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.

The Da Vinci Code: Special Illustrated Edition

by Dan Brown
This was so much better than I expected it to be. You can tell throughout that Dan Brown isn't really that good a writer but had a really clever idea. Plus, the edition my buddy John lent was a beautiful illustrated one with pictures of all the artwork that is mentioned in the book and pictures of the architecural masterworks.
Of course, those of us who belief in the divinity of Christ and the veracity of the Bible have to get over that in order to engage in the story, but, for me at least, reading about somebody else's wacky ideas doesn't change what's real to me.

Breath, Eyes, Memory

by Edwidge Danticat

The thing I like about first novels that get rave reviews, make best-seller lists, and are chosen for Oprah's book club is that someday I would like to write a first novel that gets rave reviews, makes best-seller lists and is chosen for Oprah's book club (though I would laugh in her face and spite myself out of a million additional sales, but more on that another time).

I probably wouldn't have read this particular first novel except that my dad recommended it. And left it at my house, and I am both a daddy's girl and lazy enough to read what is at hand. I tend to avoid books that have been chosen for Oprah's book club. Sure, lots of the books on this list have been on the OBC, but I either read them before I knew that, or I had some other reason (like laziness) to pick it up.

I have to say though, I'm generally a woman of strong opinions, and with this book I just don't know. I don't think I liked it, but I can't say for sure if it was the book's atmosphere (it seemed parched) or the unlikeable characters (that mother, and her mother, might just have been doing what they know to do, but come on now!) or it might just be that there didn't seem to be much plot or movement.

On the other hand, maybe I did like it. It had a mostly exotic location (Haiti) which I generally like. And the girl seemed intelligent enough. And there was that whole thing about the pig.
All in all though, I think no. Nope, I didn't like it. I don't think.


Courage Consort

by Michel Faber
I've been opening up my novel-locked mind lately to the joys of short fiction. Partly because that's what I'm writing so I better figure out what works, and partly because some of my favourite novelists (if you haven't read Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White don't talk to me again until you do!) have some great collections out. That and I have no attention span any more.
Anyway, "The Courage Consort" is the first of three novellas in this collection, each one a schooling in brevity, clarity and depth. The title story involves a vocal ensemble's fortnight in a Belgian retreat and all the personal and professional intimacies that come to the fore in that time. Sexual tension that causes pain. Personal pain that causes tension. And just enough of the supernatural to keep things really tense. No wonder I'm exhausted this week!
Faber's real strengths (and two of my favourite things in writing) are character development and the slow revelation of a character's depth. And nothing in this collection changes that. "The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps" made me want to cry, and to slap someone, and to hug the heroine, and to get a dog. And "The Farenheit Twins" made me want to cry, and to slap someone, and to hug the twins, and to institute universal parenting courses as a requirement for pregnancy.
In short, Faber is a genius at expressing humanities depth and shallowness, and I can't wait to learn more from his writings.


by Toni Morrison
It took me three tries and some ghost fighting therapy to finish Morrison's Nobel Prize winner. It's as captivating, mysterious and soulful as the titular character. Fierce love. Amazing grace.

Another World

by Pat Barker
I really really liked Barker's The Ghost Road trilogy. Of course it was disturbing - it's a trilogy about neurasthenics during World War 1 - but it was also compelling and compassionate and deeply rooted in reality. The doctor and his patients are all drawn from real hospital records.
Unfortunately, Another World isn't like that. It's a ghost story, which is all well and good if you like ghost stories, but I don't. And even worse, it's a ghost story based on the worst of human nature. Unspeakable aspects of human nature. And really who needs that?
The biggest problem with the story is that Barker is SO skilled at creating a world that pulls you in. And I really didn't want to be in this one.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

by Mordecai Richler
Whodda thunk it that a 38 year-old WASP living on the west coast of BC in 2006 could identify with and feel for a 17,18,19 year-old Jewish boy living and learning in late '50s Montreal. This was my first forray into the world or Mordecai Richler, and it's a charming world I look forward to re-visiting. A world where people aren't perfect, but at least they are self-aware, and that's so much more fun.

Another Roadside Attraction

by Tom Robbins
While somewhat less bowled-over by this Robbins than by Jitterbug Perfume, I still say he is the best writer of the modern era, and I still intend to read his entire output. I just hope he finds a less obvious target in his other books than Catholicism. Surely a man of his talents has insights into less obvious enemies.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

*breathe in* *breathe out*

What a day. And what an opportunity to learn. Tonight I had my hardest yoga class yet - the room felt hotter than it ever has, and I felt weaker, less balanced, and less flexible. And then I got out of my head (a very unpleasant place I've been trapped all day), and into the room, and it all just disappeared.

