Friday, November 30, 2007

A List...Of Things Left At Home:

1. Wallet. Luckily, I had five dollars in my bag, which meant I could still have lunch.

2. Friday Night Lights for Sam.

3. Homemade muffin baked by my RRHB.

4. TTC tokens. See above. Lunch cost $3.00, which means I've got two dollars and some pennies to take the subway home.

5. The part of my brain that remembers things. Even when set out the night before (see #2) so one wouldn't forget them.

Canada Reads

Goodness, is it just me, or is the Canada Reads list this year somewhat uninspired? I love both Timothy Findley (and I count Not Wanted on the Voyage among my all-time favourite books) and Mavis Gallant, but I'd have to say that the majority of Canada may have already read both of those authors? For my money, I'd love to see Icefields win, as it's the only title on the list that I read and thought, 'now that's an interesting choice.' And, it's not often that I link over to the Q&Q, but they've kind of hit the nail on the head with the opening sentence, "There's a distinct last-century feel to the next Canada Reads lineup, which CBC Radio unveils today."

Wonder

Right now, they're playing some beautiful music on the CBC, something about the beginning of Advent, and I haven't the faintest idea what the recording is. Not that it's even that relevant, because the sky is clear from the 20th floor, and there are birds outside floating, as if to the music, with one soaring eagle (I think) who dove at just the right moment before the chorus came in and the pigeons scattered around. It's almost as if the soundtrack from inside my earphones reached up and outside reminding me that life goes on every day in simply magical ways if I just take the time to look up from my desk.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

#76 - Late Nights On Air

Elizabeth Hay's lovely, Giller-winning novel took me quite some time to read. Set in Yellowknife in 1975, the novel follows a group of CBC radio people as they make their way through an informative part of their lives. Touched by the presence of two relative strangers, Dido from The Netherlands and Gwen from small-town Ontario (if I'm remembering correctly), the station's manager, Harry, finds his life categorically changed from the moment he meets both women. Their presence in his life and at his station act as a kind of impetuous for change for many of the other people these two come into contact with, and in his own way, Harry falls for both, with differing results.

As the novel drifts in and out of the lives of the various characters, you can tell that Hay feels out each and every one with an intensity that can do nothing except inform the story. As the life in the station exists both on and off the air, it becomes apparent that each person in her narrative has come north and stayed for different reasons. There's something so subtle about Hay's writing, and about this story in general, that builds up over the time spent engrossed in the book.

And when the four main characters, Gwen, Harry, Ralph and Eleanor, set off into The Barrens for a trip of a lifetime, you know that they'll come back changed. It's a novel about that moment in life that you only realize later has come to define your entire life. While all the characters are too close for this to become clear, the narrator gives little hints throughout the text (meant to serve maybe as suspense; in my opinion not entirely necessary), and on the whole it works well structurally.

While I haven't read many of the other shortlisted titles (just two Effigy and Divisdero), I do think that Hay's novel has the scope, the emotion, and the heartbreak to be a novel deserving of the prize. I adored Garbo Laughs, and I felt this novel taught me many things, not only about life north of sixty, but also about the idea of radio, the importance of it in the lives of these characters, how sometimes a career isn't necessarily built but its found, and that love can move in many forms within a person's heart.

It's interesting that two of the more intriguing books in Canadian fiction this year have been set in the North, Kevin Patterson's brilliant Consumption, and now Late Nights on Air. Maybe it'll get more people thinking about how different the landscape will be in the next fifty years if we don't make an effort to preserve it. Every inch of Hay's novel is full of the scenery, not just to set the story, but to inhabit it, like we do our desk chairs every day, from the flora, the fauna, the wildlife, it's a world that demands attention, and not just on a fictional level.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I finished the book in bed this week, and so a picture of it on my bedside table taken from the perspective of my head laying on the pillow.

TRH Event - Dave Eggers

The weather outside my window at work turned ominous in the afternoon. First there was whirling snow. Then there was strange looking rain. Then so much wind that you could see whitecaps on top of the puddles on the buildings. Finally, there was sun. Bright sun reflecting in the windows in the condos across the way. Fascinating.

It all seemed quite fitting to head off to St Barnabas Anglican Church to see Dave Eggers in all his McDreamy hair, fidgety hands, and soft-spoken intelligence. The church filled up quickly and so I was especially glad to have the rock star treatment from my friend Randy, who was kind enough to bring me along as his guest. We had good seats but the church pew was kind of hard on the old tragic hip.

