if you wanna be happy for the rest of your life....

What does one read while wrapping up the chore that is moving?

Something light. Something brain candy. Something about someone who, you feel, could sympathize with you.

For example, you would not want to read Austen. Those girls never had to move a thing. Rich they weren't, but poor they weren't either. (Except Fanny in Mansfield Park. She might understand the pain of cleaning a bathroom floor that can never ever look clean.)

Biographies in general, and of any formidable politician specifically, would be all wrong. Jean Chretien definitely would not start to cry because the shelf over the kitchen sink fell down when you were dusting it. Neither would Sylvia Plath -- and yes, a volume of her complete diaries remain on my to-do list from a summer past.

(By the way, I have a feeling the heroine of any piece of self-respecting feminist literature would not have to call a man over to fix the whole shelf problem. Possibly the heroine of a chick lit novel would, but then it would go to the gutter rather quickly. Ew.)

And so, moving is a time to pull out your Weiner.

Jennifer Weiner, that is. (Excuse the bad joke. I'm really, really tired, and this will likely be my last blog entry for about a week.)

The heroine of one of Weiner's latest books, Goodnight Nobody, lacks confidence and common sense and, well, smarts. But she's quirky. And hilarious. When she finds a mom in her neighbourhood dead in the kitchen, she sets off to solve the mystery on her off-hours. Kate barely has time to take care of her three kids, let alone clean her house, or solve a murder mystery. But she's sleuthing, and it's hilarious, and the woman would feel my pain.

(My obnoxious, misplaced pain.)

Mixed up with memories of a crush gone bad from years before, the book's a light read. And it's sort of startling how Kate's marriage is a backdrop to the whole thing, but it's difficult to tell whether she's happy in it or not. Her husband is little more than a bit character, similar to Vera on Cheers....

One morning's wedded bliss:

".... What was his job?"
Ben turned his back on me, tossing last night's shirt into the closet, where it would join the knee-high pile of clothes I'd been meaning to take to the dry cleaner's for the past two weeks. Possibly three. "I'm running out of shirts." This remark was delivered under his breath, at a volume just loud enough for me to hear.
"I'll drop off the dry cleaning this morning." I hopped out of bed, bent over, and scooped dress shirts into my arms, hoping that the view would entice him to stay a few minutes longer.
"Insurance," said Ben. Score one for my black silk underwear.
(p. 132)

It's like everything Desperate Housewives was supposed to be, but a helluva lot more witty.

And did I mention it could scare a girl off of having kids from 100 miles away?


movin' on up (wherein the blogger finds treasure)

I am sure that, somewhere out there, someone is diligently packing their things, moving out of their apartment on time, and then reliably unpacking their things and putting them in their new proper places. There must be responsible adults out there somewhere.

I imagine these are the same people who keep their fridges stocked with fruits and vegetables, and never find themselves slowly opening tupperware that's been sitting at the back of the shelf too long to remember what was inside. (Shrimp. Ew.)

These are also the same people who do not get sidetracked by their own stuff as they pack and unpack.

I am not one of these people.

So I offer you my latest discovery among my belongings:

"'Miss Anne Shirley,
Green Gables,
Avonlea, P.E. Island.
DEAR MADAM: We have much pleasure in informing you that your charming story 'Averil's Atonement' has won the prize of twenty-five dollars offered in our recent competition....
Yours very truly,

'I don't understand,' said Anne, blankly.
Diana clapped her hands.
'Oh, I knew it would win the prize--I was sure of it. I sent your story into the competition, Anne.'
'Yes, I did,' Diana said gleefully, perching herself on the bed..... Diana was not the most discerning of mortals, but just at this moment it struck her that Anne was not looking exactly overjoyed. The surprise was there, beyond doubt--but where was the delight?
'Why, Anne, you don't seem a bit pleased!' she exclaimed.
Anne instantly manufactured a smile and put it on.
'Of course I couldn't be anything but pleased over your unselfish wish to give me pleasure,' she said slowly. 'But you know--I'm so amazed--I can't realize it--and I don't understand. There wasn't a word in my story about--about--' Anne choked a little over the word--'baking powder.'
'Oh, I put that in,' said Diana, reassured. 'It was as easy as wink--and of course my experience in our old Story Club helped me. You know the scene where Averil makes the cake? Well, I just stated that she used the Rollings Reliable in it, and that was why it turned out so well; and then, in the last paragraph, where Perceval clasps Averil in his arms and says, "Sweetheart, the beautiful coming years will bring us the fulfilment of our home of dreams," I added, "in which we will never use any baking powder except Rollings Reliable."'
'Oh,' gasped poor Anne...."

