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.