Surprise inclusions, omissons characterize this year’s Giller shortlist

October 8, 2013 by · 5 Comments 

Scotiabank_Giller_Prize_logoLeave it to Margaret Atwood to confound expectations.

If you’d asked me (or, likely, pretty much any literary observer) prior to this morning, I’d have said the odds-on favourite to win this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize was Joseph Boyden, for his third novel, The Orenda. A staggeringly ambitious book about Europeans’ first contact with Native Canadians and the collision of ideologies and cultures that led – for better or worse – to the creation of this country, Boyden’s story appeared as the quintessential Giller novel. Compared to Herodotus by Charles Foran in The Globe and Mail, called “a classic” by the National Post and “a magnificent literary beast” by Quill & Quire, The Orenda seemed like the book to beat this year for the most lucrative fiction prize in Canada.

At the announcement of the Giller shortlist this morning in Toronto, when it became apparent that Boyden’s novel did not make the cut, an audible gasp permeated the room.

Atwood and her fellow jurors – former Giller winner Esi Edugyan and American novelist Jonathan Lethem – culled from a longlist of thirteen titles a shortlist that is as surprising as it is intriguing. Only two of this year’s shortlisted authors – Lisa Moore and Lynn Coady – have been previous Giller finalists. Heavy hitters such as Michael Winter, Wayne Johnston, and Claire Messud were left off the list of five contenders for the $50,000 prize. In their place are a genre thriller set in postwar Vienna, a story about the fallout from two brothers’ conflicted history, and a violent tale about a cop and a criminal in Niagara Falls.

The finalists for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize are:

  • Dennis Bock, Going Home Again (HarperCollins Canada)
  • Lynn Coady, Hellgoing (House of Anansi Press)
  • Craig Davidson, Cataract City (Doubleday Canada)
  • Lisa Moore, Caught (House of Anansi Press)
  • Dan Vyleta, The Crooked Maid (HarperCollins Canada)

Anansi is the only wholly owned Canadian press to feature on the shortlist. With two titles, this brings Anansi’s total nominations, over the twenty-year history of the prize, to thirteen. Thirteen in the year 2013 seems auspicious, but even if you’re not superstitious, at first blush this appears to be Lisa Moore’s year. She’s been nominated twice before – for her story collection Open and her first novel, Alligator – and this book, about an escaped drug runner who embarks on one last score, seems like the perfect confluence of accessible genre thriller and literary sensibility to nab the prize.

At the shortlist announcement, it was made explicit that the jury chose the five finalists at the same time they settled on the thirteen-book longlist – this was, arguably, a preventative strike against those who might have surmised that the jury changed its mind about David Gilmour’s longlisted novel, Extraordinary, after the controversy surrounding the author’s comments on a Random House–sponsored website last month.

What is clear is that this year’s Giller jury privileges books with strong narratives over more technically or stylistically innovative works. This year’s Giller shortlist comprises reader-friendly, plot-oriented fiction – stories told, as the jury statement that accompanied the longlist put it, in “remarkably familiar ways.” However, the books on this year’s shortlist – to say nothing of the shortlist itself – are not without surprise or interest, and observers will be paying close attention when the winner is announced at a gala dinner in Toronto on November 5.

UPDATE: A post on the Giller Prize’s Facebook page indicates that, contrary to the impression given at the shortlist announcement, the jury chose the shortlist “approximately one week after the longlist was announced.” The post goes on to stipulate, “This jury’s timing was unique to their particular judging process, which differs from every other Giller Prize jury and from other literary award juries and judging processes.”

31 Days of Stories 2011, Day 4: “The Way the Light Is” by Lisa Moore

May 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

From Open

Mina O’Leary, the friend of the narrator in Lisa Moore’s story “The Way the Light Is,” once lived in France, where she wrote a novel. “But,” Mina laments, “I used too many words. I’d rather a novel with fewer words.” “Shorter, you mean?” the narrator asks. No, Mina replies. “Not necessarily shorter.”

Fewer words, for Moore, does not equal short, or slight. Moore has always been an elliptical writer: what she leaves out of a story is often as important as – if not more important than – what she puts in. The language in “The Way the Light Is” has been pared down almost obsessively, to the point that what remains on the page is stripped of the expository tissue that might serve as explicit points of reference for a reader. This is not to suggest that there is no integrity to the story, but it is an integrity that must be teased out patiently, it does not manifest itself on the surface. Moore’s stories cannot be read in a glancing or preoccupied manner; they demand attention and care to fully appreciate them.

