Wednesday, April 30, 2008

#30 - DeNiro's Game

Oh my, oh my, oh my, what a good book Rawi Hage has written. DeNiro's Game is my favourite of the two IMPAC books I've read so far, and it'll now become the benchmark to which I compare the rest of the shortlisted titles. It's unconventional structure, it's achingly lovely prose, and it's heartbreaking moments all catapult together to form a book that rockets along like gunfire from beginning to end.

The story of Bassam and his friend George, two boys who grow up in war torn Beirut to become men who survive as the bombs drop and people fall out of their lives and into graves at an alarming speed. The two boys, now young men, find their way with guns tucked into their pants, who make a living in ways that are so foreign to me that I often had to close my eyes and take a deep breath, and do far too many drugs (who could blame them?). Set into three distinct parts, 'Roma,' (where things in Bassam's imagination will still work out the way he hopes), 'Beirut,' (where life in a war zone becomes glaringly difficult), and 'Paris,' (where Bassam adapts to a different kind of life), the book remains riveting throughout.

For a first-time novelist, Hage's prose-poetic style of writing is effective, repeating phrases, images and inspired metaphors litter the pages, and his characters are strongly drawn. I didn't earmark as many pages as I thought I would, but I did find the following passage very moving:
Still I stood in the booth, looking with an empty gaze through the glass. I felt as if I could live inside of the book, feeling its borders, claiming it for myself. I pretended that I was talking on the phone, but all I wanted was to be in the booth. I wanted to stand there and watch every passerby, I wanted to justify my existence, and legitimize my foreign feet, and watch the people who passed and never bothered to look or wave.
If I have one teeny, tiny criticism, it might just be the overdone use of L'Etranger throughout the last third of the book. The parallels between the characters, sure, they're there, but I felt like it was the only stereotypical, oh-yeah-I-guessed-it aspect to the book.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: You guessed it, just the jacket with a link back to Anansi (as pulled from their site), as I'm away from my camera this afternoon.

READING CHALLENGES: The second of my IMPAC books, Lebanon from Around the World in 52 Books, and if I were still needing to read Canada, the passing mention of Montreal (where the author resides now, I think) would have totally counted.

What 4AM Looks Like From The Inside Of My Eyeballs

Nada Surf coupled with a decaffeinated latte (it's all it takes) should keep me awake at least until the end of the workday when I will collapse into a lack-of-sleep lump in front of the television.

My deadline highlights the word "dead" if I keep going at this pace; the panic from knowing that I'm nowhere near finishing my edits and the fact that have trumped the "May 1st" from coast to coast is coming back to haunt me. Four weeks and only 80 pages and I have been working, I have. Tonight is the last night before I give away the book to the three other people in my so-called creative group (which is distinct from my writer's group in that it includes a supremely talented artist) tomorrow. Commas will be the death of me. So will run on sentences and a change in narrative voice. I want the m/s to hum like the guitar line in "Hi-Speed Soul." I want my friends to enjoy reading the book as much as I love the drum line in "Slow Nerve Action," but I'm afraid the book's more cobbled together at this point than anything else. And staying up until well past the witching hour didn't help.

It's hard to shut off your brain once it starts down a creative path that goes something like this:

1. I've always hated the title I attached to the book from the beginning. It felt bland and kind of meaningless and I've sat through enough publishing-type meetings to know that titles change all the time. Editors change titles too, make suggestions, and often improve what the writer has come up with.

2. Along comes Poetry Month. And catching up with Melanie's lovely blog where she posted this wicked poem that caught my attention. Hallelujah! A new title is born. And yes, I've already phrased my thank you should the book ever, ever be published.

3. But then last night I was reading and rereading the poem and I came upon a whole new structure for the book that will solve all kinds of chronological poems. See, brain, not turning off, and had to crawl out of bed to write it all down. The time I started: 12:30 AM.

4. Also, it's lovely to welcome someone home that you love, which meant that my schedule for the last week, work, home, cat-tending, quick dinner, editing, ragdoll-tv, was blown away. In a good way, meant that I started working late, ate even later, and went to bed well beyond my normal time. For a girl who has always had trouble sleeping, all that adds up to disaster. Oh, and the organic brownies at 10 PM didn't help. But they are so good. So good.

5. Fast forward to 2:30 AM and I'm still writing, soundless because I didn't want to wake up my RRHB who was sleeping in his own bed for the first time in a week. NOTE: the music quest has gone really, really well. So far, I've downloaded some Brian Eno that I quite like, added some world music (Ali Farke Toure), and of course, my new obsession, Nada Surf. NOTE REDUX: My RRHB openly mocked the fact that everyone on this earth has heard of this band except me. Keep the suggestions coming, I love them. It's good to give Wilco a rest every now and again.

