autumn day of discovery

I found a new bookstore in Edmonton today! It's called Broad Valley Books (across from Chapters on 105th Street at Whyte Avenue), and it's actually pretty great. All used books, but laid out according to style and author. There's nothing I hate more than when I'm in a used bookstore and I can't just look along the alphabetized rows to find the book I'm actually trying to find. Yes, used bookstores are for browsing, I know. But when you have to find the book club book of the month, it's nice to have a starting point. This was a good used bookstore experience -- the place is packed with titles, and I was tempted by much of its large selection.

(In fairness, the last sentence of this mini-review is irrelevant. Sort of like a chocaholic commending the pile of candy bars before her.)

Other discoveries on a gorgeous autumn day? A friend was telling me about the sugar.com network (by the way, this is what you will find if you plug http://www.sugar.com/ into your browser -- in Canada, at least, it brings you to the Canadian Sugar Institute, which I definitely did not know existed). You can find one of its parts here, and apparently it's on the verge of a smart new change....

Also, The Sweet Hereafter -- the single film every single one of my friends had to watch for their first-year film studies class -- is based on a book. Not sure I'm up to reading it, really. At least not while the days are getting shorter again.

(I am now debating whether I should dedicate an entire blog entry to my favourite movies that were based on lesser-known books. Just checked, and my all-time favourite, The Philadelphia Story, was based on a play. Not a book. Oh, 1940s Hollywood. You woo me.)


guilt feelings

I was feeling all anti-stuff today. Mumbly and anti-everything. Then bought a cinnamon dolce latte, which generally improves my mood. Then saw the thought o'the day on the side, and paused:

"There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." -- Apparently a quote from Madeleine Albright.

Was filled with guilt feelings. Resolved to read Josie Vogels or something like it at some point this weekend.


selling Shakespeare

I feel like, had William Shakespeare been born in the 20th century, he'd be a total sell-out. He wouldn't live in London, writing plays. He'd move to Hollywood and write sitcoms and pan to canned laughter. Or perhaps he'd write for one of those halfway good soap operas -- the kind on CBS that actually make sense until the third commercial break, at which point you're sitting on your couch going, "Wha? I thought he died? Huh?"

(Speaking of "wha?" moments on one's couch, I'm half watching the new Peter Krause show on ABC. The guy was so good on Six Feet Under. Not sure he picked a winner here, though.)

My point.... There are artists who, I feel, would be uncomfortable the way their work has been capitalized upon.

This is something I found on another website. I feel like Shakespeare would be cool with it, and perhaps a little disappointed he wasn't making money off it.


one more for the to-read list....

So. I'm visiting my family out east soon, and I have to scale back my spending.
All book purchases, if not at Perfect Books, will be put on hold.
In the meantime, I'm adding to my wish list. Check out this site -- I'm totally looking forward to Governess: The Lives of and Times of the Real Jane Eyres, by Ruth Brandon.

(Speaking of anticipation, and on a non-book note, am I the only one who's ridiculously excited about Pushing Daisies? Yes, I know that TV previews are totally faux and overdone. But it looks so technicolour and quirky and vaguely romantic!)


