Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Thought Process

Catch a glimpse of Faith Hill and Tim McGraw on the cover of a Toronto newspaper this morning on my way in to work.

Think, "Wow, what a cheesy photo."

And then, "Wow, they've been married a long time."

Remember the freak out Faith Hill had a the Grammy's last year that was splattered all over the inter web.

Get "Jesus Take The Wheel" stuck in my head for the entire ride in.

Sigh.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mercury In Retrograde

After having a sh*t day that involved getting raked over the coals in the bank this afternoon trying to find some funding for our home renovations, a lovely lady in my office said: "Don't do anything with money this week—mercury is in retrograde."

Good advice.

But does it fark with all other elements in the universe too? Because this weekend, the RRHB and I went out on Saturday to Canadian Tire to supe up my bike with some fancy, but inexpensive gadgets. I got a lovely gel pad for my seat and a new rack for the back that holds some new pannier bags. All good.

So I take my pimped up bike to work this morning and lock it up outside where I normally do, by the reference library, which is far enough away from Yonge and Bloor to ensure that it should be safe from harm. Or so you would think.

Because when I went outside after work today, after my crap-ass day, I discovered someone had stolen my seat.

So I cried.

And then rode, seatless, which I'm saying is not easy, to the nearest bike store on Harbord only to be treated like I'm less than human for inquiring about seats, and then promptly leaving to ride further, again, with nothing to rest my ample ass on, until I came to The Bike Joint.

Ah, what saviours.

Not only did they fix my seat but they also replaced the 'quick release' (which I didn't even know I had) with a bolt. Now it's not as easy to steal the seat in the first place. But what's even better, was that when I discovered they didn't take my credit card, I paid half the bill with what money I had and will deliver the rest to him on my way home tomorrow.

And he even said, "I would have trusted you for the whole amount."

I cried first out of frustration for my bad day, and then when I discovered that some jackass needed my new gel cap so much that they stole the ENTIRE seat, but when I finally landed in tears on the concrete steps of The Bike Joint and discovered plain, old kindness, I dried my eyes and carried on my merry little way to come home and complain about it all over again on the inter web.

So why punish the bikers? Seriously, I would have given the person who stole my seat, happily, the $20.00-odd dollars it was worth, if only they had left my bike in tact.

Jackasses.

Author Vids In The House

Two very bright artists talk about their work in these videos: Steven Hall and Barbara Gowdy. Thought I'd share here too.



Facelift

So yesterday I decided to pick a new template for the blog as I got kind of sick of the plain Jane one I originally launched with all those many, many months ago. But I'm still not 100% convinced I like this one either. And I noticed that I picked the same one as Kate's Book Blog, which was unintentional, of course, but I'm giving her props anyway for working the template to the best of its ability over there. Gosh, I love her blog.

Annnywaaay. I've been toying with the idea of late of migrating everything over to Typepad and paying for the blog just to be able to use a slightly better behind the scenes system. Who knows. The summer's so busy so far that by the time I actually get around to customizing a look and feel, the internet might have blown up.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

#43 - A Thousand Splendid Suns


Khaled Hosseini's new novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, takes its name from a poem by a 17th century Persian poet Saeb-e-Tabrizi, and focuses on the life stories of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila. The lives of both women, despite their very different beginnings, are fraught with tragedy, oppression, dignity and finally redemption throughout the almost 400 pages of this book.

Mariam, the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man from Herat, lives in a poor kolba, a roughshod mud hut outside of town with her mother. The product of an affair between her mother, a housekeeper, and her father, who comes to visit once a week, Mariam grows up with the stigma of being a harami. Her father is ashamed of her and her mother, to an extent, resents her presence, despite the keening kind of love she feel for her daughter. After the death of her mother, Mariam is sent by her father's many wives to Kabul, where she's forced to marry the brutish, and much older, Rasheed. Their union is not a happy one. For one thing, Mariam is a teenager, and her new 'husband' is not only much older, but much more strict. He expects Mariam to be a proper wife, wear a birka, and be obedient.