“The Way the Light Is” focuses on an unnamed filmmaker who is making a short movie based on John Steffler’s poem “The Green Insect.” In the narrator’s conception, Steffler’s poem “is about the elusive,” which is perfectly appropriate for Moore’s approach to her narrative.

The narrator of “The Green Insect” is a writer who keeps the titular creature, “a kind that had never before been seen, / descendant of an ancient nation, regal, rigid in ritual.” Steffler’s narrator views the insect as a talisman, a mysterious, extraordinary being that provides him inspiration as he writes. So proud is he of his insect that when a woman passes by and tries to take a picture, he holds it up for her camera, grasping it so tightly that he breaks its fragile legs. “I laid it down gently on a clean page,” Steffler’s narrator says, “but it wanted no convalescence … I couldn’t believe the strength it had, / it unwound its history, ran out its spring in kicks and / rage, denied itself, denied me and my ownership.”

If Steffler’s poem is about “the elusive,” it is equally about possession, and the dangers of trying to possess someone (or something) too completely. As Moore’s story unfolds, we learn that while Mina was in France, she met and married a man named Yvonique, a man of whom she “is rarely jealous,” even though he has affairs. After attending a New Year’s Eve party, the narrator witnesses Yvonique kissing a young woman in a snowbank. She asks Mina whether this bothers her: “Not really. She thinks for a minute, wipes her lips with the back of her hand. I mean, if it meant something I guess it would bother me. I guess it would bother me if it meant something. I’m not sure.” As the narrator sits in her car with her husband, she considers her own marriage in light of Mina’s apparently cavalier attitude. “I think of the possibility of him kissing someone in a snowbank, just kissing. It would bother me.”

Ruminating on the theme of Steffler’s poem, Moore’s narrator thinks, “Everyone knows what it means to want something with such intensity that you crush it in your haste to have it.” And yet she finds it impossible not to cling tightly to the things she holds dear in her life: her husband, Jason, and her son, whose birth video she shows Mina. Moore explicitly connects the birth of the narrator’s son with the green insect in Steffler’s poem, the creature that Steffler’s narrator loves so much he crushes it in his enthusiasm.

These connections are apparent even in the absence of exposition. Moore prefers to employ patterns of imagery and metaphor as means of lending her story cohesion. The narrator’s breast milk, for instance, is subtly connected to the blood on the birth video, which “stands out around the baby’s neck like an Elizabethan collar.” The blood itself recalls an earlier reference to “vampires” and “sacrificed lambs” in the movies of Ingmar Bergman, and the moment when the narrator slices her hand so that she and Yvonique can become “blood brothers.” In addition to blood and breast milk, water and the colour green serve as recurring patterns of imagery and metaphor. “No single image by itself” could capture the essence of Steffler’s poem, Moore’s narrator thinks. What is required, instead, is “a storm of images” – precisely what Moore provides in this story.

Moore has her narrator quote Bergman on screenwriting: “All in all, split-second impressions that disappear as quickly as they come, forming a brightly colored thread sticking out of the dark sack of the unconscious.” Elsewhere, the narrator points out that “Bergman spends a long time on a face, but there is no plot.” Similarly, Moore spends a long time on images and impressions, but not much time developing a conventional narrative. “I think about how much of a good story seems to happen elsewhere,” the narrator says, “off the canvas or screen or page, in Europe or a backwater New Brunswick town, in what is left unsaid.” In this, Moore has provided us with the key to unlock her own impressionistic pastiche: we need to learn how to pay attention to what happens elsewhere, to what is left unsaid.

Giller longlist defies expectations

September 21, 2009 by · 5 Comments 

It didn’t take long for the grousing to begin. The Scotiabank Giller longlist had barely been announced before critics started crying foul. Where are the men? asks The Globe and Mail. (Same place the women were last year.) Where are the non-European writers, tweets The Walrus. (Was there a major novel by a Canadian writer of non-European descent published this year?) Indeed, last year, out of 15 longlisted authors, only three (Emma Donoghue, Marina Endicott, and Mary Swan) were women (Endicott and Swan went on to place in the shortlist). And seeing as Giller has in the past honoured Rohinton Mistry, M.G. Vassanji (twice), Vincent Lam, Austin Clarke, and Michael Ondaatje, the argument that there’s a white, European bias to the award seems like a non-starter (Giller is guilty of many sins, but that isn’t one of them).

