Monday, March 31, 2008

Literary Dealbreakers

This is a cute post from Paper Cuts, about the literary dealbreakers when it comes to personal relationships. I recommend a lot of books -- it comes with the territory when you work in book publishing. Everyone is always asking what they should be reading, and for the most part, I like to pride myself on my book matching acumen. But I had never thought of the consequences in terms of dating.

Back in the day, I gave my RRHB a lot of books before we lived together, well before I knew what he actually liked to read, and I think the worst present I ever thrusted upon him was Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Thankfully, he married me anyway.

However, I am a complete Judgey-McJudgerson when it comes to what other people are reading. For example, I will think wickedly awful thoughts if you carry around quotations from Eat, Pray, Love in your handbag. I just will. And if you tell me that The Da Vinci Code is your favourite book, like, ever, I can't help but relay the fact that I threw that book across the room after trying to get through it for my now-defunct book club. Literary snob? Yes.

It's just like Rebecca Miller says: "...Mr. Lee reserved his special disdain for those who thought they were better than other people just because they read books." People who read books are better than people who don't. I won't cookie-cutter it, but I save my own particular disdain for people who choose to read bad books. Harsh, but true.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

#21 - The Outcast

For a first novel, Sadie Jones's The Outcast is remarkably accomplished. However, I'd say that the novel is much richer in character development than in plot, which wasn't necessarily cliched, but it was a bit predictable. Regardless, Jones's tale remains captivating from start to finish. It caught me enough to keep me awake one night far, far into the hours of the early morning, and the book's amazing ending (which I will not spoil here) made me cry so much I had to go back and read it again the next day to make sure I didn't miss anything.

Set in England in 1957, the outcast of the title is Lewis Aldridge, a teenager just out of jail, and the back story about how he got there in the first place, and what happens upon his return, fills in the richness of his tortured soul. With as much of the story taking place behind the closed familial doors, where personal tragedy seems to reign supreme for all of the characters, The Outcast richly imagines the social constructions that worked to keep it there in the decades where the novel takes place.

I don't want to say much more except the book is definitely worth reading, and I'd be curious to see if other people were as taken by the ending as I was, feeling like it's the hardest part to write of any bits and pieces, and getting it right must just seem like such an accomplishment.

READING CHALLENGES: I have this book down as England in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, and really feel like Jones captures the spirit and essence of the setting extremely well. You could feel the upper-crust clutching to their conventions, feel the classicism that almost destroys not one but two families, and it made me wish my grandmother was still alive so we could talk about the book together.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: Considering I read this book a couple of months ago but couldn't blog about it until it was actually in stores, I'm halfway through The Age of Innocence and absolutely obsessed with Wharton's masterpiece at the moment. Then I might take up Denis Johnson's massive Tree of Smoke, simply because I think it'll become my book for the USA in the aforementioned challenge.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Edith Wharton On The Way In...

From The Age of Innocence: "Untrained human nature was not frank and innocent, it was full of the twists and defenses of an instinctive guile."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Feeling Sorry For Myself

For those of you who aren't the least bit interested in hearing me whine about myself, please skip this post.

I don't know what it was about today, about the last few days actually, that have turned out to just crush me in their path. Not one, not two, but three or four friends have openly made comments about how I'm being too hard on myself, how I need to stop thinking so negatively, and funny how it's just sucked me right down into the mire. As if I need more criticism about how I criticize myself. Kind of ironic and funny, no?

And I'm nervous and scared about the next steps with the book, which involve ripping it apart and putting it back together again, and I feel like I can't rip myself any more apart. And I'm nervous and scared about this stage of my life in general. What the disease has done to me, to how I look, to how I feel, to what can happen in my life, to make me give up all of the things I've wanted so bad, and some days like today I hurt so far down that I think it's all this crap that's actually rooting my feet in place, and not my nice shoes, not my sunny disposition, not my endless optimism. Sometimes it's impossible to pull out enough confidence just to walk out of the house in the morning.

Argh. Now I'm going to be all blotchy when I meet Alicia to go see the play. Damn you stupid head.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Another In A Long List Of Embarrassing Things

1. Having the hiccups in a crowded elevator.

More news that's list-worthy:

1a. NPR.org rocks, literally, I've been listening to SXSW concerts all day long.

