Friday, March 30, 2007

Ragdoll Out

Well, I'll be away for a week at a work conference starting (very early) tomorrow morning with very limited access to the internet. Bummer. Hopefully I'll have finally finished Out of Africa by the time I get home. Maybe not.

In lieu of an actual post that has, well, meaning, here are some random thoughts:

1. I will watch any movie that Leonardo DiCaprio stars in. Case in point: we just finished up Blood Diamond. I've now seen The Departed three times. I could watch that movie every day and not get sick of it.

2. It's next to impossible to pack for an in-between season trip that's all about work. What do you wear? Office clothes? Fun clothes? A combination of both?

3. We did a really cool project at work. We completed a wiki for a book coming out next month called The Raw Shark Texts. Full TRH Books report tk. But check it out when you're bored at work. It's been years since I actually felt the thrill of building, the crisp agony of having too much to do and not enough time to do it in, and the heartbeat of your fingers as they type the url over and over and over and over and over again. I'm going to have to pace myself though because the last thing I need is the stress that goes along with a busy job overtaking my life, revving up my system and having the disease holler, "hey! I'm back!"

4. The tailbone? Still hurts.

5. In about three weeks, I'll be a band widow. Anyone free for a movie? I promise I can go see ones that Leo's not in...

6. A new column will go up on Experience Toronto while I'm gone. It's about Toronto as a literary landscape. I think In the Skin of a Lion and Cat's Eye are my two favourite books set in the city I call home.

7. Sarah Silverman show: brilliant or silly? A combination of both? If it were a fight to the death, I don't think I could decide.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

#21 - The Hopeless Romantics Handbook

Gemma Townley's latest novel The Hopeless Romantic's Handbook is finally out in stores. I read the book months ago when the galleys came in to work, took it home, and tossed it back in one night. Chicklit is so addictive! Anyway, the heroine of the novel finds a lovely old book entitled, you guessed it, The Hopeless Romantic's Handbook. The unlucky in love Kate decides she'll follow the steps and see what happens. And faster than you can snap your fingers Joe, a handsome American actor, shows up on the scene and she's smitten.

Only the book gets a lot more complicated as Kate's career (she's a television decorator working on a fairly low-rated cable show) sort of careens off track. And, as is the law of chicklit, her love life follows suit. The more Kate listens to the book, the worse things get, and soon her two best pals, Sally and Tom (and especially Tom), are quite worried for her.

There's a happy ending, of course. But Townley has such a knack for creating life-like characters within the fantasy setting the genre demands that you don't mind that the plot might be a bit predictable. She always manages to add a little extra bit of inventiveness, a little something or other that pulls the books slightly off-centre of the stereotypes. Anyway, you all know how much I adore Gemma and her writing, so if you're looking for a bit of mental escape this Easter long weekend, I do recommend picking her up.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Harry Potter Goes Green

And saves a lot of trees. Er, rather, uses up a lot of trees that are easily replaced. Perhaps not quite the same thing. But still, quite awesome, regardless. But are they somehow going to go back and make up for all the non-sustainable resources used for the first six books?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spring Cleaning

Every few months or so, my RRHB goes manic with the cleaning. Today, he decided, was closet cleaning day. That meant taking out every single box and item of, well, stuff, from the upstairs closet and going through it.

As a result, I purged books. Boxes and boxes of books. They were mainly leftovers from my university days, a lot of literary criticism, and piles of books I had never finished or would never read again. But every book that he brought out of a box and I looked at, had some sort of memory attached. Whether it was how awful my Victorian professors were in both under grad and graduate school, or how many copies of On the Road we own (count: 3) or the duplicates we discovered (3 different copies of Hey Nostradamus, all unread), and whole worlds of novels that every time one came out of the box I sort of welled up remembering why I loved it or what point of my life in which the book was read.

And now I feel a world better because books are not tumbling off the shelves, bell hooks can be rightfully passed on to the next righteous feminist coming into university, and I've got an entire shelf dedicated to the 1001 Books and to my own Around the World in 52 Books challenge. It's funny how you can forget what you had for breakfast three weeks ago but you can remember exactly what it felt like the first time you read The Rainbow.

The funniest bit that came out of the afternoon was, no doubt, when I said, "Working in publishing is certainly going to be the death of me. I just can't say no to any book."

My RRHB returned, "You're like an alcholic working in a bar honey."

Indeed.

Shhhh

I am kind of excited because it looks like I'll be writing another Classic Starts this year. After I'm finished, I'll have written eight of the abridged classics for kids for Sterling. I'm not sure if they've been announced properly so I won't mention the title, but suffice it to say, it should be a world easier than the last two I wrote.

