Sunday, April 29, 2007

My Days As Band Widow Part Next

So, the RRHB has been away for the past week. Usually, when he's away, I bury myself in the house, but this week has been different. Here's a breakdown:

1. I've been eating like Lorelai Gilmore, which includes toaster waffles, homemade pizza and things I can cook in the microwave.

2. The girlie factor reached a new peak when I went to a delightful birthday party at MAC cosmetics on Bloor Street. I learned how to do a 'smoky' eye and bought a lot of makeup.

3. Yesterday I watched really cheesy movies on W Network, faux-voed so I didn't have to watch the commercials: One Fine Day and Out of Sight. I think it was George Clooney night or something. Shockingly, they were my best options when Cars is the feature on TMN. And this is the epitome of lazy: the last thing I felt like doing today was bringing movies back to the video store. Who has the time to do that?

4. That was the first night I had actually been home. This week has been crazy: book launches, pilates, dance class, birthday party, more yoga, a bit of shopping. I think I collapsed on the couch and didn't move until I went to bed last night and slept until NOON today. I never do that. Ever.

5. Today I've got a lot of writing work to do but not before I make the house presentable. When all you do is come home, dump your stuff, and go to sleep before heading off to work and/or social events the next day, things start to get out of control. The clothes chair is about to collapse.

6. Apparently, I got things so wrong with my Hot Docs reviews. The Swaziland documentary, Without the King, which was mediocre at best, won a Special Jury Prize. Oops. And the director of Forever, Heddy Honigmann, was given an Outstanding Achievement Award, with her work featured in a retrospective throughout the festival. Even the RRHB who is a huge documentary watcher thought Forever was boring as all get out, but heck, maybe my lesson from all this is that I'm not a documentary reviewer. Who knows? Congratulations to all the winners.

7. I ate a bit of sugar yesterday for the first time since giving it up in February. I honestly thought I might have been on drugs—it was crazy. I'll probably not try that again. I feel so much better when not eating sugar (well, not white sugar, I've been eating maple syrup and all natural sugars), that I'm probably going to stick with it for at least the next few months.

8. I remembered to take my needle. Generally, the RRHB hounds me because I forget and just wouldn't do it. See, I can act like a grown up, I can!

9. Despite all of my efforts, I have managed to save a lot of the television shows we watch together for when he gets back tomorrow night. Even though it's the season finale of 30 Rock, it's still sitting there, waiting for its cherry to be popped and it's taking a lot of will power. Going a week without Liz Lemon, it hurts. It does.

10. Did I mention I slept until NOON today. Absolutely strange. Okay, back to listening to all my music, cleaning the house at my pace and doing a lot of writing this afternoon because I need to get my pages to my mentor by the end of next weekend.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

#30 - The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

Alexander McCall Smith's latest novel in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Series, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, is the Zimbabwe entry on my Around the World in 52 Countries challenge. These days, I kind of feel like Phil Keoghan from The Amazing Race, "this is the latest stop in a race around the world!" Heh.

Annnywaay. With familiar characters, the lead detective Mma Ramotswe, her husband Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, the associate detective/assistant Mma Makutsi, and many others, the story follows the same basic structure as the seven books before it, where the 'mysteries' more like moral lessons. Each character comes to his or her solution in a way that highlights the good characteristics of their personalities, all the while life goes on as normal in the small Botswana agency. As always, the books are more about life in Botswana perhaps, than about the problems the people bring to Mma Ramotswe and her co-workers.

In this particular story, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni discovers that he might like to try being a detective and has a case to himself, and while it doesn't get solved in the traditional sense, a happy ending is found regardless. Reading McCall Smith is like drinking a large glass of lemonade on a hot day, it's sweet, satisfying and never too tart for my liking. Although just like anything sweet in life, it's easy to OD, so I'd take it one book at a time (over the course of a few months, at least) when reading this series, should the magic wear off, because who would want that?

#29 - The Road

Lavish praise aside, Cormac McCarthy's novel felt like a fitting book to read on the cold mornings and early evenings on the way to and from work last week. A bone-chilling story of a man and his son walking the road south in post-apocalyptic America, The Road contains McCarthy's trademark sparse yet rich prose, as well as fitting setting for the this-close-to-the-edge world we inhabit today.

This book scared me. Honestly terrified me. Akin to that feeling I had when in grade school we watched The Day After (seriously, my brother and I both had nightmares after that miniseries, I think we even might have slept in the same bed a couple nights because were were both terrified), my mind could not help but picture the bleak landscape, the frightening feeling of being alone in a world that no longer exists in any way, shape or form like the one I walk out in every day. As I read the novel, it was impossible not to think of what I would do in a similar situation. Would I prepare? How would I prepare? Or would I just feel like my time had come, and let it? Who knows. And I don't think my heart could handle an answer.