2. We went out for dinner last night with a couple friends. The restaurant looked like an old dive bar from the outside but the food was fabulous. One friend: "If you tell anyone about this place in your blog I will kill you." So, shhhhhh.

3. My RRHB bought Harp yesterday. It felt like the cottage. I miss the cottage.

4. The sunshine is not matching the temperature. And I switched coats this morning, which means I'm essentially going to be very cold as I walk home.

5. I started reading the book last night and wanted to rewrite it all from the first sentence. Crippling self-doubt makes a comeback.

6. Peanut butter and lettuce is an awesome combination. I don't care what anyone says. And it makes me think of my mom.

7. Still hiccuping.

8. Rebecca Miller is an amazing writer. Take this sentence for example: "Delia Shunt was 34. She had fine, dirty-blond hair and a strong, heavy ass which looked excellent in blue jeans." So it's no surprise that I am absolutely devouring her new novel, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, that we're publishing in the summer.

9. A pen broke open on my hands and arms this morning, which means I look blue.

10. Bubblegum will always put me in a good mood. Even if it's the cause of #1 and #7.

EDITED TO ADD: That I wish someone would describe my ass that way. Heh.

Monday, March 24, 2008

#20 - The Turning

How have I made it this far in my life and not read all of Tim Winton's books? Seriously? I don't think there was a single story in The Turning that wasn't ridiculously successful, and his writing is so full of angst and ambiance that it's impossible not to get a sense of both character and place, often within the first few sentences. I'd have to say my favourite stories were "Family," "Boner McPharlin's Moll," and the title story, "The Turning."

While not all the stories are linked, some have characters that appear in more than one, and many take Angelus, a small town on the coast in Western Australia, as the main setting. One of the neat technical aspects to the collection that I enjoyed was how Winton ordered the stories. We'd read about one character as an adult, and then the next story would be him as a child, exploring how something in childhood led him to the man he was, but in reverse. I also felt like it takes a deft, dedicated hand to describe adolescence so well, and this is a quality The Turning shares with Winton's excellent new novel coming out in a few months, Breath.

I read Winton for Australia in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge. And I have not note that I've had such a visceral reaction to both of his books that's kind of akin to how I felt after finishing Peter Carey's ridiculously good Theft. Winton's writing is so urgent, so driving, so gut wrenching that I think it's impossible not to relate to it on that kind of level. And while I wouldn't go so far as to say that I would crawl up into bed with any of these characters, I could certainly understand why Jackie gets in the car with Boner McPharlin, and how it turns out exactly the opposite of what she wants and needs, scarring her for life.

One line from "Commission" sent a rock-and-roll-style reverb right through me: "Drunks and junkies take everything out of you, all your patience, all your time and will. You soften and and obscure and compensate and endure until they've eaten you alive and afterwards, when you think you're finally free of it for good, it's hard not to be angry at the prospect of dealing with the squalor again."

See? Angst and ambiance. Brilliant.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I'm at work this morning so a book cover will have to do. Love the colours and the image of the surfer.

READING CHALLENGES: As I said, it's all about Australia, and the novel does encapsulate a world that I've never been to, which makes it rich for the imagination.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

I am done.

85,205 words. A first draft that runs 293 pages.

The song that was playing on the iTunes? "A Long Time Running" by The Tragically Hip. Oddly fitting, right?

#19 - The Sea

While not at all typical in its writing style or its telling, John Banville's The Sea is a book with a familiar story. An older man suffers a tragedy that stops his life short and in the process looks back at a particular point in his youth, another moment that he realizes far too late that defines him. It's the story Richard B. Wright told so well in October, that Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses explores so deftly, and that Banville toys with in The Sea. His protagonist, Max Morden, has just watched his wife die from an insufferable illness and simply can't cope. He leaves his life (and even refuses to go back to the house they shared together) and returns to the small sea side town where he used to vacation with his parents before they split up.

