Monday, December 31, 2007

First Lines Meme

I am absolutely loving many things about my new computer, not the first of which is being able to blog while watching television. Lame, I know, but when you've got a cold and have Faux-voed old episodes of Alias to combat the writer's strike, anything's entertainment. So, I've been making the rounds of the many blogs I haven't been able to keep up with over the last few weeks because things were so crazy between work and life. Quite a few of my blog friends have done the first lines meme, and so I thought, in the spirit of developing my own set of new year's revolutions, it might be a good place to start.
January 2007: It's oddly fitting that this book straddled by 2006-2007 reading; it's possibly the best book I've read in ages. (About Kevin Patterson's Consumption.)

February 2007: Last night, despite feeling desperately under the weather, I headed out in the cold to my first Sweater class at Knitomatic.

March 2007: 1. There is a lot of snow outside.

April 2007: I'm glad to be back from conference—it was a long week.

May 2007: There's nothing like sunshine...and a royalty cheque to brighten up your day.

June 2007: 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).

July 2007: 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).

August 2007: I've been at a work conference since Sunday, and haven't been home a single night this week to really blog, so here's a quick catch-up...

September 2007
: Just a quickie post to say that I am utterly engrossed by Mad Men.

October 2007
: When I rode my bike into work this morning, still happy that even though it's October, the weather doesn't necessitate a heavy wool "biking" (translation old and crappy) sweater just yet, it was so foggy that it reminded me of Dublin.

November 2007
: 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.

December 2007
: I emerged from the boardroom momentarily to get a cup of tea yesterday.
We've been in sales conference since Sunday.

Oddly, three entries concern sales conference, which isn't all that strange considering they're always at the end of one month and bleed into the beginning of another. A few books, one knitting class, an obsession with Mad Men, some biking, and some complaining. Sure seems like my life.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Have Cold Will Photoblog Instead

The stupid cold hangs on for dear life, which makes me think that perhaps it's not a passing fancy kind of illness, but something with legs, and I am not prepared for that in the least.
It was snowing the other day just the kind of flakes that I love: big, awkward, sticky, and melting before they even hit the ground.
I tried to take a picture but the camera doesn't quite catch them in the right way. Regardless, they made me happy, in that way seeing snow from inside can make you happy, if only for a moment before you turn on the TV to realize the writers' strike is still going strong and your Faux-Vo is almost empty and the only Ethan Hawke going is Snow Falling on Cedars.
Ah, the week Between Christmas and New Year continues.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Keep Feeling Procrastination

I've got a cold so my head is totally foggy. Even though I should be writing now, I'm trolling the internet and making myself kind of sick. I watched an awful video, and not even by accident, of poor Brad Pitt trying to go to McDonald's with his kids. And as disgusted with the whole thing that I was (I could only watch about a minute), I kept thinking to myself, "but I'm still clicking on it..."

For the last few years I've flirted with giving up internet gossip and find myself, embarrassed and ashamed, typing in http://socialitelife.com at work in a spare moment or two between meetings just to give myself some sort of mental health holiday. Well, no more -- I know it's all holier than thou and kind of sanctimonious, but who really cares of Brad Pitt's taking his kids to McDonald's? Why does it deserve some sort of hallelujah chorus from all the kids around with their cell phones and snapping pictures -- how would that be to live your life everyday, in your own home, ransacked by hungry vultures all vying to do you harm in a small way. And then I click on it and justify the whole existence of the awful market, by paying the advertisers and refusing to ignore the dirty business entirely.

So that's my number one New Year's Revolution: Stop reading celebrity gossip. I highly doubt I'll be able to avoid it entirely, but maybe I can get back to the ragdoll of years passed, the one who would only use the web for good. Ha! Does she even exist anymore? Trails of her lost in cyberspace where she used to track down literary journals to send poetry and stories to, who wrote for great sites, and who wanted more than anything to write books of her own?

Let's find that girl again this year, shall we?

