2008-06-27

if you're going to San Francisco....

This is kind of cool. (And, incidentally, the way I used to organize my DVDs, much to the horror of film studies friends....)

2008-06-26

additionally....

By the way.... Was this really a surprise to anyone? I know, if you're not from Alberta, you don't care. If you are living in Alberta these days, you're probably wondering who the Liberals have to sell their souls to to get elected.

Also, I've been meaning to mention&question this: My friend was reading this book in a park the other day when she was approached by a guy. A cute guy, too. Not to give too much away, I would note he has one of those jobs women sort of swoon over....

I bring this up because I would love to know: If you were to have a Totally Romantic, Approached in a Park moment, what book would you want to be reading? (And I should note here that my friend is simply awesome, and so what she was reading likely had nothing to do with The Approach. Still, if books read in public teeter ever so close to being props....) Alternatively, is there a book that would push you over the edge and make you approach someone?

behold!

I feel like I'm ahead of the curve, for once. I'm not, of course. I mean, I'm still me. I think Joan Jett is cool.

(C'mon. You secretly think Joan Jett is cool, too.)
I have a paperback copy of Jennifer Weiner's Certain Girls! I know what you're thinking: "But Trish! It's still in hardcover at the local Chapters!"

(Right. You're actually thinking "Who's Jennifer Weiner? Why does Trish insist on writing about brain-draining chick lit?")
(You could also be thinking: "Haven't you already written about this? You bought the book at Heathrow, you think the Brits love books more than we do, yadda yadda yadda....")
Anyway, it's my early weekend, so I'm driving through this updated story on Cannie Shapiro. What I like about Weiner is she writes fairy tales for girls who do not look perfect but who have great humour and big brains. Geez.... I sound like I'm writing a singles ad, eh? (A really, really bad one.)
Okay, here's the opener:

When I was a kid, our small-town paper published wedding announcements, with descriptions of the ceremonies and dresses and pictures of the brides. Two of the disc jockeys on one of the local radio stations would spend Monday morning picking through the photographs and nominating the Bow-Wow Bride, the woman they deemed the ugliest of all the ladies who'd taken their vows in the Philadelphia region over the weekend. The grand prize was a case of Alpo....

I wasn't sure of much back then, but I knew that when--if-- I got married, there was no way I'd put a picture in the paper. I was pretty certain, at thirteen, that I had more in common with the bow-wows than the beautiful brides, and I was positive that the worst thing that could happen to any woman would be winning that contest.

It certainly sets a tone, doesn't it?
Like all so-called chick lit, Weiner's work is escapist stuff. It's happy endings and smirky side-nods at popular culture and great expectations.

I'd argue Weiner is better, though, than peers like Sophie Kinsella or Gemma Townley. Weiner's a smart lady with intelligent jokes to make. And her Cannie Shapiro, for example, is a breath of fresh air compared to, say, Bridget Jones. Cannie takes a moment to feel sorry for herself, yes -- she looks in the mirror and sees a super-sized body where she (like all of us) would rather see a model's body. But she is not obsessed with every single inch of fat, every small or big problem. Cannie slogs through, with charm and grace.

It's a pleasure to read about real-like fictional people. I love sitting back and reading about quirky characteristics, and racing through plots built around the funny ways people interact with each other.

2008-06-23

snobbery, pretension....

Right. So I may be sick of defending the genre, but I am not sick of posting the thorough arguments of others.... This came to my attention through Trashionista.

2008-06-22

je t'adore?

From my downtown Edmonton perch, I am listening to the music of The Works this evening.

Like most of Edmonton's festivals -- and this is my moment to point out Edmonton calls itself Festival City round this time of year -- The Works mainly takes place at Churchill Square, across from City Hall and near the still-being-rebuilt site of the Art Gallery of Alberta.

(Incidentally, Churchill Square is also home to the Three Bananas Cafe, one of the best coffee shops in the Prairies. Yes, I am making that call. Yes, the Prairies are awfully expansive.)

It's been awhile since I've waxed poetic on Edmonton. There are many reasons for this, entirely personal. Although, to be fair, it is difficult to wax poetic about a place when it is -40C. Much easier to be all romantic about a city when it is sunshiny and 30C and you've spent much of the last three weeks playing soccer and frisbee and walking around in pretty skirts.

