"stop my mouth"

See, we fools!
Why have I blabb'd? who shall be true to us,
When we are so unsecret to ourselves?
But, though I loved you well, I woo'd you not;
And yet, good faith, I wish'd myself a man,
Or that we women had men's privilege
Of speaking first. Sweet, bid me hold my tongue,
For in this rapture I shall surely speak
The thing I shall repent. See, see, your silence,
Cunning in dumbness, from my weakness draws
My very soul of counsel! stop my mouth.

Well, friends, this should be my last post from London. On Saturday, I fly to Tunis, then back home next week.
I can't believe my time here's come to an end! *tears* But, like a good tourist, Wednesday night I got to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre to see Troilus and Cressida -- five pounds to stand for about three hours. With a break in the middle to drink Pimm's of course. Sort of an odd play, to be honest -- up to the break, it was freaking hilarious. Raunchy. Quite possibly way more hints at homosexuality than the play itself (or quite possibly not). I fell absolutely in love with Achilles as lover to Patroclus. The second part.... wraps up quite differently. Isn't quite so funny (it is supposed to be a tragedy, after all), and essentially leaves you wondering what kind of women-are-evil frame of mind Shakespeare may have been in when writing.... Anyway, the ambiance is pretty amazing. Yes, tourist trap. But one of those tourist traps that you can't help but love. And likely return to, given the execution of the play on-stage.

Aside from the lines above -- spoken by Cressida -- I would have to say my favourites are these:

So been there. So felt that.


ranty rant rant

I accidentally spent a couple hours at the British Museum today.
(By the way, if you happen to be concerned I'm not actually working while here, I finished my essay, for the most part, Friday, and am now just revising it. If you happen to work with me, I'll even show you the paper after I hand it in.)
If you've heard me rant about this before, I apologize, but I struggle with the British Museum. I think it's gorgeous, and fascinating, and I'm trying to work out some ideas, which is why I spent so much time there today, a second visit in a week and a half. I feel like not everyone in the world will have access to mummies' tombs and ancient Roman ruins, not everyone will travel to all the places where they were found. And so the British Museum stands as a central place for everyone to learn -- especially as curators move to put virtually everything online.
But the museum is not just an homage to the Enlightenment, it's an homage to imperialism. And there's no pretending around that. They have pieces of the Parthenon because Brits two hundred years ago didn't think locals could handle it. And that's just scraping the surface of all the stuff taken from lands far and wide from people deemed unworthy to maintain their own history. In little explanatory notes all over the place, there's hints that "issues" have come up, but no real responsibility taken for what amounts, in some cases, to simply looting. Similarly, in the North American room, there are hints and references to the deaths of thousands of aboriginal people after European conquest, but only a passing note that disease seemed to overtake them. It's shockingly understated compared to the monuments found all over this city to the victories of imperialism, not least of which includes the Albert Memorial. Queen Victoria's love is surrounded by statues of men from all over the world, Africa, North America, Asia and Europe. But these men's faces are European, no matter what manner of loincloth or other local attire they've been assigned.

Ok. Rant over. Pretty pictures from the library (top right is a Roman statue of Zeus -- pretty hot god, eh?):

(A totally unrelated note: I realize few of you are super interested in my chick lit leanings -- and by chick lit, by the way, I mean literature most often written by and for women. Not a demeaning value judgement. Anyway, Jennifer Weiner has a new book out -- I'm excited -- and you can hear her hilariously inappropriate commentary via podcast here.)

Les Mis

I know, not the best shot of London's theatre district or Chinatown ever.
But I went to Les Miserables! (Based on a book -- therefore loosely relevant to this here blog space.) It was amazing. I know it's the tourist thing to do, I know that might mean many of you would avoid it. But sometimes, things become tourist traps because they're fantastic.
(Other times, I imagine they attract tourists because people have watched the video so many times at home they feel the need to take their own singing out on the town instead of quietly watching the damn stage production.)


the Susan Boyle factor

Have you guys heard about Kari Callin? America's Susan Boyle? I'm late, blame it on the time difference....