6. Now I'm finally back in bed but it's 3:30 AM, just the time when Willie Pep wakes up and decides it's time for him to go outside. Walking on my head, walking on my legs, half-settling on my chest, and I'm out of bed again drinking Sleepytime tea and reading Huckleberry Finn.

7. 4 AM looks and sounds an awful lot like the three hours preceding it. Fluffy duvet, warm socks tucked into jogging pants, lots of deep breaths and I fall asleep finally until 6:55 AM. Now, I can barely keep myself propped up on my desk, but the book is definitely better for it.

Gosh, I've been making a lot of lists lately. TK momentarily, a review of DeNiro's Game, which I loved.

You Go Jo-Fran

You tell it like it is...completely alienating, like, the most important reviewer in the, like universe. Personal, much?

But it's an interesting point, the bit about no one doing serious criticism anymore. I wonder what would count as such?

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Post-Book Let Down

I heart Jacket Copy. Not only because it's an awesome blog, but also because it's obvious that it just gets book culture. Annnywaaay. Heh. Maybe after I've actually published a novel instead of just finishing a first draft of one, I'll comment further, but holy crap, did I ever fall apart once I was done after the initial elation.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Another Long List Of Things Not To Do

1. Wear brand-new shoes to a book launch. My pointe shoes from the last year of high school were less painful.

2. Thanks to all who offered up their music suggestions. I've made a list and am going to try out Last.fm to see what's going to stick. I've already found one record that I am enjoying very much from listening to concerts on All Songs Considered: Nada Surf's Lucky. It's most excellent. This is obviously a GOOD point, not a BAD point.

3. Watch the same, truly lame, film I watched last night. I'm not going to blather on about all that was wrong with it, except to say that it's a movie with parts based in Ireland, with characters who are Irish, and were there no actual Irish actors available? Only American actors with really bad accents, and one Scottish guy who had the worst accent of them all. It's as if he didn't even try. Someone said, "grand" and I threw up a little in my mouth. But whatever. The script contained lines like the following:

Person A: Where are all the good men then?

Person B: With all the wrong women.

Fast forward to a scene where Person B meets a handsome, interesting fellow and the conversation goes as such:

Person B: Where have you been all my life (seriously?)

Person C: With all the wrong women.

Gack.

4. Say goodbyes after having two glasses of wine and having no feeling in their feet. You'll really, really wish you could remember what you said.

5. Wake up slightly tired and kind of hungover and watch far, far too much Tom Green TV. If I were, ahem, younger, I might even consider making a ridiculous video and trying to get his RV to come to our cottage. But I am too old for that stuff. Plus, my RRHB would mock me mercilessly. As would many other people I know.

6. Leave your hand-written edits on your desk for your slightly troubled cat to rip to shreds with her teeth. Having the m/s open on the desk also leaves room for her to barf up a hairball or two, and then get her cat litter everywhere. It's not pretty. She needs constant management. Ah, pets.

7. Forget one of your best friend's birthday for the, um, third year in a row. Luckily, I have written myself a giant note and pasted in on the monitor so I have to look at it everyday.

8. Have a sore throat and have no throat tea. Everyone (coworkers, RRHB) is sick around me, which means it's just a matter of time. I feel decidedly under the weather today, my throat is killing me and I'm not happy about it. Oh, and the farking TTC went on strike.

Perhaps it's not such a long list.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I Am So Over You American Idol

Because you kicked off my favourite contestant, like, ever.

A List Of Things One Should Not Do

1. One should not drink three beers and then scream "mouse" in a crowded restaurant. It's not that there wasn't a mouse (there was; he scurried) but it could have upset people who would be less than thrilled about said rodent in the same place where they're eating. Hence the hushing and talking-to by management.

2. Edit while intoxicated. It makes notation quite messy, although does inspire a feeling of acting like Carson McCullers and wanting a flask. Somehow, I think though that beer would not keep quite right in a flask.

3. Drink three beers on the night before meeting an author at the ungoshly hour of 9 AM. Also, don't wear new shoes, trip over your purse, and then tumble into a stack of books on your desk that then falls to the floor. Because that's not embarrassing AT ALL.

4. Wear a white shirt on a day that you're tired. It's just asking for trouble.

5. Ponder the fact that you'd come across not one but two people named Calvin within the space of 12 hours, note that that doesn't even include the one whose name is tattooed on your underwear, and act truly goofy when you try to tell the story of running into all these cavalcades of Calvins. People will look at you strangely.

