Wednesday, January 31, 2007

TRH Movie - Because I Said So

Or "Quite possibly the worst movie I've ever seen in my life and if I didn't have to review it I would have walked out of the theatre."

Okay if you are remotely interested in seeing Because I Said So in the theatres and don't want to be the least bit spoiled, do not read this post. But if you do go see that movie and decide that it sucks, don't blame me for not telling. I'm just sayin'.

Yes, the Diane Keaton / Mandy Moore cash grab for the poor suckers on Valentine's Day who actually convince their men folk to go to see this film are in for a real treat. Because I Said So, which I saw last week for Chart magazine, is truly and abysmally bad. It's cliches wrapped in forced situations and all tied up in a shrieking bow that made me wince more times than I can count.

Essentially, Keaton plays a single mom facing the wrong side of fifty, who approaches her "big" six-oh with trepidation because her youngest daughter can't find love. Cue the big sweeping "I am your mother and can't rest until you are settled" speeched coupled with the "I just don't want you to turn out like me" sap storm, and you've pretty much got the emotional underpinnings of this movie of the week wannabe.

Keaton, playing "Daphne", decides that Mother Does Indeed Know Best and places a want ad for fellows for "Milly" aka Mandy, a perky, singing chef with a heart of gold and nose for the perfect soufflé. The fellow she finds is a remarkably wealthy, shockingly single schmarmball named Jason who loves polka dots and long walks on the beach. Barf. Of course, as happenstance would have it, Johnny, a guitar-playing musician-slash-teacher with a crazy-ass kid meets Daphne when she's interviewing potential suitors and wants in on it too. According to Johnny, he's got a feeling he'd really like Milly (what? come the fark on) and, of course, Daphne thinks nothing of the sort.

What do you think happens? Milly falls in love with both men. Yawn. Cue the "conflict" scenes. As you could probably tell from the trailer, it gets all messy and stuff when she finally, after a good 90 minutes and my ass becoming so sore from boredom that I almost needed a seventh inning stretch, figures out who she wants to be with, and well, let's suffice to say there's a happy ending.

I think what I find most offensive about films like this, apparently made by women for women, is that they don't take women at all seriously. Every single romantic cliche that is so worn down, recycled and ever-so tired is pulled out in this film, shined up, sung out loud (yes, Mandy Moore SINGS in the picture) and then applauded. In a time where polar bears are drowning, and we are wasting more and more of our precious resources on art that will make no difference to the world, I'm even more ashamed that dreck like this is still finding its way onto the big screen.

But maybe that's the debate for today. Should art just make a difference or is there value in creating mindless entertainment?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Millbank, Ontario



So, on Saturday, my RRHB and I went to Millbank, Ontario. I wanted to see where my Irish ancestors settled, and even though I didn't know much about it beyond the fact that it's where they farmed after coming to Canada and where they died, it was actually kind of cool.

There's a great furniture shop there, we saw Amish carriages carrying very cold bearded men along the two-lane highways, and despite the cold, I had a great day. We stopped in Stratford for some lunch, ate some candy, and walked around a bit looking at some of the great old buildings in the very lovely town.

And it gave me a real idea of what life was like in the winter in Millbank, and some good ideas for description for the long story I've been working on. But, of course, I discovered where the old coot was buried (my Irish forefather) AFTER we got home, which just means there's another road trip on the horizon. Not in winter. Not on the coldest day of the year. And not during a snow storm. But soon, that's for sure.

Now if I can only figure out where in Ireland a) they came from and b) when they got here (they were here for the 1851 census, I know that for sure), then I'd be cooking with oil. I know they were from the north, which would have good to know, oh, I don't know, when I was THERE two summers ago.

Sigh.

#9 - Havana Best Friends

As much as I didn't want to, I had to put down The Master and pick up Havana Best Friends this weekend. There was a slight chance that I might get to interview Jose Latour for work and I needed to be prepared just in case (which also included reading his latest book Outcast, which comes out in February, review tk).

For any of you more familiar readers of MTRH, you'll know that I don't read a lot of mysteries and/or thrillers. It's not because I don't enjoy them, it's more because my tastes tend more toward the literary and less toward the commercial in fiction, which isn't meant to imply anything at all in terms of the quality of the writing. However, I think that Latour manages to cross over the boundary from the commercial to the almost-literary exceptionally well, and this book is a mixture of all kinds of influences.

I think the recipe for Havana Best Friends starts with a few cups of good spy fiction like John le Carré, it's flavoured slightly with a bit of the bombastic nature of Robert Ludlum, then all the ingredients are tossed around with Law and Order for a minute to see what sticks, and to taste, just add a hint of Mankell. Presto! You've got the novel. Yet, even though you can compare it to many titles, the style is Latour's own: brazen, bold and sometimes funny (with a wickedly blush-worthy sex scene), the book takes you along for a ride and never really leaves you behind, and I think that's his key skill as a novelist.