The Shawl


So I haven't been knitting a lot this week because of the whole tailbone thing (it hurts to sit up on a chair!) but I did manage to finished Project #2 - The Shawl. I had bought this yarn maybe two years ago at a craft show with Sam and never got the nerve to actually knit it up. Shockingly called "Thea's Triangular Shawl," it uses two skeins of PORTRAIT by Artful Yarns and giant needles (I used size 8 that I had at home). They say to switch to circular needles but I found the mohair so slippery that I stuck with straight ones for the duration of the project. And double props to my lovely RRHB who kindly modeled the shawl for me.

It's not perfect but I think it'll look nice with a jean jacket this fall. The hardest part was making so called 'invisible' additions in the middle, it always looks crooked. Oh well, at least I finished!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

TRH Updates: The SFD Doctor

So, yesterday I went to see the Super-Fancy Disease doctor, who promptly told me that I am not only well, but I'm very well! The disease, evil as it might be, is decidedly in remission. I'm still taking meds but they'll taper them off in about six months, so this time next year I'll probably be needle free!

How thrilling!

#20 - Platform

Wow. Is it hot in here or is it just me?

Ahem.

Don't look now but I'm probably blushing bright red and feeling somewhat uncomfortable to be seen in public having just finished Michel Houellebecq's Platform. It's the French entry in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge (changed from Nemirovsky) and it's also on the 1001 Books list, which is also why I made the swap, I don't mind killing two lists with one title.

Platform is a spicy, sensual, almost-porn-like novel about, well, a man named Michel who finds himself completely cut off from life after his father's death (he was murdered). Despite the fact that he has very little in the way of human contact, no friends, etc., he has a lot of very graphic sex between these covers. Just after his father's murderer is caught, Michel leaves Paris and takes a trip to Thailand, where he sleeps with many nubile prostitutes and also meets Valerie, who will later become his lover, then the love of his life, and then a catalyst for the rest of the story.

It is through this relationship with Valerie, who works for the travel company arranging the tours, that Michel redeems himself. They are well suited: he loves getting pleasure; she loves giving it. Aw, a match made in heaven. Oh, and she's into women, so my goodness, it's one steam room fantasy away from Pay-Per-View. Yawn.

I know I'm being flippant, and even though Michel doesn't necessarily use the word love, his feelings for Valerie result in his happiness and in his feeling a connection for a member of the opposite sex that he has never before felt in his life. As their relationship progresses, Valerie's career takes off as she and her boss, Jean-Yves, move companies and launch a series of high profile resort holidays. While checking out one of the hotels in their roster, Michel has a brainwave to capitalize on the sex trade aspect of vacationing in places like Thailand, among other countries, including Cuba, and a new type of resort is born.

What keeps the novel from trailing off into Harlequin romance for men territory is Houellebecq's razor sharp prose. One part life story, and two parts love story, Platform also deals with a number of political, racial and societal issues. And while the main character seems motivated by his sexual relationships, it seems he's also wildly aware of the problems that this brings to the human psyche. It's a strangely prophetic novel, especially as its central tragedy comes about as a result of religious terrorism.

Houellebecq's not afraid of saying things that may not be politically correct; it seems, he just wants to point out the odd ironies that life seems to keep throwing in his direction. And yes, there's the sex: it's rampant, violent, open, honest, often and sometimes even strangely compelling. It becomes a crucial way for Michel to tell his story. But in a way it's also kind of gratuitous, often over-exposed and a little over the top. Maybe that's just my own Western prudishness coming out, but there's a fine line between porn and art, and maybe I'm just not one to tell the difference?

One review I read over at the Guardian (which gives away the ending, shockingly, so don't read if you don't want it spoiled), insists that Houellebecq is writing back to L'Etranger, in a way bringing those kind of existential concerns into the modern century, when it's not just the human condition, but the human condition in the world that seems to result in a crisis of consciousness.

And I kind of agree, there's a depth to this novel; it's bookish at the same time as it's somewhat bent. I enjoyed Platform, but I most certainly wouldn't be giving it to my grandmother for Christmas. Or to anyone else who might blush at the mere mention of the word sex in print (fingers pointed right at me).

Not having anything around to read is dangerous: you have to content yourself with life itself, and that can lead you to take risks.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

TRH TV - The Black Donnellys

Like many Canadians, I sort of assumed that the TV show had something, if in name only, to do with the infamous Black Donnellys, especially with co-creator Paul Haggis being, well from London, Ontario and all. Alas, it's not, other than the name and the whole criminal-thing, The Black Donnellys has nothing at all in common with that infamous family. Well, except that Haggis must have thought they had a pretty cool name and one of the boys even has a bum leg in Haggis's world, just like "Clubfoot Will," one of the original Donnelly sons.

Annnnywaaaay. I really wish that TWoP was recapping the show in all it's cheese-eating glory. Because for some reason, despite the fact that it's, well, awful, I can't stop watching it. I'm even forcing my RRHB to watch it and saying totally banal things like: "See, see it's getting better!"

