Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Last Resort

Whew. Are we ever, ever glad to be home from Cuba. As my RRHB said, "Wanting to be home isn't the way to end a holiday."

In short, the good: the beach, which is stunningly beautiful, the island, which is hauntingly the same as its almost frozen in time with its steadily decaying buildings, its old cars, and its strangely ironic absence of American anything.

We visited some amazing things: the caves where we snorkeled underground, the city of Trinidad, Havana, an old ranch run by a man born in the very house where we had lunch, whose history was translated for us by a youngster from Montreal, and saw Che's memorial at Santa Clara. Oh, and the highlight for me? Seeing Hemingway's house in Havana, spectacular. We also spent a wonderful couple of days on the beach at Varadero. One afternoon, we walked for hours in the ocean, sort of half-floating along enjoying the sunshine and each other's inexplicable good moods.

The bad: anything and everything about the "resort," the food, abysmal, the room, smelled like mould and had terribly uncomfortable beds, the fact that Conquest, the "reputable" tour company forgot to mention that we had to pay for our meals in Havana, how everyone in the country is so starved for tips that they dance for the tourists while we gorge ourselves on buffets of food that very few could ever afford or have the means to buy. We felt awful. As my RRHB said, "I'm going to feel guilty about this for years."

The downright ugly: our hotel in Havana was awful. And we spent our last days in Cuba deathly ill, both of us aching more for home than for the glorious sunshine that seemed to cater to us the entire week we were there. The meals that made us sick, which was just about every day at the buffet. We spent our anniversary night sleeping in a room that smelled faintly of urine in two single beds. How romantic.

The strange: the two days that it rained, we were on a bus (doing the Three Cities tour, Santa Clara, Cienfuego and Trinidad), and then in a jeep driven by a maniacal Italian man who spoke no English, which didn't, in the least, stop him from trying to communicate with us, where we did a Nature Tour that involved driving through the backyards of some of the poorest people I had ever seen, with garbage strewn all over, picked through by packs of homeless dogs, as we used up more of the country's natural resources to carry us through a version of the 'true' Cuba. We also went to see the Tropicana show in Havana, which is a spectacle to end all spectacles.

On the whole, we were very disappointed in the "resort," and even more so by our hotel in Havana, which was so far away from the centre of the city, where all the action is, that we had to take a cab that cost 15 CUC, the equal of about $20.00 Cdn just to get back from the day we spent in the old section.

But the most heartbreaking part of it all? How much time is wasted on buses, from the airport the the resorts, from the resort to Havana, a two hour journey, stretched out to over four hours by the time everyone is dropped off and picked up, wasting almost an entire day of a seven day trip. What is that?

But I read 4 books, 3 were advance reading copies, so I can't talk about them until they're published and the last was a really bad chicklit novel by Jane Green called Mr. Maybe, which takes my reading to 69. Fingers crossed I get to 70 by tomorrow.

Happy New Year everyone! It's so good to be home! Hope you all have a good night to night and I look forward to hearing all about your New Year's Revolutions!

Friday, December 22, 2006

We're All Going On A Winter Holiday!

I feel like a girl! After being so busy over the last little while, so much so that I can barely remember what it's like not to be so busy I can't hear myself think, we're leaving in less than 24 hours for our trip to Cuba.

So, yesterday I had my eyebrows waxed, got my toenails painted, bought some travel-sized Dermalogica products (so expensive, so worth it), and am about to start packing. But the best news of all? My lovely and sneaky RRHB bought me a digital camera! Now, in the New Year, My Tragic Right Hip will be fresh and improved with colour photographs...

And he surprised me, which is very, very hard to do.

Awww.

Now, I'm not even taking my crackberry to Cuba with me, so there will be no blogging from the holiday. Expect great long, tome-like posts upon my return. Safe travels everyone and happy holidays. We'll be back on the 30th.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

#68 - Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

Vincent Lam's Giller-prize winning book of linked short stories, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, weaves in and out of the lives of four medical students. In some stories, they are the focus, in others, they are secondary characters, found objects in the lives of the people they touch.

As I driving my reading home for 2006, I am glad that I managed to read this year's Giller winner. I'd put this book in my top 10 both for Lam's crisp, clean, and refreshing prose style, but also because it manages to do what all good fiction should, and that is bring you into a world that is not your own. Having lived on the periphery of the medical world for many, many years as a patient with a complex disease and an even more complicated medical history, I liked this book if only because it showed me around the lives of doctors and made them utterly, realistically and totally human.

Of all the stories, I'd have to say that "Contact Tracing," Lam's ingenious tale of the SARS epidemic, was my favourite of the 12, with "Winston" coming in a close second. All in all, cribbing from Wayson Choy's quote on the front of the hardcover, I'd have to say that the book is the work of a very powerful young writer.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Top TV of 2006

Finally, someone who completely and totally gets me. Or at least gets the fact that The Wire is hands down the best show on television, like, ever.

Oh, and I agree with Deadwood, but he's missing a few shows, like Rescue Me, Weeds, The Office, and Dexter.

And it's HISTORY TELEVISION, dude, please, if you're going to write about TV in Canada at least get the channel right.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Blogging Killed The Movie Critic

Am I responsible for this? I don't think that blogs, fanzines, fan sites, etc., have killed movie criticism but maybe brought it out of its ivory tower, if such a thing even existed for pop culture.

Personally, I write movie reviews here because I love films so much that I want to remember what I liked and what I didn't like. It's also a way for me to hone my "talent" (and I use that word lightly) for when I do have reviews to write for "outside" publications, which, to be perfectly honest, I wish I had more to write on a regular basis.

#67 - By The Time You Read This

Reading the odd mystery novel is always kind of a treat; it's sort of like watching a solid episode of Law & Order, there's a level of predictability, but you're hooked until the end to see what happens. And here's where my awful reading habits from childhood come up and bite me, as more often than not, I'll skip to the last pages just so I know what's happening. Seriously? It's one habit I'm trying desperately to break. And I managed in this case, to read Giles Blunt's latest mystery without skipping ahead to see 'who dunnit' before I actually got to the final pages of the book.

(Okay, I'll admit I did flip through the pages quickly for clues but I didn't actually read ahead)

Annnywaay. I finished up By the Time You Read This by Canadian Giles Blunt this weekend. It's the fourth novel in his Detective John Cardinal series that takes place in the fictional Algonquin Bay, a small city in Northern Ontario. The title refers back to a suicide note left by Cardinal's wife, Catherine, found on the roof where she fell to her death, apparently killing herself as a result of severe depression. But was it actually a suicide or was she murdered? In addition to this gripping, and it truly is gripping, storyline, Lise Delorme, a coworker of Cardinal's, is caught up in a child pornography case, which rounds out the two central plots in the novel.

As the two cases weave back and forth, Blunt's skill as a magician of sorts when it comes to pacing and character development, and even though one big clue is revealed half-way through the book (it's tantamount to a conclusion), but the story remains utterly satisfying to the end. To an extent, this book is as much about how Cardinal gets to the answers as it is about the mystery itself. And as the second case unravels under Delorme's cautious investigative skills, both plots merge and divide, which also keeps you into the book until the end.

Anyway, I can see why Margaret Cannon called it the #1 mystery for this year, besides Fred Vargas's The Three Evangelists, which I loved, I didn't read another mystery I enjoyed as much all year.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

'Tis The Season

For a while, back in high school, in the first few years after I lost my mom, I still clung to the wonder and joy of the holidays. We're not a religous family so it was the traditions that sort of made Christmas memorable. Each year we'd make an ornament for the tree, we'd get to open one present on Christmas Eve, we'd have pancakes, open our presents, have a big family meal, see everyone. I miss that.

Annnnywaaay.

We've been listening to Christmas songs this evening. My favourite? The Bing Crosby / David Bowie "Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy." Then, "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues. Then, The Pretenders, "2000 Miles."

Now you...

TRH Movie - Everything Is Illuminated And Others

After having Everything is Illuminated stuck on the Faux-Vo for, well, months, I finally managed to watch it yesterday. And I pretty much felt the same way about it as I felt about the book: it's well acted, looks great, sounds great, but nothing much happens. Liev Schreiber, who wrote and directed the film, pares down the source material, omits a lot of the more fantastical elements. And those stories, the ones of the history of Trachimbrod, were my favourite parts of the book, so the film kind of fell flat for me.

Then, we also watched Tristan and Isolde, and honestly, of these two films (and my RRHB can attest), this one was certainly the better. Good, in fact. I can't remember enough of the original story (I read it in high school, all glowy and looking for quotes to give to my my high school fellow, how embarrassing) to know if the movie is truthful or if it's like King Arthur, all historically inaccurate and stuff, but I thought it was good.

