Sunday, July 29, 2007

D'Oh

On Thursday night we went to see a preview screening of The Simpsons Movie. As I'm not the biggest Simpsons fan in my household, that honour goes to the RRHB, who was quite excited that we got passes to a preview screening. It was at the CN Tower, which was a very strange place to see a film, but whatever, a free movie is a free movie.

And I don't want to give too much away, especially about the funny gags and super-sharp writing, but will say this, if you're any kind of fan, had seen the show at least once, and, well, don't live under a rock, you'll laugh. I mean, it's basically an extended episode with some hijinks that aren't suitable for prime time thrown in, and it was totally entertaining in all the right ways.

But if I had to be totally, totally honest, I'm pleased we got to see it for free because I'm not 100% sure that I'd pay full-price at the multiplex for it. Not that it matters as we paid just as much to park as we would have for the tickets anyway, so perhaps that's a moot point.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Birth Day

Bittersweet are these days where you technically turn a year older but feel no different. Today is made even more bittersweet by the fact that I'm at work, which I have managed to avoid for five years of birthdays in a row.

Last year we were in NYC, which was amazing, and hot. The year before that I was in Paris and then Ireland, which was life changing, and hot. The year before that I was preparing for hip surgery and on the cusp of a nervous breakdown (silly boss from hell, sillier ragdoll for getting that caught up in the nonsense) but was on holidays and we went to see Spider-Man 2, and it was a wonderful day. Then I spent two weeks up at the cottage, which was amazing (even if I ruined my book club just prior to it. Don't ask!). The year before that we were in PEI, and the year before that we were in California, which was also life changing and not the least bit hot, much to my surprise.

And so tonight we're going to see a special screening of the new Simpsons movie, and to celebrate, I've created my avatar. The red shoes are an homage to Sam Lamb. While it's a work day, and I'm not in Paris, or Ireland, or California, or at the cottage or on the east coast, it's still something out of the ordinary, and by the time you get to be my age, isn't that all that matters?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

#49 - A Golden Age

I thoroughly enjoyed Tahmima Anam's A Golden Age. Set in Bangladesh just as the war for their independence broke out in 1971, the novel centres around Rehana, a woman in her mid-thirties with two grown children (a son and daughter), and her struggle to keep her life together during the difficult times.

A Golden Age takes place in the town of Dhaka, which is technically East Pakistan to begin with before it Bangladesh. Tahmima Anam has a talent for bringing rich detail to the page that not only truly reflects the time and place, but also builds up an atmosphere around Rehana herself. She loves to garden, and therefore the landscape reflects that fact. She's a widow, and despite having some hard times, manages to keep her family together throughout the struggle by building a house on her property that she rents out. But most of all, Rehana's a mother, and the entire story with the novel bears witness to this fact.

One of the most interesting aspects of war fiction, if that's even a genre, for me when it's told from a female perspective, is how different the story remains. War on the home front may be worlds apart from where the front-line action might be (although the war touches Rehana and her friends directly), it still changes lives in ways that make it impossible to ignore. There is a subtle strength in Rehana's character that reminds me of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Ramsay in a way, and the argument was made to me, many years ago during an undergraduate class in modernism, that To the Lighthouse should be considered a war novel. While I'm not sure if it's an accepted reading of Woolf's novel or not, the idea stuck with me, and that's how I approached my thinking about A Golden Age, as if it too was a war novel in the purest of senses.

Like To the Lighthouse, there's a building that Rehana rents out on her property called Shona that becomes a central character in the novel. As life in war is reflected by its inhabitants, and the house itself takes on a new personality. It's a fascinating idea, I think, to imagine not only how characters feel the impact of war, from the blankets the women sew on top of Rehana's roof for the refugees, to the pain and anguish she feels when her children become involved in various ways, but to also see what changes in the physical landscape beyond just craters made by bombs (Khaled Hosseini, I'm looking at you). Even a detail as simple as a bed that used to be used for a child has now been appropriated for other things makes you imagine war permeating every aspect of a life, and not just those lives on the front lines with the bullets.