And here's what got me started on the whole Brad Pitt tangent anyway. An article I wrote for work about movie tie-ins is up on the homepage of MSN today. I read about 50 pages of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and even though I didn't finish the book, I was enjoying it. I simply got swept away by something else.

#84 - The Frozen Thames

It's a brave new world. I am sitting on my couch this morning with my brand new (gifted by my incredibly generous brother) MacBook in front of me typing this blog entry. After a false start, and a shady Future Shop clerk who sold him a used model that was actually missing important pieces (like the plug that goes from the power adaptor to the wall) and had a burned out hard drive, we're back on track this morning with a beautiful new machine that hums and looks absolutely gorgeous.
Having not owned a Mac before, I'm stumbling around, but the more I get used to it, the more I like it, and not just because the commercials with Justin Long are just so cute. I'm excited to learn how to cut movies and all that fun stuff -- but for now I'll settle for figuring out how to get a photo into this post.
Okay, enough preamble.
Oh, wait, more preamble.
Today is my 2nd wedding anniversary and the anniversary of our 9th year living together. Congratulations to us!
Okay, now that's enough preamble.
Helen Humphreys's The Frozen Thames is an interesting novel. Written as 40 short vignettes describing each time the Thames has frozen over the last 1,000 or so years (the book starts with the 1142 freeze). Each story captures a moment in time around when the Thames froze from all different walks of life, publicans, noblemen, Kings, Queens, clergy -- the characters are as different as the ice itself.
While some of the stories tend toward repetition (there are a lot of frozen birds and a lot of Frost Fairs), each one has intimate historical details that bring that particular year to life. Whether it's Queen Matilda fighting off her cousin in the first tale, or the strange inscription the mason makes on the stone in another, it's impossible not to be taken in by the stories and transported to a time when warmth was little but a figment of one's imagination.
Of the stories, my favourites include the Postscript, 1709, 1716, 1565 and 1809. And I don't want to give anything away really because it's a sweet little book to read. In the Author's Note, Humphreys explains that she wanted to write about ice at a time when our world might soon be without it entirely. To document the wonders of the cold so that there would be a record. A cool appreciation for a season so many of us simply try and avoid -- by staying inside, by wrapping up in sleeping bag coats, by travelling down south -- instead of maybe enjoying it a little, like so many of her characters who walk along the frozen banks wondering at the sounds, wandering over the makeshift tundras, and always realizing the inspiration within.
PHOTO IN CONTEXT: How I wouldn't love to simply have taken the book outside, plopped it into the snowbank, and shot the picture, but that would ruin the package, and it's a truly delightful looking book. Instead, it's a fairly typical shot of the book on the chair in our TV room.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

#83 - Triangle

Even without noticing it acutely, I'm probably reading a book a day, well at least over the last two anyway. This trend might need to continue as my body forces me to rest, having now come down with a rotten cold not even ten days after the plague, and not even a day after my RRHB himself survived the awful GI sickness. Isn't that what holidays are for?

Annnywaaay. Today it's Katharine Weber's excellent Triangle: A Novel. Started last night after we watched Eastern Promises (well, the RRHB watched the film; I half puttered about because I'd already seen the film), I just finished it moments ago, cuddled up with a cup of cold tea on the chair with Walter at my feet.

It's an interesting novel, both in the way Weber chooses to tell the story, swinging back and forth over Esther Gottesfeld's tale of the day in which she survived the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911, and the modern day lives of Esther, her granddaughter Rebecca and her composer lover George. On the edge of death from the ripe old age of 106, Esther has kept a number of secrets about the fire for 90 years, details that an historian named Ruth Zion is desperate to pry out of her cold, dead hands. They are all fascinating characters all, but its truly Rebecca and George, whose final composition in the book finds its inspiration from those tragic events, who find their lives inexorably changed when Esther finally dies.

Told in various formats (court transcripts, newspaper articles, phone conversations), and commenting mercilessly on the nature of storytelling itself, the novel is rich in fascinating details, not only about the music George composes and its compellingly scientific beginnings, but also in the nature of Rebecca's work as a geneticist, and how both of these things tie the couple together in ways that are not necessarily traditional, but certainly work to keep the two of them happy. It's a beautiful book about the nature of family, the threads of tradition, and a tragedy that defined the history of New York at that particular time and place.