three things to get excited about

  1. Rick Mercer, baby. You know, talking to Americans? He tricked George W. into calling Chretien "Crouton"? And Monday Night Report, which CBC then moved to Tuesday? Well, he had a blog, and it used to be at blogspot, but then he moved it to a glorified CBC site here. Suddenly it was less about rants, and more about photo challenges, which were actually really irritating for those of us not obsessed with photoshop or similar software. How many times can you look at a spoofed pic of Paul Martin giddily clapping his hands in women's clothing before the whole exercise is just boring? ANYWAY, for most people, the best of Rick Mercer is in his rants. This weekend the Globe excerpted parts of his new book which is -- surprise, surprise -- all rants, all the time!
  2. Parity! Okay, so I'm actually not that excited about parity with the American dollar.... this is going to sound surprisingly right-wing, I know, but aside from all the rah-rah our-dollar's-as-big-as-yours stuff, this isn't technically good for the economy. But you don't need a woman who pulled woeful grades in Econ 100 to tell you about that. Let's talk about books.... This in from today's Journal: "(Audrey's Books co-owner Steve) Budnarchuk was quick to point out the store can't start selling all its inventory at American prices.... "Be aware that we buy in Canadian dollars from Canadian sources based on the Canadian price, not the American price." Some publishing companies have started pasting lower sticker prices on books distributed north of the border, but prices can't change overnight, said Budnarchuk. He expects customers will start to see charges dip on the winter price lists in December and January."
  3. Sir John A. Macdonald. What? You can't name all the prime ministers since Confederation, forwards and backwards? What kind of Canadian are you? (Oh, right. Not a geeky one. Makes sense. And technically I can't name them all. There were four in five years between John A's second round and Sir Wilfrid Laurier's first who were all old and Tory. One of them served for even less time than Joe Clark, and I'm fairly certain one died in office. Their names all sound the same Britishy-Scottishy and I can't for the life of me remember who they were. I hope you, dear reader, are not their great-great-grandchild, because I would hate to offend you.) Getting back on track.... (eh? a little CPR joke for you there).... a new faction book all about him is coming out soon. I love fictionalized biographies. They are so much more fun than the truth....

*How'd I dig up Tupper's name, you ask? No, no, no use of Wikipedia here. I used one of my all-time favourite Canadian history books. Yes, I have favourite Canadian history books. Whatever.

The author, Gordon Donaldson, hilariously titles the fourth chapter of his book -- detailing the short-lived reigns of Sir John Abbott (1891-1892), Sir John Thompson (1892-1894), Sir Mackenzie Bowell (1894-1896) and Sir Charles Tupper (1896) -- "The Pall Bearers."


on book club (briefly)

Myth: If it were not for book club, I would be paging through the last chapters of Stephanie Nolen's 28.

Fact: If it were not for book club, I would have read about three chapters of 28 before the discontinuity between stories made me want to take another break, and I turned to something less brainy. Like a fictionalized biography of Sylvia Plath.

Regardless, I am slowly wading into Saramago's Blindness.

I'm not going to lie to you. It might be over my head. Already, I can tell it's a very important comment on society, and that is what we will discuss at book club next month. I, however, will likely focus on the convoluted (Nobel Prize-winning) writing style.

How do you like this?

To put it simply, this woman could be classed as a prostitute, but the complexity in the web of social relationships, whether by day or night, vertical or horizontal, of the period here described cautions us to avoid a tendency to make hasty and definitive judgments, a mania which, owing to our exaggerated self-confidence, we shall perhaps never be rid of. (p. 21 in Comrade Barbara's hardcover version of the book)

Right. Clearly it's too early to tell whether I will enjoy this work.

define "romance"

So…. I’m about to talk about Jane Austen again. I promise this will be the last blog entry, for awhile, that mentions her. Because really, I’ve been obsessing. Not to mention alienating a certain friend who thinks she hates Austen.

Before I get to my well-argued (hah) argument, however, a few side notes for anyone planning to skip the 19th century stuff:
  • I get to practice my skills at being judgemental and bitchy! A round of completely non-celebrity judges have been recruited for this project to help weed out the utter crap before it gets to the real celebrities. Apparently the serialized thriller/competition format was a total success at the Vancouver Province. Will it have legs in Edmonton?
  • There’s something about filling out a passport application that makes me really excited. Like, ridiculously so, as I rip through pages of my address book to make sure I have the correct digits for my best friend’s latest abode. And yes, I had to tick off the box on the application indicating I have no firm plans for travel anytime soon. But I’m hoping to hit Italy and France this year, and Poland. Poland is where one of my other best friends lives now, and, according to my Lonely Planet guide to Europe on a shoestring, it’s a very cool place. “Poland’s relatively undeveloped coastline, with its attractive, sandy beaches, and the rugged mountains of the south are sure to delight…. There are lots of off-the-beaten-track destinations to discover, from picturesque mountain villages lost in time to big towns where foreigners are still a rare sight.” Sounds good, no?

Okay, on to the focus of my thoughts today…. And one more warning, people. Total spoiler ahead. I’m completely going to ruin the end of Emma for you, but to be honest, it’s been around for 191 years, so it’s not like I’m about to tell you what happened at the end of a Dan Brown novel or something.

