Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wild: a review

"Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, 
and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. 
I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave."
Cheryl Strayed.

That I read Cheryl Strayed's book Wild while going through the selection process for my own grand adventure is a timely coincidence. There is nothing about her solo journey along the Sierra mountain trails from southern California to Salem Oregon that appeals to me, except that she did it, and that she grew along the way. Adventure, for me, takes a different shape, but I completely respect her commitment to the experience, and I envy her incredible gift for telling her story. 

Often adventure memoirs are written by athletes/outdoors people who have a good story but not necessarily the means to tell that story well. Strayed has both the story and the tools to tell it.

This is a book I will re-read. That is not something I do often, as there are so many stories out there waiting to be read. I feel as though on first reading I took in the story of Strayed's journey, and that a re-reading will foreground the lessons.  As an author, Strayed is witty and self-aware. In contrast to my trouble remembering that Z was a novel, with Wild I had trouble remembering it was a memoir because the plot, characters and setting all move so well in the narrative. 

Buy on Amazon 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Great Gatsby: a book club review

One page in I find myself re-reading Fitzgerald's sentences, not because they are arcane or overly complex but because I so enjoy the feel and sound of them. After resisting reading the 'American Classic' The Great Gatsby I was immediately captured by Fitzgerald's elegant style: 'If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life ...' The writing is refined but not precious; captivating without being ornate - a pretty cocktail dress that makes you stand at full height and want to dance, not a corseted gown that forces you into pretending you are someone else. Quotable without cliché. 

Fitzgerald is flawless at translating into text the breathless reclining ennui we (I) associate with youthful wealth and the excess of the Roaring Twenties - wealth that has been granted rather than gained; excess that attempts to feed the gaping maw of meaninglessness. Yawns, whispers & mumbles seem to be the main methods of communication for the inhabitants of West Egg, the creatures of East Egg exerting themselves only far enough further to add sneering to the repertoire.

It's easy to be seduced by both the richness of the scenes & the beauty of Fitzgerald's language. It's easy to overlook the sneering that is exercised by both the inhabitants of East Egg & Fitzgerald himself. It's easy to be sucked into the glamour, right up until you are slapped in the face with the violent, amoral seediness of it all. The adultery. The scheming. The abuse of self and others. It's an ugly world in an alluring wrapping, scene after scene of beautiful decay. It's a short short novel and so beautifully constructed in plot and language that nothing is missing.  

I loved this book. I really did. I should really learn not to judge things by their 'American Classic' or 'Oprah Book Club Selection' status. ;-)

Amazon Associate Link

I may have mentioned this every month for the past year, but I LOVE MY BOOK CLUB. And it was such a treat to get to host this month for such a fun, theme-party-friendly meeting. Themes make planning so much easier, and as much as I made fun last year of people having Gatsby themed parties with no apparent awareness of Fitzgerald's message of condemnation for the excess. And yet ... Gatsby patio party it is! 

Of course, I don't have Gatsby's budget. Let's face it, right now I don't even have Nick Carraway's budget, so we settled for food, dressing the patio up, download a free font for a bit of home-made signage and find recipes for a signature drink or two, et voila - suddenly the back yard is East Egg.

Toasting our amazing group
Of course, all the sparklers and deviled eggs in the world wouldn't matter without the fabulous ladies, great conversation, and laughter. When you move from 'ejaculate' to 'evocative' in a matter of seconds, you know you're at book club. 
Happy Hostess

The Menu
Gin Rickey (Welcome Cocktail)
"the well-disciplined child held to her nurse's hand and was pulled out the door, just as Tom came back, preceding four gin rickeys that clicked full of ice."

Hors d’Oeuvre:
Angels on Horseback (oyster & shrimp), Classic Meatballs, Deviled Eggs, Mixed Olives, Waldorf Salad, Spinach Dip & Crudités, Mixed Nuts 
"On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d'oeuvre ..."
Lemon Bundt Cake
"Together we scrutinized the twelve lemon cakes from the delicatessen
shop. "Will they do?" I asked. "Of course, of course! They're fine!" and he added hollowly, ". . .old sport."

Lemon Tea
"I had them both on their feet with the desperate suggestion that they help me make tea in the kitchen when the demoniac Finn brought it in on a tray."

