Monday, December 28, 2009


So, now that the ups and downs, the egg nog and shortbread, the bustle and bluster, the family and the friends of the holidays are mostly done, it's time to focus on my next Cowboy adventure: two weeks in Puerto Vallarta at the all-inclusive Royal Decameron Puerto Vallarta (say it with me now ... ADULT ONLY POOL!) in Bucerias.


We leave in 26 days, and I'm beginning to realise that I have some wardrobe gaps that I'll be looking to fill before we take off. Of course, I could just take a half-full suitcase down and fill it in Vallarta, but that seems a little high risk, and I intend to spend more time there adventuring than shopping.

Whatever wardrobe ends up wrinkling it's way south will have to do me for 2 weeks and prepare me for such possible activities as snorkeling, zip-lining, 4x4ing, shopping, lunching, kayaking, sailing, dancing, dinner theatre, hiking, and humpback whale watching. Oh, and I'd like very much to see some blue-footed boobies, just so I can come back and say that I've seen blue-footed boobies. Blue-footed boobies! BLUE FOOTED BOOBIES! (I honestly didn't know they live outside the Gallapagos!). And maybe, if Cowboy is feeling especially long-suffering, I'll get to visit the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens. The point is, I'm going to need a variety of clothes for land and sea, rural and city-centre, day and night, adventuring and exploring.

So here's what's on the current wish list. We'll see if I can find any of it in Victoria in January. :)

  • pretty beaded leather flip flops
  • a boho chic cotton (or maybe silk) maxi dress
  • the awesomest mom-positive swimsuit ever
  • a wide-brimmed, packable sun hat
  • a second pair of sunglasses
  • a cover-up that works from the beach to the café
  • linen pants (or I could just fix the ones that have been in my mending basket for 2 years - ha!)

The truth is, I'd probably be fine without any of that stuff, but shopping for a big trip seems to me like a fun part of the build-up, so why the heck not at least speculate, right?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On the other hand

I love Christmas. I get very excited; I make big plans; I enjoy the build up and the anticipation. I often think that when my time comes I want people to say of me, as they did of Scrooge, that " he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge." (except maybe they could adjust the pronouns).

And then sometimes there's this let-down of being unable to attain my ideal Christmas and having instead to accept the Christmas I have. Of course, that only happens when I focus on the "tinsel & trappings" instead of on what I really love about this season - being with family, surprise and delight, joy and love. But the let-down happens none-the-less (as do all the blessings).

Today I woke up like it's just any other day when I have more I've promised to do than I have time to do it, and when what I want to do is very far away from what I need to do. I want to go gift shopping, and bake treats, and find the missing ingredient that will make my first tree with Cowboy perfect (it's missing something, but I can't tell what), but what I need to do is get to yoga, and complete some client work, and take care of the banking, and keep my appointments.

I'm letting life get in the way of my experience of peace on earth and goodwill to all. So it seemed like perfect timing that I got a reminder this morning of two Christmas funk songs. They are actually two of my favourite Christmas songs, I suppose because you have to have a little dark to really see the light.


Fairytale of New York: The Pogues with Kirsty McColl

The River: Robert Downey Jr. (unfortunately there's no real music video for this)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Peace Love ... no, this is not a Gap commercial

It started with a funny look - Cowboy quizically gazing at me as though trying to comprehend what I'd just said: "the chocolates aren't for me, I need to fill the boys' advent calendar." I returned the confused look, unsure what the problem was. And then I smiled - "Oh, you think it's crazy that I am buying candy for an advent calendar when my sons are 17 & 20, don't you!" Rapid agreement. Rapid reply - "you don't stop a tradition."

In fact though, my personal history of advent, and advent calendars, is relatively short. It is one I adopted sometime in the 90's, buying a pocketed felt snowman to track (and treat) the countdown to Christmas - to acknowledge and encourage the anticipation of the day, as though that was necessary in a house filled with greenery, readings of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and frequently smells of fresh cookies baking.

But like most commercialised traditions, chocolates and calendars are cheap simulacra for the deeper meaning of advent. I suppose that in the evangelical churches of my youth, advent was considered too ritualistic and even (horror of horrors) too Catholic to be observed. So I was 20 when I first remembering celebrating the lighting of the purple and rose candles. And learned to pause in the Christmas month to think about what the season meant. And while I'd always believed Jesus was 'the reason for the season,' as many a Christian bookstore stocking stuffer proclaimed, it was the liturgy of advent that taught me what that trite sentiment really meant. In the Baptist church I married into, the 4 weeks of advent were focused on Hope (or Expectation), Peace, Love and Joy - and to spend an hour each week reading, singing and reflecting on those changed everything else about Christmas for me.

I now know that the theme of advent services varies from practice to practice, although they are always the 4 Sundays before Christmas, and always centre on the advent, or coming, of Christ into the world. But that initial experience has stuck with me, whether I'm attending church during advent season or not. And cheap and commercialised though they may be, the chocolates remind me. And the calendars remind me. To pause, and to reflect, and to remember that the hope, peace, love and joy of the season are not accidental. And that stopping to think about them is as worthwhile as all the hustle and bustle I normally engage in for the month of December.
So my sons are inevitably growing older. And they may not see why that silly felt Snowmen still matters to me. And Cowboy may smile patiently, believing that I'm clinging to my sons' childhood. But when I walk out in the door in the morning and see the Snowman with another empty pocket. I know. And I smile, and I think about hope, love, peace & joy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

some bright morning.

Hi there. It's been a while, and I just want you to know, anyone who is out there, that I'm still here. Still trying to get to yoga, though apparently I'm not all that regular about it (I asked tonight, and I've been 26 times in the last 67 days since I began). And tonight I actually walked out. I've never done that before, but I just couldn't keep my mind in the room. So I walked out with about 15 minutes left.

Been to Seattle. It's no paradise (and certainly no San Francisco), though I did buy an AWESOME purse, and the most fantastic purple gloves. Oh, and I had a little fun at the Experience Music Project with the LP cover creator magnetic board for the special exhibit "Spaced Out: the Final Frontier in Album Covers." Though my picture hasn't made it to the website.

Anyway. It's likely to continue to be quiet for a few more days. Bit of chrysalis staging going on. I should emerge from the coccoon soon, maybe with some awesome wings.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

lycra, spandex & miracletex OH MY

I'm going away in January on my first tropical vacation since 1995 (PUERTO VALLARTA WOOHOO!!), and I'm SUPER excited. There'll be pools and palm trees and palapas in Yelapa. And zip lines and jet skis and villages with open markets. And in order to fully enjoy this great trip, I'm doing something else I haven't done in over a decade ... I'm shopping for a swimsuit.

In the past, I've needed/chosen swimsuits that are actually designed for swimming & swim-related activity - laps in the pool, playing with children at beaches, staying active while awaiting the stork's arrival by taking aquafit classes. Full coverage, athletically focused, boring, reliable, SWIM suits. They were practical, reliable and pretty darn boring.

What I'm really looking for now is more of a 'lounging by the pool, napping in the deck chair, holding hands on the beach' kind of suit. Preferrably one that is gorgeous and fashion-forward and sexier than you'd believe yet appropriate for a 42 year old mother. And by some magic of lycra, it will somehow make me look 32 pounds lighter (since those darn pounds don't seem to be going anywhere) and simultaneously hide rolls, stretch-marks, and scars while emphasizing curves and minimizing weird tan lines (don't worry, Ma, I'll wear sunscreen). It'll be feminine and flirty and something I actually look foward to putting on. Oh, and it should be safe to move in ... nobody needs a repeat of the tragic strapless malfunction of 1984.

So, for the last couple days I've been perusing swimsuit collections online. And I have to say, it's nearly as traumatizing as is trying on swimsuits in real life. If a suit makes a size 0 model look like she has a flabby belly, what chances have I got? Not to mention, I just about burst into tears of outrage yesterday when I was perusing the size chart on one designer brand's site and figured out that a Large was equal to a size 6-8. Large. Six. To. Eight.

Anyway, swimsuit shopping is high on the to-do list while we're in Seattle this weekend, and these suits below are inspirations for what I might be looking for:

1. Desire by RYGY Swimwear - the bead on the strap allows you to adjust the coverage, and there are two ties on the low back for security.

2. Marrakesh by OnDadeMar - I just love the halter top, amazing print & moderate back.

3. Lustre by Jets - OKAY - this suit is 100% old school pin up girl, with subtle side cutouts that narrow the rib cage AND an awesome sexy halter/tie back, and tummy shirring is great for hiding flaws.

