Friday, November 28, 2008

Taking a Break

It happens sometimes. Life gets too busy and you just can't do it all. Which is what is happening with me at the moment and it means I'm going to have to stop writing this blog. Maybe it will only be temporary, or maybe I'll move on to other things. Right now I don't know. But I want to thank everyone who ever read, or commented, or contacted me. I am always thrilled by the way the Internet connects people who would never meet otherwise. I have started a new blog for people who write fiction or would like to. If that interests you, please join me here.

Thanks and happy reading!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Giller Prize

Congratulations to Joseph Boyden for winning the Giller Prize for his novel Through Black Spruce. The Giller Prize, more properly called the Scotiabank Giller Prize, is Canada's most talked about literary prize. Though that is probably only because it is worth the most money (a whopping $50,000). But it is also broadcast on TV, takes place in a fancy hotel and everybody gets dressed up. Kind of like if the Oscars were in Canada and it was books not movies winning the prizes. That's right, it is sort of dull, but trying hard not to be.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Sea Lady

I'm a big Margaret Drabble fan so it is hard for me to say I was disappointed by The Sea Lady. Humphrey Clark and Aisla Kelman met as children by the seaside in England. Now in their sixties they are on their way to meet again - one of them unwittingly - by the same seaside.

They were very different sorts of children and, unsurprisingly, became very different sorts of adults. Humphrey grew up to be a marine biologist, while Aisla became one of those people well-known through their books and television appearances but famous for their shocking opinions and flamboyant publicity stunts. This is the story of their two lives, the ones they lived between the two bookend meetings of this novel.

Drabble told the story she set out to tell quite well, as she always does. The trouble was it wasn't the story this reader most wanted to read. I was more interested in what would happen to Humphrey and Aisla now that they had met again, rather than all that preceded this meeting. Unfortunately I wanted this story to begin right at the spot it ended.

First line of The Sea Lady by Margaret Drabble: "The winning book was about fish, and to present it, she appeared to have dressed herself as a mermaid, in silver sequinned scales."

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Gathering by Anne Enright

The Gathering by Anne Enright is not a happy book. It is a good book - but not a happy one. Veronica lives in Dublin with her successful husband and two young daughters. Veronica has come up in the world: she lives in a nicer house, drives a nicer car and has more money than her nine brothers and sisters. But when the sibling closest to her, Liam, commits suicide, Veronica is pulled back through memory, to their childhood and the secret she and Liam shared.

I found this to be a beautifully written story about the secrets and betrayals and love within a family. The language was lyrical and original, the story compelling. I felt is deserved the 2007 Man Booker Prize and look forward to reading other novels by Anne Enright.

(This is just a quick review because I actually read this over a month ago and it is fading a bit from memory. I wanted to mention it here because it was a good book. And despite saying it is kind of a downer, it does have an upish sort of ending. In case you were worried.)

First line of The Gathering by Anne Enright: "I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother's house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Down to a Sunless Sea

Earlier this year I read an interesting book called How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead by Ariel Gore. One of the topics covered was self-publishing so I was excited by a book sent to me to review that took that route. (I could very easily get way off topic now and start preaching about the wonderfulness of the DIY movement but I'll save that for another time.)

The book is a short story collection called Down to a Sunless Sea and was written by Mathias B. Freese. Nine of the fifteen stories in this slim volume have been published in literary journals so this book nicely straddles the two worlds of publishing. As well as being a writer Mathias B. Freese is a psychotherapist and it shows in many of these short stories. Freese is most interested in the inner workings of his characters and deftly handles examinations of their thoughts and reasonings. He is particularly gifted at inhabiting the minds of those who feel on the margins of society, such as the crippled narrator in "I'll Make It. I Think."

The strange and universal land of childhood is also richly explored in this collection, sometimes by narrators who are children, such as Herbie, the wannabe shoe shine boy desperately trying to please his father in the story "Herbie" or by adult narrators remembering incidents from their childhoods, as happens in "Alabaster" the story of a man recalling his meeting with a concentration camp survivor years previously. Freese understands the allure and mystery of childhood. As the narrator of the story "Echo" states: "In hindsight, which is how we live our lives, not how we make sense of them..."

In case you can't read the stickers on the book jacket in my photo, Down to a Sunless Sea was awarded an Editor's Choice Award from Allbook Reviews and was a finalist for the Indie Excellence Book Awards. Wow! Congratulations to Mathias. If he keeps this up he'll be a famous writer before he's dead! To learn more about Mathias B. Freese and his books visit:

First line of Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese: "While a young child growing up in Brighton Beach, Adam would go shopping with his mother on Brighten Beach Avenue."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Le Clezio in The New Yorker

Remember Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio? The guy that just won the Nobel? The New Yorker has published a short story of his in the October 27th issue. The haven't got it posted online or else I'd link you to it. To read this one, you're going to have to buy a copy.

Chick Literacy

Awhile back I contributed an essay to an anthology project which had the interesting premise to link books to personal memories. You know how sometimes a song can instantly pull you back in time? Well, this was the same idea except using books instead of songs. Good idea, right? And the point of this project was a worthy one - to raise awareness (and hopefully funds) for women's literacy. Unfortunately, the project never found a publisher. But the inventive and obviously undaunted editor contacted me recently to say the project has been reinvented as a blog. You can check out it out here. My essay isn't there yet but I'll let you know when it gets posted.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Shocking News

I was shocked to read in this morning's newspaper the British Library has spent 500,000 pounds to purchase a major archive from the estate of Ted Hughes. Not shocked because I don't think Ted Hughes is important and therefore worth the price, but shocked because I had forget he was dead!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

And The Booker Goes To...

Aravind Adiga has won the 2008 Man Booker Prize with his debut novel The White Tiger. I haven't read it myself but according to the judges "it shocked and entertained in equal measures." So there you go, now you know what sort of novel you need to write in order to win the Booker.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Prize Season

It is prize season in the book world. Recently Gil Adamson was awarded the in Canada First Novel Award. This is a book that has been on my radar since it was published last winter. I have only heard good things about it. It is definitely on my "I must read this book" list.

From Publishers WeeklyStarred Review. Set in 1903, Adamson's compelling debut tells the wintry tale of 19-year-old Mary Boulton (widowed by her own hand) and her frantic odyssey across Idaho and Montana. The details of Boulton's sad past—an unhappy marriage, a dead child, crippling depression—slowly emerge as she reluctantly ventures into the mountains, struggling to put distance between herself and her two vicious brothers-in-law, who track her like prey in retaliation for her killing of their kin. Boulton's journey and ultimate liberation—made all the more captivating by the delirium that runs in the recesses of her mind—speaks to the resilience of the female spirit in the early part of the last century. Lean prose, full-bodied characterization, memorable settings and scenes of hardship all lift this book above the pack. Already established as a writer of poetry (Ashland) and short stories (Help Me, Jacques Cousteau), Adamson also shines as novelist. (Apr.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Didn't Win the Nobel - Again

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio of France has been awarded this year's Nobel Prize for literature. Congratulations to him. I just did a quick search and it doesn't appear much of his work has been translated into English, a situation which will probably change now. I don't know where the last year has disappeared to. It feels like Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel just a few months ago. At least it feels like that to me. Ms. Lessing might feel differently. I truly hope she accomplished more of the goals she set for herself a year ago than I did, since I vowed to finally read The Golden Notebook and haven't even cracked the binding yet. I'll get to it Doris, I swear I will.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Still Thinking

I'm still thinking about funny books. Life continues to be trying enough around here that I'm longing for comic relief, I guess. In my earlier post about humorous books I can't believe I forgot the Adrian Mole series by Sue Townsend. (Exhaustion and packing all your books away will do that to you.) I love the Adrian Mole books and think they are hilarious. I will happily buy them as long as Sue Townsend continues to write them. After reading a new one I always suffer from this fear that it will be the last installment. Seriously, I just want them to go on forever. Now I am beginning to worry the latest, Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction will be last. I have to change the topic before I start to hyperventilate or break out into hives.

I just found out about a novel I think may be very funny. Anybody else a fan of the movie Withnail and I? Well, the man who wrote the screenplay for that - his name is Bruce Robinson - has written a novel. It's called The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman and I want to read it.

Thanks to the people who left comments about their favourite funny books. All suggested titles have been added to my "I want to read this list." A list I would share with you except it is so long I fear it may crash the Internet.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Climbing Back on the Planet

I feel like I temporarily fell off the planet, but all I did was move. Moving is hard. Especially when everything that can go wrong, does, as happened with me. But that is a long boring story we'll skip. Suffice to say I'm back now and happy in my new home. Of course, everything is still packed away in boxes and I'm living in near chaos - but what else is new, eh?

Question: How many Ikea Billy bookcases can you fit in a Honda Civic?
Answer: Three. (In the interest of science and the readers of this blog we tried our best to cram in a fourth but all our attempts failed.)