[Anne of the Island, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, pages 114-115]


moving sucks

These are the lies I tell myself with shocking regularity:
  1. There is nothing wrong with spending $4.80 every day on cinnamon dolce lattes.
  2. I am always five minutes away from wherever I need to be. Unless I need to take a cab, in which case I am just 15 minutes away. For example, "I'm leaving in the next five minutes, and it'll take me like two seconds to walk across the High Level Bridge."
  3. In the summertime, it is unnecessary to dry my hair. That's what the sun does.
  4. I have very few things. Moving them from Point A to Point B shouldn't take longer than, say, a day. And I only need, like, four boxes to carry everything.

People shouldn't tell lies. Specifically, they shouldn't tell themselves lies.

I have left packing and moving to the last possible minute. And even when I am supposed to be packing, like now, I find myself easily distracted by Facebook, my own blog, diary entries written when I was 19, and, the lowest of all shoulda-been-packing moments, Age of Love.

Anyway, turns out I have lots of stuff. And this, the least adventurous of any of my moves -- this weekend I move my crapload of stuff from one floor of my building to the next courtesy of Alberta's shocking economic boom, which wooed my landlords into selling their condo -- is still a really big pain.

And, like every other move I've ever submitted to (five in the last five years thanks to an 18-month transit between Ottawa-Niagara-Edmonton), I am appalled by the number of books I have collected over the years.

Seriously. Has there ever been a book I've said no to at a bookstore? I am ridiculous! I have whole piles of to-read books, that still have not been read, and still I buy more.... I tried to carry armloads of books from my old apartment to my new, but then realized that would take me 45 days. So now I definitely need more than four boxes to pack all my stuff.

Don't even get me started on how much cookware I've somehow accumulated. Or how disgusting it is that a grown woman (me) has only dusted as often as her mother has come to visit her in the last two years.


to be continued

I have alluded to this before.... I need little breaks from Stephanie Nolen's masterful 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa.

I need these breaks because the stories hurt to read. I know I often talk about pain in reading, but these true stories are more painful and hopeful and truthful, I think, than any piece of journalism I've ever read before.

My need to take these breaks scares me. I'm sure it says something about my own weaknesses that I have to take my eyes away from the stories every so often, that I need to read something else in bed at night after a handful of nights reading Nolen's work.

Could I go to Africa? Could I look and look and look and not take my eyes away?

There is darkness to be seen on Edmonton's streets, in places like tent city or even when I walk to the grocery store. I don't look away then, but this is not the same. Obviously.

I am just eleven chapters into Nolen's book, and I am so impressed with the equal compassion she shows to the truck drivers who could be blamed for spreading HIV as she does the women and children who are so often the victims.

But so far, two stories have struck me. One, just three pages, that I finished this morning. She ends it so:

"Mfanimpela was thirty-four that day we met again -- a few months older than I. And he had outlived his entire family." (p. 149)

Another, of Tigist, a 14-year-old girl in Ethiopia left since 2002 to take care of her orphaned younger brother, 10-year-old Yohannes. Nolen asks them what they would do if they had more money:

"When his sister was out of earshot, he confided, 'I'd use it to take care of her.'
And when Yohannes had gone back out to run with his friends in the street, Tigist watched him from the doorway, her head against one slim-fingered hand, and she said it too. 'If we had more, I would try to take better care of him. I have to take care of him.'" (p. 43)


something easy

There's something about summer. The heat sends you back in time to nights at the drive-in, the sun setting slowly over the mountains, and some really bad music blaring over the car stereo.

