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Happy 150th birthday, Alice in Wonderland!

I attended two literary (but mainly amusing) events recently.

The main week of Vancouver Writers Fest has just ended, and I’ve heard a dozen authors for free just by volunteering for two days (despite spending half of that time in the bookstore — never again).

Pretty sweet deal, eh?

New self-help book
New self-help book

TJ Dawe was my favourite at the spoken word event. His joint book with Chris Gibbs, The Power of Ignorance, is a mock self help manual by an oblivious but largely well-meaning idiot. It isn’t as funny as his own work and person seem to be, but it is surprisingly clever… and bittersweet.

After hearing readings by a few horror authors, all of whom were a little bad at presenting themselves, I picked up Samuel Archibald‘s new collection of short stories. Arvida is also a surprise; though I’m only halfway through (I tend to read several books at once), there is nothing all that Gothic or fantastical in it. Promo hype aside, it’s perfectly respectable literary fiction of the type belonging to, say, Alice Munro or Carol Shields. There is something decidedly feminine about the style.

“A Mirror in the Mirror” is the closest Archibald gets to horror, though.

Arvida by Samuel Archibald
The streetlight made Arvida and my Compass Card holder mauve/pink

Having won a seat at the sold-out Sunday brunch in the volunteers’ raffle, I finished the festival with strong tea, mimosas, two giant slabs of pate, and some of the best readings of the week.

Steven Hayward, my favourite there, read from a short story in which he pokes fun at himself and the short story genre. Hilarious. Of course I’d left my credit card and everything else at home during a bag switch, so I’ll have to track down To Dance the Beginning of the World some other time.

Sunday brunch at VWF
Sunday brunch at VWF

The week before VWF, my friend S, a current English major, invited me to an Alice-themed tea party at University of British Columbia.

Hosted by UBC’s department of language & literacy education, the Golden Afternoon event began with a buffet-style afternoon tea with smoked salmon and watercress sandwiches, featured a number of poetry readings by professors, and ended with a rare books tour and croquet “match” in another building.

Proceeds went towards libraries.

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Vermin in my teapot!

As you may know, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Not at all good at math beyond high school algebra and formal logic in philosophy, I find the two Alice novels almost tedious in the amount of footnotes necessary.

Yes, I’m a dumb-dumb.

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Macarons from the sweets buffet

As a children’s story, though, and along with everything arising from the originals (except the awful Tim Burton film), Alice is delightful. I particularly like the Christopher Wheeldon ballet performed by the Royal Ballet, which B-cat gave me in DVD form last Christmas.

It’s rare that a ballet trumps (haha) the literary source material.

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My first plate of sandwiches and tarts

The readings were the highlight of the event. Dr. Carl Leggo and Dr. Kedrick James were passionate and amusing; I don’t think I’ve heard such energy in recitations since high school, when the best teachers read that way and told us that was how poetry should be read and heard.

There isn’t much Alice material on display — the children’s books in the rare books room are more interesting — and the croquet thing didn’t go anywhere, but it was otherwise a fulfilling afternoon.

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E and me

The Illustrated Alice exhibition ends on Hallowe’en (Oct. 31, 2015).

P.S. It takes me two hours to bus there. If you live nearer to UBC or can drive, you may as well go.

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Poetry readings by the Mad Hatter and March Hare
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