Sooner or later every reader comes to the same realization: there will not be enough time to read all the books you want to read. After unpacking my books, even a mathematically challenged person like myself, could see there were more volumes than I could possibly read before I die, even if I sat down now and did nothing else but read for the rest of my days. And I've got this funny feeling I'm probably going to acquire more books in the next forty or so years. Isn't that sad? It almost seems unfair. If I could interview God (or whoever is running this odd little show called life) that is what I would like to ask. Why so many books and so little time? (As the tote bags, bookmarks and mugs say.) Someone once suggested to me that heaven will be what you want it to be (or was that a Nick Bantock book? I really need some sleep.) Meaning if swimming is your thing, heaven will be a giant pool. Or if reading is your thing, heaven will be an endless library. Isn't that a wonderful thought? I'll leave you with that dreamy image.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Make Me Laugh

Because life is a wee bit stressful at the moment, with this move and everything, I've been searching for escape. Escape for me is, of course, reading. And what I would really like to read right now is something funny. Anyone care to save my sanity and make a suggestion?

My favourite funny books:

~ A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
~ Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
~Plan B by Anne Lamott
~ Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott
~ The Years With Ross by James Thurber
~ Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Monday, September 15, 2008

What Was My Crime?

This moving stuff is killing me! I feel like I've been sentenced to hard labour but I'm not sure what my crime was. We finished sanding and varnishing the floors, did I tell you? They're shiny, shiny, shiny. Now we are painting. Painting is always harder than I think it is going to be, but since everything looks better with a fresh coat of paint I keep slapping the stuff on the walls. When that is done I get to pack up all my belongings and shift them from here to there. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway) I haven't had much time to read. I have managed to squeeze in Anne Enright's The Gathering and Margaret Drabble's The Sea Lady, both of which I plan to write more about as soon as I have the time and energy. Will I ever have time and energy again?

Friday, September 5, 2008

All Passion Spent

Vita Sackville-West's novel All Passion Spent begins with the death of former British Prime Minister, Henry Holland, first Earl of Slane. This leaves the newly widowed Lady Slane free to retire from public life and, for the first time in her life, do whatever she wishes. Being eighty-eight years old, she is not able to do much but luckily she doesn't want to scale mountains, take up surfing or drive race cars. She simply want to live in a small house in Hampstead and pass the rest of her days quietly away from society, her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. And so she does.

Very little happens in this book which is not a fault in this case. It is the story of an old woman taking stock of her life and attempting to make sense of it, as much as that is possible for anyone. It is a novel of ideas, rather than of action. And most of these ideas are about the roles of women.

As Lady Slane sifts through her memories, she contemplates all she sacrificed, and all she gained, by devoting herself to her husband, his career and their six children. She also thinks about her secret ambition, the one that remained unfulfilled all her life, to be an artist. This was actually the weakest bit of the story. Because Lady Slane never actually painted, ever, I had difficulty taking her ambition seriously. Otherwise I enjoyed the book and enjoyed thinking about the issues it raised and how they compare to the challenges women face today.

This is the only book by Vita Sackville-West I have read. I admit I was interested in her mainly because of her relationship with Virginia Woolf (they were lovers). Many of the ideas in this novel mirror those in Woolf's A Room of One's Own, a favourite of mine. I suspect it would have been wonderful to eavesdrop on the conversations between these two fascinating women.

First line of All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West: Henry Lyulph Holland, first Earl of Slane, had existed for so long that the public had begun to regard him as immortal.

Letter Writers Alliance

If you, like me, consider a handwritten letter a rare and wonderous thing you might enjoy this.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Busy, busy

It's been busy, busy around here lately. We're moving into our new condo at the end of this month and there seems to be a million things to do. But I found out yesterday when I was given a welcome package from the condo that there is a library! How cool is that? I haven't checked it out yet but it seems to be a place you can donate your old, unwanted books to and people who live in the building can "check" them out, read and return them. The best part may be I now have a convenient place to donate my old books to without lugging them across town on the subway.

In other, non-book related news, tomorrow we are sanding the floors so if anyone has ever sanded floors before I'd love some tips.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Woof Woof

The front view.

The side view.

Every time I notice this book on my shelf I chuckle to myself. Woof, woof Rumi.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Really, I'm Trying

Because I am moving next month I put myself on a book diet - I told myself I would buy no new books because I already have too many and they are going to be a nightmare to move. But in the last three days I've bought two books: The Journals of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982 and The Sea Lady by Margaret Drabble. I can only plead they were both on sale and therefore should not have been passed up. Right? The fact that they are both hardcover and heavy I am trying to ignore. I am now praying to the book god to give me strength. (I actually meant strength to stop buying more books, but maybe I should just give up on that and pray for the other, muscle, kind of strength.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Public Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman (Aged 55 3/4)

Who doesn't love Sue Townsend? The creator of Adrian Mole ( I can't believe that is the first time I've mentioned Adrian Mole on this blog). Anyway this book, Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman (Aged 55 3/4) has nothing to do with Adrian Mole (though he does get a quick mention or two). This is a collection of monthly columns Sue Townsend wrote for Sainsbury's Magazine. Mostly they are about Townsend's day to day life: her new stove, vacations, nudity, burglaries, carpenters, and most alarming to me, Townsend's struggles as she slowly loses her sight due to diabetes. Even a subject as terrifying as that she handles with humour and courage and grace, making me admire her all the more. Though I liked some pieces better than others, overall this book was a wonderful way to while away a few summer hours.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jamaica Inn

Years ago (okay it was decades ago, don't remind me) an offhand remark by a teacher made me realize authors go in and out of fashion. It was an idea that disturbed me then and still disturbs me. What? Even authors are subject to the ever-changing moods of the times? Is nothing sacred? I guess not because over the years I've noticed this to be true. Which brings us to Daphne duMaurier. She is an author who was in (in a big way), then out, and whose star is rising again, I think. And I'm happy about this because duMaurier writes old-fashioned sorts of tales of love and suspense that are hard to put down. She deserves to be read. Granted she may not write the most beautiful prose you've ever read but she will keep you up passed your bedtime.

I'm slowly making my way through duMaurier's novels. Last week I finished reading Jamaica Inn: Mary Yellan's mother's dying wish was for her daughter to go live with her Aunt Patience after her death. Little did Mary's mother know that Aunt Patience was now married to Joss Merlyn, an outlaw who ran the forbidding Jamaica Inn on a lonely stretch of the Cornish coast. Soon after arriving Mary realized mysterious things happened under cover of darkness at Jamaica Inn. Things she was warned to ignore, but couldn't. Toss in a band of criminals, an albino vicar and a handsome stranger Mary is not sure she can trust and you have the page-turner that is Jamaica Inn.

Incidentally if you are interested in reading a Daphne duMaurier novel and aren't sure where to start, I'd recommend her best known novel, and the one I read first, Rebecca.

First line of Jamaica Inn by Daphne duMaurier: It was a cold grey day in late November.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Just Out of Curiosity

Just out of curiosity what makes you NOT like a novel? Better yet - what makes you abandon reading a novel? Is it that you don't like the plot? The characters? The writing? A combination?

For myself, I've noticed I'll soldier on through all sorts of boring plot shenanigans and awkward writing if I love a character, but if I don't like the characters the book usually get puts down and never picked back up.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Please Apply Within

We're moving next month and though I am wildly excited about it, dread fills me every time I look at all our books. Moving a few thousand books is going to be back-breaking work, isn't it? I thought so. If you've done this sort of foolishness yourself and learned a few things along the way, this would be the time to give me your hard earned wisdom. It will be much appreciated. So please tell me where you learned to levitate books. Or how you figured out how to twitch your nose and make your library disappear from your shabby old digs and magically reappear in your wonderful new address. Or if you would like to apply for the position of Chief Book Mover please apply within.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Brideshead Re-revisited

I don't understand why anyone would make a new film version of Brideshead Revisited after it has been so beautifully, so lovingly, so perfectly done in the 1980's 11 part British miniseries. Why I ask you? Why set yourself up for failure like that? Life dishes out enough of it already, don't go begging for it. Pick another book would have been my advice, but I wasn't asked. I guess it's obvious I won't be lining up at the movie theatre for this one, huh? It does make me want to see the miniseries again though. It's available on DVD, I was just eyeballing it on Amazon. Really, if you haven't seen the miniseries yet and you get the chance to, don't miss it. Maybe PBS will play it again. That would be wonderful. Please PBS, please play Brideshead Revisited again.

Of course, nothing compares to the book. But I knew you knew that.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Gamble Pays Off

Have you heard about this novel, The Lace Reader? It is some sort of supernatural mystery by first time author, Brunonia Barry. But it's not the novel that interests me - it is the story behind the novel. Apparently after she finished writing the book, Barry and her husband decided to self-publish instead of taking the traditional route and submitting it to publishers. Now I've heard stories about people self-publishing, I've even heard a few success stories - but nothing like this. Barry and her husband gambled big - they spent $50,000 of their own money putting this book together and promoting it. Reading between the lines it sounds to me like they worked hard - really hard - trying to get people to read this book. They went to bookstores, conventions, even got book clubs to read it and then listened to readers' feedback and made a few editorial changes. Their lucky break came when The Lace Reader got a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Then Hollywood pricked up its ears and soon after the big publishers were in a bidding war over the rights. Morrow won out by wooing Ms. Barry with a rumoured 2 million dollars, two book deal.

Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn't it? But to be fair, it sounds like the author took care of all the really important stuff first. Meaning she wrote a good story. From the reviews I've read it seems this is a hard-to-put-down sort of tale, with a great surprise twist near the end. It also seems that when the Barrys were promoting their self-published baby they sent it out to book bloggers. I wasn't sent the book, and I have no idea how big of a role bloggers played in getting the word out about this book, but it is an avenue of promotion that I don't think is being used as much as it could be by publishers, large and small. Maybe in the future. In the meantime, congratulations to Brunonia Barry!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I'm on a few days vacation and will be back next week. Happy reading to everyone!

I got some wonderful mail the other day - two Julie Hecht stories published in Harper's magazine back in the 70s but not included in any collection. Many thanks to Susan!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Here I Go Again...

Is there anything better than discovering a new writer you love? I've already blogged about my newest literary crush, Julie Hecht, but I've just finished her newest short story collection, Happy Trails to You and have to rave about her again.

The same unnamed narrator from her previous short story collection Do the Windows Open? and her novel The Unprofessionals is back again in these new stories. She is still unnerved by aging, still frustrated and mystified by the modern world. Her strategies for survival remain the same: herbal remedies, veganism and avoiding people as much as possible. This collection may be a bit darker than her other works but then the world has been darker these past several years. I'd estimate that darkness to have lasted almost 8 years now, as would Hecht.

Like all of Julie Hecht's work the charm is in the telling rather than in what actually happens in these stories. If you are a fan it is because of the narrator's unique voice. Of course, that means the converse also applies. I confess I did a bit of snooping around the Internet to find out what other people had to say about Hecht. Largely they're not saying much which makes me think she's not being read as widely as she deserves to be. I also found a few people who did not enjoy her writing. At all. But that is often the case with humourous writing. People feel strongly both ways.

In these dark days of nervous publishers and countless writing programs unique voices in literature are getting harder to find. For that reason alone I think Julie Hecht deserves more attention. If you are interested in her, I'd suggest trying to track down a copy of one of her books and reading a few pages. If you like it, you'll probably like the whole book. If not, well, she's not for you. But she is definitely for me.

First line from Happy Trails to You by Julie Hecht: I owed my neighbor a visit.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Talk To Me, Baby

I have this really great book called Poetry Speaks which came with 3 CDs of poets reading from their own work. Poets like: Alfred, Lord Tennyson, W.B. Yeats, Slyvia Plath, T.S. Eliot, Robert Browning, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Edna St. Vincent Millay, e.e. cummings, Louise Bogan, W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas and Anne Sexton. Incredibly, huh? Ever since I got it I've wanted to change my answering machine message to Yeats reading from "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" but the man about the house won't let me. Actually I want my message to be me saying "Name the poem and I'll call you back." I figure that way I'll probably never have to return another call in my life. Or else if I do it will be to someone I actually want to talk to.

Anyway, I've been thinking lately that I'd like to get more CDs like this, of poetry being read or actors reading Shakespeare. So, if you know of anything like this please leave me a comment and I promise to always return your calls.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Walking and Reading

This morning I saw a woman on her way to the subway, presumably heading downtown to work, and she was reading while she walked. I had to crane my neck but I saw it was The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing that had her so absorbed. It reminded me I've been meaning to read that for years. If only I could read while I walked...

Friday, July 11, 2008

We Have a Winner...

Yesterday Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children (Booker prize winner 1981) won the Best of the Booker prize. It was a special one-time prize to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Booker. Interestingly, the only other time there was a "best of the Booker" was on its 25th anniversary back in 1993 and Midnight's Children also won then.

You may remember me urging readers of this blog to cast their vote for the Best of the Booker awhile back after hearing through the grapevine (or webvine as it was in this case) not many people were voting. Apparently only around 7,800 readers worldwide cast a vote. I find that such a tiny sad number, compared to, say, movie-goers, TV viewers, or people who attend rock concerts. I know, I shouldn't dwell on it, it is just a recipe for depression. But really, why do so few people read? And of those few lovely souls, why do so few care about literature? I don't get it. I really don't. (She wanders off sadly, shaking her head.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A View of the Harbour

A View of the Harbour is the fourth novel by Elizabeth Taylor I have read this year. I've enjoyed them all. A View of the Harbour is set in the small coastal village of Newby in England. It is an almost claustrophobic setting in which everyone (well, almost everyone) spends most of their time watching the comings and goings of their neighbours. Like many such novels, a stranger comes to town. In this case it is Bertram Hemingway, recently retired from his life at sea and now an amateur artist.

Almost all of the other main characters are women: the beautiful Tory, her best friend and neighbour Beth, Beth's teenage daughter Prudence, old Mrs Bracey the nosy invalid and Mrs Wilson, the lonely widow who runs the shabby Wax Museum. All the expected themes of such a set up are here, but at its heart I think it is a novel about women's lives. There is a character to represent every age and stage of a woman's life: from the child Stevie to the dying Mrs Bracey. The unwed, married, divorced and widowed are all accounted for. There are women with children and women without. There are those who dream of getting married and those who don't; those having affairs and those drowning in loneliness. There are secrets and surprises.

I liked this book but as I have already said, I like Elizabeth Taylor's novels. I like the subtle humour and the tinge of sadness she brings to her books. The edition I read had a introduction by Sarah Waters and in it she names Elizabeth Taylor as one of the great under-read and under-appreciated British authors of the twentieth century. She speculates this may be because she shares a name with a famous actress. I suspect this is true. Imagine writing serious fiction today with the name Angelina Jolie. It is, of course, a silly reason, but many things in life are silly. Only time will tell which Elizabeth Taylor is remembered best.

Monday, July 7, 2008

More Freebies

My mystery neighbour, the one who is cleaning off their bookshelves, keeps dumping unwanted books in the lobby of my apartment building and I keep browsing the pile. Over the weekend I snagged a fun-looking book called Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah MacDonald. Description: Author journeys to India and writes a funny book about it. It looks like a good summer read. I'm looking forward to it. For some reason I like books about Indian, fiction as well as non-fiction. It's funny because the idea of actually going to India scares the willies out of me. I'm the yoga, meditating, vegetarian type but I don't think I could handle the crowds, filth, beggars and general chaos that is India. Maybe I'll get there in my next lifetime, when I am not so hung up on sanitation and am a more adventuresome soul. I need to evolve before I can go to India.

This morning I found a copy of McSweeney's in the lobby. It is issue 13, filled with cartoons, comic strips and graphic art. Looks fun, even though I know nothing about this sort of thing. Wait I did recognize something. I like the artist Seth and there is something by him. Strange fact: I once saw Seth on the streets of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Which is where he lives, I believe. I recognized him from a profile I'd read in Toronto Life magazine. He's a very cool guy and always dresses in 1940's garb. This made him quite easy to pick out. He was the only person wearing a fedora. He strolled by a shop I was in but I was too shy to chase him down and tell him I'm a fan of his work. So I'll tell you and maybe it will get back to him.

Friday, July 4, 2008


This morning I found a box of discarded books in the lobby of my apartment building. Someone must be cleaning off their shelves. I rooted through it for a while, mostly it was religious stuff, Christian and Buddhist. But I did pull out a first edition, signed copy of The Married Man by Edmund White. I was hoping it was worth a fortune but after a quick check on Abe Books it appears I am as poor as ever.

It did seem a bit odd to find Edmund White tucked in amongst all that religious stuff though.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I had a nice l-o-n-g weekend. Canada Day was on Tuesday so we decided to take Monday off as well and had a four day weekend. On Canada Day we packed a picnic lunch and headed out on our bicycles. After riding along the lakefront trail (Toronto is on Lake Ontario to save you digging out an atlas) we rode to High Park (one of Toronto's biggest parks). There we found a lovely shady spot on a grassy hill and had lunch, then dozed and read for the rest of the afternoon. It was absolute bliss! I love lying on my back and looking up at trees - why don't I do that more often?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Cheever Biography

There's a biography of John Cheever scheduled to be published in 2009 by Knopf and excerpts are beginning to appear in various magazines. I've read two in the last few weeks. The first in the current issue of The Believer and the second in a free publication (distributed in several countries) called Vice. Judging from the excerpts this is "car wreck publishing" - the kind of stuff you know you should look away from but just can't tear your eyes off of.

It's no secret John Cheever was an alcoholic and the excerpts I read were filled with one sad anecdote after another detailing his out of control drinking. I come from a family of Olympian-class alcoholics myself and even I, who have witnessed every kind of binge, heard every pathetic excuse for having a drink, seen real car wrecks, and stood by hospital beds watching family members detox, was impressed/appalled by Cheever's drinking.

This biography, simply titled "Cheever" by Blake Bailey, appears well-written but I worry every time this kind of thing comes out that the life of the artist will begin to overshadow the work. Which would be a shame in this case because Cheever was truly a wonderful writer. I plan over the next few weeks to reread some of his stories, dip into his novels, maybe even reread some. I want to fix his prose in my memory again, want to replace gossip with art.