The small village of Ballyless, miles away from a town ironically called Ballymore by Max, holds sway over him. It was the site where he fell for his first love, a tempestuous, temperamental and even bullying tomboy of a girl named Chloe. As Max grieves for his wife, he rolls back over the motions of his life, the summer he spent with Chloe and her (I'm assuming autistic) brother Myles, their governess Rose, and their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Grace. Much more than a symbol, the sea itself governs all of his actions that summer, he shows off swimming, they play at the seaside, and every character changes during the time they spend by the water, some for better, some for worse.

With both of his defining relationships now behind him, his marriage and his definitive first love, Max seems unable to move beyond either. Moored to both experiences as a boat to a dock, he can't cast himself off from the past, even though his daughter desperately wants to save him from himself. An art critic, he can't help but look at everything with the same discerning eye he would apply to a painting, pulling his life apart strip by beautiful strip, setting it under the same disturbing light he applies to his professional life.

I dogeared so many of the almost-200 pages of this novel and constantly wondered about Banville's impressive vocabulary, his superb ability to create suspense within a story without the reader ever expecting the tale's many twists, and how he packed so much into such a short novel. I can absolutely see how and why he won the Booker for this novel in 2005.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: The book sitting on top of my book, that I printed out in its entirety yesterday, shocked and kind of thrilled at the size of the manuscript.

READING CHALLENGES: Tackling two lists: Around the World in 52 Books, The Sea counts toward Ireland, and it's also a 1001 Books book.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: Tim Winton's The Turning.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Yesterday, I planted a window lavender garden in a pot, did the laundry, went grocery shopping, tidied the house and, oh yeah, finished up a major portion of my novel that I'd been working on the past two weeks. I'm about 30 pages away from being done a complete first draft, which is three years in the making. I'm tired, but excited.

And I'm celebrating St. Patrick's Day by reading John Banville's utterly brilliant and truly hefty (although swift of page count) novel, The Sea. This quote totally caught me off guard, the protagonist, having just found out his wife's dying, notes:
Helplessly I contemplated her. For a giddy second the notion seized me that I would never again be able to think of another word to say to her, that we would go on like this, in agonised inarticulacy, to the end.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Drunken Self Portrait 101

Perhaps coming home after one glass of wine and two pints is not the time to decide to pause for all time what bad hair I've had over the last few days. Good times were had by all at dinner, the first time in a very long time I've actually been out for dinner because the RRHB and I are squeezing every penny out of ourselves for the home renos. Have I mentioned we've booked the hardwood floor? Yay! Poor Meredith had a hell of time coming down to meet me on the TTC where she was semi-accosted by a man masturbating beside her. Sigh. Let's just add that to the long list of how annoying it is to travel on the TTC these days. Where's a "special constable" when you need one?

Annnywaay, as I said one glass of vinegar-wine and two grand pints later, drunken hair self portraits. Goodness I lead a rather embarrassing life after all.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Today

I have opened the window in my office just as I am about to open up my document. There are sounds of sirens, birds, cars, water dripping, and all kinds of things I can't hear when the windows are closed and it's -40 with the wind chill. I know it's not spring just yet but the sun is warm and the air is cool and fresh, and I just wanted to feel something other than winter before I pull myself back into my own writing and spend the day staring at the screen watching as the words pile on to one an other in ways I'll surely change before ever actually being finished.

Perhaps I'll start by editing the above run on sentence.

Or perhaps not.

#18 - The Horseman's Graves

The Horseman's Graves, Jacqueline Baker's engrossing novel set in the Sand Hills near the Saskatchewan-Alberta border breaks like dawn, and carries on through the entire lives of two different, yet ultimately tied families, the Schoffs and the Krausses, until the sun sets. Sculpted by the landscape and drawn by their common experiences, the immigrants that populate the area farm, have families, and fill their days with work, their Sundays with church, and their idle time with talk.