I'm listening to Offspring's Pretty Fly for a White Guy right now, sending me right back in time to Grade 11 or 12. Around the same time my best friends and I used to to be in love with a guy that worked at the Dairy Queen. Is there anything better than ice cream and crushes? Well, we weren't all in love with him, just one of the girls was, but I'm fairly certain we helped his ego along as a group.

Anyway. Summer is a tough time to concentrate on anything, let alone blogging or excellent novels or well-written books examining important issues.

Half the time, summer is really when I start re-reading all the "classics" on my bookshelves.

Like this gem, described as "a jaunty tale of love and murder" by Publishers Weekly. No concentration needed at all for a slightly naughty, always hilarious book of one woman's perfect life reduced to a cheating husband who is murdered, the lusty return of her high school crush, and gentle battles with her eight-year-old daughter. I love Crusie for the women she creates, who don't need to be saved and don't want to be married, who embrace themselves before all others.

For those who long to travel at this time of year, I offer up Sarah Smith's Chasing Shakespeares, an adventure in Shakespeare and academia. I know, sounds a little dry. But the dialogue's quicker and wittier than A.S. Byatt's Possession, and it's more a romp than a love story. And who doesn't want to romp when it's this hot? Besides, it makes one imagine a time when London would have been all muddy and dirty and 1600s-ish.

Last of all, for my friend Erin, I submit Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, a touching story that frankly makes me think more of snow and winter boots than summer (thanks to the movie, really), but is perhaps the best of all romps. Yes, a comment on the American Civil War. But also a tale of love and decision-making and doing what's right for you, not what people expect you to do. Who did not want to be Jo? I wished my brother would dress up with me and play out the ridiculous stories I created. (My brother wished that I would participate in his band. We met halfway by turning the fridge box into a newspaper office.) I loved her pre-feminism feminist mom. And I wished for Laurie -- especially when I realized he looked like Christian Bale. I cried and cried at the end.

What to read now? Something cheap and paperbacky....


feelin' hot hot hot

Mm. Glad to get that song stuck in your head, dear reader (Mom, Dad, Granny).

It's been deliciously hot in Edmonton the last couple days. The kind of hot that makes you want to have picnics on the legislature grounds, or really just sit in your air-conditioned apartment sucking on a popsicle and trying to write fiction.

I blame my sudden need to write really bad fiction on Jennifer Crusie, whose light touch makes you want to write stories of your own. Reading a book of hers is kind of like eating a cherry popsicle on a sunny day. Okay, maybe one of those blue, white and red popsicles.

I continue to take a break from Anna Karenina (perhaps until the fall, when it will be cold again and I won't want to leave my apartment and so I'll be stuck with Tolstoy's prose) and even from 28 (a gorgeous book that breaks your heart on every page -- it's actually been a rather rough week, so I needed a breather). And so I am reading a frothy,* fun Crusie novel, Don't Look Down, co-authored by Bob Mayer.

I've never read Mayer before, however I assume he is to blame for the testosterone-charged graphs about military weaponry that I've been skipping. Crusie, of course, is responsible for the witty dialogue and a female heroine who isn't a size six with perfect hair and a penchant for listening to Bruce Springsteen. (Seriously, why must all romance heroines listen to Springsteen? Does anyone in real life listen to Springsteen anymore?)

I'm sure I had a point in this blog entry that had nothing to do with making my family sing the "Hot, hot, hot" song to themselves for the rest of the day.... But it's summertime and I can't focus. So, a few sidenotes:

  • HURRAH! How many summer nights did I spend while in university drinking strawberry daqs and watching Sex and the City? Too many to count, really. Perfect summer news.

  • Thanks to a friend, I have a new book to add to my Must Read list.... unfortunately, I can't find the relevant CP article online anywhere, and I don't want to pilfer it. So please, dear reader (Granny, Mom, Dad), bear with this article from salon.com

*Have you ever noticed "frothy" is a term almost wholly reserved for the work of female writers, most often chick-lit authors? Erm, when not speaking of coffee of course. No matter how ludicrously commercial the work of King or Grisham, one rarely calls it "frothy." Hmph.


a late ode to Canada Day

In honour of our 140th birthday (ha ha! we secured Confederation before Germany or Italy!), I offer up my Top 10 picks for best Canadian books.... Recognizing, of course, that this is a rather sad, English-only list. But taking pride for a moment that it's also a rather woman-heavy list.
  1. Anne of Green Gables. Long before I fell for Tennyson, we were kindly introduced by L.M. Montgomery. Was there a girl more imaginative than Anne Shirley? I wanted curly red hair. And freckles. Without any real understanding of what a gingham dress might be, I longed for one. I wanted a group of little girl friends who would join me in my story-writing and play-acting. I wanted a Gilbert Blythe of my very own....