Years pass, and the marriage between Rasheed and Mariam deteriorates, but by this time, Hosseini has introduced the novel's other main character: Laila. A beautiful, blonde-haired, light-eyed girl, Laila's family dotes on her, and she's raised by a dutiful father who feels that everything in life stems from having an education. Laila, of course, excels at the top of her class. And then, as the Soviet regime ends, and the country collapses once again, bombs fall around Laila's life, pulling away her dearest friend Tariq, and destroying as much of her world as she could touch by spreading her arms out beside her.

The lives of these two women, who live as neighbours in Kabul, are set against these types of incidents, as the war-torn history of Afghanistan plays out in an extremely personal way. Rasheed takes centre-stage again, now husband to Mariam and Laila, and the two women slowly learn to navigate their lives around his brutish, slavenly behaviour.

A Thousand Splendid Suns isn't as strong a novel as The Kite Runner and a number of parts feel forced. But like in The Kite Runner, there are serious elements in this book that build nicely from beginning to end. As the Afghanistan stop in my Around the World in 52 Countries, it's a worthy novel just for giving me an inside look at life in a war-torn country. But without the central essence say found in the main characters of a book like Camilla Gibb's exquisite Sweetness in the Belly, the first two-thirds of A Thousand Splendid Suns lacks in emotional depth or understanding, especially in the context of the women's lives.

In a sense, to sweep the broad swath of history from 1964 until the years just after 9/11, Hosseini gives up some of Laila and Mariam's own stories, and fits them into the major events that changed the country's landscape. I'm not suggesting that's a bad thing nor is this a bad book, not by any means, and the ending is particularly wonderful and has magical, even redemptive qualities, but it all feels kind of Hollywood. It feels like the book set out to prove to the rest of the world how awful life was for those women, and while it achieves that goal, I think it would have been even more effective had it not lacked a certain something when it came to their characterization. To an extent, I feel like Hosseini himself sacrificed these women in order to get his own point across, despite his obvious respect and admiration for both Mariam and Laila. But even despite my criticism, I really did enjoy reading this novel. And boy am I happy to at least be able to cross off one more country; it's a just such a treat to keep my challenge alive.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I read the last 100 or so pages of the book this morning in bed while my RRHB slept after his show in Brantford last night. You can see the tail of the cat who kindly took up my position after I left. He's keeping the home fires burning. And he's a good excuse not to make the bed, just yet.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Spell With Flickr

Various sites have gotten here first, so I'm cribbing from them (Kate, Lotus) but it's so fun:

M kill b-Y-ll T R A G i for information C R I G h T H I P

Edited to add that I'm particularly fond of the "H".

#42 - Run

Ann Patchett's latest novel, Run, isn't coming out until October, which places me a bit between a rock and a hard place in terms of writing about it, because I think this is one of the books I'll be recommending full-on this fall. And I want to tell everyone to go out and read it right now, but it's not in stores. Regardless, it's the best American novel I've read in ages, if not the best book I've read over the last few months. Trust me: it's that good.

Set on a snowy day in Boston, probably in the same neighbourhood that was home to Jack Madigan's crumbling Town House, Run follows a 24-hour period in the lives of the Doyle family. Doyle Sr., a former mayor, has raised his two adoptive sons, Tip and Teddy, by himself since they were young and their mother died from throat cancer. An older brother, Sullivan, returns to the fold on the very day all of the events in the novel take place; he was exorcising his own demons in Africa.

The mixed races within the Doyle family (white father, white older brother, black, adoptive sons), has always been a fact, but never truly an issue until the day that Tip, the middle son, finds himself on the wrong side of a road all whited-out from the snow. If it were not for a mysterious woman pushing him out of the way of an oncoming SUV, getting dangerously hurt herself in the process, Tip would have died from his injuries (a broken ankle). The woman's 11-year-old daughter Kenya stands by and witnesses the entire accident, and when it's obvious that she has no one to call and no where to go, she comes back to stay with Doyle and the rest of his family until her mother is well enough to go home.