It's so cliched and heavy-handed, with the ridiculous "narrator" from some distant point in the future (seriously?) re-telling the backstory in such painful episodes that you want to reach into the television, grab him, and hand him over to Tony Soprano. Did I mention that he's called "Joey Ice Cream"? Yeah, exactly. Every time he comes on screen I think, why do they need him, is the story not strong enough on its own. And has Paul Haggis ever heard of "show don't tell"? Which is what every single writing teacher has told me my entire life?

The worst part is, with a little finesse, the show could actually be good. I like stories that take the main character, in this case, the eldest brother, Tommy, off the course of his life and into something totally unexpected. I'm even not minding the train wreck of the second-oldest (I think) brother, Jimmy, who is, predictably a heroin addict and a violent SOB who never truly, although we're repeatedly told it's coming, gets his comeuppance. I mean he's such a used and abused character in pop culture: the 'bad' brother. But what's worse is that the show keeps telling us he'll get the other brothers into trouble and nothing ever seems to happen. Tommy makes sure he's in jail to keep him safe, and then, next thing we know he's out of jail and some pale flashback explains how that happened. He walks drunk and high into a wake (for the man that Tommy killed) and the narrator says, "this is going to be bad." And again, NOTHING HAPPENS.

I'm guessing that if I'm just a little bit patient, the show might actually turn itself around, but for now, I've got really no idea why I'm still watching it. I suppose it comes down to the fact that I totally think Kirk Acevedo is, like, wickedly hot. But is that enough to keep the show in a permanent always-tape Faux-Vo status? Probably not.

For once I'd like someone to step in and pull Paul Haggis out of his desperate need to hack together elements of relationships (familial and otherwise) with giant baseball bat bashing on head-like "situations" (to totally mix my own metaphors) and to let the characters develop more like they do on cable, slowly and with larger purpose. But I guess in this day and age, where shows are supposed to last forever and deal with everything in every bloody episode (Grey's Anatomy, I'm looking at you), subtlety is not necessarily top of mind.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Ouch

Things happen in threes. At least that's what my life has taught me. And here goes the three things that happened in the last few days:

1. I dropped an envelope with $1000.00 in it on our garage floor. Not only was this renovating money to pay a contractor but it was was a THOUSAND dollars. A lot of money by anyone's standards, I forgot the envelope was on my lap and totally blanked as I left the car last Thursday night after the RRHB and I went to see a performance of Susie Burpee's The Spinster's Almanac (which I enjoyed, but especially enjoyed because of Christine Fellows hauntingly beautiful and bird-centric music).

2. I fell down the stairs at work coming out of our building. Landed totally on my face. I fell so hard that a fellow who was trying nonchalantly to eat his street meat hot dog inside and away from the brewing storm, shouted, "Oh my god are you okay?", promptly transferred said dog to the other hand, and tried to help me up. I couldn't even look at him I was so embarrassed. If only my life was a chick lit book and I wasn't already married...

3. On Saturday night, while out with said RRHB and some friends from high school, I fell off my chair. And now, my tailbone hurts so much that it's actually causing me to feel nauseous. It hurt a bit yesterday but nothing like today when just sitting in my chair at work makes me want to pass out. Ouuuuchhhh.

Sigh.

The adventures of Ragdoll indeed.

#19 - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

As anyone can plainly see from the myriad of book entries, I don't really read a lot of non-fiction, and I read even fewer memoirs. Trust me, then, when I say that Barbara Kingsolver's lovely and amazing Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life both surprised, delighted, and scared the crap out of me.

Kingsolver and her family (husband, two daughters) packed up their life in Arizona and moved east to Appalachia, where they owned a farm, used mainly for their summer vacations. The impetus for the move? A dedicated and inspirational move towards eating food that grew on their land and/or animals that were raised on their farm. In short, they gave up being dependent upon fossil-fuel run foodstuffs and decided to try their hand at being self-sufficient.

No stranger to farming, Kingsolver, her husband Steven L. Hopp, and her two daughters, Camille and Lily, commit to one full year of eating locally. Not just food grown from their gardens, but produce bought from local farms, meat raised and butchered by their neighbours, and making a priority to purchase anything else (like coffee) from fair trade organizations.

Seems idyllic, doesn't it? Or even ambitious? The idea of local eating had already caught fire in my virtual world as I was eagerly awaiting The 100-Mile Diet, but as I left before the book was published, I was actually surprised to hear about Kingsolver's own experiment at eating locally.

The memoir, which also contains seasonal eating advice from Kingsolver's elder daughter Camille and relevant essays in each chapter by her husband Steven, is very much a family affair. The chapters, arranged chronologically from one March until the next, in addition to documenting their local food trials, each deal with a particular issue facing the world, farmers, environmentalists and anyone who might be concerned about what'll happen to the next generation.

