Recap

All the books I read this year. 50 in total. Almost one a week. My only resolution is to make it 52 or more next year. I might have done it this year, but the enormous Neal Stephenson slowed me down, a lot.
Also, my Top 5 for the year is up at That Shakespeherian Rag, if you're interested.

Reviews of Reviews pt 1



Back in September, Feministing wrote a piece on sexist book reviews, citing The New York Times review of Katha Pollit's Learning to Drive as an example of such. Jessica Valenti writes:

Sometimes it seems like women are criticized just for having the audacity to speak the truth about their own lives. I'm so over this kind of hackneyed, backlashy bullshit. It's the easy way out: Don't want to bother with writing a thoughtful review of something? Just go the "harping woman" route, it's a winner!

The Times struck again, in its review of Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream. Reviewer Michiko Kakutani accuses Faludi of "recycling arguments similar to those she made a decade and a half ago in her best-selling book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (1991)" which now "feel forced, unpersuasive and often utterly baffling." Faludi's main argument, that female voices were systematically silenced post 9/11, in favour of a more macho, cowboy ethic is considered suspect. For an example in the media, Kakutani points out that Katie Couric* was made anchor of the CBS news. Never mind the pages of statistics in which Faludi points out that the numbers of female editorials, columns, and appearances on TV were in rapid decline. Never mind the threats made to those women (Pollit included) who questioned the new mindset. Never mind the drudging of their character in the media (not just the Right Wing media either). Nope, Katie Couric was on the news, so Faludi's "thesis [...] rings false."

Kakutani comes up with two other female names of news reporters, but can't argue the statistics, so zie** ignores them. In fact, it's rather funny that Kakutani engages in just the sort of shoddy work zie ascribes to Faludi. Wherever Faludi's extensive research doesn't fit this hit-and-run review, it's ignored. And that is to say, the facts and figures are never quoted.

The strongest part of The Terror Dream, for me, focuses on the immediate aftermath of 9/11. This is where Faludi is at her best, and most comfortable. As in Backlash, her research is extensive, compelling, and the conclusions drawn are uncomfortable, and thought-provoking. Agree with her or not, the fault isn't in her writing and execution. If there is a fault in The Terror Dream, it's trying to tie post-9/11 reactions to a larger, national neurosis about invaders, and how that changes how females are treated in American society. I'm not sure I'm convinced of that at all, but I am intrigued with the notion, and at the very least, now educated in some early American history.

By calling The Terror Dream "[an] ill-conceived and poorly executed book — a book that stands as one of the more nonsensical volumes yet published about the aftermath of 9/11," Kakutani leaves the reader of the review feeling like this was more of a vendetta piece. I don't think I've ever seen a more slanted review, and ironically, it speaks to the phenomenon Faludi is writing about: silencing the voices of women who dare to speak out.

Rebecca Traister in Salon also reviewed The Terror Dream, in a far more balanced way. While Traister also had some problems with the book (the opposite ones I did, actually; she finds the last bit of the book "brilliant and exhilarating"), she doesn't just throw the whole thing on the fire. Addressing critics of Faludi's methods, Traister writes:
It's a complaint that has been lodged against Faludi before: that she's a cherry-picker, rounding up the juiciest anecdotes that suit her argument and leaving the rest to languish. On the other hand: What a bumper crop of cherries!

The impression is that Faludi's work, is worthwhile, though not without problems. To me, this seems like a very fair assessment of the work.

In any polemic, and to be sure that is what The Terror Dream is, there are spaces in which to attack. But that's fair. That's what is supposed to happen. A book like this is supposed to create thought and debate. However, anytime I see a review so obviously slanted, so eagerly derisory, as was published in The Times, I smell a rat. It's too easy to give into simple nit-picking, without even considering that Faludi, on one level or another, just might be right. The Times review didn't respect the book (or the author) enough to give any consideration to Faludi's arguments, and thus, Kakutani's piece simultaneously fails as a review, yet manages to prove at least some of Faludi's arguments through vitriol.

"This, sadly, is the sort of tendentious, self-important, sloppily reasoned book that gives feminism a bad name." No, Michiko. This is the sort of thoughtlessly reactionary, sloppy, needlessly nasty review that gives rise to books like The Terror Dream. So, well done!


*Though Couric's appointment actually speaks to Faludi's thesis as well. When she moved to CBS, there were a lot of stories on her, and most of them focused on her family life.
**I'm using gender neutral pronouns here, as I'm not sure of the gender of this reviewer.

Slice of Life

Ain't he adorable?
  • After a wonderful snow day, had to get up an hour early, and leave warm bed with BoyMan in it to travel across the city to go to work.
  • Zipper on my skirt broke, so I am wearing boots over jeans, which is uncomfortable, and was only supposed to be a weekend snow measure, not a poor fashion choice.
  • Left BoyMan's house at a time that usually gets me to work 20 mins early; the joke was on me.
    I) Huge crowd at Coxwell station.
    II) One empty subway train goes by
    III) Next subway train comes. It's too full. I don't get on.
    IV) Get on the next train. At Yonge get yelled at for not moving out of the way, when there is nowhere to move to, because the people moving around me, won't move single file. This is my fault how? Be the sheeple you are, and follow each other.
    V) Big line for Bathurst streetcar. When it finally does come, the mass of humanity pushes to the doors. Woman on the cell phone in front of me says "This idiot behind me is pushing me." I give her the finger. She turns around to see that, and I say "I'm getting pushed too, what the fuck do you want me to do?" She says "Sorry." I call her a name. She shuts up.
    VI)Am 15 minutes late for work.
  • Get to work and the light above my desk is burned out.
    I)My lamp doesn't work, because it's missing some adapter thing.
    II) Co-worker's lamp doesn't work at my desk, even though all the outlets I tried work for other stuff.
    III)Go to steal light bulb from unused work station, only to find some jackass has screwed it in too tightly, and the bulb has come away from base (the screw-in part). Try to get both pieces out delicately, but -- of course -- succeed in dropping bulb. *smash* Congratulate self on at least being smart enough to have turned the power off before all this happened.
  • And the final indignity: I'm drinking Starbucks coffee. Blech.

