Comedy

An interview with local author Alexander Boldizar

Boldizar Jacket Phot 5x5x300dpiTell us about your book, The Ugly.

It’s the story of Muzhduk the Ugli the Fourth, a 300-pound boulder-throwing mountain man from Siberia whose tribal homeland is stolen by an American lawyer out to build a butterfly conservatory for wealthy tourists. In order to restore his people’s land and honor, Muzhduk must travel to Harvard Law School to learn how to throw words instead of boulders.

Boldizar - The Ugly Cover front page only as JPGIt’s a satire of law and society. At its best, it sat at the #2 spot in Amazon’s “dark humour” category between Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut, and it’s been generally treated as humour, which has been somewhat surprising. It’s currently a finalist competing against the founder of The Onion for the Indies humour “Book of the Year” prize—but the humour is sort of an accidental by-product. I saw it more as an attempt to create existentialist fiction for the modern era, with the strongest debt to writers like Kafka, Musil and Borges. But I also wanted to make it fun.

If I may be forgiven for quoting a review that picked up on this side of the novel, William Morris, the Emmy-nominated writer for NYPD Blue, wrote in the Buffalo News that “Like a boisterous Borges ignoring the delete key or an angry Celine forced to write in a language he hates, Alexander Boldizar plays with our minds by mixing fact with fiction in The Ugly… Borrowing from every fabulist he knows he turns Conrad’s Heart of Darkness on its head. Kurtz’s “horror” has become Boldizar’s “Ugly”… It’s as if the Harvard Lampoon turned on itself…Kurtz has returned from the jungle and the horror is our institutions.”

I guess any book about the horror of our institutions has to end up absurdist and funny.

kafkaWhy do you write?

I love seeing things from odd angles, simultaneously from the outside and the inside, like a cubist painting that never quite fits together. Kafka once wrote to his father that “Life is not a jigsaw puzzle.”

Writing gives me the opportunity to flesh out crazy perspectives, mismatched puzzle pieces, and crash them into each other and see what happens.

slovakiaDescribe your first ever piece of writing.

I had an intense dream when I was 12, one of those seminal dreams that you remember for a lifetime, that I turned into a short story immediately upon waking up. The key to the story was a passphrase to get out of a trapped situation. I was born in Slovakia and had been in Canada four years by then, but still had frequent dreams growing out of our escape and the six months we spent in a refugee camp. The passphrase was in Czech: Strch prst zkrz krk. It means “Stick your finger through your neck.” It’s a complete, grammatically correct sentence without a single vowel.

herringI didn’t write before that, and nothing after until university, where I wrote for the Red Herring (McGill’s version of the Harvard Lampoon). But it’s remarkable how well Strch prst zkrz krk foreshadowed my entire writing career. Though I do try and use vowels when writing in English.

castleI’ve read your book.  What should I read next?

The Ugly is not the lightest book, and it was inspired by novels that took some work to get through but have stayed with me for decades. If you enjoyed it, then the books I’d recommend are ones you’ve probably already read. The Castle, by Kafka, is probably my favourite book of all time. The Man Without Qualities by Musil is a close second. The Good Soldier Svejk by Hasek. Rhinoceros by Ionesco. Anything by Bohumil Hrabal. Radetzsky March by Joseph Roth. Independent People, by the Icelandic writer Haldor Laxness—the main character there has some similarities to Muzhduk. I remember feeling the sheer weight of the book, of the Icelandic winter, while reading it, but twenty years later I still remember the entire novel. It’s an amazing book.

If what you liked about The Ugly is mostly the humour, then anything by Heller or Vonnegut. Or, something that had never crossed my mind until multiple reviewers made the comparison, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

jjleeWhat local authors do you love?

Depends on the genre, I guess. I recently met JJ Lee at a North Shore Writers Association workshop, and his The Measure of a Man is great. If you like serial-killer thrillers, Jackie Bateman is here on the North Shore, and I really like the way she cuts against the formulas at just the right moment. And I have a young son and was very happy to discover Michael Kerr’s riffs on classic fairy tales. I actually discovered his The Nervous Prince and Other Stories thanks to this blog, so thank you on behalf of both my son and me!

oveWhat is the best book you’ve read so far this year?