Regardless of my own terror, I hopelessly enjoyed the novel. I run hot and cold with McCarthy: I count All the Pretty Horses among one of my all-time favourite American books, right up there with On the Road and Beloved. But so much of his work I just can't read (Blood Meridian); it's too violent, too bloody, despite its obvious literary merit. But this book I couldn't put down, the simple, aching sentences, devoid of complex punctuation and lack of contractual apostrophes pulls you along, page upon page, like the journey the two main characters take themselves, slowly, urgently, foot after foot.

So much of the core skill of McCarthy's talent lies in separating his heroes from society in general. The father and the boy in The Road, while some of the few remaining human beings on Earth, don't fall into the same category as the rogue cannibals they encounter along the way. They 'carry the fire,' refuse to eat their fellow man, woman or child, and are moving south to be closer to the warmth, convinced that there will still be some form of society there to welcome them once they arrive.

A novel as much about survival as it is about the familial relationship between the man and his boy, there are so many elements of The Road that feel so close to the truth, so near to what life would be like should the world as we know it disappear, that it's not unlike Children of Men. What I mean is that it's just so close to being real and it's in that almost-reality that the terror sets in. Even when the novel reveals obvious parallels to Beckett that I can recognize, my overwhelming panic never disappears, even as I approached the last sentence of the last paragraph on the last page.

I hesitate to use words like 'masterpiece' and 'brilliant' for fear of hyperbole, but it's hard not to think in those terms when you finish this book. You ache for their survival toward the end, want to do everything in your power to protect the feeling of love that prospers between the father and his son, and cherish the fact that these very good, very human traits manage to abound in a world covered with ash, dead trees and never-ending fire.

They went through the last of the cars and then walked up the track to the locomotive and climbed up to the catwalk. Rust and scaling paint. They pushed into the cab and he blew away the ash from the engineer's seat and put the boy at the controls. The controls were very simple. Little to do but push the throttle lever forward. He made train noises and diesel horn noises but he wasnt sure what these might mean to the boy. After a while they just looked out through the silted glass to where the track curved away in the waste of weeds. If they saw different worlds what they knew was the same. That the train would sit there slowly decomposing for all eternity and that no train would ever run again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

#28 - The Raw Shark Texts

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for Steven Hall's The Raw Shark Texts. Delightful and charming, Hall speaks with a lovely British accent that sounds Manchester-ish, which always reminds me of Coronation Street. However, I could be getting that totally wrong and making all kinds of assumptions. It's just that he sounds a lot like my old neighbour, Andrew, whose family was from Manchester. Soooo. His speaking voice reminded me of Andrew, which was lovely considering I haven't seen and/or thought of him in a while. It's nice to miss people in that way, without even realizing it, like an echo that sort of bounces off your memory but only when you're within hearing distance.

Annnywaaay.

Before Hall read a very short excerpt (just the first page) he mentioned that he had set out to write a book that had elements for all readers: a love story if that's what you like, a thriller for those readers, maybe a dash of mystery for that crew. All in all, it's quite a mash-up of styles all sewn together with his lovely, literary voice. He also laughed because he said that in every country, except Canada, the book starts off on the first page. Ah, but here, we got to start with the Aquarium fragment (which you can read here if you can figure out the puzzle), which was bound into lovely looking booklets for the party.

I read a review in the Torontoist yesterday that mentioned that maybe the in some ways marketing of the book 'overshadows the text itself.' And it's true that rarely have I seen so much buzz about a book, from packages being stolen off of porches to conceptual shark boats being built in amazing art spaces, alongside the wiki, the puzzle, and high profile bloggers, there's an incredible force of nature surrounding The Raw Shark Texts, and that it's a first novel makes it even more exciting.

But, I'd have to disagree that it takes away from the book at all, I think, because so much of it comes from the spirit of The Raw Shark Texts itself. Every single thing that I've seen and/or read about the novel feels very much akin to the text, which is a hard thing to achieve in this cold, cruel market-infested world.

When Eric Sanderson wakes up one morning with no idea who or where he is, he finds a note from the "First Eric Sanderson," telling him to contact Dr. Randle, who will help him with his condition. From that very first moment, a story of massive proportions, both imaginary and real, is set into motion.

As Second Eric Sanderson (SEC) bumbles through life suffering from a dissociate fugue and attempts to piece his life back together, he discovers he's being chased by a Ludovician, a conceptual shark that feeds on human knowledge. While he races for his life outside of the jaws of the shark, SEC finds fragments of his former self, when he was in love with a beautiful girl who died tragically while they were on vacation in the Greek islands.

See, something for everyone.

Yet, Hall's ability to not only manage the wild and even outrageously imaginative parts of the book remains perfectly clear throughout the novel. Not only is it believable, but it's real, even if the story is perfectly unreal: there's great emotions, high chases, wickedly fun references and post-post references, and lots of fascinating characters, not the least of which is a very adventurous cat named Ian. In addition to the great writing, there are visual aspects of the book (flip shark pages included) that don't seem incongruous and/or like devices. On the whole, The Raw Shark Texts manages to be literary, adventurous, sweet and fascinating all at the same time.