    It's a damn good thing I have chai cupcakes with coconut frosting.

    Why is Blogger so weird? It will take the "li" tag, but only as far down as the end of the picture. That does not make sense! MAKE SENSE DAMN YOU! I HAVEN'T THE PATIENCE!
  • (Over)Due



    I did promise a post about Nobody's Mother to a commenter a while back, so that's where we'll go today.

    Nobody's Mother is mostly written from a upper-middle class, middle-aged, white, straight perspective. There is one essay from a lesbian, and one from a Native North American. I was hoping for a few more younger voices, because a common issue that child-free women have, is not being taken seriously if they're pre-menopausal. I had the same issue in asking for a tubal ligation (which I didn't get, by the way). I was 30-years old, and still got the "you might change your mind" speech, accompanied by the "what if your partner wants children?" question. (My response? "Clearly, I'm not the partner for them, then.") The majority of the essays are women looking back on how and why the came to be child-free, by choice, happenstance, lack of opportunity, etc. There's nothing wrong with this approach, but it makes the book read more like Dropped Threads than a political work, which is something I was hoping for. To give the publisher credit, there's no hint that the book is all that political, but a girl can dream.

    In fact, there is some "oh, well I'm not a feminist but..." stuff going on in there that irked me a little. Further, and I find myself doing this, I was annoyed by all the "but I like kids! really!" disclaimers. As a child-free person, I'm pretty tired of saying that. Fact is, I do like my friends' kids, but I shouldn't need to defend myself with that fact all the time. Part of the problem, is that the term "child-free" has been hijacked by a minority of people who very much dislike children, and by extension, mothers. I won't go into some of the truly awful rhetoric I've seen on child-free boards, but I will say I believe that to be anti-mama is to be anti-feminist, as much as being anti-choice is being anti-feminist. This is black and white to me, and you won't move me from that.

    I bought this book looking to shore myself up against the chorus that gets ever louder as I roll through my 30s (32 in a week and a half, there's still some shopping time left). I wanted an angry, political diatribe against all the bullshit that child-free women face, both for those who chose it, and for those who did not. I wanted viewpoints I'd never heard, arguments I'd never thought of. What I did get, was 50% "Yes, I've thought/said that" and 50% "Ugh, you shouldn't have to say this!"

    Which is not to say Nobody's Mother is a bad collection. In fact, it's very good to hear all these voices. As most of the contributors write and/or read for a living (journalists, professors, poets), the writing is uniformly excellent, and compelling. For an example, Lorna Crozier's essay is reprinted here. I think, though, that the book might stand better as an educational tool for parents, or future parents, to understand their child-free loved ones a bit better, and perhaps stop the misunderstanding of why some women would choose not to have children.

    The best essay, for me, was Katherine Gordon's, that addressed specific questions she's (presumably) often asked. I have excerpted it here:

    I'm 42 years old. I have no children. I'm very happy
    But you would be so much happier if you did have a child.
    Excuse me?
    Children are such a joy. Having one would make you really happy.
    I'm sorry. I know you mean well. But what makes you think you know what makes me happy?
    You're not complete unless you have children
    Ah. A person cannot be whole without kids? And therefore cannot be happy?
    That's right. You don't know what you're missing
    Well I can't argue with that. But I could say the same of you, of course.
    You don't have to be defensive, you know. It's not too late. You have options. You have choices
    I made my choice a long time ago.
    What kind of person are you, not wanting to be a mom?
    Someone who makes parents uncomfortable to be around, I guess -- the unhappy ones, anyway. To justify their decision to include children in their lives, parents have to judge me by their own standards and find me wanting. To dispel any discomfort they may have at being parents, they tell me what they believe I really think and feel, even when they do not know me at all.

    My Guilty Pleasure Gets More Embarrassing


    I was in University, desperately seeking some nice pulpy distraction, when my Dad handed me my first Ken Follett novel: Pillars of the Earth. Knowing my love for anything over 500 pages in mass market form, and historical fiction (Clan of the Cave Bear in the 6th grade, up to Edward Rutherford novels in the 9th grade), he simply said "You'll like this. It's about a church." And we were off.
    In the succeeding years, I'd often turn to Follett for a day or two of suspense and action. Nothing else he's written (excepting of course the new "sequel" World Without End) is like Pillars of the Earth in scope, or topic. Mostly Follett writes WWII spy stuff, a genre I wouldn't normally come near (you may know of Eye of the Needle which became a Donald Sutherland vehicle). Thing is, I liked his writing, his pace, his ability to transport the reader, his grasp of suspense (cliffhanger on the chapter ends, check!). I always describe him as writing "soap operas for men." Replace WWII France with Port Charles, and it's basically the same sort of stories. But guys like war, yeah? Ken Follett novels are one of my happy, guilty pleasures, with Pillars of the Earth always being a favourite, and one often re-read, like literary comfort food.

    Then Oprah came, and bungled the whole thing.