It's been years since I've seen Dave Eggers, way back around the time when McSweeney's was all the rage and I was working at a now defunct Canadian magazine doing the worst imaginable job: customer service circulation. Numbers so do not befit this girl. And it explains why I hate the phone so much, still to this day. The event I saw was at the Horseshoe, and Eggers was accompanied by Neal Pollack. They did a really funny bit about superheroes and he drew many pictures on an overhead projector about some kayaking trip. Then, he was incredibly patient as people asked some really dumb questions about his first book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

Annnywaaay. When Eggers came up on stage this time, he seemed so unassuming with his shirt hanging out of his grey cable knit sweater all collegiate and kind of preppy. But he was also almost stumbling over himself in a nervous way (goodness do his hands fly when he's talking), and kind of sweetly funny, starting off by teasing the TINARS guy about not knowing he wasn't supposed to use a lectern, asking if there were any parishioners in the audience and joking up some girls in the front row. Once he started talking about his new book (we were at the paperback launch), he sobered up, and told the audience about how What is the What, the biography of Valentine Achak Deng, began, carefully and with an incredible amount of detail. And once it was all over, the picture show reminiscent of something you'd experience at a local Rotary dinner (awesome), and the short videos, he answered questions, many of which were intelligent and well thought out, which is always appreciated at these kinds of things.

As much as I enjoyed the atmosphere of the church, beer would have been good too. But all in all it made me want to read What is the What, and got me thinking about oil, China, Sudan, humanitarianism, artists as activists, curly hair, local action, international action, Jane Fonda, the novel as memoir, Truman Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a whole host of other random thoughts in my poor, muddled brain.

Monday, November 26, 2007

#75 - The Luxe

What a completely and utterly guilty pleasure this book turned out to be. Anna Godbersen's The Luxe takes place in New York in 1899, and many around the office have declared it's Gossip Girl meets Edith Wharton, but even more addictive. I have to say that I set aside the last 100 pages of Late Nights on Air, this year's Giller winner, just so I could read this book uninterrupted over the past couple days. It's that addictive.

As many of you know, I'm not one who does well with moderation (she says after watching the entire first season of Friday Night Lights again), and after a couple of really heavy movies, I needed something light and fluffy to bring me back down to a happy place. The Luxe was just the book. Centering around society girls Elizabeth, her sister Diana and her "best" friend Penelope, The Luxe imagines a world where beautiful gowns are hand-made, husbands are arranged from other good families, and under no circumstances does one get involved with the help, regardless of how dishy they might be.

It's a sweet book that melts teen romance into historical drama, and if you're at all into reading YA fiction, you'll enjoy it immensely. Once you get sucked in, I guarantee it's impossible to stop. Kind of like Friday Night Lights. Sigh.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

TRH Movie - American Gangster

So Zesty and I decided to go and see a movie together yesterday afternoon, and we had both thought that American Gangster might just be the kind of flick for a no-boys afternoon. She picked me up at 3 PM, after I had spend a delicious lunch-brunch with Sam and Sadie, and we drove off to the Queensway only to discover the film's 4 PM show time had been cancelled. I whipped out my blackberry, we got back in the car, and we ended up in good time at the Paramount downtown only to discover that its afternoon showing had too been switched around. So, back in the car we got, racing up to the Varsity only to get there absolutely in time for the 4:20 show (snacks and seats saved in time to actually even get to see the commercials before the previews).

Was the film worth all that? Maybe not. I mean, it's not a bad movie by any standards, but it's certainly not the best picture I've seen this fall of truly excellent movies. In some ways, it felt like a substandard season of The Wire crammed into one two-and-a-half hour film. Sure, the performances are good, but it's certainly not the lean, mean film that it absolutely could have been. Denzel Washington plays Frank Lucas, a gangster who revolutionizes the drug trade in NYC during the heyday of the 70s, when over half the cops in the city were crooked and on the take. Russell Crowe plays one of the only honest cops on the block, Ritchie Roberts, who gets assigned to a new drug task force after turning in close to a million dollars in unmarked bills, much to his partner's chagrin. The back and forth between Lucas and Roberts starts slowly, as both try to stay under the radar of one another, just trying to do their respective jobs. With the appearance of Blue Magic, a better product at a lower price, all of that changes.

There's nothing subtle about the film, and that doesn't mean it's not a good picture, but you get the feeling Washington's playing the same character he played in Training Day, which was never my favourite of his films. The fine line Lucas draws between the kind of businessman he imagines himself to be and the business that he's in remains the most interesting part of the character. And Crowe's missing the same spark he had in the earlier 3:10 to Yuma, a film that saw him perhaps not rest entirely upon his laurels. But I'd argue in this film, there was never a moment where I felt I hadn't seen the same story before told in much of the same way. I'd be curious to see which movies from this heady fall season are still standing come Oscar time, and I have no doubt that this one will be recognized, regardless of whether or not its truly deserving. A solid B-, I would think.