First line for The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever: "St. Botolphs was an old place, an old river town."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Austen's Latest Convert

The man about the house has just finished reading Pride and Prejudice. Judging by how quickly he read it, I'd say he liked it a lot. I quite enjoyed coming into the room to find him reading Jane Austen. An annoying man once bragged to me that he had never read Austen because he considered her "a girl's writer." He then went on to list all the other writers he had never read for, presumably, this same reason. I remember the Bronte sisters' names being mentioned, maybe Woolf, I forget who else. At the time it made me quite angry. Now I feel sorry for him. Imagine life without all those great books. Lucky for me my guy is one of those modern, sensitive types, too smart to divide the world of books into girls' and boys' writers. And lucky for him.

Monday, June 23, 2008

New Munro Story

There is a new Alice Munro story in the current issue of The New Yorker. You can read it online here. What are you waiting for? Alice Munro is a much better writer than I am. Go!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Julie Hecht

In the May issue of The Believer magazine I read an interview with Julie Hecht, a writer I had never heard of before then. It was an intriguing interview - she was smart, funny, odd and not overly in love with the modern world. I decided I liked her and added her to my list of people I wished were my friends. Then I ordered two of her books online: her first book of short stories, Do the Windows Open? and her novel, The Unprofessionals. She has also written a book about Andy Kaufman and has just released her second book of short stories, Happy Trails to You (which I am having a hard time finding). The books arrived and I devoured them. I wish I could think of someone to compare her to because she's tough to describe. The stories in Do the Windows Open? are linked, as they are told in the first person by the same unnamed narrator. A woman in her forties who is a photographer. Though that hardly matters. These are rambling, delicious, funny stories about modern life. Actually, I've never come across anything in print that sounds so much like the voice inside my own head. If you, like me, are alarmed by the lack of manners, intelligence, beauty and clothing you encounter every time you leave the protective shell of your book-lined abode, then Julie Hecht may be a writer you enjoy.

The Unprofessionals, her novel, is told by the same narrator as Do the Windows Open? and also has a character from that collection, but this is a darker book. This time the story centers on the friendship between the photographer, now in her late forties, and a young man she has known since he was a boy. They share a dismay about the way the modern world is. Both get through the day with the help of drugs: prescription in the case of the narrator, heroin in the case of the young man. It's a funny, sad, profound book. Julie Hecht is a unique, and I think, brilliant writer. I will definitely keep searching for her new book.

First line from The Unprofessionals by Julie Hecht: It was the second month of living without a soul and I was getting used to the feeling.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Best of the Booker - Vote

Best of the Booker is a contest to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Booker Prize. Judges have already whittled the field down to six books and now the public is invited to cast their vote. You've got until July 8th to make your pick. The winner will be announced July 10th. Click here to vote. (Rumour has it only a few thousand people have voted so far. Only a few thousand people worldwide care enough about literature to vote? C'mon people! If you don't want to be lumped in with the illiterate masses click that link now and vote!)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Don't Faint

Don't faint but I finally figured out how to make a link list. Remember how my computer kept blocking the pop-up window that allows me to create a link list, and all sorts of other cool things? Well, apparently if you hold down the Ctrl button the window appears. I just figured that out and feel pretty darn proud of myself. So, I've started a list of lit blogs and will be adding to it. If you have a lit blog and want to be added just leave me a message and I'll be happy to do so.

just shocking

We've been out looking at real estate lately and it is just shocking how many people own no books. I mean NO books. Not a one. This has started to disturb/fascinate me so much I no longer look at all the things I am suppose to look at, I just walk through looking for a book - I've given up hoping for a bookshelf.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I wouldn't but maybe you would...

Yesterday I was browsing in a bookstore, just trolling down the fiction aisle the way you do when you're not looking for anything in particular, and I bumped into this woman around the letter R. She pointed to the row of Tom Robbins titles and said, "I slept with him once. Or at least, I thought I did."

"Really." (I was intrigued.)

"Yeah, it was years ago at a party. There were lots of book people there. It was loud and I didn't realize until afterwards his name was John Robbins, not Tom."

How do you respond to that?! So I said, "Better luck next time." Then I moved on to the letter S.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Maytrees

The Maytrees is Annie Dillard's second novel. Before reading any further you should know I am a huge Annie Dillard fan. That said, I, of course, loved this novel. I love everything Annie Dillard writes and if I lived near her I would surely be arrested for snooping through her trash (can you be arrested for that?) because I am so desperate to read anything she cares to write down. So now you know. Don't bring your complaints about Dillard here. The Maytrees are Toby and Lou, a married couple, and the novel tells the story of their life, together and apart.

Time for another confession: I really hate writing book reviews. I hated writing them in school and managed to forget that until I started this blog. I don't even like reading book reviews. Bores me to tears to read someone suck the life out of a book by writing ridiculous things they hope will make themselves sound smart and perceptive. I have not yet resolved how I am going to tell you about the books I read without writing a book review but I'm working on it. About The Maytrees let's just say the characters did some wonderful things that made me want to reach out and hug them and they did some not so wonderful things that made me want to slap them. Let's add that the passages about the dunes on Cape Cod (a place I have never been) seemed so real I could smell the salt air and when I put the book down I had to shake out my socks to shed the sand between my toes. Saying those sorts of things will get you a failing grade on a book report in school, but will make an author float away on a cloud of happiness. Lord only knows what it will do for a blog reader.

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. First line: The Maytrees were young long ago.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Saturday at the Small Press Book Fair

On Saturday I was determined to go to the Small Press Book Fair, cold or no cold. So I loaded my tote bag up with Kleenex and headed downtown. And it was great. I got there about an hour after it opened and the room (it was held in the gym of a community centre) was buzzing with book lovers. I wandered around talking to people and reading cool stuff and wishing I had a lot more money than I did. I bought some zines and magazines, a cool patch with a bicycle on it (the wheels are shaped like hearts) and a t-shirt that says "I wanna be Wednesday Addams when I grow up". It was only five bucks and I thought it was such a deal, but then when I got home and looked at it more closely I saw that it actually said, "I wanna be Wednesday Addams when grow up". Spot the mistake? It's missing an "I". Oops! A typo on my chest. Makes for a change, they are usually in my manuscripts. I still like it and have been wearing it around. The rest of the weekend I tried to take it easy - always easier said than done - but I'm definitely feeling better now, in case you were worried.

Friday, June 6, 2008


Ugh, I've managed to pick up a cold. Right as we are switching from colder than normal temperatures to a heat wave. Now I get to sweat while constantly blowing my nose. The upside is, a cold is a good excuse to do nothing but lie around and read.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Orange Prize

I was happy to see Rose Tremain won the Orange Prize for her novel, The Road Home. Though I haven't read it (yet) I've long been a fan of Tremain's and have often thought she doesn't get as much attention as her work deserves. I loved Music and Silence (which won the Whitbread) and Restoration (which was shortlisted for the Booker). So, congratulations to Rose Tremain! If you haven't discovered her yet, look her up the next time you're wandering the aisles of your favourite bookstore.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I love it when

Don't you love it when you recommend a book and the person loves it?! I recommended Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides to a friend and he devoured it! That makes me feel so good. It's like setting someone up on a blind date and they wind up getting married. Okay, maybe not quite that good, but good.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Echoing Grove

I finished reading The Echoing Grove by Rosamond Lehmann the other day. It's a Virago title I picked up at a used bookstore. Published in 1953 it has a very simple plot: two sisters, one man; one sister is married to him, the other is having an affair with him. Though Lehmann manages dazzling tricks with time in this novel and often writes strikingly beautiful sentences, I just couldn't get into the story. Nothing ever seemed to happen beyond the love triangle. I even contemplated not finishing the book, but soldiered on. From the foreword (written by Jonathan Coe) I learned people tend to strongly like or dislike this novel. I am more in the later camp than the former. I am glad, however, that I read the foreword because I learned about the affair Lehmann had with Cecil Day Lewis. Day Lewis was married when he met Lehmann during the second world war and remained so for their nine year affair. But then in 1949 he met an actress named Jill Balcon and cast off both his wife and Lehmann to marry her. Amazing, huh? I don't give a hoot about Hollywood gossip but I love reading about bed hopping among the literati.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Toronto Small Press Book Fair

If you live in Toronto mark your calendars! The Toronto Small Press Book Fair is on June 7th.

Where: Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, 750 Spadina Avenue (corner of Spadina/Bloor). Hours: 12pm-5pm

Don't miss it. There's going to be loads of great magazines and cool stuff!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I'm back from a too-short vacation (aren't they always too short?) and what is the first thing I read in my in box? A rejection letter from a magazine I submitted a short story to a few months ago. What a drag. But, alas, that is the life of a writer. To be fair, the magazine in question published a story of mine a few years ago so it's not all bad. The vacation was fun (thanks for asking). We were planning on going to Ottawa but couldn't find a hotel room, everything was booked up because of the Ottawa marathon. So we stayed here in Toronto and did touristy things which was actually kind of fun. I didn't get much reading done, mostly because vacationing with my non-stop husband always feels like I've entered an adventure race. But I did snag a copy of the latest Bust magazine as we raced by a magazine stand (Amy Sedaris is on the cover!) and snuck peeks at it as we zoomed around the city on the subway.

