Will Ferguson’s 419




Spoiler Alert * if you want to finish this book and don’t want the ending revealed, don’t read this blog post!



This image is a map or flag taken and/or modified from the Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook. Under United States copyright law, all information and images from the World Factbook are in the public domain.

If you ever check the Junk box in your e-mail account, chances are that at one time or another, you’ve seen a message from a Nigerian diplomat or some other individual apparently in distress asking you to help them get their inheritance out of the country. Most people in our tech-savy age group just delete and move on. Where’s the story and how does someone get taken in by this scam? Truthfully, I would not have picked up 419 if it hadn’t been a book club pick, but I’m very glad that I did. The book was well-researched and opened my eyes to the impact that the oil industry is having on Nigeria’s people, how environmental damage has changed the lives of those dwelling in the Delta region, and how North Americans are inextricably tied to the far-off continent of Africa in our global economy. The plot itself wove the characters together and although it was clear that their lives would intersect in some way, the culmination of the story was not predictable.


Everyone at the meeting agreed that one of the reasons that this Giller Prize- winning novel was exceptional was the way in which author Will Ferguson was able to deftly show points of view of both Nigerian and Canadian characters. Nnamdi was probably the most likeable character in this book, as one who has strong morals and behaves accordingly. This made his hideous, wasteful death all the more forceful for the reader.


One of the readers brought along an article on oil theft in the Niger Delta. I’m not sure that this is the exact one, but here’s a link to a similar article from Businessweek published February 20th, 2014.




On our nightstands:

The Orenda – Joseph Boyden (winner of CBC’s Canada Reads 2014)

Road Ends – Mary Lawson

Ripper – Isabel Allende

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain – Adrianne Harun

and (of course) our club’s non-fiction book for April

Tweak: Growing up on methamphetamines – Nic Sheff


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Eating Dirt (which has nothing to do with talking trash)

EatingDirtMembers of the newly minted Offbeat Book Club met just over a week ago to discuss Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe, finalist for a number of book awards and winner of both B.C.’s National Award for Canadian Non-fiction and the CBA (Canadian Booksellers Association) Libris Non-fiction Book of the Year award in 2012. A nice mix of tried-and-true subVERSEive members and people new to the book club gathered for our meeting, so we had an excellent discussion. We are fortunate to have someone in attendance who worked with tree planters, not as a tree planter, but in a position similar to “Janice, the silvicultural administrator” who readers meet in the logging town of Port McNeill. Having lived among the tree planters for a season, our book club member was able to confirm that the living conditions were described perfectly. The internal conflict that tree planters feel when they plant clear cuts comes through forcefully and repeatedly in Eating Dirt. Silviculture workers see the ecological devastation of old growth clear cuts first hand and cannot help but feel that their re-planting is not the environmentally sound practice that the forestry industry makes it out to be. How can a forest that grew over thousands of years of natural succession be replaced by a handful of species of seedlings planted to be harvested again in a few decades? We are losing something that is irreplaceable.

Many readers found the writing in Eating Dirt to be beautifully descriptive, at times even poetic. A criticism that a few of us voiced is the characters are only superficially developed. Although Charlotte Gill does a superb job describing the rough, nomadic lifestyle of the tree-planting tribe, most people in the book are briefly touched upon, leaving the reader longing for more development. One comment was that it seemed as if someone had told the author that it would provide  a personal touch if she wrote about real people she worked with and the characters were simply tacked on after the book was mostly written.

We looked at some photographs of tree planting life that the author has shared on her website as well as a video clip posted on the Writers’ Trust of Canada website - follow the links to view them.

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Trash(y) Talking: Chuck Palahniuk’s Snuff

snuff bannerA book club member said at last night’s meeting that if it wasn’t for our book club, they would never read a lot of these titles.  This is especially true of Snuff.  The story of an aging porn star planning to break the record for the most sex acts on film definitely didn’t appeal to everyone.  Topic aside, Chuck’s writing is visceral–it’s hard to get the images out of your head: 600 men waiting in the drabby smelly green room for their 60 second chance at fame, bronzer dripping off of sweaty skin, fingers sticky and orange from BBQ chips, condom and candy wrappers stuck to the floor.  Mr. Palahniuk certainly doesn’t glamourize the porn industry!  We did find it a bit hard to keep track of which of the three men were speaking: Mr. 72–the possible love child, Mr. 137–the closeted actor, or Mr. 600–the porn star veteran.  Chuck skims over the surface of these characters, hinting at secrets but not delving deep enough to really distinguish them.  One of the book reviews stated it would have been better to have Cassie’s voice (the main character) included as one of the narrators.  I don’t know–we all agreed the ending was a surprise and that might have been taken away with the insight of Cassie.  And Chuck’s factoids (some listed below) sprinkled throughout the story were enjoyed by all.

