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?