4. Sanibel Surplice Tank by Miraclesuit - Miraclesuits tag line is "Look 10 lbs. lighter in 10 seconds" to which I reply, I'll take 3!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Shop & Give, all while sitting on your couch

I just received this notice from my friends who organize the local Christmas Spirit Community Dinner here in Victoria. Started in 1991 by Christina Parkhurst, this Christmas dinner last year fed almost a thousand people, as well as providing gifts for every child there, and creating a celebration for people who otherwise might not have had much to celebrate.

This year Christina and her team have a BRILLIANT fundraiser idea - you can shop Pampered Chef online OR at a giant Pampered Chef party, buy fantastic kitchen presents for the people on your list (and yourself) and raise both funds and needed kitchen supplies for the dinner.

Simply click the brochure below to start shopping. When you're ready to submit your order, enter "Victoria's Largest Pampered Chef Party" as the host's name. All proceeds - 100% - for this live/online party will go to providing the best Christmas Spirit Community Dinner Victoria has yet seen!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Timely Message

CinderRita received this message today, and for some reason it made her think of me. *blush* It is very timely, and truly hits home ...

Just do your best to keep yourself in balance. One of the first things that causes Energy misalignment [whatever that means], is asking or demanding too much of yourself in terms of time and effort. In other words, you just cannot burn the candle at both ends, so that you are physically tired, and then expect yourself to have a cheerful attitude. So, the rule of thumb has to be: "I'm going to be very, very, very happy, and then do everything I have time to do after that." --- Abraham Hicks

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Schindler's Ark: Review

I've had Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark on my must-read list for quite a while, and I finally found a great copy at one of my beloved local used book stores. It took another month or two for it to make it's way to the top of the pile - I was saving it, waiting for the opportunity to savour reading it, and it was truly worth the wait. Schindler's Ark is a book to be read slowly, to be thought about, to be understood - not just devoured. It is good in every way.

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Granted, I have a bias in favour of survivor stories of the Jewish holocaust of WW 2. I seek them out, in movie and prose form. And in that circle of favourites, Oskar Schindler's story is a stand-out. But what makes the tale of Oskar Schindler particularly riveting is how flawed and human a hero he was. Schindler was no saint, no embodiment of goodness, and certainly not a man you'd want to be married to. And he spent years of his life, seemingy boundless energy, and mountains in cash and goods to save, protect and improve the lives of Polish Jews throughout a period of unimaginable horror.

Those who have seen the movie Schindler's List (the adaptation of Keneally's book) know much of the plot of the story. But where Keneally's tale shines is in the balanced and full characters. There are few angels here, and only the devils you would expect. And that makes the heroism of Schindler and those like him all the more remarkable. Of course, the humanity of many of the Nazi characters in the story is as chilling as Schindler's is encouraging, but boundless good and boundless evil seem to be equal human options.

I was distracted several times by the fact that Keneally's book is considered a novel. It is clearly VERY well-researched (I particularly appreciate the first-hand accounts) historically accurate. I guess this is yet another case when the lines of genre are blended - Keneally surely filled in the blanks creatively. Apparently the same concern hounded the Man Booker award committee, as when the book won the award in 1982 there was some hew and cry about the fact that the Man Booker is an award for fiction. And if the Man Booker committee couldn't sort out the non-ending genre conversation, far be it from me to presume.

And really, the issue of genre is irrelevant to the success of the story. I loved reading Schindler's Ark. It made me want to see Schindler's List again (not that it takes much inspiration for me to want to watch a movie with Liam Neeson AND Ralph Fiennes in it). And it reminded me of the inherent goodness in people, and that we can never know what circumstance will pull someone forward to express that goodness.


Latent Luddite Leanings

Contrary to the alliterative title of this post, I don’t generally consider myself an old-fashioned girl. I prefer electric washing machines to a washboard, I enjoy a good combustion engine to get me places, and I’ve been known to enjoy the company of a portable music player for nigh on 30 years. But I REALLY don’t like cell phones.

I don’t know what it is about cell phones that make people so insane. Since when is anyone so important that leaving a message to be returned later is not acceptable? I’m a busy woman with a full life – I have family, friends, clients, employers, and a Cowboy who all sometimes talk to me – but I don’t know of anyone except the BB’s whose life may depend on my answering my cell phone. In fact, some of you may be surprised to even hear that I have a cell phone, and those of you who do know certainly don’t depend on reaching me on it.

Granted, I am not someone who considers being accessible 24/7 a plus. One of my favourite modern conveniences is Caller ID, followed closely by voice mail. Unless I gave birth to you, it’s okay with me if we have a little space so I can get back to you when I’m done whatever it is I’m doing. Yes, it’s anti-social and a little bit control freaking. Love me or leave me alone - ha. But self-sequestering aside, there’s something very odd about people’s behaviour with cell phones.
And yet it’s common place that people answer their phones in absolutely any circumstance – making plans while driving (duh!), doing business in a restaurant, discussing last night’s sexcapades in the grocery story, and (my LEAST favourite!) interrupting a conversation with a present person to talk to someone on the phone. Trust me, people, you’re not that important, and your conversation is not so interesting that I want to be subjected to it.

As I write this post, I am enjoying the supposed quiet of BC Ferries’ SeaWest Lounge, a supposed quiet that Cowboy has paid $20 for us to have access to. And one of the three other people in this CLEARLY posted cell-phone free/quiet zone has been on his cell-phone for at least 35 of the 45 minutes we’ve been on the boat thus far. There are nicely worded ‘no cell-phone’ postings on the door, the snack table, and every table in the lounge. Yet this man – who I’m sure is perfectly nice otherwise – feels it’s necessary to continue his conversations. And, it’s not bad enough that I have to listen to that, but I also get to placate a disgruntled Cowboy, who mutters about passive-aggressive retaliation, but so far the grumblings have come to naught except one more thing for me to ignore.

So there you go. People with cell phones are rude. Cowboy’s grumbling. And I’m ranting about it all. I guess maybe there’s enough anti-social fingers to go around.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On life, words and singing the body electric

When I am going through valleys, I turn inward to myself and my known comforts - warmth, quiet, words, books - those ageless friends of my girlhood and shapers of my self.

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In particular, the last month I've been reflecting on my sage Walt Whitman. I met him late, but at the right time. He is a frequent and welcome visitor. In fact, I picture him a literary precursor to my childhood neighbour Tom, who lived next to our farm in his trapper's cabin, who came by for dinner and enjoyed it so well he licked his pie plate. And who gave out full-sized chocolate bars at Hallowe'en, and threw beaver skulls in his back yard where we could find and collect the dagger-like yellow teeth. Only in this case Tom's quaint stories and anachronistic mannerisms have been turned by Walt into rhythmic phrases of vivid life. The 'barbaric yawp,' leaning and loafing and adoring all.

I have a Walt Whitman project I've begun. And while it comes to be, I'm enjoying being re-immersed in the words I find simultaneously expansive and comforting. This Leaves of Grass excerpt is from "I Sing the Body Electric" (which, coincidentally, was also a song that still moves me to tears from the original Fame, one of the most important movies of my teenage years):
I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them, or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment—what is this, then?
I do not ask any more delight—I swim in it, as in a sea.

There is something in staying close to men and women, and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well;
All things please the soul—but these please the soul well.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Happy Birthday, BB

Twenty-years ago today I met the most amazing person. He was beautiful from the first moment - peaceful and happy and perfect. And, having met him, my life would never be the same.

Perfect turned to funny. Adorable. Exploring. Adored. No to mention friendly and charming and lovable. He could walk. Then run. Then climb trees.

BB has a smile that lights the world, a too-rare and precious laugh that makes me cry. And a generous hug that makes everything alright. He's kind, gentle, wise and an unbelievably fierce warrior. He's creative and inventive. He's an artist, a boarder, a philosopher and a lover of original Nintendo. And he's perfect - first and always perfect.

Today my BB is 20. He's not a BB anymore. He's a man, one I am unspeakably proud to know, whose wisdom and generosity and humour make me wish I could be more like him. And one who I hope I had some part in the goodness of. Happiest of birthdays, BB. Thank you for being my son.

It's just HBC & VANOC against the world these days.

Reposted from a letter by Brian Thom, Negotiator of the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group

Our Olympic Image

Good morning chiefs. I am sure you have all been following the news of how the Hudson's Bay Company and the Vancouver Olympic Committee has knocked off the Cowichan sweater to produce their own version for the official uniforms for the 2010 Olympics, and which are being sold at the HBC stores for $350 each.