Driving home there was another stunning island sunset. They seem to be frequent this autumn, and the timing was perfect (even though I didn't have my camera). By the time I turned left onto my street, the yellow had faded to orange, the pink had turned to purple, and I'd witnessed the entire transformation.

A quick chat with Cowboy. Pasta dinner with BB1 & his buddy. Picking up BB2 from work (have I mentioned how proud I am of him? A full day of Grade 12 then straight to work, a 4 1/2 hour shift and he's still clever and pleasant and funny and grateful). And now it's time for bed.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's class. And tomorrow's lesson.


I haven't forgotten about blogging again. In fact, in yoga class it's about all I think about, which is really not the time or the place. I just haven't had much to say.

TheMummy, on the other hand, has some fabulous pictures from her current visit (with TheDaddy) in Turkey. That's probably far more fascinating than my commiserations ... go - view the mosaics. Be inspired.

Looks like an unbelievable trip ... though it will be nice to have them home in 10 or so more days.

(PS - Tuesday weigh in -1.4 pounds. "I'm Hot" Challenge 5 classes in 6 days)

Sunday, September 13, 2009


So, after just 2 days, the 14 day "I'm Hot" Bikram Yoga challenge has hit a snag. I carefully checked the Bikram Saanich schedule; planned my weekend around it; enrolled BB2 & his mifole in coming with me tonight; packed 6 towels (2 each), 3 waterbottles, and some change just in case; headed out in plenty of time to get good spots since it's free weekend at the studio; and arrived only to be told "oh, we decided to cancel the last class today."

Several WTFs later, we piled mat, towels, bags & teens back in the car and headed to the downtown studio just in case they had a 7:30 or 7:45 class. No such luck.

We're back home. And I'm truly disappointed. It had been an up and down day already, and I was looking forward to sweating out some of the upset and going to bed physically drained and mentally clear.

I know that the integrity of my challenge still exists, since I did everything I knew to do to keep my commitment. But I'm still disappointed. I was really looking forward to saying I'd gone every day for 14 days, and now I'm going to restart.

Sometimes it doesn't matter what you want or what you're committed to ... it just doesn't go that way. And that thought just about makes me cry.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The "I'm Hot Challenge" Kick off.

Okay, it's not exactly a kick off in the way that, say, an Olympic opening ceremonies is a kick off, or a store grand opening with LOW LOW INTRODUCTORY PRICES is a kick off. But, I figured I'd make Day 1 of my 14-day yoga challenge sound like a celebration rather than like the 'oh man, why did I say I'd do this?' morning that it I feel.


I'm in my stretchy short shorts. Which are not ideal apparel for someone with 31 pounds to lose. And a t-shirt. I know I should be in some sort of tanky crop top, but let's not get crazy ... maybe in another 20 pounds. And once I have my scars & stretch marks magically reduced. Oh, and I didn't shave my legs. (Isn't THAT a pretty picture?) I am what I am. But not what I'm going to be.

Oh, speaking of pretty pictures, I took several before photos this morning. Full body self portraits are not my specialty, but they do the job. And I certainly wasn't going to wake BB1 up so he could help me with that.

TheMommy gave me her spare yoga mat sometime ago ... like, maybe 6 months ago. And I've just now removed the plastic wrapping. So I guess I can't stall any longer. Towel - check. Mat - check. Water bottle - check. I'm off on my new adventure!


I meant to write this right after class, but BB2 was waiting for quality mom/son time, so I had a little time to let things brew. During class I was a wreck. This isn't ACTUALLY my first time at Bikram yoga - I went sporadicallly throughout 2008 (like maybe all of 10 times). But it's been a while, a while during which I've thoroughlyl neglected my body, failing to supply it with adequate nutrition or rest. Which is to say, class was REALLY REALLY hard, I had to sit through several poses, I was nauseated & dizzy more than once, and I thought it was a REALLY bad idea to be there, let alone to say I'll come back.

And then it was over. And I was surprised how quickly it was over. And I felt elated, not that it was over but because I felt like I was IN my body for the first time in months. I was flushed, tired, and exhilarated all at the same time. I felt like I'd spend 90 minutes taking care of myself, which is more time than I spend in the average month. And I couldn't wait to get back tomorrow morning. Oh, and I was CRAVING good-for-me food on the way home! How weird is that? Who craves pears?