Inspiring, addictive, ridiculously smart and completely effective, Triangle: A Novel might just be the perfect book for a partially snowy grey day in Toronto; miles and years away from 1911 New York, and worlds away from composers, geneticists, and all kinds of other things I would have never known about had I not finished Weber's work.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I love the detail on the cover where the word "Triangle" is stitched onto a shirt (maybe a shirtwaist?), and wanted to highlight it with my photograph of the book sitting on my desk surrounded by used Kleenex (gross), pens, a notepad, with Helen Humphrey's The Frozen Thames underneath.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

#82 - Away

With Christmas decidedly out of the way, and the two of us absolutely crashing last night while we watched (and I bawled, natch) one of the greatest of the great movies, The Shawshank Redemption, we now come upon one of my favourite weeks of the year: Between Christmas and New Year (BCANY).

Goodness, a whole lot of nothing happens BCANY, last year we recovered from Cuba, the year before that we recovered from getting married (and watched all of the extended Lord of the Rings trilogy, awesome), and the year before that...well, you get the picture. We do a whole lot of recovering in the week BCANY. What generally happens is that I read a crapload of books, psyche myself up for the upcoming year, and generally bemoan the fact that I'm still sick (as defined by having to take stupid-ass medication) and going on my fourth year of dealing with this round of the disease.

So, as my year-end reading comes to a manic close, there might be a flurry of posts about different books I've finished. The first of which, Amy Bloom's Away, I have to say I enjoyed very much, and I hope that it starts a sort of trend. It's the story of Lillian Leyb, whose tale begins when her entire family is murdered in their home in a Russian pogrom and ends in the frozen tundras of the north. It's an epic book, one that takes Lillian, in her grief, to New York City, where she lives in the Lower East Side, and then, upon discovering that her daughter Sophie isn't dead after all, but rescued and spirited away to Siberia, on a journey all the way north. Lillian travels by train (in the closet), by boat (driven by her own hands) and sometimes by foot (blistered and bleeding), to northernmost Alaska, where she hopes to sail a boat across to Siberia and Sophie.

Bloom writes beautifully. The novel's research isn't obtrusive, but fits in the novel like sheets on a bed, lining Lillian's story with bits to keep her warm despite what she endures. The book isn't simply epic in scope, but also in story, along the way Lillian meets a cast of characters, and one would think it would be hard to keep them all straight, but Bloom's skill as a novelist never allows a single thread to drop untied. Instead, she's got a gift for ensuring that the reader knows the end to each main character. Tangential slips take off bit by bit as Lillian exits someone's life, and every question is answered -- even if it takes just a few paragraphs, Bloom makes sure you know what happens to the people that have touched Lillian's life.

All in all, it was a delightful book to read, and I loved the Canadian content, the Telegraph Trail, Dawson City's depleted "Paris of the North" status by the early 20th century, the bugs, and the idea of walking to the sound of your own voice, as Lillian does to keep going, telling Sophie stories with each step she takes. I won't ruin the ending, but I will say that I'd highly recommend this novel, regardless of the fact that my RRHB thinks the cover might just be the most hideous he's ever seen. I kind of like it, but am willing to hear arguments from either side.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: Away standing up on my new bookshelves, already crammed with books, candles, sunglasses, ARCs, computer cords, pictures, receipts, CDRs, brochures and a whole host of other crap.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Spare Time

Yesterday I wrapped the last of the presents, cleaned the house and got in some groceries to tide us over for the next few crazy days. My RRHB has been out of the house for the last eight days working, and he would have been at the job again today if he hadn't have woken up with the unbearable sickness that knocked me out ten days or so ago. Poor baby. Popsicles and rest for him.