You can tell there's no more good TV for a while as we're clearing off all the movies before we go away next week.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Around the World in 52 Books

I've been thinking a lot about my reading for next year, in addition to the books I've got to read for work and ones I'm going to try to tackle in the new year for the 1001 Books odyssey, I wanted to broaden my reading base. In the last 10 years or so since finishing school, I've mainly been reading Canadian fiction, and bestselling books at that.

In the new year, I'm going to try and read more from authors around the world, hoping to cover 52 countries in 52 weeks. Now that might be a lofty goal, call it the one and only challenge I'm going to cover for the calendar year, but I think it's achievable. And since there are some African, Australian and Caribbean writers on the 1001 Books list, I might be able to knock a few off of both challenges as I go along.

So, if anyone has any suggestions for my 52 countries in 52 weeks, please let me know...right now my list is comprised of the following: Henning Mankell (Sweden), Nadine Gordimer (South Africa), Peter Carey (Australia)...and that's it.

And, of course, any excuse to give myself a challenge that I'll never finish, well hey!

EDITED TO ADD THE MASTER LIST:

1. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini, Afghanistan
2. The Successor, Ismail Kadare, Albania
3. The Swallows of Kabul, Yasmina Khadra, Algeria
4. Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid, Antigua
5. Theft: A Love Story, Peter Carey, Australia
6. Nowhere Man, Aleksandar Hemon, Bosnia and Herzegovina
7. The Devil and Miss Prym, Paulo Coelho, Brazil
8. Consumption, Kevin Patterson, Canada
9. The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende, Chile
10. Soul Mountain, Gao Xingjian, China
11. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabrial Garcia Marquez, Columbia
12. Havana Best Friends, Jose Latour, Cuba
13. The Trial, Franz Kafka, Czech Republic
14. Out of Africa, Isak Dineson, Denmark
15. Good Morning, Midnight, Jean Rhys, Dominica
16. The Lambs of London, David Mitchell, England
17. Platform, Michel Houellebecq, France
18. April in Paris, Michael Wallner, Germany
19. Our Sister Killjoy, Ama Ata Aidoo, Ghana
20. Disappearance, David Dabydeen, Guyana
21. The Melancholy of Resistance, Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Hungary
22. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy, India
23. The Master, Colm Toibin, Ireland
24. Lion's Honey: The Myth of Samson, David Grossman, Israel
25. Don't Move, Margaret Mazzantini, Italy
26. Hallucinating Foucault, Patricia Duncker, Jamaica
27. The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro, Japan
28. Petals of Blood, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, Kenya
29. A True Story Based on Lies, Jennifer Clement, Mexico

30. Half A Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigeria
31. Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson, Norway
32. Blindness, Jose Saramago, Portugal
33. The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Master and Man, Leo Tolstoy, Russia
34. The Accidental, Ali Smith, Scotland
35. Slow Man, J.M. Coetzee, South Africa
36. Depths, Henning Mankell, Sweden
37. All Soul's Day, Cees Nooteboom, The Netherlands
38. In a Free State, V.S. Naipul, Trinidad
39. My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk, Turkey
40. The Emperor's Children, Clair Messud, United States
41. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, Alexander McCall Smith, Zimbabwe

ADDED

42. Halldór Laxness, Independent People, Iceland
43. The Moldovian Pimp, Edgardo Cozarinsky, Argentina

A couple of truly fab forums are talking about the challenge and they've given me some more countries, so thanks!

44. Mariama Ba, So Long a Letter, Senegal
45. Javier Cercas, Soldiers of Salamis, Spain
46. Tahmima Anam, A Golden Age, Bangladesh
47. Dalia Sofer, The Septembers of Shiraz, Iran
48. Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero, Sri Lanka
49. Lloyd Jones, Mister Pip, New Zealand
50. Nurudin Farah, Links, Somalia

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Page 123 Meme

Totally stealing this meme from Orange Blossom Goddess over at The Library Ladder, but here goes, the Page 123 Meme:

1. Grab the book closest to you.
2. Open to page 123, scroll down to the 5th sentence.
3. Post the text of next 3 sentences on your blog.
4. Name of the book and the author.
5. Tag 3 People.

Ragdoll's Participation:

#1. Done, pulled it out of my knapsack.
#2. Book is now cracked open on my lap.
#3. A couple of times he said, "The wife would kill me if she knew how much I paid for that."
#4. By the Time You Read This, Giles Blunt

And for the tagging, I'm totally not going to choose three people but any of you readers out there with a book in your back pocket, take it away!

The Abandoned Cubicle

I'm sitting, right now, in an abandoned cubicle. Not my normal workspace, obviously, for the only piece of paper adorning the walls is a notice instructing upon how to deal with Telephoned Bomb Threat Procedures.

And I'm always the one claiming there are no book emergencies.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Arctic Ice

Winter is about to set in although you wouldn't feel it in Toronto. With temperatures sitting at about 8 degrees, which I would call decidedly balmy, it is any wonder that this is happening?

And having watched Al Gore this week on Oprah, and still digesting Heat, although I'm only 47 pages in (it's so scary that I can't read it any faster), I'm all for making positive changes to save that damn ice. I bought one of our nephews a piece of the Arctic and our only niece a polar bear from WWF, and if everyone does that, buys just one socially responsible gift this holiday season, maybe we can save one small part of it.

It would be a shame for it all to disappear after so many lost their lives trying to map it, discover it and, well, explore it. But not just that, the total and complete repercussions of us melting all of the ice because we hate the bus and refuse to turn the heat down makes me think that there's never a more appropriate time to care for the earth than the holidays when everyone's feeling generous and imagining the best in other people.

Monday, December 11, 2006

TRH Movie - The Holiday Redux

My review of The Holiday is now up on Chart. I realized that I sort of missed the chance to talk about the very cute subplot in the movie with Eli Wallach and Kate Winslet, that many other reviewers discussed in detail. And it got me thinking. I had thought about it and then decided I didn't want to give it away, preferring instead to let the sweeter elements of the film come as a bit of surprise, but now I'm thinking I probably should have at least talked about it as a positive part of the picture.

Too late now. Also too late to sing Naomi Watts's praises, as the cyber-stalker fellow reminded me in his comments. But she was really very good in The Painted Veil and the more I think about it, the more I like that film.

What can you do? Every sentence is a choice.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Going On A Honeymoon

Yes, almost 11 month and 14 days after the actual event, the RRHB and I finally booked our "honeymoon" yesterday. We're going to Cuba for a week, spending 5 days in Varadero and 2 in Havana. True that I want to see the country before Castro's reign comes to an end, but my goodness did I get a shock when the charge went through to my credit card. Ouch!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Missed The Party

I was going to go to this party for Heather O'Neill's novel but got sidetracked by the whole Ed Norton thing. However, I'm pleased as punch with the link over here from the Torontoist, how cool is that?

TRH Movie - The Painted Veil

I skipped my very last dance class for the term yesterday to go see a preview screening of The Painted Veil, Ed Norton's latest movie, but with very good reason, because the actor/producer was actually in attendance for a Q&A session at the end.

First, the film. Based on a W. Somerset Maugham novella, The Painted Veil takes place, for the most part, in China, where a young doctor (or bacteriologist), Walter Fane (Ed Norton) who is researching infectious diseases and his new wife, Kitty (Naomi Watts). Married after a refreshingly brief courtship that takes place in about two days, the couple finds themselves in an awkward and difficult situation when Kitty begins, and ends, an affair with the Vice-Consul, Charlie Townsend (Liev Shreiber). As a form of punishment, Walter forces Kitty to travel inland to a small village heartbreakingly infected with the worst cholera outbreak in history. Here, in the small village, the two reach an impasse of sorts, where they may not solve all of the problems of their marriage, but they do certainly find an honesty where they communicate openly at long last.

It's a long movie, with beautiful scenery, and much better than the last thing I saw that was filmed in China, some terrible "rock" video by 30 Seconds to Mars. The Painted Veil is directed by John Curran, who also helmed We Don't Live Here Anymore, so he's certainly adept at creating a story that explores the moral ambiguity at the centre of so many human experiences. A sweeping tale that balances out the interior emotional struggles of Walter and Kitty with the more overarching socio-political problems found in China (the rise of the "nationalists," the fury over British imperialism, and the presence of Catholic missionaries), The Painted Veil is an epic film, one that demands a commitment from its audience, but absolutely rewards you for putting in the effort.

And it must be stated that Toby Jones, who plays Waddington, a left-over soldier stationed in the small village affected by the epidemic, is wonderful. And I can understand why Naomi Watts became so involved in the picture (she's a co-producer alongside Norton), because it's quite a juicy part for a woman in a world where the "heroines" are getting younger and younger in films that are more and more vapid.

