happy holidays!

Dear you all:

Merry Christmas! I'm off for the holidays, so I will try to stay away from computers as much as possible. (Oh, BBC World News. I will endeavour to withstand your saucy lure.)

Quick note: If you have a moment over the next couple weeks, go see Atonement. It's gorgeous. Admittedly, the film does seem sort of split in half, the first an afternoon in the mid-30s, shot with a fast pace and surprising twists and turns, overlaid by a darkness that actually keeps you on the edge of your seat, and then interrupted by bits of laughter. The second half is a war epic, which I enjoyed, but which might lack some of the nuance for true film buffs (not me, I was still enthralled).... By the way, I love James McAvoy. It's a true love, to be sure.

I do have the book now too, thanks to my friend Erin, but I'll need some time before I can start to read it. The film is almost too fresh in my mind.

Quick question: What will you be reading this holiday season?

Cheers --
P.S. The present/picture comes from this site.


away, neophytes

It's almost time for the annual self-satisfied column.

Each January, a columnist takes the time to comment upon the arrival of the New Years resolution set at the gym. I see how irritating it must be for the dedicated fit to watch someone struggle over re-adjusting the seat on a stationery bike, or how much it must rankle to have one's favourite treadmill hi-jacked by someone who runs for 30 seconds and then walks for 20 minutes. Nonetheless, the columns really have such a smirking, asshole quality.

Anyway, today it's my turn to be a snotty jerk. It is December, and the weekend before Christmas, time for people who never go to bookstores to congregate at Chapters.

As I wandered along the aisles of a local store, browsing books and trying to dodge employees who kept asking me if I needed help, I couldn't help but overhear a couple conversations. Thought you might enjoy....

Wife: We're looking for a German-English dictionary.
Husband: No, not a dictionary. A book that translates German to English, and back.
Wife: A dictionary.
Husband: No, a dictionary doesn't translate. It's for spelling.
Staff member: Right. Uh, well, the translation books are over here. By the dictionaries.

Teenage Girl 1: 1984?
Teenage Girl 2: It's, like, a smarter version of Brave New World.

Man, holding A Complicated Kindness in one hand and A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian in the other: Which would she like better?
Staff member: It really depends on the theme you're going for. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is just flat-out funny, while --
Man, interrupting and speaking very slowly: But which one is better?

just a quick hit --

I love when authors get hooked on their own characters by writing not-tacky sequels (especially when the sequels have titles entirely different from the original). Take Louisa May Alcott, for example -- she loved Jo March so much she kept returning to her. Or Judy Blume's Fudge. Or L.M. Montgomery's Anne.

If done well, it speaks to good writing. It's not cutting and pasting the exact same intro to every story, but rather exploring the development of a character as if the character were a child the author wants to watch grow up.


before it's too late!

I almost forgot to post this -- under Saturday's stories, check out "The Grinch strikes again." The entire news story is narrated in Seussian couplets. Honestly. It probably won't be up by the weekend, so act now....

crazy in love

When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong.

(Eh? Like Baby's dad? I know, not funny. Another sad comment on the pop culture quotes running through my mind at any given moment.)

Turns out Wuthering Heights doesn't suck. (I think I just heard the sound of a thousand teenage girls rolling their eyes.) I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call it delightful, but I would certainly say it's gripping. One can't help but continue to read the horrors represented by Cathy and her Heathcliff, like listening to the train-wreck story of truly demonic or insane relatives.

How's this for overdramatic?

"I was only going to say that heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy. That will do to explain my secret, as well as the other. I've no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn't have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of his and mine are the same; and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire." (p. 59 in the Wordsworth Classics version of Emily Bronte's tale -- Catherine Earnshaw is explaining to the housekeeper why she will marry a neighbour suitor, and apparently the housekeeper remembers every work 20 years later)

The story is so dark that, while it seems you are presented with the end before the beginning, you have to keep reading.

Again, I know this is a teenage favourite, and clearly I missed out in high school. I'm not sure what makes it such a favourite, though. Enjoyable, it is. But the characters are completely unlikeable. Any young girl silly enough to think this is a depiction of true love is probably asking for heartbreak in her early life.

(Of course, even those who have never met Heathcliff on the page are bound for heartbreak at some point, right? And there's my positive thought for the day.)