Regardless, I wanted to read this novel because I didn't have Bangladesh on my Around the World in 52 Countries list, and I'm so glad I got a chance to experience it. For a first novel, it's really quite wonderful. It's also exciting because HarperCollins Canada will publish the novel in Canada this January, and even though you could order it from Amazon, it's actually worth the wait.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I left the book on the dock when we drove home and had to call my aunt to rescue it. The cover got a bit water marked (as it rained a bit, just a few drops) but I wanted to show the poor abandoned novel where it would have ended up had my family not shown it a little bit of kindness. And what a cold, cloudy day it was! Shockingly, it was first-thing in the morning when I took the picture. And the bits of wood everywhere are from Gordie, the dog, who loves sticks so much that it's almost impossible to understand.

Life As I Know It Is Over

So I went to see the renal dietitian today, and she was perfectly pleasant, as many people I deal with are at the hospital. However, she has told me to stop eating nuts.

ENTIRELY.

On top of that, other things on the 'must-go' list include: juice (no more than a 1/2 cup a day), tuna sandwiches more than once every couple weeks, cheese (ack!), butter (which I only use to cook with) and muffins.

As I'm 'high risk' with this whole cholesterol thing because of the Wegener's, I really need to crack down and deal with the situation but I do love almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, all yummy, all out.

Like I said, life as I know it is over.

Sigh.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Cottage Redux

We're up north this weekend where, you know the refrain, I'll be reading and writing. Have a brilliant weekend all!

Ragdoll: The Icon


A friend over at McNally Robinson sent me the most delicious icon that I will now use on a regular basis. He had created a poster in-store to brand the 'staff picks' so you could always tell who was recommending which book. And the image to the left is the one that I choose.

How awesome is that? It's me in t-shirt format.

And if you have a chance, play around with their new site, which launched today. It's an amazing example of a store pushing the boundaries in terms of delivering content that's relevant but also intent upon building a community around the books that they sell.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Oprah Schmoprah

I have to admit that I was quite sad when my online book club decided to evolve. I had really enjoyed the discussions I had with the group about the few books I was able to read (I joined late), and found them to be smart, wordy in all the right ways, and a fabulous bunch of readers. Having been stung by the whole book club concept in a previous life, I was quite happy to find a group of people who actually talked about the books, and we even had some author participation for a number of titles, which is always a thrill.

Annnnnywaaay. The group has evolved now into something pretty special: Oprah Schmoprah, the blog. And I just wrote my first post. Hopefully, many more are to come.

Ragdoll: Web Designer, Cough, Cough

I've been blurring the lines between work life and real life lately so I apologize in advance for this link. But, I've been manipulating MySpace templates for work and I think the one that we launched today for the promotion around Jon Evans's Invisible Armies isn't half bad.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rhymenoceros & Hippy-crites

So, last night we (the RRHB and I) went over to have dinner with Scarbie and her lovely hubbie, as she calls him, the Dog. Dinner was delish, of course, but we were talking about The Flight of the Conchords, which has been cracking me up and is now one of my favourite summer shows (the others, in no particular order, are So You Think You Can Dance, Big Love, and Entourage).

The episode we watched the other night included Bret and Jerome chillin' and illin' with their hip-hop monikers, "Rhymenocerous" and "Hiphopopotamus." I can't even say how much this cracked me up, but as a girl whose favourite joke is "What's brown and sticky. A stick," it obviously doesn't take much.

And then later on in the evening, the Dog referred to himself as a 'hippy-crite' -- one who knows what they're doing to the environment and feels bad about it almost instantly, but still goes ahead and does it anyway. And again, we cracked up. So if that's not a contender for the Urban Dictionary, I don't know what is. They we got into a heated discussion about carbon credits, because I'll often make the argument that yes, I did get my hair dyed, but then I donated x number of dollars to David Suzuki to make up for it. It's all about balance. In my mind anyway. But that's besides the point: I'm guessing I'm a self-defined hippy-crite too, doing my very best but still driving my car to the cottage and buying things on the internet.