But Edmonton has its charms. The way you can smell the river valley when you're walking down Jasper Avenue at 1 a.m. The way Whyte Avenue becomes this bright and shiny, colourful place on a Saturday afternoon in June. The way the sun doesn't really, really set until well after 10 p.m., and the river rises to meet walking paths.

I love the Farmer's Market in St. Albert. I love how, when you're at Fort Edmonton Park, you actually do feel like you've set foot in another time -- it smells different, sounds different, feels different. I love Hawrelak Park and the ice cream vendors that find their way there.

My favourite festivals are Taste of Edmonton and the Shakespeare Festival. Though I do have soft spots for Folk Fest (even if I never find the right seating situation), Capital Ex (formerly known as Klondike Days) and the Fringe (although the right play is always hard to find and I inevitably end up at silly ones that make my brain hurt).

Edmonton, je t'aime just doesn't have the right ring to it, I suppose. But I sure do like you a lot, fair city.


(You've read all the way to the bottom of this post, eh? And you're wondering why I haven't mentioned a single book? Maybe you're rolling your eyes at me and my little love letter here? Maybe you're thinking I'm on a really weird emotional roller coaster today, after my earlier rant? Hm.... I guess I should offer you this, then. I got it at a conference I won't name, but my family liked it when they were here, and it's full of quirky facts about the Capital region. Available, I'm sure, at bookstores, or available to borrow if you ask me for it.)

ranty rant rant

I'm sick of defending chick lit.

Not because I'm no longer a fan of the genre. Not because I've given up hope that there is anything to defend.

I am just sick of feeling stupid because I like something. It would be like trying to defend my dislike of honey versus my like of strawberries. I don't happen to think I'm stupid for either of these tastes, yet a like or dislike of certain kinds of books can actually make a girl feel like a bloody moron.

I could throw Nick Hornby out there as an author of chick-litty novels. I could ask what makes Giller Prize-winner Elizabeth Hay all that different from chick lit-cousin Alice Hoffman. But I'm sure those who are made sick by the very idea of being in the same room as an adult paperback fairy tale would simply scoff.

Anyway.... on a brief side note, I re-read Hey Nostradamus! this weekend for book club, and have a couple worthy quotes to share:

Hey Nostradamus! Did you predict that once we found the Promised Land we'd all start offing each other? And did you predict that once we found the Promised Land, it would be the final Promised Land, and there'd never be another one again? And if you were such a good clairvoyant, why didn't you just write things straight out? What's with all the stupid rhyming quatrains? Thanks for nothing. (p. 91-92)

We're all born lost, aren't we? We're all born separated from God - over and over life makes sure to inform us of this - and yet we're all real: we have names, we have lives. We mean something. We must. (p. 146)

In the end, I think the relationships that survive in this world are the ones where the two people can finish each other's sentences. Forget drama and torrid sex and the clash of opposites. Give me banter any day of the week. (p. 151)

2008-06-16

we knew it was coming....

In just a few days, you can laugh uncomfortably while holding a book instead of clicking a mouse.
(Photo from the wordpress.com blog site)
I promise I'll be more focused on actual posts in the days to come. I've been a bit scattered lately. I'm reading Naomi K. Lewis's first book, but having a slightly rough time getting into it. Not because of her writing -- it's solid stuff -- but because every time my head gets near a pillow I fall asleep immediately. I've been avoiding the Bay for this very reason for weeks now.

purge! purge! purge!


So, on my quest to rid myself of excess worldly possessions, I offer you books. That's right, people -- if I know you and you live in Edmonton* (I love how I pretend people who don't know me might read this blog), pick a book. Any book. I want nothing in exchange, although I will entertain jokes (original, not knock-knock) or limmericks (also original).