TRH Movie - Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

My RRHB is away in Sudbury recording, so I decided to do something completely and utterly out of character: I went to the movies by myself. At night. On a Friday. I had a book (in a very Rory Gilmore moment) for the pre-show annoying commercials, I had popcorn, and I had a ridiculous urge to see Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Not simply for the whole Ethan Hawke factor, but more so because I had heard and read so many great things about the film, that I wanted to see it before it disappears from theatres in Toronto. My poor aunt, with whom I had plans to see the movie in the first place, fell ill with a nasty case of pneumonia, which meant that she needed to stay home in bed. I was looking forward to seeing her, but of course, I'm wishing she gets better by resting up. So, I went alone. It's character building right?

Annnywaaay, that got me out in relative suburbia by 7 PM on a Friday night with hundreds of other happy movie goers. Surprisingly, I didn't feel too weird being there by myself, happily lined up, got my ticket, the good seat by the railing and settled in with The Luxe before the movie started. It being Friday, there were tonnes of people around me, too much perfume, too much chatting, and I got stuck in a slightly broken chair. Not off to a good start, but the film soon sucked me in so much that it wouldn't have mattered where I ended up sitting and how uncomfortable I was by the end.

And when the movie starts, it's deceptively quiet. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Andy, a relatively successful accountant whose desperately in love with Gina, his wife, played by Marisa Tomei. While on vacation in Brazil, they seem to reconnect, to discover what's important, even if it soon becomes apparent that they're both moving in different directions. Once home, Andy feels that getting back to Brazil and starting all over again will save their marriage. He sets out on a dangerous course to try and get them there, involving his younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) in a plot meant to knock off their parents jewelry store. Money problems solved, right?

Both brothers are stuck in situations entirely of their own making: Andy addicted to various substances, including his wife; Hank suffering the fall-out of a truly bad marriage who can't quite keep away from the drink long enough to actually be a man and stand up for himself. Things go from bad to worse when all the plans for their so-called victimless crime wreck havoc on the lives of everyone around them, and then some. There's not a single character in the film that makes you feel any kind of sympathy, even when Andy pours his broken heart out to his dealer in a pristine environment to shoot yuppie smack, you're shouting at him in your mind to just do the right thing, to not let what's about to happen happen. And as the situation goes from very bad to worse than one could possibly imagine, you desperately want them all to wake up and face their lives with a level of honesty that might redeem them in the end.

On the outside, everything looks great, if life were all about appearances. Andy and Hank wear their suits well, and they go through the motions, either truly able to weather the line between right and wrong with any kind of cold-hearted integrity. While the film's really about the men, it's a bit of a shame that all the female characters, with the exception of the mother (and for reasons that I won't spoil here), feel overplayed and under-written, Gina's all body with no heart, and Amy Ryan (who plays Hank's beleaguered ex-wife) doesn't do much more than swear (rightfully so) at her ex. As well, at first I was put off by the terribly derivative way of storytelling, of showing one event and then switching back to the "2 days before the robbery."

But as the film progresses, the device becomes more and more effective, a way for the film to show the events from multiple perspectives, fitting everything back together with a point of view that only a skilled filmmaker like Lumet could pull off. Kelly Masterson, the film's screenwriter, has created a terrifyingly bleak world with a cast of characters who cut so close to the bone of the human condition that they become more compelling the worse they act, each personifying an age-old sin representing all that's wrong with our world. Events of the film are so shocking that at one point, a woman behind me shouted, "OH MY GOD!" when something particularly awful took place.

It's an excellent film that explores right and wrong, good and bad, and all of the other black and white morals that refuse to let the characters out of their grasp for a second. Regardless of the unlikable nature of any of the characters, the performances in the film are riveting, and as much as I never want to inhabit that kind of a world, I do have to admit that it makes for one hell of a movie.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

NY Times Notable Books

I was blogging over at Savvy Reader this morning about the NY Times Notable Books list. A few years ago, I printed off the list and tried to read every single book on it, but got stalled somewhere around the first five. But that's not to say that there aren't wonderful books on the list, just that I, once again, got sidetracked by something shiny before truly getting through the before-blogs-even-existed challenge.

But this year, without even trying, I've already read quite a few of the titles (The Gathering, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, Mothers and Sons, On Chesil Beach, and Out Stealing Horses). And there are quite a few books on the list that are currently sitting on my bedside table waiting for some attention, and I love that there are so many literary biographies on the nonfiction list.