French 75
"I had taken two finger bowls of champagne and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental and profound."

Beautiful flowers perfect the scene
PS - I apologize for not getting this posted sooner as I know Little E likes to look for her mention. It was a bit of a crazy week. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

the semantic lion

The other day my counselor, who is absolutely fantastic and a certified Yoda (if there isn't a certificate in that, there ought to be) asked me, "Do you know how courageous you are? Do you ever really think about that?" I answered no, and no, and said I'd ponder on it.

It's not that I think I'm not courageous; it's just not on my mind a lot. I don't consider myself fearful, so being courageous doesn't have the same zing for me as it might for someone who has a lot of fear to overcome. The trendy definition of courage that has been drilled into me is 'feeling the fear and doing it anyway,' but according to the dictionary a more accurate definition is 'fearlessness' so ... that fits a bit better.  

As per usual, I'm being clever with words to get around the issue. His point was really that - in his observation - I am missing some central awareness that who I am is kinda kick ass. Apparently he's of the opinion that I do things in a way that's kinda ... ballsy. At least, I think that's what he was saying, but in more counsel-ory words.

"Bold" is a word I would describe myself with before "courageous," but bold also has a slight brassy tinge to it that I don't find particularly attractive. It's right up there with being a 'broad.' I know I've got a fair degree of 'bounce-back' and my fair share of 'keeping on,' and perhaps at some point that becomes courageous. But is the blow-up clown courageous because it bounces back every time you punch it? No. That's just what it is designed to do.

Anyway, I said I'd ponder the question. And so I'm pondering. Really, what I think of when I think of courage is the Bible verse (which was read at JJ's dedication service because when you give your kids Bible names it makes the dedication service easier for the pastor, but once again I digress):

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,
for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9

Thursday, July 17, 2014

100 truths

As you may have noticed, I have been SUPER uninspired of late in the online writing world. I've even stopped reviewing the books I've been reading, though I feel as though there's a shift in the offing, and things are about to burst open. I look forward to that like a cooling summer rain of the torrential, soak you to the skin kind we used to have when I was a kid.

In the meantime, I saw this today and thought it looked like good fun, and maybe a conversation/thought starter:

100 Truths (as of 5:00 pm Thursday, July 17):

1. Last beverage → water - we're staring off pretty dull here
2. Last phone call → my dentist's office - oh wow, even better!
3. Last text message → I'll keep you posted
4. Last song you listened to → Weird Al's Word Crimes (which no fewer than 6 people on Twitter and/or Facebook said made them think of me
5. Last time you cried → July 5

6. Dated someone twice → Yes
7. Been cheated on? → Not that I know of
8. Kissed someone & regretted it? → Oh yes
9. Lost someone special? → Yes
10. Been depressed?→ Only the majority of my adulthood ;-)  
11. Been wasted? → Yes

12. Periwinkle
13. Teal
14. Aqua

15. Made new friends → Yes. YAY!
16. Fallen out of love → Intermittently
17. Laughed until you cried → Yep
18. Met someone who changed you → You bet
19. Found out who your true friends were → Maybe not so much this year, we've crossed that bridge already
20. Found out someone was talking about you → Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
21. Kissed anyone on your top friends list? → Well, my BF is on my Top Friends list, or he would be if that still existed.

23. How many kids do you want to have → Just the two I already raised
24. Do you have any pets → A bunny & a cat (who technically isn't mine but lives with us and I feed him)
25. Do you want to change your name → Nope! I love my name
26. What did you do for your last birthday → Road trip?
27. What time did you wake up today → 7:30, then 7:39, then 7:46, then finally 7:58
28. What were you doing at midnight last night → Snoring
29. Name something you CANNOT wait for → August 1
30. Last time you saw your father → July 7 :)
31. What is one thing you wish you could change about your life → To be kinder to myself
32. What are you listening to right now → Co-workers yammering
33. Have you ever talked to a person named Tom → Only when he talks to me first ;-)
34. What's getting on your nerves right now? → See #32

36. Whats your real name → Shannon
37. Relationship Status → Living in Sin
38. Zodiac sign → Aquarius
39. Male or female → Female
40. Elementary → Don Titus
41. Middle School → Didn't exist in my era or in my wee little town
42. High school → Chetwynd Secondary
43. Hair color → Intermittently blonde
44. Long or short → Long
45. Height → 5'10"
46. Do you have a crush on someone?→ Yes
47. What do you like about yourself? → I keep on
48. Piercings → Just my ears
49. Tattoos → Not yet
50. Righty or lefty → LEFTY WOOT!!

