Wednesday, September 21, 2005


10-pages-in: Motion Sickness and Typing

I’m reading two CanLit memoirs right now, one forgettable and one fabulous. So while I’m considerably more than 10 pages in to either of them, I can’t help comparing and contrasting them.

The first is David Layton’s 1999 memoir and first book, Motion Sickness. It’s mostly the story of his childhood living with and without his father, famous Canadian poet Irving Layton, and his slightly off-balance mother. Because I so liked his debut novel The Bird Factory, I thought I would enjoy his memoir as well.

Not so much.

I’m about two-thirds of the way though, and I’ve actually stopped reading it. It’s a library loaner, so I’ve renewed it for another three weeks in case I work up the stamina to see it through to the end, but it’s probably going back unfinished. After quite liking his first-person protagonist in the fictional Bird Factory, I find his autobiographical self quite unlikeable. The story of his childhood, which mostly seems to consist of his mother dragging them from Toronto to Britain to Greece and points in between, is considerably less interesting that you might expect.

On the other hand, I am completely in love with the rather unlikeable Canadian author Matt Cohen only half way through his memoir, Typing: A life in 26 keys. He weaves his own “how I became a writer” story tightly into the coming of age of nationalist Canadian literature, against the backdrop of free love and free drugs in 1960s and 1970s Toronto. I’m half-way through, and with each passing page I further regret that Cohen died only two weeks after this book was complete. It’s a compelling story well told – what more do you want from a book?

If nothing else, these two stories are a good illustration of why you should write your memoirs at the end of your career and not at the beginning.

Do you read more than one book at a time? I usually have one stashed beside my bed, and another tucked into my bag for reading on the bus. I try to read non-fiction during daylight hours, because by the time I'm tucked into bed I want sheer escapist entertainment with no thought required. In general, aside from the slew of writers' memoirs and manuals I've read lately, I don't generally like non-fiction. What's your favourite genre?