The list of have-reads, won't reads and hate-reads (don't judge):
Ahern, Cecilia - PS I Love You, Where Rainbows End
Atwood, Margaret and Victor-Levy Beaulieu - Two Solicitudes
Barlow, Maude and Tony Clarke - Blue Gold
Binchy, Maeve et al. - Irish Girls About Town
Brichoux, Karen - The Girl She Left Behind, Separation Anxiety
Gill, Charlotte - Ladykiller
Gregory, Philippa - Wideacre, The Favored Child, Wideacre, The Wise Woman
Jones, Edward P. - The Known World
Kinsella, Sophie - Shopaholic and Sister, The Undomestic Goddess, Remember Me?
Kizis, Deanna - How to Meet Cute Boys
Michaels, Anne - Fugitive Pieces
Miller, John - Yesterday's News
Murray, Tiffany - Happy Accidents
Nichols, Lee - Hand-Me-Down
Rebick, Judy - Imagine Democracy
Saramago, Jose - Blindness
Toews, Miriam - A Boy of Good Breeding
Townley, Gemma - Little White Lies
Vida, Nina - The End of Marriage
Wheen, Francis - Karl Marx
Woolfolk Cross, Donna - Pope Joan
Wright, Richard B. - Adultery

*If you do not live in Edmonton, but I love you, I will mail you the book(s) of your choice.

2008-06-14

wing man duty

(I know, I'm obsessed with this song.)

2008-06-13

for the junkies....

A colleague just sent me this article. Despite my general impatience with Republicans, I've gotta say, this political-lite site is pretty adorable.

Balance, balance.... Well, here's a new Barack Obama site. If there's ever been a politician so aware of how to use the internet in all the right ways....

2008-06-12

an Austen moment

Or two.... Quotes from Persuasion.

"Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much a higher degree; the pen has been in their hands, I will not allow books to prove anything."

"All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone."

2008-06-10

to see or not to see....

This film looks really good -- question, though. If you've not yet read the book, should you see the movie first? Conundrum, since it's playing at the Princess at the moment. But I've not yet read any Margaret Laurence, let alone The Stone Angel. But Ellen Page. What do I do?
By the way, this site has not been taken over by the government. I see where the confusion lies, as the layout has changed. But I assure you (Erin), la gouvernement du Canada continues to have little interest in Sex and the City and virtually no interest in my thoughts on books. Or my obsession with other people's blogs -- if you haven't been reading Mahspace lately, by the way, the last entry is kind of hilarious and so very gentle.

2008-06-09

dead-on

A friend sent this article to me today. It's a Sex and the City movie review, complete with spoilers. The author, Johanna Schneller, is right, right, right.




source of picture

2008-06-08

book-keeping

Just a couple quick notes:
  • For book-clubbers, I haven't forgotten to send out an e-mail about our date to discuss Douglas Coupland's Hey Nostradamus! Will update y'all this week.
  • I've taken a wee break from the Important Male Authors push. Put it to holidaying, put it to my love of Elizabeth Hay. (I love Elizabeth Hay, and despite my possessions purge, I bought another book of hers this weekend. But at the Wee Book Inn, so it was more like I was doing research on how to sell books. Maybe? I also bought Northanger Abbey.) Currently I am reading a book written by a friend, but soon I will get back to men. I'm thinking Atonement....
  • I gave away my copy of Anna Karenina. Sorry, friends. But my brother wanted to take a spin at Tolstoy.... And maybe I was never going to finish it. We'll never really know.
  • Emily Giffin has a new book on store shelves! I know that liking Emily Giffin is barely half a step up from liking Sophie Kinsella. I accept this about myself.
  • I bought Certain Girls while in London. Haven't had a chance to read it yet, but was thrilled to have the UK version, which is in paperback already and surprisingly cheaper than the North American hardcover even after doing the math of converting pounds to dollars.
  • Have I already mentioned how much I love how Brits love books? I know that's a weird thing to say, but they have book ads everywhere, on billboards and along Tube station walls. Last month, the big push was on to sell Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine. It's so weird to be somewhere other than Canada and see Naomi Klein looking so seriously at you, perhaps judging you for caring so much about whether your jeans are stylish or if you have the right shoes....

plot

Do you ever feel like an author has laid out plot points for his or her story, book jacket-style, and what they came up with is a poorly-written novel with a really good storyline? I put Cecilia Ahern in this category -- her books always sound good, but then you're bogged down in the middle of sentences that run on and aren't terribly brilliant, and you're wondering why people in the United Kingdom love her so much.