Since that initial post-yogic bliss, I've continued to be grateful to myself for sticking it out this morning when I wanted to leave the room 20 minutes in. And for being gentle yet strong when my body was telling me to. My neck is a little stiff, but that's nothing that a quiet night at home won't

No, I'm not going to post these massive missives every day of the 14-day challenge. But I might send a little flare up now and then, maybe the day that I complete every pose. Or the day I can lock my knees out or the day my fingers are under my heels for Uttanasana. Until then, namaste. :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

It's not Hot - I'm Hot

So, as you may or may not have noticed, I've been a bit in and out of focus on the whole 'lose weight, eat right, take care of your body and it will take care of you' thing. Even as I write this I am digesting a healthy healthy breakfast & lunch, yet chowing down on a giant rice krispie square. Like I said, consistency is definitely lacking.

Part of my 'problem' is that I know I can lose weight - I've been proving that since I was about 13. I've actually found that it's quite easy for me to lose weight through diet. I also know that I am not the least bit interested in/committed to any sort of health plan that occurs to me like denying myself what I like - a little rum & coke, some sugar mixed with fat, red meat, DQ treats with my sons, Sunday brunch, etc. If I have to cut out any of that, it's a no go.

What I also know, but sometimes forget (and this might be more surprising to you), is that I actually REALLY REALLY love being active. Oh sure, you might say "if you love it so much why don't you do it more," but the truth is there is hardly a sport or sport-like activity that I don't enjoy. Team or individual. Indoor or out. On a mountain top or in the water. I quite enjoy all of that. Walking, hiking, swimming, biking, golf, softball, kayak/dragonboat/outrigger, climbing (who knew!), etc. You name it I like it. Except volleyball, but whatever.

I considered that maybe one of the things that's missing is that doing stuff I enjoy and/or doing stuff that is good for me gets a pretty dismal 'worth the time' ranking. Which would be believable except that I almost always have time for TV (I'm multi-tasking, honestly) or for being online. Right. That's not it.

But, maybe it doesn't really matter WHAT's missing. Maybe Nike was right and I should 'just do it.' I am willing to try that on. And, the timing must be just right since one of the first emails I received this morning was for a 6 week fitness bootcamp, and it actually piqued my interest. Normally my response would be 'are you joking?', but it piqued my interest. I thought about it. I thought about phoning and asking for more information. But it wasn't quite what I'm looking for.

What I've really been thinking a lot about, and am very interested in, is returning to Bikram Yoga classes. I've been to several classes in the past, and - aside from the nasty ass puddles of sweat - really enjoyed the whole 90 minutes. I left feeling more alive than I do on the average day, and it coincided with my inexplicable weight loss. And also with sleeping well. And feeling well. And being proud of myself and my body.

So, that's what I'm going to do. I did a little research today, and Bikram Yoga Saanich has a 2-week unlimited pass for just $39. This Friday I am going to go to the 9:30 am class, buy the 2-week pass, and attend a class every day for the following two weeks.

Now, you might think that I am not at all reliable for this, and you'd be right. In fact, I am absolutely clear that I am not reliable for this. And, that's the point of posting here. So that you can follow up with me, or, better yet, join me!

Namasté - I'll see you on the mat!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

City girl loves country boy - it's a trend

Apparently I am not the first city girl to fall for and blog on about a country boy. Apparently Pioneer Woman has been raving about her Marlboro Man for years, and winning awards and making money at it (note to self: figure out how to make money at blogging).

Little Miss Sunshine just recommended this good readin' to me, and I think y'all might like it as well. It's aw-shucksy, down-home charmin' and highly recommended: http://thepioneerwoman.com/

where did I put my mask?

To the casual observer, it probably looks like my life is pretty full of people. I live with my two mostly-grown sons, I have a loving boyfriend, I'm close with my parents & sisters, I have a wide circle of friends and I enjoy a busy social life. And that's not even counting all my social media 'friends' or work/business contacts.

But I'm beginning to realise, more and more the past few weeks, that despite the abundance of love and connections in my life, I really don't let anyone contribute all that much and I'm pretty certain that the best way to do things is on my own. My steed might be a teal Honda, and my mask might be a facade of 'I'm fine - don't worry about it,' but inside that I'm on my own, no help is coming, and that's been the way I like it.