But at the very end of the day, what I find most fascinating is how Emily Bronte could possibly have happened upon her subject matter at all.


also to love

I know I've shared this before.
But it's winter.
Take a moment to dance and wonder.

read it

It seems like forever since I started this gorgeous book. Inexplicably, it took me weeks to get through, and not because it was boring or bad in any way. I can’t think of a person I wouldn’t recommend it to, but I have difficulty trying to write (crap) while reading (excellent, prize-winning) fiction.

Call it an inferiority complex.

I believe the main character, Lilly, is the loneliest literary character I have ever come across. She fits in nowhere. Have I said that before? In so many ways, this is a tale of Lilly’s journey to feeling part of something.

Or maybe not. Maybe it’s the journey from belonging somewhere to belonging nowhere.

Whatever the case, Camilla Gibb’s beautiful prose throws question on what makes home home. What makes heritage heritage. What makes faith faith.

I can’t sort out whether Lilly’s love drives her, or her imagination. It’s as though she’s possessed by memory…. I can’t sort out whether it makes any sense for someone to love another for so long without any real hope of seeing that other person again.

But Lilly is not the only fascinating character in this book.

(I’m sorry, am I gushing about how great this book is? I can’t help it.)

There is, for example, Amina, Lilly’s friend and “co-wife” (only a joke, Lilly is not actually a co-wife). At first Amina is like Lilly, a woman without a proper place. But her children centre her. Later, she begins to give up tradition in a way Lilly can’t (because Lilly doesn’t just identify with tradition, but uses it to make her own identity?). Later still, she is swayed to a different kind of Islam, perhaps in keeping with another political comment altogether.

At the end, Gibb’s Lilly questions the future of Islam in a multicultural society. The questions, the hints, remind me of the end of the movie Munich, when the World Trade Centre towers -- still standing and at least two decades before their destruction -- loom. Their appearance at the edge of the screen is supposed to tell us something. A comment I don't know how to best put my finger on.


humour me for a moment....

So, let's say you have to stay at work well past the usual closing time. And no one else is around, except the Russian cleaning lady, and you've already exhausted your daily conversation of "How are you?.... Oh, yes, very busy." All just to wait for a phone call. Now, it's a very important phone call and all, but it's well past midnight and there's frankly nothing else for you to be doing around 1 a.m. You're tired and cranky and you've already read last week's New York Times and you're disappointed to see the more recent Sunday edition has not yet landed in the library.

For a lack of any other reading material in the world, this "real-time" internet novel is not so bad. Soon it will be a book, though I've no idea why anyone would buy it when it's all there online.


my favourite theme....

Another gorgeous book to be a movie....

hot dogs, nudists and Bronte

So, I'm on the night shift this week, which means I'm very easily amused. I spend my days at home writing fiction that is crap. I can't go to sleep unless I read Wuthering Heights (by the way, so far my theory that Austen lovers and Bronte lovers are totally incompatible stands). And I laugh out loud at oddities I find on the internet.

Sad shadow world, eh? But I've been addicted to this blog for months, and this is just one of the many payoffs. (Thank goodness Canadians are generally too uptight to do such things. I have never met a bus driver I wanted to see naked.)

Also, who knew such a thing as this existed? Perhaps I should do PR for them, marrying my love of street meat and gabbering on about things that are completely unimportant.


more chick lit-fuelled consumerism

I have a love-hate relationship with Sophie Kinsella novels.

Once in my hand, I can't put the novels down. They're well-written for what they are -- really, really formula chick lit. Perfect if your life is totally out of control, because you know what to expect and, honestly, no one is worse with money than the heroine in the Shopaholic novels.

(In general, I don't hit serious depression mode unless I am completely unable to shop or imagine a brighter day -- say, the 15th and 30th of each month -- when I will once again be able to shop.... Not sure what sort of an -ism that would be....)

The hate part of the equation comes when the characters themselves completely lose control and/or grasp of reality. For example, Becky Bloomwood writing back and forth with her frustrated bank manager in the first book is brilliant. Shipping thousands of dollars of international crap without her husband noticing in Shopaholic and Sister is just ridiculous. I couldn't bother to pick up the baby one, in part because I was done with Becky, and in part because approximately 6,000 books about women wanting babies, or not wanting babies, or simply being obsessed with spawn in general, came out all at once.

My point....

Right. Back to that. I may not be completely done with Ms. Bloomwood. Turns out the banner Kinsella novel is headed for the silver screen. Filming starts in the new year, according to the author's website.


remember Milo?