I can honestly say that I've never been this organized before a holiday before. Usually we're both so busy and so crammed full of to-do lists that we're shopping right until the last moment and manically running around to get everything done. Not this year. We did the majority of the shopping three weeks ago and I finished everything off last week after work, and now with the wrapping done, I'm not quite sure what to do with myself.

A flurry of blog posts, catching up on my other blog reading, listening to truly glorious music on Studio Sparks and generally arranging my thoughts before heading out to my parents, sans the very ill RRHB, tonight. Spare time is truly a blessing.

Now if I could only open the file that shouts: "How about you work on your novel?"

Happy Christmas all!

TRH Movie - Sweeney Todd

We had a pass to go and see this last Wednesday, which meant a mad panic of finishing up the Christmas shopping (done!) and racing around to actually get to the screening on time, which we did, yay!

I'm not going to say too much beyond the fact that it was one of the most enjoyable films I've seen all year long. Yes, I realize it's a musical about a demon barber, and goodness is it gory, bloody and gruesome, but it's also whimsical, beautiful and supremely acted. But what I liked the most, apart from the utterly delicious art direction, was all the singing, from start to finish, just like a stage musical.

So, if you're out and about on Boxing Day and are in the mood for something that'll keep your toes tapping and force you to cover your eyes at the same time, this is the film for you. As my RRHB said as we exited the theatre: "It's got to be Tim Burton's best."

1001 Books Challenge - 2008

So my goal for the 1001 Books challenge is to try and read two titles per month. And in an attempt to not ensure my RRHB goes completely mad with the stacks of books consistently piling up on our shelves, I'm going to try and read the titles that I've already got in-house. So here's my list for the year:

1. War and Peace by Tolstoy
Having been assigned by my creative writing teacher in a manner of speaking, the claim that it's the most "romantic" book ever written is at stake. At 1448 pages, it'll be almost impossible to get through. Good thing I've got 11 days off starting today.

2. Invisble Man by Ralph Ellison
I should have read this novel during my undergraduate American fiction class, but I never got around to it. I've had the novel on various bookshelves over the years and I think it's about time I actually read the damn book.

3. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
Having read the first sentence about a dozen times over the past three years, I have to say it's still one of the best I've ever read. That doesn't mean I've actually found my way to the end of the book.
FINISHED JANUARY 2008

4. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates
Something fun for the upcoming year.

5. Schooling by Heather McGowan
See #4.

6. The Sea by John Banville
Another book I've had on my TBR pile for quite some time.
FINISHED MARCH 21st

7. Drop City by T. Coraghessan Boyle
I picked up a copy of this at a used book store in Stratford, and although I'd never heard of T. Coraghessan Boyle before the 1001 Books list, the fact that part of the novel is set on a commune has me utterly intrigued. Who doesn't love a good commune story?

8. Islands by Dan Sleigh
Ever since I heard our family story that my great-great grandfather went off to the Boer War and never returned, I've been curious about South Africa. It's on my list of countries where I would spend two months if I got the chance to tour the world, if only to find out if the story is true, and this epic novel seems a good place to start.

9. July's People by Nadine Gordimer
Speaking of South Africa, another novel that's been on my TBR pile for years, I've already half-finished it twice. This is the year to get to the last page.
FINISHED JANUARY 2, 2008.

10. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
Recommended by Kath as one of the greatest novels of all time (at least I think that's what she said), I brought a lovely copy home from work, and it's going on the list.

11. Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Another "as recommended by" -- it's a friend's favourite novel.

12. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Continuing my love affair with Austen, I am so happy that I've still got novels of hers to read.
FINISHED MARCH 2008

13. Middlemarch by George Eliot
Another giant classic. Enough said.
FINISHED DECEMBER 2008

14. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald
I have a copy. It's on a shelf. That's pretty much why it's on the list.

15. Philip Roth: The Plot Against America or American Pastoral
Both are on my 1001 Books shelf, so I'm not sure which one I'll choose, but I'm happy to try and read either one.

16. Ulysses by James Joyce
We'll see if I actually get through this one. We'll see.

17. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
I recently re-watched the movie version (it was on TMN and I wasn't feeling well) and was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed it. I'm sure the book will be even better.

18. Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey
This book goes in the same category as The Good Soldier. I've stopped and started a dozen times since first picking it up in high school.

19. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Emma at work recommends this one. Hence, it's on the list.
FINISHED MAY 2008

20. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
This is for my 1001 Books club.
FINISHED FEBRUARY 2008

21. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Who doesn't love a good Wharton (it took my fancy; see below)
FINISHED APRIL 2008

22. Hunger by Knut Hamsun
The fancy struck me.
FINISHED NOVEMBER 2008

23. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Again, the fancy struck me.
FINISHED NOVEMBER 2008

24. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Because it was just that time of year.
FINISHED DECEMBER 2008

25. Choke by Chuck Palahniuk
Because there's a movie.
FINISHED DECEMBER 2008.

And that leaves a few more titles to be determined over the next few months if something simply takes my fancy.

The running tally: 161

Reading Resolutions

Now that I've got a glorious 11 days off and absolutely no freelance to do, I can actually start thinking about what kind of reading resolutions to tackle for 2008. I read 32 of my Around the World in 52 Books, and would have made it through more if my work reading hadn't filled up so much of my spare time. I added 13 more titles to the 1001 Books challenge, which brings me up to 145, which means I'm slowly but surely getting to my goal of maybe reading half the list in my lifetime.

I think I will surely update my Around the World in 52 Books for 2008, include an across Canada challenge, make a list of the 1001 books I'd like to tackle, and try to finish some of the great big books, like War and Peace, which I started yesterday -- 4 chapters down, hundreds more to go. Goodness, I really don't like long books.

So, lots more to come as I compile my lists over the next few days.

#81 - Mudbound

I set out wanting to love Hillary Jordan's novel, Mudbound, for one simple reason: the cover art is deliciously beautiful. The story of an almost-spinster, Laura, who marries late in life (at the ghastly age of 31), and soon finds herself on a mudbound farm in the Mississippi Delta caring for a cantankerous, racist father-in-law, a broken drunk of a beautiful brother-in-law, as well as her husband and two daughters.

Torn apart by two wars, Laura's husband, Henry, having endured the First World War, and his brother Jamie barely escaping the Second, the family tries to hold itself together in the face of adversity. It's always been Henry's dream to have land, and so when he buys a farm in the Delta and announces that's where they're all moving, Laura tries her best to remain positive and supportive. But when tragedy after tragedy forces them to live in the broken-down farmhouse with no indoor plumbing or running water, the true natures of everyone involved soon becomes apparent, which sets the story on its inevitable course.

Being a landowner means taking responsibility for the share croppers, and Henry, while fair, isn't one to rock the boat. Legions of racism, deeply embedded in the small-town South, cause all kinds of problems that are exacerbated by the return of Ronsel, a Sergeant in the Black Panther tank brigade, he's the eldest son of Henry's best farmer, Hap. When Ronsel and Jamie forge a clapped together friendship shook out over the lid of a bottle, the entire community turns against them, and it's this relationship that truly propels the conflict in the story.

Tragic, sad, moving, and inevitable, the novel captured my attention from its first page and I didn't put it down. It's one of those "read the whole book in one shot" kind of novels, and I highly recommend it.

#80 - Now You See Him

Eli Gottlieb's new novel Now You See Him, which I read in ARC format, comes with a note from the publisher that says, "I simply 'couldn't put it down' -- and you won't be able to either." And while I would agree that it's a literary page-turner, an elusive form of the popular novel that's so hard to get right (see Laura Lippman's excellent What the Dead Know as an almost perfect example), I'm not sure it's 100% effective all the way through.

The first two-thirds of the novel, where it deals with the untimely murder-suicide of Rob Castor, a writer from Monarch, New York who killed his ex-girlfriend, Kate Pierce, before taking his own life, are quite good. Told from the perspective of Rob's best friend Nick Framingham, whose having a hell of a time reconciling the absence of such a fury of a man from his life, the novel unravels layers and layers of untold stories, family secrets and hints to the obsessive nature of the crime. The novel rips along and I was quite taken by Nick's mid-life crisis.