Mr. Knightley is gross.

Okay, read this, and your heart’s going to melt a little around its crusty edges:

“I cannot make speeches, Emma…. If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me. I have loved you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it. Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma….” (p. 290)

Aw, sweet, right? I mean, quite fitting for a guy who is kind of boring, really. Kind of dry. Stodgy, even.

But read this:

“I do not believe I did you any good. The good was all to myself, by making you an object of the tenderest affection to me. I could not think about you so much without doting on you, faults and all; and by dint of fancying so many errors, have been in love with you ever since you were thirteen at least.” (p. 312)


Sure, sure, 19th century sensibilities, yadda yadda.


While reading much of the second half of this classic, I was preparing to make a whole argument about the somewhat despicable formula we love to read or watch in love stories: girl knows boy; boy irritates, mocks, belittles girl; girl realizes she’s not as smart as she thought she was; boy and girl live happily ever after.

Sure, I’ve made the argument before, but I found this passage in a favourite book that suited my points so well:

“The movie When Harry Met Sally did a grave disservice to single people everywhere, by forcing them to look at every friend of the gender towards which they are drawn and wonder: is that who I’m going to end up with? And most of the time, this is not a hopeful, happy question, because if you wanted to end up with that person, you’d already be dating them. Imagine if somebody had told Meg Ryan on that drive from Chicago to New York that she would spend the next twelve years of her life single, punctuated by a handful of relationships that would be both unfulfilling and short lived, and then, finally, just as she is about to give up all hope, who will she be happy to see waiting for her at the end of the aisle? The idiot who just spit grape seeds on her window.” (p. 192, The Big Love by Sarah Dunn)

But now I have to just be vaguely uncomfortable. Yes, Austen tells you from the start that Knightley is about twice Emma’s age. To have his long love spelled out, though, is something else. Even in 1816. And especially when you read how Emma coddles her own befuddled father, a man infantile in his inability to make decisions and immature in his worries. She parents him, so who was parenting her when she was growing up, after her mother died?

Her future husband. Ew.


Dear Mr. Richler:

Still not a fan of your work, per se. But I am a fan of the Montreal landscapes you created on the page. And the way you linked characters from book to book, but not in a sad, Castle Rock sort of way. And, I'll admit, TV movies of your books.

(I fear this fake letter to a deceased Canadian literary icon marks me as one of the stupidest book-lovers in history.)



Sometimes I think a perfect career for me would be to write the blurbs on the back of books. You know? The ones that actually make you buy the latest Sophie Kinsella novel? (Not guilty. For once.)

I know it’s a marketing gig, probably better suited to people who use lots of exclamation marks, who used to throw glittery star stickers onto school dance posters. But the thing is, whenever I think about storylines for potential novels, I always think of them in back-of-book blurb format.

Sorry, make that crappy back-of-book blurb format. Or is that clichéd back-of-book format? Regardless, it’s a little painful. Kind of like narrating your life with that deep movie theatre trailer voice. Probably very shallow.

The thing is, the back-of-book blurb is typically kind of crappy. Or maybe just exhausting. So breathless, so excited. Of course, I fall for it every time, only to find out the book was nothing like I expected.

For example:

“Why on earth would Katherine Earle come back to Silver Creek -- the small Montana town she couldn’t wait to escape? No one has an answer to that million-dollar question, not even Kat herself. At eighteen, she ran away to the big city and got married, but after spending three years alone and on the road, she’s finally come home. Well, not home, exactly, because she’s renting a motel room and trying to avoid all chance encounters with people who might recognize her. But then she learns that her great-aunt Eva -- the domineering woman who raised her -- is dying. Pulled back into ancient family intrigues, Kat discovers that the past is something you can’t escape. And when an old love unexpectedly appears, she has to choose between the woman she has become and the girl she left behind….”

[Not to ruin it for you, but this book turns out exactly as you would expect it to. This summary’s sort of your typical breathless marketing ploy. Also, I feel the word “ancient” shouldn’t just be thrown around…. Anyway, this is the kind of blurb that reminds me of those romantic comedies you rent only to find out all the funny scenes you saw in the trailer were the only funny scenes the trailer-makers could cobble together from the whole film.]