This rip-off is getting heavily criticized in the media, and Cowichan, I understand, is looking into their legal options with respect to their Trademark for Genuine Cowichan. This morning, the Hudson's Bay Company released a TV ad promoting their sweaters, and it is the most inflammatory, colonial, racist thing I have seen in a long time.

It tells the story of the coming of the white man to the new world, an empty place of rock and snow, which white man tamed and made into Canada. There is a half-second flash of seeing Cowichan-like sweaters hanging in some early settlement early in the ad, hinting that these came with the Europeans too. Through the ad, old Hudson's Bay Company symbols (blankets, chests, crests, etc) are flashed, as the white man expands their presence. The history told in this ad writes-out indigenous presence on the land.

It popularizes the legal fiction of Terra Nullius, the idea that North America was an 'empty land' here for the taking. It erases the whole place of indigenous people over the last 350 years, from the resistance to colonization, to the contributions made to the building of contemporary society. I believe that the political leadership of aboriginal communities should be aware of this vulgar portrayal of history by the Hudson's Bay Company, to promote their stolen sweater. The theft and profiteering off the genuine Cowichan sweater, along with the ironically parallel promotion of a re-telling of colonial history without indigenous people on the land, needs to be seen for what it is.

Please pass the information along widely to help generate what should be an anti-colonial response.

Brian Thom

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Self-flagellation - it's not as cool as the movies make it look

On our fantastic family retreat Thanksgiving weekend, we spent part of the first evening watching The Da Vinci Code and the inevitable 'what the hell is that man doing?' question came up. The man in question was Silas. And what he was doing was punishing the flesh to purify the spirit using self -flagellation and the wearing of a cilice.

It's quirky. A little disturbing. And somewhat hysterical. But I've been wondering this evening how much we do this to ourselves mentally. Oh sure, it's not as interesting or titillating as physical torture, but sitting for hours stewing/moping isn't much different, really. It's self-absorbed and creates nothing so much as more suffering.

My particular version of self-torture takes the former of biting my lip. And like self-flagellation its fairly pointless. I guess maybe I like the drama of it after all. It's certainly more martyry than just talking things through. And it's been many years since I could believably deny a martyr complex.

I'm sad. That's all really. And instead of just being sad I've been tightening the cilice with ridiculous stories that mostly begin "I should have" and "if only." I have no rosary to repeat 10 times. I just have what I'd hoped for to compare ad nauseum to what is.

And no. I'm not going to say more about that. ;-)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Not quite what I expected ...

I just wandered down a Google-led rabbit hole, and stumbled upon this interesting, quick 'life assessment' program called Clean Sweep. It's 100 True/False questions divided into the 4 major life areas of Physical Environment, Well-Being, Money & Relationships. The premise is that you check off the statements that are currently true for you, then go to work on the ones that aren't currently true for you, and come back regularly to re-assess until you get a 100 score, or a "clean sweep."

Now, I have a pretty good life. I'm aware of that. And I'm also aware that I've been tolerating some areas of life that really aren't working for me. In fact, just last evening my good friend had me promise to make a list (of all the things I said I'd do, or intended to do, but haven't done), check it twice, add in dates by when I'd do things and send it to him. And with that promise running in the back of my head, I thought I'd check out this Clean Sweep test.

I expected that I'd have quite strong scores in all areas except Money/Career. Quelle Surprise! Not so much! In fact, my current results were

Physical Environment - 6/25
Well-Being - 7/25
Money - 6/25
Relationships - 12/25

Wow. I'm actually kind of shocked. Not bad shocked, just 'I never would have guessed' shocked. And, I'm kinda inspired. The statements are all really straight-forward, which makes it easy to see what there is to do.

I guess the proof of the pudding will be in whether I actually do them or not. Anybody out there willing to take the test and share their results as well?

Oh, and it makes me smile that my Relationships score is double the rest of my life. I'm pretty sure that having a life full of loving people is what makes it seem like the other areas are more handled than they are. XO

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Happy 6 months

Today is 6 months since I first met my Cowboy - and what an amazing 6 months it's been. He's been a great sport about having our relationship unfurl in the public eye here and on Facebook, but in case you haven't been following along, those 6 months have included 5 amazing trips, dinner theatre, zip-lining, kayaking, indoor climbing, dozens of dinners (and Sunday brunches) our, and more smiles, laughs and happy sighs than I can count.

As I said to Cowboy on the ferry on Sunday sometimes he irritates me but I love him. And sometimes I'm a bitch but he loves me. And as he said "that's pretty cool hey." And ya, I have to say that the freedom to be less than perfect, and to have him be less than perfect, and to be perfectly in love is pretty darn amazing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Shack: Review

Last week I finished reading another book from the Library of Mom & Dad. When I read the back cover, I thought maybe mom was recommending it to me as a nudge in the church-going direction, so I resisted. And then we saw bookshelves stacked with it at 'The Big Box of Books' store. And I thought maybe I was being a little defensive and literally judging a book by its cover, so I gave it a try.

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I'm not big on horror/mystery/psychological drama stories at all, and there's an aspect of that to The Shack (by William P. Young) that concerned me. I really didn't want to be reading about child abduction. But that initial frame of a story soon gives way to an incredible face-to-face meeting with God that explains and persuades but never preaches.

In fact, what I was left with, the more I read, was a feeling of peace and a clarity about relationship - with God and with others. The peace came partly from the beauty of the writing, but also from the author's premise - religion is man-made, and relationship is God-made, and separation from God has nothing to do with most things we associate with being a good Christian and everything to do with being related to Him.

I've often told people that my faith is my faith, and the fact that I no longer go to church has no bearing on what I believe. But to read an eloquent, loving, grace-filled explanation of relationship with God has allowed me to give up my defensive stance on the subject.

Young's story lives in the realm of fable or allegory. It is making a point rather than telling a story. But it is doing so beautifully and with great grace. It really takes something to write something this compelling with so little actual plot.


Driven to Impress

I noticed something about myself the other day that I've been both reflecting back on, and observing as a continuing phenomenon. And it's this - if I can't be totally outstanding/impressive in an area of life, I pretty much don't bother with it at all. My attachment to having people say "holy cow - look at her go" has me take things on at 130%, and then abandon them when I get 80% returns.

It's one reason I took as much schooling as I could - because that's an area where I can generate impressive results. And I've taken on dieting and weight loss in the same way in the past - measuring/tracking EVERY morsel of food, or cutting out sugar and literally SPITTING OUT something that I put in my mouth out of habit. And then losing 35-40 pounds only to gain them back in a year or so.

I do the same thing with relationships. And jobs (who cares what I do anymore since nothing sounds as impressive as what I used to do). And it's this drive that started the 14-day "I'm Hot" challenge.

So, today is day 14, and I didn't go to class. I know the 6 am class is the only one I could make today, I was awake in time, but I didn't go. The thought conversation was something like this

"you enjoy it and you'll feel great"
"ya, but I already missed 4 days"
"and still you've gotten great results"
"ya, but I'm going dancing tonight so that's active"
"Oh right. Never mind then"

And some ridiculous part of me feels like I've failed instead of acknowledging what I've done for myself over the last 14 days. Really, as soon as I was thwarted in going every day, I knew I would have wiggle room. And I started to wiggle. I went to 9 classses in 14 days, but 3 of those misses were times when I could have gone and justified not going.

That's what I didn't do - go to class every day. But what did I do?
  • 9 - 90 minute classes
  • 810 total minutes in the hot room, not including the extended final savasanna
  • 234 poses (including balancing stick & toe stand for the first time yesterday)
  • 18 breathing exercises

Not to mention some little changes I can see in myself after just two weeks (some things - like sleeping well - I experienced the first day!)

  • a new curve in my waist!
  • seeing a little bone I never knew I have in my ankle
  • arms that hint at losing their grandma wave
  • sleeping well more nights than not
  • waking rested and alert
  • baby smooth skin
  • a body that's craving more yoga & good food

There's a piece of me that wants to chuck the whole thing. Not the real me, just the "110% or nothing" driven to impress piece. You see, my two-week pass expires today, and if I sign up for a full membership before it expires, I save money. But I'm waiting on payment for an invoice, and until that comes I'd only be robbing Peter to pay Paul. And I just don't feel like I can justify doing that for this - for something that only benefits me, and that looks pretty frivolous next to what isn't getting paid for.

I'll phone the studio and see if there's something we can work out. And I promise you (AND ME!) that I will get the full membership one way or another. I just might have to wait a few days. It's less impressive, but more balanced. And balance is something new that I'm happy to take on 110%.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

In case you were wondering ...