51. First surgery → Cesarean section to have Josh
52. First piercing → My ears at 16
53. First tattoo → I'm sure I'll let you know if that happens
54. First best friend → Shannon - 43 years & counting :)
55. First sport you joined → Basketball
56. First pet → Tigger, the Cat
57. First vacation → First big trip as a kid, across Canada.
58. First concert → Michael W. Smith. Seriously
59. First crush → Dale Swanton. There may have been earlier, but that's as far back as I can remember.
60. First alcohol drink → Old Style Pilsner dregs at a BBQ. I was 5, and still hate the smell/taste of beer.

61. Eating → Not yet, but soon
62. Drinking → I've run dry! EEK!
63. I'm about to → Go to a fun sale, meet up with a girlfriend, go for drinks/food/listen to music
64. Listening to → The hum of my office computer
65. Waiting for → The World to Change

66. Want kids? → Maybe grandkids in 7-10 years
67. Want to get married?→ Nope. Fool me once ... ;-)
68. Careers in mind? → Not careers so much as paid experiences

69. Lips or eyes → Lips
70. Hugs or kisses → Hugs
71. Shorter or taller → Butt
72. Older or Younger → It varies from person to person
73. Romantic or spontaneous → Spontaneity is romantic
74. Nice stomach or nice arms → Arms
75. Tattoos or piercings→ Tattoos
76. Sensitive or loud → Sensitive
77. Hook-up or relationship → Relationship
78. Trouble maker or hesitant→ Ugh. Can't he be bold and NOT a brat?

79. Kissed a stranger → Yes
80. Drank hard liquor → Yes
81. Lost glasses/contact→ No
82. Sex on first date → *blush*
83. Broken someone's heart → Yes
84. Had your own heart broken → Yes
85. Been arrested? → Nope
86. Turned someone down → Oh yes
87. Cried when someone died → Yep
88. Liked a friend that is a girl? → Nope

89. Yourself → On good days
90. Miracles → For sure
91. Love at first sight → It's a nice idea, but ... I need a little something more to go on
92. Heaven → Yes
93. Santa Claus → Never did
94. Kissing on the first date? → Yep
95. Angels → Yes

96. Is there one person you want to be with right now? → Yep
97. Had more than one boyfriend/girlfriend at one time? → Define boyfriend
98. Do you believe its possible to remain faithful forever? → Yes
99. What's the one thing you cannot live without? → Language

100. Posting this as 100 Truths?→ Yes.

Huh. I thought that would be more fun than it was. Guess I'll go back to killing time with BuzzFeed quizzes.

Monday, July 7, 2014

the curious incident of the dog in the night time: a review

I stole Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time off of NL after he read it for a course and loved it. Although it takes a moment to get into, the framework of the story was an interesting concept. Mark Haddon has created a world that could have been gimmicky, but is in fact quite compelling once you get past the odd sentence structure and learn to interpret the narrator Christopher's explanations.

What makes Curious Incident unique is the voice of the narrator Christopher, a youth narrator on Autism spectrum (I am not qualified to discuss whether Christopher is in any way representative of anyone else on the Autism spectrum, and that diagnosis is never mentioned in the novel, but it is at worst an available explanation for Christopher's idiosyncratic experience of life).What the narrator describes is his limited interpretation of a world he relates to with limited tools. Or perhaps not limited, but focused in a way that is different from the general population.

The Christopher doesn't read facial expressions and takes spoken words literally is part of what makes him an excellent beginning detective; he is led only by the facts. There were points in the novel when Christopher's interior/exterior divide makes reading the story difficult. For example, following one particularly traumatic event Christopher retreats into catatonia. He is still the active narrator experiencing and sharing his own inner trauma and his observation of how others interact with his unresponsive body.

I think I recommend this one. Or, I recommend it to certain people. There's a lot more to it, of course, including the use of some of 'Christopher's' sketches within the text, that makes it an interesting book for a writer to read. I'm just not sure the rest of it holds up outside the unusual framework.

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