    I try to avoid the flavour of the week/month/year books (Da Vinci Code, Tuesdays With Morrie, that sort of thing). If Heather picked it, the odds are pretty good I won't. If Oprah picks it, I'm even more likely to stay away (though I did love The Corrections, controversy or no). Now, I do realise that Follett is already a hugely popular novelist, and that Oprah isn't blessing some new upstart, and outing them from obscurity (but since when has she, and with her kind of power, shouldn't that be what she's doing?). Oprah's also picked books I've long since finished, like Middlesex. So what's my issue here? There are a few:
  • 1. Follett writes pulp. I don't particularly care if it's about 13c England. It's pulp. Let's acknowledge that it's pulp, and not hold it up like it's a novel to change your life, Oprah. Granted her picks have been all over the board, but for the most part, she does try and choose a book that has got some sort of heft. Remember that Steinbeck nonsense?
  • 2. It's already my guilty pleasure, damn you. Don't make it more guilty.
  • 3. As I mentioned, my bookshelf is starting to look pretty Oprah approved, and that pisses me off. It's a bit hard to explain, but I'm a bit of a book snob, like I am a bit of a music snob. I don't want to (have) read the same things that every suburban soccer-mom is reading. Um, don't look at that Eat, Pray, Love entry. Ha!

    I guess I'm ambivalent about the whole thing. All at once, I think my tastes are too good for Oprah's book club, yet I don't think Follett is good enough to be in the same company as most of the other picks. What's next, Oprah? Jackie Collins*?

    * * *

    In writing this entry, I came across a cool Google tool, that I'm sure has been around for a while, and I'm just discovering now. I put "Ken Follett" in the search, and the first result was the Google Books tool. If you click on a specific book it will link you up to reviews and references... oh how nice! And to think, I'd just been using the regular old search page! Anyway, I'll be using this tool a bit more in the future, and see if it comes up with anything cool.


    *Ol' JC was also excellent semester break reading. When you've had it up to here with Gaskell, it's nice to read about Hollywood silliness
  • Writing About Writing About Writing About Writing...

    I admit it: I'm the worst blogger ever. There's no rhyme or reason to when you'll read my exciting prose. Today, half my systems are down, and I really can't do much without them, so I might as well create some content. Because you miss me. You know you do.


    With a salute to Steven W. Beattie, if you're still out there...

    If you want to know why I love Coupland so much, it’s for books like The Gum Thief.

    Reading The Gum Thief felt a lot like reading Eleanor Rigby in a very good way. I had a low-level sadness, and empathy for the time I spent reading both books. To me, Coupland is at his best when tackling the normal people that you miss, pass by, and forget about instantly. You wouldn’t remember either of the main characters, other than to think “Isn’t that guy a little old to be working retail?” or “What’s with the Death Chick?”* Coupland captures loneliness, the way it brings odd people together, and how it keeps them separate better than anyone I’ve read recently. However, The Gum Thief wanders into post-modern territory, where Eleanor Rigby did not.

    Overall, The Gum Thief is a meditation on writing itself, and thus lends itself nicely to post-modern self-reflexive narrative. While Coupland does the book, within a book, within a book, structure that Atwood used in The Blind Assassin, The Gum Thief has a different reason for employing it. Coupland makes the reader think about the process of writing, about who is writing, and why (for the record, I don’t really have any answers, just more questions every time I think about it. However, I think that’s kind of the point). The two main characters are ostensibly writing to each other, yet their voices seem strikingly similar. Roger is, in turn, writing a “bad” novel called Glove Pond about a critically lauded, yet commercially unsuccessful novelist, Steve, and the dinner party he and his wife Gloria host for their direct opposites. Kyle and Brittany (named for Roger’s “real life” co-worker, and her boyfriend) are young and successful. Kyle’s book has sold ten million copies, and his next work takes place at Staples, where the “real-life” Roger works. It gets a bit weird when I try and re-tell it, but Coupland never loses you. There are sidetracks about Bethany’s writing assignment in her one creative writing course, where she was instructed to “be” the toast that is about to be buttered. This assignment is revisited several times throughout The Gum Thief, with both Bethany and Roger tackling the task, with increasing degrees of success. Finally, we are left with a grade, to Roger, from his writing teacher, assigning him a C-** for the whole work. The reader is left wondering which part of the fiction was Roger’s fiction: The entirety? Just Glove Pond? Does Bethany really exist? Can she said to exist in a fiction? Can she be a double fiction? Is Bethany any more or less “real” than Gloria and Steve? Gum Thief succeeds, in high-style, in creating the mind-loops that good post-modern writing should.

    I really, really disliked J-Pod for the same reason dislike a lot of post-modern writing –- the self-congratulatory feel of it all. In The Gum Thief however, you’re not hit over the head with “aren’t I cle-vah?” Much like Dave Eggers’ excellent You Shall Know Our Velocity, it’s voice, not tricks, that takes the book out of traditional narrative structures, and that is the kind of post-modern writing I can get behind. Everyone in J-Pod was too busy being quirky to just be. The Gum Thief has characterization, back-story, emotion, all the things that make characters really exist, in a much as they can within fiction.


    *Actually, I’d probably critique her makeup based on mid-90s goth aesthetic and find it wanting, because I’m old like that. Not old school, just old.

    **This is all from memory. It might have been a C or C+.

    †Mark this in your calendars, kids. I don’t have a lot of praise for Eggers generally.

    A Hardback Life


    I'm currently a third of the way through Eat, Pray, Love, the Feel Good Book of the Year. Bookslut tipped me off over the summer, and I put in my reserve at the library. (How ironic that publishing doesn't really pay enough for me to buy all the books I want to read, though I guess the case could be made that I should mainly be reading the books I work with. No matter.) Three months later, I finally got my hands on a copy. Everyone is reading this book, and while I usually avoid books like that, I do trust Jessa at Bookslut (even though she steered me wrong with Sharp Objects). I'd pretty much agree with the Slate review of it*, though I'm a bit more forgiving of the "(you should) like me" tone, because I do like the author, or at least the author's persona. Too often, I'll read a book by, or about, the super-privledged (she owned an apartment in Manhattan and a house in the burbs, c'mon) and not be able to get any empathy going.