But somewhere in the middle it gets kind of lost, and sort of muddled. There are obvious influences on Gottlieb's novel, namely John Irving, and if you're a fan of the former than I have no doubt that you'd enjoy this novel. While I read the novel primarily in transit back and forth from work, it never grabbed me the way I thought it would, despite the quality of Gottlieb's prose. And by the end, I have to admit, that I was rolling my eyes at certain plot twists towards the end, but that's no comment on the novel, but rather my own cynical nature. We're offering the book up in our Facebook group later next month, so I'll be curious to see what other people think too.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Best Books of 2007

So, all tolled I think I've probably read about 85 books this year -- the ones I haven't counted here have been Harlequins, and mainly manuscripts, so I don't want to review them here before they're finished and published. So, of the 80-odd books that I've read this year, here are the 10 that have stood out in my mind, books that I've thought of again and again, and books that I've recommended to maybe dozens of people, maybe even gone so far as to push a copy into someone's hands:

1. Consumption by Kevin Patterson
The very first book I finished in 2007 has resonated with me throughout the entire year. An impossibly sad yet utterly redemptive book, Patterson's novel might be one of the great overlooked Canadian books of last year.

2. Mothers and Sons by Colm Tóibín
Of the two Colm Tóibín books I read this year, this collection of short stories took me, as I said, "completely by surprise." They are magnificent, and I fell in love with them even more after hearing the author himself read at Harbourfront a few weeks after finishing the book.

3. Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey
The Australian entry in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, Carey's latest novel might just be his best. What I wrote about the novel way back in March when I read it still stands as an apt description for how I felt about it: "Like a bucket of cold water dropped on your head on a hot day, Theft shocks you into submission with its bold, slashing strokes of brilliant prose that belt out the story." And I'm only a little embarrassed to admit that Butcher Bones remains the one literary character that, should he have existed in real life, I would gladly sacrifice a little marital, ahem, angst for...if you catch my drift.

4 & 4.5. The Road & No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
What more needs to be said about Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road? It transcends Oprah, won the Pulitzer, turned the words "post-apocalyptic" into watercooler conversation, and firmly established McCarthy as one of the greatest living American writers working today. None of this is surprising to a girl who includes All the Pretty Horses in the her top 10 Best Books of My Life list.

I also read McCarthy's No Country for Old Men this year, and am calling it number 4.5, and remember that I said this at the time: "Now, as you know, I was completely captivated by The Road. But No Country For Old Men blew me away. No one writes violence like McCarthy, and turns something that's often mocked in the popular media, or blown out in ways that ensure any impact of it gets lost between big guns and lots of useless fake punches, into literature."

5. Run by Ann Patchett
Critics were on the fence about Patchett's novel: EW hated it; the Globe didn't, and so on. Many people commented on the utterly contrived nature of the story. And yet, many people fell in love with Patchett's "snow globe"-like world within its covers. But I just adored this book from start to finish, couldn't put it down, and cried like a baby when it ended.

6. October by Richard Wright
While not on any of the other big Canadian lists this year, Wright's novel is probably my favourite work of Canadian fiction in 2007. Taut, blissfully traditional, canonic, and with touches of The Watch That Ends the Night, one of my all-time favs, I read this book in manuscript format on a streetcar ride home weeks after starting my new job.

7. The Accidental by Ali Smith
Another book that had tonnes of online buzz that before I finished it thought it might be slightly overrated. Boy was I wrong. It took me a couple of tries to get into it, but I am certainly glad that I did.

8. Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
Utterly heartbreaking and stirringly original, it's a post-colonial novel that I would have loved to have studied at university.

9. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida
Vendela Vida's book entirely surprised me. From the opening pages, you think you're reading a certain kind of novel, one that you've read many times before, and yet, by the end, you're utterly convinced that it's one of the most intriguing stories you've read in a long time.