To be honest, it sucks to be the Lone Ranger. Most of the time I end up tired, frustrated and annoyed that other people don't step up. I don't really know what's going on with other people because I'm busy racing from town to town putting out fires and rescuing orphans. And at the end of the day I've done it on my own so there's no one there to celebrate/commiserate with. Oh, and you never really get to be yourself if you're busy hiding behind a mask.

What REALLY sucks though, is I know this is what I've been doing and I know it's not what I want but I'm not really sure what it would take to do things differently. And, to be honest, I'm a pretty high achiever on my own, so it's possible that it doesn't even look like I need/want help. But I do.

I see now that some stuff that really matters to me just isn't going to happen unless I can learn to play with a team and accept some help - stuff like losing weight healthily, being rested & energized, doing work that matters AND that pays me well, writing, having a great family reunion in October, and creating a fabulous birthday part for CindeRita - but where do I begin?

GAHhhhhhhhhhhh. Tonto, are you out there?

(PS - for those who are following along, yes I did gain weight again this week +1.2 pounds)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Crisp Mornings & Blank Pages

I adore September. Or, at least I used to. When I was 5 Shiny Shan got to go to school and I stayed home. Freckles had left for school the year before, and there was nothing I wanted more than to go with them. So mom mixed GORP and taught me to read. Or I went next door and Shiny's mom taught me to make chocolate chip cookies and play solitaire. And finally - after 12 long months - it was my turn. I got on the bus, sat next to Shiny and after a long bumpy ride arrived in a world of chalk dust and special projects (paper made from blue jeans, anyone?) and endless shelves of magic-containing books.

For the next 14 years every September meant a return to that world. The smell of the chalk (or better yet, Mom's photostat machine in the office!). The blank notebooks begging to hold my thoughts. The open access to libraries full of books.

And then I took a break, and had the BB's but I eventually came back for more Septembers. Somewhere in that break chalkboards had been replaced with whiteboards and their own distinctive smells. But I still cherished the blank page, the fresh pen, the opportunity to learn.

After 5 more years of university, I thought I had it in me to head out into the world and take on lifelong learning on my own. But still, every September, I crave the start of something new, the chance to learn, the excitement of the first day, and the buzz of a classroom of colleagues.

I've never given up on my dream to finish my PhD. But that's not it ... there's a difference between being a life-long learner and being a professional student, and I'm not interested in the second one. In fact, I don't know what the pull is, but I know it's there. It's in the yearning I have to buy school supplies and the voracity with which I pore over continuing ed guides.

I don't know what I'm saying. Except I love September, the time of crisp mornings, suede boots, cozy sweaters, blue skies and fresh pages. Where they take us, only time will tell.


It's Tuesday, which lately means weigh in day. Last week I was down half a pound. Just one measly half a pound despite walking and obsessively tracking my calories, and even though I knew my calorie intake wasn't balanced (wherefor art thou, protein?) I was still under. And I only lost one measly half a pound. Given the percentages, half a pound is pretty much equivalent to no loss at all. But that was last week.

This week, I gained a pound. Gained. Yes, I had been less careful about my tracking on Live Strong, and yes I've been so tired and worn out that I've indulged in eating junk. But I still tracked, up until Sunday, and I was still under my allowable calories, even on the days when ALL I ate was junk. So I'm somewhat frustrated ...

Cowboy and I like to be active. We like to adventure. And there are few sports/activities that we don't enjoy (including my first time indoor climbing last week! SO FUN!!), and I really want a body that I feel confident will allow me to keep actively adventuring through life. Besides which, I'm really committed to arriving in Mexico in January 30.4 pounds lighter (thus the beach bod tracker on the left)!

I want to live a balanced, healthy life, which to me includes eating the foods I love sometimes, and not having my whole day wrapped around fat/calories/sodium/sugar. I want to LIVE, and obsession and denial do not occur to me like really living.

Last Fall/Winter I was completely at peace with my body. I felt great about how I looked, I was confident and I almost never worried about what I ate or felt like I needed to force myself to exercise. And in that state of relaxation & focus on other aspects of life I lost 15 pounds ... I didn't work it off, it just disappeared.

Interestingly, I came upon a magazine article last week that explains the psychology/science behind what, for me, had been an inexplicable loss. Somewhere in between paying attention to how I treat my body and relaxing and enjoying it for what it is is the magic for a long, happy, active life. I just hope I can find that sweet spot again.
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