to warm us up

You almost have to appreciate the way cold hangs in the air in this part of the country, so that beyond blowing snow and low clouds, you feel as though you can see the crisp air. Over the icy North Saskatchewan River, swimming around the Hotel Macdonald, sinking into Jasper Avenue.

January. (Yes, I took the picture above in December. Believe me, it still looks like this. I imagine it will stay this way until about... March? April?)

As we wait for spring, I offer excerpts of love letters from Ursula Doyle's collection.

Robert Browning to his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, on their wedding day in 1846:
".... When the heart is full it may run over; but the real fullness stays within... Words can never tell you... how perfectly dear you are to me -- perfectly dear to my heart and soul. I look back and in every one point, every word and gesture, every letter, every silence -- you have been entirely perfect to me -- I would not change one word, one look. My hope and aim are to preserve this love, not to fall from it --" (p. 106)

Lord Byron to his married lover (1813?):
".... if all I have said and done, and am still but too ready to say and do, have not sufficiently proved what my feelings are, and must ever be, towards you, my love, I have no other proof to offer....
"I care not who knows this, what use is made of it -- it is to you and to you only, yourself. I was, and am yours, freely and entirely, to obey, to honour, love and fly with you, when, where, and how, yourself might and may determine." (p. 65)

Oscar Wilde to his lover, 1891:
".... What wisdom is to the philosopher, what God is to his saint, you are to me. To keep you in my soul, such is the goal of his pain which men call life. O my love, you whom I cherish above all things, white narcissus in an unknown field, think of the burden which falls to you, a burden which love alone can make light. But be not saddened by that, rather be happy to have filled with an immortal love the soul of a man who now weeps in hell, yet carries heaven in his heart. I love you, I love you, my heart is a rose which your love has brought to bloom...." (p. 128)

Yes, yes, yes, saccharine, saccharine, saccharine.

But what better day to contemplate love and loss and beautiful prose than one so cold and blowy that you don't wish to leave your house?


circa 1987

So, I have to admit to really, really liking 1987 Michael Ignatieff.

When I first started reading The Russian Album, a friend asked if it made me like the federal Liberal leader more, and I said no, not particularly. Really, early on in the book, I had little more than passing admiration for the way the author managed to distance himself from his own family history. Here he was, telling tales of princesses and counts and nation-building and rank-climbing with an eye to the details of history. That didn't make it any less entertaining, or any less challenging, to read. But it carried a whiff of academia in its first pages, as Ignatieff wrote about what the family photograph could mean.

Borrowing from an 1877 article in Macmillan's Magazine, he quotes: "... the sixpenny photograph is doing more for the poor than all the philanthropists in the world..." Further, he argues, "In democratizing the privilege of a family portrait gallery, the sixpenny photograph deserves a place in the social history of modern individualism." (p. 3)

Moving further along, however, the book captures the emotions of adventure, bravery and family history. As Ignatieff gets closer to his own roots in Canada -- through his father's ascent in Nicholas II's court, the passing details of family jealousies and betrayals, through the family's escape from Communism -- The Russian Album becomes a definitively engrossing read.

Perhaps, when one gets to the concluding chapter, and follows Ignatieff's own travels to revisit the past with his elderly uncles, one might find tears in one's eyes.

If one were to have tear ducts, of course.

"I have learned that you can inherit loyalties, indignation, a temperament, the line of your cheekbones," Ignatieff writes, "but you cannot inherit yourself." (p. 220)

The writing, in all, is just gorgeous. I can't help but envy Ignatieff's pre-politics career. His 2009 True Patriot Love is supposed to be a companion to The Russian Album, in that it follows his mother's Canadian roots. In a brief forward, Ignatieff says he began writing the book before he became a politician. Pardon my raised eyebrows on this count.


"stick to your ribs"

So, I wasn't actually a big fan of Little House on the Prairie.

Weird, right?

I was all over Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, so you would think Laura Ingalls Wilder would have been right up my alley. Totally wasn't, though.

Anywho, I nonetheless find the idea of this cookbook intriguing.

(More nerdery?) I just love how books are snapshots of how lives were lived. For example, the clothes Jessica and Elizabeth wore in the original Sweet Valley High series tell us a lot about what was cool in the 1980s. Or, Judy Blume's adult novels highlight times when hippie-chic was chic....


to 2010

1. Shannon's right. This is smile-inducing. I heart Pacey.

2. I probably heart Joseph Boyden more, though. I'm late telling you all I finished Through Black Spruce -- it was seriously drop-dead gorgeous. It's Boyden's way with dialogue that gets me, his ability to craft separate and complete characters through first-person narrative. Frankly, his voices of Canada's First Nations people are voices I never had the chance to read when I was a child, and I really hope his books are in Canadian classrooms today.

3. Speaking of first-person narrative, Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn is a tough slog at first. At first, Lionel Essrog's Tourretic speech is grating, difficult to get into. But pages into the detective novel, it gets really, really good. Admittedly, where other book club members are big on plot, I tend to be big on character development. (Could I read Carol Shields if not?) I found both in this one, and am excited to read another Lethem novel soon.

4. Yes, as Erin pointed out the other night, Motherless Brooklyn will work its way to the big screen later this year, written, directed and starring Edward Norton.

5. On the themes of movies and men I heart, The Young Victoria. I have nothing else to say, really. Oh, yes, I have to marry Prince Albert.

6. Princes.... Michael Ignatieff could have been a prince. In that his grandmother was a princess. Weird, eh? I'm reading The Russian Album. It's absolutely fascinating -- he manages to hit this very academic understanding of his own family history, yet write in such a way that entertains (he did win the Governor General's Award, after all). And, had world history taken a different turn, he would be a Russian count. I know, I know -- like Tory researchers don't have enough to work with.

7. Although I've been big on memoirs lately, I decided to go with a novel for the next book club. We're reading Elizabeth Hay's A Student of Weather.

8. I have a good feeling about this year. I may actually get my own new year's resolutions done for once. More yoga, for example....