10. The Gathering by Anne Enright
This novel hit me like a punch in the stomach, and I loved every word. As I said, "The narrative that spills out over the next few hundreds pages fights with itself at every turn, angry, raw, overwhelmed, Veronica [the protagonist] takes hold of what's left of her life and shakes it, pulls all the pieces down around her and then can't really tell how to put them back together again. In the end, I'm not clear if she has or not, but it doesn't really matter because this book is so painfully honest about life, about family, about tragedy, that becoming 'normal' again isn't much the point."

But I'd have to say that my all-time favourite book I read all year might just have to be Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses. I'm pulling it out of the top 10 and saying that it's the book that I would least recommend, but it's the novel that I think in terms of skill, in terms of story, in terms of pure power of its prose that I adored the most out of all the books that flew past my hungry eyes this year.

And if the top 10 could include more books, I'd have to say these are my honorable mentions: Kate Sutherland's All in Together Girls, Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer, and Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Santa, Baby!

Last Friday, before the illness felled me like a giant tree, we had our holiday party for our group. There was a Kris Kringle involved, with a limit, and while I missed the present opening part of the evening (we went to go see Christine Fellows), I did end up receiving my gift on Monday morning.

What did Santa deliver?

Only the A&E mini-series, Pride and Prejudice, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. For those of you whose memories are as jammed full as mine, I'll remind everyone that I caught all kinds of flack at our last sales conference for coming out on the "pro" side of the Keira Knightley / Joe Wright version. Someone out there not only remembered, but has since decided to school me by making it impossible for me not to also watch the earlier version.

I tried to convince the RRHB that we watch it last night (oh, sure, he was all in the "why don't we watch Pride and Prejudice niceness while I was sick, but now that I'm just about back to normal, he's no longer so inclined) to no avail. Anyway, he's away at the beginning of January recording, so I'll have the television all to myself, and with the writer's strike, I'll take the protest even one step further and cut myself off from the networks entirely.

Well, that might be a bit harsh.

But still...Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, how exciting!

Happy Christmas to me.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Good Grief

Certainly hasn't been the weekend I expected. We went to see Christine Fellows on Friday at the Music Gallery, and it was a lovely show, as always. I took my needle, and then we went to bed, nothing unusual, right? Until about 4 AM when I woke up and was so very sick that I proceeded to throw up once every forty-five minutes to an hour until about 2 PM the next day.

I'm still not 100% better.

It's been years since I've been that sick. Sure, the occasional cold or lung infection, no biggie, I can handle it, but drop down fever so you can't even leave your bed and feel woozy to the point you can barely stand up barfing up all kinds of gross things in your stomach, well, that's not a way to spend the holiday season.

So, we're quarantined.

Which is okay because it's a snow day. And who doesn't love a snow day? At least today I can read, I couldn't even do that yesterday. I finished Jennifer McMahon's new book Island of Lost Girls (#79), which comes out in May 2008, so I don't want to say too much except I liked it, and it reminded me a lot of Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know.

And now I have to go back to bed.

Sigh.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

#79 - Pretty Little Liars

Okay, I hate secrets. I have a hard time keeping them and even harder time not knowing if someone whispers, "I have a secret." There's just something in me that has to know. It's gotten much better the older I get, and obviously, I've learned to keep as many secrets as I've maybe leaked, but Sara Shepard's book Pretty Little Liars certainly understands girls like me when it comes to the whole idea of a mystery: I simply have to know what happened and why.

For years, I've read the ends of mysteries half-way through. I am not unapologetic about this -- I certainly know it ruins the surprise, but goodness, I just can't help myself. I read spoilers. I know what's about to happen on Corrie Street because, let's refrain here, I just need to know. So you can imagine what happened when I read an entire YA novel based on the idea of secrets: I almost imploded.