    My inability to empathise kicked in with The Year of Magical Thinking, where Didion is going through this really grotesque time of her life, and all I can think of is how many times she plugged her backlist, and how she whined about having to run the dishwasher all the time (um, hi, it's called hand-washing, some of us don't have the option). More importantly, I kept thinking about how if all this had happened to a working-class family in the States, the daughter would have been long dead, since they wouldn't have been able to afford the costly specialists needed. Also, the daughter's name, Quintana, grated. The Wiki on Didion has a great quote from Barbara Grizzuti Harrison:
    When I am asked why I do not find Joan Didion appealing, I am tempted to answer -- not entirely facetiously -- that my charity does not naturally extend itself to someone whose lavender love seats match exactly the potted orchids on her mantel, someone who has porcelain elephant end tables, someone who has chosen to burden her daughter with the name Quintana Roo....


    But back to Elizabeth Gilbert. She's likeable. Maybe it's because I got divorced about the same age as she did and spent my time howling on the bathroom floor. Maybe it's her general acceptance of the world: God isn't GOD, it's a (to coin a phrase from the Other Scottish Earth Sign) "general good intention of your choosing"; anti-depressants aren't the devil, but they're not a panacea either. She isn't every woman, but she's identifiable in myself, and I can only guess in the other women who've read her. It's why she keeps getting read. It makes me forgive her wealth (what a funny thing; I'm such a Marxist), her ability to travel with her huge publishing advance. I simply settle in, and care about what happens next. This is ultimately what makes a good book for me. I cared about Lilian in Away. I cared about the Sylvia Plath portrayed in the excellently written Rough Magic (though going back to Plath after reading that biography, I remained fairly unmoved, and unimpressed). Gilbert hasn't left Italy yet, and still has two countries to see. Still, I have a pretty good idea that I won't be let down.

    * * *


    The problem with library books, is that they tend to be hardcovers. It's only from really using the library system that I've been able to adjust to reading hardcover books. Still, I remain dedicated to paperbacks. This post on Literary Kicks sums up my feelings nicely, and also inadvertently makes a case against e-books.


    *OH, HOLY SHIT. I just said I agreed with Kaite Roiphe. It's all over people. Where's my dagger? Let me fall upon it. I feel so incredibly dirty right now.

    Have I Whinged About This Before?

    I have an English degree, from a University not really known for its Arts programs. Nonetheless, I did spend many years, reading, thinking, and writing about literature. I preferred dealing with the novel over poetry and plays, and did my best work on the Victorians. I was good at it. I wrote many a fine paper. I saw things other people didn't see (oh this crazy thing I did on Alias Grace as a re-write of Jane Eyre). So writing this blog sort of pains me at times, because I've lost the ability to write a really critical review of something. I'm not sure if it's laziness, or if the skill is lost without practice.

    Today I feel this loss keenly, as Away is a novel that deserves a critical, thoughtful review. Fortunately, other people are around to tackle that task. Here's what I can tell you: It took me a little over two days to read Away. It's not a long book, so this isn't much of a feat, but there's a lot of momentum in the writing, without a lot of actual tension, which I find interesting. Usually, a "unputdownable" book is one with a lot of tension, or cliff-hangers at the end of chapters (Sidney Sheldon saw me through Jr High school nicely). Away doesn't really do that. I didn't have the burning need to know what happens next, but rather I was carried into the novel, plastered to protagonist Lillian's side, and it kept me coming back, and reading well into the night.
    The old English major did notice a sort of leitmotif in the book, to my relief. There's something going on with skin, and scarring. It's an obvious metaphor; scars on the outside tell of the hurt on the inside. However, Bloom actually does more with the scars, blisters, ink stains, and wounds that Lillian gathers through her life. When Lillian arrives in New York, from Russia, she carries two scars: one from her mother's hot soup spoon, and another from one of the men that murdered her family. In New York, those first scars are noticed, and noted, but as the novel goes on, they appear less and less frequently, as they fade on body and in mind. In the last part of the book, I don't believe they're noticed at all. It is the blisters on her feet, the mosquito bites, the transient pains, that are administered to, and the old scars don't even get a mention. It's as if Lillian's original impetus (to cross the U.S., go up through Canada, and Alaska, and cross the Bering Straight to find her lost daughter in Sibera) matters less and less. She is pushed forward because the journey itself has become the thing, and her daughter fades, not through lack of love, but through the process of hardening, over time. When Lillian meets her final love interest, it is his skin she notices. His scars, the way his broken collar bone pushes against his skin, the bits of frostbite.
    Ink also enters the skin. Lillian works as an inept seamstress upon her arrival, and her fingers are covered with blue dots, from the ink of the silk flowers on the needle that pokes her fingers repeatedly. She gets a prison tattoo of her daughter's name in Prince Rupert. Yet these things too, fade. The tattoo isn't mentioned again, after it is done. I think this is all part of what I was thinking about the scars.
    If I had two more weeks with this book, and a deadline, I'd probably be able to give you 10 MLA formatted pages on this. But I have none of these things. So I leave you with those bits. Away is worth the read, and is worth the journey you'll take. The reviews I link to have some persnickety things to say, but I don't get paid to point out flaws, and thus, didn't really spend time noticing them.
    Also, the British cover is better.

    Blogland was on fire yesterday, quoting anti-Feminist mecha-droid, Ann Coulter. What amuses me, is that people actually take anything she says seriously, that anyone even bothers to be outraged. People, she's a 5-year old, screaming for attention. Who knows if she believes any of this crap, but you realise that she's only saying it so people will write about her, so she can see her face on TV again. She's Baby Jane, or Norma Desmond, her time is over, and she's lashing out. It's boring now; it fails to shock. Now, if she really wanted to shock people, she could do a 180, tell us how wrong she was, and proclaim herself a Rad Fem. Not that we'd welcome her, but she'd certainly get some press for that. So, as they've been saying since the dawn of the 'nets: Don't Feed the Trolls.