The main thrust of the book being that many, many people don't know what out of season means. We have no idea that the poor cantaloupe has travelled upwards of 3,000 kilometers to land from its farm to our tables in or out of its own growing season. Many people buy bananas from the grocery store and pay no attention to the fossil fuel that's been used to get them there. A girl I used to work with would say that was the joy of living in our modern society: being able to get pineapple whenever and where ever she might like. While it's hard to disagree that's true, what's even harder is to imagine a world where we've used up all the gas to get the pineapple from one place to the next without ever thinking in terms of the costs beyond the ding-ding of the grocery clerk's scanning machine.

It always feels a bit melodramatic to claim that a book has changed your life. But in this case, Kingsolver's book brought a lot of things to light that I hadn't maybe thought of before (how much are those bananas I'm addicted to hurting the earth?) and made me think that it's not a bad idea to plant up a section of our backyard into an urban garden. I also signed us up for Green Earth Organics so that we can better support our local farmers, as neither of us has time to shop at a farmer's market proper.

My favourite parts of the book involve Ms. Kingsolver helping her heritage turkeys to breed (as natural mating has been bred out of turkeys) and the adventures of using up pounds and pounds of zucchini. All in all, I would highly recommend this book as the natural companion to what'll certainly become a media darling, The 100-Mile Diet.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dusty Jackets

EW's editors spill the beans about how many classics and/or bestsellers gather dust on their shelves.

I'll confess that Atwood's Oryx and Crake sits in not one but two different formats (hardcover and trade paperback) on the shelves in my writing room. Other unfinished and/or never-crackeds? All That Matters, History of Love and Naked.

Now you.

In Defense of Chick Lit

Diane Shipley defends our beloved and much maligned chick lit in The Blog Books over at the Guardian.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Can Con Go To List

A pen-pal friend of mine has inquired about a go to list for Canadian fiction. If you were introducing someone that doesn't live in Canada to our homegrown talents, which books would you feel absolutely needed to be in the top ten?

Of course, Atwood, Munro, Shields, and Ondaatje are givens, and in choosing their titles I'd probably pick Cat's Eye, Runaway, Larry's Party and In the Skin of the Lion, what who else should be on the list?

Margaret Laurence, of course, and I'd pick the utterly brilliant A Bird in the House and then The Diviners, as they are two of my all-time favourite books. We mustn't forget Timothy Findley, especially his Not Wanted on the Voyage and The Wars. However, I'd also like to include books that have obviously evolved from those titles too, like Clara Callan (see A Bird in the House) by Richard Wright or the brilliant Three Day Road (see The Wars) by Joseph Boyden.

And then don't forget Urquhart, whose The Stone Carvers brought tears to my eyes and gave me pause when I visited the church that she based the novel upon. I'd also like the list not to read like a version of a high school syllabus. But sometimes, that's unavoidable, for example, should everyone read The Watch that Ends the Night by Hugh MacLennon? Maybe. But it's a familiar book on Canadian Fiction 101 course calendars.

Plus, we can't leave out classics in the making like The Colony of Unrequited Dreams or Guy Vanderhaeghe's The Last Crossing. How would you create the list? Or pare it down to just 10? It's a loaded question: but what's your quintessential go-to Can Lit book?

Consumption Redux III

Baby Got Books writes a kick-ass review of Consumption and also highly recommends the novel. See, it's not all in my head peeps. It's a great farking book. What are you waiting for? Honestly.

Go.

Now.

Read the book. And then tell me what you think.

What are you waiting for?

It's almost spring -- that's the perfect time to be reading a book about all of the changes in the Arctic.

Hurry up. I'm waiting...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Yes, Indeed, That's My Man



In case you were wondering what life is truly like living through a renovation, here's my RRHB wielding a sledgehammer. And yes, that is a giant hole in the floor where my living room should be. One day.

TRH Movie: The Namesake

On Sunday, after a manic morning of attempting to clean the house because my writer's group is coming over tonight, I escaped for an afternoon to the movies with Tara. We ended up seeing Mira Nair's The Namesake, which got a great review in EW this past week.

The filmed adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's novel manages to keep all of the good bits of a novel by utilizing a series of vignettes to tell the story. Within these smaller scenes, the larger narrative, the lives of the members of the Ganguli family, unfolds. I didn't finish the novel, I think I had 10 pages to read when I abandoned it, because it hadn't grabbed me entirely, so I knew what in essence was going to happen. But regardless, the film still managed to be engaging and utterly heart-stopping.

Gogol Ganguli (Kal Penn), named for his father Ashoke's life-saving obsession (he had the book in his hand when he survived a terrible train crash) with the Russian author Gogol, grows up in conflict: the push and pull between his world, his American lifestyle, and the world of his immigrant parents. It's a familiar story but Nair infuses both worlds with elements of the other highlighting the differences in truly inspirational ways, which is just part of why this film works so well.