6. Attempt to watch PS I Love You after drinking three beers and eating nachos. Harder liquor might be required.

7. Try to read so late at night that the same paragraph feels fresh and new despite going over it at least seven times. It's not your fault DeNiro's Game, I promise. I am liking you very much.

8. Forget to feed your cats in the morning because your RRHB is away recording and not there to do it.

9. Buy a pair of shoes (they were on sale) that seemed to fit in the store but certainly were not comfortable by the time you got them home. Thus, ensuring the truly attractive "tube-sox" method of stretching them out so they won't mangle your feet at the book launch tonight.

10. Forget to bring an extra post-breakfast snack to work because it means you're starving and unable to concentrate by 11 AM. A quick trip to Noah's solved that problem.

11. Wear brown makeup. See #4.

12. Bring an umbrella and then promptly leave it at your desk before going outside.

13. Openly mock. You're just asking for karma to come and bite you on the ass. But sometimes it's hard when two ad guys get into the elevator with you, obviously pumped up on their ad brilliance, and swear like truckers. How do you keep quiet in your head? How do you not smirk?

14. Imagine, blissfully, having a sandwich for dinner because it's awesome. See #8.

15. Squish your brain so hard to try and remember the name of the documentary a friend recommended at lunch a couple weeks ago so that you almost run into oncoming traffic at Yonge and Bloor. It would be an easy question to answer in an email, but somehow, you don't want to seem stupid or like you weren't paying attention. Hence, the brain squishing.

16. Not fully read the emails before forwarding them along.

17. Listen to this trailer. The song, the song will get in your head for hours, days, weeks. It's not a bad thing, but when you're already tired, songs seem to echo in your head in ways that make you quite uncomfortable.

18. Make inane lists on your blog.

19. Drink massive amounts of licorice tea. Just trust me on that one.

20. Put your head down on your desk and try to act like you're not hungover from the three beers and amazing conversation.

21. One thing to do: openly mock your own self yesterday when you show up for work with full-on rocker girl hair. Evidence that it is so? The 45+ dude with his own layered and longish hair wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt under his jean jacket giving you a smile at 9 PM on Landsdowne Ave last night. Party on Garth. Party on Wayne. Two words: awe and some.

Oh, and Barney? And Robin? Wha?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

November (Rice Lake)

[I don't think this one is quite done yet; still percolating]

A passing glance at the calendar
leads to hours spent flipping photos
examining the evidence of your existence

Your birthday--one of the few things I recall--
along with the smell of your cigarettes, how
you slapped my ass that one day, and your
prickly, adolescent chin.

I fell for the softness of your skin,
gentle like the lake water, Diego Luna,
Pacey, my Trip Fontaine, all the boys
of an over-active imagination.

Our time ran out like a rainstorm: quick, fierce
and uncontrollable on my part, lying in wait with no
sun to pass through.

It rains today. The same kind of rain,
thick, crisp like toast, and I crave an Export A,
Jay's hotbox BMW, and the sour smell of your ball cap,
but the cold shoulder of my youth has passed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Music To Write To

I am dire need of some new music to write to. Does anyone else out there need a writing soundtrack? I feel like I've played every song in my iTunes 100 times and I'm still coming up short. April as poetry month is totally inspiring me.

I finally tracked down the folder that had all the drafts of the poems I worked on during the one class I took with Ken Babstock, many of which were on the computer that was stolen from our house two years ago. In my insanity, I had printed many, many of them up many times, so at least I've got copies, and I've been going through them tonight. A part of me wants to post all of them, just to see which ones are more successful than others, but I'll exercise restraint and keep going with the poem a day (I missed yesterday, so that's why there are two posted tonight).

The air's warm. The candles smell yummy. We ordered pizza for dinner. And I feel like my fingers could go all night. So instead of posting all of my cycle, 12 poems based on each (you guessed it) month in a year, I give you a highly illegal version of a William Carlos Williams poem that knocks me to my knees every single time I read it:

Nantucket

(William Carlos Williams 1883-1963)

Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow

changed by white curtain--
Smell of cleanliness--

Sunshine of late afternoon--
On the glass tray

a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down, by which

a key is lying -- And the
immaculate white bed.

February

[One for yesterday and one for today. But this one's for Sam. She'll appreciate it.]

The recipe called for confectioner’s sugar
Dusty, super-sweet, and melting on top of your tongue
Light as a natural laugh and a joke that’s easy to remember.

We all secretly yearn to avoid the middle of every month,
Not just this one. Would it mean more or mean less?
Days later, I wrapped my legs around you and squeezed tight.