The Schoffs, second generation and still bearing the grudge held on between the two families, have lived next to the Krausses since settling in the area. The only Krauss left on the land, Leo, is scorned by the community as much for being a Krauss as for his odd, rude and sometimes shocking behaviour. Stolanus Schoff and his wife Helen, suffer their own ostracism after their only son endures a terrible wagon accident when small, growing up hideously scarred and suffering from seizures. Leading deceptively simple and separate lives, the two families carry on: Leo marries, the boy grows, crops come in, Stolanus prospers, Leo's wife Cecelia bares five children in quick succession. And yet, like so many lives that look simple from the outside, bad luck, a curse even, tears through every inch of it, defining the actions of each person, charting a course that can't be changed.

Until one long, dark night, the stuff of ghost stories, or even just old stories, the kind that Lathias, the Schoff's M├ętis farmhand, tells to the boy on the long days they spend wandering the countryside or riding out to the river, when Leo's stepdaughter, Elisabeth, goes missing and the days can no longer continue in that long stretch of just living, and everything changes. And if there are moral judgments upon change, upon the actions of the characters, the narrative doesn't make them, instead lays back and lets the wind carry the words over the fields on a midsummer day before the harvest, quietly letting the reader make up his or her own mind about the story.

Now that I've read The Horseman's Graves, the last of the three books from this infamous article in Maclean's last summer, the article makes even less sense to me, so it's a good thing I'm not a leading literary columnist for that magazine. Comparing and contrasting Effigy, The Outlander, and The Horseman's Graves feels strange and out of step. And while each of the authors, all three women, have somewhat familiar settings, the stories are so different, the voices so distinct, that it does them a disservice to come out and crown The Outlander as the winner in a race not one knew they were entering.

Rich characterization, strong female protagonists, unavoidable (and in the case of Mary Boulton, crashed headlong into) tragedy and Western settings are about all that they have in common. Sure, York's novel finds its basis in Mormonism, but it stretches out so far beyond that, that the religion comes to be something akin to the land they work, a foundation. And sure, the church is present in Baker's story too, but it's not oppressive, anything but, even if I'm clinging to a particularly beautiful passage when Leo Krauss forces his second wife Mary to her knees and they prey, shoulder to shoulder in the kitchen. The idea of the graveyard hold the community together in The Horseman's Graves; I didn't find this overwhelming or even maudlin, nothing more than a simple fact, an aspect of community, a lasting remnant of the lives that fill up the past of the story the author's trying to tell.

York's epic story, Adamson's epic novel, Baker's epic tale, all three are really good books, books worth reading and talking about, worth sharing and passing along, and perhaps not for lumping together and taking apart, bit by bit, the long hours each spent bent over their own words in their heads, working their fingers out as much as the stories themselves, only to come to the conclusion that one of them is worth more of someone's time than another. Seems strange to me, an article written with an agenda versus a true need to simply state an interesting observation. It's funny, if I were to take a look at each of the novels and dissect them, say for a large national magazine, I would have probably started with the idea that each novel's taken a little bit of history, whether it's an actual character who lived and breathed before the pages or an event, and used it to build a fascinating world within their books, adding a layer to stories that already exist, and telling them in a way that makes the world richer, and doing all of this with strong, rich, and intriguing voices.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: Baker's book on my kitchen table, a fitting place for a story about and defined by the idea of family.

READING CHALLENGES: I read The Horseman's Graves for Saskatchewan in The Canadian Book Challenge.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Enchanted April

Last night Sue and I went to see Zesty's play at the Village Playhouse, Enchanted April. It's been ages since I've been to see a play, and I'm certainly not counting the abysmal Dirty Dancing fiasco as actual theatre.

[Pause to hang up on a telemarketer.]

The play is a sweet and charming story about two women who take their holidays into their own hands just after the First World War in England. Following her heart and her visions, Lotty (Zesty) basically drags Rose to Italy to spend a month in a castle in a way that'll change all of their lives.

But what I liked best about it was seeing Zesty become a completely different person. She's Lotty from start to finish, and it's always nice to enjoy the success of your friends when they're doing something they love. I was feeling really crappy last night but went anyway, and I'm glad that I did.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Me

I am going to Paris. PARIS. The one in France.

To celebrate Tina's wedding. See the sights and maybe hop on a super-fast train somewhere extravagant, like Brussels.

None of it I can afford.

Have dipped into the super-duper won't-ever-touch-them savings.