And it's so not the kind of book I would normally read, but I'm very glad I did, even if now before I go to bed, I try not to imagine a conceptual shark under there swimming around in my dreams, eating up my memories, and spitting them back out again.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Monday = Hot Links

I have recovered from my grumpy day yesterday and did manage to see a bit of the sun while cleaning my porch and destroying the burgeoning ant colony on our front stones (which I can't wait to be rid of; both the ants and the stones). And because I'm going to choose not to blog about either book I read, especially not Lipstick Jungle because there's only so much one can say in a positive manner about Candace Bushnell...

Oh, heck, I'm just going to critique one thing, writing cliches is one thing, but constantly calling attention to them by saying, "She knew it was a cliche, but she couldn't think of any other way to describe it...", is just plain lazy. You're a writer, and that's your job: to find another way to describe it. But I digress, and it didn't stop me from reading the entire 400+ pages despite how frustrating I found the novel.

Annnywaay.

A few links for high kicks:

1. Someone at the NY Post is very grumpy about Michael Chabon's new novel. I'm certainly going to read it. Are you?

2. Margaret Atwood writes a touching, beautiful piece about her mother in the Lives Lived section of today's Globe. Catch it now before it goes behind the wall.
(props to Zesty for the link).

3. There's a wonderful essay by Hermione Lee in the NYRB called "Storms Over the Novel," which includes a deliciously catty quote from Heidegger. I will always remember by second-year university class on Existentialism for two reasons: 1. We had a multiple choice exam which saved my ass because I scored near perfect after almost flunking out of the class (it was a hard year for me) and 2. For making me question Heidegger because he was a Nazi. Now I have another reason to always examine his philosophy in context, should it ever come up again in my life: he hated novelists. Heh.

4. Knopf's poem of the day comes from Langston Hughes. It's marvellous. Treat yourself.

5. CBC's Words at Large has a spectacular section on Michael Ondaatje's new novel, Divisadero. Once I finish up with The Road, this book is next on my TBR pile, when my copy arrives, of course! I love, love, love the audio they did in support of the title, and if you've never heard Ondaatje read, you are in for quite a listening experience. Goosebumps people. Goosebumps.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

One Of Those Days

Did you ever have one of those days where despite how beautiful the outside world looks, with the sun shining, and the flowers about to bud, that you just can't make it outside? One of those days where you've read nothing inspiring (Silverwing and Lipstick Jungle, #26, #27), saw an incredibly tragic film (The Wind That Shakes the Barley), and your iTunes keeps playing the saddest songs imaginable ("God Give Me Strength", Elvis Costello)?

Ever have one of those days?

Friday, April 20, 2007

TRH Movie - Hot Docs

So. I'm going to preface this entire rant by saying that I have absolutely nothing against Hot Docs as a festival nor any of the films screening this year -- I'm highly supportive.

BUT.

In order to review some of the Hot Docs screeners for Chart, I had to sign up for a press badge. Usually, I'm thrilled to bits to get a press pass, but because I have no time to actually go to the screenings, I feel bad that I won't be able to make good use of it. There's too much bookish stuff going on next week, plus exercise classes, yeah, you get it.

The real problem is that I have been receiving non-stop spam from festival participants for the last few days for screenings, for parties, for everything and anything. Had I been a REAL journalist, all of these emails might have been worthwhile, even helpful. But for the most part, they're just frustrating.

Regardless, I did screen four of the multitude of movies that are playing until April 29th: Your Mommy Kills Animals, Without the King, Yoga, Inc., and Forever. Full reviews are posted here, should you care. If you are planning on seeing any of the Hot Docs this week, I'm not sure if my recommendations will help or hinder, but here they are anyway:

1. Your Mommy Kills Animals: The story behind radical animal rights activists as compared to their tamer cousins, the animal welfare groups, I found this documentary to be excellent. It's hard not to get emotionally involved in terms of watching footage of dogs being beaten or seeing the poor minks in the cages on their farms, but the documentary goes well behind the issue to present a smart, articulate and fascinating look at many of the groups (like the now imprisoned SHAC 7) the US government considers the greatest homeland terrorist threat.

2. Without the King: A fairly stereotypical documentary about the only absolute monarchy left in Africa, Swaziland, Without the King was actually really disappointing. I'm not a fan of traditional-style documentaries, I think that the art form has evolved so much over the last 20 years that there's no excuse for lazy storytelling. This documentary, more so than the other three, suffered from this -- the subject matter is fascinating; the documentary? Poorly done.

3. Yoga, Inc.: As a practitioner myself, I found this documentary kind of interesting. Again, the traditional 'oh look at this fascinating subject' narrative style annoyed me, as did the little 'chapter headings' that preceded each section; however, there's a lot here. Including a totally awesome bit with the fellow who owns f**k yoga, which I would totally buy a t-shirt from. Especially considering he said something totally awesome: f**k yoga essentially means "f**k Sting" and all of the other H-wood types suddenly into the practice, which made me chuckle. Like I said, I do yoga, and I am totally guilty of much of the commercialization as the next guy. Hell, I shop at Lululemon, but at least this documentary did a good job of exploring the trend from all sides. It was a little history-light, but that's okay.