Ashima (Tabu), on her first morning in a suburb of New York after marrying Ashoke (Irfan Khan), has a bowl of Rice Crispies with no milk, a bit of curry powder and some peanuts. She agrees to marry Ashoke because she likes his American shoes. Ashima's son, Gogol, finds his calling (he becomes an architect) while visiting the Taj Mahal for the first time on a trip with his parents to India. But then moments later, he's fallen in love with an upper crust American girl named Max.

It was wrong of me, I know, to expect Harold and Kumar playing unsuccessfully against type from Penn, but his turn as Gogol is career-making. Penn runs the gamut in age from a dope-smoking teenager to a man who not only weathers the tragedy of life, but wears it open on his face like a heart on a sleeve (how mixed up is that sentence from a metaphorical POV. Heh.). He's utterly striking in this film, and Nair's ability to craft subtle nuisances from scenes where the majority of the action is left out, makes an impact that's in your imagination, much like a novel.

Goodness me I loved Monsoon Wedding with its subtle sexuality and bold swashes of marigold, and The Namesake too, takes the best of both worlds, the opportunity and magic of an old-school American dream and builds into it the traditions and honour of an Indian lifestyle. Neither are things I know a lot about, being a Canadian girl from Toronto, but I felt the film gave me an insight into both, from the eyes of Gogol, of course, but also in the majestic Ashima, who changes intrinsically from the beginning of the movie until the end.

And how wonderful is it when a title fits so perfectly into the story itself? I guess it's what every writer dreams of? And that's enough gushing for one Tuesday morning.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Call Yourself A Blogger?

Like most mornings, I start my day off by reading various different newsletters. There's an article in the Globe today about being a blogger, and it attempts to answer the standard five 'good reporting' questions about the topic. One thing caught my attention though, as it's an article that's pretty much for the people who have been, well, living in a virtual cave the last couple years, and that's the idea that blogging isn't so much the thing as it is the thing that allows you to do the thing.

So let's say you've been reading all about blogs and blogging and bloggers, and now you're interested in trying it yourself — despite how ridiculous you feel when you say the word "blog," or when you try to imagine introducing yourself by saying: "I'm a blogger."

Don't feel bad. It is kind of a ridiculous word, when it gets right down to it. But it's really just a tool, like a typewriter, or a computer. The word "blog" is just a term for what happens when you use a piece of software to publish your thoughts about a topic (or topics) on the Internet for others to read. Try telling friends "I'm a publisher," and see how that feels.
For some reason, I had never thought of it as a tool, but as the end product, and this point of view sort of changes the philosophy of blogging in a way: it's no longer about what you publish but about how you publish (ie, it's the software you use, not what you're writing about that defines you).

I had always been under the assumption that by blogging you are therefore a blogger (I blog therefore I am), and regardless of which software you choose to self-publish, it's the content and the message that's most important. The above kind of derails all of that, and moves thought about the internet back into pre-web 2.0 (and yes, I am loathe to use that terminology, but it fits dammit, it fits!) in the sense that stripping the content from the blog effectively reduces the software to yet another function of our digital world.

Not everyone who uses a typewriter is a writer, not everyone who uses a computer is a programmer, but everyone who blogs should be (if they are active) by definition a blogger. And why is it a ridiculous word? How is it any more ridiculous than 'journalist' other than the fact that the word's etymology has had a few more hundred years to evolve.

Am I right? Or am I just being too sensitive on the morning after a time change when my brain is perhaps working in blogger overdrive. Or maybe it's just another example of mainstream media trying to derail the whole concept of self-publishing by negating its very real ability to, ahem, make a point?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Sweater



Well, I've finished my very first sweater. Coming from a long line of knitters (mother, grandmother), I feel kind of guilty it's taken me this long to pick it all back up again. Regardless, I've finished a project that's bigger and more complex than a scarf. Who knew it was possible?

Now that I'm all confident and cocky and sh*t, I've started a St. Bart's Mini from Twinkle's Big City Knits by Wenlan Chia. Overall, the book is for more advanced knitters, and I'm still referring to books in terms of how to read a pattern, but this 'dress' (which I'll wear as a sweater, natch) is fairly simple (except for the bobbins, which I'll not be doing) and a lot like the last pattern I just did, so hence the attempt.

Friday, March 09, 2007

#18 - Getting Rid of Matthew

The first thing I found out about Jane Fallon's Getting Rid of Matthew had nothing to do with the novel and everything to do with the author's personal life. For Jane Fallon lives and loves UK comic sensation Ricky Gervais. Ah, The Office, how awesome you are. She's also a successful British television producer in her own right and this first novel, in my opinion, gives Gemma Townley a run for her money in terms of being my self-appointed queen of British Chick Lit.

Now, not to disparage Gemma, of course. Because no one can actually replace the soft spot I have for Gemma in my cold, Canadian heart; but for a first novel, Getting Rid of Matthew, while it's about 100 pages too long and has a real problem with switching POVs, was actually charming, witty and somewhat surprising. Fallon takes a fairly stereotypical soap-opera plot (husband-stealing woman finally gets her man) and sort of turns it on its head.