    Speaking of feminism SUSAN FALUDI IS BACK. Can you see I'm excited? Her first book, Backlash changed my life. Before I'd taken a couple women's studies courses, and was a bit peeved at the portrayal of women in the media. After, I was proud to be a Feminist, I was angry as hell, and I was political, with no apologies. I foist that book on anyone who mentions even a passing interest in Feminism, and even on some that haven't. It's not simply a polemic, but an extremely well-researched survey of the ways in which women in North America were undermined and systematically oppressed at the end of the 20th century. Backlash was already about 10 years old when I read it, but the conditions for women haven't much changed, and in the U.S., things like reproductive freedoms have become even more threatened. The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America is her 3rd and latest book, and I can not wait to read it. The NYT has a profile.

    I only realised yesterday that Bona Drag, the name of a Morrissey album, is itself Polari. Given the first track is called "Picadilly Palare," and I've known about Polari for a while myself, you think I'd have clued in a long time ago. These roots, my friends, are blonde. I leave you with an instructive article on the life of Polari.

    Not Really Book Related

    Things have been a bit hectic since I got back from my Montreal mini-break. The new profile photo was taken at the Botanical Gardens. Well, actually, outside the Botanical Gardens, since the two Scottish earth signs in attendance balked at the $16 entry fee. Oh sure, they throw the Insectorium in there... *shudder* No thanks.

    I did see a couple movies at the TIFF, including Control (the Ian Curtis bio pic) which I've been excited about for a while. It's a beautiful movie, especially if you're a fan of Anton Corbijn. The director's mark is all over this movie, and you always know you're in the middle of his work. That said, the dialogue and characterizations are rich, and you come away feeling great sympathy for all involved. Sam Riley plays Curtis, and does a fine job of making someone so mythologized a real person. Though, I think the guy who played Curtis in 24 Hour Party People did a better Ian Curtis dance. Control is based on the book Touching From a Distance, written by Ian Curtis' widow, Deborah. Yeah, I misted up a bit at the end.

    I was at the Virgin Festival for the two days following. Highlight of the weekend was Editors, who played on the B stage. Otherwise, I have to admit that I'm not at all cut out for festivals. Too many people, too crowded, line-ups, porta (porto?) potties. No, no, no, no.

    While I was at the Virgin Fest on Sunday, the other Scottish earth sign was at the Joy Division documentary, where he scored me this:
    Yes, that would be Peter Hook's* autograph. Ieee!!

    I was presented with the autograph while on line to see Atonement, the adaptation of Ian McEwan's brilliant novel. If you have not read this book, stop what you're doing now, go find a copy, and sequester yourself. It's one of the best things I've read in years, and that's not an uncommon opinion. Hmmm, this is the first time I've look at McEwan's website. Very thorough! Impressive! Anyway, the movie. Keira Knightley is about the smallest human being on the planet, though it works in the film, since it's set, initially, in the boob-hating 30s. She's also a really, really beautiful woman, and a fine actress, as far as I'm concerned. The movie's sound wasn't mixed down properly, so we missed some of the dialogue, and the typewriter click leitmotif was a bit annoying. And, as is the case with most adaptations, there was a pretty important element missing in the movie, which I can't talk much about, because it ruins the book. Plus, my movie reviews are worse than my book reviews. I would like to mention the stellar work of James McAvoy. I hadn't heard of him before (but not being a movie person, that's no surprise), but he's very, very good in this film. Here are the two leads on the night I saw them at the film's opening.

    Ulrich Schnauss' music is the soundtrack to the best dream you've ever had. Hearing it live and loud is like having that dream in the arms of the person you love the most. The first time I heard Schnauss, on his MySpace page I fell into a "bliss coma" (the same thing happened the first time I heard Slowdive's Souvlaki). I bought his latest record a couple hours later. The live show sounds gorgeous, but I've never been all that entertained by a guy and his laptop, no matter how nice the accompanying visuals are. So I pretty much just closed my eyes and let the music wash everything else out, which is pretty easy to do at that volume, when the bass is rattling your ribcage.

    One of the openers was Madrid, whose live show sounds more rich than a trio should reasonably be able to create live. Good stuff. Picked up their EP at the show, which is a bit more nouveau-new wave than the live show, which sounds more shoegazer/dream-pop. Either way, opening bands don't generally make such a good impression on me, so good on 'em. They're semi-local too (apparently from Niagara Falls)!

    And that's all I have for now, kids. A month of no blogging, and this is all you get. Ha! Hopefully I'll have more to say soon, since I just got my copy of Away and I'm racing through Carol Shields' Republic of Love so I can get to it. *According to that Wikipedia page, Hooky plays a Yamaha BB1200 on "Joy Division's Closer LP and every New Order album." Cool! I play a Yamaha RBX270J.

    A Woman of Excess, of Zeal and Greed

    I'm a bit scattered today, so here's a bunch of almost point-form bits and pieces that have a vague theme. Not so much on the witty commentary.

    Picked up Lost Girls and Love Hotels after reading a review on That Shakespeherian Rag, and tore through it in about two days. Excellent debut novel about hopelessness, and the hedonism that arises from it. There is a "love" story in the novel, but it doesn't seem tacked on in an effort to conform with expected female narratives. Rather it seemed to be an extension of the free-fall the protagonist is in. Love, too, is a drug, and the more illicit, the better the high.
    The American cover is hideous, and I'd have never given this novel a chance if it looked like that. Yeah yeah, book by its cover, but Lost Girls and Love Hotels isn't miso-flavoured chick-lit, and the U.S. cover leads you there. I just looked at the reader reviews on Amazon, and the first one complains about the cover too.

    Laura Albert, of J.T. LeRoy infamy, is profiled in the New York Times.
    "[...]I never really thought of it in terms of right or wrong, truth or lie. It was more like two computer programs running in my head. There was him, and there was me."

