Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An Interview with John Mutford


When I learned about Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I thought it was a great idea. There are so many wonderful book bloggers (and book blog readers if you take the time to read comments). So when Amy announced we could host interviews, I jumped at the chance. I love the idea of learning new things, and an interview is a great way to go behind the virtual scenes and learn more. So I would like to introduce ...

John Mutford. I met John through Bookmineset, but that is just one of five blogs he authors. You can find challenges throughout Blogistan, but the Canadian Book Challenge. has to be one of the more unique. I'll let John tell you the rest.

TRT: Until BBAW, I had not heard about the Canadian Book Challenge. I'd love to know more. Can those of us on the southern border participate, too?

Absolutely. In fact, about a third of the participants are not Canadian. Not only have Americans joined, but there are participants from South Korea, Wales, India, and more. As an admittedly very awkward slogan, I’ve been telling people that the goal of the challenge is to celebrate, promote and explore Canadian books. The non-Canadians typically begin as explorers, but very quickly become celebrators. While it began on July 1st (Canada Day), people are still joining and as long as you think you can read 13 books before next Canada Day, it’s not too late to sign up!

TRT: Since you are hosting the challenge, you get to organize everyone's input. Have you discovered any themes/patterns in what adults are reading these days?

Generally, people stick to novels. While poetry, children’s literature and nonfiction all get representation, novels definitely dominate the lists. Books which make headlines from winning awards, appearing on radio programs, best-seller lists and the like are, not surprisingly, very popular here as well. That said, there are plenty of new and/or not well-known authors who have gotten great attention. It's hard to find a theme when there are so many eclectic tastes!

TRT: In compiling the lists, have any new books been added to your TBR pile? Is there anything specific about those titles that caught your attention?

An author named Steve Zipp donated copies of his book to almost every participant who requested one, me included. I haven’t gotten to mine yet but from all the positive reviews that were generated, I’m looking forward to that one. Plus, I just moved to Yellowknife, so a book set here would be very interesting. A few other authors have joined as well, and having that at my fingertips so to speak, makes me want to get to their books soon, too (in particular Corey Redekop’s , Kathleen Molloy’s and Cheryl Kaye Tardif’s The River. As well, Andrew Davidson’s Gargoyle has gotten a lot a good buzz from Challenge members and beyond, and I don’t want to be out of the loop!

TRT: Do you include the books you share with your kids in your challenge totals? If not, why not?

I haven’t this time around, but I’m only up to three books so far. The first time I ran the challenge, one of my thirteen books was a picture book called The Hockey Song written by Canadian troubadour Stompin’ Tom Connors and illustrated by Brenda Jones. Children’s literature is as valid a form as any, in my mind, and since there’s a lot of great children and young adult books coming out of Canada, I think it’s just as important to celebrate those. Not everyone includes such books in their totals, however, but I tell people to make up their own rules as far as reading choices go.

TRT: On your profile, you say you have more than 1 million books in your TBR pile. Is there a book in the pile that is calling your name and screaming "Me, next! Me, next!"

I have a bit of an anal little system that determines which book I’m reading next. I read a Canadian novel, followed by a non-Canadian novel, followed by a non-fiction book (from anywhere), followed by either a book from the Bible or a Shakespearean play. (Then it’s shampoo, lather and repeat.) During all this, I always have a book of poetry on the go. For the most part, I think it keeps me well rounded, but even then I find myself slipping in certain areas. I’m horrible at keeping up with new releases, for instance. Likewise, I’ve never read a graphic novel and Maus has been calling out for me.

TRT: Wow! That is an impressive system. Shakespeare … didn't like him in high school, loved him in college (English major – go figure). Of the plays you have read, are there any characters whose roles you'd like to perform on stage?

I have performed in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It was a small, but fun role: First Murderer. I’d do another one for sure. Who? That’s a tough question. Maybe Coriolanus. It’s a very underrated play and he’s such a complex character. Or else Iago, from Othello. He’s just so deliciously evil, who wouldn’t have fun playing that guy?

TRT: How often would you say your kids "catch you reading"? Have you ever caught them reading/thumbing through books (i.e., trying to imitate you)?