The main character, Helen, has been having an affair with the Matthew of the novel's title for four years now. Married with two pre-teen girls at home, he finally, after Helen sort of breaks up with him, leaves his wife Sophie. But life with Matthew around 24-7 is very different from life with Matthew three times a week for a quick shag.

Almost as soon as he's arrived on her doorstep, Helen decides it's just not right. After a number of slapstick attempts at getting him to leave on his own, Helen takes some pretty drastic measures: she befriends his ex-wife (at first by accident) and works from the inside out to get them back together. Of course, as it tends to, all of Helen's plans go tits-up before the novel's conclusion.

Why did I like it? Because despite Helen making exceptionally bad decisions, she manages to change her life from the inside out. She's a character you can relate to, a character that has flaws, and one that truly grows from the beginning of the novel to the end. Like I said, it's chicklit, so it's graded on the curve, but it's not as predictable as say a Sophie Kinsella novel, which is already a plus in my books.

Perfect for subway and/or beach reading. Also perfect when you've see every single Sandra Bullock movie, are tired to death of Drew Barrymore's rote comedies, and need a dose of girlish fun that Gilmore Girls can certainly no longer supply.

Oh, and the cover is awesome, by the way. Check it out when you've got a chance on Amazon.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bloody Brilliant Barbara

Last night Zesty and I met for our usual foray into author events at the Harbourfront. While I didn't end up in tears like the last time after seeing Colm Toibin, I certainly felt the wit and wisdom of Barbara Gowdy was well worth the price of admission. But first, the readings.

Up first was Nuruddin Farah, who read from his latest novel, Knots. Suspenseful and mysterious, the piece he read followed a young Somalian woman Cambara (pronounced "Ambara") who ends up in Mogadishu looking for answers (in this piece in a mysterious house where a stranger has given her water) or even meaning behind a great tragedy in her life. The second book in a trilogy, I'm inclined to order the first book, Links, as the Somalian entry in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge. Farah had a lovely aura about him: soft, supple, yet smart and exceptionally serious. It was a good reading, even if it didn't hold my attention firmly throughout.

But the superstar of Wednesday night was absolutely Barbara Gowdy. Trim, with her hair tucked back by a barrette, she approached the podium and read a section from her new novel, Helpless. Never one to disappoint, Gowdy, instead of reading any of the more sensational aspects of the novel, read from a portion of the book that delves further into the backstory of Ron, the man who steals young Rachel away from her mother. The short reading described Ron's life after his mother died tragically on his birthday, moved into how Ron coped with her absence, and described how everything changed once his father's lover and her daughter moved into their home. A touching bit to read especially when all the audience knows of Ron is that he's the man who is responsible for the unpardonable action within the novel.

Once the reading was finished, after the break, we were treated to an on stage interview between Gowdy and Now magazine's Susan G. Cole. The most interesting parts of their discussion revolved around Gowdy's own point of view when it came to the complex and conflicted character of Ron. In Gowdy's mind, he's an almost-pedophile. A man not unlike Lewis Carroll who felt "urges" but didn't act on them, never taking his obsession too far, as if the act of kidnapping Rachel, because of its motivations, didn't necessarily cross the line. It's an interesting distinction, and sort of what I was trying to get at in my review of the book, that while Ron's actions are abhorrent, he maintains a certain level of control over his deplorable urges. In short, Gowdy insists, his actions are driven forward by love.

When asked about her own writing process, Gowdy told Cole that it was a long, painful process. She agonizes over ideas for almost a year until finally finding an anchor for a new book and describes her writing work as "putting the hours in." Her house is spotless for all of her procrastination, something all of us aspiring writers can most certainly relate to. All in all, it was a great old literary evening.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

DAR Wins Commonwealth Prize?

I don't quite understand how David Adams Richard's The Friends of Meager Fortune won this prize. Yes, he's a great writer, but it's not a great book, and the subject matter makes it a heck of a lot more interesting than the prose itself, which says a lot. But maybe I just need to give it another chance?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

#17 - Theft: A Love Story

Peter Carey's magnificent Theft: A Love Story is the Australian entry in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge. Set in the early 80s, the novel tells the story from the perspective of two brothers, Michael and Hugh Boone, who each swap the narrative point of view back and forth like thunder and lightning.

Michael "Butcher Bones," an infamous artist who is both in and out of favour, is on the edge of his own sanity throughout most of the novel. Defeated by an acrimonious divorce, he falls in love with Marlene, a mystery woman who turns out to be the daughter-in-law of a famous artist, Jacques Leibovitz. The master is long dead, and the central theft of the novel's title revolves around one of Leibovitz's paintings going missing from northern New South Wales where Butcher and Hugh are staying.