The implausible plot actually works and there wasn't a moment where I said, "Oh come on!" In short, there's a fortune hidden in the walls of an old Havana apartment. Put there by a wealthy follower of Batista before Castro's revolution, the son of the man wants to reclaim his treasure. But it's not as easy as it seems because there are people living in the apartment, and now the question becomes: does the fortune exist and, if so, how do they get it?

What follows is a tense, even chilling, thriller that winds around the central mystery until the book's satisfying conclusion. As the Cuban entry in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, I'm happy to say that Latour's descriptions of the place, of the people, and of the country itself did give me a sense of what life is like there. And I did enjoy that some of the places Latour talks about, I'd seen, so it felt real to me in that way too. This book didn't pass the heartbreak test, but I enjoyed it anyway. It was perfect reading for a cold January afternoon.

CBC Words at Large - Giles Blunt

Mystery author Giles Blunt is answering questions over at CBC's truly lovely Words at Large. I'm dying to know if he plots out all of his books in advance or if he lets the mystery unfold as he's writing.

Hey, maybe I'll go ask that question right now.

Friday, January 26, 2007

#8 - Mothers and Sons

Colm Tóibín's new short story collection, Mothers and Sons, took me completely by surprise. I must confess that I don't read a lot of short stories with the exception of Alice Munro and the ones in Taddle Creek. Like so many aspiring writers, I have drawers of unfinished short stories that I'll cull one day for ideas and sharp sentences, but that doesn't mean I seek out the art form. It's a shame because when they're done well, like here, they really are exceptional in the way they convey so much in so few pages. Anyway, like I said the other day, I have tickets to see him read at Harbourfront on February 7th, and I wanted to at least have read one of his books.

And wow.

The stories are magnificent. Each one so utterly and entirely complete, and even though Tóibín's narrative style is somewhat removed, even emotionally distant, you still get to the heart of the characters as quickly as if you were hit by lightning. The first story, "The Use of Reason," reminded me so much of Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge," and even though there's no Southern grotesque in Tóibín's writing, there is an element of human desperation that finds its way into each of the stories defining a relationship on some level between a mother and a son. And I think the first one, of all of them, remains my favourite. I don't want to give anything away so I won't go into the plots of any of the stories except to say that reading this book was a true pleasure. So much so that it spurned me into my next Around the World in 52 Books read, which is Tóibín's The Master.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tragic Right Updates

Okay so it's been a pretty busy few days, with lots going on, and I love lists, so here we go:

1. 24 kicked all kinds of crazy ass last night, but my favourite part? When Jack retired for eleven minutes. Awe-some. His retirement was even shorter than Jay Z's. And let's talk about 99 Problems: nuclear bombs, presidential bomb shelters with cell phone signals (heh), crazy sibling rivalry, and Rena Sofer as the 'wife' character, like someone that hot would end up with angry short man McCrane, but whatever. Enjoyable!

2. Editing and re-editing is super-hard work but I've handed in my third draft, just minutes ago, of one of my Classic Starts. I've been doing them forever in my spare time and I'm super-exhausted and really want to start working on my other projects.

3. I've been attempting to find a version of microwave popcorn that isn't completely and utterly disgusting. See, I hate butter, love cooking with it, hate the taste and smell otherwise, but every single version of the damn popcorn has way, way too much fake butter on it. And I can't seem to find a damn box of 'original' anywhere. It's very annoying. We tried "corn on the cob" (oh my god it's nasty) and cheddar (equally nasty) and are now about to give up entirely. But hell, maybe that's a good thing as I supposed to be dieting anyway.

4. Tina Fey's 30 Rock is damn, damn funny. So funny that I actually rewound this bit from last week's episode about Tracy Morgan (aka Tracy Jordan) "writing" his "memoirs" because it cracked me up so much.

5. I am going to see Colm Toibin on February 7th. I just finished reading his new book of short stories Mothers and Sons, full review to come tomorrow, and it's bloody brilliant. I've also started The Master, which is on the 1001 Books list and my Around the World challenge.

6. I saw Dreamgirls on the weekend and really enjoyed it. Beyoncé was kind of flat but utterly gorgeous, but I totally agree with all of the reviews of Jennifer Hudson, man she completely steals the show. Wow. And I hope that Eddie Murphy wins the Oscar, but who knows...I'm not making any predictions just yet but I have a feeling that all my Oscar ballots will be from the heart, which is always the death of me in our company-party pools.

7. I read Don Hannah's Ragged Islands. Although not on either of my lists, I'm still saying its #7 for the year, and I have to say that I did enjoy it. Quickly, it's the story of Susan Ann, an elderly woman brought to the hospital on her last days, that floats in and out of consciousness. When she's in her 'dream' state, she's all over her life, from start to finish, and it's fantastical, mystical and whimsical all at the same time. There is a central mystery to her story that never gets solved but I think that's okay because the book is more about the fact that life simply doesn't give you the answers. Hannah, a playwright, borrows heavily from Laurence and Shields, but that's okay, there's room in CanLit for more than two ornery old broads.