There were surprises on this year’s longlist, beginning with the exclusion of Lisa Moore, whose second novel, February, was widely considered to be a strong contender to take the prize. Also absent from the longlist were Douglas Coupland (dodged a bullet there, hm, Panic?), Michael Crummey, Lori Lansens, Bonnie Burnard, John Bemrose, and Shinan Govani. (Just making sure you were paying attention.) In their place, first-time novelists Claire Holden Rothman and Jeanette Lynes nabbed spots, as did Martha Baillie, for a book published with the small Ontario press Pedlar. These could not have been considered safe bets by anyone trying to outguess this year’s jury, which is composed of author Alistair MacLeod, U.S. novelist Russell Banks, and U.K. author and journalist Victoria Glendinning.

Atwood and Michaels are, of course, represented. It’s likely Munro would have been too had she not taken her collection, Too Much Happiness, out of the running. But a number of the names on this year’s longlist are by no means intuitive. The dirty dozen, in full:

  • Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood (McClelland & Stewart)
  • Martha Baillie, The Incident Report (Pedlar Press)
  • Kim Echlin, The Disappeared (Penguin Canada)
  • Claire Holden Rothman, The Heart Specialist (Cormorant Books)
  • Paulette Jiles, The Colour of Lightning (HarperCollins Canada)
  • Jeanette Lynes, The Factory Voice (Coteau Books)
  • Annabel Lyon, The Golden Mean (Random House Canada)
  • Linden MacIntyre, The Bishop’s Man (Random House Canada)
  • Colin McAdam, Fall (Penguin Canada)
  • Anne Michaels, The Winter Vault (McClelland & Stewart)
  • Shani Mootoo, Valmiki’s Daughter (House of Anansi Press)
  • Kate Pullinger, The Mistress of Nothing (McArthur & Company)

What is distressing, notwithstanding the jury’s assertion that the books “vary stylistically and structurally and connect with and extend a range of novelistic traditions,” is the preponderance of stories told in the same, blandly naturalistic style of most Giller-bait fiction. Really, the only stylistically adventurous title in the bunch is The Incident Report. Even Atwood’s futuristic dystopia employs the same flashback style that she’s been using at least since Cat’s Eye, if not well before. And if we had to have a novel about a freed slave on the list, I’d much rather it was Ray Robertson’s lively David than Jiles’s The Colour of Lightning.

Still, an interesting list. I’ll be watching for the shortlist, when it’s unveiled on October 6.

Lost in the narrows

September 11, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

Barbara Kay and Lev Grossman seem cut from the same cloth. Both of them, in their own ways, disdain what they perceive as “difficult” novels. Kay, whom some of you may recall took issue with a generally laudatory (or, in Kay’s own words, “gushy”) assessment of Lisa Moore’s second novel, February, recently published a column in the National Post decrying Canadian literature that she claims is “dying in beauty.” For Kay, Moore is, “like so many others of her sensitive, creativeworkshopped-to-death ilk, a writer’s writer privileging an artistic, leisured rendering of memory and feeling over prole-friendly dialogue, action and, above all, plot.”

In this, she echoes Grossman, whom she name-checks in her article, and who, in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal, criticized the modernists for neglecting plot and inculcating the idea that literature has to be difficult in order to be valuable:

The novel was a mirror the Modernists needed to break, the better to reflect their broken world. So they did. One of the things they broke was plot.

To the Modernists, stories were a distortion of real life. In real life stories don’t tie up neatly. Events don’t line up in a tidy sequence and mean the same things to everybody they happen to. Ask a veteran of the Somme whether his tour of duty resembled the Boy’s Own war stories he grew up on. The Modernists broke the clear straight lines of causality and perception and chronological sequence, to make them look more like life as it’s actually lived. They took in The Mill on the Floss and spat out The Sound and the Fury.