Now, the actor. So, at the end of the screening, Richard Crouse came back out to introduce Ed Norton and then do a quasi-Inside the Actor's Studio-type question and answer period. Norton came into the theatre wearing jeans and a lovely dark grey pea coat, which he wore through the entire interview. Part way through he wrapped it even further around himself and hugged his arms in tight like he was maybe a bit unsure of himself and a little nervous, which I didn't expect.

He's quite unassuming in person except totally handsome and very clean cut, and he used a lot of big words (etymology, for example) and made cute metaphors ("the characters in the film were exfoliated by China") and came across super smart and well read, another thing I didn't expect. He also sounds American when he talks, says Montreal like Mont-re-all, and things like "you all know Ron Livingston, right" in that particular cadence to people like my American "cousins" who all hail from Pennsylvania and such. He looks, well, like a New Yorker, put a toque on him and he could be Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me, but I digress.

I was such a geek that I took notes about some of the more charming things he said about the movie and his career, just to relay them here:

On Working on The Score with De Niro and Brando:

"It's a movie I did just to be in the poster."

And the kid that asked the question told Norton he was a Method actor ("What's it like to be a third generation Method Actor"), to which he responded by saying, "That's the first I'm hearing about being a Method Actor." The kid (a theatre/film student in a pack of theatre/film students sitting beside me and rambling on about how great Death to Smoochy was) said that he read it on the internet, which, of course, cued all clap-trap snark about how unreliable information is on the web. Which almost made me want to stand up and ask whether or not the rumours are true that he's dating Evan Rachel Wood. But, alas, I am a meek writer who prefers to spread her own rumours online. Annnywaay. He did joke that he could learn a lot about himself by reading the internet. Can't we all Ed Norton, can't we all.

About the costume and makeup from The Illusionist:

It's actually inspired by a comic Dr. Strange. After I told my RRHB this he said, "Oh yeah, totally, there was even a Canadian TV show about Dr. Strange for a while." Who knew?

On the characterization in The Painted Veil:

"We had to commit to the character's weaknesses in order to make it real." I am paraphrasing a bit here but I really liked this idea. In order for the movie to work, Norton said, he and Watts concentrated more on the character flaws rather than their strong points, and he's absolutely right, it's what makes the movie work. You do believe that Walter is a bad lover (his example) and that Kitty is vain and silly, which makes their evolution so much more real.

Further, on the love story in The Painted Veil:

Norton is attracted to projects that take him outside of his own comfort zone, but I couldn't help reading so much more into this statement than was probably intended, "everyone goes through disappointments in seeing the weaknesses in the object of their affection," but maybe something like this comes more from his own failed relationships in general vs. empathizing with Walter's inability to make his marriage work in many ways.

About working on the 25th Hour:

(Which I will preface by saying I think is one of my favourite Spike Lee joints). The theatre actor in him loves to rehearse, and he feels his performance in that film ended up being so strong because they did a lot of intense rehearsing before the shoot.

Lastly, he said he was "reluctant to talk about what a film is about," because he thinks that the job of the person in the audience and what fun would it be just to tell us all what to think. In the end, I'm glad I went, even if the film is one of those Hollywood vanity projects (Norton mentioned he'd always wanted to make a sweeping epic) that many actors create to give themselves work. Instead of being all snarky about that, as I am inclined to do, I'm going to resist and say what does it matter when the end product is clearly a piece of quality work from a surprisingly well spoken, obviously intelligent, well read, and highly talented individual.

Oh, and hot, did I mention that too? He's totally hunky and hot.

Oh, and the other shocking thing that I did not realize about my own damn self, is that I've seen 19 of the 21 titles listed on his imdb.com page, which I was kind of surprised by. Does that mean he's my male version of Kirsten Dunst?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

#65 & #66 - The Secret Mitzvah Of Lucio Burke & Before I Wake

The other day I finished not one but two books I had sort of been reading simultaneously. The first, The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke, was for my online book club, and I'll be honest, were it not for that, I probably would never have read this lovely and charming first novel. And speaking of first novels, it's very impressive that Robert J. Wiersema comes right out the gate with his own exceptional book, Before I Wake. Another novel that had I not heard the author read a few weeks ago, I also may have never read.

It's interesting, when you read two books side by side, to see the contrasts and the differences. Both books deal with issues of faith and fate, with family, love and friendship as secondary themes, and both authors have a gift in terms of crafting very readable stories that tug at your heartstrings. But they are also very different, the first being an historical novel of sorts, the second more of a fantastical commercial fiction-type outing. However, they are now books that I would absolutely recommend to people, if only because it's a mitzvah in and of itself to support first novels, to herald from the rafters new and exciting talent on the Canadian literary landscape.


Annnywaaay. The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke, set in Toronto in the 1930s, is kind of a buldingsroman, in the sense that the main character, said Lucio Burke, comes of age in the novel alongside the young city of Toronto, which is also growing up, so to speak. There's a huge cast of characters that surround Lucio, his love interest, Ruthie, his next door neighbour and best friend, Dubie, and both of their families. The book opens with Bloomberg, a minor character who disappears after one fateful day, trying to give away his baseball, making all of the kids hit the ball to see who would end up with it. In the end, no one hits the ball, and this fantastic journey begins where all three characters, Lucio, Dubie and Ruthie, change in many different ways.

As the love story unfolds, a number of almost fantastical things happen, each geared to balance out the idea that many of the events in your life are the products of both fate and faith. And Steven Hayward writes such a convincing yarn that's so Richler-inspired that it's easy to be captivated by his charming, witty and truly engaging prose. If I have one slight criticism of this book, it's that there's a very long and rather important flashback toward the end, about Lucio's grandmother, that I thought would have made more sense had it been introduced earlier, especially considering the book's ending, which takes place during the riots in Christie Pits is just around the corner, it sort of pulled me out. But Hayward, who is himself the narrator "telling" his grandmother's story, both fiction and non, is adept enough that you just go with it, and my overall feeling is that this is a really, really good first novel.

Now, on to Before I Wake. I am going to honestly say that this book totally and utterly surprised me. It's not normally the kind of book I would read, that has no bearing on whether or not the book is of quality, but like The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke, it's not a book I would have picked up on my own, without a little prodding. I know Scarbie read it a while back and really loved it, and the author himself answered some questions on her blog, and she's been telling me to read it for months. But like I said, until I heard him at the reading a few weeks back, it wasn't a book that cried out for me to read. I was so wrong.

It's a sweet story, perfect for holiday reading, about a family that goes through an unspeakable tragedy (their three-year-old daughter is hit by a truck crossing the street and is in a coma) only to find that their daughter is miraculous, not in the way she's able to recover, but in the fact that she can now heal other people. Coupled with the more fantastical elements of the novel, are the more day-to-day problems regular people deal with as they experience a tragedy.

In some ways, and I know this is a far-out there kind of comparison, but the book almost kind of reminded me of Dogma, which, to this day, is still my favourite Kevin Smith movie. As a girl who struggles a lot with ideas of faith and religion herself, especially the choice to believe or not to believe, I think I liked this book so much because the main characters, Simon and Karen, struggle throughout the book to not only be true to themselves, but to do the right thing in general, even if they don't necessarily believe in God and/or the miracle of Sherry's abilities. There's a mysterious aspect to the book as well, with Henry Denton, the driver of the truck that hit the little girl, fighting his own battles in terms of what happened, where he is now, and what he's sent back to do.

I can see why the Globe picked it to as a Best Book this year, because it's a really hard thing to achieve, a totally readable, utterly good piece of commercial fiction that feels to have been written by a thoughtful, compassionate and good first-time novelist.

On the whole, these were two surprises in terms of my reading this year, books that I had made up my mind about before actually giving them a chance, with both proving that, well, you can't judge a book by your own preconceived notions.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Five Things Meme

Well, I am so honoured, as I've never been tagged before! Sniff. My eyes are welling up a little. Okay, so here's my list:

1. I was born at the Toronto Grace Hospital. For years, while working at the Evil Empire, I stared out my office window at the hospital where I was born.
2. I almost flunked out of graduate school. So much so that one of my professors actually suggested that 'it might not be for me.' I was heartbroken.
3. I once tried to re-write Jude the Obscure for a modern audience from Susanna's point of view. Yeah, it was bad. The first novel I never finished.
4. I have a birthmark on my forehead that many people mistake for dirt.
5. The most embarrassing boy I ever kissed was named Trey. He was a skateboarder from Regina and about five years younger than me. It was in Banff, and Banff is not real life.

Okay, I'm very bad at this tagging thing but here goes: Zesty, my friend with the Yellow Fever and Beth.

Oh, My What Do I Say Except Awww

Right now I am blogging just before bed: my RRHB is asleep with the cat lying beside him, both of their heads on the pillow. They are BOTH snoring. The cat's high-pitched whistle with the RRHB's lower tones underneath.