“For more than two hundred years, the Owen women had been blamed for everything that went wrong in their Massachusetts town. And Gillian and Sally endured that fate as well: As children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. One would do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they shared, even into adulthood, brought them back -- almost as if by magic….”

[Okay, I’m noticing an ellipses trend here not wholly different from my own overuse of such punctuation. Is the ellipsis the adult equivalent of the exclamation mark? By the way, if I haven’t mentioned it before, this book is really good and completely unlike the movie. ]

And finally:

“In 1972, windswept DeClare, Oklahoma, was consumed by a terrifying crime: the murder of a young mother, Gaylene Harjo, and the disappearance of her baby, Nicky Jack. When the child’s pyjama bottoms were discovered on the banks of Willow Creek, everyone feared that he, too, had been killed, although his body was never found. Now, nearly thirty years later, Nicky Jack mysteriously returns to DeClare, shocking the town with his sudden reappearance and stirring up long-buried memories. But what he discovers about the night he vanished is far more than he, or anyone, bargains for. Piece by piece, what emerges is a story of dashed hopes, desperate love, and an act with repercussions that still cry out for justice…. And redemption.”

[Okay, so I have a thing for the going-home storyline. The start of this blurb is somewhat reminiscent of a feature-style newspaper article, no? But check out the words designed to make you buy the book -- Terrifying! Mysteriously! Shocking! Redemption! I’m not ripping on Billie Letts, honestly. This was actually a really good read, plus she’s the pen behind Where the Heart Is and The Honk and Holler Opening Soon, total classics, as far as I'm concerned.]

random question

Is the blogosphere a competitive space?

I know that's kind of a ridiculous question. I mean, it wouldn't really make sense to think bloggers could scoop each other, the way newspapers do, because not everyone reads the same blogs. But then, not everyone reads both the Post and the Globe, and yet I'm sure they value their A1 victories....

Regardless, I totally beat this blog on the same topic. Yay me and my small (irrelevant? petty?) victories.

Side notes:
  1. The latest book club pick is Jose Saramago's Blindness. On one hand, the theme of human survival and dystopia appeals to me. Also, the note on the inside of the hardcover book I scored at Wee Book Inn -- it was a birthday present in 1999 to "Comrade Barbara." This makes me laugh, but also makes me a bit sad (why did Barbara sell the book? was she a student, and couldn't afford to pack her hardcover books? did she hate this book? did she hate the gift-giver?) On the other hand, I am concerned about a lack of dialogue in the book, although a friend reassures me there is dialogue, it just isn't in the same format I'm used to. As a girl who's mother first introduced her to Harlequin romance novels when she was 11, I sort of have a hard time focusing without interesting bits of dialogue every few graphs. I'll keep you posted.
  2. Did I already tell you I bought Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine? The thing about a new Klein book is it kind of makes me really excited and faux hippie proud even to own it. It brings me back to my pseudo radical days, when I knew that if you wore a water-drenched scarf around your nose and mouth you stood a better chance against pepper spray. Of course, the reality is, I am no longer the woman who first read No Logo. Rather, I am now a woman who stands in line at Starbucks everyday. Today when my co-worker snarkily commented on the scent of "commercialism and conformity," I sighed. "Yum."
  3. A necessary addition to the links list.


you know you're a book nerd when....

I always know I'm a book nerd.
Having a bad day? I go to a book store and walk around, taking deep breaths.
Run out of cash? Back to the book store, not to buy, but just to look.
Man got you down? Scroll through the feminist lit on offer at an online bookstore. Or return to old favourites.
Anyway, in my real life I'm surrounded by lots of fellow book nerds -- thank goodness.
A perfect illustration of this came today, when we learned of this story.
The thought of a first-edition Austen out there somewhere -- really just an LRT ride away -- made my heart speed a little bit. I was immediately reminded of the premise of Possession, wherein the academic actually steals the 200-year-old letters he found in a book.
Then pals at work started to talk about their encounters with classic first-prints, and the temptation to pocket a 300-year-old work found on the shelves of a university library.
Clearly I'm not alone in my nerdiness -- and, while I'm pretty certain I wouldn't have the guts to steal the tome either, oh temptation.