Who is the mysterious "A" that keeps tormenting the girls? Why is she doing it? What happened that set the four girls apart in the beginning? There are so many mysteries and secrets running amok in this book that it's almost impossible to keep them all straight, which is kind of half the fun. So if you're looking for a pure guilty pleasure, I'd say give Pretty Little Liars a try. Not as addictive as The Luxe, but just as fun.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

TRH Updates - December Madness

There are reasons why I hate starting every post with, "Goodness, I am so busy I barely have time to sleep these days." Firstly, it's boring, no one cares how busy I am. In fact, I don't even care, and I'm the one living this manic life. Secondly, being swamped with work doesn't count as almost every single person I know professionally and personally is in the same boat. Thirdly, I miss the comments, the emails, and frankly, the love, that I get from my blog and when I don't post, I don't get anything back. After all, you get back what you put out in the world, right?

So, I apologize in advance for the brief list-post detailing what's gone on in the past few weeks. I know it's just not the same.

1. Sales conference sucked up a good chunk of my life in the last couple weeks. However, it introduced me to Tim Winton, an Australian writer who has written a beautiful, lyrical and utterly compelling novel called Breath that I devoured in a 24-hour period (#77). It's not coming out until next year so I won't go into too much detail except to say that I would urge anyone and everyone to pick up his book of short stories The Turning and let me know what they think. It's the book that's top of my list now.

2. Another book I read before conference made me think that the subject matter of stories doesn't matter as long as the telling is compelling. (Am I rapping? Take it to the break! Yeah.). The Art of Racing in the Rain (#78) has a dog for a protagonist. A dog obsessed with race car driving. Do you think that deterred me? No, it did not -- it's a charming, engaging and sweet book that proves, much like Friday Night Lights, the power is in the storytelling and not the subject matter. This is an interesting lesson so late in life.

3. Zesty and I went to go see Atonement. I think she had a greater emotional response to the film than I did, having read the book and remembering how heartbreaking the story ends up being. It's a beautiful movie with an interesting soundtrack, and I think James McAvoy is simply delicious, but on the whole I'd give it a solid B, maybe moving on to B+ in certain parts. There's a scene when Robbie's at Dunkirk filmed in one long, gorgeous shot that truly brings home the destructive, debilitating experience for British soldiers in the Second World War. With none of the Hollywood-style American touches of huge explosions, instead showing a choir of rag-tag men battle weary and broken who are singing, the film takes a totally different point of view than that which we're used to in terms of exploring the war.

4. Awww, Enchanted. I was so glad that Tara was home for a whirlwind weekend that we got to see this film together. It was the perfect girlie movie. Amy Adams is delightful, and will probably get nominated for an Oscar. I can take or leave McDreamy. You get the feeling that his giant head wobbles a bit from walking around with all that hairy ego.

5. Dirty Dancing: The Stage Show? So not worth the money. The Evil Empire (where we were all employed three years ago, before half of us were unceremoniously fired) Ladies and I got together for a lovely pub dinner and set out to get our hearts broken by Baby. Only it never happened. Because the show is awful. Not even good-bad like Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights which was awesomely bad, and hilarious. The stage show truly sucks, despite its lovely art direction: the dialogue is painful, the performances beyond wooden, and the leads don't sing. In a musical. And there's no dirty dancing except one very small part at the beginning. Trust me, it's not worth it, even for the laughter factor (we cackled through the entire performance). It's troublesome because we were laughing at the actors and not with them, which is never a good thing.

So that's about it in terms of my latest cultural indulgences. Lots more to come in terms of reading challenges, my top 10 books of 2007, my top 10 movies, and all kinds of other delightful lists that I adore making. And I promise, more regular updates.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Wonder Redux

I emerged from the boardroom momentarily to get a cup of tea yesterday. We've been in sales conference since Sunday. Sitting, listening, laughing, joking, learning, and being overwhelmed by the sheer size of the jobs ahead of us for the next year.

When I came into my cube the hawk was soaring so close to my window that I saw the whole spread of his wings. It's as if he knew I'd been looking out for him ever since his impressive dive last week. He flew by at the one moment I had in my day to actually see him simply to remind me there's a whole world moving at a pace entirely different then the click of a PowerPoint presentation.