I will put in the earphones but awwwww.

(And I didn't post a picture so it doesn't count...)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Good To See That Education Really Works




Your Vocabulary Score: A-



Congratulations on your multifarious vocabulary!

You must be quite an erudite person.



(prop's to Kate's Book Blog for the link, although I'm not quite as smart as she is...)

Damn You Studio 60

Okay, I'll admit it: I am totally and shockingly hooked on Studio 60. The episode on this week was actually pretty damn good and that kiss (whew!) between Matt and Harriet, well, I'm not even ashamed to say that I rewound it a couple of times before carrying on with the episode. Hot!

Apoc-o-crap-to

So, do you know anyone who'll see this Mel Gibson extravaganza? I probably won't even watch it when it comes to TMN a year from now, for free. Especially after reading this, and I almost dropped my EW right into the recycling bin when I saw Gibson on the cover. I mean really? Shut up Mel Gibson. Shut up already.

Brushes With Greatness

Okay, so I'm going to do a six degrees of separation type post, which is not really exciting for anyone, but, well me:

1. Today Madhur Jaffrey is in our offices. She is lovely, delightful and kindly signed some books for me. I am dying to read her memoir Climbing the Mango Trees, which is now on my giant to-be-read pile toward the top right after I finish Before I Wake (am one subway ride away from being done) and after I read Consumption. Anyway, she was a supporting player in last year's sweet Prime with Uma Thurman and Bryan Greenburg (whom I will always refer to as Jake! from my time recapping One Tree Hill for TWoP), which means I'm one degree from both of them, cool eh?

2. Yesterday, my stepmother was sworn in as the Councillor for Ward 10 in Mississauga. It was a very prestigious ceremony with Hazel McCallion, "Madame Mayor" herself in attendance, natch, which means I'm one degree from her as well. In her opening address she laid out her plans for her term: deconstructing the region of Peel, stopping the tax payouts to Toronto (never mind the whole idea that how many Mississauga residents use Toronto roads, Toronto highways, Toronto services while they're at work, but whatever), and continuing to have the cleanest, crime-free city in Canada. You go Hazel; you're a right-winged spitfire of a woman, and even if I don't believe in your policy 100%, I certainly admire your honesty, dedication and servitude.

3. Also yesterday, my online book club had a chat with author Steven Hayward about his first novel, The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke. It's a great read, and my full review is to follow, but when asked if he had a hard time re-writing the novel in a different way (he changed it from first to third person), he said, "The re-write was easy, the write was hard." And it made me heart the book (and its author) even more. It also gives me hope, because the write of any first draft is so difficult at least it's good that once an editor or someone else sees the potential, the hard work of creating the characters and doing the first draft isn't lost time.

4. I have an ARC of Gemma Townley's latest book on my nightstand at this very moment. I bet you are ALL jealous. I have also completed Shopaholic and Baby and Forever in Blue from our spring lists, with full reviews to come once the books are on sale. After reading all three, plus seeing The Holiday, I might be surprised if I don't grow even bigger boobs because of all the estrogen in my system.

Friday, December 01, 2006

TRH Movie - The Holiday

So I went to a preview screening of the girliest of all girlie movies The Holiday. I won't post my full review because I have to write it still for Chart, but I will say the following: this is an unabashed chick flick, so if you go in thinking "I really need a dose of fantasy" than by all means, get thee to the theatre next weekend.

Full review tk.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

TRH TV - Intelligence

Okay, you all know I'm obsessed with watching television. I'm convinced it's because my mother never let us watch TV when we were small kids and so I grew up blissfully unaware of the truly addictive aspects of the little blue box. And all through university we didn't have cable, and even up until I started living with my RRHB, I didn't have cable. What did I need it for? I didn't watch television.

Oh, what a fool I am.

Anyway, what I did watch was tonnes of the CBC. North of 60, Rita MacNeil, you name it, I watched it. And then, once I discovered the glorious joy of cable, I sort of left the CBC behind. I even (as she says in a hushed tone) stopped watching the news. Gasp!

But now, I'm getting older. I listen to Andy Barrie in the morning. I have the CBC on in the background most days at work and have come back into the fold with the new show that's been on this season called Intelligence. Never a Da Vinci fan, I watched the short tv movie that the series is based on last year by accident (meaning I flipped the channel, answered the phone, and the show was on, and it was interesting enough to keep me watching until the end. I think too, the RRHB was away so we weren't compromising in terms of the evening show tally).

The story of a third generation dope slinger turned millionaire, Intelligence follows Jimmy's involvement with the RCMP's special crime unit, both in terms of giving them information and being a suspect they're looking to take down. Balancing out the crime with the punishment as we also get Mary, the head of said crime section, whose own agenda involves positioning herself for a sweet promotion over to CSIS (who, by the way, would never have their parking spots noted "parking for CSIS," art directors please take note). It's a fascinating little show, a bit Sopranos, a bit The Wire, a bit Can Con, but it kind of works. So much so it's on a permanent tape-to-watch later status on my Faux-Vo.

However, now that I like it and am actually telling y'all to watch it, sure as it will eventually snow here in Toronto, the CBC will cancel the show and start airing something equally dismal like Air Farce in its place.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

#64 - Everything Is Illuminated

Finally, after almost seven weeks, a pathetic showing on my part, I limped to the finish line and finished Everything Is Illuminated last night before going to bed. The good, the bad, and the ugly about the book is as follows:

1. The Good
Jonathan Safran Foer is a brilliant bloody writer. He has a wonderful gift for humour, for the absurd, and for a meta-self-referential-po-mo stylist, an ease with prose that seems so natural that it's as refreshing to read as a swim in the lake on a hot July day.

2. The Bad
The disjointed narrative style, while cute, was very distracting. It took away from the fact that no aspect of the story actually get resolved. The novel bites around the story like a sandwich with the crusts cut off, and never really lets you in to the meat until the very end, and even then, it's hard to figure out exactly what happened. But maybe that's because it took me weeks to finish the novel and picking it up over a longer period of time makes it harder for me to put all the connections together.

3. The Ugly
I know it's wrong of me, but I couldn't help feeling like Sacha was Borat, or at least a version of that stereotypical character that comes across more caricature than anything else. And while I enjoyed his malapropisms, I felt the author used him more for comic relief and to show off than actually contributing to the story in any way.

Overall, I can see what all the spilled ink was about, but I wasn't as blown away by this novel as the rest of the ladies in my bookclub, but I'm sure as hell happy with being able to add a new book to my 1001 Books score. And with Persuasion, that brings my total to 122. Whee!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

TRH Movie - The History Boys

Last night Tara and I went to go see The History Boys. After having brunch with Sam, then going to my Restorative Yoga class and starting the housework, it was the perfect way to end the day.

Having not even heard of the Broadway play (shame on me) nor knowing anything about the film with the exception of having seen the trailer before Little Children, I'm glad to report I was pleasantly surprised. It's a sharp, witty drama about a group of boys in their last year of school in England who are all vying for spots at university. And not just any school, but Cambridge and Oxford.

The boys have a wonderful relationship with a teacher, whom they dub "Hector", played by Richard Griffiths, who teaches them not only about literature, but about the importance of learning in life. Hector's place among the boys is challenged by the arrival of Mr. Irwin, hired by the headmaster to get the boys prepared for their admittance exams. The struggle between Hector's old-fashioned methods of teaching and Irwin's inspirational new way influences the boys in different ways.

A true coming of age tale that romanticizes the entire last year of school for the various different boys, the film celebrates the value of knowledge simply for the joy of learning. Like Wonder Boys, it's a movie that doesn't talk down to the audience, that throws in Thomas Hardy, Anne of Cleves and an odd French lesson taking place in a brothel and simply expects you to get it. Gladly, the crowd out last night was up for the challenge.

Friday, November 24, 2006

What To Do?

So I'm a band widow this weekend and can't make up my mind about what to do. Reading would be a good place to start, I'm halfway through Before I Wake and really, really must finally finish Everything is Illuminated, and I need to do some grocery shopping and house cleaning, oh, and some laundry too. But what to do for fun? I'm up for suggestions...

Team Karen or Team Pam?

Looking for the perfect holiday "secret Santa" present? Yeah, I'd go for Team Karen just to piss off all of the obvious Team Pam supporters.

I'm all for Pam and Jim, OF COURSE, but a little love triangle never hurt anyone. Except maybe Lorelai because that sh*t's been going on for eight seasons.

Oh, and other TV news? I had an episode of 30 Rock on the Faux-Vo to catch the last few minutes of The Office while I was in Vancouver last week and I ended up watching it. I was doing the absolutely crazy go through the taped shows and watch them in alphabetical order on Wednesday night after pilates. I started with 30 Rock, ended up on Coronation Street, then Grey's Anatomy, but I skipped a couple in between. Okay, back on topic. 30 Rock, you know, it's totally funny. Tracy Morgan is good, and Alec Baldwin truly kills. There was this whole meta-thing about him being a broadcast head playing himself in a sketch but he couldn't act. And the ham-bone Baldwin pretending not to act all while acting bit? Hilarious.