A piece of furniture that will never appear in my home, no matter how badly I need more shelving. Or to roll around.

Anyone else find it hard to focus on Wednesdays? It's just two days until Friday!

I offer these things to focus on:
  1. Traditional families are going the way of the Dodo? Just as well. "Traditional families" were probably overrated, with lots of bathroom sharing.
  2. A new Keira Knightley movie opens at the end of the week! Based on a book!
  3. It's my brother's birthday!


one of those universal truths....

I am not the first person to believe today's celebrity gossip is yesterday's news of neighbours. Nor am I the first person to notice that, whenever you get a group of women who -- in some cases -- are just getting to know each other together in the same room, they will end up talking about famous people they don't know at all. Mmm, like Clive Owen.
Or better yet, Ewan McGregor, who I and friends love-fested tonight.

How do Hollywood crushes relate to books?

The star of such great films as Moulin Rouge, Trainspotting, and more just so happens to be an author. Read the excerpt here.

*note: I've probably written about this before. I'm okay with that.


quelle personality

I caught this on another blog -- the highlight isn't even the design question. It's the angry, hilarious comments.....

a soldier's story

A friend and I had a few confusing moments last week when I was sick. Stricken with laryngitis and self-loathing, I agreed to most all things and really wasn’t listening to anything at all. She is a very good person who apparently offered to purchase a new book for me at a book reading featuring Journal writer Liane Faulder and the man she was writing about, Canadian soldier and medic Master Cpl. Paul Franklin.

(The reading was less of a reading and more of a staged interview, which makes me wonder if Faulder could return from her Massey College fellowship next year to a talk show of her own. I suggest it be called, “Faulder!” Exclamation point necessary.)

Anyway, I apparently asked for the book, The Long Walk Home, and regardless of whether this conversation actually occurred, my friend got it for me.

Very good for me, turns out.

Ever since Faulder did a full feature on Franklin last year -- correction, ever since I first heard she was working on a book about his experiences -- I have wanted to read it. The soldier’s humility aside, he is a war hero. Simple as that. And he is probably the most recognizable face of Edmonton’s contribution to the war in Afghanistan.

So is his wife, Audra. She always seemed so available to the media, so tough and clear-headed. Faulder had unusual access to their family life in the year after Franklin’s G-Wagon was attacked.

I first encountered Franklin last summer at a military funeral for Pte. Robert Costall. It was frankly impossible not to stare as his wife helped him out of a wheelchair so he could stand on his artificial legs for as long as everyone else did.

It looked bloody painful. The soldier looked like a man who was going to stand through the pain, because that was the least he could do in memory of his fallen comrade.

Forget your feelings about war in general and war in Afghanistan specifically. How can you not respect a man like Paul Franklin?

How can you not cry, just a little bit, for his little boy?

Faulder’s book is, hands-down, a must-read. There are whole chapters wherein I felt like I was in Afghanistan myself, and experiencing the suicide bomb that killed a Canadian diplomat and ripped one of Franklin’s legs from his body.

That’s just good, detailed writing, very much in the clear and straightforward style of newspaper features or magazines. There is no faction here.

At the very start, Faulder goes out of her way to say this is not a story of Canada’s contribution to Afghanistan, but I would argue it really, really is.

Yes, it is one man’s story.

But this is a story, I believe, that will stand the test of time. It speaks to how Canadians thought about this war, how it, perhaps, took us by surprise. How we were all so naïve to think we could go to war after Sept. 11, 2001, without suffering any casualties.

It also reflects Edmonton’s story. I have lived in this city for two years now, and would argue the story of a slowly growing military -- the story of a clearly over-exerted force -- is very real in this city’s streets and in its Tim Hortons outlets. I am the granddaughter of a military family, and I know that Edmonton has always been home to the armed forces. Faulder writes it as such. She tells us about people who want to stop Paul Franklin on the street and tell him he’s done his country proud -- I know, I sound just a little bit like the fifth grader I once was, who won prizes (and cash) for her essays on war heroism. Can’t help it.