As an unabashed follower of Gilmore Girls -- right up until the end of its last season, which, frankly, sucked because Amy Sherman-Palladino wasn't involved -- this is just plain thrilling. Maybe because I count two film studies majors among my best friends in the whole world, I love the idea of a whole collection of essays examining all aspects of la vie Gilmore.

never mind

It seemed so cool to read the blogs of favourite authors. Because I love their writing, right? They write these really funny or cool books, so they must have just fascinating blogs.

But you're thinking that, well, they write books. They're not rock stars or soldiers or doctors with Medecins sans Frontiers or.... bike couriers. I think bike couriers would have really interesting blogs. They're usually cute, and they ride all over the city in zany outfits (read: warm) and they meet all sorts of people, and they remember everyone's faces, even passersby on the street.

Anyway, back to my point. Authors aren't that interesting. Here's proof. And I feel kind of bad writing that, but the thing is, I'm SO not a pet person. I couldn't be more bored or scroll through these entries faster. So, good bye Jennifer Crusie blog. Turns out you are a very normal person, just like the rest of us, and I am not entertained enough to dedicate 15 seconds a day to scrolling through your entries in hope there is mention of your next book or project.

To be honest, this does make sense. I mean, if I were a writer, my blog entries would be rather boring, wouldn't they?

Thanks for reading, people.

(Meanwhile, however, I am not disappointed at all by the Jennifer Weiner blog. And I still hold out some hope for other writers' blogs, too.)


everything London

Check out this bizarre tube map of the world -- particularly North America. The book looks a bit dry, but then, I've recently proven to have the attention span of an ant, so I shouldn't really judge.

Oooh -- shiny thing.

take five

All the charlatans I've known, of a certain age, are probably rolling their eyes at the title of this blog entry....

ANYWAY, in the spirit of the season (and not in the spirit of how cold my toes are, always, at this time of year), I offer my Top Five Christmas Movies. Warning: I sort of spoil them, but they're classics for the most part, so you should have seen them by now anyway. If not, where have you been? Honestly.

(Nope, has nothing to do with books. Erm..... pop cult for the masses. Like Tom Jones, but in 2007.)

5. The Family Stone -- Anyone else cringe during the Christmas Eve dinner scene? Really, who didn't cringe during that scene? The movie's all about Sarah Jessica Parker's pent-up, throat-clearing horror show visit to her boyfriend's picture perfect post card family. The family is enjoying their nice New England Christmas, complete with fashionable liberal values and lots of snow, but they can't get over their disgust with the favourite son's new girlfriend. Quintessential Christmas moment? When Awful Meredith heads to the small-town bar with Hunky Brother, meets up with Evil Sister's ex, and invites him to Christmas breakfast. Awesomely, recognizably small-town Christmas. The moral of the story? Be yourself, stop caring what everyone else thinks of you, and don't be afraid to crush on your sibling's significant other. Or your significant other's sibling.

4. A Christmas Story -- Filmed in St. Catharines, Ont., this one's a classic for anyone born after 1980. Or anyone who had nothing better to watch on TV the last few years, so saw the marathon showing on TBS. Remember when the dad gets the lamp that looks like a woman's leg? Most hilarious thing ever. Quintessential Christmas moment? Scary, scary Santa putting the boot to Ralphie. The moral of the story? Do not shoot anyone with a beebee gun. Ever. Also, nothing is as it seems. Even perfect 1950s nuclear families.

3. The Family Man -- So Nicolas Cage goes to sleep one night a hot, opera-singing, jackass in a suit. And when he wakes up, he is wearing ratty pyjamas, he's lying next to his college sweetheart and he's supposed to change dirty diapers. It's like a Dickensian novel -- in fact, it's like the Dickensian Christmas novel -- except he's not flitting in and out of possible realities. He's living just one. And his daughter -- or his alternate universe daughter -- totally knows he's not her dad. Quintessential Christmas moment? The airport scene. Would you have gotten on the plane? Tough call. The moral of the story? Business is bad, love is good, follow your heart, etc.

2. Love, Actually -- I know, I'm slotting this one in at No. 2, even though it has way too many characters and way too much neuroses and it's so hard to understand exactly what happens to Emma Thompson and Allan Rickman's characters.... But the soundtrack alone can put a girl in the mood for Christmas. Even the uber lame anthem. And, you have to love Hugh Grant's bumbling prime minister. And when the guy in love with Keira Knightley plays the carols on her front stoop and holds up massive cue cards telling her he loves her. Christmas is about being warm and fuzzy, right? And what's more warm and fuzzy than a whole movie about love? Quintessential Christmas moment? When Grant sings "Good King Wenceslas" to the little girls, and they hop around and dance. So cute! The moral of the story? Shagging your boss is bad, Joni Mitchell is a salve to all wounds, if your girlfriend cheats on you with your brother you should go to Portugal, and American presidents played by Billy Bob Thornton are surely bad guys.