Probably because I was too busy to write anything else, I started writing haikus in my head and then jotting them down later in my moleskine. Years ago I went through a phase where I wrote a haiku a day. It's actually kind of fun. I like the restrictions of the 5 syllable, 7 syllable, 5 syllable format. It's like exercise for your brain. I've decided to keep it up for a while. I may even share some of them here. If you feel like taking the haiku-a-day challenge then please join me!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Seven Years in Tibet

With Tibet in the news so much lately I decided to finally read Seven Years in Tibet. Written by Heinrich Harrer, it is the story of his escape from a POW camp in India during WWII and his harrowing journey to neutral Tibet. After two years he finally makes it to the forbidden city of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet where he lives happily for the next several years, learning the language and culture of Tibet. Eventually he even becomes the Dalai Lama's tutor. He reluctantly flees when the Chinese invade and wrote this book almost immediately after to plea Tibet's case to rest of the world.

This reads like an adventure story and if you are interested in learning more about Tibet I'd recommend the book. However if you are interested in the bits about the Dalai Lama be warned, he doesn't come into the story until the last fifty pages or so. I learned quite a bit from Heinrich Harrer's book and feel even more strongly that the Chinese should leave Tibet.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fiery First Fiction

I just stumbled onto this. What a great way to promote first time authors! Check it out.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Computers Drive Me Nuts

Or at least this one does. I spend oodles of time last night trying to set up a link list for this poor little blog. It took me some time, like hours, but I eventually realized there is a pop up window my computer is blocking. Apparently with this pop up it is very easy to make a list of links, even for a computer retard like myself. I then spent some time trying to bribe my computer into allowing the pop up window to, well, pop up. Despite getting it to allow pop ups for this site, it still squashed the window every time it tried to pop up. I even changed the template of my blog hoping that would solve my problem, but alas it didn't so I changed it all back then fell into bed. And this dear reader is why I prefer books to computers.

Sorry for the rant but I just had to get that out!

Sunday, May 4, 2008


"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?"

~Henry Ward Beecher

Friday, May 2, 2008

Cousin Rosamund

I finished reading Rebecca West's Cousin Rosamund the other day. It is the sequel to The Fountain Overflows and This Real Night. Both This Real Night and Cousin Rosamund were unfinished at the time of West's death. This Real Night was published from a typed manuscript, but Cousin Rosamund needed a bit of help from West secretary, Diana Stainforth, herself a novelist. Stainforth was able to put together the final third of Cousin Rosamund using West's notes. Because of this the book ends rather abruptly, though satisfactorily for this reader. However, I would only recommend This Real Night and Cousin Rosamund to the people who, like me, fell in love with the Aubrey family. Interestingly, in the afterword by Victoria Glendinning it is revealed West intended the series to be a quartet. A synopsis of the final unwritten book, written by West, is included. I would urge all fans to track that down. It tells what West wanted to say about the role of art and also what she intended the characters of Rosamund and Richard Quin to mean, as well as summing up what happens to many of the characters. Though I wish the four books had been completed by West during her lifetime, I am grateful for what exists. These are novels I will return to, the characters within them added to my list of fictional friends.

Aren't fictional friendships wonderful? Only true book lovers understand them. For only true book lovers know the comfort of these friendships which are steady, dependable and unchanging, as real life friendships rarely are.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Explaining Poetry Better Than I Can

It's the last day of National Poetry month (yeah, I'm a little sad) so I thought I'd recommend a couple of books for those people who would like to better understand poetry. (With my acute psychic powers I sensed there are shy millions of you wanting to know more.)

Rules of the Dance by Mary Oliver is about reading and writing metrical verse and includes an anthology of 50 poems. Confused by all those "old-fashioned" poems? Spend not a moment longer in poetry induced frustration. This book will sort you out.

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver is more of a general guide to poetry, covering the more
traditional forms as well as modern ones, like free verse. It includes several poems as well as advice for the practising poet.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Sonnet

You can't have poetry month without Shakespeare. At least not with me, you can't. So before April slips away let's have a look at the sonnet. The word sonnet means "little song." It originated in Italy but became very popular among English poets, who slightly changed the form. Basically it is fourteen lines, traditionally written in iambic pentameter. The English or Shakespearean sonnet is composed of three quatrains and a final couplet. Its rhyming pattern goes like this: a,b,a,b c,d,c,d e,f,e,f g,g.

So much has been so beautifully said in those mere fourteen lines by great poets like Donne, Milton, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley and, of course, Shakespeare. Shakespeare even used the sonnet in his plays. The first fourteen lines of conversation between Romeo and Juliet are a sonnet. I may be the only person in the world that finds that kind of cool.

I'll leave you with this, one of the most famous sonnets by Shakespeare.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest;
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My Bench

There is a park a few minutes walk from my apartment and lately I've been sneaking out whenever I have a bit of time to sit on a bench in the sun and read. But it is not simply a bench, but THE bench. I've fallen for a bench, you see. It's tucked off in a corner and allows me to feel like I am alone but still lets me see everything that is happening in the park: the dogs playing, the baseball game if one is in progress, the kids on the jungle gym, the other lazy folks like me sitting around. So far my bench has always been empty when I get to the park but one of these days there is going to be an interloper sitting on it and I don't know what I'm going to do then.

This got me thinking about favourite spots to read. When I was a kid we had this ugly armchair, but its one redeeming feature (for me anyway) was that it fit me perfectly when I sat in it sideways, my legs dangling over one overstuffed arm. I would happily spend hours reading in that chair. And there have been other park benches over the years (I'm a big fan of park benches - they are right up there near the pinnacle of civilization for me.) But my all time favourite spot to read is in bed, especially in the morning. Is there anything better than being left alone on a weekend morning to read in bed for as long as you like? Now that's civilized.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I need more time

Wouldn't it be great if you could stretch the day? Squeeze a few more hours out of it for things like reading? It's so easy to buy books, but so hard to find the time to read them all. I mentioned I've been getting interested in Virago titles, well, I added four more to my collection. Last Friday I stopped by the book shop in the reference library here in Toronto. They sell withdrawn library books as well as books that have been donated to the library. When I cull my overflowing bookshelves that's where I take my no longer wanted books, though it tends to be self defeating since I always end up buying more from their shop and schlepping them home. Anyway I was nosing through their shelves last week when I spotted two Antonia White novels: Frost in May (which I knew was the very first Virago title) and The Sugar House. When I got them home and had a closer look, I realized they were numbers 1 and 3 in a series of 4 books that White wrote. In fact, they seem to be the only novels she wrote.

The next day was sunny and warm and the love of my life proposed we take a drive to a nearby city where he would buy me lunch and let me browse around one of my favourite out of town used bookstores. How could I refuse? After some delicious vegetarian Chinese food I was let loose to roam among the shelves. You know what's coming next - I found the missing numbers 2 and 4 of the White quartet: The Lost Traveller and Beyond the Glass. The best part is the two books at the library set me back a whole $2 and the other two books were priced at $4 each, so for only 10 bucks I bought the set! Now all I need is the time to read them.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Sometime in grade school you were probably taught how to write a haiku. Three lines - first line containing 5 syllables, second line 7 syllables, third line 5 syllables. You may have written a few corny haiku poems and forgotten about haiku. But haiku is one of the great arts of Japan and, if done well, makes for stunning poetry. I've always had a fondness for haiku. I like the tight restrictions. Sometimes your creativity just can't spark with no rules, as in free verse. Sometimes it wants rules, and there are no rules as strict as in haiku.

Beginning of spring -
the perfect simplicity
of a yellow sky

~ Issa

the cardinal's call
drills a row of scarlet holes
in the summer air

~Alfred Marks

a fingernail moon:
all that is left in the sky
after the blizzard

~ Perdita Finn

If you are interested in writing haiku I recommend Seeds from a Birch Tree by Clark Strand.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

This Real Night

I finished reading This Real Night by Rebecca West the other day. This is the second novel in the trilogy that began with The Fountain Overflows (which I read a few months ago and loved). I was a wee bit apprehensive since This Real Night and the third volume in the series, Cousin Rosamund, were unfinished at the time of West's death. Usually I avoid unfinished novels published posthumously, but I loved the characters in The Fountain Overflows so much I wanted to spend more time with them. And I'm glad I broke my own rule in this case because I really enjoyed This Real Night. And it read to me like a finished, polished novel. The only thing that struck me as odd was the ending, and not because it was a bad ending, but because the story seemed to end rather abruptly. If you are thinking of reading it I would recommend having Cousin Rosamund handy so you can pick it up and keep going with the story.