I've decided I'm going to do my own top 10 list of books that I've read this year, but I probably won't get to it until the beginning of January, as I'll be counting the very last pages that get read towards my end of year goal.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

'Tis The Season

The weather might bless us with the first snow of the season tonight. While I'm not a huge fan of winter, I love the first snow. It's so pretty and white and, well, seasonal. But it also starts me thinking that my life might simply get even busier once next week ends. It's already booked up with a couple of parties, a reading, a Broadway-style show, a celebration, a lovely rock show with Christine Fellows on December 14th (if you're not doing anything, please come, it's at the Music Gallery, and she's so brilliant), and that little family celebration called Christmas.

Gack!

I've already had to pause yoga until the new year because I'll be missing three upcoming classes and there's no point in paying if I can't even get there.

How to remain sane? Now, that's the real challenge.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Closing

We're heading up to the cottage for the very last time of the season. It's bittersweet. I always regret leaving because there's a part of me that feels like it's home up there, and it's hard for me to sometimes admit that so much time has passed.

That life moves so quickly.

That time can feel painfully long or painfully short, and still be exactly the same physical distance between one point to the next.

Things I did today:

1. Bought a pair of super-cute silver shoes for a work function. (I went,. I felt uncomfortable, but was excited to see our company win a prestigious award for some terribly hard work and some ridiculously creative thinking).

2. The reason why I'm still up has everything to do with Friday Night Lights. First off, why in heaven's name does Matt kiss every girl he comes into contact with, and then apologize. At least Saucy Caretaker got in the car before he could possibly do that mumbling thing he does. Aw. And my favourite line, "Don't you whisper-yell at me. Don't you whisper-yell at me."

3. I've been reading and loving Late Nights on Air. More to follow.

4. Vacation is bliss.

5. Why do people on television wear so much makeup in bed?

6. There's drywall on some parts of our new walls. Drywall makes everything better.

7. Smoking Aces is a very disturbing movie. Perhaps I should have picked something a little more light-hearted to watch in my final vacationing hours.

8. Wireless internet is fun.

9. I am sure that I might be the only viewer of Men in Trees that recognizes Jerome from North fo 60. He's kind of playing a version of the same character. But that's okay. The show just quoted Kierkegaard.

10. Riggins is still hot. Homeless, but hot.

10.5 I am trying to convince my RRHB to get back to the city in time to go and see Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dennis Hopper Quote Of The Week

I know the title infers there may be more, but for now, let's begin with Dennis Hopper's key to good acting:
"You need to relax -- that way you can access your imagination. If you're not relaxed, you only have access to your intelligence."

And my teacher said that awesome needs to be ripped from our language forever. I, for one, do not agree because what other word to describe the above?

Seriously awesome?

Does adding an adverb help?

Self Portraits - Millbank And Stratford (Some Shadows Work, Some Don't)

Research has been going well, although I'm afraid that my body is simply too run down full stop because I feel like I've got a bloody cold, again. I'm coughing and I have a basketball inside my chest that's making it hard to breathe. The end decision is that I need to give up some of my extra curricular activities. School's set so it'll either be yoga or dance and as I've been too ill for dance over the last few weeks, I'll probably hold off starting that again until the warmer months.

Annnywaay, I had a brilliant time in Millbank and Stratford earlier in the week doing research for the book, and I've got a mind full of great ideas I'm going to let bounce around in my brain before I get down to the serious business (like another page-a-day challenge) of my next draft. The Stratford-Perth archives were a grand success. But I think that I'll need to go back, maybe at the end of December (depending on their Christmas archives) to read more about Millbank, as I'm having trouble finding information on the town. The Milverton Sun newspaper (now defunct) seems to be a good place to start, and I found some local history (albeit written in verse, wha?) that was helpful too.

Melanie and I had a wonderful dinner in town and my hotel room was hilarious. Roasting hot, full of potpourri pillows, and with a divided up bathroom (toilet separated from the shower stall by a wall and a pillar or two), it was actually quite homey and just what I needed. I'm a bit frustrated that I've been checking my blackberry too much and worrying about work but I'm trying to let that go, at least for tomorrow.

In terms of family research, my trip to the Ontario Archives wasn't as successful, but I did find lots of Land Record information for my Irish ancestor. Now all that remains is tracking down the proper microfilm, which is so labour-intensive that I just couldn't handle it on another empty stomach. So, I went home and had a sandwich. Sometimes, a little cheese, lettuce and bun is all you need to really feel like your life is all good.