Grossman takes issue with the “discipline of the conventional literary novel,” which partakes of “a kind of depressed economy, where pleasure must be bought with large quantities of work and patience,” and asks, “Isn’t it time we made our peace with plot?”

Both Kay and Grossman are rehearsing the distinction that Jonathan Franzen draws (in his 2002 essay, “Mr. Difficult”) between the “Status model” of fiction and the “Contract model.” The Status model is premised upon the idea that “the best novels are great works of art, the people who manage to write them deserve extraordinary credit, and if the average reader rejects the work it’s because the average reader is a philistine.” According to the Status model “the value of any novel, even a mediocre one, exists independent of whether people are able to enjoy it.” In the Contract model, by contrast, the writer offers “words out of which the reader creates a pleasant experience.” For adherents of Contract, “difficulty is a sign of trouble,” which “may convict an author of violating the contract with his own community: of placing his self-expressive imperatives or his personal vanity or his literary-club membership ahead of the audience’s legitimate desire for connection.”

Obviously, both Kay and Grossman are Contract adherents. Kay holds little truck with novels that are “dying in beauty,” novels in which the technique or the language is an end in itself. Similarly, Grossman approves of Cormac McCarthy’s late-career digression into genre fiction, and applauds the normally prolix Thomas Pynchon for writing a straightforward hard-boiled crime novel. Where both of their arguments fail, however, is in their implicit assumption that “difficult” writing – writing that demands to be appreciated on its own terms – and pleasure are mutually exclusive. Franzen, himself an admitted Contract person, acknowledges this stumbling block when he adumbrates the extreme end of Contract thinking:

Contract stipulates that if a product is disagreeable to you, the fault must be the product’s. If you crack a tooth on a hard word in a novel, you sue the author. If your professor puts Dreiser on your reading list, you write a harsh student evaluation. If the local symphony plays too much twentieth-century music, you cancel your subscription. You’re the consumer; you rule.

The only problem being that nowhere is it written that the consumer of fiction actually does rule, at least not in the way that Kay and Grossman would have it. If a reader runs up against a “difficult” book, or a book that doesn’t play by conventional rules or act in the way the reader thinks it is supposed to act, perhaps the fault lies not with the obstreperousness of the writer, but with the narrow prejudices of the reader. A reader who assumes that plot-driven novels are the only kind that can give pleasure will not be won over by books like Century by Ray Smith, in which the main source of pleasure is revelling in the author’s technical mastery. Nor will they gravitate toward McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, where what happens is infinitely less important than the author’s exuberance in the uses and possibilities of language.

In her assessment of February, Kay locates “[t]wo feeble points of what-happens-next ‘tension,'” and the dismissive quotation marks around the final word indicate that for Kay, even these two moments were pallid and underwhelming. But as a writer, Moore has never been all that interested in conventional approaches to things like plot or suspense. For Moore, language has always been more important than plot; the tension in Moore’s writing exists in the technique itself. To not recognize this says more about the narrowness of a reader than about the inherent pleasurability of Moore’s writing.

Ultimately, both Kay and Grossman suffer from an artificially proscribed view of the pleasures literature has to offer. For them, a novel is only enjoyable if it does what they want it to do (which is, finally, to behave like other novels they’ve enjoyed in the past). Such a reader will never be able to derive pleasure from books like Ulysses or Wise Blood or Hopscotch, because these are novels that demand to be met on their own terms. In order to find pleasure in them, readers must abandon their preconceptions and open themselves to an experience that is unfamiliar, foreign, and, yes, possibly even difficult. They are novels that require work, but their rewards are commensurate with the effort a sympathetic reader is willing to put into them.

31 Days of Stories 2009, Day 12: “Wisdom Teeth” by Lisa Moore

August 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

From Degrees of Nakedness.

c18287Lisa Moore has been accused of writing “difficult” short stories. In the now-defunct Books in Canada, Sherie Posesorski calls the stories in Degrees of Nakedness “coolly narcissistic” and “over-calibrated,” and suggests that they left her “craving … the mass market fiction racks.” “Many of the stylistic techniques get in the way of the story,” Posesorski laments, betraying a fundamental misapprehension about Moore’s focus in her short fiction. Because, as a short fiction writer, story has never been Moore’s primary concern.