Anyway, I'm flagging this right now as having nothing to do at all with books. But:

1. Susan Boyle was sort of a shocking anomaly. All around the world we watched an initially disgusted audience learn ugly people can be talented. By now, people should have learned that lesson, and so the shock of a woman being able to sing while also having a cleft palate and thinning hair should have worn off.

2. Just me, or was paragon of talent David Hasselhoff really quick to cheer her on? Like he had watched the Susan Boyle tape many times and knew he didn't want to look like he was going to fall off his chair. He decided that, if a similar incident arose, he was going to be the first judge to recognize her talents?

3. Ok, seriously, is there something wrong with us as a society? I don't want to moan too much, and I realize I'm just rehashing the comments of virtually every popular culture critic in the universe. But seriously. When we're little kids we're told you can't judge a book by its cover. We're told what you look like shouldn't be relevant to how you think or how you feel or how you connect with people. And we've lost that. We've lost it so much, in fact, that we need reality TV -- where people eat bugs to net a million dollars or subject their families to 24-hour camera crews to net fame -- to teach us. And even then, a not-traditionally-attractive person better be super, super talented. Because if they're just mildly talented, unable to hit the soaring notes set by Celine Dion or whomever, then really they deserve our initial horrified assessment.



hello, self:

Yeah, it's embarrassing and ridiculous, but sometimes (always?) Stuff White People Like is, well, completely and totally right.

It is a guarantee that whenever it is announced that a popular book is being turned into a movie, white people will get upset. This is partly due to their fear that something they love will be made accessible to more people and thus enjoyed by more people which immediately decreases the amount of joy a white person can feel towards the original property. Yes, it’s complicated....

In other news, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Nope, kid you not. Yes, I'll try not to judge a book by its cover (TSS). Although I can maybe judge a little for just blatantly rehashing the same idea later in the same year, no? It would be like someone riffing on brilliant title to go here by creating pretty good title to go here.

Or not, since my blog has yet to net millions of dollars.

(I must admit this is a rather fitting end for Willoughby, no?)


(still) geeking out in the UK

Have I mentioned this city seems to inspire me at every turn?

I'm really, really sorry if I'm boring you with my London updates. Quickly, on books:

Cassandra and Jane is really good if you happen to be an Austen fan. Say, if you spent a portion of your Saturday afternoon at the London Literature Festival listening to how difficult and wonderful it is to work with Austen's texts to make movies and other books.

Okay, well maybe you don't have to be that big a fan.

But you should probably like Austen and be sort of familiar with her history (may I suggest Carol Shields' brief biography?). Because for all that Jill Pitkeathley is clearly riffing her own take on Austen and the relationship she shared with her sister, her take isn't really all that different from the official history. Which is kind of a surprise if you take a skim through other books on offer from Harper's historical fiction titles:

Revenge of the Rose -- "In a court of the Holy Roman Emperor, not even a knight is safe from gossip, schemes, and secrets."

The Fool's Tale -- "Travel back to Wales, 1198, a time of treachery, political unrest...and passion."

The Scroll of Seduction -- "A dual narrative of love, obsession madness, and betrayal surrounding one of history's most controversial monarchs, Juana the Mad."

See? So it's kind of shocking how tame Cassandra and Jane is. However, given the depth of love so many fans have of their Jane, Pitkeathley probably played it pretty close to facts for her own safety. Rather than a love story that would throw question on whether Miss Austen did in fact die a virgin, Pitkeathley opts to tell a tale of sisterly love in a first-person narrative from Cassandra's point of view.

My other travel companion in the last couple weeks has been Novel Destinations, a birthday gift from a dear friend. I can't possibly get to even half the places the book notes in London and England alone, but it's really just the start of a life journey.

