I'm too much a republican (small R, in no way affiliated with anything related to what happens south of the border) to be a fan of political crowns being passed from fathers to sons. I like to think Canadians, unlike Americans, have little time for such royal family treatment. But there are exceptions. For example, the very successful Manning family in Alberta, and the less successful Martin family on the national stage.

(Sidenote: there are no direct blood ties between the country's second prime minister, Alexander Mackenzie, and its strongest-longest, William Lyon Mackenzie King. Rather, the prime minister who gave us much of Gatineau Park and who talked to his mom lots after she died was the grandson of William Lyon Mackenzie, who led the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion.)

In general, we like our political sons to become much-admired foreign diplomats or extremely irritating talk show/Canadian Idol hosts.

But now, there is Justin.

Will he be content to back-bench? Is he too young? Does he have original ideas?

I guess we'll just watch.


who is Kathleen Tynan?

I grudgingly admire this excerpt from Bridget Jones's Diary, in part because I too sometimes have delusions of grandeur. I sometimes wonder to myself, "What would Kelly Kapowski do?"

I read in an article that Kathleen Tynan, late wife of late Kenneth, had 'inner poise' and, when writing, was to be found immaculately dressed, sitting at a small table in the centre of the room sipping at a glass of chilled white wine. Kathleen Tynan would not, when late with a press release for Perpetua, lie fully dressed and terrified under the duvet, chain-smoking, glugging cold sake out of a beaker and putting on make-up as a hysterical displacement activity. Kathleen Tynan would not allow Daniel Cleaver to sleep with her whenever he felt like it but not be her boyfriend. Nor would she become insensible with drink and be sick. Wish to be like Kathleen Tynan (though not, obviously, dead). (p. 89)

Oh, Bridge/Helen Fielding. Excellent points all round. You're growing on me, you saucy minx (although still mostly because I picture Hugh Grant as Daniel).


nice (bad) segue

I'm listening to a DNTO podcast (thinking Sook Yin-Lee's show on senior citizens is more than a little condescending) and starting a file on my computer called "must-reads," so that I can remember what I want to get to when I'm back from Europe.... I feel so Canadian.

But speaking of Canadian must-reads....


right.... still late for that table....

I'm taking a second run at Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary.

I tried to read it several years ago, while still at university, but couldn't get past the main character's neurotic focus on herself, her daily list of how much she weighs (which doesn't make sense to me because I'm not British and have no idea what a stone means) and how much she has smoked. Her constant focus on being fat and not thin, on catching a man, are supposed to be funny, but they niggle at me.

This is hugely ironic because I am a huge fan of chick lit, which really does play on all the same elements. Really, the massive popularity of Fielding's Bridget Jones inspired entire branches of publishing houses dedicated to titles such as How To Meet Cute Boys (which I do own, courtesy of a friend).

In turn, Fielding was inspired by Jane Austen, whom I love. I could read Pride and Prejudice a thousand times and never sicken of it.

Similarly, I could and have watched the movie based on her book a thousand times. I know all the lines of dialogue.

So, yes, I'm taking another run at what Nick Hornby calls "a creation of comic genius" in his review.

(I have a rough time with Hornby. His characters are similarly satisfied with neurotically obsessing about themselves and their angst-ridden lots in life. In a way, I enjoy this because it proves men and women are not all that different, we all embrace an element of crazy. However, his characters also embrace an element of nastiness that can be disheartening. Like Fielding's, Hornby's books make absolutely awesome movies. Perhaps both should move on to screenwriting, although I'm sure there are whole soccer teams of people who would forcefully disagree with me on that.)

Anyway, on second read-through, as in first read-through, this snippet from Fielding's book makes me laugh out loud:

The rich, divorced-by-a-cruel-wife Mark -- quite tall -- was standing with his back to the room, scrutinizing the contents of the Alconburys' bookshelves: mainly leather-bound series of books about the Third Reich, which Geoffrey sends off for from Reader's Digest. It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It's like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting 'Cathy' and banging your head against a tree. (p. 13)

***source of picture


the cool table

Thank goodness I'm not afraid of being late to the cool table. Or missing it altogether.