An arrow of lipstick painted my mouth the same colour as dessert,
And I giggled. We mocked wounded hearts together; then
Missed our main course to be home and watch Law & Order.

Satiated by the addition of extra cream, I was happy,
And added a heavy, over-burdened teaspoon of Mexican vanilla,
Both uncalled for, and the dish all the better for it.

January (My Violent Heart)

The temperature dropped the day I left;
hours later I smelled cinnamon and saffron,
my nose, assaulted by warm air

(but not in a way I felt violated)

The sheets tried to hard to achieve a
balance between home and away,
and gave me large, angry hives.

("A vacation," he said, "would restore your health)

I took the news hard, my heart
stamped and packed down hard,
sand on a beach, snow underfoot

(the waves violated an all-inclusive order)

There's nothing worse than a tourist
who doesn't want to tour the ruins
of a most important relationship.

(I still avoid salt water)

I saw you, you who had been mine,
with your hand wrapped in hers,
with bow-like accuracy

(Violence against self excluded from the air fare)

Raced half-way around the world
to realise that the weather
did not improve the mood.

(Sunshine to sun visor to sunscreen)

Damn you and those intertwining
fingers that will never do
what I will forever want them to.

Monday, April 21, 2008

#29 - Unaccustomed Earth

Jhumpa Lahiri's latest book of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, could possibly be the best book I've read so far this year. Achingly beautiful prose echoes through each of the stories, and they all have such a resounding and impressive narrative voice that it's impossible to put the book down once you've begun. The stories are as rich and inherently detailed as the best novels aspire to be, which just goes to show that Lahiri's skills as a storyteller are paramount. She's one of the best writers working in English today. I know that's a bold statement, but I'd put forth that she rivals Alice Munro when it comes to ensuring that the form of the short story isn't relegated to beginner's classes and college literary journals. The work is powerful, passionate, cutting and emotionally driven. And while each of her stories work with similar themes, first and second generation East Indian families in America, they're also each distinct both in terms of their internal rhythms and the morals that drive the narratives forward.

In the first half of the book, Lahiri doesn't really play with form. The stories are straightforward in the sense that they don't play with time or traditional methods of storytelling, but they are rich in character development, and they do ache with the everyday heartbreak of life. In the second half of Unaccustomed Earth, Lahiri has written three linked stories. The first two use the second person, which I was resistant to at first, but once I read the last few pages of the book, I understood her choice. You will too. It's these three linked tales, stories of Hema and Kaushik, characters linked by a common childhood, that will crush your reading soul in the same way any good book should. I don't want to give anything away so I won't say anything more about them, just to reiterate that to appreciate them is to appreciate writing at its finest.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT:If I have one criticism, it's that I'm really not fond of the book's jacket. Hence no photo, although I guess I could have taken a picture to make it seem less, well, boring.

READING CHALLENGES: I don't think I've read an American author yet for my Around the World in 52 Books. This would be a great one to read for the States. It's a rich canvas, writing from the perspective of immigrants to the great and fascinatingly flawed country. And while I had Dennis Johnson's book in mind. I'm going to count this instead. Even if the setting is somewhat secondary to the character development, in a sense, it's defining of it too, place defines these characters as much as it marginalizes them; it changes their lives from the moment the plane touches down and new homes are built. But it's also a fascinating study of the idea of what it means to be a part of a second generation in the U.S. How different their lives are from their parents, how charged with being both American and Indian can be, how important it is for history to change perspective.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: I was reading Huckleberry Finn on the ride home (I finished Unaccustomed Earth on a hard cement bench outside of The Bay after having a quick bagel with Sam before heading back up to the craziness that is work these days). But I'm not sure if I'll continue. Maybe, like I said the other day, I'll finish The Sealed Letter tonight.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Sunday Times

[another unfinished fragment]

I fold myself out,
read all the sections, and
hold my hand over the horoscope.

Stain my fingertips with newsprint,
until I am classified by headlines,
inches per story, and unreadable bylines.

Sunday Afternoon

What a full day:

1. I am halfway through Jhumpa Lahiri's absolutely amazing Unaccustomed Earth. They are short stories that read as rich as a novel.

2. We grocery shopped, went for brunch, bought some second-hand spring clothes, visited the health food store and finally made it home, both exhausted.

3. Ah, Coronation Street. You're like a salve on a wound. What ARE you thinking Ashley?

4. Gillian Welch, The Revelator, as above. Bless her soul indeed.

5. Editing is a long and painful process. But at least I've got pretty toes. The local nail salon has pedicures for $20.00. Seriously, it's the best money I've spent in weeks. Pretty toes do wonders for your self-esteem. I don't care how girlie that seems.