Bought? Well, so far I've been really good about keeping my wallet in my purse.... Knowledge the pound continues to outstrip the Canadian dollar by nearly 2:1 helps. But I couldn't resist Let's Call the Whole Thing Off, an inspired collection of break-up tales I found at the South Bank Book Market that's perfect for reading before I go to sleep after I've toiled through hours of studying....

Yes. Yes I am supposed to be toiling right now.

But quickly: The London Literature Festival. My new favourite thing. Even though it wasn't exactly packed with people on the weekend. And the Austen industry talk featured at least two women sitting in the front row who gasped, giggled and sighed whenever they agreed with or were shocked by presenters' words. They were particularly agog by the idea someone might mash up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. (Which, by the way, has now been published in 22 languages and 37 countries, leading to a spike, too, in sales of the original book. Still, harrumph on principle.)

A Wuthering Heights seminar saw more people in attendance, but mostly because there is a new British mini-series expected out in the fall, and members of the press were invited out to see clips of the film and hear from the screenplay writer.

What was so interesting, to me, was how writers can work towards taking apart the original manuscripts and rebuilding them. Wuthering Heights, particularly, presents a problem because of the style of narrative, the two characters who tell the story but aren't really part of it. The screenwriter said he literally had three copies of the book, one of which he took a knife to in order to break apart the story and reorganize chronologically in order to navigate the tale.

Not initially a fan of Wuthering Heights -- I still think it presents a hero only infatuated teenage girls could truly love -- the evening discussion had me reconsidering. I never thought of Cathy and Heathcliff's children as the rays of hope, as the real hero and heroine of the novel....

I do wonder about the idea every generation needs its own Pride and Prejudice, or its own Wuthering Heights. Perhaps this is the line of thinking born of having a broadcast community almost wholly funded by the government?

Meanwhile, I should really get my hands on an old text to manipulate and reform as my own....

(Yes, Gurinder Chadha was at the lit fest -- she seemed really cool! And apparently she's sort of kind of maybe trying to work out a way for Bride and Prejudice to become a stage production....)


along the Thames

Yeah, I'm pretty smitten with this city -- as you can see, here on the south bank of the Thames lies a daily book market -- pictures taken Sunday night, when it was lovely. It has since been, well, raining. Which has prompted me to spend some browsing time -- confusing umbrella in tow -- in more typical book-buying shelters, like Waterstone's or Foyles.

(Nope, no books bought. I'm spending way too much time with school books and spending carefully. On tickets to the stage production of Dirty Dancing. Which, no, isn't very good. Although the final three or four scenes and fantastic live band make up for many of the failures of an unsurprisingly poor script.)
(But yes, I really want A.S. Byatt's new tome. And Sophie Kinsella's. But I'm working through my chick lit craving by very painfully slowly, reading the French version of Shopaholic. Henceforth, whenever in a dicey situation, I think I will always say, "Je jette un coup d'oeil soupconneux autour de moi." Partly because I had to read it three times before I understood it and have now decided that's vocabulary I need.)

By the way, you'll note a picture of a monument to my.... right? Hopefully? I'm such a dunce when it comes to website layout. Even though blogspot makes it as easy as humanly possible.... Anyway, that's a monument to journalism!
On the north bank of the Thames, to a man by the name of Stead, who apparently was devoted to the fourth estate. I specifically like a few things about this monument: 1. to his right, the word "fortitude"; 2. to his left, "sympathy"; 3. jammed in beside the fortitude statuette is an empty beer can. Now.... I don't know if a "spiritualist" who died aboard the Titanic at the start of the 20th century would have been a big drinker. But in general, drinking is not looked down upon in media circles, so I applaud someone's very quick thinking on this one....
The last pictures -- and really, I don't know where or how they'll land -- are pictures after the rain on Carnaby Street, Monday night. And, the last last one is of a 45-year-old woman atop Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth Monday night. For some reason I love love love this exercise -- I know it's supposed to be art, but I think of it more as a symbol of our society's painful over-reaching self-confidence.