Now, I'm not ready to put Anita Shreve in this category. But I found The Pilot's Wife to be one of those stories that was really good, while the writing was not so bad. (Better than mine, mind you.)

Example 1, and plot summation:

“She thought about the impossibility of ever knowing another person. About the fragility of the constructs people make. A marriage, for example. A family.” (p. 233)

Example 2, verging on spoiler:

“She wondered as she drove why she had never imagined an affair. How could a woman live with a man all that time and never suspect? It seemed, at the very least, a monumental act of naivete, of oblivion. But then she thought she knew the answer even as she asked the question: A dedicated adulterer causes no suspicion, she realized, because he truly does not want to be caught.” (p. 267)

Shreve's work makes for a book you can't put down once you're invested in the plot. There aren't a lot of surprises, and you find yourself racing to the finish line. But it's the kind of book that looks good in outline form, and that I'm surprised hasn't been made into a major movie. (I feel like Diane Lane would make an excellent pilot's wife.)

Now, for a book that would never look good on outline, I offer Kathleen Tessaro's Elegance. I do not think the storyline -- girl picks up 40-year-old self-help book, changes her life according to alphabetized rules -- sounds like the makings of a fantastic novel.

But I loved it. I thought Louise's journey to well-roundedness and near-normalcy was so well-written, and believable, and multi-dimensional. I believe this is because of Tessaro's style -- while two or three chapters might run together narratively, the next five might feel more like short stories. This makes it unclear how many years pass between start and finish, but it also feels like a real life. People's lives don't have twists and turns every single day and week. Sometimes the next most interesting thing happening in your life will happen next year or two years from now.

(God help me if the next time my life is interesting is two years from now.)

I have to admit, too, that while Elegance is by no means a self-help book in itself, I found it somewhat inspiring. In fact, I've been on a big purge since reading it, tossing clothes I'll never wear (or shouldn't wear) and reorganizing files. My next move is to start selling off and giving away books I've no intention of reading or don't wish to keep.

So, dear friends, if you have any requests for books from my shelves, now's the time to tell me.... I happen to have two Cecilia Ahern novels I'd be more than happy to give away....

“I’ve come too far. If I’ve learnt one thing, it’s that being elegant is just a matter of being willing to make an extra effort and enter into the spirit of things -- of life -- with enthusiasm and grace.” (p. 333)

2008-06-04

Goliath

I went to the Sex and the City movie with the girls Tuesday night.

(I rarely say "the girls," but that's really the only description -- friends all wearing fantastic outfits and, yes, we giggled. Well, through the opening credits at least. Then the movie started and I think it's safe to say most of us were sort of stumped.)

I could tear into the movie -- its highs, its lows, its name brand labels. The fact there was far more shrieking and name-dropping than you might find in a whole season. Or at least less irony.

But I'm moving on quickly to books, specifically Timothy Findley's The Wars.

The connection? One of the previews shown Tuesday was for Passchendaele, a Canadian Paul Gross flick all about the First World War.

While I'm sure the movie will endeavour to tell the tale of Canadians at war, I have a feeling that for every long look exchanged by the leads, every woeful kiss, a piece of the horror and grime of the war will be missing.

This is what sets Findley's work apart from so many others.... Everything about war is awful and dirty and monstrous and insane. Findley illustrates this by showing the war inside Robert Ross. The main character's attempts to maintain his humanity -- to reach inside himself for something good, anything -- amid the horror and utter violence is a true reflection of the Canadian experience. A better reflection, I have a feeling, than Gross's movie will be able to hit upon.

What I love about Findley's work is his absolutely stark and vivid prose. I know this is an oldy for many, probably read in school by some. But it is beautiful and awful at once, one of the best arguments for pacifism I've ever read.
"All you get in this war, is one little David against another.... Just a bunch of stone throwers." (p. 35)

2008-06-02

listen

One of the weird things about Prague was the music. I would be sitting in a cafe and suddenly I'd be listening to Kelly Clarkson. Alanis Morisette. Avril Lavigne.

At home, I wouldn't think twice on this. I'd even focus on the words of You Oughta Know, remembering a time when I was in Grade 9 and every single phrase was so much like my life. (It wasn't.)

