of werewolves, fairy tales and confusing acrobatics

We had book club this afternoon (I made frittata from this recipe, except with Gouda instead of Fontina), and discussed A Student of Weather. Now, I'm still stuck on the idea Elizabeth Hay was trying to tell her story in fairy-tale fashion.... And these lines from a Walrus profile of Michael Ignatieff gave me pause:

French Canadians grow up on the fable of the dark, handsome stranger who comes from the faraway city and woos the innocent farm girl with his honeyed words. Beware, goes the moral, for he is the loup-garou.

I've also been thinking lots lately about what it would be like to be a writer. This is in part because I've been reading (loving) Timothy Findley's Journeyman. Also, I was a titch inspired by Shelf Discovery (should I own to that?).

But, this afternoon, our little book club absolutely ripped apart a sex scene in A Student of Weather. (I'm not excerpting it here. But you can find it on p. 155 of the 2001 McLelland and Stewart paperback, should you happen upon it. Some readers might question whether the acrobatics described are physically possible.) And so, I can't help but wonder how scary it would be to put a sex scene out into the universe. Imagine a living room of individuals you don't know trying to figure out what you meant to say, or what image you were trying to draw? Intimidating....


the long and winding road -- of books

I've fallen in love with Calvin O'Keefe.


Of course, depending on how you look at it, he's a little young for me. Fourteen on the page. But, the page was first published in 1962, which was 19 years before I was born. So... gross no matter how you cut it...

(Sidenote: Shouldn't 1962 be way more years before I was born? Honestly? Gah.)

Ok, back to the books.

I was up late last night re-reading A Wrinkle in Time, quietly applauding Madeleine L'Engle's bullet-proof awesomeness. Chuckling at Calvin O'Keefe, who managed to hit on the "just as you are" line long before Mark Darcy.

Of course, being a teenage boy, the lines run more like this:

'"I wish I were a different person,' Meg said shakily. 'I hate myself.'
"Calvin reached over and took off her glasses. Then he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped her tears. This gesture of tenderness undid her completely, and she put her head down on her knees and sobbed. Calvin sat quietly beside her, every once in a while patting her head. 'I'm sorry,' she sobbed finally. 'I'm terribly sorry. Now you'll hate me.'
"'Oh, Meg, you are a moron,' Calvin said. 'Don't you know you're the nicest thing that's happened to me in a long time?'" (p. 53)

C'mon. Let out that chorus of "awwws" you're holding back. As if you wouldn't have loved to hear that when you were, I don't know, 12? Or, as if you wouldn't have loved to have had the guts to say that when you were a teen.

As Lizzie Skurnick puts it, "Loving. Him. LOVING HIM."

See, it's Skurnick's Shelf Discovery that has me wandering down memory lane, remembering books once loved and (thankfully!) not lost.

That said, I'm not wholly certain I would recommend this one. Skurnick's book's third sub-title identifies it as "A Reading Memoir," and I have to tell you, it's not quite that. In fact, I'm not quite sure what it is.

While it is certainly entertaining, it's not terribly personal. Nor is it academic, although Skurnick manages to contextualize many of the books we loved within the times they were written, and within a feminist (or not feminist) off-the-page balance.

"If you ask me, it is truly a symbol of the great injustice of life as we know it today that the only girl heroine's name that can truly be said to have entered the vernacular is 'Pollyanna.'.... It's an even greater injustice that the appelative, of course, is a pejorative. It's not only that, out of the 9,000 exciting heroines you could mention, our language reflects only one. It's that the one character elected for immortality, the linguistic ambassador for young women in the world, is a prating goody-goody who spreads her good cheer with the relentless force of a Caterpillar." (p. 7)

By dealing with the friendships, loves and family relationships of youth, Skurnick does remind the reader of the promise and curiosity and confusion with which all these great books were first approached.

The problem, however, is many of the book descriptions run to summary.

Now, for those of us who have read many of the books summarized, this is sort of a treat -- for example I now finally remember the Judy Blume book I wanted to take to book club years ago because it dealt with divorce, not periods. (Sorry Andy. I meant to choose It's Not the End of the World.) Also, suddenly you remember goofy details, or lovable lead characters. Or you discover the books you read for fun were actually thinly-veiled lessons in women's equality.

On the other hand, the summaries get a titch tiresome. Which, perhaps, is why two of the best essays are not written by Skurnick, but by Jennifer Weiner and Meg Cabot.

Cabot launches her thoughts on Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret from Africa, where young women a school she is visiting are well aware of Margaret's trials and tribulations. It's oddly comforting and sort of surprising to realize Blume's international reach.

Weiner, meanwhile, explains how Blubber is not, in fact, about the bullied girl known as Blubber at all. And so, it is left to a new generation of writers to figure out how a chubby, dislikable girl might be the heroine of her own life.


one more thing --

For anyone who wants to write, do listen to this clip of Margaret Laurence explaining her work in the early 1970s.

"Writing, like any of the creative arts, is a kind of form of divining. I think that any artist tries to sort of catch the vibrations, as it were, of the characters...."

desperately seeking....

OK, I've been trying to read Atonement, and I think it's a no-go for me at the moment.

To be clear, it's a lovely read. Ian McEwan, no surprise, is a beautiful writer. But in part, I'm suffering from having James McAvoy and Keira Knightley in my head, and so I long to skip forward and around to all the key parts from the movie. Now, it appears the film is a really good reflection of the novel. And so, the second problem I'm having is the darkness of the novel is a bit too much for me.

I had initially selected Atonement as follow-up to A Student of Weather in hopes I might find parallels between McEwan's young Briony and Hay's young Norma Joyce. And there are similarities -- a careful, obsessive attention to details, for example. But where Briony allows her imagination to get the better of her, Norma Joyce is decidedly manipulative and purposeful in orchestrating the small tragedies all around her.

So what to read instead? I'm considering Margaret Laurence's The Fire-Dwellers. Not sure it's a pick-me-up though.... Apparently all I want lately is froth, but I've filled my bookshelves with anti-froth.

(Shush, you who judge Jane Austen. She wrote novels that reflected the socio-economics of her time. She challenged our ideas of male-female relationships. Sort of.)

It is, nonetheless, my week off. So, I've had the chance to pick up on some of my favourite blogs, like The Keepin' It Real Book Club.

And, to evaluate deep thoughts:

Is Garfield funny?

If Carrie Bradshaw has always had poor taste in men, why -- oh why? -- wouldn't she ever grow out of that?

The Wooden Sky is pretty awesome.

Who would marry someone named Gooch?

Is this the beach of my dreams?