4. Forever: Quite easily the worst of the 4, it's a meandering, puttering film about the fascinating Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Forever was supposed to be a meditation on the importance of art in life. Yawn. As told through the people who visit the gravestones of really famous artists within the cemetery. Double yawn. When you watch a documentary, not knowing what it's about until 15 minutes in is a sure sign that it has narrative problems. Anyway, I loved all the shots of the cemetery though, and I especially loved a few of the characters she films. One, a group of lovely widows who fled Franco's Spain, and two, a fascinating woman who takes it upon herself to maintain the graves of many of the cemetery's writers. The RRHB and I spent a lovely morning at the cemetery the first time we went to Paris almost three years ago now. And that's exactly what we did: wander around and muse over art, and life, and the dead guys and Edith Piaf, but it's hard to translate that kind of whimsy into an entire documentary. Oh, and the interstitials of the terribly earnest Chopin-adorer playing the piano? Triple yawn.

But maybe I'm too cynical. That could also be the problem.

Anyway. I'm dead excited about seeing a documentary that's screening called Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel (it's actually the only piece of spam I actually paid attention to). It's airing on TVO May 9 and 13 at 10 PM. A look at the gentrification of the Gladstone, one of my neighbourhood's hot spots, and a current literary scene staple, I'm curious to see the story behind the walls.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Best. Prize. Ever.

CBC's delightful Words at Large site is giving away an entire library of poetry books, tying in, obviously to National Poetry Month.

That's 30 books of poetry people.

30 books.

Of poetry.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Austin On The Block

One of the items on my never-ending, life long to-do list is begin collecting art, and this might be a good painting to start with, if I had a spare $800k lying around.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

#26 - Out Of Africa

The romantic notions I had regarding this book stem, obviously, from seeing the film, where I assumed Out of Africa would echo the autobiographical elements of Sydney Pollack's adaptation. For years, I'd wander past it on the shelf and think to myself, 'man, I really do need to read that book,' ashamed, that in six years of studying English, with a focus on post-colonial literature, I had never had the courage to actually conquer Isak Dinesen's work. It was quite a shock, then, to discover how different the book actually is from how I built it up in my imagination.

After almost two months of reading it on and off, I've finally finished the real Out of Africa. Sometimes majestic, sometimes upsetting, sometimes painfully dated, and sometimes downright brilliant, the book is described in the 1001 Books as "perhaps the greatest pastoral elegy of modernism." Telling the story of Dinesen's time running a coffee plantation in the Ngong Hills, it's almost anthropological in much of its intent, and the parts of the book that are so distasteful now, racist even, are contained in her attempts to categorize life in Africa. But the parts of the book that soar are when she's exploring her very real connection to the land, to her farm, to her life as she built it around her. For example, when the book captures her very human emotions, it's some of the most wonderful writing; yet when she attempts to "explain" away Africa to her European counterparts, perhaps her imagined audience, it's almost painful to read it's so offensive.

Yet something makes you hang in there, and there are subjects you almost wish that she released herself, and/or her voice, enough to write freely about: her true feelings toward Denys Finch-Hatton; her absolute heartbreak with the failure of the farm; her obvious anger toward her husband (who gave her syphilis, as we all know from the film). All of these aspects of Dinesen's life are explored in passing, as if she could only express herself when truly looking at the landscape, as if the descriptions of Africa and the farm could somehow intuit how she felt on an emotional level about the rest of her life.

There are so many wonderful passages in the book that it would be impossible to list them all here, and as the Denmark entry in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, I find myself once again confronted with the fact that the author I've chosen has once again transplanted themselves elsewhere to tell the story of an adopted land rather than his/her homeland. Perhaps in the end, it doesn't matter at all where you're from, all that matters is that you find your heart in the place you choose to write about. There's no denying Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) left her heart behind in Africa when she was forced to return to Europe.

My own books I packed up in cases and sat on them, or dined on them. Books in a colony play a different part in your existence from what they do in Europe; there is a whole side of your life which there they are alone take charge of; and on this account, according to their quality, you feel more grateful to them, or more indignant with them, than you will ever do in civilized countries.

...I had consented to give away my possessions one by one, as a kind of ransom for my own life, but by the time that I had nothing left, I myself was the lightest thing of all, for fate to get rid of.

We Have Now Relocated To Vancouver

According to Variety magazine as they review Everything's Gone Green and decide that RRHB's band is 'jangly' and from BC.

Awesome.

Take One Sick Day...

I was off yesterday with a strange virus that has left me nauseous, achy and kind of dizzy. Gotta love the immuno-suppressant meds for allowing your body to pick up every strange bit of something that floats by in the ether. Funny how life just seems to go on without you:

Cormac McCarthy continues to cement his place as the all star in terms of the literary world this year by now winning a Pulitzer Prize, which means I need to bump that book way up on my TBR pile if Oprah, the establishment, and the lit blogging community are all in agreement. Isn't that a prophetic 'stars aligning' kind of situation?