While Tennessee fights for her life in the hospital, requiring further surgeries and more medical attention, the Doyles come to terms with the fact that all is not quite as it seems. Essentially, sometimes a coincidence is more then just chance, and in this book, it's plain fate. Patchett's ultimate skill as a novelist rolls out all over this novel as she unveils, slowly, how the character's lives are intertwined. There's a lovely other-worldly aspect to the book too, in the form of Teddy's favourite uncle Sullivan, an aging priest who has healing abilities within his hands. Issues of race, of class, of education, of the importance of family, of motherless sons, of politics, are explored but never with the hammer-over-the-head mentality you might see if this was a movie of the week, but with spirit and empathy, with love and adoration, and with integrity and hope.

Also, it's a bloody good thing that Patchett knows how to hold together a narrative. She has a skill for swapping point of view all over the chapters, sometimes within pages, and yet I never felt adrift. Her voice, from character to character, is so strong that you never get lost, and instead find yourself drawn even further into the story as the book moves along. Sometimes she uses sentence structure to intimate a change, sometimes it's voice and dialogue, but you never feel like she's forced herself into the head of a character where she shouldn't—because so much of Run just reads right (if that makes any sense).

My goodness when I finished this book I bawled like a baby. I stayed for an extra half-hour at work last night just to finish it so I could ride home thinking about it. There are so many quotable passages, but as I don't have a photo in context for this particular book because I forgot my camera at home, I am going to leave you with these words instead:

The present life was only a matter of how things had stacked together in the past, and all Kenya knew for sure was that if she had the chance to hand over everything she had now in order to regain what was lost there would be no words for how fast she would open up her hands.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Girl With High Cholesterol

So, I saw the kidney doctor on Friday for my bi-annual (yay!) check up. All my blood tests look great, and my creatinine is holding at 110-112-115, which is high, but stable, and the doctor is pleased. But he tested my cholesterol and it's high, which could cause a problem because youngish people like me with auto-immune diseases are apparently at a greater risk for heart disease.

So I said, "What do you recommend?"

He answered, "Well, we'd tell people to stop eating so much red meat and fried foods, and to control their drinking."

Considering a) I've been a vegetarian since I was 14 and b) I drink once a month at the most, figuring out where the high cholesterol is coming from is a bit tricky. It could be my diet, it could be genetics, it could be anything. What's even odder is the fact that my blood pressure is perfect, so he doesn't even have that test to go by.

Funny how I can't go a single doctor visit without something! But in the scheme of things, it's a pretty common test result, and maybe it just means I might have to alter my diet more than usual. No more muffins. God, I LOVE muffins. Anyway, he's sending me to a dietician. Who will tell me to eat more vegetables. I mean it's not like I don't know how to eat; it's just a matter of finding the energy to be more organized about it all. Therein lies the challenge.

For once it might not be the disease causing the wonky test results: it could be age-old genetics. Now that is something new.

#41 - Effigy

Weeks have passed since I started reading Alissa York's intense new book Effigy. Set on a Mormon (who like to be referred to as 'Saints') ranch in the middle of the last century, Effigy is a stunning book that explores life for the Hammer family after the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. A diverse group of people in a plural family, Brother Hammer and his four wives, his multiple children, and the hired hands (an Indian tracker named, well, Tracker, and Bendy, who takes care of the animals) live in Utah on a gorgeous plot of land where they raise horses.

Keen on hunting and going blind, Hammer relies upon the Tracker to help him with his kills. His first wife, Ursula, rules the household; his second, Ruth, has a colony of silk worms that demand her attention; Thankful remains barren, but holds all the others somewhat hostage when it comes to Hammer's lustful appetite; and Dorrie, or Sister Eudora, his youngest wife, was married for her hands alone, for it's her skill he covets: she's a taxidermist. And all Hammer's concerned about is keeping his kills alive, in a way, for all to see.

Effigy remains a complex novel throughout, with York's skill as a writer glaringly apparent at each turn: nothing is necessarily as it appears, and the story-behind-the-story with each of these characters pulls you in chapter after chapter. Rich with historical facts and with York's attention to detail, especially around Dorrie and her particular skills, the novel seems to take on a life of its own that's sort of akin to watching Deadwood, but not as foul-mouthed, obviously. As a reader, you're absorbed by the time and the place here, and I appreciated that over the last few weeks.