I know, that evaluation makes me a bad person. But really, we're not all Susan Boyle. Sorry. The Guardian's been much more charitable.

(You're wondering right now whether you can not only watch the Plinth live from home, but also Twitter monitor, right? Why yes. You can.)


of UK, books and India

Some pics from the UK....

If the layout on your computer looks anything like the layout on mine, the first three are images from the rowing regatta at Henley-on-the-Thames. The next handful are from the Portobello Road Market, at Notting Hill. And the last speaks for itself....
By the way, on books: 1. I was really all set to encourage everyone I know to read Such a Pretty Fat. And then, in the last five pages, the author is mean to a homeless person. No, this will not ruin the end of the book for you -- it's a well-written memoir about a woman struggling with her weight and body image -- unless, of course, you can't stomach people who are mean to the homeless and disadvantaged. 2. I packed along Cassandra and Jane, thanks to a friend, and plan to update you soon on how this "Jane Austen story" reads -- Hint: it's been an excellent travel companion! 3. I am continuing my love affair with all things Lonely Planet. And, it turns out, all things Moleskine.
Oh, and 4. There's a new book club book! It looks as though this meet will take place sans moi, however the hosts have an excellent invite I just have to share (hopefully they don't mind):
Hello friends,

See, when you come to Bangalore, and stop at a traffic light, some boy will run up to your car and knock on your window, while holding up a bootlegged copy of an American business book, wrapped carefully in cellophane and with a title like:TEN SECRETS OF BUSINESS SUCCESS! or BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR IN SEVEN EASY DAYS!
Don’t waste your money on those American books. They’re so yesterday.
I am tomorrow.
(from White Tiger by Arvind Adiga)

So begins, pretty much, last year’s Booker Prize winner, and your next selection for The Little Book Club That Could, the date for which is Yet To Be Set.
I know what you’re thinking. Another Indian won another Booker Prize? What hold does the sub-continent have on Booker Prize committees? I’ll note that last year’s panel had a British-Sikh comedian (aside: WTF?), and my people are not known for their reasoning or diplomatic skills (“Choose White Tiger, or I will slit your throat…”).
And while I am as befuddled by the appeal of The God of Small Things as the next reader, I will say that India, with its rocketing economy, teeming population, ancient, varied, strange, vibrant, and gorgeous cultures, its place in the Information Age, its new global stature, to go along with its old global stature, is an ideal place to incubate and produce compelling pieces of art. We may add Arvind Adiga’s White Tiger to the list.
The story of Balram, the servant driver from the Darkness of India, and his ascent and adventures as a “social entrepreneur” left me conflicted. The book is written in a charming, sardonic, underdog voice, which is greatly appealing. Adiga says he’s inspired by the Black American 20th century novel, epitomised by Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and the voice of those in the lower places, those that know the score, the reason for their Hell, and are enraged by it.
Adiga is no Ellison, but he captures, or imagines the reality of one foot soldier in the Army of the India’s Servant Underclass. Scores of men, women and children from the “Dark”-er states of India drive the cars, serve the tea, and till the fields of those in the Light. This book is an antidote to the elephants and ashrams and spices we’ve come to expect from the sub-continent. It casts a light on the side we never see.
Or, at least, I think it does. We really have no way of knowing. The book’s authenticity rings true, but that might have more to do with my overeducated, liberal ear than whatever might be the case. Does the poverty described in the book fall into the same exoticism trap the rest of country seems to fall into? Can we survey the country without seeing saris and dance numbers, without hearing strains of the sitar and thumps of the tabla? My fear is that I’m trumpeting a book that might be adding a brick to the edifice it professes to break down.
I hope you read the book and bring your thoughts. To confuse you further, A. and I will serve a selection of delicious Punjabi dishes and their accompaniments. Please let us know if you’ll join us.