6. Taking your meds three days late is never a good idea. I can barely stomach sitting up. Silly ragdoll.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A List Of Cliches

[An unfinished fragment; an unfinished thought]

Red roses from a first love years later.
Two separate prom nights: ignored entirely,
dumped days before; golden high school culminates,
in a fumbled pass at virginity.
Abandoned one life for the next and never fit in,
then fell down for all the wrong reasons.

#28 - The Attack

Yasmina Khadra's The Attack explodes even before it starts. The first few pages describe a woman's first-hand experience with a bomb in Tel Aviv. Her husband, the story's narrator, Amin, is a surgeon at the local hospital, and it's only after a long shift sorting through the casualties after the bomb that he finds out about his wife's death. For Amin, though, this is just the beginning of the tragedy. It soon comes to light that it was Amin's wife, Sihem, who wore the bomb that caused the blast. The revelation that his wife became a suicide bomber, a fanatic, someone so unlike the woman he thought he married, turns his life upside down.

Unconvinced that he's heard even an inch of the full story, Amin turns his back on the entire life he's built in Tel Aviv, pushed away by angry neighbours, by the pressures of a racially charged situation, he retraces his wife's last steps. And as many know, when loved ones keep secrets, it's never easy to learn the truth.

The Attack is a powerful novel, it cuts to the heart of the trouble in the Middle East and portrays a man unable to find himself, he turns his back on his own tribe only to find that it's just as impossible to fit into the society he's chosen. Despite the urgent nature of the narrative, the dialogue feels clunky to the point of didacticism. You get the feeling that Khadra's writing a very important book, but on the whole I felt the novel missed a slight emotional edge. That said, I was utterly engrossed in the story from the very first, most excellent, sentence: "I don't remember hearing an explosion."

Amin's journey is heartbreaking, difficult and, in some ways, unbearably pointless. It's easy to criticize the awkward storytelling, but absolutely impossible to take the author's motivation, if I can be so bold as to address it, to task. It's a raw, honest book that wants to open up a discussion about the very real issues driving the conflict. In that sense, it's terribly successful. And my criticism about the dialogue aside, there are some wonderful bits of prose in the book, and here's just one of the many passages I marked:
The bottom's no good for anybody. In this kind of implosion, if you don't react very quickly, you lose control of absolutely everything. You become a spectator of your own collapse, and you don't realize that the abyss is about to close over you forever.
PHOTO IN CONTEXT: Simply the book sitting on my desk, no biggie. I am excited about the fact that in a few weeks I'll be back to taking pictures of the books in context at the cottage. Goodness, I miss the cottage.

READING CHALLENGES: I had The Swallows of Kabul on my Around the World in 52 Books last year and only managed to get halfway through the first third of the novel. This year, I had it back again, but am replacing it with The Attack. Because Yasmina Khadra (the nom de plume for Mohammed Moulessehoul) was born in Algeria, I'll cross off that country, despite the fact that the novel takes place in the Middle East. It's also the first of eight books in the IMPAC Challenge. I didn't realize that The Swallows of Kabul was also nominated for the IMPAC, so it's nice to see this book on the shortlist as well.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: Until the packages from Amazon arrive with the rest of the books in the challenge, I'll probably dive into a classic or finish Emma Donoghue's latest, The Sealed Letter.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Accidental Wilderness

We watched great machines roll
the stones out as they packed in
the dirt. Waited, until the birds
came back and could be identified.

While the trees sprouted,
and grew into one another,
underground vines trundling down into
hand-made earth, and held fast.

Balanced by the moment, we
could no longer find the path.
By crossing our left and right together,
we climbed out the way we came.

The IMPAC Challenge

Quinn left a comment on a book post a little while ago when I was asking for summer reading suggestions. He had a fabulous one, one that I've already started. Said he:
"dude! we can be on the pretend jury for the Impac prize and try to get through the 8 novels on this year's shortlist in the next 2 months".
Of course, I think this is a fab idea, considering that a) my all-time favourite book of last year, Out Stealing Horses, was an IMPAC winner, and b) it's quite an international list, which means 52 Countries books as well. Also, I like that librarians all around the world nominate the books, even if a jury does do the final deliberations, and let's not forget to mention it's the richest literary prize in the whole damn world.

Here are the 8 shortlisted books for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award:

1. The Speed of Light by Javier Cercas
*This will also count as Spain

2. The Sweet and Simple Kind by Yasmine Gooneratne
*This will count as Sri Lanka

3. DeNiro's Game by Rawi Hage
*This will count as Lebanon, as Hage was born in Beirut.

4. Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones
*This would have been Australia if I hadn't already read the amazing Tim Winton.