Moore, like Amy Hempel (or Mavis Gallant, whom Moore championed in the 2008 edition of CBC’s Canada Reads showdown), is a devotee of the sentence, a writer who privileges style and technique over story.

In his book An Aesthetic Underground, John Metcalf singles out the adjective “flashing” in the opening paragraph of “Wisdom Teeth” as an example of Moore’s originality and adeptness with language:

They call it a state of emergency. White dervishes scour Stephenville, the blue arm of the plough impotently slashes through the snow. In St. John’s where my mother is, the wires are frozen with sleet and the electricity is out. She’s in the plaid chair, I know, one emergency candle and a flashing drink of rye.

The word “flashing” is indeed an example of a brilliantly technical mind at work, as is the image of the plough’s blue arm, which “impotently slashes through the snow.” Moore’s language is as clipped and pared-down as that of Carver or Hempel, but it is also gleefully iconoclastic, throwing up images and modifiers that are simultaneously surprising and perfectly appropriate.

“Wisdom Teeth” is not a story that is liable to win over readers devoted to straightforward storytelling marked by ornate description and explicitness. The story of Jill, a young woman who travels from community college in Stephenville, the “herpes capital of Newfoundland,” to Toronto with her boyfriend, then back to Corner Brook to rendezvous with a musician with whom she once shared a brief encounter, “Wisdom Teeth” is not so much a traditional narrative as a collage-like pastiche of scenes, each of which illuminates a moment in time. The story is highly impressionistic; little is explained, and much is left for the reader to determine for herself.

The story does contain patterns and repetitions that reveal themselves to the attentive reader. Jill and her mother both undergo potentially dangerous encounters involving moose; graves make repeated appearances; and Jill’s oral problems are repeatedly related to her unemployed status. Moreover, Jill’s essential lack of awareness (of herself and of those around her) is apparent through her persistent faulty character judgments. She says of her mother: “You won’t catch me loving someone that much, that hard. I’m going to have my own bank account. I’ll be a single mother. Nobody’s leaving me for another woman and nobody’s going to die on me. That’s for sure.” The stunning naïveté inherent in these statements comes clear over the course of the story, in particular when Jill tells her dormmate Darlene, “My mother thinks that you only have sex with people you love.” The irony is palpable: Jill refuses sex with her musician acquaintance, and applies for an apartment by writing, “Waitress, presently unemployed, no bank account at present, spouse: student.”

Jill’s character, emerging piecemeal throughout the story’s vignettes, evinces a touching humanity, which is ultimately the result of her creator’s rigorous fidelity to technique and aesthetic performance. “Wisdom Teeth” is a careful, precisely rendered narrative that yields copious rewards to the reader willing to engage with Moore’s language on its own terms. Far from getting in the way of the story, Moore’s style is the story.

Kay vs. Laidlaw, how to structure a story collection, and other subjects that have pissed me off recently

July 16, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Yr. humble correspondent is in a punchy mood. Perhaps it’s a result of the cold meds, perhaps the combined stress that accrues to a runaway train of impending deadlines, perhaps the spectre of the upcoming awards season, which promises yet another swamp of soporific pablum to wade through. Whatever the cause, it seems that lately I can’t read much book-related news without winding myself up into a state of high dudgeon. Witness:

1. Katherine Laidlaw at the National Post recently responded to a column by Post writer Barbara Kay, which was itself a response to Laidlaw’s “gushy” profile of Lisa Moore, part of the promotion around the publication of Moore’s second novel, February. Laidlaw’s profile includes the following sentence: “Moore is clear about one thing: This is a book about vulnerable, irrepressible love, and what it feels like to have that torn away.” That sentence is enough to send Kay – who admits that Laidlaw’s profile “smothered – rather than aroused” her interest in reading February – on a tear about the ills of CanLit:

I’m chary about experimenting with any Canadian author who gets a good review, especially for a novel that’s up for the Giller Prize. I’ve been burned several times by Giller-endorsed, but virtually unreadable CanLit. They’re all jumbled together in memory as feminized paeans to a sepulchral past, mired in poetically lyrical, but navel-gazing narrative stasis. So I tend to view boosterish reviews of this genre through a cynical lens.