I paid BB1 to copy all of my old book reviews from the blog formerly known as SCWink. So yes, that's a long list of posts on the left side right now - 73, in fact, between the last real post and this. But I just couldn't bear to leave them behind.

Oh, and in yoga this evening I held standing bow pose for a full minute on one side, and could see my left foot above my head in the mirror. I was grinning like an idiot.

Tomorrow I'm going to post about something other than yoga, just to see if I remember how.

Your Heart's Desire: Review

Thanks to Kerry for recommending this book to me. I am always a little nervous about new-agey change-your-life stuff, but Your Heart's Desire: Instructions for Creating the Life You Really Want, by Sonia Choquette, was so practical and respectful and not nearly as flakey as it could have been.

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What I particularly liked that the book was broken into little bits with room for practicing the learning at each step. I'm not saying that this is for everyone, but it did break life down for me into little steps and give me some ideas for what to do and how to do it. And now as I begin to reread it slowly, I am looking forward to what happens next.


Will Write For Shoes: Review

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Like the genre it teaches about, Will Write For Shoes : How to Write a Chick Lit Novel by Cathy Yardley is long on sizzle and short on steak. Although it's entertaining to read about the relatively short history of the ChickLit genre, Yardley's approach to writing is too formulaic for my taste (as much as I love spreadsheets, I can't see using one to evolve my character!). Then again, her background is in Harlequin's world, so she comes by the formula honestly. There is already a Bridget Jones, and as much as I love her my heroine is vastly different and needs a little more than Ferragamos and a signature drink.


The White Nile: Review

Wow - The White Nile, by Alan Moorehead is One. Long. Book. My brain is not what it used to be. But I adore Africa, and am interested in the early days of what we (people from colonizing nations) did to the culture, environments, and economies of the area. Many of our effects are still being over-come.

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Moorehead's writing is a bit dry, but that's forgivable considering that he's an academic and the book was published in 1960. But he still has moments where he absolutely captures the stunning beauty of Africa: 
"Bagamoyo means 'Lay down the burden of your heart, and it is a beautiful place with a line of rustling coconut palms on the shore and beyond them, at the right season, one of the loveliest sights in Africa: the flamboyant trees that spread like chestnuts and blaze with the brightest shades of scarlet, flame and orange."
You can't beat that -- for truth or beauty or explanation.

A Richer Dust: Review

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A Richer Dust: Family, Memory and the Second World War, by Robert Calder, is a touching, sad story of a Canadian soldier who returns from the dehumanizing of WWII only to find his wife no longer his. The impact of those two lives on multiple generations in multiple familes could have been fascinating. Unfortunately, the author, who happened to be the soldier's nephew, couldn't get out of its way long enough to really be told.

Does he really think we care that his first marriage failed and his second wife (and former student) does great research? Does it add ANYTHING to our understanding of the war, Canadian culture, or why things happen the way they do? No. It's just an annoying distraction from an otherwise compelling story.


The Professor And The Madman: Review

by Simon Winchester

This was a wide-ranging story, and sometimes seemed a little unfocused, but was pretty fun anyway. And I do love a book that so glories in words and language. The work that went into the creation of the OED is incredible -- such an example of Victorian effort and stick-to-it. And the story of the mad doctor is just one more example of the evils of war.


The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment: Review

by Eckhart Tolle

At first I was enthralled by the simple premise of Tulle's book -- all we have is this moment, and paying attention to it will ease our pain, fear, & trauma and guide us to the best future. But after the initial infatuation, I was ready to phone up the author and yell HOW???? Show, don't tell. The first lesson of good writing.


The Poet And The Murderer: Review

by Simon Worrall
I saw this odd little book at a flea market when we were on holidays, and just couldn't resist a tapestry that included Emily Dickinson, Mormonism, fine art auctions and a scientific analysis of hand-writing. Especially not when it was all presented in the context of a true story.
The story itself -- including murder, fraud, the revenge of the librarian -- was what great feel-good movies are made of. And the encyclopaedic research throughout was incomparable. It's like Simon Worrall was on a dare not to miss even the remotest of details. The only real distraction, for me, was the really poor quality of the editing.
Comma errors, semi-colon errors and a typo here or there can be overlooked (this book had them all), I suppose. But Worralls' team also missed repeated words (the the) and even a sentence that occurs in an introductory paragraph and again a page later. I can see the editor missing one thing, but to have both an editor and a proof-reader overlook major errors like that is pretty.
Still, it is a pretty engrossing tale well told. And did I mention that it includes the "incrediblist" Raveen?


by Elie Wiesel
I can't believe I've never read this book before. Not even when I was studying holocaust literature. I must be a little jaded, as I wasn't as horrified as I should be at a testimony of that power. But I can certainly understand why it has had such lasting impact, and why it was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones

by Anthony Bourdain
Ah, Tony. So tall. So droll. So gifted with the freedom to roam and eat and write about it. For those of you who don't know, Anthony Bourdain is a former New York chef turned "celebrity eater" who now gets PAID to roam the world and eat what people are eating where they are eating it. You may have seen his TV shows A Chef's Tour or No Reservations.
Kitchen Confidential was Bourdain's "tell-all" about working his way up to chefdom in the do-or-die world of New York gastronomy. The Nasty Bits is largely snapshots of what has happened since then and reflections on his world travels. It's gentler than KC. Reflective, perhaps, of the cumulative mellowing effects of age and exposure to people the world over who have less and are more grateful.
Bourdain fails to shock in this collection, but he greatly succeeds in heart-breaking descriptions of places, people, and of course food.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

by John Berendt
John Berendt writes a good story, though he sometimes falls into the stilted, forced pretense of wit that comes from having been editor of The New Yorker, he also spins a compelling and complex story of lives entwined with the history and mythology of the city of Savannah -- by far the most beautiful, charming and mystique-laden of the myriad characters.
A true crime story by genre, Midnight is certainly not the grimy forray into the criminal mind that tends to clog the field. The criminal is a fine Southern gentleman caught up in his own self-delusions. As with most good 'truths,' the whole story is somewhat unresolved in the end. Which works in it's own way on a deeper level than Berendt ever digs.
A journalist by trade, Berendt is limited by his predeliction for "just the facts" and short-changes the reader on any real insight into perspective. Another short-coming is the book's scatter-shot approach to characters -- some who play a truly pivotal role in terms of the events of the story are breezed over, while other (like cross-dresssing Miss Thing Chablis) take up far more real-estate than their impact deserves.
All in all though, it's a great fast read, especially if you share my adoration of statue-laden cemeteries, old architecture, and misty forests dripping with Spanish moss.

A Man Without a Country

by Kurt Vonnegut
I love Kurt Vonnegut. I'm so sad that I didn't learn his genius until after he was dead; now there is nothing to do but consume it, whereas when he was alive I could always have hoped for more. What's special about A Man Without a Country is that it's really just Vonnegut's insights, musings and thoughts on a wide ranging topics. What's shocking about it is that there's almost no topic on which I disagree with him.
Most of all he makes me proud to be a human and to be a humanist.

Law of Attraction: The Science of Attracting of More of What You Want and Less of What You Don't Want

by Michael J. Losier
The law of attraction is a concept that is absolutely SWEEPING Victoria right now. There's not actually anything new in the idea -- to me it sounds exactly like the name-it-and-claim-it doctrine that swept our church back in the 1980's, but without the connection to God. Some of it just makes good sense; if you expect good things you are going to order your life so that good things can happen. But the hocus pocus bit about vibration bubbles is a little ... West Coast (the author lives here in Victoria).
I appreciate a good mental-emotional butt kick as much as the next person. And you certainly can't fault Losier for making things overly complex (although I was at least mildly irritated by the waste of paper in the book -- white space is good, but come on!).

Kitchen Confidential

by Anthony Bourdain
I went to see Anthony Bourdain speak last year, and quickly recognized that he was precisely the kind of chef BB1 could someday be. Perhaps with a few less droppings of the F bomb. Kitchen Confidential is like the food Bourdain espouses -- real, meaty, flavourful, fun. Though I may never eat chicken in a restaurant again.

How to Write Stories for Magazines

by Donna Baker
Less depth and even more out of date than the Handbook (e.g. "maintain the quality of your typewriter ribbon"), but some nice practicalities like structure, suspense, story arc and exercises for developing characters, and a really sweet story called "Gnome Sweet Gnome."
It's a quick read, easy to reference back to specific spots, and good for the beginning writer (like me).

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

by Dave Eggers
Some people might consider Eggers both self-indulgent, for thinking his sad story is special, and lucky, for having it receive both critical and popular success. He may be self-indulgent, but he is also the ONLY person ever to make my laugh at a publication page. He's so post-modern he should be illegal.