This year? Probably A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman. Ove is a great, beautiful curmudgeon, and the book is a perfect balance between laughter and tears assembled with a very light touch.

libraryhallWhere can fans find you?

My website points to all the various events, news and social media, but I’m most active on Facebook and Goodreads. I’m also trying to figure out Twitter, @Boldizar, though there I keep getting distracted into sending nasty tweets to Trump. The Ugly is in all the usual places, Indigo-Chapters, Amazon, and the North Vancouver City Library. Just this week I found out that it’s being translated into Czech—I wonder if it will end up in Prague’s Klementinum library? I love libraries, and that’s one of the most stunning in the world.

Thanks, Alex!

If you are a published local author who would like to be interviewed for The Top Shelf, please be in touch!  Email me at plesku@cnv.org

-Patricia

Kat’s Fall 2016 Picks

While I’m not quite ready to admit that Fall is actually on the horizon, I’m more than happy to start thinking about what I’ll read during the season. And I’m sure I’ll be ready for some serious reading time once this  foolish attempt to ride my bike up to Whistler is finished on Saturday. So here’s what I’ll be reading while I’m taking a break from my bicycle and letting my poor muscles recover!

September

survivingloganSurviving Logan, by Erik Bjarnason and Cathi Shaw

At 5,959m elevation, Mt. Logan is Canada’s highest peak. In 2005 North Shore Rescue put together a team of experienced mountaineers and search-and-rescue personnel to tackle the summit. The expedition started out with good weather, but it quickly took a dangerous downturn, trapping three members of the team on the mountain. This true story recounts their efforts to survive the storm as conditions turned from bad to worse, to near tragic. There are many great mountaineering books out there with amazing stories of survival, but I’m really looking forward to reading one featuring local figures.

summerlongSummerlong, by Peter S. Beagle

In his first novel since 1999, the author of the beloved The Last Unicorn tells the story of a longtime couple who take in a young waitress, who in turn begins to inspire development and change in the both of them. This book is being described as mythical fantasy, and even has a Pacific Northwest setting to boot, so this is probably the book I’m most looking forward to this season.

nutshellNutshell, by Ian McEwan

A tale of deceit and murder, told from the point of view of a 9-month-old unborn child. It’s a mix of psychological thriller, mystery comedy, and tragedy, but the narration alone sounds too odd and interesting to pass up!

 

 

October

numberofthingsA Number of Things, by Jane Urquhart

Inspired by Canada’s upcoming sesquicentennial (I did not know that was a word until now… 150 years, for those of you in the same boat as me), Canadian author Jane Urquhart tells the stories behind 50 Canadian objects, including a particular cherry tree, an artist’s shoe, a tea doll, and a royal cowcatcher. I had to look up what several of the items actually were (including the cow catcher… apparently my train-knowledge is lacking), so this promises to be an informative read made poetic by Urquhart’s always beautiful prose.

cyclistoutinthecoldThe Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold, by Tim Moore

Travel writer Tim Moore has previously attempted to cycle the Giro d’Italia route on a period bike while in a period costume, and the Tour de France route complete with the requisite cheating and excessive wine-drinking. Continuing to display a complete lack of self-preservation, he has most recently spent three months cycling the 9,000 km route of the old Iron Curtain on a two-geared East German shopping bike. Moore’s books are always worth a read, and are a great mix of travelogue, history, and amusement at someone else’s self-inflicted pain.

appetitesAppetites, by Anthony Bourdain

In chef and travel writer Anthony Bourdain’s latest, he offers a collection of his personal favourites, both from home and from his travelling years of sampling food from all over the world. It contains recipes that Bourdain thinks everyone should know how to cook,  but also promises to “terrify your guests”… apparently that’s “with your culinary efficiency”, but I’m choosing to take it out of context. Especially since the cover itself is a bit on the terrifying side.

crosstalkCrosstalk, by Connie Willis

In Crosstalk, Science Fiction writer Connie Willis takes social media and communication to an extreme with a near-future world where couples can actually get a procedure increase empathy between them. The procedure is designed to help with emotional connection and communication, because nothing could possibly go wrong with that, right?