But the best part of both Studio 60 and 30 Rock? Other than their numerically challenged titles, they're both kind of about writers, and I really like writers.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

TRH Movie - Fast Food Nation

While in Vancouver last week, we ended up going to see a preview screening for Richard Linklater's new film Fast Food Nation. Based on Eric Schlosser's nonfiction book of the same name, Fast Food Nation weaves three very different stories together to examine the food industry in America. The first thread finds fast food chain Mickey's marketing executive Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) who is charged with finding out why there's fecal matter in the meat they're serving in their Big One burgers. While he's investigating, he meets the young Amber (Ashley Johnson) who is working at a Mickey's in small-town Colorado. Her story, that of innocence to social action, forms the second storyline in the film. The last thread, that of immigrant Mexican workers working at an abattoir in the same Colorado town where Amber lives, is perhaps the most poignant. Wilmer Valderrama (That 70s Show) and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace) play young lovers who escape the poverty of their homeland to work awful jobs in the meat processing plant / slaughterhouse.

It's a full-on indie movie, complete with pretty poor art direction (please, please could someone attach the laptop in the Mickey's exec's office to some power outlet or at least an internet cord to make it somewhat realistic?) and that slow, sprawling narrative style that fits both the storylines and the subject matter. The film is well written and well acted, with standout performances by just about all in the cast, but I'd have to say that Bobby Canavale, who I think is one of the most underrated gems out there as the stupendously arrogant plant supervisor, and Catalina Sandino Moreno as an immigrant working for a better life, give particularly poignant performances.

Linklater saves the most gruesome bits for the end, which I don't want to spoil by going into too much detail about, but to say that I think anyone who eats meat should see this movie. Not to be preachy and/or all high and mighty, but knowing where your food comes from and how it comes to your table should be mandatory for anyone who eats a burger at a fast food joint. All in all, I don't think this film will do gangbusters at the box office, but it's an important film, not only because of its message but also to show the studios that you don't have to spend millions to capture the essence of a good picture, that all it takes is a good cast, a solid script and a bit of heart. It's not the best movie I've seen all year but it's certainly a memorable one.

#63 - Persuasion

Thank goodness the reader's block is over. I didn't know what to do with myself not being able to blog about the books that I've read because I hadn't actually finished a book in about five weeks. The dry spell is over! Over my two plane rides (to Vancouver and back again) I managed to finish Jane Austen's Persuasion, the inaugural choice of our newly formed 1001 Books To Read Before You Die club at work.

Persuasion is yet another classic that reminds me that I can't believe I haven't enjoyed the talents of Jane Austen in my life before now. It's the story of Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, a vain, pompous, yet totally harmless man, who finds herself marginalized by her family, left out in the cold by love, and saddled with the fact that she's morally superior to many of her relations. Anne overcomes her trials (of course) and eventually finds happiness. The persuasion part of the novel comes in many forms: Anne's betrayal of her heart when she refuses the proposal of Captain Wentworth on the bidding of her great friend and mother stand-in, Lady Russell; Wentworth's upwardly mobile abilities regarding his own social standing throughout the novel; and Anne's in-between position in terms of her meddling, hypochondriac sister and her many other frustrating relations.

The most shocking aspect to reading Jane Austen at this point in my life is how she crafted completely and utterly addictive books, and Persuasion is no exception. It's an early 19th-century page turner, and I'm not really why that surprises me, but it really does.

Plus, the more of Austen I read, the more I find that she's so responsible for many of the tropes and/or plot devices that we find in modern-day chicklit novels, the charming cad, the mistaken affection and/or personality assumptions, the awkward parental units, the unsatisfying love lives, and then I feel dumb that it's taken me this long to get with the, ahem, program.

Friday, November 17, 2006

TRH Does Vancouver

Damn time change on the west coast!

I am really enjoying my vacation. Despite the truly crappy weather (Hannah told me yesterday that I flew in during a tsunami warning), Vancouver has been great. Went to see the Emily Carr exhibit, shopped a bit on Robson Street, had a great breakfast in Kitsilano, went to see a screening of "Fast Food Nation," and am enjoying the blissful Pan Pacific Hotel at this very moment.

More details to follow when I'm back and not blogging from my crackberry.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

TRH Version 2.0

Well, to some extent. I upgraded my template here at blogspot and can't figure out how to change the metadata so that it doesn't show up "notify blogger of objectionable content" when I search for the blog on Firefox or IE.

But I do love the labels. Aren't they fun?

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Slow Movement

Over the past few Saturdays, I've been taking Restorative Yoga class at the Liberty Movement Studio in Liberty Village. The space is gorgeous and the teacher awesome but I wasn't expecting it to be so utterly relaxing. I've always been a smash-up and down kind of exercise-doer, from the early days of dance classes to crazy-ass aerobics to biking like a maniac, so the idea of slow movements for the benefit of my health never really occurred to me, like ever. To me, exercise has always meant lots of sweating, moving and high kicks.

But that's not always the case. The benefits of restorative yoga include the highly important act of resting the brain. True rest, something where my mind isn't going a mile a minute and I'm not bouncing from topic to topic, isn't something I've ever done before. And considering my disease is completely stress related the idea of quieting my mind is an important one.

And it's strange that restorative yoga, where you hold supported poses for long periods of time, makes me far more tired than my pilates class does; it makes me so relaxed that I actually rest, something I most certainly do not do enough of in my real, hectic life.

Weekend Update

What a crazy busy weekend! It's always fun when that happens. It was Remembrance Day. The holiday always makes me think of my grandmother, a war bride, my grandfather, a World War II vet, and my great-grandfather, who fought in the First World War.

I guess it was kind of fitting that I went to see the psychic/clairvoyant on Remembrance Day, considering the person that came through the most was my maternal grandmother, my Nanny, who came from London when she was a young married woman to make her life in Canada. The whole reading was totally surreal: apparently, I'm a 'diamond' soul, have got angels around me, and, um, the grandmother of God, one St. Anne, sits with my dead relatives watching over them and me.

Yeah, that kind of totally freaked me out, especially considering that the psychic knew nothing about me or even my name before I walked in the room. Oh, and on top of all that, I was born on St. Anne's Day, as my father-in-law is always telling me. But the cutest part of the reading? The psychic telling me that my grandmother thinks my RRHB has a cute butt. I mean, he does, but really?

It's hard to know what to believe and what not to believe but when you've been without your mom and your grandmother for so long, maybe even just the little reassurance that they're there, somewhere, is a good thing. Then, I went to restorative yoga, which I'll explain in the next post.

After all of that spiritual stuff, I collapsed on the couch and watched TV before falling asleep at 9:42 PM. Why was I so tired? Oh, because I stayed out too late after going to see a reading on Friday night. Kevin Patterson (Consumption), Robert J. Wiersema (Before I Wake) and Giles Blunt (By the Time You Read This): all three men gave excellent readings in the Hart House Library at U of T. All three books are now on my 'to read' pile (after ordering them), and I have to say that Patterson totally gets the über-hot author award. Wow! Smoking! AND, he eats caribou eyeballs. Fascinating.

Then, on Sunday I went for brunch with a friend who is spending her first year teaching. She's got a grade 3/4 split class and has been reading my abridged version of Frankenstein. Apparently, the kids are quite upset about the ending that I wrote (they found it unsatisfactory) and are going to be writing me some letters about what they think happens to the monster. Oh, and I've also been asked to reply to them, which I am more than willing to do. How fun is that?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Aphra Behn

Is it strange to say that a 17th century woman is one of my heroes? That my goal has always been, just like Behn, to be a woman who makes a living by her pen. And these past few weeks something has actually been happening on that front. A royalty cheque arrived for the first three of my Classic Starts (Little Women, Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe), and yesterday a cheque arrived from Taddle Creek for my poem "April" that appeared in their last issue.

Getting paid for poetry is awesome. Getting paid for writing I did five years ago is also kind of thrilling. But being able to pay for my Humber course without going into debt? Awesome.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Seen Reading

Love this new blog by Julie Wilson (links via Bookninja & Quill and Quire).

Makes me wish that I took the TTC more often so I could take a peak at what page people were on...

Now That It's On Your Mind

Do something about it. Ipsos-Reid tells us that Canadians are now more concerned about the environment than any other social issue. It tops the list, with health care (natch) and international war/conflict coming up next. Do you think Harper will listen?