Hugh, or "Slow Bones" as he's called, piledrives his way through the novel breaking baby fingers and using capital letters. Always in his older brother's care, Hugh provides a dissenting voice in the book, at once within the narrative but decidedly outside most of the story. Not unlike Benjy from The Sound and the Fury, Hugh's most poignant moments are when he's storming around New York City noting the inherent differences between it and Bacchus Marsh in Australia where he was born.

Before I even picked up this novel, so much of what I had heard about Carey's book revolved around the explosive portrayal of his ex-wife, Alison Summers. For a moment, that turned me off, a literary revenge, despite how enduring, grows tired after a while. Thankfully, the love story of the novel's title doesn't refer to the Plaintiff, as Butcher's ex-wife is referred to, but to Marlene, the younger, Australian-bred, New York living lover he picks up part way through the novel.

Through her courtship to Leibovitz's son, Olivier, and subsequent marriage, Marlene has developed quite an eye for art. She exploits her connections and broadens Butcher's own horizons, as the novel moves from rural Australia to Japan, where he has a show. From Japan, they're in New York, and when the penultimate moment of the novel arrives, Hugh and Michael make their way back to Australia.

Like a bucket of cold water dropped on your head on a hot day, Theft shocks you into submission with its bold, slashing strokes of brilliant prose that belt out the story. The novel burns on the way down just like the whiskey that seems to be Butcher's constant companion. One part mystery, one part obsessive love story and two parts good, old-fashioned yarn, I can't begin to tell you how hard I fell for this book. If I were indoctrinating new titles into the 1001 Books list, this one would be at the top of my list.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Write Around Town - March

This month's column is up on Experience Toronto. I was lucky enough to interview Ben McNally about the city's independent bookstores.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Stephen Henighan Slays The Gillers

I can't remember exactly how I came across Stephen Henighan's Kingmaker's column in Geist 63. But it's certainly stirring up the pot in terms the Canadian literary world. I'm probably late to the party (it's a bad habit I have, of never being on time, but I digress), but I read the article this week and thought, "what Mel Gibson-inspired bee's up his bonnet?"

Although Henighan does have a point with this idiotic decision by Chapters / Indigo:
But the real future of Canadian writing lay on the banquet tables of the 2006 Giller dinner, where each guest was invited to take home an individually wrapped party favour provided by Chapters- Indigo. When the guests opened their favours, they found that all the packages contained the same remaindered Stephen King novel.
Oh. My.

There's probably a good reason why there were all those Stephen King books remaindered anyway. But should they be on the tables of one of the most prestigious literary events in Canada of all places? Perhaps not. Smarten up people!

But I really don't think that Giller prize is "the most conspicuous example of corporate suffocation of the public institutions that built our literary culture." If anything, it's a symbol of the random and relentlessly confusing individuality of the jurors chosen to pick the winners. And I still think that Three Day Road should have won last year; I'll viciously tell anyone who'll listen that Consumption is a far better book than Bloodletting, but that doesn't mean I won't be just as excited this year to see what the Giller comes up with.

If anything, the Giller, like Canada Reads (yay! Heather O'Neill), is an opportunity for Canadians to not only read books written by and for Canadians, books that will, inevitably contribute to our culture, but also to then debate and discuss the choices made by the judges. I mean, if this year's Oscars are any indication (how many times was Scorsese denied before now?), it sometimes takes awards a long time to get something right. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's wrong, or by extension, bad. But perhaps that's not what Henighan means. I know he's making the point that the awards are serving the giant conglomerate steamroller of Canadian publishing but does that necessarily equate that Lam didn't deserve to win?

But in a day and age where people are reading less, and choosing the Giller winner simply because it's an easy pick when it's all over the media, maybe I kind of see his point. Or maybe I'm just too naive because I think that these kinds of prizes are done with a level of honesty and integrity, that those three jurors truly felt that of the books they read last year, Vincent Lam's debut short story collection was the best. Obviously, Henighan doesn't share my rosy outlook.

#16 - Helpless

No, not the Neil Young song that's part of my soundtrack, but Barbara Gowdy's latest novel. I devoured Helpless (which could have been in one sitting if that necessary evil called "work" hadn't gotten in the way) in just over 24 hours, somewhat echoing the breakneck pace of the police on the hunt for a missing child, which forms the central storyline of the novel.

Rachel, the uncommonly beautiful daughter of Celia, a single mom who plays piano and works in a video store, is taken during a blackout. The man who whisks her away in the night, Ron, is an overweight, hapless mechanic who works on small motors. He sees Rachel by chance one day and falls deeply in love with her. Nancy, Ron's girlfriend, a former crystal meth addict with a spasming leg, becomes his reluctant accomplice as they hold Rachel in his basement for an extended amount of time.

Gowdy portrays all of the characters brilliantly, from the angelic and even mystical voice of Rachel herself, to the deeply troubled and supremely frightening man who loves her enough to silent her away in the night, the novel is both suspenseful and terrifying at the same time.