Whew! What a week already...

Friday, January 19, 2007

#6 - Slow Man

Now, I am gladly going to knock another one off the 1001 Books list with J.M. Coeztee's Slow Man. Oh, and that takes care of South Africa in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge as well. But what do I really have to say about the book? Well, that's a bit more difficult considering my toes have been cold all day, I've got a "spot" on my forehead, and I'm so tired that I can barely keep my eyes open.

All of my remarks about this particular book will be prefaced by the fact that J.M. Coetzee is a well-deserved Nobel Prize winner. In fact, he is probably one of the greatest writers living today. I count his books, especially Youth and Disgrace, among my personal favourites. But lately, especially after the fiasco of a book that Elizabeth Costello turned out to be, I'm starting to wonder if he's spending a bit too much time, well, talking to himself.

As the critical consensus is split between whether or not the character Elizabeth Costello is in fact Coetzee himself, I have to wonder about why he chose to include her, yet again, in another one of his novels. The story of Slow Man takes place in Australia where an older gentleman, Paul Rayment, ends up in a terrible biking accident where he loses a leg. The amputation puts a stop to his life as he has know it, obviously, and, as the novel progresses, he is less inclined to get better and more inclined to stop living altogether.

Nurses are assigned from the hospital's roster of home care to care for Paul once he gets home, and he goes through a number of them before settling on Marjiana, who becomes a catalyst in his life for many reasons. And when things start to unravel as a result of both his injury and his professional relationship with this woman, Elizabeth Costello shows up on his doorstep unannounced, and stays. She's an omnipotent character of sorts, spouting all kinds of meta-fictional/philosophical speeches about the state of his existence. And that's where the book sort of goes off the rails for me—I don't mean to sound flippant because I loved the first half of the novel, but the rest, meh.

One the whole, the book, at the beginning, comes close to passing the heartbreak test, and it excels at what Coetzee does best, which is delve into the most frighteningly human aspects of his characters when they're set upon in the most horrific of ways. But the second half of the book became so pedantic and almost existential (not that that is a bad thing) that I sort of felt like I was listening to a Beckett play rather than reading a novel. And had I known I was going to be reading a Beckett-like novel, I would have been okay with it, but as it sort of showed up out of the blue to become that way, I was put off, and kind of disappointed.

Will that stop me from reading more Coetzee, not on your life. Primarily because he writes such awesome sentences, strings the words together like this:

"No, Paul, I could care less if you tell me made-up stories. Our lies reveal as much about us as our truths."
She pauses, cocks an eyebrow at him. Is it his turn? He has nothing more to say. If truth and lies are the same, then speech and silence may as well be the same too.


But did it mix up my thoughts on Slow Man, absolutely. It's almost as if Coetzee wrote two different novels and then patched them together, or he fell so in love with Elizabeth Costello from her own novel, that he wanted to keep on writing her. My only unanswered question now is why?

Friday Musings

1. I do honestly know the difference between "forth" and "fourth" but it seems the typo was up on the site for, like, two days before I even noticed that I had spelled it wrong. And it's still in the perma-url. Oh well.

2. Well, I might have to break up with Grey's Anatomy. I simply can't take the emotional pressure and/or over the top, everybody dying, heartwrenching stuff that happens every single bloody week. Could someone, anyone, please a) not die, b) not break up, make up, make out, or whine and c) not have something absolutely tragic like an abortion happen to them? Please, just one week where I'm not waking up with giant, red, puffy eyes from bawling about the damn show saying to my RRHB, "I c-c-c-can't watch this show anymore." Sigh.

3. Some crazy dude is stalking Edgar Allen Poe's grave. Now there's a slasher film in the making...and would that be a first, a literary-stalker inspired horror movie? Please educate me if I'm wrong.

4. I had an Office moment when I sent out Linked In notes to a whole bunch of people I didn't mean to. Kind of like when Michael sent out that email with him and Jan in it to, like, his entire company. Yeah, it was like that. But it all turned out okay, I made a lot of new connections.

5. There's snow on the ground in Toronto, and it's cold, but it doesn't matter because at long last I have a brand-new winter coat. And it's lovely. And warm. And lovely. And did I mention it's warm? It's so snuggly that my RRHB says it looks like I'm wearing a sleeping bag. Isn't that awesome?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

#5 - Forever In Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood

I saw the little blurb on Entertainment Weekly's "Must List" this morning that said, "Talk about good jeans: Expect lotsa laughter and tears for the Sisterhood...in the final volume of the well-worn series." It reminded me that I can now blog about the fact that I did, indeed, read Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares a few months back when our ARCs arrived in the office.

Well, I wouldn't say read as much as I would say absolutely inhaled, "skipped" dance class and sat in bed reading while my RRHB walked by saying "Are you STILL reading, don't you want some dinner?"

Sigh.

It's delicious,and totally lovely, and a perfect ending (if indeed it is the end) for a the sweet YA series by Brashares. I've loved and read all three other installments and totally recommend them to girls young and old when they need a little pick me up.

