Son of a Trickster: Jared, a latter day Holden

Woodstock was over by the time school started in Sept 1969. I was a veteran of the high school wars, 7 yrs. of strife and skullduggery, and an assistant head of English. Even so, I was not prepared for the grade tens that year. They communicated with each by semaphore, weird hand signals and actual gibberish. They treated me as irrelevant noise, a distracting presence.

Then the sweetest little black haired girl reported to her parents that drugs were being sold at the school. The papers got hold of it. We were apparently the only school in the city where drugs were available. This neat little pixie, I finally realized, was stoned every day, as were all of her friends – 2/3rds of the class.

Sweetie soon discovered that she was outed, hoisted by her own petard. Somehow, I got back a reasonable sense of order.

Even so, how was I ever going to teach them Catcher in the Rye? Holden was you know, like the squarest!

In Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster, we find ourselves learning to love grade ten-er, 16-yr-old Jared, the Cookie Dude. His only social capital is his ability to bake and supply ‘edibles’. He uses butter and not the very best weed, but the cookies are ‘da bomb’.

What does he do with the income? He pays his father’s rent; otherwise his booted-off-welfare father and his pregnant step-sister would be out on the street.

His mother can’t know this because she will kill him. She’s already had a go at her previous boyfriend. Something about a nail gun. She’s handy with revolvers and long guns as well.

We are on the west coast of Canada, in northern British Columbia. The town and the Rez are almost one. Jared and his mother are Native. His maternal grandmother refuses to see him because she says he is the son of a trickster and not the no-welfare man his mother is separated from.

Jared is a kind boy who helps out his elderly neighbors -butchering a moose, for example, drinks beer and hard liquor, does every drug available, hangs out with party-ers at the beach and frequently has to get out of his bedroom, next to the laundry tub, to avoid his loving but homicidal mother.

Then a raven starts talking to him and says, ‘Jared, I AM your Father.’ Then things get weird. Apemen, otters, grizzly bears, singing fireflies casually materialize sometimes through the floor boards. Jarred rejects his mother’s explanation that he has magical abilities and should learn protective charms.

Meanwhile Jared, unlike Holden, has beautiful girls, who may or may not also have powers, turning up to join him in his sleeping bag.

I do hope that Eden Robinson has The Further Adventures of the Son of a Trickster up her sleeve.

Jared would have been fine to have in class. Stoned or not, he had good manners.

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To e-Read or not to e-Read

This week, I read another pronouncement by a Book Lover that he, bibliophile that he is, would never consider reading an e-book, he being Joe Queenan, who has written a memoir One for the Books. Robert Fulford, critic for the National Post calls the memoir “a funny, fractious and ecstatic book about his (Queenan’s) life as an obsessive reader.”

Queenan spends 2 hours a day reading and claims to have read 6,000 books since he was 7 when he began reading to escape his violent, alcoholic father and emotionally distant, manic-depressive mother.

Well, good for you, Joe, and la-dee-da. Who hasn’t? Who didn’t? And I swear I have already given away that number of read books while still retaining a couple thousand more. You can see Joe has rubbed me the wrong way and I haven’t read his book yet, but I intend to enjoy it nevertheless.

In addition, Fulford reports that Queenan refuses to read any book in which the character attends private school, including Catcher in the Rye, self-actualization books, books described as “luminous” and he considers To Kill a Mockingbird a historically suspect novel about Just the Nicest White Man Ever. That is not the end of the list of what he will not read.

Queenan enjoys the sensual experience of the book as object, the feel of it in his hands, the visual impression of print on paper, the smell, the memories evoked of where and when he got it.

Fulford, himself, recounts the 3 life rules he taught his daughters: 1. never fold down a page, 2. never leave a book open face down, 3. never leave the house without a book.

Once we have enjoyed the irony of the fact these are supposed to primary life rules, we can evaluate them. Number 3 is – it goes without saying – undeniably a prime directive. You can endure the interminable waits that transit companies, airlines, hospitals, doctors, and city hall throw at you with your mind buried in a book. Today I watched a young woman walking up from the main bus route reading every step of the way. And I have a friend who got a ticket for reading in a traffic jam. Well, they weren’t going anywhere!

Personally, I do not regard books as sacred. They are too important.

I do not turn down corners except in dire emergencies. Having said that, dire emergencies do arise, times when the bookmark has vanished and there are no available sales slips, transit tokens and certainly no dollar bills, here in the Great White North, to make do as markers. Since many of the mysteries I read are 3rd or 4th hand or more, I spend time straightening other people’s dog-ears. I would never dog-ear a library book nor would I underline or write in one and more than once, I have wanted to hunt down someone who did. Their comments are without exception puerile. (Look that up, desecrator!)

My own books are a different question. I write on the back flyleaf reminding myself of ideas that struck me as interesting and noting the page number. I generally don’t underline but I might note a word at the top of the page to help me find the idea later. Of course, I read in the bathtub, although not in the shower. Of course, I read at my solitary table at home and in restaurants. Of course jam gets involved and grease, but never ketchup. I hate ketchup.

Once my young daughter came home indignant that her school librarian had told her that never, never, under any circumstances, should she read, even her own books, in the tub or at the table. Daughter and I just shook our heads in pity: librarian was not a true reader.

A true reader is omnivorous and will find books wherever possible -in discard bins, big box bookstores, second hand stores in mouldy basements and, of course, in e-readers. Even Robert Fulford, Queenan’s reviewer, confesses that he read One for the Books on his Kindle.

I have an old Kindle that my sister, Georgia, gave me. She has its twin. Mine is still in her name, so whatever book she buys also downloads to mine and vice versa. I bought Lee Child’s new book A Wanted Man and she also downloaded it. She did wait until I had finished; otherwise, we would have got confused. It would have automatically gone to the last page of whoever had used it last. Note to Lee Child: if I had bought the hardcover, I would have loaned it to her.

I love the Kindle for that reason and because I can hear about a book and have it in my hands in seconds. (Full disclosure: I have also published an e-book Never Tell: recovered memories of a daughter of the Knights Templar. See 115journals.com) So if I am snowed in or too sick to go out, if I can’t get to sleep, if I need to consult a book I don’t have, I can find it easily on Amazon and download it. It all goes on Georgia’s charge card!

Apparently, it is now possible to download e-books from our library, but I haven’t got there yet.

I can’t write notes on the back flyleaf of an e-book. I can’t even keep a record of page numbers -there are no page numbers, just % of book read – and ideas, but I am dealing with 5 year-old technology and I’m betting other tablet users can. It is annoying to go back and search for a reference as I had to do when writing the post “Jack Reacher: a long way from Virginia”. But it was not impossible and was no doubt instrumental in building me new neural pathways, so necessary in one of such advanced years.