Yann Martel is seriously interested in learning what Stephen Harper is reading. An interesting project considering every single time Bush cracks a book it makes major media waves. (props to Jane at RHC for bringing this one to my attention; Pickle Me This also reported on the new blog)

The world receives a major publishing event in the form of a new Tolkien novel. Here's another smile and nod-type author for me. I've never read a single Tolkien novel in my life even though I loved the movies. Honestly, I tried to read the first book in the trilogy but couldn't get past all the hobbits singing.

CBC.ca/arts reports on all the crazy marketing behind The Raw Shark Texts. I have read this book and will be blogging about it in the upcoming days.

Fingers crossed we're all back on our feet today.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Alissa York Effigy Launch


On Tuesday night, my RRHB and I, along with a bunch of our friends, went to the Toronto launch of Alissa York's Effigy. For the first time in many, many months, I attended a literary event where I hadn't had the pleasure of reading the book first. Usually, it's Zesty and I at these kinds of things, but it was so fun, and I had such a good time that I was triple-upset that we were too late to get into the Michael Ondaatje launch on Friday night—I was looking forward to more literary-inspire good times.

There's no getting around how lovely and friendly Alissa York is—she's smart, charming and utterly fascinating. My favourite thing about Pages's This is Not A Reading Series is the fact that the authors are on stage with another person, sometimes a fellow writer, and sometimes a media personality, another journalist, it all depends on the book. In this case, it was Elizabeth Ruth, and in all honestly, I think the two were perfectly matched. Ruth's questions were smart, probing, and always on topic. It's a hard balance to achieve especially if anyone's been to Harbourfront lately and endured some of the "interviews" they've got going on at that reading series (Zesty, I'm looking at you).

Some of the conversation I pulled out and wrote down was really inspiring, especially considering I admire York's writing (Mercy and Any Given Power, both wonderful, both moody and both delicious) but also because I've got quite a crush on her spirit. One of the more intriguing things that she said had to do with separating the writing mind and the everyday mind. And I think this was a lot of what Gowdy was trying to get at too, aspects of humanity, dark and desperate places, just because your imagination goes there (and bravo that it does) doesn't necessarily mean that she'll go out become a a taxidermist, like one of the characters in Effigy.

It's such a common thing for people to mistake actors for the roles that they play, but people do the same with fiction: they're always plugging through the depths to find the autobiographical elements, when as York points out, that there may be wide gaps between what a writer is thinking and feeling and what he/she is writing.

The other point she made that has stuck with me over the past few days is how when she's writing, her goal is to make people feel things versus simply thinking about them as their passively reading. I can't help it: I feel everything. That's just the kind of person I am, hell, Al Gore's slide show made me a puddle for days afterwards, and the key to a great book in my mind is its heartbreak factor. All in all, it was a bloody brilliant evening.

Friday, April 13, 2007

#25 - Hallucinating Foucault

I've been wanting to write about this book all day. Last night I was about 20 pages from finishing but I was so tired after my new dance class (I'm taking a Thursday night class at the School of the Toronto Dance Theatre; it's just a beginner class, but it's perfect for me right now), that I finished it on the subway ride to Writer's Group tonight. I hate that, leaving 10 or 20 pages to the next day instead of finishing a book, but sometimes your body just says that's enough reading for now.

So, Patricia Duncker. She's my born-in-Jamaica author, but according to the most basic Google search, Duncker now lives and teaches in the UK. Again, the theme of authors no longer living in their homelands comes up in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge. I guess, in a way, I'm not really reading as many countries as I imagined I would, trying to balance the 1001 Books list (page 856) and my quest to broaden my reading base, but I have I've ended up reading a lot of good books by authors writing about Europe and/or the States. Mainly, I haven't spent as much time trapped in the lovely and deliciously wonderful world of Can Lit, and that's actually okay.

(Oddly, I've been reading a lot of novels, like this one, set in Paris and in France, which makes me think the world is trying to tell me something...like it might be time to book a ticket or something?).

Regardless, Hallucinating Foucault brought up a lot of memories of undergraduate and graduate school. The book tells the story of a young man working on a thesis of an imaginary French writer named Paul Michel, who has been institutionalized and utterly forgotten by the establishment. After a particularly intense affair with a young woman called The Germanist, he sets out to save his idol from utter decay in a psychiatric institution.

The title comes from Michel's relationship with the French philosopher, who is described by the author himself as his perfect "reader." Intertwining all kinds of post-modern themes with a very basic coming of age story, Duncker's prose remains sharp throughout. In fact, I'd like to note that the epistolary aspects of the novel,the letters between the novelist and the philosopher that the student uncovers while in France are especially lovely.