What's the point of this post? Oh, the humour, of course! I totally think that the Rhymenocerous should rap about being a hippy-crite. How awesome would that be? And if you haven't seen it already, check it here:

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Bat And #48 - Bec

So I'm all about finding themes in my life. I don't know why, but my mind just sort of wanders all over these places and looks for connections. Now, I mentioned that I've been reading Darren Shan, a children's horror author who has written a deliciously scary series of books under the moniker of the "The Demonata." (It gives me shivers just to type that). I read another one night while waiting for my aunt to get back to the cottage (and hanging out with the dogs) that was totally addictive. Like a sugar rush, it makes you totally high and buggy, and then you come crashing down once you've turned the last page.

The story of a young priestess in the time where Celts and Picts and all kinds of other tribes ruled the land, Bec, the self-titled character of the novel, sets off on a challenge to a) battle the demons who have taken over, well, everything and b) find herself by finding her true tribe (family). She comes into contact with a much earlier version of Lord Loss, the same demon who tormented Grubbs in the first book in the series. Scar-ee.


Two days earlier we were tormented by a slightly smaller but no less scarier version of our own Lord Loss. Granted, more Silverwing than Shan, I swear to the gods that I had never been so scared in my entire life.

Let's set the scene: I'm sort of a little drunk after having maybe a half-pint too many Strongbow. I happily wind the way down the dark road back up to my grandmother's cottage. I'm thinking about writing and family and fun stuff and playing cards and all kinds of other delightful things. I'm relaxed. I'm happy.

Snuggled all up in bed after reading for a bit, I've got my earplugs in and I've drifted off dreaming of who knows what but it probably includes Ethan Hawke.

I hear, "Deanna! Deanna!" as my cousin Cam comes back to the cottage with his lovely lady Krista. "I don't mean to scare you but there's a bat in the cottage."

Keep in mind we're all tired at this point and kind of delirious.

I scramble out of bed and head into the main room, which was a good thing because the bat was IN MY BEDROOM.

Neither Krista nor myself are feeling particularly brave at this point, so Cam whips up this awesome contraption using a couple of coat hangers, a garbage bag, a broom stick and some tuck tape. Now that sh*t is strong.

And he proceeds to chase the bat from one room to the next as it swoops and swerves its way into every single crevice it can trying to elude Cam's capture. Until it lands ON THE WINDOW IN MY BEDROOM where we finally trap it between the screen and the glass.

Okay, when a bat swoops at your head it's scary. Because it gets so close that you can actually HEAR IT FLAP.

After we captured it, we all felt horrible, a) for screaming like maniacs and b) for scaring the wits off the little guy. We ended up cutting the screen so he could escape in the night, which he did, thankfully. But that creates yet another job for my RRHB to do up north because he'll be the one to replace the screen, which is not fun, I know, but there was a BAT in the cottage.

And for your lovely edification, here's a picture. See...SCAR-EEEEEE.

#48 - The Double Bind

Wow, this book threw me for a loop. There are so many reasons why I appreciate Chris Bojhalian's writing, in a way, he's like an old-school moralist, not that he preaches, but that each of his novels have a way of showing you, like a good philosophy teacher, the limitations of your own thought. The Double Bind is no different, and with every novel, Bojhalian's skill as a novelist seems to improve, and this book is on par with my very favourite of his, The Buffalo Soldier.

The novel's protagonist, Laurel Estabrook, is attacked while riding her bike down an abandoned logging road in Vermont. As she copes with the tragedy, we're pulled further and further into her world. We see her become obsessed with the photographs of Bobbie Crocker, a homeless man she helped at the shelter where she works, as she uncovers a world of secrets around the story of Jay Gastby.

I don't want to say much more than that because to give anything away with this novel would be to ruin it, for like the Lippman, the ending really makes the entire reading experience. Let me just suffice it to say that not everything is as it seems, and that's the true quality in the writing of this novel, Bojhalian's skill in exploring or, rather, plunging the depths of the young woman's despair over her attack.

See how it was hard to get any work done this week? The reading was just so good.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: It's quite fitting, again, that I read a lot of this book on the old-school psychiatrist's chair we have in the cottage. The book is sitting upon it on an old plaid blanket that I adore—even though it's the itchy kind. And can I say that the cover of my ARC is way, way better than the cover of the finished book? It's so blah, that other cover, compared to the vibrant images on the advance reader.