I read a biography of Che Guevara claiming that books practically littered his childhood home. Guests would have to clear them out of the way to find a seat. While I don’t condone guerilla warfare, if the books played any part in Che’s identity, I’m afraid my kids will be heading to the jungles of Argentina pretty soon. We are always reading. My daughter was “imitating me” at about 3, and now at 5, she’s a full-fledged reader. I love that she even puts in appropriate intonations and does character voices. She’s often caught reading to her brother who just turned three, himself.

TRT: If you had to fill your children's library and could only have 10 books, what would they be?

Wow, tough call! To make it a little easier on me, I’m going to stick with picture books for this answer, acknowledging that there are loads of chapter books I couldn’t do without either. And I’ll also add the disclaimer that this list is tentative at best and in no particular order.

  1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar- Eric Carle This one was a favourite of mine as a kid and of my daughter. Plus, as a teacher, there’s a gazillion ways to use this book in the classroom. My son is partial to Have You Seen My Cat? We’re huge Eric Carle fans.)

  2. The Hockey Song- Stompin’ Tom Connors and Brenda Jones My son is obsessed with sports and the first books he ever showed an interest in were songs that were turned into books. This book was a no-brainer. He knows all the words. Not always in the right order, but that’s okay.

  3. The Mummer Song- Bud Davidge and Ian Wallace As with #2, this is a song turned into a picture book, with wild, fun and sometimes scary illustrations by Ian Wallace. It’s a Newfoundland Christmas song and important to me to remember my heritage. My children love this so much, they want it read year round. After reading it, without fail, we have to play “mummers.” If you’re unfamiliar with Newfoundland mummering, I suggest you Google it. It’s dying out in popularity now, but was a huge part of our culture.

  4. Wings- Christopher Myers My wife would never forgive me if I didn’t include this one, though the rest of us love it, too. The story of Ikarus Jackson, a boy who could fly, it’s about acceptance and has amazing collages totally capture the emotions within.

  5. The Party- Barbara Reid This is the tale of a family reunion/ birthday party. The rhymes and repetition perfectly compliment the fun story and the children’s imaginations. Plus, it has those amazing plasticine pictures that made Reid a national treasure.

  6. Get Out Of Bed- Robert Munsch and Alan and Lea Daniels I’m not a huge fan of Robert Munsch—don’t get me started on Love You Forever—but my kids love him. Plus he’s such a part of growing up in Canada, he’s probably overtaken Mr. Dressup in popularity. I’ve always found this one particularly fun to read aloud.

  7. Joseph Had A Little Overcoat- Simms Taback This retelling of a Yiddish folksong was also done quite successfully by Phoebe Gilman in Something From Nothing, but it’s Taback’s illustrations that win out for me. Plus, I’ve always enjoyed reading this one aloud, to my students and my own kids. I have my own actions to go along with the text.

  8. The Three Snow Bears- Jan Brett I’ve got to include a fairy tale and this Northern retelling is perfect my children, as they’ve lived in the North most of their lives. I love the care and detail Brett puts into all her illustrations.

  9. An Extraordinary Egg- Leo Lionni It was tough to decide between Fish is Fish or this one, but the consistent joke of referring to the alligator as a chicken, makes us smile every time, so An Extraordinary Egg wins out.

  10. Emma’s Eggs- Margaret Ruurs and Barbara Spurll It’s a simple tale about a chicken trying to please the farmer’s family, but it’s so cute and well told that it’s impossible not to love.

TRT: Thanks, John! I'll be stopping by to see how the Canadian Book Challenge goes ... and check out the Great Wednesday Compares, too.


4 comments:

  1. Great interview. I have stopped by his blog but thought it was only for canadians so thanks.

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  2. Excellent interview - I love his system for choosing books ... but I could never be that strict with myself!

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  3. I'm going to have to check his blog out.

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  4. Thanks for the opportunity Terry! I had a lot of fun. If you do track down the books I mentioned, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

    (I don't author 5 blogs though! I do contribute to a few others, but I'm not the administrator.)

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