Oh, and while we're on the subject, here's a top 10 list from George Monbiot, the author of Heat:

1. Cut your flights. Nothing else you do causes so much climate change in so short a time.

2. Think hard before you pick up your car keys. On average, 40% of the journeys made by car could be made by other means - on foot, by bicycle or on public transport.

3. Organise a "walking bus" to take the children to school.

4. Ask your boss to devise a "workplace travel plan" which rewards people for leaving their cars at home.

5. Switch over to a supplier of renewable electricity. You don't have to erect your own wind turbine, but you can buy your power from someone who has.

6. Ask a builder to give you an estimate for bringing your home up to R2000 standards.

7. Ditch your air conditioner.

8. Turn down your thermostat: 18 degrees is as warm as your house ever needs to be. You just have to get used to it.

9. Make sure every bulb in your house is a compact fluorescent or LED.

10. Do NOT buy a plasma TV: they use 5 times as much energy as other models.

How am I faring? Not too well I'm afraid. We're trying to keep the heat down, we've switched a lot of our lightbulbs, we don't own a plasma tv, we rarely (read three times last summer) turn on the air conditioning, and we're going to do as much environmentally friendly renovating as we can possibly afford when my RRHB starts fixing the house up full-time in January, but I'm going to Vancouver next week (flying) and drive to work most days. We've also been thinking about switching to Bullfrog, but it's so expensive. I know, I shouldn't complain.

Hence the goal to buy most of our Christmas presents in the form of hand-made gifts, donations to charities and stuff from the Red campaign.

Monday, November 06, 2006

1001 Books Redux

Baby got Books has posted a spreadsheet that calculates how many of the 1001 books you've read; it's pretty sweet.

My score: 113.

I'm a bit ahead of where I was last summer simply because a couple of the classics I've now abridged for Sterling.

Reader's Block

So the cold mutated into a bad sinus infection, which laid me up for another, truly non-eventful, weekend. But the worst part of it? I'm totally and utterly unable to read. I can't concentrate and even looking at a page (or a computer screen) hurts my eyes (it does not, however, stop me from lying on the couch, collecting dust, and watching hour after hour of television).

I've been reading Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer for the past four weeks. I'm on page 154. Other books I can't seem to crack are Marie Antoinette: The Journey, The Communist's Daughter by Dennis Bock, and about 17 others sitting on my night table. I should be starting a November challenge, I like Sassy Monkey's idea of doing one 'from the stacks,' but I am also attracted to the idea (c/o Kailana) of reading war-inspired or themed books because of Remembrance Day, but considering I haven't finished a single challenge yet (I came close with the RIP one for October), I might simply have my goal for this month to "get over my reader's block" and actually finish a damn book.

Tomorrow is another day: tomorrow I will decide upon a challenge. Tomorrow, I hope, I will be feeling better.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Cold Is Killing Me

I have been on the couch all day. Not even Oprah can cheer me up. My voice? Gone. My energy? Gone.

I did, however, get caught up one every single show on my Faux-Vo.

Man, being sick is boring.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Good Grief

Here is the number one reason why traditional marketing and/or advertising models are failing: this guy.

The whole thing is just wrong. Or is it me? Being one of the 'target' market he's talking about, I can honestly say I've never been interested in: catfights, freakish people turned into fabulous people, train wrecks (unless it's in Unbreakable), or dates gone horribly wrong unless they involve Michael Vartan, Jennifer Garner, and some kick-ass spy gear.

I read, I watch movies, and I do a lot of shopping for shoes, but that doesn't mean a fellow who admits to smoking, drinking and gambling in his first corporate post can "reach" into my "untapped" market.

Sigh.

Monday, October 30, 2006

TRH Movie - Little Children

It's no secret that I love going to the movies, the popcorn, the big screen, the big, comfy chairs. What I hate about going to the movies? Everyone else at the theatre. If there's one thing I truly despise, it's when the other people in the theatre ruin the movie-going experience for me. The jerks. If it wasn't the woman who arrived three minutes to screen time looking for 4 seats together, it was the knuckleheads beside me who talked through the entire movie.

"There's Kate Winslet!"

Yes, and there are her nipples. I don't need a running commentary of what they look like, I can also see them on the screen there, 40 feet tall and pointing directly at me. Oh, and if you're going to wear a giant parka, please take it off before the movie starts, not during, and then please don't lie it across me so that I'm wearing it as a blanket. And then, if you could be so kind, please don't HIT ME THROUGH THE WHOLE MOVIE as you eat your popcorn. Seriously, my left arm is black and blue.

So. Annoying.

Annnywaaay. Tara and I went to go see Little Children on Saturday evening. Todd Field's second movie, the follow-up to In the Bedroom, Little Children deals with some of the same themes, characters with fatal flaws, families in crisis to an extent, illicit relationships with violent consequences, etc. It's also loooong, like In the Bedroom, which I wouldn't have minded if the movie going experience didn't make me want to lose my mind.

Kate Winslet plays Sarah Pierce, an unsatisfied housewife with a toddler who isn't necessarily convinced she should be a mother. She and house-husband, failed lawyer, ex-football star Brad Adamson (the truly hunky Patrick Wilson) begin an affair that for better or worse, brings them to conclusions about their own lives that will change them forever. The second interweaving storyline involves a pedophile, Ronnie McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley), an ex-cop Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich), and the furor over the convicted sex offender returning to the quiet Massachusetts town to live with his mother.

The characters interact, but on a very small basis, they slip in and out of each other's lives, more to keep them glued together and relevant than any other reason. I guess the film is more of an exploration of human nature when it's pushed into extreme situations, what happens when happiness is tied to deceit and turns into unhappiness, the state of modern marriage, society's obvious and necessary fear of sexual predators, and so on.

I'm batting two for two in terms of seeing films in the theatre that I both like and respect, first The Departed, and now this one. If I have one criticism of Field's directing, it's that he's always looking for that one cool shot, you know, the shadow in the picture frame-type stuff that is more to prove to the audience that he's cool than anything else. He could have shot the film clean, with none of the fancy-dancy camera moves that pulled me out rather than kept me in the picture, but on the whole, that's a small criticism of an extremely well acted, well scripted and well directed movie.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

#62 - One Good Turn

A few months ago, Publisher's Lunch noted that of all the fall books coming out this year, Kate Atkinson's new novel One Good Turn was among the most highly anticipated. And for once, the hype has substance behind it (ahem, The Historian I'm looking at you, I couldn't even finish that abysmally written thing). In fact, Atkinson, like Ishiguro (although not as literary), is such a deft novelist that by the end of the book you're marveling at her skill with a story as much as you are her ability to write in the stream of consciousness form in such a controlled and subtle way.

One Good Turn weaves and bobs through the life of Jackson Brodie, the hardhitting cop from Case Histories. Now in Edinburgh for his lover Julia's play during the Festival (she's also from Case Histories), he finds himself embroiled in a case and now stands on the other side of the law, more a criminal than a cop. With the same keen eye for detail and remarkable skill at creating realistic yet completely distinct characters, Atkinson's novel is much more than your typical bash-'em-on-the-head and solve the crime kind of mystery.

Don't be disappointed, there are dead bodies, lots of intrigue, plenty of coincendences and a pile of action to keep you interested. In fact, I'm not going to say any more except treat yourself and read this novel: you won't regret it.

IFOA V - Margaret Atwood

The cold is hanging on for dear life. It's highly annoying and I am quite sick of it. So as much as I wanted to see Margaret Atwood, there was still a part of me that longed to crawl up in my bed and not leave until Monday morning.

I am very glad I went to the reading though. Atwood read from her latest book, Moral Disorder, and told a lovely story about how she borrowed or used the title from Graeme Gibson - it was the name of one of his novels, but as he had stopped writing fiction, the title had languished until Margaret Atwood asked if she could have it. It's nice to note that even creative (and I am loathe to use the word) geniuses still look around for inspiration and/or input.

Annnywaaay, the story she read was about a high school English teacher, two students (the female protagonist and her boyfriend), and a Robert Browning poem called "The Dutchess". It was hilarious and she cracked up in the middle of reading it, both because it was a funny story and, I would imagine, because she was talking about a real person. The audience giggled when she giggled. We were giggling with Margaret Atwood.

The rest of the night followed suit. Margaret Atwood, sharp as a tack, laughed all the way through the interview, cracked up, made jokes, mimed smoking dope and generally proved she is one of the smartest people, well, ever. I had never seen or heard her in person before so I never realized the extent of her grand old sense of humour. Of course, she was serious too, but in the end her wit won me over—dry, brittle as a bone but not quick to break, it was kind of like watching your favourite kooky aunt do a comedy routine after having one too many glasses of wine. It was bloody brilliant. She had the audience eating out of her hands.

I can't get over how great the festival was this year.