#47 - What The Dead Know

Before picking this book as one of our Facebook The Reading Group titles this month, I had seen Kate's capsule review of Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know and immediately put it on my TBR pile.

Let me say it this way: I could not put this book down.

Here are all the things that I did not do because I was engrossed in the story of two sisters who disappear one sunny pre-Easter afternoon from a mall in Baltimore (yes, where The Wire is set, fab):

1. Entertain my nephew. I rocked him so he'd go to sleep and then let him sleep on me for almost a half hour after he sort of semi-woke up so that I could keep reading. I didn't put the book down until he made it absolutely clear he was having no more of it.

2. Swim in the lake. It was one of the few beautiful days and I put off going swimming although it was a million degrees out because I was obsessed with finding out if the woman who has an accident and leaves the scene of the crime actually was one of the missing Bethany sisters.

3. Eat. Seriously, I skipped lunch and was absolutely starving until I had finished.

4. Talk. Really, I cloistered myself in my grandmother's cottage while my cousins and all the rest of my wonderful family were doing all kinds of fun outdoorsy-type stuff.

5. Finish the seventeen other books I had started. All of my other reading, including two or three books that were half-done took a back seat until I had read the very last word.

And I'm telling you, it's a hell of a good last few words. Do you need any more then that? I don't think so.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: The very chair where I sat for four hours on Tuesday reading this deliciously addictive little novel.

#46 - Love In The Time Of Cholera

I find it perfectly fitting to be writing about Gabriel García Márquez's masterpiece, Love in the Time of Cholera, while I have a fever. As there's nothing new that I can possibly add to the world's discussion of this text other then to say that I came to it for many reasons: the first of which would have to be its inclusion on the 1001 Books list; the second, because I'd read One Hundred Years of Solitude after finishing my undergrad at Queen's and fell hard for it; and I read Ben McNally's Valentine's Day column over at Booklounge.ca where he said it was the ultimate book to read for that holiday. See, lots of good reasons to pick up this book.

Regardless, could there be a more expressive book about love ever written? Probably, but this book took my breath away more times then I could possibly count. Full of every single type of love story, from an unrequited affair that lasts the length of the book itself to the hills and valleys of a long, successful marriage, from the physical to the spiritual, from the epistolary to the serenade, it's impossible not to appreciate love in all its forms after finishing this novel. The sentences are exquisite, complex and meandering, almost to the point of getting lost down the cobblestones of the author's mind, until he brings you back to the apex, which lands in exactly the right place.

The Columbian port in of call for my Around the World in 52 Books, I can't think of another novel I could savour like this, as if it's a sweet cheese or a fine glass of wine. I was all rosy for love after finishing this book up north, and ended up watching Before Sunset for the fourth or fifth time. My own story ended up with a lot of long sentences as I thought about the main love affair that forms the center section. Of course, I ended up editing half of them down over the last few days I was there because they didn't make much sense, as I was all drunk on Columbia, the Caribbean, the food, the smell of almonds, and the like. Ahem.

In the end, the craziest analogy I can come up with that describes the reading experience of Love in the Time of Cholera is this: a few years back when I was still working at the evil empire, I was having a discussion with my coworker Lynne, where we were imagining what life would be like if we were cats. Go with me here. It's okay as it's not as kooky as it sounds. Beyond the pale ass licking jokes we got from the cheap seats, we were thinking of how cats don't really know time as we do, how their days are measured by their senses, by things that they smell, by places they visit. In a way, Márquez's novel is set out by the senses as well, but it's also defined by one emotion, in a way, it's all measured out by love. Love sets the pace and brings the action. Love defines the characters and their motivation. Just like a cat smelling its way through the day, this novel imagines an entire book not set about by the plain, banal chronology of the weeks, days, months, years in a life, but by love itself, as real as the grass, the trees, and yes, the ass, that my cat uses to define her day. In a way, it's the essence of everything. And aren't we just dumb enough never to realize it.

And there. I've jumped the shark now by mentioning my cat in my blog. Sigh.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: Of course I finished this novel while in bed. If you look closely enough you can see the tip of my grandfather's paint-by-numbers on the wall.