    In the last post, I wondered where I could smoke that cigarette indoors. Turns out smoking bans might be killing English literature. (The comments are also worth a look.) I know the bans killed a lot of pool halls and sketchy bars, but literature? Hey, I'll go for that.

    Bookninja linked to this footage of Anne Sexton reading her poetry. Anne's been with me through some of the craziest times, though I was warned against reading her during those times ("Don't feed your crazy!").
    No one was crazy like Anne, bless her art.


    The title of this post is a line from "Cigarettes And Whiskey And Wild, Wild Women".

    Schadenfreude Pie


    I've already admitted that I'm a bit addicted to stories of domestic distress. I'm also a capital-F Feminist. The "mommy wars" is where these two things meet up, rather uncomfortably. See, while I'm child-free, a lot of very important people in my life are mothers. Many of them stay-at-home mothers. So I've become very interested in this whole "mommy war" thing, which we know now is very much a product of the media, used to sell papers and magazines. More importantly, it's a product of the patriarchy, which has always used "divide and conquer" as a means of making sure the underclasses ─ in this case, women ─ don't rise up. Who has time to fight the real enemy, when you're fighting each other, right?

    A couple years ago I read The Mommy Myth, more as a backup to my child-free choice; I needed something to stablise my mind, in the midst of the "You just got married, when are you having kids?" chorus. At the time, my cohort was mostly child-free as well, but when I started meeting some mamas and their kids, I started noticing the "mommy wars" articles. That's when I got a hold of the excellently researched The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars. A couple months back, someone in a feminist forum (perhaps it was the comments section of my favourite radical Feminist, Twisty Faster) recommended Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. Not only does this book tackle the "mommy wars," but it takes a very serious look at how mothers are expected to be superhuman, even if they're part of the "opt-out" set. There's more than a hint of the post-feminist *cough* in here. Feminism seems to get the blame for making women take on too much, since we (those of us born in the 70s) were told that we could be mothers and career people growing up, and when that doesn't work, we still channel all that super person work ethic into raising children. The concession is made a couple times, far too briefly, that if things were just equal, if men were able to be full co-parents, then perhaps mothers would get a break, get a nap for crying out loud. However, the overriding impression is a bit defeatist: you were lied to; you can't have it all. It's the impression I got anyway. Overall though, there's some really good stuff about how hyper-parenting isn't good for kids, and that mamas need to take it easier on themselves.

    And here's the uncomfortable alliance, and full confession: I read, and sympathise, and disseminate, and support mothers. And yet, and yet... I read these books and I still have to breathe a sigh of relief, because I've got it so, so easy. I'm not sure if that makes me a total asshole or not. I suppose the blog world will have to tell me. At any rate, I've been wanting to share the following link forever now, and because the aforementioned sigh of relief just might be bordering on Schadenfreude, I bring you:
    How to Make a Schadenfreude Pie.

    The problem with all these books, is they focus on a very specific group: middle to upper-middle class (mostly) white women. They almost always miss the people who are struggling to get by, the people who don't have a choice about working, the people who don't have a choice about staying home. They miss the working poor and the single mamas. That's why I was glad to see this article the other day:
    The Working Wounded.
    The debate over whether mothers of young children should opt out of full-time work, and instead stay home with their kids, has important implications for all mothers, but the vast majority of those mothers are being excluded from the conversation. The vocabulary of the discussion -- opt out, choose to stay home -- reveals its bias: It assumes that all mothers can make a choice that, in actuality, very few mothers are in a position to make.
    Because not everyone is Rebecca Eckler (annoying).

    * * *


    In the least shocking news ever, it turns out Americans don't read a lot.
    One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday.[...]The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year -- half read more and half read fewer. Excluding those who hadn't read any, the usual number read was seven.
    I wouldn't mind seeing some Canadian numbers on this sort of thing. I assume they'd be higher, but I have absolutely nothing to base that on. More important than the statistics in that article, is the picture: where is this bar that I can still smoke in!? Tell me! I will go to it! Bah, it's probably a wretchedly old stock photo.

    By the way, if you're curious how many books this Canadian reads per year, check out the "2006 Book List" and "2007 Book List" links on the sidebar there.

    Do You Think These Lyrics Are Heartless?

    I'm currently about 150 pages into Girlfriend in Coma. Given my love of Coupland, and my love of Morrissey, you'd think I'd have hit this one sooner. I have to say, I'm completely creeped out when I'm reading it. Far more so than when reading Winterwood or any horror genre stuff. I'm not sure if it's because Coupland is hitting some deep-seeded fears in my brain (vegetative states, Armageddon), or because he's just that good. While I haven't loved everything he's written, there are books of his that can completely alter my mood, and tinge everything around me. Eleanor Rigby made me quiet, and small, and vaguely depressed, like I was walking through mist all the time. It didn't get great reviews, but I feel it's one of his finest. All Families are Psychotic, on the other hand, had me thinking "Franzen did it better." And let's not even get into the absurdity of the China sequence in JPod. Far too meta, and you know how I feel about meta*! But Girlfriend is Coupland at his mood-altering best. I can't put the thing down, till my eyes close by themselves to sleep. At the same time, I'm repelled, knowing something pretty awful is coming. It may not sound like it, given my one-line reviews, but I have a deep, deep respect for Coupland, and a love of his writing, even when it's pissing me off.