In some places I felt as though the story sort of got away from the author, but it was never enough to make me put the book down, just the opposite in fact. It's a broad novel, one that takes patience and understanding, and I for one appreciate being made to work a bit harder by a writer. All in all, I'd highly recommend this book, I loved Mercy so much and I'm glad to see York ever-expanding her already great skills as a novelist with Effigy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Yoga Made Me Cry

For the past couple weeks my life has been so busy that I've felt like I might crack in two. Weekends spent with not one, not two, but sometimes three and four social commitments; work days crammed full of meetings, lunches and actual work; evenings filled with chores, classes, homework, writing, and sometimes abridging, I feel outside myself these days because I'm not used to the frenetic pace of it all. Even with catching that bad cold a couple weeks ago, my life refused to slow down, with the sickness sort of evaporating itself up inside another busy day complete with brain fog instead of real rest.

And then last night I kind of had a break through. I was at my Pilates Fusion class, a combination of pilates and yoga taught through Liberty-Movement Studio in Liberty Village. Over the last two weeks it's just been me in my class, so I've been getting somewhat private lessons from Elle, who is a magnificent teacher. She tailored the workout to me, with a lot of hip-openers, to try and get at the permanent problems with my tragic hip, and wow, did we ever hit a nerve. I started to cry. In class. While lunging. Sniffling like a baby. Tears. Rolling down my face. Elle said it was because muscles have memory, and they were releasing their scar tissue. But goodness, it was a freeing kind of feeling, as if my body, little by little, with the biking, the pilates, the yoga, the dancing, is finally recognizing the toll the disease has taken and decided to let it all go in one big breath last night.

Regardless, I'm calmer today. I'm letting the quickness of it all kind of wash over me and work through my to-do lists carefully, with as little stress as possible. And will ride my bike slowly home tonight after dance class as if I don't have a care in the world. I'm frustrated, still, that I can't lose any weight, but I'm guessing that it's probably just another thing my body doesn't want to let go, hanging on to the disease for dear life because it's existed in that state for so many years, it just doesn't know how else to be.

But I'm slowly learning that change doesn't happen overnight as much as I'd like it to. Funny how it doesn't take long at all to contemplate change, to even make the decision to change, but it takes a hell of a long time to put your thoughts into actions and actually see the results.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Book Expo Canada

After a whirlwind few days, the dust has settled, all the booths are now packed away, and this year's Book Expo Canada (BEC) is over. We were so busy in our own booth that I barely managed to find the time to walk the show floor. Personally, this was my favourite of all the expos I've attended, even though last year I met Kim Cattrall, and the year before that had a funny signing experience with Michael Winter. My one disappointment was not having time to go and introduce myself properly to Chantal Simmons, who signed on Sunday, right when our booth was cracking with appearances by Clive Barker (who is AMAZING), Susan Juby and James Rollins.

But the trade show proper aside, what I really want to talk about today is the now-annual online conference presented in part by Humber College called Devices and Desires. Despite some fairly interesting speakers, including the two Terrys (McBride and O'Reilly), and an exceptional presentation about Web 2.0 by Wayne MacPhail, which included real-world examples from the book universe, including our wiki, I found much of the conference both tiresome and uninspiring.

I think the trouble might be that much of the conference isn't geared to people like me who work for books online already. And it's hard, especially, to sit through question after question from people who either a) don't respect blogs (Mary Lou Finlay, I'm looking at you) or b) are still labouring under the notion that blogging, facebook, delicious, flickr, myspace, etc., are simply passing fancies. My favourite part of Terry McBride's very down-to-earth panel participation, was when he tried to make the point clear that you can't legislate behaviour, you can only adapt, and if you don't, you'll become obscure or obsolete.