But if one of your closest friends is getting married, you simply have to go.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

#17 - Sense and Sensibility

I have fallen so far behind in my reading that I couldn't believe it when I finally finished a whole book. Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is a lovely way to ease back into actual book blogging. A well-known story, captured by the 1995 Ang Lee film starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, the novel took me a while to read, only because my mind has been occupied on so many other things.

Put out of their house by their father's son (their half-brother), the Dashwoods (Elinor, Marianne, Margaret and Mrs.) are given a home by a distant cousin, Sir John Middleton. A man who does love a good dance, Sir John takes it upon himself to bring the Dashwoods well into his social circle, which includes his wife, Lady Middleton, Mrs. Jennings (her mother and an ardent matchmaker), and various other cousins and, of course, Colonel Brandon. Marianne Dashwood, the younger, impetuous, full-hearted sister of Elinor, falls madly for a rake named Willoughby, who doesn't act at all like a gentleman of sense should. And while we're on the topic of men in troubling situations, let's not for get Elinor's paramour, Edward Ferrars, who also suffers from a dose of poor judgment when it comes to the human heart. Elinor, the rock of good sense, whose own sensibilities are put to the test over and over again, might just be my favourite of all the Austen heroines. She's smart, plucky and full of incredibly smart things to say.

What else can I add? I love Jane Austen. I love every book of hers I read. I love the fact that I saved her for this stage of my life, when I can appreciate her long sentences and brilliant structures. When I'm not a foolish girl organizing my literary degree upon avoiding anything that wasn't published in the 20th century.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: Just the cover tonight, I'm afraid.

READING CHALLENGES: The first of the two 1001 Books I'm to read this month, which means I'm still on track to meet at least one of my reading goals this month.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: The Horseman's Graves by Jacqueline Baker

Monday, March 10, 2008

Oh Lippman Of My Life

Good grief I adore Laura Lippman. Thank her lucky stars that this interview didn't happen a) in real time or b) in person where I would have stuttered, shuddered, nervous-talked and probably not managed to get a single question out. But mainly just thanking her in my mind over and over again for taking the time to answer my questions, especially in light of the fact that she's got quite a busy life right now.

The Quotable Austen

"...At her time of life, anything of an illness destroys the bloom for ever! Hers has been a very short one! She was as handsome a girl last September as any I ever saw, and as likely to attract the men."

From Sense and Sensibility.

My family doctor to me upon learning of the treatment for my disease all those years ago, "It's such a shame that this had to happy to such a pretty girl."

Good to see the sentiment hasn't changed in three hundred-odd years.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Movie Weekend

We managed to actually get outside yesterday, having to head down to Queen and Augusta to the flooring place to finally decide on a stain. Halfway through the walk, with the wind blowing in our faces and my RRHB walking a full block in front of me as I trudged along, he said, "Maybe we should have gone another day."

By the time we got home we were both exhausted, and every couple of hours or so, one of us would go to the window and exclaim, "it's still coming down!" We were supposed to go and see Zesty's play last night but a) we couldn't have got the car out, b) the transit was wholly unpredictable, and c) the weather made it impossible to even walk a few steps without being in utter agony. After spending close to 2.5 hours walking a few blocks that would have normally taken half that time, we gave up on doing anything social, had a glass of wine or two, and watched a crap load of movies:

Beowulf: Not impressed at all by how they changed the story, how they sexed it up completely, but the special effects were really quite something and man was it gory.

Dan in Real Life: What an utterly charming film, from the envious huge family that gathers at the incredible summer house on Rhode Island to the sweet love story at the centre of it all, I have to admit that I cried, a lot. I can forgive the cliches, and even Dane Cook, who seemed woefully out of place, and even the dance scene didn't make me cringe as it once would, so thumbs up.

The Darjeeling Limited: Good grief I loved everything about this film, the whimsical storytelling, the delicious colour palette, the utterly truthful way the three brothers related to each other, the utterly unbelievable circumstances they find themselves in, the excellent performances, Wes Anderson's deft comedy, all of it.