By this, I mean that I often am the last one to know what is cool. For example, every Christmas my brother and his partner have to introduce me to new and cool music.

(Side note, last week my sort-of sister-in-law introduced me to a local band. In Edmonton. She and my brother live in Ottawa. This is really but a window to my uncoolness.)

For example, I was years behind everyone else in getting to A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews and The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger -- two novels that changed the way I want to read books, two narratives that struck me by how gently one can and should handle the characteristics of love and childhood.

Another example: despite my love for Atwood's stories, The Blind Assassin still sits, unread, on my bookshelf, seven years after I purchased it in hardcover. Alongside it is Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, which incidentally has been very popular over the last, say, century and a quarter.

And I still don't know why the caged bird sings. Even though, again, my brother and his partner have tried to show me.

All this does come around to a point -- something else that is new for me but likely old to everyone else. A blog about London's Tube. I know it must be old to everyone else because it's included in blogspot.com's list of must-reads. But I only just discovered it -- and it's very cool.


on marriage and children

I'm still sorting through Black Bird, the work of M. Basilieres -- I can't decide if the author is like me, an English-speaking French-Canadian with a dose of guilt, or like something else. An Englishman with a French name who carries a dose of resentment.

I'll have more on that later.

For now, the words of Grandfather:

"When I was old enough to marry I was told that love is what makes us human, different from the animals, that love was the supreme expression of the union of two souls. But after I was first wed I discovered the trap a marriage could be, the endless lifelong series of obligations and compromises that keep us from being ourselves for ourselves. I was told that children were our way to immortality, but I learned that their disappointments and resentments were a sure road to the death of my soul." (p. 218)

This book is nothing if not positive.

who's afraid of a late fee?

Coworker: Black Bird is really hard to find.
Me: Try Audrey's? Or maybe Chapters? (Because I'm helpful like that, with the pointing out of the obvious.)
Coworker: I think they're sold out.
Me: I wonder if a library would have it? I don't do libraries, but you know.
Coworker: You don't do libraries? You live across the street from one.
Me: I don't like giving stuff back.

So.... yeah.... good luck to my coworker on finding Black Bird, because clearly I'm no help.

And, in the meantime, I've bought yet another book. It's like my wallet climbs out of my purse of its own volition and hands its contents over to clerks, always in exchange for books. Or food. Or shoes. Why don't the clerks say no? Can't they tell the crazy lady before them has a nervous tick that pushes her hand and money toward them? It's inexplicable.

Anyway, I'm actually a century behind everyone else because I didn't realize Emily Carr wrote books. I know. And I'm from British Columbia, too, so really a failure to everything.

But, what grabbed me (for $2.50 at Wee Book Inn, so hey, look at me, being all responsible with the cash) was that Carr didn't write stories. She wrote intensely personal essays, really, that put you back in British Columbia. Back in historic, untouched, before Vancouver went boom and every place else followed, British Columbia.

From Klee Wyck:

I was sketching in a remote Indian village when I first saw her. The village was one of those that the Indians use only for a few months in each year; the rest of the time it stands empty and desolate. I went there in one of its empty times, in a drizzling dusk....
Water was in the air, half mist, half rain. (p. 32 but in the Clarke, Irwin & Co. Ltd. 1962 paperback edition)

Take that, Roughing it in the Bush.

P.S. As I was flipping through this wee, 111-page publication, I noticed it was once the property of Alberta Correspondence School's library. Which means I am not the first reader who couldn't stand to give a book back. Take that, public libraries designed to benefit everyone and really just all-round better the community.


new link

Note the addition to the links hodgebodge list -- The Criterion Contraption -- as a result of stealing my little brother's reading material.... fascinating for movie buffs and non- alike.