Having worked on or around the internet for the better part of a decade now, I can see that this simple piece of advice shows his own innate business acumen in a way. The music industry has been hit hard and, to an extent, books haven't been hit the same way. Quite the opposite, I would argue. By discrediting or not opening yourself up to the world of books online, again, Mary Lou Finlay, I'm looking at you, you're closing yourself off to a world of intelligent, readerly, writerly people who have now found the space to expound, in many ways, about the words closest to their hearts. And not even 24 hours later were my thoughts about all of this confirmed when I sat down with a bunch of Toronto book bloggers for a lovely afternoon of chatting about books, blogs, authors, families, husbands, boyfriends, libraries and more books. It was a brilliant afternoon which made the previous day's conference seem even more redundant in terms of my actual real-life experience in the virtual world.

So much of what I hear at conferences like Devices and Desires stems from fear: fear about antiquated ideas of proprietary content, fear of changing tradition ways of doing business, fear of putting opinions out there that might rock the boat in terms of the book world. But mainly it's hard when all kinds of people get up there and spout on about the problems without necessarily taking the time to investigate any kind of solution (Wayne MacPhail being the obvious exception to that statement).

Anyway, fingers crossed I get to skip the conference next year.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Well, I'll Be Monkey's Uncle

I'm quoted in the freaking LA Times online. Um, that's one for Snag-It for sure.

High-larious.

(To borrow a term from an editor friend of mine).

Well, perhaps a shout-out is more accurate, but fascinating anyway.

Between that and the traffic coming from people searching out Rebecca Eckler, it's been an exciting couple of days here on TRH.

Interview With Claire Cameron

We've started a really fun group in Facebook, "HarperCollins Canada - The Reading Group," and part of the added-value content that we've been doing around our chosen books is author interviews. I really enjoyed the one I did with first-time novelist Claire Cameron and thought I'd reproduce it here for those of you either not interested in Facebook or not too keen on social media but booklovers all the same.

Posted verbatim from Facebook:

Claire Cameron answers some of my burning questions—all of which are safe to read even if you haven’t finished the novel—there are no spoilers. And if you know me, you know how hard that is for me to accomplish, as I am usually the one who gives away the ending without even realizing what she’s done.

Regardless, Claire’s poured her heart out both on paper and here for us all. So without further ado read along for the Q&A between me and author Claire Cameron.

1. Which grew first in your imagination when you came to write The Line Painter: the characters or the premise for the novel?

I had a picture in my mind of an unconscious woman lying on her back on the shoulder of the highway with one leg over the yellow line. Then I got the idea of a line painter driving up and having to stop to move her leg. From there, I developed the characters: a woman who had been through a recent traumatic experience and an pig-headed line painter.

The story didn't really end up that way, but the premise came from the tension between the two characters as a result of that first image in my head.

2. What would you say is your favourite part of the writing experience? Which is your least favourite?

I have these moments when I'm writing where I feel like a rock star. Something clicks into place, or I get a scene just right, and I get this surge of adrenaline. I can almost hear the crowd. A roar rises up as the fans stomp and shout for more. The chanting reverberates and the sound and the lights wash over me. Except, they don't. It's actually quiet enough to hear a pin drop and I'm alone, in my pj's, my hair in a knot and a stale coffee cup at my side. But whatever, it still feels good.

My least favourite thing is the neurosis. There are ample opportunities for a writer to worry—I'll get rejected, I got rejected, my agent is going to dump me, my publisher won't take my next book, I'll get ignored by the press, I'll get attention from the press for the wrong reasons, I've peaked, I'm washed up, the best days are behind me, etc.

The thing to realize is that most of these things are fairly real possibilities on any given day. Seriously.

3. The landscape, and especially Hearst, is an important part of the novel. Did you set out to write a story about a road trip in particular or did the importance of the landscape simply evolve as the novel evolved?

I was living in London UK while I was writing this book. I love London, but it is crowded and I never got used to it. This one day I was coming up from the tube in Piccadilly Circus and I got caught in a human traffic jam. It was bumper-to-bumper bodies. I remember looking up at the sky, all I could move was my neck because I was wedged so tight against the other people, and thinking about the amount of open space in Northern Ontario. Even though Toronto is crowded too, growing up there I took comfort in the open space of the north. That's when I got the idea of wanting to run away to the north.