Handbook of Magazine Article Writing

Writer's Digest Books
Boring and out of date, but an amazing place for a beginning writer to begin. The articles in here -- all written by highly accomplished writers and/or editors -- cover everything from idea gathering to query letters to final edits.
Unfortunately, they don't cover how to actually work full time, raise to man childs and still have time and energy enough to write.

Fine Young Man

by Michael Gurian
I wish I had read this book when it was first given to me three years ago. Or maybe even 6 years ago when BB1 was first inching towards adolescence. It's never too late to learn how to parent a male, but since I'm clearlly clueless about guys -- even ones I gave birth to -- they should have come home from the hospital with this owner's manual tucked in the baby seat.

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy

by David Burns
Okay, this was actually a re-read, but I'm behind schedule so I'm including it. My doctor told me to read this, and even though I'd read it several years ago and found it simplistic, I reread it. I guess if you are new to depression it is probably useful. When you've been dealing with depression for more than 20 years, something a little meatier than "if you think happy you will be happy" is called for. Someone suggested to me recently that only the simple are happy, and I'm going to go with that. ;-)

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

by David Sedaris

This was a compelling little read. Although the content is autobiographical, it read more like a short story collection. The pacing is sporadic, but the humour is edgy and the characters painfully recognizable and oddly likeable. I definitely look forward to reading more of Sedaris' work. I particularly enjoyed how flawed his family are -- big sisters, parents, little brother -- and how much he clearly adores them anyway. They may all be crazy, but they are HIS crazy.

As someone whose stories are very linked to her reality, Sedaris really made me wonder what it will be like for people in my life when my stories are 'out there.'


Conscious Women-Concious Careers

by Darlene Montgomery
This was an interesting book. Nothing earth-shattering in content, and the writing lacked a certain polish and panache, but good stories about women who found their passions in their work. I suppose I might have gotten more out of it if I weren't already aware that I'm in the wrong job and what the solution is.

Vernon God Little

by Dbc Pierre
I am not always certain of my book choices, except for those that have one the Man Booker Prize. Until this one. Vernon God Little kept me reading, but I honestly can't say I enjoyed it. Until the end.
Vernon Gregory Little is an everyday average teenager -- of the type that innundates my life. He's a little twisted, a little angry, a little confused, and basically loving. And his mom is the same.
But I hated the school shooting background plot. It was disturbing. Manipulative. And opportunistic. Why didn't he just freaking write about planes crashing into big buildings?
And then the book took a turn and ended well and I loved it and praised the Man-Booker selection committee and I miss Vernon and want to go to Mexico.
How's THAT for a book review?

True history of the Kelly Gang

by Peter Carey
I didn't know, when I began this history, that it's based on real events. And while it took me a chapter or two to adjust to the semi-literate voice of the anti-hero, it really is a great Western yarn -- made all the better because it's an Australian story and is relatively free of jingoism. Or, at least, it's Aussie jingoism so less irritating than the usual.
The only real problem I had with the book is that the summaries at the beginning of each chapter -- supposed editorial editions to Kelly's manuscripts -- contain a lot of spoilers. I suppose that to someone who a) knew it was based on true events and b) knew what those events were they wouldn't have been spoilers. But to your average Canadian, who knows little enough about history in her own former colony, the Kelly Gang were all strangers.

The Sea

by John Banville
I don't really know about John Banville, but apparently he writes a lot of book. This is, in fact, his 23rd novel. While I wasn't quite as enthusiastic as the reviewer on the cover who, apparently, wanted to underline something on each page, I really was enthralled by the book. The characters were deep, which I expect in any Man-Booker Prize winner, but the plot was also surprising. Two twists in particular caught me completely off guard, and that doesn't happen all that often anymore.


by A.S. Byatt
It's beyond cliché to point out how limited the movie version of a book is, but aside from the cover picture on the paperback version of Byatt's incredibly intricate work, there is little connection between the Gwyneth Paltrow film and this completely engrossing, intellectually stimulating accomplishment. Byatt manages to tie together in a tight and convincing passion everything I remember about the follies and minute joys of academia, the delicacy and vigour of Victorian culture/literature/passion, and the shark-infested waters of modern romance. Not to mention the inclusion and illumination of Breton folk lore, middle French, and literary theory.
I truly believe I could read this book a dozen times and still learn something new in each reading. I can only imagine what it is to have either Byatt's mind or her talent. I can't begin to conceive what it would be like to have both.
This is definitely not a book for everyone. But I was lucky enough to feel through the whole reading that Byatt had written it just for me.

Oscar and Lucinda

by Peter Carey
Peter Carey has this way of taking not-totally-sympathetic characters and making you want to know what happens to them anyway. Although I found the first bit of Oscar and Lucinda confusing, once I figured out the structure of the story (it's told by a great-grandson we never get to know) it was interesting.
Carey takes us once again to the earlyish days of life in post-English invasion Australia, when Sydney was advanced enough to envy London, but not advanced enough to emulate it.
The plotting is spasmodic; it takes chapters to even meet Oscar and Lucinda, most of the book for them to meet, a brief and truly odd courtship for them to fall in love, and all lose ends are cauterised in the final chapter. Carey has provided a literary equivalent to "and then the boy woke up."
Don't get me wrong -- I enjoyed reading this book. Parts of it were fascinating, rich and left me burning to know more. But it is definitely not to everyone's taste.

Midnight's Children

by Salman Rushdie

Ah Salman. So much plot. So many layers of intricacy. So hard to understand late at night when I finally have a chance to read.

Saleem Sinai, the many-named protagonist, has a life that follows that of India. Born at the stroke of India's independence, his personal struggles follow that of the national body politic. Of course, one reading hardly does any Rushdie novel justice, and this Booker of Bookers is no different. I believe I could re-read Saleem's story half a dozen times and still find newness in it (not to mention learning cool things like that Bombay was named by Portugese explorers and means beautiful bay, while Mumbai is the short-form of the name for the Hindu goddess who rules the area Mumbadevi).

Despite the encyclopedic nature of some chapters, and the length and complexity of the story, there are some loose ends. Childhood friends and his loved-in-that-unbrotherly-way sister are left with only Saleem's surmises and assumptions. A very unreliable narrator, we are made to trust Saleem too much, to believe too much. Or perhaps we believe only what we want to -- even in the occult, magical, mystical nuances of the book the choice not to believe is unappealing since believing makes things so much more interesting. Saleem's fascination lies in his difference -- his cucumber nose, is temporary psychic powers, his olfactary sensitivity to feelings, secrets, threats.

Rushdie makes you think, in this masterpiece even more than some of this other books. And I readily admit that there were times I didn't want to. But I still found myself waking up in the middle of the night and having to read just a couple more pages, and few books can pass that test.


Line of Beauty

by Alan Hollinghurst

Wow. Wow wow wow wow wow. Alan Hollinghurst is a genius with character and theme. I could touch, smell, hear these people, even though upper-class Londoners are not really people I know a lot about. The main character is touching, self-aware, slightly deluded and entirely human. He lusts and crushes and settles in love. He lies to himself, but less frequently to others. And he is used and taken advantage of as only those who feel entirely superior can manage.

And those others? Those "entirely superior" friends. They too are flawed and human and touching. Closeted rich-boys, manic-depressive unloved girls. Blind wives. Philandering husbands. The characters are all recognizable without ever being tropes.


Life of Pi

by Yann Martel
Reinforcing my belief in any Man Booker Prize winner, I was still delighted, horrified and enthralled by young Pi's journey from India to Canada. Part bildungsroman, part travelogue, part fairy-tale, fully enjoyable.

Last Orders

by Graham Swift
This was a great holiday read. Unlike most Booker books, it's simple and easy-to-read. I started it New Year's Eve and finished it less than 24 hours later. Like most Booker books, however, it's an amazing character study that draws on the extraordinary nature of ordinary life.
Four friends take a day trip to honour their fifth friends final request (much like my own -- a desire to have his ashes scattered at sea) and as the day progresses the background stories also unfold. Stories of unparalleled loyalty and unfathomable betrayal. Tales of self knowledge and complete self ignorance. And the fables we tell ourselves just to make life bearable -- what could have been, what really was, what didn't happen the way you think it did.
I want to follow the trail of the day trip -- from London, through Kent to Canterbury and Margate. And I want to die and know that my friends will honour me with the same love and honesty.


by Kiran Desai

The 2006 Man-Booker winner has the sad misfortune of being like so many other Man-Booker winners, a tale of love, life, and loss during the rebellion in India of the late 1980's. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but after 2 years of reading all the Man-Booker winners I could get my hands on, Desai's tale didn't have a chance with me.