Also, a blog that does what I do, but better.... 50 Books. But I'm not adding it to the links hodgepodge. Because why would I want all three of my readers to leave me? Especially when two of those readers are my parents.

Oh, sad.


excerpts for the unfocused

The sun is out in Edmonton today, and I spent the last handful of hours walking around outside in short sleeves.

Crazy city, where people wear heavy boots on Tuesday and sandals on Thursday.

Anyway, a handful of random reads....

Fodor's 2007 guide to Spain:

The Rock (Gibraltar) is like Britain with a suntan. There are double-decker buses, policemen in helmets, and bright red mailboxes. Millions of dollars have been spent in developing the Rock's tourist potential, while a steady flow of expatriate Britons come here from Spain to shop at Safeway and High Street shops. (p. 600)

D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover:

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen. (p. 1)

Also, some mean words from the guy whose book, published just a few months ago, seemed designed to persuade us Belinda Stronach wasn't Politics Barbie....

Daddy always promised his little girl a gold-plated exit from politics. (today's Calgary Herald)


that home alone kid

Stay tuned.... someone in my circle of friends and/or family will get a copy of this, and they will enjoy it, dammit....

*source of picture

to laugh, to cry

For now I'll reserve comment on our book club's latest selection, as I am but fifty pages into it.

But I love Michel Basilieres' narrative in Black Bird, which stops and starts as if translated from the bizarre quirk of Quebecois culture it captures:

"She'd married him because he'd made an effort to impress her and convince her of his sincerity, and she'd never before been shown that sincerity was as easily discarded as an empty cigarette package. The rest of her life had been spent trying to make up to her children for so carelessly choosing their father, and overcoming her own disappointment, which he seemed to insist on reinforcing daily. He had the habit of reading aloud from the newspaper the story of some other family's tragedy and laughing at the details; of carelessly leaving pornographic magazines around the house where the children, her friends, and she could see them; of not replying to her questions....
And in the end, the example of her strength in the face of his power was the legacy she would leave her children." (p. 3-4)

This works because of the short sentences. It makes me laugh out loud, and wonder at the loneliness it evokes.

*source of picture




a must-read.... but oh for a footnote

Everyday, in newsrooms across the land, reporters are writing hurried snapshots of history.

Their front page stories become the footnotes of history books.

As I read Rebecca Godfrey’s compulsive, award-winning tale of the night Reena Virk was killed in 1997, I was struck by this truth of journalism.

Resource-stretched newsrooms send reporters to taped-off crime scenes for hours, and to courtrooms packed with crying, overdramatic teenagers, all in an effort to unearth nuggets of truth which eventually comprise 600 words on printed pages that yellow and flake too quickly.

Years later, someone with far more time to research gets a touching, beautiful book out on the shelves.

Perhaps it is with this thought in mind that I couldn’t help but wonder about Godfrey’s Under the Bridge (The True Story of the Murder of Reena Virk).

She opens with the memories of dive unit members who lowered themselves into Victoria’s Gorge, searching for Virk’s 14-year-old body. Or anything.

In amazing detail, the men who dove in the Gorge’s dark waters meticulously explain what they did, what they saw, what they brought to the surface.

“Using a camera floated out to him, Bob Wall photographed the underwear. He then marked the spot with a wooden stick known as a pelican marker. He kicked back to shore and placed the underwear inside a sterile Ziploc bag. Wall flinched slightly as water fell from the bag and as he touched the wet fabric and saw the label, so ordinary and familiar: Fruit of the Loom.” (p.3)

These details are the result of excellent research, interviews that would have required Wall to recount his experience again and again until Godfrey, and the reader, could picture it in her mind.