#4 - The God Of Small Things

Arundhati's Roy's first novel, The God of Small Things, won the Booker Prize in 1997, which I'm assuming is one of the reasons why it was included in the 1001 Books list (I'm at 122! whee!). Set in Kerala, India primarily in 1969 and moving through the odd flash-forward to present-day (1996), the novel tells the story of two different-egg twins Estha and Rahel before, during and after the tragic death of their British cousin, Sophie Mol.

Told in a narrative style that is frustrating to say the least, Roy's brilliance comes in spurts, where she puts words together in such a fashion that yes, her prose comes close to my heartbreak test, but on the whole, I felt like I was walking through mud while reading this novel. Lovely thoughts about loneliness, the meaning of family and the implication of the caste system permeate the novel as Estha and Rahel discover that life can absolutely change irrevocably in a day, and that one event can stain your entire existence. After Sophie Mol dies, the twins, now separated, wander through life feeling half-whole, disjointed and totally ruined by the emotional damage inflicted upon them.

There's no coherent story, but you get a sense of the events from Roy's vignettes, each told in a very child-like tone: the twins are born into a bad marriage, their flighty, beautiful, but damaged mother takes them back to her mother's house, where they live with their uncle and their great-aunt, their uncle's ex-wife comes to visit from Britain bringing along their beautiful, sand-coloured cousin, said cousin dies tragically, their mother's affair with a Paravan is revealed, his life forever changed, she's shunned, one of the twins must go live with their father, the other becomes totally lost.

But you piece together the events like a puzzle as the novel moves backwards and forwards towards the penultimate event: Sophie Mol's death. The final, deep, dark tragedy, of what happens when the romantic relationship between Ammu, their mother, and Velutha, the Paravan, becomes public knowledge, is an offering from Roy to her own gods of small things, the rights and wrongs of the world, of how love isn't always magical and sometimes simply doesn't change anything, and how some people just become lost in their lives at any age.

Part of my own goals with this Around the World in 52 Books project is to experience the literature of other countries, in this case, India, to feel the sights and the sounds, to breathe in the air a bit differently, and the novel truly accomplishes that—I got a real sense of the surroundings, of Kerala, and of the social and political differences between the characters in the book. Am I glad I read this novel, yes, but would I highly recommend it, probably not, but that doesn't mean someone else wouldn't be totally enthralled by the magical, almost mystical, non-linear storytelling.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Almost All Clear

Wow. Just got back from the kidney doctor and while my creatinine levels aren't back to their super-fantastic levels of three or four years ago, they are steady and no longer increasing at alarming rates.

And, I don't have to go back and see him for six whole months. That gives me some serious time to try and shake off these prednisone pounds. Apparently, doing everything to ease the load on my kidneys, which includes not being overweight, is a good thing.

So no more procrastinating. Dammit.

TRH TV - 24 & Rome

Okay, so my New Year's Revolution not to watch so much television is actually working (I'm only on week 2, but still). The only two shows I watched this whole weekend (Saturday and Sunday) were 24 and Rome. And if you haven't watched either show yet and they are sitting patiently on your Faux-Vos, please ignore as some of the following might be construed as spoiler-esque.

On the whole, I loved 24 but felt that it was a bit forced in terms of the set up and some of the situations. Sometimes the exposition is so painful (i.e., Karen talks to Bill, LOOKS at her wedding rings, and says, "I wish you were here.") because they don't give enough credit to the audience that we'd get what was going on without the characters overtly telling us. But anyway, here's what I learned/thought last night:

1. Jack is always right. He's been right for five seasons, why is it that when it comes down to making THE decision, the President rarely listens?

2. Chinese prison must be very sunny. Why else would Jack have a tan? And when he cut his hair his neck was still tanned too.

3. He also must have been fed very well; there's not a muscle out of place, even when he takes his shirt off and reveals the SIGNS OF TORTURE, you're still like, whoa, Jack's been working out!

4. Alexander Siddig must get super-tired of getting blown up, and his character seems straight out of Syriana, but whatever, there's this one scene where he's just so absolutely frightening that it gave me chills.

5. Kal Penn playing against type (slightly) is funny. I know it's wrong of me because he's a Serious Actor now, especially with the film version of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake coming out. But seriously dude, I'll bet he was Jonesing for a White Castle when the FBI came around and tore up his sh*t and took his dad away. And what's up with him playing a kid in, and am I correct about this, high school? First off, he may be trim but he still looks like a man and he's 30, or there abouts. A bit of the Andrea Zuckerman going on there.

6. Chloe. Rocks. Even if she is going out with the FoodTV guy that used to date this woman who terrorized me in grade school but then made up for it when I lost my mom and used to call me all the time and be really sweet and sh*t.

7. What's up with Peter MacNicol's eye makeup? Seriously? It's like George on Grey's Anatomy where they can't get the balance right between "shading" and "overtly colouring the lids so that he could step on stage in the drag show at Il Convento Rico."