#45 - Nowhere Man

Aleksandar Hemon's Nowhere Man took me many weeks to finish, but like so many of the extra-ordinarily literary books on my Around the World in 52 Countries challenge that sit on the 1001 Books list, I've come to expect that I will work my way through these books like one would an art gallery in a foreign city: slowly, methodically, and with great patience.

The story of Josef Pronek as told from the point of view of many different narrators, Nowhere Man is a captivating novel that highlights the uncanny ability of the author to challenge conventional storytelling techniques while creating a character who ultimately glues the book together. Hemon, originally from Sarajevo, perhaps perfectly distills the idea of a splintered society, what war does to a person, to a people, in this novel. At times he merges the stereotypical (The Beatles as revolutionary charge and right of passage) with the nonsensical (Pronek's time as a canvasser for Greenpeace), but always manages to show how each narrator maintains that little bit of love and affection for Josef without losing the reader.

All in all, it's a powerful, moving book that I would recommend if only for it's wonderful use of form. In a way, it's a bit like learning a new language each time we switch narrators and see yet another sliver of Pronek's life. The syntax might be different in each section, but the end goals, communication, compassion, understanding, englightenment, remain exactly the same.

It's interesting too, how my reading life and my movie life have been tracing common themes of one another really without any conscious effort on my part. Recently, the RRHB and I watched The Secret Life of Words. Sarah Polley plays a young nurse also stunted by the war in Bosnia. The two characters intersect so nicely: Josef finally releases so much of the tension built up through the entire novel by falling in love with an American girl and, in a way, the very same thing happens to Hanna, Polley's character (she falls in love with an injured oil rig worker). It was a good experience reading and watching the two works somewhat in tandem, to get a male and female perspective, in art form, of the conflict.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I finished the book one very foggy, very cool morning on the sun deck while my cousins slept in the cottage and I wasn't quite ready to start writing.

Back On The Concrete

As it stands, I have returned from the cottage fully rested only to now have developed a cold. Bah. The weather was crap as viewed from the picture of the rain on the window from the sliding glass door in the cottage, but it didn't matter because my family was there, and I had a grand old time, as always.

I'm in the process of organizing my pictures and putting to mind blog posts for the five books I read, plus I wanted to chat a bit about all the work I got done on my super-duper long story now (it's up to almost 56k words), and treat you all to an entertaining story about a bat.

Yes, you heard me: a real, live bat.

(Shiver).

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Holiday!

Tomorrow we're off to the cottage for an entire week. One week of relaxing, of writing, of listening to music, of watching the lake, of swimming in the lake, of reading books, of playing cards, of drinking a beer or two, of seeing my family, of celebrating my family, all of the things that deserve high kicks and sh*t eating grins.

And corn. Lots of corn. What's the cottage without corn on the cob and cards? Seriously?

Not to worry. When I get back there will be plenty of updates. I'll have finally finished two of my challenge books Nowhere Man and Love in the Time of Cholera, plus hopefully quite a few more.

Have a great week all!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Super-Fly Fancy Disease Doctor

Hallelujah! I'm safe for another five months, and can start reducing my medication, slightly, which is all so very exciting. On all accounts, I've got my "mild" Wegener's under control (his words). We'll see for sure what he says when all the bloodwork comes back in the next week or so. But by all accounts, I'm chuffed—it's been a long, long three years.

#44 - Lord Loss

Sometimes, I don't know whether or not to count YA and/or kids books in the final reading tally. They're definitely quick reads, and sort of inflate the numbers, but sometimes I actually enjoy reading the books so much that I want to talk about them, and not just in passing.

Anyway, last week I read Darren Shan's Lord Loss for our What Would Harry Read blog. Man, it's one terrifying book. Normally, I don't go for the really scary stuff, and goodness knows it takes a lot for the RRHB to get me to watch a horror film (after he dragged me to see The Exorcist, I've never forgiven him). But the book is so addictive that I found myself enjoying it as much for the style it's written in, really slick and cool stream of consciousness, as for the main character himself, a tenacious young fellow with the unfortunate name of Grubbs Grady.