#74 - The Lambs Of London

For the first time since starting all the various challenges, I actually kind of disappointed in one of my books of choice. In the manner of swapping out already-decided books for ones that are a) more accessible and b) perhaps shorter and c) actually grabbing my interest at the moment, I've changed Cloud Atlas, which I absolutely will read one of these days, for Peter Ackroyd's The Lambs of London. It's also a fitting historical novel to read for the Around the World in 52 Books challenge, as it's based on real people (Charles and Mary Lamb, authors of Tales from Shakespeare) and set in London during the late 1700s-early 1800s, which means it'll at least give me an accurate flavour for the time and place.

But I can't help but feel slighted by the novel. Yes, it's an interesting piece of historical fiction; yes, it cannot be denied that Peter Ackroyd knows his stuff; and yes, I found the characters and their situations relatively interesting. In short, Charles and Mary Lamb, themselves troubled in different ways (Charles by drinking; Mary suffers from a bipolar disorder) meet an equally troubled (even if it's not apparent at first) William Ireland. Insistent upon proving his mettle to his bookseller father, William finally gets the attention and acclaim he feels he deserves when he uncovers a number of Shakespearean documents.

Unfortunately for me, I found the story somewhat uninspiring, and a lot of the historical details felt forced and often jumped out like a grandstanding football fan forced out of the stands. On the whole, the plot was fairly predictable despite how interesting I found both the characters and the setting. In truth, I don't quite understand why the book was included on the 1001 Books list despite, as RG (the writer who submitted the book to the anthology) insists the author "playing to his strongest suits." And the themes of literary and personal "fraudulence" ring quite hollow in terms of novels in this genre, if I'm being completely honest.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: The book on the patterned furniture in my Stratford hotel room.

1001 BOOK SCORE: 145

52 COUNTRIES: England

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

#73 - The Death Of Ivan Ilyich & Master And Man

After my teacher "assigned" Tolstoy's "Master and Man" as required background reading for my own work, I decided to kill three birds with one story collection (homework, 1001 Books, Around the World in 52 Books). I've left behind The Brothers Karamazov for now and replaced it with the Modern Library edition of two Tolstoy stories: "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" and the aforementioned "Master and Man."

Now I'm going to get this out of the way first, I haven't read a lot of the Russians. It took me months and months, and then years and years, and then four separate tries, to get through Crime and Punishment. I'm glad I did, but for a girl that likes to power through her reading because there's simply so much to read, I find that to be a tad labour-intensive.

However, both stories were quite short, and the entire collection clocks in somewhere around 120 pages, and there's a power to Tolstoy's storytelling, especially in "The Death...", that remains captivating. I mean, there's a reason why he's on the 1001 Books list, and of the two stories, I did enjoy "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" slightly more than "Master and Man."

So, I've read Russia. It was cold. It suffered through its characters. It made me appreciate living in a world with modern medicine and a warm winter coat. But in terms of actual critical opinion, there's nothing that I could possibly say that might remotely be original. So I'll tell a story instead.

Last night when I told my teacher DG that I had read the story, he went on a good, long diatribe about how War and Peace is quite possible the most romantic book ever written. It's the only book that made him weep. That's right, weep. So now, I've essentially been assigned a 1,500 page book by the teacher simply because he thinks I would absolutely enjoy it. And if Virginia Woolf made a case for the Russians, as he said, shouldn't I?

So in starting my thoughts about a reading challenge for next year, it might just be to tackle the "giants" of our canon, but I'm afraid that'll throw me right off my goals and I'll never catch up to Stephen King's 75 books a year, which, for the first time since I've started TRH, I'm actually on track to do. Here's a question: how many of you out there have read War and Peace and what did you think? Is it the most romantic book ever written? Like, ever?

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: Is rightfully missing because I've already given my copy to a friend in my class.

1001 BOOKS SCORE: Sitting at 144. Desperately trying to get to 150 by the end of the year...

Monday, November 12, 2007

TRH Movie - No Country For Old Men

Yesterday was Remembrance Day, and for shame I only realized when I looked at my TTC transfer on my way to work. Granted, on our way home yesterday we walked past Soldier's Tower, and paused. It's a beautiful monument, covered in wreaths, and lit up from the bottom in that way that feels so respectful. I've written before about the particular significance of Remembrance Day, and it always makes me think of my grandparents, and my great-grandfather, who served in the First World War. Almost every part of my being Canadian is a direct result of them, and that's not something to be forgotten.

I spent most of my day at the office yesterday tidying up some stuff before my holidays this week. And it's nice sometimes to be there with no meetings, no distractions, nothing to keep from concentrating and getting a lot of things done. Although I did promise myself after the evil Boss From Hell experience I would never work weekends again, I feel so much better leaving now for a week now that my entire to-do list has been crossed out.