8. And if he's (Peter MacNicol, see above) a baddie, well, that sucks because we've been there done that last season and I didn't much appreciate the tense, "I'm thinking very hard about this situation and have my hand on my chin in Deep Thought" moments. Yawn.

9. Please, please do not let the fact that neither Kim nor Audrey know that Jack's out of Chinese prison mean that we're in for tearful reunions. Please. I beg you.

10. I got a little choked up when Jack said, "I don't remember how to do this." In the promos for tonight's episodes. Aw, Sensitive Jack is very appealing, even if you know within a matter of, well, hours, he'll have strapped on his Sidebag of Super Tricks and stepped off a plane knowing that he can absolutely make a parachute by the time he almost hits the ground.

Sigh. I am SO glad 24 is back. Oh, and Rome wasn't bad either, but that's Serious TV; it's HBO, so even though you know you won't understand ALL of it, it'll still be miles better than anything else that might be on. And Marc Antony takes his shirt off, A LOT.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Soundtrack Of Your Life's Work

One of the suggestions that my mentor came back with in her first comments about finding your voice and getting really into your characters and their story, is to find a piece of music that truly suits what you're writing—something to get your mental juices flowing.

The only thing is, I don't even know where to start. I mean, I've got music, lots of it, that I find inspiring, but nothing that suits the piece. It's set in Ontario at the turn of the century and there's not a single song that screams: "This is your character! Pay attention to me."

In my mind, the closest I've come is Neil Young's "Helpless." I wish I had a list of traditional Irish ballads, that might work, or even if I had an idea of what kind of music was popular in New York City at that time, I could find something that might keep the characters firmly entrenched in the period they're supposed to be existing within.

So now, I've got to do some research on what I should probably find inspiring even before I get inspired to re-write the stories I've already recorded on the page.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bloodletting & Non-Miraculous Events

Okay. Here's a note of what not to do:

Never, ever get the blood requisitions for two different doctors done on the same day in the hope of saving time and energy. What happens? You end up very, very, very lightheaded trying to make awkward conversation in the waiting room with a girl you went to high school with but didn't recognize.

Then, you eat a giant chocolate bar and call your RRHB 14x to pick you up because you don't think you can make it on the streetcar, can't get through, forget you have to buy your brother a birthday card and then fall asleep on the 10 minute ride almost missing your stop.

Consumption Redux II

Okay, so I don't often mix work with blogging but I have some extra copies of Consumption to give away to anyone who wants to read it. I'd really like other people to read it so that a) I can talk to them about it and b) to see if anyone else thinks it's as good as I do (like, still, the best book I've read since Joan Clark's An Audience of Chairs or Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking) and c) to share the love. What good does it do to be in January without something brightening up the dull, grey post-holiday blues?

Holler via email if you want a copy.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

#3 - The Emperor's Children

"Do you hang on to clothes you haven't worn for ten years? Or bags of pasta, cans of beans?"
Danielle did not need to answer.
"What is it about books? Perfectly rationale people get crazy about their books. Who has time for that?"
"I measure my life out in books."
"You should be measuring your life by living. Correction: you shouldn't be measuring your life. What's the point?"
Claire Messud’s massively addictive, massively hefty novel ended up on more than one ‘best of’ list this year, not the least of which was its inclusion in the NY Times “The 10 Best Books of 2006.” The Times describes the novel as 'superbly intelligent' and a 'keenly observed comedy of manners,' and I would not disagree. But it's long. And it's wordy, which is in complete contrast to the 2nd book in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, A True Story Based on Lies.

At first glance, too, Messud's novel seems to retread over well-worn territory, especially for me, in a year where I also read The Good Life and Elements of Style, tackling yet another book about New Yorkers and the tragedy (and its aftermath) of 9/11 might be a bit much for my already broken heart to take.

But that's where I was wrong, Messud's book, while earnest in its intention to examine the subject matter, is not earnest in its narrative style or tone. And the elements of satire that appear as a result of her ability to take these characters so deep into themselves without necessarily letting them in on the joke, ensures that the novel feels a little like a Restoration play written in our very modern age.

The plot of the novel follows the lives three college friends, Marina, Julian and Danielle, ten years or so after their graduation, who are now firmly ensconced in their adult lives, which means essentially nothing considering they are as much adrift as they ever were, from a few months before 9/11 until just after the attacks. There is a firm cast of supporting characters, Julian's boyfriend, Danielle's mother, Marina's socially awkward and strangely surreal cousin with the odd nickname of Bootie, along with the 'Emperor' himself, Marina's father Murray Thwaite, an accomplished, and older, infamous journalist in the style of Hemingway, who smokes, drinks and, ahem, well, you know.