The story is very much about the insular life of a student studying for an advanced degree. Not unlike Possession but without the Victorian overtones (Byatt even blurbs the book), Hallucinating Foucault has a central literary mystery to solve: why did Michel stop publishing books? And is he really, truly crazy? Part love story, part philosophical tribute to the work of Foucault, it's a short, intense novel that I feel lucky to have discovered.

However, it's told me nothing of life in Jamaica. I have to admit that I would have much preferred to read Michelle Cliff, oh how I loved No Telephone to Heaven, but my challenge isn't about re-reading books I already know I like, but about finding gems I never would have noticed had it not been for a little guidance.

My favourite quote is from one of the letters that Michel has sent Foucault:
My writing is a craft, like carpentry, coffin-building, making jewelry, constructing the walls. You cannot forget how it is done. You can adjust, remake, rebuild what is fragile, slipshod, unstable. ...You can say anything, anything, if it is beautifully said.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Local Ontario Tomato"

Well, our experiment with Green Earth Organics was a bust. In the three weeks we used the service we ended up with tomatoes from Mexico, oranges from California and apples from British Columbia. So much for local food from local farmers. We're just going to have to make more of an effort to use the local farmers market, unfortunately for us, it's only open on Thursdays, and then, only until 7 PM, which is early in a day and age where I barely leave the office before 6 PM.

Anyway, while doing research for "local ontario tomato" for something I'm writing for work, I was shocked to see the Google results. And disheartened that so few people are searching for local foods that the first optimized result is an official government document of a sort decreeing that there shall be a local board to deal with how to market Ontario tomato seedlings, but nothing at all as per where you can buy them, what kind of tomatoes people are growing, or even practical information about growing tomatoes in Ontario. Maybe I did the wrong search?

#24 - American Youth


Prior to writing a review of this book, I'm going to take a moment and note the passing of Kurt Vonnegut. I will forever add him to the list of authors that I smile and nod in response when he comes up in casual conversation. I've never read a Vonnegut novel, and even though there are a few on the 1001 Books list, I'm pretty sure it might take years for me to get to them. In fact, over the course of entire educational career (high school, two lit degrees), I was supposed to have read Slaughterhouse-Five, at least four times, and I avoided it like the plague. And it's a shame that so much of the context of Vonnegut's later life got caught up in that awful email forward that claimed he had just done a commencement address at MIT.

Annnywaaay. As I'm ever trying to find aspects that actually relate to one another during these blog posts, I think that Phil LaMarche's American Youth, which I read in ARC format in Cuba (see photo), is kind of a fitting book to talk about on the day of Vonnegut's death. Not to relate the iconic status of Vonnegut to LaMarche in any way, but rather to suggest the themes highlighted in some of the former's outspoken politics can be found bouncing around the novel, as American Youth tells the story of a young man whose life changes irreversibly after a gun accident in his home.

With it's overtones of American History X, and the right-winged dogged politics that swell underneath like silt in the ocean, American Youth is very much a compelling coming of age story in a time where you're already expected to have grown up before adolescence if only to regress for the next 20 years (how many times have I heard 40 is the new 30 over the last few days? Too many). The unnamed narrator (from what I can remember) and the cold, removed voice were almost too affected for me as a reader, but the heart of this book, the story of a boy so lost after a tragedy with no clear way of making his way back, rang true.

I'll say one thing for sure, it was quite an odd book to be reading on a beach chair on Cuba.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Stop. Drop. Panic.

There's so much going on right now I feel like I haven't had a chance just to sit back and take a deep breath. Tonight was my first Pilates Fusion class in two weeks (I missed last week because I was away) and it hurt. Pilates is a funny kind of exercise, during the class, when you're lying on the mat, it doesn't feel like you're doing a lot, but don't go for a week and then see how much it hurts the next day.

And I think it's kind of metaphoric for everything that's happening. Real life barrels on by and I've got so much to update: one author reading, two more books, band widow plans, our visit to the tax lady, writing work, work-work, but I feel like I can't even spare the few minutes to share even the smallest insight into where my head is these days.

A couple of things:

1. It's really annoying to get addicted to an awful show (ahem, The Black Donnellys) and have NBC cancel the show, air the final episodes online and then BLOCK you becauase you happen to live in the .ca.

2. Jennifer Lopez is on American Idol. Do you think she would have done that three years ago during the height of her so-called explosion?

3. It's possible to be so busy during the day that you don't even have time to go to the bathroom. It's possible. But so not practical.

4. The tailbone? Still. Hurts.

5. How can a brand new work computer just stop sending out sound? It was like it just didn't want to play that last track on Balanced on a Pin and decided to be mute. Perhaps it didn't like the Helen Keller quip I had sent around on work email and wanted to teach me a lesson. I have quite come to depend on CBC Radio 2 to keep my mind quiet at work; it was very noisy today. As a result, I'm wildly panicked and feeling kind of overwhelmed.

6. It takes an old friend to point out the obvious. My RRHB had lunch with a friend who moved away and noted, "Ragdoll really likes her new job and you're getting a lot done on the house. Sounds like things are going well for you guys."

