in defense of consumption?

Things I miss about Ottawa:

1. Perfect bagels.

2. Perfect candy.

3. Perfect jewellery.

4. Perfect Books.

So, needless to say.... I'm a titch broke at the moment. And this blog post is brought to you by, erm, consumerism.

But you're dying to know what I bought on Elgin Street, aren't you?

Well, to start, the book I'm least excited about -- Benny and Shrimp. I can't decide if this one's going to be a sweet romance novel or a funny journey to another world (Sweden!) or, well, sucky. I'll report back.

The book I'm most excited about is a memoir. I know, I said I was going to stop with the memoirs. But how can a person not be intrigued by the title, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance. Yeah, that's right. No one doesn't want to read this book.

Also on the memoir front, Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. Judy Blume! A Wrinkle in Time! Jennifer Weiner! I can't believe Winter Dreams, Christmas Love is not included in the contents.

For -- what I hope will be -- a good laugh, I veered into boy world with I Love You, Beth Cooper. Larry Doyle is a Simpsons writer. I have high expectations.

Off the shopping list, I was the benefactor of a series of suggestions from friends and family. And so, I have two more books waiting for me -- Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude and Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. The second, I hope, will aid in some real-life research I'm doing. The first, I believe, will help me become as smart as my brilliant brother, the PhD candidate and recent M.A. graduate.

On the topic of recommendations, by the way, some new music (to me): She&Him, Big Mama Thornton, Monsters of Folk and the Whip It soundtrack.

gherkin alert

Ok, this Bookshelf cartoon reminds me of London's Gherkin.

There's a joke to be made, surely, but I'll leave it to your imaginations.


love: fading to grey?

When does love fade away?

At what point does it simply blend into a gentle fondness?

Forgive my open-ended questions; I spent way too much of the last week with Atlantic's fiction issue -- particularly this tale from Alexi Zentner, I guess, but also Paul Theroux's snapshots of passion -- and still more time contemplating the passage of hours, days and years.
(Note: I love spending time contemplating. And shopping. And drinking coffee.)

Which, I guess, brings me to Nick Hornby's How To Be Good, a story that has nothing at all to do with fading or blending or softening or rounding.

Certainly, Katie's and David's marriage has lost its.... Novelty? Charm? Kindness?

To be honest, it's a fascinating read on what happens when actors in a relationship change frantically mid-marriage. Is there room to grow? To escape? How can you re-bond with your husband once he becomes unrecognizable?

Clearly I don't have the answers to any of these questions. But, halfway through the story, I can assure you Hornby offers just the right mix of funny and bizarre. His characters are the right amount of cartoon and realistic. And, you may be wondering whether Hornby can write a realistic female narrator -- so far, I'd say yes.


the end.

First: This is a spoiler alert. I am going to talk about the final two chapters of The Commitment, and how those final chapters ruined my opinion of the book.

I can't fully explain it -- the end is, literally, supposed to be the happy ending. Well, sort of, if you can ignore the fact Savage and his partner are married in Canada and not married as soon as the cross the border back home to Seattle.

But that's not what got me.

I got.... bored.

Tired of the Savage-Miller-Pierce family.

I got sick of Savage's back-and-forth, will-we-won't-we debate on whether he, personally, wished to get married.

And I started to feel just a little bad for his boyfriend and son, whose lives are also collected in this story. (Although I have to imagine successful relationships are built on sharing the manuscript before it goes to print.)

Look, none of these complaints should be taken as recommendations you shouldn't read this book. This book is great. Savage is a great writer. I really want to read more of his work. And I can't help but agree with Ira Glass's (unrealistic) review on the back: "I think America would be a better place if everyone on every side of the gay marriage debate would read this book."

I think I might take minor issue with the memoir as a genre -- and yes, I realize this directly contradicts my "I want to read more Savage lit" comment.

But hear me out: Real lives don't have happy endings. (Yes, this is a concept I struggle with constantly, as I try to wrap everything in my life up in neat little envelopes.) There is no natural stop-point in a personal narrative. No final story that says, "This is the end of that chapter of my life."

Yet the personal memoir, the autobiographical tale, expects just that. Conclusion. Happily-ever-after. The end.


Meanwhile, I'm going to be away for a few days. I realize this is nothing new these days, but I have -- believe it or not -- been making an effort to get back into personal blogging.

So, during my off time, I offer a few readings....

Prepare for November -- and the challenge of writing your own novel.
Diablo Cody is going to Sweet Valley. Or rendering Sweet Valley on film. Or ruining Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. Depending on who you ask.


on Keats

Bright Star, Would I Were Stedfast As Thou Art
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors;
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft swell and fall
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.
-- John Keats, 1819-20

When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charactry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting love;--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
-- Keats, 1818


suck it, snow

Ok, friends.

Brace yourself for a Dan Savage factoid.

Yes, the Dan Savage of the hilarious, scary, frank, sometimes ew-inducing Savage Love column. The one you know and love and maybe shouldn't read when you're at work.

Ok, ready for the factoid?

His book, The Commitment, is super mellow. In this really great, memoir-ish way.