The Things I Lost in the Fire: Both Halle Berry and Benicio del Toro give impressive performances and I didn't even mind the story that EW called "mawkish" (what a great word; a widow takes in the drug addicted best friend of her late husband and they both try to heal). It's sad, but I like that sometimes, but I would have liked maybe just a bit less of the heavy-handedness of the direction (how many eyeball close-ups are necessary? Really? How many? Yawn).

I Could Never Be Your Woman: I always wish that Michelle Pfieffer would make more movies. She's lovely, sweet, gorgeous, determined and a whole host of other adjectives in this film. But I have to say that it's far more Loser than Clueless, so I was a little disappointed. And man, was Paul Rudd a hambone, and I thought he was actually quite unbelievable and kind of miscast, which is hard for me to admit because I usually think he saves just about every movie he's in... Anyway. Saoirse Ronan plays Pfieffer's daughter and she's deliciously precocious in just the way teenagers on TV can be, and there are really quite a few cute moments, but certainly not enough to bridge the gap between glaring cliches.

So, yeah, lots of movies. And now just to punish me, I think my iTunes shuffle is stuck in the early 90s, so far this afternoon I've heard "Linger," "Dirty Boots," some old U2, and UB40. I've reshuffled to mix it up a bit, and now it's landed on "Bang," so at least we're moving in the right direction.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

What An Annoying Evening

I was going to title this post, Fark You TTC, but then decided against it, as I'm somewhat more calm this morning after the debacle that was my trip home last night. I left work at around 5:30, stopped in at Shopper's for some TV watching treats, and then deposited my token and waited for the Bloor/Danforth train to take me westbound. Only it didn't. There was yet another emergency at Christie station, the second one that week, and not only were emergency crews dispatched but the ENTIRE LINE was shut down from St. George to Keele.

Fabulous.

So I truck up to the southbound Yonge/University line and take the train down to College hoping that, despite the weather, the streetcars will still be running. I wait. A half-hour elapses. No streetcars going westbound. Hundreds of streetcars going eastbound. Hundreds of people going west. Completely empty but for one or two people in the eastbound cars. No transit to take any of us westbounders home.

So I decide to start walking. I hate standing around. I always feel that at least I'm going somewhere if I'm walking instead of just waiting for who knows how long for the magical streetcar to arrive. The sun goes down entirely. This means the sidewalks, wet with melting snow from earlier in the week, have turned into ice slicks. This is not good for people with TRHs.

But I walk anyway. It's slippery but I'm managing.

I pass University, St. George, Spadina and make it as far as Bathurst where I almost fell after slipping into an intersection. Now I decide I've had enough and hail a cab. Only none are going westbound. They're all going eastbound. It seems the entire universe is refusing to go in the direction of my house. After trying to flag two cabs to see if they'll turn around, finally someone does, and even though it costs me $15.00, I get home at 7:10, a full hundred minutes after leaving work. Almost three times longer than normal.

Tell me, if it's their ONLY job, to get people home, why is it that not a single person living in the west end, who takes either the College route or goes along Bloor, could get home? I know the weather sucks, but it's CANADA, and haven't they figured out any contingency plans yet? There's barely a day that goes by that there's not some sort of delay on the Bloor/Danforth line, but what's the alternative? Oh wait, there IS no alternative. If you want to take the transit, you're stuck with the TTC. If you want to be environmentally responsible, you're stuck never getting places on time, never depending on the service to actually be there, and in one of the worst days of the winter, forced to walk on icy sidewalks because in AN HOUR OF WAITING not a single streetcar passes.

And how about refunding the $15.00 that I really didn't want to spend on a taxi or even the fare that I wasted because the better way ended up being completely useless.

How much longer until I can ride my bike?

*Edited to add: And it's not just me who's frustrated. And good to know that the station I need to go to on a daily basis is known as a crime hot spot.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Isaac Babel - "First Love"

While it's not my favourite story in My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead, a couple lines from Isaac Babel's story felt real to me, if only because of the doctoring-type day I had yesterday: "And now, when I remember those sad years, I find them in the beginning of the ailments that torment me, and the causes of my premature and dreadful decline."