In The Fountain Overflows we meet Rose Aubrey and her family: sisters, Mary and Cordelia, brother Richard Quin and her parents. Together they form a poor, bohemian household in London, England. Growing up in the years before World War 1 it is a magical life, but made unstable by their father's gambling. In This Real Night the children are coming of age. Rose and her sister Mary are both studying to be concert pianists, Cordelia is struggling to find her place in the world after failing as a violinist and Richard Quin is hoping to get accepted to Oxford. Then war intervenes. Cousin Rosamund (which I have only just started) picks up the story in the 1920s, after the war has ended. Both Rose and Mary are now successful pianists. I'll write more about it when I've finished it. Today is such a warm, sunny day I think I might just sneak out and find myself a park bench to read on for a while.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Saturday was a rainy, dreary day so I accompanied my love to one of his favourite bookstores, Hampstead House. It specializes in British stuff, non-fiction mostly. My guy is into aviation history so loves the place. I wasn't expecting to find anything for myself, was just along for the ride. But while browsing their small DVD section I spotted Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I loved this when I saw it on TV a few years ago. It was the deluxe 10th anniversary limited collector's edition, which meant it came with a book, The Making of Pride and Prejudice, packaged in a very nice green slipcase, and priced at only $14.95!! I was fairly dancing around the store. Then I spotted a copy of The Birds and other stories by Daphne du Maurier, a Virago edition too! I'm nuts for Virago now, I was late catching on to it but I'm in collector mode now. So, the rain now longer mattered, I was happy! And I've been fairly annoying ever since, swooning around the apartment, saying, "Oh, Mr. Darcy!" over and over.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Yehuda Amichai

Since it is National Poetry Month (and no I probably won't stop mentioning that until May) I thought I would feature a few different types of poetry. First up I thought I would start with free verse since that is what most people think of as poetry nowadays. I like this poem by Amichai because it manages to say so much about war and its devastating effects in so few words.


The radius of the bomb was twelve inches
And the radius of its effective force seven yards
Containing four dead and eleven wounded.
And around those, in a wider circle
Of pain and time, are scattered two hospitals
And one graveyard. But the young woman,
Buried in the place she came from,
Over a hundred kilometers from here,
Widens the circle quite a bit,
And the lonely man mourning her death
In the provinces of a Mediterranean land,
Includes the whole world in the circle.
And I shall omit the scream of orphans
That reaches God's throne
And way beyond, and widens the circle
To no end and no God.

~ Yehuda Amichai
(translated by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Congratulations to Bob Dylan

I read in this morning's paper that Bob Dylan has been awarded an honorary Pulitzer Prize for his "profound impact on popular music and American culture." Congrats Bob. I've always been something of a Bob Dylan fan, and mainly because of his clever lyrics. I also like that this coincides with Poetry month, because song lyrics are a form of poetry. Some people may sniff at that statement, not wanting their high art mixed with pop culture but songwriters use many of the same tools a poet does: rhythm, metaphor, imagery, repetition - you get the idea. I have to admit I used to keep the two quite separate in my mind, poetry and song lyrics. Then I fell in love with a guy who adores music. I gradually realized the words were more important to my love than the actual music. Which was weird to me because I tend to judge music by how much it makes me want to dance, but hey, love expands your horizons, right? This is all a roundabout way of saying, even if you never read poetry, you may be more of a fan than you realize.

Monday, April 7, 2008


I need some help with a writing project. I'm asking women what they would most like to hear their husband/boyfriend say to them. Other answers have been:
~ "I love you."
~ "Let me do the dishes tonight. You sit down."
~ "Your hair looks great."
~ "I'm just going to pull over and ask for directions."

What would the perfect man say to you? You can leave a comment or email me. Thanks!

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Word About Poetry

Somewhere in your past there may have been a teacher that made you think, "Poetry is not for me." Who made you think - poetry is too hard, I don't understand it, it makes me feel stupid. That teacher was an idiot. Forget them. Poetry is the first language you learned. You were fluent in it before you spoke your first word. Poetry is the language of the heart (and I'm not just talking about love poems here). So it is natural and right that the brain will not always understand poetry.

Dive in. Read some poems, them read some more. Don't worry if you don't understand them. Keep going. It's like learning a foreign language: immerse yourself deeply enough and, miraculously, one day you'll understand what the waiter is saying.

Forget about "getting it." If the poem has meaning for you, if it reminds you of the time your Aunt Alice got drunk at your wedding and took off all her clothes, making you realize for the first time how sad and lonely she was, terrific! Even if the poem appears to be about flowers, it spoke to you, reminded you of your Aunt Alice and loneliness. All your responses, all your interpretations are valid. There is no "right" or "wrong" among poets - only among teachers and literary critics. Forget them!

If the poems that are considered great don't make your heart leap in recognition and say yes, forget them. Move on, read other poems until you find the ones that do. Poetry is the language we use to express the deepest, truest, scariest, most boring and most wonderful things about being human. You do understand poetry, you wouldn't be human if you didn't.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month here in Canada and in the US. Anywhere else? I'm not sure. Let me know if you do. Anyway I'll be posting about poetry on and off throughout the month, but I thought I'd start by telling you about the poem a day. Over at the Academy of American Poets website you can sign up for a poem a day to be sent to your inbox, every day for the month of April. Cool huh? You can sign up here.

Monday, March 31, 2008

There's a Contest For Everything

I read last week that The Bookseller magazine (a trade magazine in the UK) runs an annual contest for the oddest book title. The winner for 2007 was If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs. I'm guessing this book is aimed at women. Anyway, it got me thinking about strange titles, my personal favourite being, The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts by Louis de Bernieres. I've never read the book, but I've never forgotten the title either.

I found it easier to recall wonerful titles. Here are a few of my favourites:

~Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint Exupery
~ Wisdom of the Sands by Antoine de Saint Exupery
~ Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
~ The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Old Friend from Far Away

If you are a fan of Natalie Goldberg's books Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind then you will also enjoy her new book Old Friend from Far Away. Like Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind it is a book about writing, filled with exercises, though Old Friend focuses on memoir writing. The exercises will feel familiar to anyone who knows Natalie's previous works, however. In fact the whole book feels kind of familiar, which is fine with me as I'm a big Natalie fan. Others should bear this in mind however when thinking of making a purchase. For those who are new to Natalie Goldberg, her books are meant as inspiration, intended to get you writing, to get your hand moving across the page as she says. They are not technical books about improving your prose. I've got a shelf of my favourite writing books and this one is sure to find it's place on it alongside her earlier books.

A few of my other favourite books on writing:

~ The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
~ Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott
~ A Passion for Narrative by Jack Hodgins
~ On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Flannery O'Connor

I got this from the Writer's Almanac site. Can you believe the bit about the chicken?

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Flannery O'Connor, (books by this author) born in Savannah, Georgia (1925), the only child of a rare Catholic family in the Protestant Bible Belt. When she was five, she became famous for teaching a chicken to walk backward; a national news company came to town to film the feat and then broadcast it all around the country. She said, "That was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. It's all been downhill from there."

Her father died of lupus when she was 15 and she rarely spoke of him afterward.
When she was 25, she was diagnosed with lupus, and she moved in with her mother on a farm in Georgia. The lupus left her so weak that she could only write two or three hours a day. She was fascinated by birds, and on the farm she raised ducks, geese, and peacocks. She traveled to give lectures whenever she felt well enough, and she went once to Europe where, because of a friend's plea, she bathed in the waters at Lourdes, famed for their supposed healing powers.

She wrote two novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960), and two short-story collections, A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). She died at the age of 39 from complications of lupus.

She said, "The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention."

Jeffrey Eugenides

There is a Jeffrey Eugenides short story in the current issue of The New Yorker. His novel Middlesex is one of my favourite novels from the last few years. Now, strictly speaking, it may have come out more than a few years ago, I can't remember, but I only read it about two years ago. I never have the cash for brand spanking new books. Yeah, I am the weirdo madly digging through the piles of remaindered books. You can read the story online here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Grace (Eventually)

I finished reading Anne Lamott's Grace Eventually and you'll not read anything bad about it here. I am just so glad to be on this earth at the same time as Anne Lamott. Because she makes me laugh and nod my head in recognition and not feel so strange. I really should point out it is Lamott's nonfiction that I am in love with. If you haven't already, poke your nose into Grace Eventually or Plan B or Traveling Mercies or Operating Instructions or Bird by Bird and see if they are for you. If they are, you are surely a friend of mine. Oh, and don't be put off by the religious stuff - she's not at all like one of those annoying holier-than-thou types. As a reviewer put it: "This is a Christian even an atheist could still respect in the morning."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ship Fever

I recently read Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett. This is a story collection that won the National Book Award back in the '90s. The title story is a novella about the ship fever affecting the Irish ships sailing for Canada and the US during the potato famine (which is how one side of my family ended up in Canada). The rest of the collection consists of short stories. Most are historical, all have an aspect of science in them, none are dull. These are beautifully crafted, memorable stories. I really enjoyed this book. Here's a taste:

"There was no breeze that night. The sea, lit by the full moon, shone smooth and silver; the Southern Cross turned above the ship and below it squid slipped invisibly through the depths. Between sky and sea lay Alec Carriere, sprawled like a starfish in his hammock and imagining how the treasures packed in the holds were about to change his life."

