Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Missing in Action

   It was hoped that the literary fad of omitting dialogue quotation marks in novels would simply slip silently away into the night. Regretfully, it has not.
   The fad appears to have started with Cormac McCarthy, who became hugely successful with his novels The Road and No Country for Old Men. McCarthy has said there is no reason to blot the page up with weird little marks. (That’s a quote, incidentally). If someone can do something outside the norm and still be successful, others definitely will follow the Pied Piper.
   I've just finished reading Hologram for the King, which is a strong parable but takes some thought to figure out the messages the writer is trying to get across. Thought that is constantly interrupted by the use of a single long dash to denote the start of direct dialogue. There is nothing to show where it ends. It’s hard to figure out who is saying what, when and to whom.
   I finished Hologram and started into The Round House by Louise Erdrich, a favourite writer whose work grows stronger with each outing. Alas, Erdrich has been swept up by the fad: there are no dialogue quotation marks in the book. My mind is regularly distracted from the story while trying to figure out who has started and finished talking.
   Why make a reader work figuring out dialogue and risk distracting him or her from the story? Not using quotation marks is a silly, unnecessary technique that adds to the public perception that literature is pretentious.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Cardinal

   It was just after dawn when I saw him, sitting contentedly on an evergreen branch outside the kitchen window. The sun slipping above the rock horizon across the lake poured even more brilliance over his bright red jacket, making him appear to be a sparkling light on a Christmas tree.
   This morning visitor was a shock. He was the first northern cardinal sighting at Shaman’s Rock in our 27 years here. Cardinals are not seen here because this is bush country, a bit too far north of their range. These beautiful little birds live in forests and patches of bush surrounding residential areas where they find more warmth and more food. Their range has been stretching north with human population growth.
   It was a coincidence that when he arrived I was reading a London Observer article on seldom seen wildlife showing up in British urban areas. The article had one ecologist warning that in future wild boars will invade British suburbs. It noted that wolves and boars are being seen in urban settings in Rome and Berlin.
   The article was not clear on why this is happening. Presumably a combination of pesticide bans, more conservation efforts and global climate change are creating more habitable areas for animals, birds, and insects whose lives all are connected through nature’s food chain.
   North American scientists have said that wild animals once seen only in wild areas are becoming more tolerant of urban settings. Coyotes are an example, and the scientists say we can expect to see wolves, mountain lions and wild dogs in the cities in future.
   I don’t know anything about that. I’m just happy that my morning was brightened by the unlikely visitor in the red jacket.