1. It's a Wonderful Life -- Cliche attack! But the clicheness of the cliche is offset by the fact this is a movie that stars Jimmy Stewart. And if you don't appreciate Jimmy Stewart, you have no heart. Plus this is the cinematic equivalent to A Christmas Carol. If you think about it, this movie set the stage for classics to come, such as Sliding Doors or, well Family Man. So really, it would be a cliche not to include this cliche. And if that's not a post-modern thought.... Well, I've really never had a proper post-modern thought, so let's just drop this now. If you've not seen this movie, back away from the computer, run to a video store and rent it immediately. Or just wait until the week before Christmas and virtually every American channel will broadcast it at least once. Quintessential Christmas moment? The wings. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go and see this movie right now. The moral of the story? It's a wonderful life, darling. Stop underestimating it.

Bonus round.... movies that are really more about New Year's Eve than Christmas....

When Harry Met Sally -- Quintessential Christmas moment? Carrying a real pine tree along the snowy streets of New York City. Moral of the story? Take another look at the idiot who can't tell the difference between an opened or closed window. Why it's all about New Year's Eve: Christmas is about embracing what you already have. New Year's is about wondering if you could have more.

While You Were Sleeping -- Quintessential Christmas moment? A young, single woman asked to work Christmas day because she doesn't have any family in the city. Oh, something less bitter? Okay -- When Lucy's Christmas tree crashes through her landlord's window. Moral of the story? Pretending you're engaged to a comatose dude is fine so long as you don't hurt anyone's feelings and you manage to nab his brother. Why it's all about New Year's Eve: This movie is all about yearning for something just out of reach -- absolutely fundamental to dreaming up New Year's resolutions.

Bridget Jones's Diary -- Quintessential Christmas moment? Mark Darcy's reindeer sweater. Moral of the story? Forget the Hugh Grant baddies. Settle for nothing less than a man who likes you. Just as you are. Why it's all about New Year's Eve: What better time to start a diary....


finding tough

Danielle Steel writes about passionate, ridiculous, fuzzy-around-the-edges love.

Reserve your groans, please. I know what you're thinking -- "I knew she was into chick lit, but seriously? From Camilla Gibb's gorgeous narrative to a romance writer whose stories are best left in the 1980s?" -- but bear with me for just one moment.

I'm thinking today about reporters chasing stories. I'm thinking about how journalists manage to gear themselves to go to Afghanistan, or how, amazingly, they might be willing to cover an epidemic illness spread easily. I'm thinking about safety, and about.... the mesh of courage and crazy it must take.

And so, to take it back to books -- and surely, there are much better books, and yes, I know that -- I introduce Message from Nam.

I was a pre-teen when I read this book, and I own it still. Although, admittedly, it's buried so far back in my bookshelves you won't find it.

Here was this woman who wasn't so different from anyone else living in a relatively middle-class, typical North American town. She went to university, and she wasn't so bad at writing, and she planned to write nice stories for a nice newspaper and marry a nice boy.

And then the war in Vietnam -- that conflict that has become a cultural touchstone to Americans and therefore everyone -- touched her life, took her fiance. And she went to war herself, as a journalist. It was so powerful to me to read about this person -- this fictional person -- putting her life on the line to tell the stories that needed to be told.

Yes, the story gets bogged down in romance. (Although, you have to hand it to Steel; unlike Disney, she is not a purveyor of the one-love/it's-all-fate myth. So, every time you think poor Pax has found the guy she should be with, he dies.) And, again, Paxton Andrews, the heroine, is not real. Plus half the time it's hard to tell whether she's endangering her life for her readers (yay) or for misplaced love (boo).

What always got me was the way Paxton changed, from this sweet little thing to a hard-talking, cut-throat chick who's on the helicopter flying away from Saigon at the end of the war. The woman who's covered the whole story to death and knows she is leaving people behind. I know, people. It's over the top. There are better books out there.

But it's a fairytale of a different kind, about a different kind of passion or drive or crazy or toughness.