 

November

fateofthetearlingThe Fate of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

This is the conclusion of the Tearling Trilogy. Its first volume (The Queen of the Tearlingwas fairly standard fantasy, but in a surprising move the second volume (The Invasion of the Tearling) began crossing over into dystopian sci-fi, and after that I can’t wait to see how Johansen is going to tie it all together. But the real strength of this series has always been the wholly believable development of Kelsea’s character, from awkward, insecure teenager to strong monarch determined to save her people, so I would definitely recommend checking out the series – it’s unique, with a steady, engaging plot that gives equal weight to its characters and its action.

willfulchildWillful Child: The Wrath of Betty, by Steven Erikson

I’m always looking for new books to add to my funny sci-fi & fantasy list (which is still a work in progress), and I’m definitely on the Trekkie-spectrum, so I have high hopes for enjoyable silliness on this series. This is the sequel to 2015’s Willful Child, a spoof on the whole exploring the galaxy Star Trek type genre, which sold me with the tagline “Bravely going where they really shouldn’t”. I’ll be saving this one for a really rainy day when I need a laugh.

 

What are you reading this season? You know, when it arrives. Which definitely isn’t quite yet.

– Kat

Funny Women

comedycellar

I love comedy. Whether via online videos, podcasts, or attending weekly har-har rituals like Vancouver’s Sunday Service , I’m an addict for a good laugh. In particular however, I’m hooked on funny women.

I may be biased, but there is something deeply refreshing about hearing a brilliant modern woman speak frankly about all the experiences, taboos, and general double standards that come packaged with a set of ovaries with refreshing,  hilarious and brutal candidness. Thankfully, these days  it seems as though female comedians are getting more of the attention and praise they deserve, and there is therefore a plethora of performers and formats to choose from.

Here I present a list of a few funny women and their funny books. Most are available from the library in print, but as the resident audio-book evangelist allow me to spread the gospel and sing it from the hills—it is one thing to watch one of your favorite comedians on YouTube, but to spend hours listening to them reading their own memoirs is a whole other experience. Not only do you get a chance to hear the author perform impressions, crack-up at their own jokes, or sometimes tear up over an old memory, many authors insert little aside commentaries for the exclusive pleasure of audio listeners.

 

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer amyschumer

Unless you’ve been living under a pop-culture rock for the past few years, then you have also had the pleasure of hearing or seeing Amy Schumer perform. Aside from being a critically-praised stand-up comedian, she wrote and starred in last year’s film Trainwreck, and has been featured on numerous TV shows and films. Her new book shares hilarious, and often touching stories from her life in her characteristic unflinchingly candid style.

Not sold yet? Check out this hilarious excerpt from Vogue magazine.  

Not That Kind of Girl; A Young Woman Tell You What She’s “Learned” by Lena Dunham  dunham

Lena Dunham is one of those young women who are so accomplished at such a young age that you almost want to hate them…… except that her special brand of self-defecating humour and brazen attitude make it extremely hard to do so. In her first memoir, Dunham recounts stories from her childhood, sex life, and experiences navigating the milieu of everything in between.

 

Notaro

I’m Just a Person  by Tig Notaro

I’ve already talked about this one before, but I really really love Tig Notaro so here we go again.  Her new book talks about a span of only four months in 2012 where Notaro was hospitalized for a debilitating intestinal disease called C. diff, her mother unexpectedly died, she went through a breakup, and then she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. She then took her grief onstage to become one of the most intimate, and startling stand-ups out there today. For more information on her story, and the way her comedy has changed since that fateful period of time, I highly recommend checking out this great interview she recently gave with The Guardian. 

Bossypants by Tina Fey bossypants

What I liked most about listening to Bossypants (aside from her hilarious bonus audio commentary) was learning  more about her process breaking into the comedy scene in the 90’s and 2000’s, working at SNL, and the struggles she encountered as a woman in the field. Fey is classy, clever and funny as hell. If you haven’t read this one yet, I highly recommend it.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

kaling Whenever I read Kaling’s work I feel as though I’m having a glass of wine with an old friend and giggling over the absurdities of our lives. Admittedly I haven’t had the chance to read Kaling’s newest book, however I loved her first collection of essays Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? , and the audio version of Why Not Me? features guest appearances by other Office legends like B.J. Novak–so I have faith.

 

 

Honorable Mentions:

Yes Please! By Amy Poehler 

The Bedwetter;  Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

Seriously–I’m Kidding by Ellen Degeneres

Are You There Vodka? It’s me, Chelsea. By Chelsea Handler

 

-Mikale Fenton