoo in a triumphant procession.)

It has become happily apparent to me, if it wasn’t already, that culture is full of great wolf representations. In hopes of enhancing your reading experience, I present these books as a complement to my own. I believe you will find among the wolves gathered here, many wildly unexpected and endearing qualities.

1. Wolf by Sara Fanelli (“Wolf finds that being a wolf is a disadvantage when it comes to making friends because people seem always angry at him, and he wonders if he will ever find a friendly face.”)

2. Wolf Won’t Bite! by Emily Gravett (“Three cheeky little circus pigs make a wild wolf jump through hoops [literally], endure feats of astounding derring-do, and even withstand perilous games of dress-up. Safe in the thought that “Wolf Won’t Bite!” they even put their heads between his jaws…but can you push a wolf too far?”) Note: This book was reviewed alongside Virginia Wolf here.

3. Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen (“Rolf, a small, gentle wolf, lives with Mrs. Boggins, who tells him he is a good little wolf. But when he meets up with a large, ferocious wolf, he is told that he isn’t a real wolf. Wolves aren’t little and good—they are big and bad…”)

Virginia Wolf’s “Ears and Bow” Kit

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Isabelle Arsenault has made an “Ears and Bow” transformation kit for the launch of the French edition of Virginia Wolf. She presented samples to me during her recent visit to Toronto and I couldn’t wait to assemble one.

I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to finally meet Isabelle and her husband Frédéric Gauthier in person. Frédéric runs the Montreal-based publishing house La Pastèque together with his charming friend Martin Brault. Aside from being a curator of all things beautifully bookish, Frédéric is also a gourmand and wine connoisseur. We enjoyed the most delectable and indulgent meal at the Black Hoof in Toronto and chatted about books and art and bicycles and camping and by the end of the evening, as we zigzagged our way back to their hotel, I felt that I was in the presence of very good friends.

A highlight of the evening for me was getting a sneak peek at Isabelle’s forthcoming graphic novel, a collaboration with Fanny Britt. I think it’s the most beautiful book I’ve ever seen and it is definitely number one on my wishlist for Fall 2012. I love the way Isabelle looks at the world and I feel so fortunate to be able to see her work expand in new directions. She is a true artist.

Isabelle will be taking part in Kids Day and a launch for Virginia Wolf at Librairie D&Q in Montreal this coming Sunday, May 20th at 11 a.m. I wish I could be there too. xo

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012)

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“I refuse to lie to children,” said Sendak. “I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence.” Instead, he gave us books rife with trouble and hard things. He tackled child fury and fear and loneliness. He provoked and rankled and broke the rules of picturebooks while setting new standards of artistry.

Ever-irascible and equally charming, I can think of no better person to speak to Sendak’s legacy than Sendak himself: “[I]f I’ve done anything, I’ve had kids express themselves as they are, impolitely, lovingly… they don’t mean any harm. They just don’t know what the right way is. And as it turns out sometimes the so-called ‘right way’ is utterly the wrong way. What a monstrous confusion…I never set out to write books for children. I don’t have a feeling that I’m gonna save children or my life is devoted. I’m not Hans Christian Anderson. Nobody’s gonna make a statue in the park with a lot of scrambling kids climbing up me. I won’t have it, okay?”

(From Kenny’s Window, 1956, the first title Sendak wrote and illustrated himself.)

We are Fickle and Unreliable

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The great lie of longform narrative is that people are consistent, when in truth many of us are happily inconsistent for no dramatic reason at all. Some of us have major continuity issues. Some of us live our lives with a complete disregard for novelistic conventions, stable character development, or even basic logic.

Be honest. Have you ever felt that you were changing so rapidly, or living so much in the moment, that what you did or who you were the week or even day before felt like a foggy memory? My friend Mike calls this being 16 or 17. (Remember the constant renewal of adolescence?) As Mike remembers it, “You could fall in love fourteen times in an afternoon, every conversation was the final word, every movie was a paradigm shifting apocalypse.”

As a writer who has tried to build characters that have some semblance of consistency, I am aware that there are times in our lives (even beyond youth!) when we are in flux mode; when identity shifting experiences seem to happen daily, even hourly.

All of this to say, I love this book, I Keep Changing, by Bob Gill and Alastair Reid. I love this book because it shows that sometimes a good life doesn’t follow the usual rules of reliable behavior. As Reid puts it: “Big or small? Weak or strong? Vanilla or chocolate? Actually, I keep changing, and I’m all these things at the same time…”