Once again the confusing myriad of political parties/players. Once again the heat and humidity dripping through the pages. Once again the repressed sexuality and expressed frustration. Yes, it had it's distinction in the New York sections of the storyline. But I still found myself thinking over and over again of Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance or Family Matters or of Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things (still my favourite of the genre) and even of the BOOKER OF BOOKERS, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.

I suppose on one hand it's fair enough that stories from the Indian diaspora, huge as it is, dominate an award that is limited to books published in former Commonwealth countries. And I do adore them or I wouldn't have read so many non-winners. All I'm saying is, having read SO many South-Asian novels I find it next to impossible to judge this one on it's own merits.

And that's probably not a good thing.


In a Free State

by V.S. Naipaul
Hey look -- it turns out that not every Booker Prize winner is a readable book. Oh sure I forced myself to finish this one, but it was a real let down. The first two short stories in this collection were confusing and the characters were unappealing, and the novella dragged on without ever delivering on the tension. I sure hope Naipaul doesn't win another Booker -- I'd hate to have to read another of his books.

Ghost Road

by Pat Barker
Ghost Road is dark, disturbing and challening, which is really everything a war story should be -- focused on the psychological and spiritual devestation of the soldiers and those who knew them than for the mechanics and strategies of generals. . These men are not heroes -- they are common men; scared, horny, amoral at times and capable of heroic feats. It is amazing that most of the coloring characters in this novel are real and lived through what may have been the last war in which man saw what he was doing to another man.
It's a brilliant war story; I intend to read both pre-quels, and formly believe it ought to be required reading for everyone who believes war is ever justified.

The English Patient: Review

by Michael Ondaatje
I've read a lot of Michael Ondaatje's work. Most of his novels and novellas, in fact. So when I finally settled in to read this best-known of his works, I had fairly high expectations. I mean, to be honest, I loved the movie. I loved Ralph Fiennes trailing his finger over the clavicle of Kristin Scott Thomas. I loved Juliette Binoche and her portrayal of the shell-shocked by free-spirited Canadian nurse. I especially loved Naveen Andrews washing his hair.
And I knew, or at least I very strongly believed, that none of those images could do justice to Ondaatje's poetic, ferocious writing. But I kept waiting for the part that would take my breath away -- either in the various romances, or in the sweeping decsription of the desert. I missed it. I was looking so hard for something more that I seem to have overlooked what was there. Oops.

disgrace: a review

by J.M. Coetzee

Another surprisingly fast read for a Booker winner, though this one was much less charming than Last Orders. Disgrace is all about a post-Apartheid white South African English professor who gets caught with his pants down and has almost no redeeming qualities. I kept thinking something would happen that would make him a sympathetic character, but that's clearly not what Coetzee had in mind.

The writing is subtle, much as some parts of life are, I suppose. For example, you don't know for sure until far into the book about a main character's sexual orientation or the religious heritage of Dr. Dirty and his daughter.

This is also the first book I've read about Africa that portrayed the land itself as dark. Writers since the time of colonisation have ascribed to Africa an inherrent spiritual aspect, but in this case that spirit is clearly a malignant one.

All of that said, I would actually recommend the book. It's a brilliant denunciation of the loss of classics teaching in favour of things "more useful" and a touching portrait of the difficulties and intricacies of father-daughter love as adults.

Oh, and I learned 13 new words (not including those words in any of the regional dialects -- Afrikaans, Kaaps, Xhosa, Sotho) in only 220 pages, which is pretty good learning!


A Year by the Sea

by Joan Anderson
I make no bones about being a literary snob. I prefer to read skilfully written books that have a rich grasp of language and a clever ability to string that language into thoughts that surprise me. This book did none of that, but ir did charm & engage me, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
Joan Anderson is a children's writer, which shows up in the simplicity of her thoughts, the repetition/obviousness of her arguments (not to mention that some of her experiences of marriage & womanhood are limited to her generation), and the level of her vocabulary. Yet Anderson's sharing of her experience itself - seperating from her husband to explore life on her own in the family cottage on the Atlantic coast - is generous, and inspiring.
Few of us look beyond the familiar dichotomies that present themselves when life isn't what we expected. Whether it's a home, a marriage or a job, if we're not happy the options seem to be stay and do more of the same, or leave. Anderson didn't panic. She did separate from her husband, not as a way to leave but as a way to discover and create what was next. And she risked and adventured and discovered her own path.

White Oleander

by Janet Fitch
There were two reasons I resisted reading this book:
1. The edition I was given had the movie-adaptation cover rather than the original 'as designed' cover
2. It's an Oprah's book club book, and I resist Oprah's pretense of literary expertise.
However, it was sitting on the stack of books I haven't read yet and looked like it had really strong female characters, so I started in.
Right from the first page I was hooked on Astrid & Ingrid. The ferociousness of their mother-daughter bond. The intensity of their artistic spirits (Ingrid is a poet and Astrid is a visual artist). The tenacity with which Astrid clings to her sense of self and refuses to succumb to her circumstances - good or bad. They were amazing women to read about, though I hope I never meet an Ingrid.
And the role that Southern California plays in the story was also fascinating and deftly handled. I always like when the setting becomes a character in the story, and the heat, wind, humidity and drought of Los Angeles seasons is as active and changeable as any of the key women.
And, of course, the key role of a beautiful flower in this story hooks me, even though that role is a negative one. The symbolism of the flowers apparent beauty and purity justoposed to it's deadly poisons is a bit heavy-handed, but fascinating none-the-less.

The Underpainter

by Jane Urquhart
I picked up Jane Urquhart's 4th book on a whim in a used book store. I'm not even sure where. It took me a while to get in to the story, but I was drawn on by Urquhart's amazing skill with words. Her first two books are poetry collections, and it shows. It really shows.
By mid-way in the story, I was visualising not just the paintings the narrator creates, but the landscapes and cityscapes through which he moves. Yet it's just this richness and variety of the landscapes makes the flatness of the characters confusing at first.
The narrator is an artist, an observer of life who keeps himself separate from and slightly (or not so slightly) superior to the other characters. And because we experience them moderated by him, we only see them in his flat interpretations. X is a model to be consumed and used. Y is a provincial hack to be patronized. Z is a drunken charicature to be humoured.
Of course, as someone for whom story is ALL about character, I was bothered by the characteization until the final few chapters. I want to like the people I read about. And I especially want to identify with the narrator. But that just wasn't possible with someone who never loves, is never upset, never overcomes. And yet this man, this narrator, is ultimately compelling. And tragic in his own empty way.
Now THAT's some good writing!

You Suck

by Christopher Moore
Usually when I say LOL it's a lie and I really just mean I'm mildly amused. Not so with our oh-so-uber-hip vampire friends and their consorts. Christopher Moore is fricking hilarious! Clever. Witty. With it. And that the story is set in San Francisco and I could actualy recognize certain settings (like the Starbucks at Moscone Centre) just made it all the more fun.
Moore could have just written a cute story. Or he could have just been clever and hip. Or he could have created yet another social realism novel with great characters. But he take the cute and the clever and the hip characters and makes them all totally engaging. Even the blue hooker named Blue!
Christopher Moore is the new Tom Robbins. But without the annoying anti-Catholic obsession. And with teeth.

Twelve Bar Blues: Review

by Patrick Neate
There's just something about jazz that lends itself to every other area of the imagination. Jazz art, jazz music, jazz writing, jazz life. In NYC I had the thrill of sitting third row on Broadway to watch Christian Slater in Side Man (not a musical, but full of music). And I remember losing a whole Saturday on the couch at Glassboat's dad's house reading Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter and wanting like anything to return to New Orleans.
Neate's book took me back to both those beloved cities, and both those inspirations, with side trips to London and a fictional country called Zambiwe that I recognized in my memories of both Zambia and Zimbabwe. Like any good jazz musician, Neate picks a simple theme and weaves complex variations on it, only to come back, finally, to where he began. Two centuries, three continents and one need to know yourself.

The Sweet Hereafter

by Russell Banks
I wasn't too sure what to expect of this book, as I never saw Atom Egoyan's much ballyhooed movie adaptation. But the novel itself was so ... human. You'd expect something about a school bus accident to be morbid, morose, maudlin even. But Banks manages to avoid those traps by focusing on the living, and by juxtaposing those unimaginable tradedy with the unbelievable tragedies people perpertrate on one another every day. Not that all is tragic. If anything, the final point Banks makes is that life goes on. And that's a happy ending, in my books.