~from Birds With No Feet

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Old Friends

It was my birthday the other day and my beloved got me a few books. Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg and Grace Eventually by Anne Lamott. Both are favourite authors of mine, I didn't know which one to start reading first. Grace Eventually seems to have won out. These books are like having two old friends come for a visit.

Don't you love that feeling when you can't wait to read a book - to take it all in like one long deep life-giving breath?

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Day

I thought since it was St. Paddy's Day we needed something Irish. Read this one aloud, I promise you'll feel like some great actor.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine beans-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evenings full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

~ W. B. Yeats

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Great Man

Kate Christensen's novel The Great Man just won the PEN/Faulkner award for fiction. Doesn't it sound good?

In Christensen's cleverly structured fourth novel, she writes of New York's art world with high-voltage wit and a keen sense of the power of opposites. The "great man" is Oscar Feldman, a painter of voluptuous female nudes, and his most celebrated work, a diptych portraying a white woman and a black woman, serves as the novel's template. In the wake of his death, two biographers, one white and one black, stir up rancorous memories as they speak with the two very different loves of Oscar's life: his compliant wife, Abigail, mother of their autistic son, and his regal lover, Teddy, mother of their twin daughters. Oscar himself has a double, his sister, Maxine. She, too, loves women, but she is an abstract expressionist working primarily in black and white. As the biographers probe, Oscar's survivors overcome old resentments and forge new understandings through hilariously frank conversations, reawakened passions, and affirmations of truth and beauty. Christensen's arch and gratifying novel (think Margaret Drabble) pairs the ridiculous with the sublime, and reminds us that nothing human is simply black or white.

I love Margaret Drabble, which reminds me, I still haven't read her latest.

Harriet the Spy

When I was young one of my favourite books was Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I've been thinking about it lately, probably because Kate blogged about it recently. There was a sequel as well, though I can't remember what it was called. It was about Harriet and a friend on their summer vacation, I think. Mostly all I remember is how I didn't like it as much as Harriet the Spy.

Of course, like every kid who loved Harriet I also wanted to spy on people. Trouble was, I lived in the country where the few houses were far, far apart and people could see me coming a mile off. That was frustrating for a wannabe spy. But I did make a belt for myself like Harriet's - remember Harriet's belt? It had a notebook and pencil, a flashlight - I forget what else. Binoculars maybe? I really should get my hands on a copy and reread Harriet. My flashlight was very cool. It was orange and looked like a small hardcover book. I used it to read under the covers when I was supposed to be sleeping. I still love reading in bed, though I don't do it secretly under the covers with a flashlight anymore. That would probably alarm my husband. I also still carry a notebook with me most places I go, and probably record the same sort of things I did as a kid. Since I couldn't spy on my neighbours, I had to imagine their lives instead. That is still what I spend a large part of my day doing: imagining how other people think, feel, act. As a grown-up it's called writing, though I sometimes still think it is really a form of spying.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Praying for Spring

Around here we are knee deep in snow and praying for spring. It has been a long, cold winter and all I want right now is to feel the sun on my face and smell spring on the breeze.

The Sun

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone -
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance -
and have you ever felt for anything

such wild love -
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty-handed -
or have you too
turned from this world -

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

~ Mary Oliver

Monday, March 10, 2008


Someone very kindly e-mailed me to say I had the comments set up so only other Blogger users could leave a comment. That is now fixed. (I think, I hope.) Anyone and everyone should now be able to leave a comment if they feel so inclined. Full confession: Imagine the least computer literate person you know. Got them fixed in your mind? Okay, I am their slightest less intelligent sister. Understand? So, if anyone notices any other screwy settings I may have this blog set to, please tell me. Trust me, I need all the help I can get. And one day, hopefully, I'll even manage to create a link list to other book blogs.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Question for the Canadians

Hey does anyone know if Books in Canada is still being published? I haven't seen it around for a while.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Conceit by Mary Novik

Reading this morning's Globe and Mail I saw Mary Novik's novel Conceit is nominated for the British Columbia Book Prize. I remember a stellar review of Conceit in the Globe's book pages months ago and have had the book tucked away in the back of my mind (in that overflowing part filled with lists of books I want to read) ever since. I'm a bit of a John Donne fan and the novel's narrator is Donne's daughter. Wanting to share a little of what the novel is about with you I jumped over to Amazon to copy and paste a description. Now, either my memory is faulty or the review in the Globe didn't mention the incestuous bits. I'm not quite sure what to make of this. Anybody read it?

Here's the description lifted from Amazon:

“St Paul’s cathedral stands like a cornered beast on Ludgate hill, taking deep breaths above the smoke. The fire has made terrifying progress in the night and is closing in on the ancient monument from three directions. Built of massive stones, the cathedral is held to be invincible, but suddenly Pegge sees what the flames covet: the two hundred and fifty feet of scaffolding erected around the broken tower. Once the flames have a foothold on the wooden scaffolds, they can jump to the lead roof, and once the timbers burn and the vaulting cracks, the cathedral will be toppled by its own mass, a royal bear brought down by common dogs.” (p.9)

It is the Great Fire of 1666. The imposing edifice of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a landmark of London since the 12th century, is being reduced to rubble by the flames that engulf the City. In the holocaust, Pegge and a small group of men struggle to save the effigy of her father, John Donne, famous love poet and the great Dean of St. Paul’s.

Making their way through the heat and confusion of the streets, they arrive at Paul’s wharf. Pegge’s husband, William Bowles, anxiously scans the wretched scene, suddenly realizing why Pegge has asked him to meet him at this desperate spot.The story behind this dramatic rescue begins forty years before the fire. Pegge Donne is still a rebellious girl, already too clever for a world that values learning only in men, when her father begins arranging marriages for his five daughters, including Pegge. Pegge, however, is desperate to taste the all-consuming desire that led to her parents’ clandestine marriage, notorious throughout England for shattering social convention and for inspiring some of the most erotic and profound poetry ever written. She sets out to win the love of Izaak Walton, a man infatuated with her older sister. Stung by Walton’s rejection and jealous of her physically mature sisters, the boyish Pegge becomes convinced that it is her own father who knows the secret of love. She collects his poems, hoping to piece together her parents’ history, searching for some connection to the mother she barely knew.

Intertwined with Pegge’s compelling voice are those of Ann More and John Donne, telling us of the courtship that inspires some of the world’s greatest poetry of love and physical longing. Donne’s seduction leads Ann to abandon social convention, risk her father’s certain wrath, and marry Donne. It is the undoing of his career and the two are left to struggle in a marriage that leads to her death in her 12th childbirth at age 33.

In Donne’s final days, Pegge tries, in ways that push the boundaries of daughterly behaviour, to discover the key to unlock her own sexuality. After his death, Pegge still struggles to free herself from an obsession that threatens to drive her beyond the bounds of reason. Even after she marries, she cannot suppress her independence or her desire to experience extraordinary love.

Conceit brings to life the teeming, bawdy streets of London, the intrigue-ridden court, and the lushness of the seventeenth-century English countryside. It is a story of many kinds of love–erotic, familial, unrequited, and obsessive–and the unpredictable workings of the human heart. With characters plucked from the pages of history, Mary Novik’s debut novel is an elegant, fully-imagined story of lives you will find hard to leave behind.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

New Pages

I found a cool site the other day. Here's how they describe themselves:

Good Reading Starts Here! News, information and guides to independent bookstores, independent publishers, literary magazines, alternative periodicals, independent record labels, alternative newsweeklies and more.

Check it out here.

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Note on the Type

Why is it that some books include a short paragraph at the back of the book telling you what typeface was used? Whenever I notice it I always feel a bit sheepish, like they are drawing my attention to something I should have noticed on my own. Why I feel that I have no idea. I know nothing about typefaces, but because I am a compulsive reader I always read the paragraph about the typeface. This from the book I am currently reading (The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup by Susan Orlean) :

This book was set in Fairfield, the first typeface from the hand of the distinguished American artist and engraver Rudolph Ruzicka (1883-1978). In its structure Fairfield displays the sober and sane qualities of the master craftsman whose talent has long been dedicated to clarity. It is this trait that accounts for the trim grace and vigor, the spirited design and sensitive balance, of this original typeface.

Rudolph Ruzicka was born in Bohemia and came to America in 1894.

Sober and sane qualities? In a typeface even. Pity I can't say the same about the majority of the people I meet.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village

I received a press release the other day about a new Canadian novel. Have a look and support small presses!

Inanna Publications and Education Inc. is proud to announce the release of a new work of fiction: Jackfish, The Vanishing Village, a novel by Sarah Felix Burns, published under their imprint, Inanna Poetry and Fiction Series.

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village tells the story of a woman unravelling from a traumatic past and her yearning for redemption. When her sister dies prematurely, Clemance-Marie Nadeau leaves her family and village behind, boarding a train bound for Sault Ste. Marie, where she falls under the spell of a charming stranger who promises her a life of adventure, and then holds her captive with her guilt and his threats of violence. Years later, when Clemance moves to the United States, she feels like an outsider, but Clemance is also in exile from herself. Discovering she is pregnant at the age of forty-two sets in motion a series of events that awakens a painful memory, long-buried in her embattled body, and so begins the long and sometimes harrowing
journey back to her homeland, and to herself.