Marina, beautiful, lost and finishing her own manuscript, deliciously self-absorbed and ridiculously Paris-Hilton-with-brains (entitled) in her approach to her life looks to her best friends, Julian, a freelance writer in a totally destructive relationship, and Danielle, the one with the stable job, stable life, stable outlook, to guide her as she lands back home while attempting to finish her book about children's clothes. Life happens. Love happens. Lots happens. But as the planes crash into the two towers, no one in the novel comes out unscathed.

Messud's talent for long, breathy sentences with many, many commas, dashes and other forms of punctuation, means that we know so much about each character, from their brand of Scotch to the workings of their inner minds, that there's always the fear the book will careen off the page. Yet, her skill as novelist means that all of the many threads of their lives are woven into an immaculate quilt, with not a single stitch out of place.

It's fitting, somehow, that my book from the United States, is about New York City, the one place that's been so ingrained in our psyches from books, from film, from television, that it seems so much more than the sum of its magnificent parts. Oddly, it's an apt description of The Emperor's Children as well, it's a magnum opus of a book, an epic of a tale that carries you in and around its over 400 pages without leaving you lost in Alphabet City in the middle of a scorching hot summer season.

If I have one, teeny, tiny criticism, it's that my heart remains firmly in tact, and as much as I admire Messud's skill as a wordsmith, I wanted more in terms of emotional involvement, and even in the book's penultimate moment, when my favourite character, Danielle, finally falls apart, I didn't ever get that catch in my throat I felt while reading Consumption. But it's not like every book can (or should) make you cry.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Books Are In My Blood

As if I didn't know that already, but yesterday, when I should have been editing my latest Classic Starts, I got sucked into doing some ancestral research. When I was in Vancouver visiting my aunt and uncle in November, we were talking about the history of the family, a familiar topic, when it was mentioned in passing that my great-great grandfather was a publisher in London. Now, a publisher of what or when exactly, not to mention whether he worked for someone else or for himself, has still yet to be discovered.

However, I did find some fascinating things. His grandfather, John Mardon, was a Bookseller (as listed in the 1841 census) in St. Sepulchre, or at least that's the parish where he lived when the census was taken. Now, I got to thinking that he too must have published books because, well, if you sold them back then most likely you published as well, and low and behold, here, I've found what I think must be a pamphlet he either published or distributed in 1833.

Now, it's only 50 pounds, so I might buy it, but honestly, how cool is that?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

On Setting Aside The Ego

Well, the mail carried with it the first of my mentor's comments for my Humber Correspondance program. Daunting would be the word I use to describe it; and even though I know it's necessary to break down every last bit of the work in order to build it back up again, I can't help but feel a bit defeated. Which then pushes me back into thinking about my interview with Wayne Johnston, who said that there's no shame in discovering yourself a reader and not a writer.

And now I've got to spend the rest of the day revising my Classic Starts. Something that's taken me far, far, far longer than it really should.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ruth Rendell On Getting Older

What a great article by Ruth Rendell about her philosophy about growing older. Of the many things I like about what she has to say about both the prejudices about the so-called third generation and her own particular ideas about her age, I'd have to say the advice I'm going to follow is about dressing 10 years younger.

Now, that's the last link-based post for today. I promise.

The Best Best Of List

Had I known today would have been all about the links and less about the posts, I would have put them all in one instead of spreading them all out all over...

Annnywwaay. My fav of the 'best of' lists for this year belongs to The Tyee, so sharp, so witty, so full of love for Kevin Patterson.

If I Am Robin...

Does that make my RRHB Batman?

(link c/o here.)

Shot Glass Lust

Despite the fact that I rarely drink hard alcohol, I still want these.

"Work is the curse of the drinking class."

That Oscar Wilde, so witty.

Traveling Pants Find A Nice Home

Check out Ann Brashares house, profiled in the NY Times.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

TRH Movie - Notes On A Scandal

It's very rare that I like any movie better than the book, and considering I really enjoyed Zoë Heller's novel, to say I was surprised by the film is kind of an understatement.

Notes on a Scandal follows the story of an upper-class British woman, Sheba Hart (Blanchett), who has an affair with one of her students, 15-year-old Steven Connolly (played by newcomer Andrew Simpson), and must rely upon her much older friend Barbara (Dench) once the affair comes out and her life falls apart.

Only the film is from Barbara's perspective, it follows her life, her narrative and tells the story from her point of view. This means we hear of Sheba's affair second hand, through her retelling of it to Barbara, once the elder woman discovers the lovers in the classroom, ahem, in a precarious position. And Barbara, or "Bar" as Sheba calls her, is nuts, driven to the point of obsession by utter loneliness and maybe a bit of a predilection for mistaking friendship for the intimacy normally found between two adults in a romantic relationship.

But you say, it stars Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, of course it's going to be good. And yes, Dench's Barbara is totally creepy and quite obsessed, and Blanchett's Sheba is one part flighty, one part entitled and always beautiful, which is perfect casting. However, why the film succeeds has more to do with how it manipulates narrative exposition to its advantage. In bookish films where the "book" aspects don't usually work (ahem, Possession, I'm looking at you), it totally ruins the film for me. Here, however, Barbara's obsessive note-taking and journal writing underpins her character so perfectly that it actually makes the movie. And it doesn't hurt that the script is bloody brilliant.