  2. Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood. If Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale was a harrowing look at where humanity could go -- in its worst-case, women as little more than baby-producing cattle, way -- then Oryx and Crake is a worst-case tale of where science could go in a world poisoned by man. And woman. This is not a book of lyrical feminism but achingly dirty and ego-driven masculinity. A world where one needs lots and lots of sunblock. And hope. For something.

  3. I just finished reading a story as told through the eyes of a very young girl. And while admirable, it was no A Complicated Kindness. Miriam Toews gently imbues her tale of a young woman living in a small Manitoba Mennonite community with angst and confusion and hope and hopelessness. For example: "Travis told me that when I was dying to get high was when I was the most together and brilliant. Well, I said, it's the dying part that makes me feel alive."

  4. There are moments when Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees feels like the worst kind of melodrama. They are tiny glimpses of moments buried amongst all the overwhelmingly excellent prose. Her The Way the Crow Flies, however, may be a little shorter on the poetic prose and a little longer on the excellent story-telling. Maybe it's because my mom grew up on an Air Force base, maybe it's because there's a hopefulness and news-worthiness to her tale of Madeleine McCarthy -- an eight-year-old girl accidentally drawn into the biggest news story of her time, whose ripe fear keeps her silent -- but I would have to say MacDonald's second major novel outshines her first.

  5. Remember when Maclean's was really really good? And you always read the back page first? Fotheringham's Fictionary of Facts and Follie is an ode to that time, an ode to the days when you ran to the post box on Tuesdays, eagerly awaiting that week's periodical. And then you laughed and laughed.

  6. If I was astounded by Atwood's ability to depict a man gone wild in Oryx and Crake, I was far more blown away by Richard B. Wright's tale of two sisters in Clara Callan. Was Clara a realistic, representative small-town Ontario woman of the 1930s? I still can't decide. She was daring in her silence, in her privacy, in her life choices.... More daring, really, than the sister who pursued adventure in the United States. Clara is a tragic anomaly, and Wright created her so perfectly.

  7. Rilla of Ingleside is the somewhat melodramatic final tale of Anne of Green Gables. Rilla is Anne's youngest daughter, a girl so feckless and unimaginative she is completely unlike her mother. Instead of the bouncing chapter-to-chapter fun of L.M. Montgomery's first novel, Rilla's story speaks to the author's last wishes for peace and love in this world. I have long loved Rilla, even for her self-centredness. Her tale brings the whole story to a close -- a close that allows us to remember Anne forever as an adult, too, a mother who hurt and cried and laughed and loved....

  8. Okay. This list is making me gross sentimental. Time for some harsh come-uppance. Cue Naomi Klein's No Logo. I don't think there's any Canadian between the ages of 20 and 30, who went to university or college at some point during that time, who doesn't remember when this book came out. When it kicked ass (depending on your opinion). When it made you feel guilty (again, depending on your opinion). When it made you want to make a change in your world. (Come on!)

  9. No list of top Canadian books is complete with Timothy Findley. (I'm sure people would say the same about Mordecai Richler. I'm not one of them, but I respect the opinion.) I offer you the mystical, sepia-toned tale of The Piano Man's Daughter.

  10. In The Strangest Dream, Merrily Weisbord tells tales of Canadian communism. Of sweatshops in Montreal and the Cold War. Of spies and treason and, yup, I'm going to say it again, hope. I have almost as many folded-over corners and drawn-in stars and arrows in this book as I do in More's Utopia. Perhaps that says more about me than the book.... "What now? What do we believe now after the death of what was at once the most noble dream and a soul-destroying nightmare? Is global capitalism all there is? What remains of the impulse for social justice? What, if anything, is the legacy of the strangest dream?"