Summer Crossing

by Truman Capote
This novel, really a novella, published post-humously by Truman Capote's estate was captivating and compelling. Not exactly uplifting, but a real, genuine I-can't-put-this-down story. It's a good thing it was so short (there's debate as to whether it is complete) or I'd have failed to complete the things I needed to complete while I was reading it.
Should ever an American claim that class doesn't exist in their culture, hand him/her a copy of this book. But not your only copy. It's totally re-readable, even if the end leaves you feeling incomplete.


by Timothy Findley
I'm a little shame-faced to admit it, but this is my first Findley novel. I'm not sure how I got through 2 Literature degrees without reading any Findley, but I did now. I really enjoyed Spadework in fact, I think I stayed awake until 3 am finishing it, which is always a sign of a good book for me. But I sure didn't want to start it when I started it. The back cover appeared to give away the entire plot and I really wasn't (am never) in the mood for a murder mystery. Only the plot points discussed on the back cover are really quite minor compared to the deep, complex, moving events that really matter.
Murder is one thing, but self-doubt and deception and strife - now those are the things that great novels are made of.

Slam: A Review

by Nick Hornby
To be honest, this is the first book of Nick Hornby's that I've read. His books seem to be straight-to-movie (About A Boy, Fever Pitch, High Fidelity) and once I've seen the movie version of a book I hardly ever go the other way, so it was great to pick this one up from the office "read this" pile.
Hornby has a great, easy style. Although the central plot of the book is really teen pregnancy, he maintains the humour without ever making light of the situation. And the protagonist - 16 to 18 year old Sam - is as real and charming and frustrating as any beloved teenage male I know. Sam's mom has a life (YAY!), and what really made me smile was the relationship between Sam and his mom. HOrnby MUST have been raised by his mom on her own to have conversations as honest-to-my-life as those between Sama and his mom.
The intriguing conceit in this story - not to spoil too much - is skateboarder Sam's quirky relationship to his hero Tony Hawk (who Sam refers to as TH) - a relationship based on Sam's having read Hawk's book until he has it memorised, and speaking to TH's poster hanging on his wall.
Slam is not high literature, but it is great entertainment and a really fun, easy read.

Sushi for Beginners

by Marian Keyes
Book 2 of my burgeoning love-fest with Marian Keyes, Sushi for Beginners proves that Keyes' charming and captivating main character in Angels was no accident. As with Angels, Sushi is an unapologetic and non-stop chick book. But what chicks they are!
Rather than focusing on a singular heroine, in Sushi Keyes' gives us three very different female lives to follow as they merge, diverge and get what they deserve -- good or bad. Earnest Ashling is a 30ish single woman whose career has been like herself - earnest but overlookable. In contrast, her boss Lisa is the quintessential uber-bitch whose entire self is dependent on her success. On the other end of the spectrum, Ashling's childhood girlfriend and still supposed best friend Clodagh is a coddled, spoiled stay-at-home yuppie queen who has gotten by with good looks and a willing husband.
Place again plays a pivotal role in Keyes' story, as Dublin is home to those who love it and patrician torture for displaced, chic, nasty Lisa. Dublin is the only place Lisa could have learned what she needed to learn in order to grow, but you'll believe that when you read it, but is also the steadfast mother Ashling needs. Interestingly, Clodagh lives in the 'burbs removed from both Dublin's heart and reality.
And once again, Keyes lets her story unfold with an uncanny sense of timing, tension and believablility. And as one who has been there (frequently), I was amused, challenged and frightened by her too-real exposure of female and maternal depression.
I almost slept through work one day last week finishing this book, and once again am missing my friends from Keyes' imagination. Perhaps it's time to move onto more substantial fare, but why push myself when I'm having such fun learning from Keyes' women!?

Such a Long Journey: Review

by Rohinton Mistry

I have to admit, I have a total thing for writer's in the South Asian diaspora. Salman Rushdie being number one, closely followed by Yann Martel, Michael Ondaatje, and Rohinton Mistry. The biggest problem I have with Mistry is his honesty. Normally honesty is a good thing in a novelist, but he's so honest it hurts.

With A Fine Balance I wished I had stopped reading two chapters from the end, but with Such a Long Journey the beauty carried all the way through. Through the people. Through the black wall. Through the Parsi religion. Through Gustad's family. Through Bombay's atmosphere. And through the eternal ups and downs and ins and outs of humanity.

I guess I can forgive that kind of honesty. Honesty that comes wrapped in love and hope.


A Simple Habana Melody: From When the World Was Good

by Oscar Hijuelos
I really wanted to love this book -- it's got two of my favourite themes: jazz and WW2. But the story was just clunky. The Cuban parts and the European parts never gelled, and I had trouble believing in any of the characters, major or minor. I wish I hadn't bothered, and there aren't many books I say that about.

Separation Anxiety

by Karen Brichoux
My last book of 2005 was a good one, though hit a little close to home and made for a couple nights of odd dreams. I hadn't heard of the author (Karen Brichoux) before, but the premise was promising -- Heroine Wichita (that's Wa-cheet-ah, for those of us not in the know) has the standard issue dysfunctional family, as does her lifelong best friend Jonah. And in order to save herself from a fate worse than happiness, she decides she has to "break-up" with said best friend.
Tension, tears, teenage pregnancy, etc. ensue. I can't say more as I think you should all go read this book. It's charming and surprising and ordinarily unique. Plus, the hero and heroine are starving art historian/creative writing types. They need our support!
It all just goes to show that my mom was right (shhhhh don't tell her!) on her two favourite points of advice:
1. To have a friend you have to be a friend.
2. Don't go looking for someone to meet; you'll be happiest falling in love with a good friend.


by Pat Barker
I'm not a big war buff. In fact, I'm kind of an anti-war buff. I think war is evil, simple-minded, ineffective and short-sighted. So it might seem a little odd that I can't say enough good stuff about Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy (see also The Ghost Road in Booker) and The Eye in the Door.
The power in these stories (really the ongoing story of a psychiatrist and his patients, some of whom stick around for a while and some of whom are brief visitors) is that they are never actually on the front line -- being left with the impact of the front line rather than see it in all it's gory mayhem, seeing its survivors try to make it in an environment of pseudo-normalcy in Scotland or England is far more powerful than any battle scene of flying limbs and cacaphony could be.
For me, the second really amazing element of the trilogy is the development of Siegfried Sassoon as a war poet and war protester and his tutelage of Wilfred Owens. Having studied their work in university, it was interesting to me to find out of their connection in the hospital, and of Sassoon's influence on Owen's work.
Oh right, I guess that gives away that this is a historically-based trilogy. Not only were the poets actual poet soldiers of the itme, but Dr. Rivers was also (apparently) much as he's made out to be by Barker, and the cultural and historical situations are accurate. I like historical novels.

Player Piano

by Kurt Vonnegut
I know I should think Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is a genius, but I really didn't like this book. I mainly read it for the title, my player piano being one of the most important objects in my past & present, but the story was dated, the characters unlikeable, and the plot uncompelling. To be fair, I never have been a fan of any form of utopia/dystopia, science fiction, future, fantastic genre. I finished it. But it took commitment and tenacity rather than being the unwinding relief I prefer at the end of the day. Vonnegut was such a creative genius in many ways. I wish I enjoyed his stories more.

Post Office

by Charles Bukowski
I've not read a Charles Bukowski novel before, though I have a faint acquiantance with his poetry. Bukowski is an angry man, not overtly so, but enough to keep his writing always on edge. His L.A. is an L.A. for all people; not the posh, decadent L.A. of movie stars and rockers, but one of postmen, race track junkies, and pseudo-whores. Not pathetic, but very real.
Post Office is a short read, and an enjoyable one. I wouldn't recommend it as a book-on-tape for your grandmother, but when Bukowski says "Fuck" you know he means it.

The Pillars of the Earth

by Ken Follett
My dad VERY highly recommended this book, so I thought I'd give it a go. In fact, I think he might have said that it was the best book ever. Or maybe the obnoxious book-seller in Coombs said that. Either way, Dad loved it, I read it and now here is the review.
Pillars of the Earth is a fascinating story set in Medieval England and is mainly the story of a village that becomes a cathedral town. It is also the story of cathedral building, and the development of Gothic architecture. And it's the story of the builders, monks, priests and citizens of the town and the cathedral.
I LOVE architecture. It's one of my many many favourite topics, and one of the reasons I'm drawn to visit Europe is to view the cathedrals of the Gothic builders. They were build to honour God, they pushed technology and art. The cathedrals were true life works that took decades to complete.
Pillars of the Earth feels like a similar undertaking. I feel like I've been reading it for MONTHS. This is partly because I've been reading the hardcover, which makes it too heavy to read when travelling - my best reading times. But it's also because the story has an extremely lethargic start. The story lacks the lightness, the grace, and the openess of the cathedrals it describes.
Which is not to say Pillars of the Earth isn't compelling. It builds momentum to the point where I finished it last night at 3 in the morning because I couldnt stop reading. But it takes SO long to get where it's going that there were plenty of times I wanted to give up. In fact, I think the story could be edited down by about 20% without damage to the plot or the characters. But if you've time on your hands, this is a good way to spend it.
Just don't go in expecting a quick read.

