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Magpie Life: Growing a Writer by George…

Magpie Life: Growing a Writer

by George Bowering

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I recently read and reviewed my first George Bowering book, PINBOY. Bottom line? LOVED it! Waxed enthusiastic over it, needless to say. Bowering is a poet and writer of some renown in Canada, and probably particularly in his home province of British Columbia. I am a Michigan boy and several years younger than Bowering, but I had no trouble at all relating to his childhood and coming-of-age years, as well as his young adult life and, now, coming to terms with the fact that we can't really call ourselves 'middle-aged' anymore. All that stuff is evident in PINBOY. And it's all there again in this earlier (2001) book, A MAGPIE LIFE: GROWING A WRITER.

Probably the best part of this book, hands down, is the initial section, a forty-page mini-memoir called "Alphabiography." It begins with a short tribute - "A" - to his late wife, Angela Luoma Bowering. The two were married from 1962 until her death in 1999. "B" is birth - GB's own. "C" is childhood. "D" is death. "E" is Ewart Bowering, George's father, a HS Chemistry teacher in Oliver, BC, where GB grew up. And so on. "K" is for Kerouac, but could just as easily been another Canadian writer, Robert Kroetsch, frequently mentioned in the book. "L" is of course for Literature. Because Bowering has been an addicted reader his whole life. Enamored as a boy by pulp western writers like Max Brand and Luke Short, he progressed to Heinlein and Bradbury. More recently he has been reading "Nathalie Saraute and Adolfo Bioy Casares. [I confess I don't know either of these.] First I read books, and as I got older I read literature."

As a fellow booklover who has read himself nearly blind over the years, I could relate. Although Bowering has written scores of books, he supported himself mostly by teaching at various universities in Canada, finally settling in at Simon Fraser University, where he stayed for nearly thirty years, until his retirement. Even about this, his profession, he refuses to take himself seriously, saying he taught "creative writhing." I suspect he sides with many other writers who feel creative writing is not something that can be taught.

Besides being a creative 'writher," Bowering is also an historian, and some of the essays about British Columbia history are simply fascinating, although even there GB's deadpan humor is in evidence. And there are essays here too about another lifelong passion, baseball.

There are thirty-three essays in A MAGPIE LIFE, and there is not a clinker in the bunch. Every one of them is informative, entertaining, and often hilariously funny. If there was anything about the book I did not like, it was that it was occasionally redundant, the same information and anecdotes often showing up in different pieces. But most of these articles had been previously published in various periodicals over the years, which explains this redundancy. But Bowering knows his poets, his literature, and his country, and I greatly enjoyed reading all of A MAGPIE LIFE. I will undoubtedly look for more of his books. Highly recommended, particularly for USAmericans (as Bowering calls us down here) who are trying to learn more about Canadian literature. George Bowering's memories from the last fifty years would be an excellent starting point. (N.B. Bowering confesses to liking "neat" things. I think it's kinda neat the way he uses no apostrophes in his contractions. Worked fine for me.)

(Now I gotta go look up Robert Kroetsch - and a few other writers often praised here.) ( )
  TimBazzett | Dec 31, 2012 |
George is fricken cool because he doesn't write biographies, he writes biotexts, alphabiographies. So neat to see someone from the Okanagan inspire the world in such a way. ( )
  jharlton | Feb 18, 2009 |
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