So when the RRHB called and suggested we go see a movie, at first I balked, because there's always more I could do, and then decided that we should maybe go and see No Country For Old Men. There's no end to my adoration for Cormac McCarthy but having sat through All the Pretty Horses and then writing a very long article for the now-offline Chicklit about how frustrating the adaptation was, I was worried. Until I found out, months ago, that it was a Coen brothers' film.

An incredibly honest adaptation, the Coen brothers' storytelling, straightforward but with incredible impact, ensures the film truly feels like the book brought to life. They've stripped out what won't work on film (a lot of Ed Tom's internal narration; some of the more violent scenes) and added in bits that made the movie more effective (like the visual aspects of the setting; in the sense that it truly brought your mind's eye to life), and the end result is quite spectacular.

Okay, that's not normally a word I would use to describe a film, but the acting is superb, the source material strong, and I really feel like the movies coming out this fall in terms of quality of both film making and storytelling are a cut above. The movie starts off with Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) hunting in the dry Texas back country where he comes across the detritus, human and otherwise, of a drug deal gone bad.

And even though he knows it, Llewelyn makes a few decisions that change the course of his life forever, most importantly, he picks up a satchel carrying about two million dollars of heroin money. Money that doesn't belong to him. Anton Chigurgh (a merciless Javier Bardem), hired gun and strangely philosophical hitman, is charged with tracking him down. On the other side of the law, there's Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), the sheriff in the town where Moss lives, who sits at a crossroads in his own life.

Like I said, the performances are all outstanding, but what's more, I've read the book, so I know what happens, and parts of the movie still had me gripping my RRHB's arm and gasping. Now, that's a sure sign someone's doing something right.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Presents From The Road

Jim Bryson's new CD: Where the Bungalows Roam. "Pissing on Everything." Makes me sway in that happy way, back and forth, waving and smiling, as he says. But in a good way.

Friday Night Lights

Most of my being tired last week has completely to do with the fact that I absolutely stayed up way, way too late (like 2 AM most days) watching the first season of Friday Night Lights. There are many reasons why I like the show, not the least of which is the fact that the adult storylines are given as much, if not more, importance as those belonging to the teenagers. But I feel a list would be far more appropriate:

1. I know nothing about Texas or football. This does nothing to dissuade my obsession with the show. In fact, it's kind of irrelevant.

2. I'm old but I still remember what it's like to be a teenager. I think, anyway. And there's a lot of what Matt Saracen goes through, being somewhat parentless, dealing with a lot of adult situations, and the pressures of always trying to do the right thing, that I can absolutely relate to. This is no comment on my upbringing but rather what it's like to grow up without parents who can see to you on a day-to-day basis.

3. Riggins is hot. Like, really hot.

4. There's something about portraying the ins and outs of everyday people, granted they are in quite heightened situations (paralysis, murder, Swedish potheads, new babies, sexual assault), in the style the show is shot (a lot of hand-held cameras) that seems to work.

5. It's compelling. See #3.

6. There are enough characters to keep it interesting but not too many that you start not caring. It would be good if they didn't drop storylines as often as they seem to do, see Matt's grandmother's caretaker, but I know it's hard to tie up all the threads so people keep watching.

7. Television on DVD is dangerous, primarily because for obsessive-compulsive people like myself, it's almost impossible to stop after just one episode. I mean, I can barely stop after five, six, seven and it's 2 AM and I'm thinking, "hell, just one more, I'm already tired, what's the big deal?" Note to self: I own the DVDs, so I can go back to it at any time. I don't need to suck it all up real quick and then get a version of TV brain freeze. However, it does give you quite an appreciation for quality storytelling if it can stand such vigorous viewing. In a way, that's how I know the writing for the show is really good -- it builds over time, but it also sustains like a film.

8. I actually cheered when the season finale happened. State champs! Yeah.

9. There are bits that deserve to be rewound. See #3.

10. I've been missing that one TV show that really hooked me ever since Gilmore Girls ended. Now FNL is only in its second season, and it's not really slumping (but the whole Landry-murder plot really needs to wrap up; I know they want a key drama, like Jason's accident, to tie the whole season together, but really, it's not it), if anything, I think I should have waiting to start watching until S2 is on DVD too, and that way I wouldn't be reading spoilers and obsessively searching the internet for the next-weeks that the damned Canadian broadcaster refuses to air. Sigh.