    I also love Penguin, the publishing house. When used book shopping, I'll always take a look at the orange spines first. It's how I discovered A.S. Byatt. The orange spine has always had such a calming effect on me. So you can imagine how excited I was to learn that Coupland had an exhibit up, using Penguin covers. I went to the Distillery District on Sunday to check it out, and was completely blown away. One of the things I love about Coupland, is his ease with, and reverence for, pop culture, and the sly references to it (Girlfriend has Smiths' lyrics all through it, but if you didn't know The Smiths, you'd have no idea). While it's interesting to look close up at the covers, and the words attached to them, the exhibit works best from ten feet away. I stood in the middle of that room, and turned slowly. A helpful gallery person came up to talk to me, and I asked what the pieces were going for. "$800 for a single, $1550 for the diptych." Most things had been sold, but there was one diptych left, and it read, vertically, "Dazzle Ships." The gallery person didn't know the reference. But I did. And it was still available. I really did wrestle with this. Three things I love, all together. In the end though, I'd have to go into debt to do it, and my miserly Capricorn nature stopped me. But I'll dream about it, and cry here and there. If only, if only, if only.



    *Funny that the review of Girlfriend in a Coma I link to above says: "Mr. Coupland has become the first popular mainstream author in America to publicly declare that postmodernism is dead." Though one wonders how good a review this can be, when they get the author's nationality wrong. C'mon, 99% of his writing is set in Vancouver! This is not difficult.

    The One Where I Gush Like an Idiot

    When I moved to the Thriving Metropolis, from Prairie Upstart, I worked at a Big Box Bookstore. Our location was downtown, just off a hip stretch of shopping and boozing. Perhaps it's because of this, that many of my fellow employees were young artsy types. I worked with a jazz vibraphonist, three actors, a documentary film-maker, and a writer. It's that writer I want to tell you about.

    Zoe Whittall was one of my favorite people there, but don't let that take anything away from what I tell you about her work. Whether or not you ever meet her, you'll know why I liked her so much when (not if, friends) you read Bottle Rocket Hearts. I finished the book last night, but I've been waiting for it since I heard Zoe read a snippet at the IV Lounge years ago. Then I got strep throat the week of the book launch, much to my chagrin. Anyway, I finally get the book, tore through it in a couple days, and it blew me away. Having read both of Zoe's books of poetry, I knew I wasn't going to be disappointed. Bottle Rocket Hearts probably speaks to me -- in part -- because Zoe's pretty much exactly my age, and she captures such a formative time (the years of 19 - 21) in a person's life so perfectly, and with such clarity. There's something dreamy about Bottle Rocket Hearts, like a slight haze of nostalgia is hanging over every crisp, perfectly rendered detail.

    In the first installment of this blog, I said I'm not a book reviewer, and the above is a good example of why. Let's let the professionals do it for a bit:
    Whittall's writing is eloquent and infused with snippets of Canadiana such as, "I learned everything I know about sex from Degrassi Junior High." Her writing style is Coupland-esque, which is fitting as she uses a quotation of his for her epigraph.
    Bottle Rocket Heats is full of sarcasm, name-dropping and style punctuated with a queer, feminist twist.
    It's a book I devoured page after page, yet (yes, it's a cliché, but true) one I didn't want to end.
    -Jenn Labrecque, Calgary Herald

    Zoe Whittall might just possibly be the cockiest, brashest, funniest, toughest, most life-affirming, elegant, scruffy, no-holds-barred writer to emerge from Montreal since Mordecai Richler staked out the moral terrain that would define and shape his work with A Choice of Enemies in 1957.
    -T.F. Rigelhof, The Globe & Mail


    Could I sound like anymore of a drooling fan girl? Look, I'm a book nerd. I mentioned in the Book Expo post how I get weird around authors I like. The above content is about someone I like, who's an author. I get weird because it amazes me, all the time, that people can do this. I've certainly tried my hand at it, with mixed results (from bad to terrible). So for me, a good book is a little bit of magic. I was a solitary kid, but I always had my books. I will always have my books. And yeah, I'm totally blown away that someone I know, someone I think is pretty awesome, created this amazing work, this good book. It just makes her more awesome. So she gets a bunch of paragraphs, where most authors only get a couple. Too bad.

    More on the JT LeRoy/Laura Albert story:
    Slate says what I meant, but far, far better.
    But step back for a moment: Sarah is a novel, not a memoir. It contains the same events, in the same order, no less "true" or "false" than they were before the hoax was exposed. What, with Albert unmasked, did Antidote lose? The answer, it seems, is that Antidote wanted, and paid for, and lost, the right to call Sarah a product of LeRoy's life. "We bought the identity of the book's author," one Antidote employee said. The value of the novel, in Antidote's view, depended not on what was between its covers, but on who the producers thought the author was (and on their belief that the novel derived directly from events in his life). Almost all the press around Albert's deception—including stories about the trial—has treated "LeRoy's" fiction the same way, as something akin to falsified autobiography.


    And I still need to tell you about The Birth House, and Moral Disorder. I'm a blogging machine this week!

    Crap, I'm Wearing a Tank Top Today

    Like many bloggers, I have a stat counter on my site that tells me where my hits are coming from, referring pages, that sort of thing. It also tells me what google search strings lead to my blog. With a nod to Reject the Kool-Aid, I bring you:

    Screen-cap of a google string

    You can click on this image to make it larger


    Just in case you're not sure what you're looking at, the google user typed in "Rebecca + Eckler + Annoying." Now look at where the user is located.

    It's all conjecture of course. There must be thousands of people in Calgary who find Rebecca Eckler annoying. Or maybe... Anyway, it gave me a good chuckle this morning, while I waited for my Unix system to GET ME THAT REPORT ALREADY. *ahem*

    As you were.

    The Middle Ground and Assorted Media

    I once read an issue of US magazine that a had cover shouting "Mary-Kate is too thin!" and an inside article blasting Brittney for being "too fat." I think the two women were within five pounds of each other at the time. I'm reminded of this issue because there's been talk recently, about literature, being either too "fake" or too "real."