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Adventures In Doctoring

Love arriving at the hospital an hour and a half before my regular scheduled appointment to get a chest x-ray only to find that the intern has filled the form out incorrectly, which means I've got to go bother poor Rose, the secretary, and get her to fix it, only to arrive back and discover that it'll be at least another hour before it's my turn, and then discover I've been semi-usurped by a seriously old woman with a lovely male nurse who are still in the change room when I poke my head in and say, "I've got an appointment at three," which means they whiz me through because the x-ray itself takes approximately 17 seconds, and by the time I finished, she hadn't even made it to the room, slooooowwww.

And I wasn't even late for the Super Fancy Disease Doctor.

Where I discover that my tests are excellent (yay! double yay!) even if my blood pressure's a bit high but that he's still got no idea why I'm so bloody tired I can barely make it up a flight of subway steps, is it the disease is it not the disease, maybe I'm eating all wrong or maybe it's just the weather pulling me down, down, down with every original flake that falls from the sky, and when they have no answers it just means you have to see them more often, so I'm back in a month for more bloodwork, more tests and a whole bunch of other non-fun health-related things.

I did manage to get home a little early and took a nice long walk to the streetcar stop.

But I'm so tired that I'm finding it absolutely impossible to even get one sentence down, completely unlike how I was on Sunday where I managed over 5,000 words (in a row!) before collapsing in front of the TV with a delicious vegetarian burrito and the teacher's words are still echoing in my mind, "it's those of you who work regularly that'll survive," the rest are just "tourists," and the last thing I want to be today is a tourist in my own writing life, no my own life.

And isn't American Idol on?

A Conversation With My Father

Or, An Exercise In Writing Dialogue

My dad was going to come down and have lunch with me tomorrow, but as the weather's supposed to take a turn for the worse, we've postponed until next week. He did, however, have this to say, "Did you see that article in the Toronto Star about people like you? Do you read that paper at all?"

"Not usually. Like me how?"

[I am thinking: writers, readers, RRHB-lovers, bloggers, workers, women, any myriad of words that could be used to describe my interests]

"You know, left-handed."

[Ohhhhh] "What did it say?"

"That you're all pretty intelligent. And there's not very many of you."

"My smarts have never been in question Daddy, just what I do with them."

Chuckle. More conversation about when he will come down for lunch. Sounds of him eating dinner. Me teasing him about being an old man eating at old man times. Hanging up.

Oh, You, Google

To the poor soul who Googled this question and ended up here: "is writing fake memoir wrong," let me just go on record to say yes, yes it is wrong. Oh so very, very wrong.

Lorrie Moore: Where Have You Been All My Life?

I've been reading, sllloooowwwly, the stories in Eugenides's collection: My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead. Some I'm familiar with (Joyce's "The Dead"; Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"; Munro's "The Bear Came Over the Mountain"), but some have been complete surprises. Denis Johnson's "Dirty Wedding" knocked me out as cold as a February wind; so much so that I went out and bought his latest book, Tree of Smoke, before realizing it too is a whopper, clocking in at 613 pages.

But Lorrie Moore's "How to be an Other Woman" might just be my favourite so far. It's a little gem of a story with such fresh prose that I kept laughing out loud last night in bed and reading parts to my half-asleep RRHB. But my favourite lines might have to be these:
"After four movies, three concerts, and two-and-a-half musuems, you sleep with him. On the stereo you play your favourite harp and oboe music. He tells you his wife's name. It is Patricia. She is an intellectual property lawyer. He tells you he likes you a lot. You lie on your stomach, naked and still too warm."
Now that's how to use the second person and not make me want to punch the story in the nose (tm Munro).

The Current On Carey

Not the CBC kind, but the newly launched Atlantic Monthly blog, mini-reviews Peter Carey's latest novel, and even though His Illegal Self got a middling write-up in the Globe, should I ever actually finish one of the six books I have on the go right now, it's the next on my list.

What's Wrong With Writing Fiction?

The most beleaguered category in literature these days, the poor traditional memoir, takes another beating this week with the news that Riverhead's hotly reviewed Love and Consequences is fiction from start to finish. I get a little peeved when every bit of book media references James Frey in situations like this, if only because I still believe that there are parts of A Million Little Pieces that are true and the book in general is true to the form; but whatever, he lied, we all know that, maybe it's time to move on and let the guy continue with his career.