Grubbs battles with a hell of a demon, pun intended, called Lord Loss after he discovers his family is kind of cursed. I don't want to give too much away because there are a lot of really good twists and turns that Shan takes throughout the narrative and it's actually better not to know they're coming. I wasn't prepared for the horror-style violence in the book, but it didn't dissuade me from reading the book in one quick sitting, late at night, in bed.

No photo in context, but I am going to post the truly terrifying cover, because, well, it's kind of cool in that old-school horror way.

Monday, July 02, 2007

You're Welcome

I've been noticing for a long while now that people have stopped saying, "You're welcome." For the most part it's become "no problem," the California-surfer-dude's reply meant, I would imagine, to reassure the person thanking you that it really was easy to do whatever was just asked or accomplished. But to me, it seems a hollow, unmannerly action to say, "no problem," when someone takes the time to thank you. It sort of renders the thank you even more obsolete if it truly took no effort on the part of the replier. What's even the point of thanking a person if all they're going to respond with is a curt, cheery "no problemo" in reply?

We were at a dinner party the other Friday night when I was mentioning that this been been bothering me for a while. I make every effort to say, "you're welcome," and have to catch myself mid-"no probl--" more often than not. Once I brought it up, Jill, our delightful hostess, said that she had read an article in the NY Times Magazine about the slow disappearance of "you're welcome." While William Safire's commentary is mainly about "pleasure" and the glaring appropriation of the word by US politicians, he does note that in the States, "thank you" is now the most common phrase to use once someone offers their own thanks: "no thank you... noooo, thank you...no, please, thank you."

It could go on like this forever in a meaningless Saturday Night Live sketch kind of way. Safire suggests we should make every effort to say, "my pleasure," when someone thanks us, which I'll try to do as well. But in my own mannerly way, that lovely phrase will never be quite right either. I was brought up on "please," "thank you," and "you're welcome," and maybe for the first time in my life, my language is truly starting to show my age.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Wilco


Massey Hall in Toronto was the last stop on Wilco's Eastern Seaboard tour (dunno if that was the 'name' of the tour considering how totally un-rock sexy it is). And it's been so long since I'd been to any kind of ticketed rock show (Prince, I think, was the last stadium show that I'd seen), that you kind of forget the whole experience. How far you are away from the band: I always prefer to be right up front so I can see what's going on. How big the show seems: lots of flashing lights and the smoke machine. How everyone sings along to the big songs and whoops when they hear the first chords of the ones they really like.

It was a great show, and I knew a lot of the songs just by osmosis because the records are in constant rotation around our house, but I was super-pleased when they played "A Shot in the Arm," and the lovely "Via Chicago" from Summerteeth, which is the one I listen to most of the time. And I liked how funny Jeff Tweedy was—when the audience started clapping spontaneously, he said, "You're in the wrong tempo!" And he encouraged the audience to clap during the second encore, when they were playing "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" from A Ghost is Born, while the band stayed silent, he said, "Keep it together Toronto!" (or something of the like). Because many of the audiences all sped up. Funny those things that musicians notice; things that my RRHB notices, that I would have no idea whether or not we were faster or slower than the beat. "Did we speed up?" I asked my RRHB afterwards, "a little," he said.

Funny, though, too, because I did a lot of thinking yesterday about the greatest rock shows I've ever seen, and most have them have been in small clubs: Tricky Woo at the El Mocambo, The Cons and Weakerthans from backstage at Lee's, the Hip from backstage at Copp's. Shows like that where I've been spoiled by a small crowd or by the RRW status, so it was a real treat to see a band from way up high, sort of observing the show as much as taking part in it. It's different, for sure, to feel so unconnected to what's going on well beneath you, but still hearing and seeing it all from a distance. But it was so much fun and the band was so good: big and intimate, cavalier and intense, brilliant and subdued, tight and fluid, all kinds of adjectives that prove I have no talent for writing about rock and roll.

I'd see them again in a heartbeat.

NOTE: the rest of the 'during the show' cell phones pictures are still on the RRHB's phone to be edited in later when he gets back from the cottage.