In the Czech Republic, it was a weird, constant embrace of The West that I came to expect of a city so tourism-friendly there are signs every 10 metres letting you know how close you are to McDonalds.

At the same time, I couldn't let go of The West, either. Throughout my short journey, I tucked into books about places completely alien to where I was. I was not reading Kafka, I was not loving Boris Pasternak, I was continuing to avoid Anna Karenina.

On the train from Prague to Krakow, as fog settled and misted and made everything seem a hundred times more mysterious, I read Elizabeth Hay's award-winning Late Nights on Air.

I loved every single sentence and paragraph and page, soaking up images of Canada's Northwest Territories, of a short summer that leads to a long winter that leads to another short, adventure-filled summer.

I have a feeling there was a lot of hype about this book in the last year, and somehow it all completely slipped past my radar. I really did plan to leave the book at a hostel in Prague, but I couldn't. I hadn't finished it -- lost in Hay's straight-forward prose, her foreshadowing, her plot -- and by the time I had, I didn't want to leave the book behind.

It's a novel to cherish, a story of the quirky characters working in a CBC radio office in the north -- the kind of novel that makes you feel like you know every single character intimately. It is a book you want to share -- please read it! now! -- but you also want it back.

Hay's main characters boil down to four personalities. European Dido, who everyone loves as well as hates, a character that radiates smoke and passion. Pent-up naive Gwen who first loves everyone and treats everything with excitement, then grows up. Bedraggled Harry who can never quite put his finger on what he wants. And mournful Eleanor, whose happiness must somehow be found inside herself.

By the end, middle and beginning of the story, you want these people to be happy, which is a wonderful thing in a collection of characters with histories and beliefs and fears and hopes. And, it is the kind of book you feel like you could re-read again and again; perhaps once just focusing on aboriginal relations. Another time with an eye on the politics of the era (1970s). Again, pondering the way men and women interact. A fifth time contemplating the landscape alone.

Anyway, I offer this quote to share, from dialogue in the book. For those living in Edmonton, I think it echoes appropriately, even if our climate isn't quite so hostile as Yellowknife's, our days not so very short.

"Just remember there are worse things than loneliness and you won't make my mistake. But winter here does terrible things to people.... Winter leaves a lasting mark, my dear. You discover you're not so strong, after all." (page 107, Lorna to Gwen)

2008-06-01

the hilarity of Communism....

So, I have no idea how long links stay live at the Financial Times. But here is an article from this weekend's, an excerpt from a book about jokes of the Communist era.


*This picture was taken in Prague, where -- if you are me -- you can not stop thinking about Communism and its fall. Please note the irony of the museum's home above a McDonalds. What the poster does not tell you is the museum also shares building space with a casino.

to sun

I woke up this morning to the sun shining, bright and beaming, through my apartment windows.
I'm back in Edmonton and frankly thrilled to be back in my own bed. Meanwhile I have it on good authority that my friend in Krakow, who stretched out on lumpy pillows on the floor all week, is happy to be back in his bed, too.

I don't know if this is the place to wax poetic about Krakow; I think it's a city of artists smoking cigarette after cigarette in dark cafes and pubs. Something about its old castle, its Jewish ghetto, its escape from the fist of Communism, makes it dark and mysterious and invites your imagination. I spent days sitting in cafes writing and reading the many books I brought and bought on vacation, and it seemed every single spot had a collection of French songs from the 60s to play on the stereo.

So for now -- and I'll have some book updates later -- I offer a couple pictures of Krakow's English-language bookstore, Massolit Books.





Have you ever fallen in love with a place on first breath, at first sight?

Massolit is housed in a meandering building -- there are maps photocopied at the front of the store to guide you along its shelves -- where coffee brews and classic novels by D.H. Lawrence and Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf line a "Corridor of Classics." On Sunday mornings, when we visited, there was a story hour for children. For days afterward, I couldn't help thinking how much I would love to have adorable little British children who would say, "Mummy, could I please have a piece of cake?" and I would say, "No, dahlings, do pick out a book instead." Or something like that; in this daydream I have a perfect British accent and I am about six inches taller.

(My British children of choice would be Lucy from The Chronicles of Narnia and Nicole Kidman's son in The Others.)