Yes, a book all about negotiating the politics of marriage and raising a kid would be seriously weird if it were scary or ew-inducing or heavy on the sex talk. I realize that. I'm still a titch surprised.

And I can't put it down -- it makes me laugh, it's, well, super great, and it is still edgy.

For example, on his relationship with the family dog: "Oh, I may get jealous sometimes. Terry drags Stinker around on a leash, takes him to obedience classes, and sometimes makes him wear a collar that administers a little shock whenever he barks. Terry's never done any of those things for me." (p. 8.)

Or, on how he and his partner incidentally slip into the roles one might expect of an old-school heterosexual couple: "We lead a far more traditional lifestyle than a certain unmarried, childless, withered, aging right-wing attack hag that I could name if I weren't so damn polite. (Oh, fuck it: Ann Coulter.)" (p. 23)

Clearly this is a book written by the charming Dan Savage you've heard, too, on This American Life.

By the way, if you're looking for a quick hit of Thank-God-that-day-is-over-let's-watch-something-that-will-make-me-laugh, look no further:


hurtling to the end of a road trip

Well, I finished The Flying Troutmans.

I guess.

If, indeed, Miriam Toews actually finished The Flying Troutmans.

Coming to the end of the tale of Hattie -- a woman who loves her family but is not a star when it comes to making good decisions -- and her road trip with her sister's children, I was struck by how Toews seemed to be hurtling to an end-point. The last hundred pages seemed hurried and disorganized and not thick on character development. Which is really too bad, because I actually think there are some real gems when it comes to character in this tale. It just, unfortunately, falls flat.

I feel like I need to qualify all these criticisms -- I love, love, love A Complicated Kindness. I think A Complicated Kindness should be taught in school, if it isn't already. And, from that, I still believe Toews has a magic touch when it comes to writing about children in a way adults can relate to. But her aim with the Troutman family is off.

In other news....

Bookshelves! These are pretty. And this site is meant to inspire. C'mon. Give into your book nerd.

And.... Ok, I'm not sure I trust myself to read Audrey Niffenegger without a box of Kleenex nearby. Nonetheless, I'm willing to take a gamble on her new book....


gobble gobble

On "carving foul:"
"If the bird is to be carved at table, be sure the
heated serving platter is large enough, and garnish it lightly with parsley or watercress. There is a subtle art to carving...."

-- p. 421 of Joy of Cooking, 1975

My mother's copy of Joy of Cooking is an utter mystery to me; I have a difficult time picturing an earlier version of my mother who doesn't know how to cook. I can't imagine this mom flipping pages and flirting with the idea of making "sour cream apple cake souffle cockaigne" or "fresh cod a la Portugaise."

In my world, my mother already knows her ingredients. And they definitely do not include squirrel: "Gray squirrels are the preferred ones; red squirrels are small and quite gamy in flavor.... Stuff and roast squirrels as for pigeons...." (p. 515)

How fascinatingly preposterous, right?

So yes, I am spending part of my Thanksgiving weekend flipping through very old cookbooks. And wondering if I could ever style myself after Julie Powell. (Answer: No. It's been done, a movie's been made, the jig is up. Plus I don't have a husband to feed and one woman cannot ingest the amount of butter Joy of Cooking circa 1975 suggests.)

I am also spending much time contemplating the past, and wondering about the future. Blame Audrey Niffenegger, perhaps, and the fact that my second reading of The Time Traveler's Wife ended with me sobbing at 3 a.m. (Poor Clare! Always, always waiting for Henry! What is Niffenegger trying to say? That even in love, we are alone? Always?)

In the meantime, my unabashed begging for pointers to books that won't make me cry did not go unanswered -- if you flip to this blog's previous post, you'll find thoughtful suggestions from both TSS and Erin (my unofficial co-bloggers/generally awesome Edmontonians). However, before they weighed in, I made a therapeutic shopping trip to a local bookstore. And decided it was time to get to know Dan Savage a little better.

So, I've got The Commitment on my nightstand, waiting for me to finish The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews.

Yes, I realize neither of these books are guaranteed to make me laugh. Neither are as vapid as Fame (which I enjoyed, because there's lots of singing and dancing and very little character development or plot).

No matter how well written, Savage's book ties in with the ongoing battle in the United States to legalize gay marriage. And so by definition can't really be a laugh riot. And The F'ing Troutmans (as the title reads on the outside of the hardcover copy) begins with a psychotic mother left all but comatose by her illness. Her sister, the main character, is left with the shambles of piecing together family life. Parts are freaking hilarious because Toews understands children so well and puts them on the page in this utterly believable, uniquely beautiful way. But there's a sad, longing undertone to the whole thing.


I worry I just can't stop being serious.

Ok, folks -- back to the books, and other weekend adventures. Happy Canadian (and therefore awesome and understated) Thanksgiving.



Ok, here it is: A long-awaited blog post (ahem).

However, I'm copping out.

I feel like I have nothing terribly good to say at the moment. It's all.... swimming in the sad end of The Time Traveler's Wife (brilliant on the second read, by the way).

And so, I need your help. I need book recommendations. What have you read lately that's hilarious? Inspiring? Really, really good? And not depressing. Because I totally can't handle depressing at the moment.

Love, thanks,