7. Life After Tomorrow is AWESOME.

8. Facebook has become my new sugar...

9. Is anyone else as tired as I am with the fact that the various Law & Orders keep cribbing storylines from one another (creepy religious guy, rap-world murder, shocking plot twists).

10. I miss the movies.

Monday, April 09, 2007

#23 - Good Morning, Midnight

I’ve been listening to Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, one of the girls in the car up to conference brought it along, and it’s lovely, aching, heartfelt, broken, all the things a good record should be (there are a couple of songs that are just okay but for the most part, the whole album is really crisp). And I just finished reading Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys. For some reason, the two fit so well together, the lonely, rough voice of Amy’s music echoes exceptionally well the narrative voice of Sophia Jansen, the protagonist of this strange little novel.

Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea, which is one of my favourite books, and I’ve also read Voyage in the Dark, but years ago, so it's not as fresh as the latter, which I've read three or four times in my lifetime now. But this novel isn't as coherent as the other two, Good Morning, Midnight's stream of consciousness narrative is hard to follow sometimes; it's as confused, pained and as troubled as the narrator herself.

Faintly the story of a struggling single girl who has escaped a tragedy only to attempt and drink herself to death, there's little in Paris for Sophia (or sometimes Sasha) beyond the cafes and the chicken scratches of an everyday existence to keep her alive. Abandoned by life itself, she wanders through the days in a wine-soaked state and drowns her dreams in Luminol in the evenings. Profoundly sorrowful, Rhys's novel vacillates between the utter beauty of modernism and a very true feeling of drowing. French inter-mixed with English, past mingled with present, real life confused with the stuff of dreams, it's hard not to ache when following Sophia stumbling down the street or listening to her rant hysterically to the men who become her companions.

As with all the books I read in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, a trend seems to be evolving, where displaced (or replaced, or happily emigrated?) authors tell stories not of their native land (in Rhys's case, Dominica) but of their adopted homelands or even of places wild in their own imaginations. The setting for this novel is post-First World War Paris, just before the onslaught of the next devastating conflict. There's evidence of many displaced persons within the book, refugees from life like Sophia herself, who find themselves all searching for money and acceptance. But all in all it's the ache in Rhys's writing that holds me tight in my place, her delicate way of describing situations, and her flighty use of metaphor, which makes me want to give up writing all together, find a bottle and romantically walk the streets of Paris wearing chunky heels and a new coat, and then fall into a shabby hotel only to wake up the next day and do it all over again.

Wholly deserving being found on page 402 of my 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Fully captured in the feeling of heartbreak and ideal reading on the plane ride to Paris.

There's a bookshop next door, which advertises second-hand English novel. The assistant is Hindu. I want a long, calm book about people with large incomes - a book like a flat green meadow and the sheep feeding in it. But he insists on selling me lurid stories of the white-slave traffic. 'This is a very good book, very beautiful, most true.'

Oh Girl...

You are quite a contradiction: with your 7 For All Mankinds, your Louis Vuitton bag with its Dolce & Gabbana scarf tied so carelessly around the shoulder strap, as if to say, 'it's okay, I can afford if it gets ruined by the April snow,' worrying, always about what people think...and then heading into Popeye's Chicken on Yonge Street.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Random Comments From My Work Conference

Enter Ragdoll dressed as well as can be expected for a chubby girl taking lots of disease medicine that's making her very well indeed. I mean it may be keeping her alive but it's certainly pulling her out of the pretty club faster than you can say Fat Actress.

She nervously stands looking shockingly out of place beside an empty table and sits down, joined by not one, but two very important men. What does she say to them? Oh, in no order of embarrassment she babbles on about cottages, work boyfriends, and her RRHB's exploits in Saskatchewan where, apparently, the hottest women in Canada live.

In fact, she actually reenacted the scene from Austin Powers, it was the coup de gras: he'd say something about snow; I'd zip it and use the sassy hand move. "Sn--" [Sassy hand gesture} "Zip it!" Stop. Turn purple with embarrassment. Repeat. Are these not the stages of complete and utter corporate exposure. Has she turned into Bridget Jones (there were few embarrassing speeches and only one fellow who somewhat resembled Mark Darcy)?

Oh.

Look.

There's snow in April.

She thinks the zip it was most certainly vindicated.

A-hem.

Earlier in the week, an author we're publishing came to visit. I told him I was realy looking forward to reading his book (it's a non-fiction title a topic close to my heart).

I said, "I can't wait to read your book, my great-grandfather fought with the American company during that war, the one with William Faulkner."

"Oh yes," the author says, "it was such and such..."

And then someome piped up, "That would make a great novel."

Yes, yes it would, and it's something I've been thinking about for about three years now. Anyone want to publish it? I promise it'll be good. Will anyone remember that pitch in the beginning of the morning...probably not. But it's cool.