5. Let it be Morning by Sayed Kashua
*This will count as Israel

6. The Attack by Yasmina Khadra
*This will be Algeria
Finished on Saturday, April 19th, 2008

7. Winterwood by Patrick McCabe

8. The Woman Who Waited by Andrei Makine

So there you have it, all eight titles, many of which I'm having a heck of a time getting in Canada. Right now I've started with The Attack (Quinn's already one book ahead of me) and once my package arrives from Amazon.ca with The Speed of Light, The Woman Who Waited, and DeNiro's Game, I'll at least have half the titles I need. The rest I'm going to try to track down this weekend.

UPDATED TO ADD: Winterwood, Let It Be Morning, and Dreams of Speaking are coming from Amazon.co.uk. That just leaves one title, The Sweet and Simple Kind, that I can't seem to buy anywhere.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Mottled, Freckled Heart

Thursday begins as
one of those days
where my heart feels
as mottled as my skin

Freckled, sun damaged
scarred from old injuries
(a finger in a vacuum cleaner)
pock marked and
aged beyond its years.

#27 - Coventry

I reviewed this over at The Savvy Reader for work. Good grief, Helen Humphreys is a great writer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wider Sidewalks

Sam and M are doing poems this month, and I've been lax in mine even though I said to both of them I thought a poem a day was a good idea. At least I've managed one:

Wider Sidewalks

Today already feels outmoded,
antennas on roofs,
a last sip in the bottle,
a frowned-upon plastic bag,
even if the sun remains.

#26 - Rilla Of Ingleside

When I was creating the list of books for The Canadian Book Challenge, I thought it would be prudent to include a title from L.M. Montgomery because of the whole 100th anniversary of Anne celebration. The book I originally picked was Anne of the Island, which I had chosen because I thought it was the one about the First World War. Obviously, my memory's a bit murky, considering I read all these books when I was about 10 years old, because the book I really wanted to read was Rilla of Ingleside (as I discovered in the bookstore).

Of course, I remembered next to nothing about the book, so the whole reading experience was quite a surprise. It's easy to see how all of the Anne books are so beloved, Montgomery has a way with characters and plot that flow like good conversation. You don't care if the point of view flops all over the place, aren't bothered by the funny little quirks in her writing, don't mind that people float in and out of Ingelside with alarming frequency. There's a heart to the books that's so warm, inviting and, frankly, comforting that they act like the best of one's childhood memories. You know those parts of you that were shaped by the person you were when you read Anne in the first place.

Rilla of Ingleside follows Anne's youngest child, a free-spirited, surprisingly (in her words) unmotivated young woman from just before the war starts, through her miraculous changes otherwise known as growing up, to the months following the Armistice. Rilla's adventures, her war baby (adopted), her Junior Red Cross moments, the lively cast of characters that inhabit her family home, they all combine to create a whimsical world I was happy to be lost in this week. The landscape reveals as much about the book as the spirit of the people in it, and I think it's a huge part of the success of these novels.

I was listening to the CBC on Saturday afternoon when Ian Brown and guests were talking about Allison Pick's poetry collection, The Dream World. While I haven't read it, I was intrigued by their discussion around a line in one of the poems that describes the narrator knowing how she all about condoms and but not trees (I am doing a terrible disservice to Pick's work right now and I do realize that; I'm sorry), and that idea stuck with me. It's exactly the opposite in Montgomery's work. She knows the plants, the trees, the hills, the water, the birds, the flowers, the bushes, the rocky paths, and that's what brings the landscape to life, what makes it seem alive. In truth, it's the heart of the books.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: Just the cover, I'm afraid, and how very 1983. Awesome.

READING CHALLENGES: As I mentioned, it's PEI, and the 8th book I've read for The Canadian Book Challenge. That means 5 to go!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

#25 - Bringing Home the Birkin

My, my, my, my, my, the lives some people live! They are absolutely fascinating, and Michael Tonello's is certainly no exception. His witty, charming, and butter-smooth memoir, Bringing Home the Birkin sucked me in and wouldn't let me go until I had finished the very last page. No word of a lie, I started the book on the subway ride home last night and read the rest throughout the day (I had to send the author questions for an interview we're doing).

After Michael makes a drastic change in his life, giving up his lucrative and stable life in the United States for Barcelona, Spain, he finds himself making an eBay auction living buying and selling rare Hermès products. From scarves to pottery, if he can find it and it's rare, he'll sell it. But it's not until he realizes the desperate need for the rich and richer to own a Birkin that his business flourishes. Waiting list? What waiting list? Tonello discovers a fool-proof method for buying Birkins, and works it around the world. Literally. The man travels to major cities all around the globe that contain Hermès stores, makes connections with other bag-buyers, and becomes an industry in and of himself.