There are a couple of cringeworthy moments, and Bill Nighy as Sheba's husband is stupendous casting (LOVE him), and on the whole, I liked this movie far, far better than I thought I would.

Knit the Classics

How cute is this? And I hope that the sweater class that I've just signed up for does not result in my own version of the "Frankensweater."

#2 - A True Story Based On Lies

The second book in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge is Jennifer Clement's A True Story Based on Lies. I'm counting this as Mexico, although I'm not sure if the author herself is Mexican, but the novel is set in Mexico City.

The story folllows the lives of two women, one a rich young girl called Aura, whose chapters are all entitled 'Every Leaf is a Mouth,' and Leonora, a servant in her household (and her mother), whose headings are all called 'Some Things Were Overheard and Some Said it Was All a Rumor.' As you can probably guess, it's not a simple story as Aura has no idea Leonora is her mother, and the book travels through the latter's past to tell us the story of how the child came to be.

Leonora is a young, impressionable, impoverished girl sent to the convent by her broom-making mother. They live on the outskirts of Mexico City and have been broom-makers for generations. As the book opens, Leonora's own mother explains that generations of twig-collecting girls have been born with mothers wearing no wedding rings:

"'All the fingers in our family are buried without wedding rings. Under the ground there are bouquets of fingers without wedding rings.' Leonora imagines the pale, white bones of her grandmothers' fingers buried beneath the earth."

In an effort to improve her life for good, Leonora is sent away to the convent, where Mrs. O'Connor finds her and brings her to be a nanny and a servant in her household. Once there, Mr. O'Connor takes a liking to her, and eventually gets Leonora pregnant. The child is taken away, and registered as Mrs. O'Connor's, which means a complex relationship begins where Leonora tends to the child, but Aura has no idea she is her mother.

Clement, from what I understand, is a poet first, and the sparse, short paragraphs of this book are filled with lots of sweet bits of metaphorical language, folklore, catechism, magic as well as the actual story. It's a short book, just over 150 pages, but with each paragraph just being a sentence, and much of the book repeating thoughts, images and motifs, it's a short read.

What I liked: the way Clement tells a very complex story about class, race, infidelity and motherhood, in an almost prose poem kind of way. The ending of the novel is utterly heartbreaking, and after reading Consumption, I feel more than ever that every book I'm going to read on this challenge will break my heart. Clement excels at characterization though, as sparse as it is through the book, simple details, like Aura being unable to control her hands (one moves one way; the other another), form complete pictures in my mind.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the fact that this was a story primarily about women. And even though the actions of the men (Mr. O'Connor and his two sons) greatly impact their lives, much of the book feels feminine and reflects these women's particular strengths. Alongside Leonora are Sofia, the oldest servant in the household, and Josefa, the cleaner, who only speaks in one word sentences.

What I didn't like: sometimes I find that poets who write novels can't quite escape their tendency to break traditional form and structure. While for the most part it works, there's a section near the end, all in italics, where a pivotal moment is happening, that essentially repeats all of the folklore-esque bits from throughout Leonora's section for over 10 pages. Here, I thought, it would have been more powerful to actually explain what happened in a more straightforward way, but it's a small nitpicky kind of criticism.

I'm not sure if I would highly recommend this book, like I would Kevin Patterson's novel, but it certainly gave me a flavour and a taste of gender and race relations during the middle of the last century in Mexico, and that's not something I read about everyday. And super props to my friend RC who loaned me this novel and happily gave me my Mexico!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Consumption Redux

I just found this article on CTV.ca about Consumption where Kevin Patterson describes the one job that novels are supposed to do:

"It's a novel, and novels only have one job, and that's to break your heart," Patterson says. "Novels with agendas and messages are frequently bad novels, and certainly the more undisguised and obvious those agendas are, generally, the worse the novel is. So I want the reader to be moved and I want the reader's heart to be broken."

And he's so right; his novel squished my heart into pieces. Now I regret being so flippant about how hot he is when I saw him read in November. He's hot AND smart. Sheesh.

Havana From The Back Of A '57 Pontiac

Fingers crossed this works! Here's a video from our fancy-dancy new camera of us taking a cab back to the hotel from Old Havana.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Revolutions

So last year, my one Revolution was to be healthy and live like a normal girl again. And old girl, but a normal one none the less, and I think I almost got there. After a shaky start with the ups and downs of the medicine for the disease, and another solid year away from the Boss From Hell (who I was dreaming about last night; it was a nightmare actually), I feel like I am gaining traction and steadily moving towards a calmer, simpler version of "Ragdoll." Call her version 3.50.

What's on deck for this year? Well, I've got to lose some weight. After a year off and on and off an on prednisone, and a full two years into my tragic hip's recovery, it's time to get serious about the weight I've gained. I know everyone has this goal but I'm going to try to make it a reality. I've got my health almost under control; it's time to stop being so lazy about it.