Now that it's over I have very few regrets. I work with lovely, lovely people, some of whom I think I'll have a grand time with over the next few years on some really fantastic projects. All in all, despite my nerves, despite my utter feeling of awkwardness and geekiness. Despite feeling out of place and scared most of the time, it's over, and it's only going to get better from here. And for the first time in many, many, many years, I'm truly excited about going into to work every day.

I have one more thing to say. It's to the very important person who sat beside me at dinner that night: thank you for not only making me feel lovely, but for saying so out loud. It really was fun. The best night of my conference.

But in spite of being nervous in front of very powerful people, and as someone very wise with whom I work said to me: "Relax, Ragdoll, This is just your life now."

And I think I'm going to enjoy it.

[They] Are The Champions

How often is it that the lit blog community and Oprah Winfrey agree on anything? Well, there was that whole James Frey thing but let's set that aside for a moment. Is it coincidence that the Tournament of Books picked The Road just as Oprah announced her latest book club? Entirely.

But does it send out meta-tastic ironic vibes that us lit bloggers (and yes, I'm being generous and including myself in the the group) actually know what we're talking about most of the time?

Shocking, I know.

Hell, you know what I'm most looking forward to, and I hate to be catty but, again, it's late, I'm tired, are all the strange blog posts from the shiny happy people who usually read the Oprah book pick looking for something other than the utterly brillian Cormac McCarthy. And damn that I haven't read that book yet considering I was going to pick it as my US entry for Around the World in 52 Books and slipped in The Emperor's Children in it's place. I might honestly get the RRHB to blog about it in my place as he devoured that novel in an afternoon last summer up at the cottage.

(High fives to BGB for the linkage)

Classic Starts In Vietnam?

I wonder if our Classic Starts titles were included in any of the books that were sold to Vietnam? That would be so cool.

Green Colonialism

I'm not sure if this term has been coined before, but there's an article in Slate about how the WSJ profiles a Swedish multimillionaire who has bought up 700,000 acres of Brazilian forest; his altruistic intentions have been thus criticized as 'green colonialism'.

Really? My first thought is to sprout off all kinds of arguments against using the idea of colonialism in this way but I have to admit that it does need some more thought before I put my foot in my mouth.

Poem For Today

It's Poetry Month and Knopf US sends out poem-a-day emails. Today's selection is by Anna Akhmatova, "The door is half open..."

The poem is almost 100 years old at this point, and still, the metaphor of the door being half open, despite perhaps becoming cliched if we were to write it today, still resonates simply because of the gorgeous three lines that follow it. It's the perfect example of how writing can always contextualize itself in even small places.

I'm fascinated by Ahkmatova, and I've had a giant biography sitting on my TBR pile for almost two years now. I'd like to say that I'll get to it soon but with 1001 Books and other challenges, I think that it might be years still before it works up in the ranks.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Laurie David Just Told Me To Stop Using Kleenex

I'm just putting this out there, take it or leave it as you will, but I'll probably stop buying Kleenex-brand products. I've been thinking about using hankies anyway...

#22 - April in Paris

I'm glad to be back from conference—it was a long week. Since I haven't read anything new, I'm really happy that Michael Wallner's April in Paris has finally been published. The German entry in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, I finished this novel while we were on vacation in Cuba. It's not saying much, considering how awful certain parts of that trip were (ahem, the hotels), that I preferred to be reading rather than watching yet another Dirty Jobs marathon on one of the two illegal American television stations in our room at night.

Anywaaay, behind-the-scenes reading aside, I really enjoyed this novel. It's captivating and engaging without being overly wordy (it's a relatively short 256 pages). Set in Paris during the Second World War, April in Paris tells the story of Michel Roth, a German soldier stationed in French capital who falls in love with Chantal, a resistance fighter.

Roth speaks impeccable French, and his post in the German army is that of an interpreter. Knowing that he could be charged with treason or worse, he sneaks out at night in a white suit, changing in bombed-out Parisian buildings, and walks the city, long to pass for anything other than the enemy. On one of his walks, he sees Chantal, and begins to follow her. She resists him at first, doesn't trust his perfect French, his made-up story, and as the truth comes out, on both sides, they do fall in love.

When a tragic act of the French Resistance finds them out in many different ways, the inevitable reality of the war breaks apart any chance they might have had, in other circumstances, to be together. There's an aspect of a good thriller in this novel, and Michel is a thoroughly sympathetic character, despite the fact that he was an officer in the German army. In a sense, the novel reminded me of that one scene in Band of Brothers where the Germans were singing across the line on Christmas Eve, about how despite the politics and the absolutely evil actions of the company of men in charge of Michel's existence, he's still human. He still has feelings; he still has a story worth telling, worth hearing.

The setting, occupied Paris, evokes such powerful images, and similar to Nemirovsky, but without the overtones of her giant Russian-like writing style, Wallner's novel brings the time alive through his sharp prose and tight narrative. And not to be unbearably cliched, but the ultimate tragedy of the situation is Shakespearean and completely doomed from the beginning, which somehow makes the story utterly satisfying.