You can order the book directly from the publisher here or go to

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Best of the Booker

I've been rather amused by this latest prize: the best of the Booker. Forty years worth of Booker prize winners and this summer a team of judges is going to name the best of the best. But not without your help (if you feel like tossing in your two cents worth). The public has been invited to weigh in with their choices. And since this is Britain, the betting has already begun. According to the bookies Yann Martel's Life of Pi is leading the pack.

Now, I must admit to being of two minds about all this. First, I don't quite understand all this competitiveness in the world. And not just in literature, in everything really. What is this obsession with being the best? Can there be a best book? Of course there can't and we all know it. That said, I have been enjoying thinking about it. What is my favourite Booker? I haven't read them all, though I've read a fair number of them. And this has made me want to reread some of my favourites as well as all the novels I've missed. Which I hope is really the point of the contest. If you want to find out more click here to go to the Booker site.

What's your favourite Booker prize winner?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I've been spending a lot of time browsing the Etsy site lately. They are primarily known as a great place to buy handmade goods, but there are also a lot of people selling zines, handmade books and journals over there. Check it out!

Monday, February 25, 2008


This was on the Writer's Almanac site today:

It was on this day in 1956 that Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes met in London, (books by Sylvia Plath) (books by Ted Hughes) beginning one of the most famous literary relationships in modern history. Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts (1932), and had studied at Smith College, but she was in England studying at Cambridge on a Fulbright Scholarship.
Sylvia Plath met Hughes at a party in a bar, and the next morning she wrote about the encounter in her journal. She spent most of the evening talking to someone else, whom she described as "some ugly, gat-toothed squat grinning guy named Meeson trying to be devastatingly clever." She said the party was "very bohemian, with boys in turtleneck sweaters and girls being blue-eye-lidded or elegant in black." Plath had been drinking a little, and she wrote, "The jazz was beginning to get under my skin, and I started dancing with Luke and knew I was very bad, having crossed the river and banged into the trees..."
Plath said, "Then the worst thing happened, that big, dark, hunky boy, the only one there huge enough for me, who had been hunching around over women, and whose name I had asked the minute I had come into the room, but no one told me, came over and was looking hard in my eyes and it was Ted Hughes."
Plath quoted one of his poems to him, and he guided her to a side room of the bar. She wrote of that moment, "And then he kissed me bang smash on the mouth and ripped my hairband off, my lovely red hairband scarf which had weathered the sun and much love, and whose like I shall never again find, and my favorite silver earrings: hah, I shall keep, he barked. And when he kissed my neck I bit him long and hard on the cheek, and when we came out of the room, blood was running down his face."
Plath composed a poem over the next few days after meeting Hughes. Called "Pursuit," it was a poem about a woman being hunted by a panther and was a response to a Hughes poem called "The Jaguar." Plath spent the night with Hughes and his friend in their London flat right before going on a spring vacation in Europe. When she returned, they spent even more time together, and after seeing so much of each other for a couple of months, they started thinking about marriage.
They got married on June 16th, four months after that first meeting, but it was a secret wedding because they didn't want to jeopardize Plath's fellowship or academic career. The ceremony was in the Church of Saint George the Martyr in London. Plath wore a pink suit, and Hughes gave her a pink rose to hold as she walked down the aisle.
Plath and Hughes spent the rest of that summer in Paris, Madrid, and the small town of Benidorm in Spain. They passed their days swimming, studying, and writing. Plath wrote the poems "Dream with Clam Diggers," Fiesta Melons," and "The Goring" as well as many others while on this honeymoon. Plath told a friend many years later that Hughes had gotten very angry with her during that trip and tried to choke her while they sat on a hill. She said she had resigned herself to die while it was happening, and she worried she had made the wrong decision in getting married so soon after meeting him.
Plath and Hughes decided to separate in 1962, right after they had moved back to England and had a second child. Plath discovered that Hughes was having an affair. She said in an interview that year, "I much prefer doctors, midwives, lawyers, anything but writers. I think writers and artists are the most narcissistic people... I'm fascinated by this mastery of the practical. As a poet, one lives a bit on air. I always like someone who can teach me something practical."
Plath committed suicide in 1963 by sticking her head in an oven. Hughes's mistress would also kill herself years later using the same method. Hughes was left in control of Plath's estate, and he edited her poems and controlled what of hers was published and what was not. He once was met on a trip to Australia by protestors holding signs that accused him of murdering Plath. Plath fans trying to chip away the word "Hughes" from her name on the tombstone have repeatedly vandalized her grave in Yorkshire, England.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Am I The Only One?

Is there a connection between being book-mad and stationary-crazy do you think? Or am I the only book lover that also adores stationary stores? That drools over journals (oh, Moleskine!) and pretty papers and funky pens? And I'm not a snob about these things. I love those tiny expensive shops but yesterday I was in Staples and could hardly tear myself away. What was I doing staring at bubble envelopes and post it notes that long? Please tell me I'm not alone here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

W. H. Auden

In honour of W. H. Auden's birthday I bring you the first part of the poem, Two Songs for Hedli Anderson, sometimes called Funeral Blues:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public
doves, Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Now, for the trivia-minded, which movie was this poem read aloud in?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Copy Cat Globe

I had a busy weekend so am a bit late getting to the weekend edition of The Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper. In the past I've caught the Globe stealing ideas before; sometimes The New Yorker will do a piece on some offbeat subject that will mysteriously be covered by the Globe a few weeks later. This time they stole from a blogger, specifically from Julie Wilson of the Seen Reading blog. For a few years now Julie has been noticing what her fellow transit riders are reading and reporting on it in the most delightful way on her blog. And that's just what the Globe did, minus the delightful part. In a rather dull, newspaperish way they simply stuck in the picture of five subway riders and gave a brief description of the books they were each reading. If you've not yet discovered the Seen Reading blog and want to see this idea done right (and you know you do) click here.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Why is it that even though my tiny apartment is overflowing with books - really they are piled everywhere - do I want more books? Why do I not count cookbooks as books in my strange little mind, so that now they are piling up around me too, having overflowed their drawer and counter space in the kitchen? Why is the library not closer so that I would (though probably not) sign out a book instead of buying it? Why? Why? Why?

Why is it that spellcheck on Blogger no longer seems to be working for me?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

In honour of Valentine's Day I'm going to give you my favourite love poem:

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

~ W. B. Yeats

I love that line, "But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you". May someone find and love the pilgrim soul in you.

Now go spread some love. Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Literary Event!

There's a new Alice Munro short story in the current issue of the New Yorker but you can read it on their website for free, if you're too broke to get yourself a copy. In my world a new short story from Munro is a literary event. Read it here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

For the writers in the crowd

For the writers in the crowd, I picked up a brilliant book over the weekend. It's called How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead by Ariel Gore. This is not one of those how to get yourself writing kinds of books, it's aimed at people already writing but looking to bust into print and take the world by storm. Ariel Gore has a wicked sense of humour and has written a smart, funny, irreverent book packed with good advice guaranteed to fire you and get you into print. Or at least on the way to your very own collection of rejection slips. But ultimately that's how you get into print. Trust me. And if Ariel's advice is not enough, she has even included interviews with people like Dave Eggers and Ursula K. Le Guin.

There is a rather touching preface, but it was the acknowledgements that really made me want to be Ariel's new best friend. Okay, it is an odd habit of mine but I always read people's acknowledgements in books. Even when all they do is thank everyone they've ever met starting with the doctor who delivered them, I read through the pages and pages of names. I have no idea why. Anyway, this is what Ariel Gore had to say at the end of her acknowledgements:

Most of all, thanks to you, gentle reader: Thanks for picking up this book, and thanks in advance for telling all of your friends about me, because I'd really like to become a famous writer before I'm dead - I even quit smoking to give myself a few more years - and if you happen to know anyone at the New York Times, could you please tell them I'm a genius? It would really help me out. In the meantime, take care, keep writing, keep fighting, and keep putting your work out into the world, okay? Surely we will meet someday.

That made reading through all those other book's boring acknowledgements worthwhile.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

After This by Alice McDermott

I finished reading After This by American author Alice McDermott last night before bed. I did not like this novel as much as I did McDermott's Charming Billy, which I read a month or so ago. That said, After This is the story of Mary and John Keane: their meeting, marriage and four children. McDermott writes beautiful prose - I often found myself rereading sentences, I found them so gorgeous - and these are wonderful characters. And despite the domestic, ordinary feel of the story it is never boring. I guess my problem with it was the ending. The storyline felt a bit rushed near the end to me, things were wrapped up too quickly, perhaps a wee bit unsatisfactorily. Also what was described on the back jacket as a "stunning transgression" committed by their youngest daughter did not feel all that stunning, or much of a transgression, to me. Alice McDermott is definitely a writer I am interested in however, and I look forward to reading her other novels.