10.5. See #3.

It Happened Last Saturday At The Sadies

We saw them. The show was very good. Andre Ethier was incredible. And then fellow who I am not familiar with took the stage, maybe he could have brushed his hair, but whatever, I felt like I was in Singles. That's no comment on the quality of his performance, just that after Andre Ethier, it seemed incongruent.

Regardless, that's not the point of the post. In speaking with a friend of ours, the RRHB said something about Ethan Hawke. To which, said friend said, "What a [insert derogatory comment here]."

Apparently, he and his wife had seen Ethan Hawke at the Toronto airport around the time of the festival surrounded by his "people," barking on the phone and wearing a baseball cap. Tucked sideways. Yes, sideways. I can't help but have preconceived notions, such as the aforementioned feeling as though I was in Singles when a guy with long, scraggly hair came on stage and got all emotional. Really? Sideways?

The Sadies rocked though. It was packed, and we were both tired from moving furniture all day, the RRHB having injured himself in the process, so we only managed to stay until mid way through their set, which was still 12:30 AM. All in all, a good night for fun.

#72 - The Old Man And The Sea

The Hemingway phase continues. I finished The Old Man and the Sea last weekend but have been so busy that I haven't had a chance to put my thoughts down. It's a swift and sure novella that seems to be an almost perfect meditation on the classic theme of man versus nature. I can completely see how this tipped the Nobel Prize committee in his favour after it was written. The story, which follows an old Cuban fisherman on his last great run with a giant marlin in the Gulf Stream, seems simple at first, and somewhat matches Hemingway's stripped down prose, but it's actually quite complex.

Despite Hemingway's deeply unemotional prose, the book certainly isn't afraid to plainly state how pain and suffering refuse to play fair and how some people simply have bad luck (as Cormac McCarthy points out). You feel endlessly empathetic for Santiago as it becomes clearly apparent that despite eighty-four days out at sea, the fish are no longer swimming in his stream of luck. In a way, that's kind of the strength of the book too. This idea that bad things are always happening to good people. To men who have lived long, honest, impoverished lives.

It's also a good story to illustrate how human beings are simply powerless in terms of facing nature and winning. Like Sean Penn's Into the Wild, the landscape is as much a character in this piece then the old man himself. The small boat, the thin line, the hard tug of the marlin, they all combine to create an atmosphere the old man will never free himself from. I'm sure that there have been better words spilled about the book, so I won't go on here. My 1001 Books tome states that critical opinion is varied on The Old Man and the Sea, but I come down on the side that it rightly deserves to be called a classic and on the list.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Giller (And The Giller Light)

A bunch of us publishing types were down at Steam Whistle Brewery's Roundhouse for the Giller Light party last night. It's always fun to see people out and about celebrating books. Although I do have to make a confession that up until the very moment before I left for the party, I was obsessively watching Friday Night Lights, which is quite possibly the best show on network television. And then I ducked out right after the announcement was made that Elizabeth Hay had won. I'm waiting for my copy of her book, Late Nights on Air to come in the mail, after reading Kerry Clare's recommendation, I had put it high on my 'want to read list,' and have been waiting patiently ever since. I enjoyed her previous novel, Garbo Laughs, very much.

Anyway, a friend has saying, "choose tired." That when you've simply got way too much life to live and not enough hours in the day, simply choose to be tired. And it's going to be that kind of week. School monday, Giller Light Tuesday, Weakerthans Wednesday/Thursday (with a dance class thrown in there), and then I think we're going up north on Friday so we can close the cottage on Saturday. Crazy.

The light at the end of the tunnel? I have taken next week off to do some research for my book and I'm incredibly excited about it. Day trip to Millbank, Ontario Monday, and then overnight to Stratford to look at the archives on Tuesday.

Friday, November 02, 2007

#71 - So Long A Letter

As I make my way through my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, I'm find that not only are the authors unfamiliar to me, but the history of their countries and their experiences are eye opening as well. Having never been to Senegal, which is a country in Western Africa where the majority of its people are Muslim, the charged words of Mariama Bâ's So Long A Letter truly brought me into a world I have never experienced.

Told in epistolary format, middle-aged schoolteacher Ramatoulaye writes writes to her oldest friend, Aissatou, after the death of her husband. She struggles through her feelings about the event, which are made more complex by the fact that her husband took a second wife just five years before his death. Heralded for her feminist point of view, the narrative examines the wide differences between men and women in her society. Not just regarding the idea of polygamy, but also in terms of education, jobs and money.