But I do think that it's quite different from writing an entire FICTIONAL book as this crazy woman has done and then passing it off as a memoir with the vain hope of 'speaking for people who can't speak themselves.' Seriously? That's the reason why? It had nothing to do with you sensationalizing other people's misery and flaunting it all out so you could make a million or two from your book? (Perhaps not now that all the books have been recalled. Ouch. And poor trees. I hope the pulping machines can recover).

I'm kind of flabbergasted that Seltzer actually thought she could get away with it. That the little truth-meter in her mind wasn't blaring when the media started calling and the NY Times raved about her book? And how mad must the sister be for to become the whistle blower? In this day and age, with fingers that fly and author pictures that appear on the web, did she think no one would recognize her? And when she started "speaking" for a neighbourhood, did she not think anyone would come forward and call her out?

It's not so much the surprise that fake memoirs keep finding their way onto the shelves that surprises me, it's more the fact that these writers are making it so much harder for the rest of the genre. Margaret Seltzer might just be an idiot (what would have been wrong with writing fiction?) who made a bad decision, but the more fake memoirs that come out and then are ripped to shreds by the Gawkers of the world, the harder it'll be for people who honestly do have a story to tell and to sell to get published. It's as if the memoir in its truly glorious, Joan Didion loving format, is dying a slow death.

And "homies"? Seriously?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Falcon Watch 10593489769856

The female peregrine is hunting as I type. She's exquisite: diving, two flaps and it's as if she's floating on water and not air, and causing all the pigeons to flap about uncontrollably. Of course, I do not have my camera.

The Beautiful End

I'm glad I'm not the only one upset about the final episode of the final season of The Wire. The episode we watched this week almost cracked my heart in two by the end, and I have no understanding about how they're going to sew it all up with only one show remaining. I was talking to a friend via email last week, and he said something about television rotting your brain. It's not a new argument. It's one my mother employed a great deal growing up (we were allowed one hour of television a day, either before dinner or after dinner) and we never watched TV at the cottage. That's entire summers spent without any kind of artificial stimulus.

But I'd argue that shows like The Wire are art, not television. The difference between a truly great movie that changes the way we see the world and one that's there just to pass the time. The Godfather vs. Fool's Gold. The Wire has maintained a level of excellence and utter bravery from the moment it hit HBO. Never the ratings juggernaut like The Sopranos, I'd argue that it's been far more consistent in terms of quality than that other HBO tentpole; and it has another ace in its hand, something else that's rare in TV production -- that's the fact that it gets BETTER as the show goes on. How many 5-year-old shows do you know that are actually getting better with each season and/or episode that airs? Exactly.

And as with all great art, perhaps it gets misunderstood in its own time, arrives perhaps before the audience is truly ready for it, but at least HBO had the decency to run with it for 5 truly excellent seasons. My life has been enriched by the storytelling, made me understand the world in a different way, and ripped my heart out of my chest on more than one occasion. All things the usual brain-rot (American Idol anyone) is missing hovering out there on the waves. I will mourn the loss of the corners, say goodbye to the po-po, root for Jimmy, hiss at Marlo, and frankly, will never look at television in the same way again. Especially now that in addition to the end of The Wire, the networks now might take Riggins away too.

In that case, maybe said friend was right and I need to read more books.

Colson Whitehead Cracks Me Up

In a very good way.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Evil Dead The Musical

Splatter zone indeed. Famous last words before Act II: "There's not enough blood."

The weather tried very hard to act as a deterrent. We waited for a half hour for a streetcar until we gave up and finally hailed a cab to cart our soggy butts to the Diesel playhouse. Shared a pint. Found our seats that were eerily reminiscent of the show in Havana where you sit at communal tables. That's where the similarities ended.

Lights down, the show began, great performances, hilarious moments, fantastic sets. The RRHB got splattered as he wished. And even though I've never seen a single Evil Dead movie, I enjoyed the camp, and the audience were so into the whole show as they shouted out the more famous lines and thoroughly enjoyed getting buckets of blood dumped upon them.