All this to say, the landscape and the themes evolved together. They were intricately tied from the start.

4. Was it hard to balance the physical journey with the emotional journey that Carrie takes in the novel? Did you have an idea that one would necessarily influence the other?

I'm not sure I thought of them as separate. That kind of balance comes more easily for me. I seem to prefer to struggle over other things, like the description of roadkill, or a donut.

5. What has been the most daunting about the entire process of getting your first novel published? Do you have advice for other writers out there?

What wasn't daunting? It's one of the scariest things I've ever done. I think actually finding the courage to finish the novel was one of the worst parts.

Advice—I don't know. Maybe be careful what advice you listen too. You have to find your own way.

6. What books are you reading right now? And did you have a feeling of where you wanted your book to fit into the entire canon of Canadian literature?

I am reading On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. It is 166 pages and, as I'm a newish mom, seems just about manageable.

I've lived outside of Canada since 1995, so I wasn't thinking about my place in Canadian literature when I wrote the book. This is a good thing. If I had been thinking in broader terms, I would've developed an incurable cramp in my brain.

TRH Updates - Hell Yeah!

I'm probably the only person on my floor that actually shouted "hell yeah!" when I read this morning that Don McKay won the Griffin Poetry Prize. And if you haven't read Strike/Slip I would highly encourage you to do so, it's just wonderful.

Other updates include two more books read, #s 39 & 40, Janice Kulyk Keefer's The Ladies Lending Library, which is a lovely little book about a group of Ukrainian immigrant women who spend their summers up in a group of cottages on Kalyna Beach, a fictional location set just outside Midland, Ontario. Perfect for summer reading. And another book for What Would Harry Read, Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. I am looking forward to this weekend, though, as my work reading slows down a bit so I can finally finish Alissa York's Effigy and Love in the Time of Cholera, both of which I am enjoying immensely.

And my RRHB has gone to NYC to play a show on Friday night. I am insanely jealous. Not only will he get to hang out, but he'll get to see some of fun NYC friends, while I'm home biking and eating by myself.

Last but not least, I watched Breach last night and is it ever a good little film. Based on the life of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who sold secrets to the Russians for many, many years, the film stars an outstanding Chris Cooper in the lead role, with Ryan Phillippe playing the part of Eric O'Neill, a young upstart put in place to help take him down. The entire movie is rock solid right up until the end when there's a bit of a Departed-style rat moment that makes you roll your eyes, but on the whole a sort of overlooked gem of a film.

EDITED TO ADD: And I just found out that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Orange Prize, which absolutely pushes that book up on my TBR pile. It's the Nigeria entry in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Cormac McCarthy On Oprah: Oh-Tastic!

So last night I abandoned my mandatory work reading an hour early (read: didn't get any done at all because I got home so late) so that I could watch Cormac McCarthy on Oprah. For his first and only television interview, I felt Oprah's questions were a bit soft, but McCarthy came across as a hyper-intelligent, charming, and fascinating man.

He did, however, have some wonderful insight into his writing and my favourite part of the too-short interview was when he spoke about his craft. He explains that sometimes writing is difficult because an author has always got a picture in his/her mind of the perfect thing you want to achieve, and it's frustrating when it doesn't come out quite right. I'm sure everyone who has ever put pen to paper understands exactly what he's saying. As McCarthy continued, he said to Oprah that he believes this interior image is your signpost, your guide, and even though you'll never get there 'without it you'll never get anywhere.'

Some of the problems with how the interview may have come across could have been down to the editing, because the clips on Oprah's site actually bring out a longer, more thoughtful interview. There's one clip where McCarthy speaks about James Joyce as a model for punctuation, and how he uses the tools of language to write sentences that are easy to understand. Now that's a very simple piece of solid advice that probably doesn't need a semicolon. And it might be a sharp insight in terms of rewriting, seeing how you can take punctuation out to clean up your prose rather than punctuate the sense back in.

Fascinating.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Shut Up Rebecca Eckler

I know I'll have more to say about this but for now, a giant, rollicking eye roll and a large dose of TWOP-inspired shut up, to Rebecca Eckler who is now suing Judd Apatow for copyright infringement. Because no woman has ever been knocked up before Eckler, and certainly everyone on the planet has read her book. Yawn.