We watched a couple interviews with Chuck Palahniuk, and agreed that the man may be more interesting than his work when it comes to Snuff.  We also had a good discussion about reading “rubbish”, and what value, if any it has.  For my part, I really enjoyed the book.  I found it funny and sad, and the mystery was intriguing enough–is Cassie’s porn love child really in the building, will someone die at the end of the book, what will happen to these characters as the time ticks down to their moment in porn history.  This is the first Chuck Palahniuk book I’ve read, and according to reviews, not his best, so I am definitely going to tackle his other books.   In the end, this was not a book anyone (except me, I think) would choose to read, but it made for a good discussion…really, how often to you get to talk about gang-bangs in the library…


  • In 1996, law school drop-out Annabel Chong set a record by having 251 sex acts on film with 70 men
  • one of Sylvester Stallone’s first roles was in a porn
  • the blow-up doll was invented by the Nazis
  • in the film Singing in the Rain, Gene Kelly dance the title song, take after take, with a fever of 103
  • an alligator bit off Lorne Greene’s nipple when he was filming an episode of Lorne Greene’s New Wilderness
  • the cairn terrier that played Toto in Wizard of Oz was stuffed after death and sold at auction in 1996 for $8000
  • Hugh Hefner bought the mausoleum niche next to Marilyn Monroe’s after she died, because he wanted to spend eternity lying next to the most beautiful woman who had ever lived
  • and many more…

Reviews of Snuff:



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Happy Holidays, January’s Book and Changes to subVERSEive

It was great to see subVERSEive Book Club represented at the Book Club Christmas Party on Monday evening.  We had excellent nosh (I’m fairly sure I now have diabetes from the almond bark), a round table discussion of our favourite books of the year, and capped things off with a book exchanged that reached almost violent proportions as copies of Orange is the New Black were stolen back and forth across the table.  Here is a list of the recommended books:

Some excellent reading suggestions for over the holidays!

snuff-bookYou could also spend the holidays reading the book for January: Snuff by Chuck PalahniukSnuff is about an aging porn star who is attempting a comeback by setting the record for the greatest number of sex acts on film (we did say this was the subVERSEive book club, right?).  It’s told from the point of view of Mr. 72, Mr. 137, Mr. 600 and the female coordinator as they wait for their turn at infamy–all with secrets and hidden agendas.


Which leads us to the final note.  Due to heavy demands for book clubs at the library, and dwindling attendance at subVERSEive (come on, you guys!), we are going to re-brand the book club to make it more encouraging for those to join who may have been intimidated by the subVERSEive title and the age focus.  The books will remain the same (see the list for 2014), as we want to continue to provide an alternative to more conventional book clubs.  It will be drop in, and renamed The Offbeat Book Club.  In June we’ll evaluate if the book club will survive in this incarnation.  So, bring your friends and come to monthly meetings if you want your edgy, silly, engaging book club to continue!!



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One Book Club’s Humble Musings on The Year of Living Biblically

The Year of Living Biblically book cover

The snow kept on falling and all was quiet… very, very quiet. That’s all I can say about our November book club meeting, so I’m hoping that all of you who read The Year of Living Biblically will lend your “voices” to some online discussion and commentary attached to this blog post. Here are some questions to prime the pump.

How did you feel about A.J.’s biblical journey? What implications did it have for the people close to him? I found myself wondering how different a year of biblical living would have been for a woman in A.J.’s place (I never really considered how male-centric the Bible is until I read this book). Which part of the book did you find most humorous? Most thought-provoking? Did the book change your views of religion and religious practices? A.J.’s quest to take the Bible literally for an entire year led to enduring changes in his life, such as resting on the Sabbath. Has reading about his quest had any impact on your daily life or how you strive to live it?

Here’s a link to a video of the author’s appearance on the Today Show:

Today Show Interview with A. J. Jacobs

Other information and amusing videos, including a book trailer, are available on the author’s website.

December 9 at 7 pm is our Winter Holiday Party, which is a fun evening of book talks and tasty treats. I will send out an invitation with all the details through e-mail.

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Discussing Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”

mausAs the weather started to turn chilly and the wind started to blow, we were cozy in the library, talking about our most recent graphic novel read: “Maus“. As one of the group said (and I quote her with permission), “it’s a bigger book than it is”. At 159 pages, it seems too thin to even begin to touch the surface of a topic like the Holocaust. And for those unfamiliar with graphic novels, the format certainly doesn’t seem to lend itself to such a serious subject.
We discovered, during our discussion, that this may have been the best way to tell the story of Art’s parents and their experiences in WWII in Poland. It might have been easier to skim over words in a novel, but when you’re confronted by images, even images of mice, it’s hard not to pay attention. We also talked about the fact that this was more than just a story of Holocaust history, but also a story of an adult son trying to connect and forgive his father. It was certainly worthy of the much-delayed Pulitzer Prize it won in 1992, almost 20 years after “Volume 1: My Father Bleeds History” was published.
The library also has a copy of “MetaMaus“, which thoroughly traces the creative process and history behind the making of “Maus”, and has interviews with Art Spielgelman and his family. It comes with an interactive DVD, and we listened to a recording of one of Art’s interview sessions with his father. You can even hear the whirling of the exercise bike that his father was pedaling through the whole interview.

Link to the Spielgelman Family Tree before and after the War: from MetaMaus

Great discussion, and so nice to have new members to our subVESRSEive book club!
Next month’s book is “The Year of Living Biblically” by A. J. Jacobs.

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Book Madness from Out of Print Clothing

Here is where I got the idea to choose our 2013/2014 books in a bracket-selection process:


I think it’s very cool that 1984 won, considering it was one of the books chosen by you for our next book club season.  Also, if you like the Book Madness, you should check out Out of Print Clothing for bookish t-shirts and other stuff.  The Friends of the Library are using Out of Print as a fundraiser for the St. Albert Library: http://www.sapl.ca/component/content/article/32-sapl/196-friends-out-of-print-clothing.html.



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