There's little not to love about Tonello's warm, chatty writing style, his adventurous spirit, and his entrepreneurship. Bringing Home the Birkin is that rare piece of nonfiction that zips along like the best commercial novel, and it would make perfect summer reading, whether you're urban-bound or lazing about at the cottage, it's so easy to get caught up in his world you'll be transported either way.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

#24 - Consolation

Consolation, Michael Redhill's compelling novel with its story within a story, was the book all of Toronto should have read back in February. I think it was part of that whole "Keep Toronto Reading" promotion that went on for the month. As I am generally behind when it comes to city-wide celebrations, I have just managed to finish Consolation, which is also my Ontario selection for The Canadian Book Challenge. I realize it's April. I hope that it still counts.

The book starts off with a bit of a shocker, one that I don't want to spoil, so I'll skip talking about it, and go straight to what I liked best: the balancing of the story of old Toronto, with its central character an apothecary named Hallam who comes from England in the mid-1850s to open up a pharmacy here in the city, with that of the modern day (well, 1997) as told around an urban geologist named David, whose family becomes involved in the very last project he was trying to unearth, a set of very early photographs of the city taken by our historical hero. Is that confusing? It shouldn't be -- the book's epic storytelling makes it quite easy to flow from one time period to the next.

The history in this book, the detail, and the exquisite storytelling, all had me on the edge of my seat more than once. In both cases, the parts of the book that takes place in 1997 and that in the 1850s, the narrators are outsiders. Men on the cusp of something, of success, of family, of their own careers, which make their experiences unique and engaging. It's a hefty book, but the pace is swift, and Redhill's obvious skill as a poet means his prose is both lyrical and inventive at the same time.

I did find the ending a bit muddy but by that point I didn't care as much about the perfection of the story; I was already embroiled in the absolutely delicious tale of Hallam and his cohorts. In the end, I'd say that I enjoyed the historical parts of the novel a touch more than the parts set in a more modern age. But Redhill's book can absolutely stand the test of time in terms of becoming a quintessential novel about this city in which we live. It's up there with In the Skin of a Lion, with Fugitive Pieces, with Cat's Eye, and others. Highly recommended.

READING CHALLENGES: As I mentioned, I'm through Ontario! That leaves six more books to go before July 1st. Goodness, I'd best pick up the pace.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Saturday Morning

Sleep seems to avoid me on the days that I take the needle. So that meant that I was up for a long time last night just lying in bed feeling so tired but not being able to actually fall asleep. Eventually I did, and even without any kind of pharmaceuticals, but I woke up at 6:30 again this morning and now I'm yawning as I'm typing.

The sunshine looks glorious from our bedroom window, it shoots inside and forms a arrow-like pattern on the wall, a reflection from the house next door, so bright and yellow that it made me want to get up and bask in it for a while. My RRHB is still sleeping. Later, we're heading to a friend's for brunch, and then we're going to go buy lighting fixtures for our hallway.

Yesterday, when I came home, my RRHB and Zesty's Marine had done so much work on the house I was actually taken aback. The whole main floor has taken shape now, and we have a brand new, incredibly level ceiling along with the beginnings of a new wall. Within the next few weeks there will be paint on the drywall, and all kinds of trim, as much as possible before the hardwood floors come at the end of May when I'm in Paris. And when I come home from Paris, I will come home to new floors. Thrilling.

I don't know how to put into words the lightness of my mood these past few days. It's not something I'm used to, as if with the snow disappearing, it's melted a lot of my personal worry along with it. And it's not to say that there aren't very real and very upsetting things happening at the same time, but it's kind of magical when you're not frustrated with your work, with the work at home, with the state of your house, with loneliness, with disease, with side effects from the medicine (which I'm decreasing steadily), with the idea of nothing ever changing. There are subtle bits and pieces of every part of my life in good places these days, and for the very first time, maybe ever, I'm not worried about it all coming crashing down. Last week was hard. But that's okay too, because when I needed it, the help was there. A girl couldn't ask for more. Whether it was a note of support here, a held hand in the food court, a joke, a bit of compassion from those who know me best, it all combined to help me understand the world a little differently.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Woe Is Me

My mind is all over editing these days. It's all I'm thinking about. Much to the detriment of, well, my life because:

1. I forgot my wallet at home this morning. Now I have to scrounge around in my purse for enough change to take the subway home. Walking all the way is not an option.