Just for the record, I saw Knocked Up this weekend and haven't read Eckler's 'book' but have already made up my absolutely judgmental mind that I will come down hard on the side of Apatow on this one. Considering he's got two kids, he's had some experience with getting someone knocked up himself. That and the movie kicks all kinds of sweet, hilarious, and awesome ass. And Rebecca Eckler, meh.

EDITED TO ADD: And, the whole 'poor me' tone of the Maclean's piece still has me groaning. Out loud. At work.

Summer Beach Books

Chatelaine has a list of their top 50 Beach Books up this month. Lord knows I love a good list and I've actually read 30 of the books chosen. Much better odds than the 1001 Books list, that's for sure. Oh, and they've done the list as a PDF too, which means you can print it off and carry it to the book store when stocking up for the summer. Smart!

But the list got me thinking: are there books that you specifically save for summer reading? Do you tend on the fluffy side or tackle a classic or two? I generally save any new Chris Bohjalian novels for the week I spend up north by myself, and read a lot of mysteries in the summer. I also try to plow through some big classics because reading Little Women as a girl up north from an old library copy found when Havelock actually had a library (am I even remembering this correctly? Probably not) was one of the moments that actually changed my life. I guess I try to recreate that 'feeling' each summer with a new classic or two. In fact, I spent so much of my summer up at the cottage that all of my favourite reading experiences actually happened there—and they still continue to do so.

So what's on your summer reading piles this year?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

#38 - Remembering The Bones


I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of Frances Itani's latest novel, Remembering the Bones, this weekend. On a day (today) where I barely managed to get out of bed, it kept me good company. The story of an elderly woman named Georgina (Georgie) who drives her car off the road and into a ravine down the road from her house, Remembering the Bones is an addictive little novel.

The title refers to the main character's obsession with her grandfather's Gray's Anatomy, 1901, and how she studied the various body parts over the years. Lying on the cold, spring ground, Georgie remembers not only the bones of her body, but those of her life as well, as she waits either for death or to be rescued.

When she drove her car off the road, Georgie was on her way to the airport, headed off to London for a lovely holiday. Born on the same day as Queen Elizabeth II, Georgie, along with 98 other lucky members of the Commonwealth, is invited to a special birthday lunch at Buckingham Palace. And the novel makes the most of this connection, and spilled in between Georgie's own memories are those of Elizabeth's, from her life-long interest in the Queen, and as the days pass while she's lying on the bottom of the ravine, we learn more about both of their lives.

It would be impossible not to think of Margaret Laurence when reading this novel, not to think of Carol Shields, but even if Remembering the Bones fits in with a long line of similar Canadian novels that came before it, it's still refreshing, interesting and told in Itani's pure, generous voice. She has the capacity to create these honest Canadian characters, ancestors we all have packed away in our own genealogical closets, without them feeling stereotypical or confined by their small Ontario towns.

I enjoyed all of the characters in this book, the ones touched by the two great wars, the ones touched by the other tragedies that seem to define a life, deaths, births, books, all of the important things that mark the way from one end of a person to the other. And, as always, I'm looking for inspiration for my own stories and am thankful for Itani for introducing me to Queen of Home: Her Reign from Infancy to Age, From Attic to Cellar by Emma Churchman Hewitt, which I am now obsessed with tracking a copy down.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I read the last 10 pages of the novel sitting at my desk at home when I should have been writing. You can catch how cluttered it is with the week's worth of flyers, magazines and other catch-alls underneath the book. You can also see the text of my next Classic Start underneath.

On Chesil Beach Redux

Well, Michiko Kakutani apparently vehemently disliked On Chesil Beach, calling it "a smarmy portrait of two incomprehensible and unlikable people" (link via Baby Got Books). I certainly don't think the book was an abysmal failure nor do I think McEwan has created "a small, sullen, unsatisfying story" with the little book—the opposite in fact. But perhaps that's why Kakutani reviews for the NY Times and me for my own pleasure here at TRH.