Now, I must stop blogging with the Blackberry as my thumbs are about to fall off. Damn internet isn't working at home.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Pull Of The Girlie Movie And Other Random Links

1. As discussed by Tara, as relating to Kirsten Dunst, on Fametracker. I giggled so loudly at work yesterday that one of my coworkers said, "Are you okay?" I have one thing and one thing only to say: "Cuba!"

2. Even though it's not stated explicitly, but it was me who actually sent this package to George at Bookninja, and this post makes me feel good. I know, I'm not supposed to blog about work but how often do you get a shout out on Bookninja?

3. So Misguided also links to Heat, which I'm reading right now too. And she even adds to the awesomeness of the post by linking off to the WWF's current Living Planet report. I heart this blog very much.

Does the "A" Stand For Awesome?

The true title of this post should be "IFOA IV - Thursday" but that's so boring when last night was probably the best evening of readings I've ever had the pleasure of attending (with the exception of John Irving, which shall stand alone as the single most literary inspiring event I've seen; oh wait, and I saw Michael Ondaatje once, and he inspired me to write this, oh, nevermind).

Like the all-girls event Zesty and I went to last year, last night four inspiring, talented and lovely women read from their latest books of fiction: Madeleine Thien, Claire Messud, Jane Hamilton and Janet Fitch. All four of the readings were complimentary, three of which had more traditional themes of war (Second World War, Terrorism, War on Terror, respectively), and the forth, set in the heyday of the punk rock scene in LA, is perhaps war of a different kind (mosh-pit inspired), and all four women were great readers.

More often than not, I've read the book when I've gone to see an author at the IFOA. I'm thinking that maybe next year I'll do the opposite and go and see people where I haven't read their work. It's a fresh perspective, so inspiring to hear what books actually make the leap from the page into your imagination as told by the author herself. It's impressive, and I would absolutely read every single one of the books from last night.

And I really like how the IFOA balances the commercial-type fiction, like Fitch's, with the more literary fiction, like Thien's, showing that as diverse as the subject matter and styles actually are, the books fit together on that imaginary shelf like peas in a pod. And hell, going and supporting authors at the IFOA makes me feel good, like they deserve the giant round of applause at the end just for sitting in a room for hours, weeks, months, days, years, with their thoughts and a pen, maybe a keyboard, just toiling away to create something that matters.

Tonight, it's Margaret Atwood, one of my own personal literary icons, which should also be inspiring and all that other touchy-feely stuff I mentioned above.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

You Want Me To Do What?

I have caught the cold. I'm running a fever, have a sore throat, and my chest feels weighted down by lead balloons. What can you do? It was bound to happen. I've been hyper-lucky with colds this year (read: I haven't really had any) so I suppose I was due.

But, of course, it comes on the heels of other more pressing issues. I can tell you shuffling around the house in my pajamas is one of my favourite things to do. Shuffling around the house while having a cold in my pajamas, not so much. You can't enjoy anything when you have a cold: not TV, not a book, not the internet, nothing.

You really can't enjoy peeing in a jug for 24 hours when you have a cold. Yes, you read that right, I'm peeing in a jug. It's the most hated of all the clinical tests I have to do for my damn kidneys: the 24-hour urine test. While I understand that they need to see how much protein is being leaked from my poor, beleaguered organ, I absolutely hate this test. I mean, who wants a jug of their pee in their fridge for 24 hours? Who?

Wait, don't answer that.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

IFOA - Sunday III

Aw, Sarah Waters is brilliant, in that top-notch sort of British way. She's very open and down to earth, and had a lot of really wonderful things to say about The Night Watch and her other novels. It makes all the difference when there's an interviewer who can penetrate the subject and then let the question stand for itself, then realize that it's not about them and just let the author answer. There's patience and authority in that kind of a voice, and that's what Susan G. Cole brought to the table.

After hearing Waters talk about the agenda, if I should use such a loaded word, behind Tipping the Velvet, maybe I could have been a bit more forgiving in my original impressions of the novel.

Today was inspiring, as I usually find the IFOA, urges me toward working even harder to get something finished.

IFOA Sunday II

We're sitting in a roundtable at the moment with Nicole Krauss, Colson Whitehead, Deborah Eisenberg and the "moderator" David Eddie. I'm a little disappointed with the benign nature of the questions and the conversation, billed as a investigation of the lines between fiction and non-fiction, and they are stumbling in the mire of such over-discussed issues in the publishing world like James freaking Frey.

I do applaud the authors, especially Nicole Krauss, who had some very enlightening things to say around the idea that the novel is an exchange between the reader and the writer that should be authentic, which is an interesting way to look at a book in terms of both the writer and the reader. And as Zesty put it so eloquently, would her husband really be getting the questions about what's it's like to live with her great talent, somehow, I think not. She's pretty astute, that Zesty. Enough of who Krauss is married to, how about you let her work stand for itself?

But man, after the glowing brilliance of Sarah Waters and Rosemarie Sullivan, the ineptitude of this poor moderator is painful.

IFOA - Sunday I

The first two readings Ami McKay (The Birth House) and Bernice Eisenstein (I Was The Child of Holocaust Survivors) did not dissapoint. Both women told incredible and sincere stories, Ami about women, childbirth and the Halifax Explosion; Bernice about her father, as introductions to their readings. It gives the material another dimension, hearing the stories in the voices that must at least be close to how they sound in their heads.

I've read both books (links will be added later), and hearing them now, makes me think back with a different opinion of both. It's a pretty full crowd too, which is positive as well.

Next up, Rosemary Sullivan and the star power of Sarah Waters...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

IFOA = CMJ

My RRHB over the past couple years has gone down to NYC for the big music festival. But to me, the week that the authors are in town, for me, kind of represents that sort of a week. Tomorrow we'll be seeing an entire day of authors events and I am going to live blog via my crackberry throughout the day. So, forgive typos, forgive the small screen grammar, but love the words.

Oh, and if anyone else is heading out there tomorrow - please say hello. I'll be the girl in the giant knitted scarf.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Today

My application was accepted by the Humber School for Writers. I will be doing their 2007 correspondence course. Fingers crossed I work hard enough to get the value from the experience. But, yay!

Once I start expect me to resurface in about six months...

TRH Movie - Marie Antoinette Redux

The "real" review is up on Chart. See, I can't make up my mind. Jesse Wente said that it was Coppola's first bad movie this morning on the radio. I wouldn't go that far but man, it's getting some mixed reviews.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

TRH Movie - Marie Antoinette

Last week while I was in my abridging hell, I went to see a screening of Marie Antoinette for Chart (review will be up this Friday). Sometimes, I kind of wish I did more freelance, because the idea of seeing a movie first-thing in the morning with no one but other writers in the room, kind of appeals to me. It's funny, we're all the same with our little notebooks and pens sitting on our laps, scrawling in giant, illegible writing because it's hard to see in the dark, obviously.

So, Marie Antoinette. Yeah, I can't make up my mind about this film, whether I liked it or hated it, whether its genius or ridiculous, which doesn't bode well for a coherent review. It's pop culture history stripped of the more juicy bits (we don't even get a beheading) leaving behind a music video that tries to recreate the social and emotional journey of the movie's main character.

But I really like Sofia Coppola. I've seen The Virgin Suicides more times than I can count on my fingers and toes, and love, love, loved Lost in Translation. She has a way of pulling out great performances from actresses who, for the most part, get by on being gorgeous rather than insanely talented. She does the same with Kirsten Dunst in this picture: she's good.

But parts of me just can't get over the non-historical aspects of the film. I'm aching for a British accent and a good bit of Elizabeth. I'm dying to see inside Antoinette in terms of looking beyond her wardrobe and flirty fashion sequences. I'm wanting to be more engaged, I guess, with the subject matter, wanting more BBC and PBS, and, goodness help me, maybe even a dose of Keira Knightley inspired Jane Austen.

I know Coppola was trying to bring the relevance of Marie Antoinette's life to audiences of this centry, to boldly re-tell her story in her own particular way, but I'm not quite there with her. Who knows? I can't make up my mind. Maybe tomorrow I'll feel differently.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Oh, Shut Up Studio 60

No, wait, shut up Sting. A lute? Seriously?

It's all so good, except it's not, and that's frustrating.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

TRH Movie - The Departed

After being totally burned out with the two manuscripts I have due (the past four weeks have been intense), and getting nowhere with the second one that I need to hand in (one's already gone, yay!), my RRHB convinced me to take a break and we went to see a movie this afternoon. And before you ask, yes, I'm back to editing right now.

Annnywwaaay. We tried to go see The Departed last night and it was sold out, so this afternoon we left early for the theatre. And I am thankful we did. It's probably one of the best films I've seen this year, if not the best, and I'm so happy not to be disappointed. I love Martin Scorsese, I mean, I even dug Gangs of New York as surprising as that might be, but this film, well, this film kind of sort of blew me away. I watch so many movies that already knowing what's going to happen, or at least having some idea when it comes to cops and mobsters, of the intended endings, isn't surprising. Here, in The Departed though, I had no idea, and that was so refreshing.