“I didn’t fight off ten Taliban or charge a trench with a bayonet. My heroism has, in a sense, been here in Canada as I try to recover.” (Franklin said.)
He believed anybody could be a hero…. “It’s tenacity and strength of character that saves your butt,” he said.
(p. 141)


There are actors and actresses who meet again and again on screen -- pretty much always for good.

Examples: Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

And now.... (drum roll).... Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. In a movie based on a book, no less. (Which is really no surprise -- have you noticed lately how difficult it is to find books that don't have pictures of Matt Damon or Scarlett Johansson on their covers?)

Most girls of a certain age (in their teens during the late 90s) happen to have at least one copy of Titanic in their VHS collections. I'm one of them. And I'm a little excited these two excellent thespians are getting back together on the silver screen....

(NOTE: I'm back online! At home! Yay! So I might go overboard the next few days with posts. I kind of have lots I've been waiting to say and unwilling to go to the nearest wireless hotspot to say it....)

channeling Austen

(May I preface this entry by apologizing to my friend Erin, who thinks she does not like Jane Austen -- and so is probably sick of reading about her on this blog -- even though she’s only ever read Persuasion. Not that I could ever judge someone for making such a decision since I think I do not like Mordecai Richler even though I have only ever read the first 30 pages of Barney’s Version. Three times. But Erin has never read Pride and Prejudice, regarded in most circles as Austen’s best book and one of the best English-language works of the late 17th century.So I think I’ve finally found her.

The One.
The character created by Jane Austen who I can best identify with.
If Austen’s women were characters in Sex and the City, I think most people would identify with Elizabeth Bennet the way most women think they are shades of Carrie Bradshaw. Miss Bennet has the best lines, Ms. Bradshaw the best shoes. Miss Bennet sees the irony all around her, ditto Ms. Bradshaw. Mr. Darcy? Mr. Big.

For those who see themselves a bit more Charlotte, I offer up Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne -- ever the dreamy, frankly not-swift romantic.

Samantha? The sexually avant garde Ms. Jones does not lend herself to 17th- or early 18th- century comparison. Mr. Wickham was too much a cad. Mary Crawford too sly. Mr. Willoughby too stupid.

Now, I have always thought of myself as something of a Miranda. Career-driven. Cake-driven. Prone to obsessing the failures of technology.

Miranda isn’t just commitment-phobic. She doesn’t need to be in a romantic relationship.
Love it, love her.
Love Emma.
Just hear me out for a second.
I have no familiarity whatsoever with Northanger Abbey. But the balance of Austen’s work is about relationships between men and women. Not love stories, really, though certainly stories about the importance of marriage.

Not necessarily marriage for love -- though that’s all well and good if you can put aside your pride and your prejudice, etc. etc. Instead, marriage to keep a woman going, keep her under a roof with food in her mouth, yadda yadda.
But Austen’s Emma deals with a girl who does not need to marry at all. Emma Woodhouse will do perfectly well, thank you very much, with a very large inheritance. And, while “it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” not so for a single woman in possession of the same.

Thank you very much.
Yes, Emma is snobby. Very smart, but given to stupidity because she lets her imagination run away with her.
(Me! Me!)
But she isn’t some wimpy Anne Elliot. Or sad sack Fanny Price. Or chin-up martyr Elinor Dashwood. Or vaguely bull-shitting Elizabeth Bennet.
Emma doesn’t just think she doesn’t need a man.
She knows it.
She thrives on friendships and family. She honestly wants for nothing.
Take this haughty line, in the middle of a heated argument with her sister’s brother-in-law, Mr. Knightley:
“Oh! To be sure,” cried Emma. “It is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for anyone who asks her.”

I know, I know, just halfway through the book I’m getting ahead of myself.
Anyone who’s familiar with the Austen formula, or who has watched Clueless, knows what will happen. Emma will surely get her come-uppance. Probably more than once. She’ll realize snobbery is bad, or at least not to be celebrated as a virtue. She’ll hook up with the naggy brother-in-law. Who seemed rather less naggy and more hot when played by Paul Rudd.
I guess I might just be early Emma, rather than fully-developed Emma.