I don't know if I'll ever fall as much in love with Gowdy's work as I did when I finished The Romantic, a book whose characters stay with me and that I still recommend to people to this day. But I did enjoy Helpless thoroughly, and think that she has such a lovely way of approaching subjects that might be too hard for other writers to put their heads into, like Ron. Gowdy manages to get so deep into him where regardless of how wrong his (for lack of a better term) impure thoughts are, you still feel sympathetic.

I hate to compare Gowdy's lovely written book to the film Happiness but it kept coming to the top of my mind as I was reading yesterday. I kept hoping for Ron to redeem himself because I couldn't endure the crushing weight of the worst in human kind as that film demonstrates. Thankfully, the novel is richer and softer at the same time than Solondz's film. In a way, it's like comparing apples to oranges, where Helpless explores the mind of a pedophile on the verge of betraying everything he knows to be right, Happiness simply wants to squeeze you with the violence and betrayal of the molester's actions. It's an interesting distinction.

Annnywaaay. This book broke my heart in so many different places, not the least of which was the mother Celia, who while listening to the police around her talk about the mundane details of their private lives, "...reflects without resentment or envy—it's simply a stray thought—that these are people whose lives have never hung, as hers does, by the thread of a single human attachment."

And I thought, quite simply, that I am the luckiest girl in the world to be surrounded at all times by more than one person, if I were to go missing, that would miss and/or worry about me. I have entire spools of human attachments that may come unraveled from time to time but never go missing entirely. I don't want to give away any of the novel, so forgive me if even this is too much detail, for the pacing and the thrill of it all is really the book's core power, so that's all I'm going to say...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

#15 - Don't Move

Margaret Mazzantini's critically acclaimed and prize-winning Don't Move is an apt book to have finished today, as a great snowstorm falls upon Toronto rendering the city motionless. Well, truth be told it's just the title that's fitting because the guts of the novel have little to do with either snow or Toronto...

Annnywwaaay. Told in something akin to exposition, Don't Move lets the narrator and main character, Timoteo, a successful, married surgeon tell his own story. His daughter Angela has been involved in a very serious accident while riding her scooter to school, and Timo sits and waits for her to come out of surgery. He's a cold, exacting character; and if I were being completely honest, I'd admit that I found him utterly unlikeable.

In fact, despite the obvious and real tragedy of his daugther's accident, I ended up feeling little for Timoteo past disgust as the main thrust of the novel involves a very abusive affair he has with a poor, thin, wisp of a woman named Italia. The two meet just after his car breaks down in a rural area of Italy, and their surreptitious affair begins shortly thereafter.

Including as selection from Italy on my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, I felt that I got little from the story about the setting. With the exception of the time Timo and his wife Elsa spend at their summer beach house, very little of his surroundings are described in detail. With the majority of the action taking place in Timoteo's mind as he sits in a hospital waiting room, which is by its nature both cold and sterile, and uncomfortable and bland, much of the other settings take on this same atmosphere.

This is a novel that tells you everything, that leaves little to conversation, and forces the reader into the position of the dying daughter by his consistently addressing her within the story. And I really didn't like being coerced into a sympathetic position where I had to like the main character, after all, who can despise a man who is obviously in so much pain?

"Dear Angela...let me tell you about the time I cheated on your mother and ruined a poor, desperate girl's life...just because you don't have anything else to worry about as you lie there on the operating table half-dead already."

But, alas, I am paraphrasing.

On the whole, I struggled through this book, forcing myself to finish it, and wondering why Don't Move was included in the 1001 Books list. It tells it is a "multilayered novel of love, loss, and desperation, set upon the affluent backdrop of Northern Italy." Beside the write-up is a giant picture of Penelope Cruz, who starred in the, again award-winning, film adaptation.

For me, it's an intensely cold novel, and a lot of the times, I had a hard time believing the character was even a man. In places, the author uses odd metaphors that just didn't work: "A rain as fine as face powder was falling." Not that metaphors need to be gender specific or should even be so, it just felt wrong in this case, something that this man wouldn't notice and/or care to know. Anyway, it's a small point, and maybe not even a relevant one, but things like that pulled me out of the novel time and time again.

Mazzantini is obviously a talented writer, and moments of the novel are really quite brilliant, but I prefer to take my cold, calculated protagonists with a bit of redemption, which should never be confused with pure confession.

Tragic Right Update

1. There is a lot of snow outside.

2. This is not good for a girl with a tragic hip.

3. This is especially not good for a girl with a tragic hip who didn't listen to the weather reports this morning and wore her Frye boots to work.

4. This meant the girl slipped all the way home from the subway and almost killed herself approximately 67 times.

5. But it sure shows the power of weather-appropriate footwear.

(PS - The first week of my new job has been awesome but busy).