[…]

Welcome to the unrelenting self-regard of CanLit, where it’s all about nobly suffering women or feminized men: men immobilized in situations of physical, psychological, or economic impotence (that is when they’re not falling through the ice and nearly drowning), rather than demonstrating manly courage in risk-taking or heroic mode.

To which Laidlaw responds, in part:

It is introspection and deep character exploration that make Canadian literature a worthy, albeit divisive, genre. Without the reflection of characters scarred by traumatic events, such as war, depression, natural disasters and genocide, to name a few, Canadian literature would lose its essence, not to mention its most celebrated authors.

I suspect Ms. Kay’s definition of CanLit as “navel-gazing narrative stasis” will not sit well with Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, or Ms. Kay’s readers, many of whom I dare say support our country’s literature.

Laidlaw accuses Kay of not reading Moore’s novel, which is fair comment, if true. Of course, Kay doesn’t admit to not having read the book; she merely says that her interest was “smothered” by Laidlaw’s piece. (Yr. humble correspondent has had his interest in any number of novels smothered by profiles or reviews, then has gone on to read the books, for any number of reasons. Some of them have even surprised me by being enjoyable.) Still, Kay’s argument about noble suffering characterized by “paeans to a sepulchral past, mired in poetically lyrical, but navel-gazing narrative stasis” seems to be a fairly accurate thumbnail of much CanLit. True, this description would not sit well with the authors Laidlaw names in her rejoinder, but that doesn’t make it any less precise.

What is nettlesome, however, is the peevishness that seems to accrue to both sides in this – admittedly, rather trivial – dispute. Kay, for her part, can’t conceive of a novel about an oil rig disaster that doesn’t focus on the men immediately involved in the tragedy. (For her, Mary Swan’s novel The Boys in the Trees, which circles around the massacre of a family but never treats the crime directly, would probably not be satisfying fiction either.) Laidlaw responds to Kay by unleashing a petulant, ad hominem attack that ends with her speculating that she’d withhold an invite to a hypothetical book club, “lest [Kay] become emotional at the very thought of our discussion.” Which probably sits just fine with Kay, but doesn’t contribute much to the literary discussion.

2. BookFox recently published an article titled “Ten Guidelines for Structuring a Short Story Collection,” which offers such Writing School 101 bromides as “put your best stories at the beginning” (later contradicted by the suggestion that stories be ordered according to the “logic” of an hourglass, Möbius strip, or musical improvisation structure), ensure that the last story “open[s] the book out,” and order stories with overlapping characters alongside one another (thank God no one ever told that to this guy).

As a whole, this list is a bluerpint for a kind of bland, paint-by-numbers approach to short fiction. The fact of the matter is, authors are free to structure their collections any damn way they please. Some employ a musical, point-counterpoint structure, some (like Joyce Carol Oates) prefer to structure their collections thematically, and some use a pattern (spiral, chronological, circular, etc.) as a structure. Telling a writer to put the novella at the end because a reader won’t be prepared for its length is ridiculous.

But it’s suggestion number eight that really steams my asparagus: “Here’s another piece of advice from Daniyal Mueenuddin: ‘The first story … should be bright and immediately appealing.’ Bright is key – you don’t want a super-depressing story to launch the collection. You also want one that appeals to the largest demographic (that is, if you want people to continue reading.)” Jesus wept. That’s right Faulkner, O’Connor, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Poe, and Hemingway: if you want people to keep reading, make sure the first story in your collection is a cheery one. Otherwise, your work will never survive.

3. The folks at Quirk Books, apparently bolstered by the success of their Jane Austen/zombie mash-up, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, have announced another title in what threatens to become a series. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is set to publish on September 15, which just happens to be the same day that The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown’s sequel to the Da Vinci Code, drops (such is the hubris that 600,000+ print runs can engender).

Yr. humble correspondent thought that P&P&Z was a nifty concept undone by a sloppy execution; it never occurred to me that it might be the book that launched a thousand mash-ups. The mind boggles at the possibilities: Silas Marner and the Sasquatch; The Woman in White and Werewolves; Anna Karenina and Aliens; Tom Jones vs. Jason. (Okay, I might be convinced to pick up that last one.)

But surely this is a fad with an extremely short shelf-life. It was amusing the first time (conceptually, at least), but how long can the “series” possibly drag out before the law of diminishing returns inevitably kicks in?