The other main revolution involves writing: I want to finish the first draft of this big story I've been working on; the one I'm workshopping at Humber (got my first note from my mentor yesterday; it was kind of scary!). In order to at least give this the old college try, I'm going to have to stop watching so much TV (noooo!) and cut down on the movies (nooooo!) but the writing time has to come from somewhere.

Lastly, I'm going to try not to complain so much. Those of you who know (and I hope love) me know that I complain a lot. A LOT. Perhaps more than any relatively healthy, happy and perfectly normal person should. It's just what I do and it's got to stop, maybe not all at once, but I'm certainly going to try to be more aware of it and approach everything with an open mind. Let's hope this one even makes it to January 2nd.

And finally, although this isn't my own personal revolution, it's more about my RRHB, as he stops working and embarks upon the giant and massive project that is the renovation of our house, I'm going to do less nagging and not worry so much about the money. He needs some time and space to both finish this project and to find out what he wants to do beyond the rock and roll, which may or may not happen this year, but it certainly needs to while he's still young enough to make the change.

How about you all out there? Any Revolutions on your fronts?

#1 - Consumption

It's oddly fitting that this book straddled my 2006-2007 reading; it's possibly the best book I've read in ages. And it made me cry, full, flooding tears dripping onto the pages. Kevin Patterson's brilliant novel, and I use that word without a hint of exaggeration, centres around a young Inuit girl named Victoria who leaves the north when she's diagnosed with TB to return a virtual stranger becomes an epic tale of how change impacts a culture, which in turn, affects every single character in Consumption.

The title that refers at once to both the disease and to our own consumptive culture, becomes a metaphor for what happens to every single character in the book. Victoria is consumed by the disease and then obsessed with it for the rest of her life. Robertson, a Hudson Bay man and Victoria's husband, becomes consumed with both his love for her and his own material success, striving to find a balance between the place he's fallen for, the Arctic, and the world defined by his own skin colour. Their children, Pauloosie, Justine and Marie, each struggle with growing up in a world, even in the north, more and more defined by material culture. And each child reacts in his or her own way: Pauloosie, who rebels against his father by turning to his grandfather and the land; Justine, who leaves Rankin Inlet the first chance she can get; and Marie, who becomes lost in so many different, heartbreaking ways.

On the periphery of Victoria's life are Bernard and Keith, the community's priest and doctor respectively, and each struggle with their own commitments to their professions and to the barren world they have come to both know and love. The teachers, Johanna and Penny, who go their separate ways, one toward love, the other toward the land, and come to very different ends, and Keith's family back in the States, especially his niece Amanda, who finds her own struggles as a result of her parents' split.

And there's also the story of the third generation, as the Cubans say, of Victoria's parents, Winnie and Emo, who themselves come in off the land when she's taken south to be cured of her TB. Emo takes a job at the newly opened nickel mine and all of their lives are forever changed.

This book is as much about the struggle to remain true in an ever-changing world as it is about the inevitable problems that occur as a result of said change. The moments cannot be taken back, like a wheel set in motion, to use a tired old metaphor, the culture of Patterson's novel explores the very essence of change in the Arctic, using the body, and its diseases, almost as a trope to describe what's happening within.

But what I liked most of all about this book is the clinical eye of Patterson, himself a doctor, as he speaks through Keith Balthazar toward the end of the novel, in a section entitled, "The Diseases of Affluence."

When the immune system is never called upon, it behaves the way underworked soldiers do and makes trouble. If it's not finding infections, then it must not be looking hard enough. So it looks harder, and starts to detect infections that aren't there: thus the terrible toll of autoimmune disease rises steadily in our era of antiseptic floors and single-child families.

An apt description of both my own perilous health situation and a metaphor perhaps for our entire world. We look so hard for what's wrong with us, questing for happiness and material gain, that we haven't noticed that we've infected our own surroundings in ways we can't even fathom yet.

There are moments in this book, little unexpected bits of tragedy that come upon you so suddenly that reveal Patterson's deft hand as a novelist. There are a few spots where the narrative voice breaks, cracks slightly under the pressure of this immense story, but nowhere does it pull you out so much that you lose your way. These characters, so rich and full of life in ways that it's hard to describe without giving the story away, are broad and introspective all at the same time.

I left this book many times, the first time, in the summer when I started to read it and just couldn't get into it; the second, just before we left for Cuba because I didn't want to take a hardcover with me; and the last, between New Year's Eve and New Year's Day because I thought it would be the perfect book to start off my reading for this year. But am I ever glad I finished it. In the end, it remains probably the best book I read in 2006, which is no small feat considering the fact that in that year I also tackled two Jane Austen novels and a Giller Prize winner. It's the first book on my 52 Countries in 52 Books challenge, and even though it doesn't get me any closer to the 1001 Books challenge, it does make me start my reading at home, here in Canada.

I would highly recommend this book to readers and writers; it's one for the shelves for sure.