2. Said purse is a giant, girl-sized mess containing tea, loose tylenol tablets, a notebook, a hair elastic, another hairband thingy, bubblegum, tea, American money, a map of NYC, actual garbage, TTC transfers, and lip balm.

3. I keep bringing shoes to work and forgetting to take them home. Currently, the collection sits at 7 pairs.

4. We've booked our apartment in Paris but need to wire transfer money. How does that even work?

5. It's been a week of meetings which means I don't have my normal amount of headphone time. I miss it. No Radio 2, no NPR, no loud pop music.

6. There's a pile of work magazines on my desk that's almost a metre tall. I'm exaggerating, but still...

7. It's beautiful and sunny outside but a bit chilly. Therefore, a crucial button fell off my raincoat. I have cold boobs.

8. Tulips have sprung in my garden at home. Gardening is so not my thing but I sure love the tips of the little green buggers coming out.

9. Consolation is an excellent novel.

10. When will it be warm?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

#23 - The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton's classic might have just moved onto my "best books I've ever read in my life" list. I've been quoting from the novel for days. The Age of Innocence won the Pulitzer in 1921, and it's easy to see how and why the book is included in the 1001 Books list.

Newland Archer, our hero, devotee of upper class New York society in the age following the Civil War, finds himself torn between the life he imagined, the proper life, the expected life, and his passion, which comes in the form of his fiance May's cousin, the mysterious Countess Olenska. Already standing outside society, the Countess has left her brute of a European husband and returned to the bosom of her family. Archer, a lawyer and all-round saviour of a man, becomes enlisted in the cause to resurrect her standing, and falls in love with her along the way.

Wharton's tone is pitch perfect, and her narrative shows no signs of age, but it's still as if the book is frozen in time, the descriptions are vivid, the characters redolent of the period, and the story heartbreaking. It's great storytelling told by a master of the form.

Two more quotes, and then I'll spoil no more of the book for you:

"...[F]or a moment they continued to hold each other's eyes, and he that saw her face, which had grown very pale, was flooded with a deep inner radiance. His heart beat with awe: he felt that he had never before beheld love visible."

"Something he knew he had missed: the flower of life. But he thought of it now as a thing so unattainable and improbable that to have repined would have been like despairing because one had not drawn the first prize in the lottery."

Ah, if only the goal of self-satisfaction was so still utterly admired as unachievable in our post-post modern thoughts.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: The book on top of its 1001 Books entry on my desk.

READING CHALLENGES: The first of the two 1001 Books Challenge titles I'm supposed to read in April, which brings my score to 154. Yee-haw!

WHAT'S UP NEXT: Consolation by Michael Redhill and The Ravine by Paul Quarrington. And maybe I'll get back to War and Peace. But really? Who am I kidding? Anyone have recommendations for Summer reading?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

#22 - The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee

I've been banging on about Rebecca Miller for days now, ever since I started reading her new novel, which is coming out in August, for work. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee tells the story of a woman, the protagonist of the book's title, who marries a much older man, Herb, and starts a new life with him. Of all of my favourite things about this novel (and that list is endless), the fact that the narrative is so utterly surprising and goes in places you absolutely would not suspect endlessly impressed me as I read.

Here are 2 things that happened to me on my journey with Pippa Lee: I read in the elevator. Yes, I realize it's silly as I'm only on the 20th floor, but that's at least 2-3 minutes, which can be pages. I not only missed my floor but didn't notice the elevator was heading down instead of up before I realized I forgot to get off. "Oh well," I thought, and kept on reading. The VERY SAME day, I almost missed my subway stop and barely made it out of the doors before they crushed me in an iron grip, brushed myself off, and continued to read as I walked up the stairs and out on to Lansdowne. The book is that engrossing and entertaining.

It's just my kind of novel: swift, smart, acerbic, completely unpredictable and kind of kooky. I love Pippa. She's adventurous and damaged, a mythical combination, and I didn't want it to end.

Here's an interview with the author, Rebecca Miller. She rocks. She's talking about the filmed adaptation of the book coming out in 2009 starring Robin Wright Penn:

Edith Wharton On The Way In Redux...

Oh, Newland: "He had married (as most young men did) because he had met a perfectly charming girl at the moment when a series of rather aimless sentimental adventures were ending in premature disgust; and she had represented peace, stability, comradeship, and the steadying sense of an unescapable duty."

But then: "He simply felt that if he could carry away the vision of the spot of earth she walked on, and the way the sky and sea enclosed it, the rest of the world might seem less empty."

And you'd guess that he's not referring to his wife. Such is the way of love.