Mother of Pearl

by Melinda Haynes
In some ways Mother of Pearl is like Southern novels are supposed to be - dense, muggy, humid human tales that consider race and religion and morality, developing macrocosmic conclusions from front-porch view points. It's also like many Southern novels in that it's tragic, comic and slightly shocking. And certainly frustrating. And the characters are also pretty standard -- the odd boy, the good-hearted African-American father figure, the smart-mouthed African-American house keeper, the oddball lesbian aunties, the kooky foreign spiritualist.
But what makes Haye's novel such an engaging read is that with all for all of it's 'standard Southern-novel-ness' it's still manages to surprise. To really surprise, without ever resorting to shocking. I like to be surprised.

Olivia Joules And The Over Active Imagination

by Helen Fielding
Ah, the first book of the year. And what a fun book it was -- Helen Fielding's new heroine isn't nearly as likeable or relateable as Bridget Jones, but she's still a laugh and a sigh. Think the Shopaholic takes on MI6 and bin Laden, all while wearing a Gucci pashmina (that's SO, like, 5 minutes ago).
It's unfortunate that Fielding can't decide if she loves or hates American culture, as her wit deserves more free reign in the satirical look at Hollywood, but overall the book was great. Makes me want to lose weight, become a journalist, learn to dive, and hide a micro-camera in my bra.
And, it's the first time since Life of Pi that I have literally stayed up until I finished the book. Too bad I wasn't clever enough to wait for the weekend!

Mineral Palace

by Heidi Julavits
(Un)Lucky Numbers. Fierce love. Harsh weather. Water. Flying without wings. Bonnie & Clyde. Hearts so empty they implode. This semi-precious stone of a book was an unexpected find at the mall book stand. Dark, but not depressingly so. Compelling without melodrama. Characters you could care about but say goodbye to at the end of the story.
I don't know if Heidi Julavits has written anything else. But I'd love to read more of her simply powerful everyday poetry.

Little Birds

by Anaïs Nin
So, umm. THis is not my normal character novel/social realist novel. But it is a beautifully and skillfully written short story collection. It just happens that the climax is ... a climax. Yes, we're talking erotica, and Anais Nin has long been recognised as the best at merging human passion and narrative. And while this was my second read, I think I enjoyed it even more this time.

Jitterbug Perfume

by Tom Robbins
Tom Robbins, OH, Tom Robbins. Where have you been all my life? Now that I've found you, I shall exhaust your corpus. Reading Jitterbug Perfume was finding out my dreams, my imaginings, and my overly sensitive nose are not crazy.

Howards End

by E.M. Forster
It's a shameful thing to have 2 degrees in literature and never have read something as uniquely wise as Howard's End until now. Perhaps I wouldn't have been wise enough to have gotten it before. Not that I'm making huge pretensions towards wisdom now, but I am at a point where I see why the following passage from dear loving Margaret is so frequently quoted:
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.
Rarely is a philosophical novel so well-plotted. Or a tautly-drawn novel such a rich character study. Or a rich character study such an insightful discussion of the disagreement between body and soul in how we live our lives. Or social commentary so fair to both sides without muddying the middle.
Yes, the voice of Emma Thompson sometimes intruded into my reading. Or the scowl of Anthony Hopkins. But neither detracted from the story. And I'd forgotten the movie enough to remain drawn forward through the plot.
It's also nice to know that after having concentrated on contemporary writing for the last while, I can still find pleasure and passion and prose in the classics.

Good In Bed

by Jennifer Weiner
I didn't start off liking this book. The people seemed a bit mean, and I didn't need to read over and over again about the overweight heroine and her struggles to accept love. But she grew on me, and I wanted her to prevail, so I kept going. And I'm so glad I did.
Jennifer Weiner has created in Candace Shapiro someone charming, angry, sad, funny and bright. And the secondary characters are equally rich and true -- the spineless ex-boyfriend, the too-busy-but-wants-to-help friend. Even so, I thought I knew where the book was going. Almost all chicklit books follow the same trajectory, one very similar to any episode of the Love Boat, and this is clearly a chicklit book. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself surprised by Candace, and by the plot.

Going Down Swinging

by Billie Livingston
The kitten in a martini glass cover image was enough for me to invest $1 in it at a book sale. It was well worth it. A Canadian story of love, devotion, selfish indulgence, and childlike belief in the imperfect. Clever, but not obtrusively so.

A Girl Could Stand Up

by Leslie Marshall
Boy, I really really want to hate Leslie Marshall. I had just decided maybe I could write a novel after all. I had a really clever idea for a heroine. She was (is) quirky and strong and loving. And then I read A Girl Could Stand Up and was so completely blown away by the humour and the love and the humanity that I realised I could never top that. But maybe I can still write something that will stand up beside the invincible Elray and her spirit of adventure that never even leaves home.

A Fine Balance

by Rohinton Mistry

FINDING THE BOOK: Wandering downtown with my dad; discovering a comfy used bookstore/coffee shop; stumbling on a critically-acclaimed novel in the Indian diaspora I revel in, finding that the volume in question is a flawless first edition.

READING THE BOOK: Rohinton Mistry is an undisputed master of plot, character & setting. A Fine Balance is finely wrought and enlightening. And the conclusion is the most depressing thing I've ever read and a total let down. I wish I'd stopped a chapter early.



by Joan London
Another great "buy one get two free" find, Gilgamesh is a promising, strong moving tale of what it is to be a woman -- a lover, a mother, a sister, a daughter. To travel and return home. To have hopes and dreams and to live in reality. Highly highly recommendable, but be warned that it may make you want to leave home and see the world.


by Kurt Vonnegut
I'm all about the Blue-footed Booby -- those are some seriously cool birds. And Vonnegut's writing has been so front-of-mind since his recent demise, so I was pleased to find this in a stack of books recently delivered by WonderBarber. But I can't say that I particularly loved this book. It was clever. And somewhat entertaining. But there certainly wasn't very much story for the amount of time it covered (a million years), and the whole concept of human devolution was a little ... anti what I believe -- that humans are great and capable of greatness just as we are.

Eye In The Door

by Pat Barker
The most horrific conception of a panopticon ever gives this book it's title. Truly creepy to the degree only, I hope, an Edwardian prison can be.
Aside from that, The Eye in the Door is book 2 of the Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy. Unfortunately I read them out of order so I'm always somewhat confused as to which elements were in which book. But I know they were all good -- for a full review see Regeneration in this list, or The Ghost Roadin Booker Me.

A Dirty Job: A Novel

by Christopher Moore
I finally finished A Dirty Job: A Novel today. It's not that it was a long read - I think I started it on Thursday. It's just that it's been sitting on my book self for a while. I was saving it, because I'd loved Christopher Moore's other books so much and wanted to really savour this one as well.
It did not disappoint.
Christopher Moore has this incredible ability to be completely irreverant and entertaining while still being intelligent. He's funny without being gross. Clever without being obscure. And humane without being sentimental. And his characters - be they uber beta males like Charlie Asher or Luminatus wunderkinds like his daughter Sophie - are quirky and believable.
I'm not a horror/fantasy kind of girl. So it continually surprises me how much I enjoy Christopher Moore's books. But I do. I really really do.

The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios

by Yann Martel
Yann Martel is incredible. His Life of Pi is a book I wish I could read over and over without knowing the ending, and this collection of short stories from early in his career shows the same magic, mystery and brilliance.
The title story, about a young man supporting his best friend who is dying of AIDS was really moving for me; I wish I'd read it before Deb got really ill as I think it would have helped me remember who she was.
The second story joins two things that, in my mind, just naturally go together -- literature and music -- in a simple character sketch with minimal plot and maximum interest.
I should have skipped "Manners of Dying": a collection of different versions of a warden's letter to a mother after her son is murdered legally while in prison. Too many issues there for me.
And finally, Martel's touch of magic returns in the final story. You have to read it. It's wonderful.
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