Ramatoulaye is a strong heroine, a mother to twelve children, she's educated and works as a schoolteacher. The range of emotions she feels, at first when she discovers her husband has married again (no one told her), then when she comes to accept his death, and finally when she moves on with her new, independent life, are the blood of this book. At times the story feels secondary to her more philosophical musing about the curves that life throws, and she's very keen to urge young women to make their own way in life. In a way, the book is almost a parable to younger Senegalese women who should take Ramatoulaye's lessons and live accordingly. Which isn't to say it's not a successful, albeit short, book. On the whole, it reminded me a little of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and I enjoyed reading it.

It had been many years since I'd picked up a copy of a title from Heinemann's African Writers Series, and I'm glad that my challenge has brought me back. I'm reminded of how I used to seek these books out in the years after I finished my undergrad degree, before life took over and bestseller lists flaunted their accessible yumminess. Regardless, I feel richer for having read Mariama Bâ's book.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Reading Room

If one can be 'in love' with a virtual place, I might just have to confess my utter adoration of the new Reading Room in the NY Times Books section. I mean, of course, the first book they choose to discuss is War and Peace, which I've never read because I have a hard time with the Russians, but just the idea of paying that much attention to the greatness of a book is enough to do it for me.

Truly, the blogging community is one virtual reading room where we have brilliant (if I do say so myself) and opinionated discussions about books everyday, but there's something just so classy and towering about this new feature that makes me want to dust off my shelves and pull out my RRHB's beat up copy of War and Peace just so I can see what all the fuss is still about.

The Damned Dollar

The strength of the Canadian dollar continues to cause havoc in the book buying industry. Indigo just let their feelings be know via press release yesterday. I'm not going to lie, when I was in NYC I considered buying a truckload of books that I knew very well I could get in Canada because they were so much cheaper. But then I'd have to carry them and it was a very small plane.

When you can see that a TP (like my copy of The Gathering) is a full $4.00 cheaper ($14.00 vs $18.00), it's a little upsetting, but when you think about how hard it is for businesses to change, and imagine that there's no way anyone in the industry could have predicted this would happen so quickly, I tend not to worry about it. It's only $4.00 and Ben McNally's worth it.

Yet, it's not just the fact that I can buy cheaper clothes from JCrew or be annoyed that there's huge disparity in big ticket items like, well, cars. It's more the idea that things in general are just worth so much less in the US, and that's now going to bleed into the way we think about consumption as well. Do we really need all the things we buy? And will we really all run out and buy 10 new cars just because the market's forcing them to be far less expensive?

I can't answer those questions. All I can say is that I was a little upset yesterday when I cashed one of my advance cheques and actually lost money for the first time in the history of my relationship with my wonderful publisher. It's a shame that in a sense we're watching a civilization in a kind of decline when it comes to the United States. I wonder if that's what the rest of the world felt like when British colonialism started to crumble? Maybe I'm mistaken, and making huge sweeping generalizations, but perhaps the people on a global scale need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and figure out what's really important. Maybe the American "Have it All At Any Cost" Dream might just need to be reimagined? Who knows. I'm waxing philosophical for no reason other than the fact that I look out a beautiful glass window on the changing trees in Toronto every morning and wish that it'll be there for the next generation of girls who have to sit here and contemplate before attending a meeting.

Oh Amazon, Really?

Before reading any further, let me remind everyone about Kate Sutherland's marvelous All in Together Girls, it's a book of literary, some linked, some not, short stories that mainly take place in Saskatchewan. The music that gets referenced is mainly of the rock variety. Again, it's a work of literary fiction.

That said, this might just be the best one yet:

Dear Amazon.ca Customer,

We've noticed that customers who have purchased or rated All In Together Girls by Kate Sutherland have also purchased Christmas in the Hood by Nikki Turner. For this reason, you might like to know that Christmas in the Hood is now available. You can order yours at a savings of 32% by following the link below.

Christmas in the Hood Christmas in the Hood
Nikki Turner
List Price:CDN$ 17.95
Price: CDN$ 12.20
You Save: CDN$ 5.75 (32%)


Add to Cart

Book Description
The undisputed queen of hip-hop fiction, #1 Essence bestselling author Nikki Turner unwraps a talented new collection of writers with raw urban stories to jingle your bells this season.

Christmas in the Hood presents fresh talent alongside shining stars such as K. Elliott and Seth “Soul Man” Ferranti–all writing gritty tales that reveal what the holidays bring for the naughty and the nice who live by the code of the street. In “Secret Santa,” after her children’s Christmas presents are stolen, a woman has to decide what she’s willing to sacrifice to give them the holiday they deserve; in “Me and Grandma,” a senior sleighs more crack than candy canes to bring Christmas cheer to ... Read more

Two words: Awe. Some.