But then, we have this:

“In the store, Reena waited in the aisle of candy. How much sweetness there was in the world, in this one aisle alone…. Perhaps Syreeta and Marisa were in the store, waiting while their boyfriends bought cigarettes. The cashier would ask for ID, and Marisa would be giggling when Warren strolled out, his baggy pants starting to slip off his hips, the white hems dragging on the concrete. Warren would put his arm around Syreeta, and Dimitri would hold Marisa’s left hand, and they’d head up to the tracks like this, entwined. They would not have noticed Reena, for they did not attend Shoreline with her, and she’d never been to the parties on the beaches or soccer fields….
Nobody noticed the girl wandering in the aisles, staring at her blue nails, afraid to look at the numerals on the red clock, a gift of Du Maurier Cigarette Company….”
(p. 62)

I’m sorry, but how could anyone possibly know this?

I understand the nature of creative non-fiction. I know that sometimes, when so many details are nabbed, authors can take a little freedom for themselves in the facts.

And Godfrey successfully evokes the image of a small-town convenience store, and to some degree explains the young victim’s isolation from her community and her peers.

But there are other moments, too; entire chapters dedicated to two Russian sisters who uncovered the murder, but who it seems could not possibly have been interviewed, making all their recorded conversations and actions questionable.

Unless Godfrey did meet with them, but doesn’t clarify this in her story.

I sped through her book because it is just so very good, and what a Vancouver Sun writer who covered most of the Virk trials called the definitive history of the slaying.

But I also sped through in hopes there would be some explanation at the end of the method of her research, of her writing.

An author’s note at the front of the book allows, “material in this book is derived from author interviews and observations, official records, and court proceedings. Certain conversations have been largely re-created based on these sources and some names and details have been changed.”

I know footnotes are not pretty. But how I longed for even just a couple.

*source of picture


la complexe

I’m a bit of a gender-ist when it comes to reading.

I’ll pick up an Atwood novel, even a Shields, long before I’ll pick up a Richler. In fact, if I were stuck on a desert island with only Barney’s Version to keep me company – a book I’ve now attempted to read three times and have always failed exquisitely – I would be forced to use the pages to make fire.

And don’t even get me started on Hemingway.

Anyway, back to my gender-ism.

I admit to believing the plot twist that sees a young, intelligent female hook up with an old man (who is charming or smart or whatever) is a tool used by male authors to make themselves feel better about something. Some use it, I think, to feel better about their midlife crises. Others to somehow reassure themselves their daughters need them.

I know, it’s messed up. And wow, creepy.

Although it surely can’t be any more screwed-up than one of Danielle Steel’s typical, sprawling tales.

Anyway, I’m not always right.

(That was easier to write than I expected.)

And so, the main character in Melissa Bank’s The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing engages in an all-too complex relationship with a much, much older man.

The man, Archie, is not Jane’s only attachment. Which is what makes the book so perfect compared to so many other forays into modern urban romance.

Jane is not “destined” to be with some man from the start. Like real life, it is stupid (or terribly Austen?) to assume one man is meant for one woman. Or that steps in the wrong direction would actually lead you to lose the love of your life.

Perhaps the author goes out of her way to prove there is no such thing as a love of one’s life. But it’s a worthy side-trip just to shake the romance out of a girl.

At the very base of Archie and Jane’s relationship is at least a hint of a complex.

The hint grows to a firm thump on the head.

(If you are planning to read this book, which is an excellent example of when chick lit gets hilariously smart, please do not read the following excerpt. It will ruin the story for you.)

After a while, he said, “Honey.”
“Yes, honey,” I said.
He put a little box in my hand. I looked at it. It was that robin’s egg blue from Tiffany. I opened the blue box, and there was a velvet one inside, and I opened that. I looked at the ring. It was platinum with one diamond. It was just the ring I would’ve wanted, if I’d wanted a ring from him.
I said, “It’s beautiful.”
He heard the remorse in it. “Oh,” he said, “I see.”
I was about to say, I can’t make a big decision right now – I can barely trust myself to decide what earrings to wear. But I said, “I’m sorry, honey.”
He spoke softly. “I knew you wouldn’t marry me when you didn’t ask me to the funeral.”
My father was gone. I felt I couldn’t lose anything else, but just then I realized I already had: I’d lost the hope that I would ever be loved in just that way again.
(p. 198-199)