William Monahan's script is stupendous; it's not good in a contrived kind of way, doesn't want to pull on your heartstrings and make a big, righteous point (ahem, Crash), but it gets there nonetheless. And like Clint Eastwood's Mystic River a lot of the reasons why the film works is because it's not set in New York, as Lisa Schwarzbaum points out, but in the streets of Boston. Not unlike Brotherhood something happens when you take the mob out of the mean streets, there's an edge that seems kind of akin to the cool kids at that table in high school, the more interesting and grittier individuals are probably holding court out back in the smoking area.

And the smoking area it is, The Departed brings Shakespeare to a new age, a drama that has classical implications, the pairing of Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio as two cops, total opposites in terms of integrity and coming from parallel but still inverse backgrounds, coupled with the slow disintegration of their worlds and their identities , tossed around with the very real threat of, well, death, really and truly works.

There's a line that Matt Damon says to the pivotal lady in the film, Vera Farmiga, who plays a state shrink, as his world starts to crumble (and I'm paraphrasing, because I'm damn tired) that sort of sums up the entire pathos of the film: "If this has to end, you've got to be the one to end it. I'm Irish, we I can live in a bad situation for the rest of my life."

It's a world where self-preservation seems more profound with the silences, where Jack Nicholson, who reigns as the big, bad Boston boss, can frolic at the opera (wha?) as easily as he can at a Southie bar, and still come out without necessarily breaking character. It's a world where good equals bad, equals good, equals totally farked up until the utterly satisfying ending, of which you'll find no spoilers here (see, see when it's a movie I like, I won't give away the ending). There's value in watching the story unfold, as each man discovers who the other one is (mole, meet rat, rat meet mole), they find themselves in ever-increasingly morally problematic situations. And we're the richer for them.

My only criticism? That there's no mob wife, no lady other than the doe 'caught in the middle' of Farmiga's Madolyn. Even if Laura Linney's Lady Macbeth-like Annabeth seemingly comes out of nowhere, she's at least at the table. She's not the dressing; she's actually at the table, part of which the non-existent female characters in this male-centric movie are missing.

But still, the more I think about it, the more I like this film. Hell, I'd even pay to see it again.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

#61 - Paula Spencer

Roddy Doyle's latest novel, Paula Spencer, continues the story he started in 1996 with his superb book, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. Told in his now-classic stream of consciousness style, Paula Spencer finds the main character sober, a widow, and on the eve of her 48th birthday. Now that she's sober, Paula faces up to all of her demons: her children and her inability to be their mother; what it means to be a recovering alcoholic; what life is like being poor but making it; and how to make it through a day with nothing to hide behind, every day is a 'real' day for her.

It's no secret how much I adore Roddy Doyle's work. A Star Called Henry might just be one of my all-time favourites, no, it is one of my all-time favourites, right up there with Jude the Obscure and On the Road. But sometimes, his dialogue is so hard to follow, which is what happened with the sequel to Henry, Oh, Play That Thing. I've tried to read that book numerous times and could never get through it. Thankfully, Paula Spencer doesn't have that problem. Not that it's a book you fly through; it's heavy in terms of 'issues', but his writing style works so much better in terms of modern Dublin than it does in terms of the America of the jazz age. Henry never really fit in there, at least not to me.

I feel Paula in this novel. The ache that comes from growing up with an alcoholic parent, and how she speaks about her daughter, Nicola, as being her child instead of the other way around, well, that's something I totally understand. But most of all, I like how this book highlights the patterns of life changing, and how hard work does truly get you somewhere in life. And when Paula takes that walk through Trinty College, makes it through another day of work, opens a bank account, you want to cheer, because even the mundane aspects of life are miraculous if you've never experienced them sober before. At least that's what I think anyway. She's a strength of character, that Paula, I'd read about her until the ends of the earth.

#60 - Sharp Objects

Let's just get the confessions out of the way off the top: I heart Entertainment Weekly. Ever since Tara left a copy in the lunchroom of the magazine where we both used to work, I've been hooked. So, when I found out that Gillian Flynn was publishing her first book, Sharp Objects, I already came to this novel already wanting to love it, because by proxy, I obviously heart the snarky goodness she brings to the magazine each week as its television columnist/reporter/reviewer.

Anyway, here's a short synopsis, it's commerical, rather than literary fiction, so keep that in mind: Camille Preaker, a cub reporter with a Chicago daily, is called back to her hometown, Wind Gap, Missouri, to cover the story when two pre-teen girls end up dead. The infamous cliches of small town life are explored as Camille tries to uncover who has killed the girls and why. Born to a teenage mother and an unknown father, Camille has never really bonded with her family, add in a stepfather and a half-sister who puts Thirteen to shame, and the word outcast hardly seems competent.

As Camille's world unravels, she drinks. As she drinks, we uncover deeper secrets in her past, and one by one, the pieces fall into place. The plot's a tad predictable, but it doesn't matter because Flynn's writing is so sharp (yes, the title, I know) that the book rips along at a feverish pitch. I read it in one sitting like a swift first drink up north and must say: it's the perfect book for a rainy sky as the sun starts to set.

Oh, and 'cause it's also super-creepy, with lots of dead bodies and freaky things happening, I'm going to count this book in my October reading challenge. I know it's not on the original list, but that makes three! Yay! It's the closest I've been to finishing a challenge yet...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

#59 - The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is creepy, fascinating and utterly terrifying. But like all classics, it's a bit too wordy, and I found the many pages of the lessons in the history of Parisian architecture a bit hard to take. However, some of the traditional conflicts in the novel, man vs. religion (oh, the powerful beauty of a gypsy girl), man vs. beast (oh, Quasimodo, how misunderstood you are), and man vs. man (oh, the upper class takes a crack at the lower classes), are still powerful.

Sorry for the mini-review, but I'm knee-deep in abridging and will probably not surface until this time next week. But, I'm damn glad I can cross one title off my October reading challenge. Let the bells sing!

Friday, October 06, 2006

My Interview With Curtis

Awhile back, I interviewed Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep (a book that I urge everyone to read, EVERYONE) and The Man of My Dreams, which I also loved. It was a work thing, and I enjoyed it immensely, but I was so freaking nervous that I think I sound like a complete moron. Anyway, the interview is now up in its quasi-podcast form here. It's in the Audio & Video channel, down towards bottom, underneath Robert J. Wiersma and just above Alice Munro.

It's a membership-only site, so you'll have to register, and if you're not down with that, I completely understand. But I can't bring myself to listen to it (I'm terrified it's bloody terrible), so if anyone else can get through it, please let me know what you think.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Love In The Grocery Aisle

So, I totally just finished up with my very inspiring writer's group, and stopped into the grocery store for (I am not going to lie) some rice chips. I am always fascinated by other people's groceries: what's in the cart, on the list, how it figures into their lives. The fellow in front of me had an awesome selection, yams, broccoli, spinach, lactose-free ice cream.

And he was as delicious as his items, the perfect chicklit hero, tall, almost-Matthew-Fox, with short dark hair and these sweet freckles. Just seeing him made me want to write a story about an unlucky in love heroine who sees the perfect man in the grocery store (sans list, therefore single, of course) and lives happily ever after.

See, writer's group totally rocks.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

#58 - I Feel Bad About My Neck

Even after finishing Nora Ephron's supremely cute I Feel Bad About My Neck, I'm not really sure if I'm a fan of hers or not. I'd have to say that I found Hanging Up to be one of the worst movies I've ever seen, and even if she's only partially responsible for that atrocity, I'm still going to hold it against her. Her meditations on aging are cute and funny, more like tiny vignettes strung together with Ephron herself as the only common thread.

Roll-your-eyes kind of mom wisdom mixed up with tidbits about the non-joys of growing older, I Feel Bad About My Neck reads more like a magazine you'd read in the doctor's office than "literature" of the highest order. Which I think is totally fine—it's all my brain could withstand this week. In some ways, I guess I'm lucky. I'm about half Ephron's age, so at least I know now to stock up on the black turtlenecks for when I do feel bad about my own neck. It's bound to happen someday.

Although, I'd be interested to see what she thinks about something other than cabbage strudel and her apartment couches. There's a sweet chapter on Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (and I agree, it's an awesome novel), but for the most part, the oh-wise-sage moments are a little too endearing.

Watch out for cute overload: People who spend too much time in front of the computer, "Mouse Potatoes." Heh.

The best piece of advice: If you're under 34 put on a bikini and wear it all the time. Don't take it off until you turn 35.

The second-best piece of advice: Never marry someone you wouldn't want to be divorced from...now that's an interesting way to look at love in the modern world.