    Laura Albert, the author formerly known as JT LeRoy, was found guilty of fraud by a Manhattan jury last week. Albert's book Sarah was optioned by a film company, but when Albert was "exposed" as the real author, the work somehow lost merit. Personally, I think it's a load of crap. I haven't read the book, but it seems symptomatic of our sensationalist age the author's personality and back story are more important than the work itself. The author wasn't a young hustler, working the truck stops of Virginia; the author was a mother from Booklyn Heights, and that doesn't sell.
    According to the New York Times "[a]fter the revelation, the company took the position that Ms. Albert had used the JT LeRoy “brand” — the same that had attracted them — as a celebrity magnet to draw attention to her books." See? The work isn't important, only the angles that will get media attention are. Sell, sell, sell. That's why movies are so shitty these days. Sensation, not content, is of the upmost importance.

    In a drastically different story, an author was assaulted when he returned to his hometown in France, because the book he wrote was a bit too real for the villagers of Lussaud.
    [I]n July 2005, when Jourde, whose previous works include unflinching and controversial portrayals of the worlds of literature and academic scholarship, arrived with his family for a summer break, six villagers appeared outside his house shouting insults. Blows were exchanged and stones thrown. A car window was smashed. Jourde's 15-month-old baby was slightly hurt and his mixed-race sons were called 'dirty Arabs'.

    You can't win, folks. I'm sitting here trying to think of (popular?) books that just breeze by, and all I keep coming up with is controversy. Not that literature has ever been immune from this sort of thing. Literature has power, huge power, and because of that, there will always be crazies trying to ban Potter for fear of witchcraft, and people making poor King adaptations (and King writing poor novels, but I digress). I just found those two stories an interesting comparison, coming through the grapevine when they did.

    In other media, Wil Murray is coming to my town next month, and he's bringing his tight pants with him. Check out the excellent article in Toronto Life and head on down to the Loop Gallery to see what happens when you "let the paint do what it wants.*" Now, someone just has to get Lee Henderson's butt out here, for the full Alberta posse effect.


    *Actual quote, circa 1998. Love ya!

    "I'm confused; is this a happy ending or a sad ending?" Book Expo 2007

    •A friend from the Penguin booth grabbed me the last William Gibson galley.
    •I missed the Kelly Armstrong signing, and it totally ruined my entire day.
    •Met Clare Clark, author of The Great Stink, at the pre-party Saturday night. She was lovely, charming, funny, and totally sweet. Good for someone like me who gets completely tongue-tied around authors I like.
    •The time seemed to go by much faster this year. Not sure why. (Confession: I'm one of those unfortunates stuck in a booth for two days.)
    •Sausage McMuffins are imperative on Sunday morning.

    This was the coolest thing ever (and I realise that by saying that I am branded -- now and forever -- a humongous dork*):


    *The PhD used to call me that. It was affectionate. I liked it.

    A Tale of Second-Hand Book Shops

    I went back to the homeland a couple weeks ago, and tore through some reading material. Vacation, to me, is lazing around reading in my parents' backyard, and yes, that's just about perfect. Perfect, other than the day I left here (32°C), and landed there (2°C and snow). Anyway, here's the lowdown from my trip to Cowtown.

    Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity, came with a recommendation from Busy Hands. Normally anthologies are a bit tough to get through, since the quality of writing varies widely. However, I loved this one, from start to finish. Nobody Passes should be the primer of third-wave thought. Nowhere else have I found such amazing examples of how sex, gender, race, class, ability, and a whole host of other markers of "otherness" all play a role in defining the experience of each person's life. Not one essay in Nobody Passes repeats a feeling, an experience, or viewpoint, from any other essay. Every piece is fresh, individual, and ultimately educational. Even the ones I identified with gave me new ideas. Cheers to the editor, Mattilda, for a job extremely well done. An early version of the introduction is up on hir site, if you're curious.

    I hit my second favourite used bookstore while I was out and about (my favourite having been closed down and turned into a tanning salon, or some other nonsense. And the people at Bookninja are trying to tell me that Calgary's not the evil yuppie nonsense scene that I know it to be. Puh-leeze). While there I picked up a random Anne Tyler book, having remembered another Femjay recommendation. I was not pleased. Ladder of Years is predictable in the extreme, and reads a bit like the romance novels the main character is addicted to... without the romance. Requisite happy ending, after specious empowerment journey. Hey, I'm down with low-lit, and "beach reads" and all that, but this one was just meh. Since I was not pleased, you don't get a picture for this one.

    On my last day, needing something for the plane, I popped into the only remaining used book store in Kensington, and grabbed Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I've been intrigued by this book for a long time, but never managed to pick it up. I do like a good Southern Gothic, and this had all the elements. Often non-fiction reads a bit too much like a dry newspaper article. Midnight reads like literary fiction, and that's a high compliment coming from me. I got home to the shock high humidity, and a book about Savannah was an excellent accompaniment. Now I want to see the film. I think it's important for you to know that I never see movies. Can't be bothered. So actually wanting to seek one out is pretty rare.

    I've had 1984 on my bookshelf for years now, and never got around to reading it. Being without any new reading material, I finally cracked it open. Good timing, as The Guardian just did a little article on it being voted as "the definitive book of the 20th century" by its readers. I have this crazy idea to read some Joyce next (filling up all those "classics" I never did in high-school or Uni). I'm just not sure I really want to tackle something like Ulysses with my head being so scattered. Though it may make for good distraction. I'll likely buy a used copy, hopefully with someone else's notes in it, and see where that takes me. One of the things I have always loved about used books, is the anonymous thoughts you sometimes find in the margins. I always get out my pencil and respond.

    The Word for Today is "Entitlement."

    Eckler bashing is a bit "old meme" at this point, but there's a reason this all came up again in my head. So read on...

    I remember telling a mama friend of mine about Rebecca Eckler's Wiped! when it came out. Well, more specifically, I was telling Mama about the review I read in the Quill & Quire (Canada's publishing trade magazine). Go ahead and read that review, then come back here. I'll wait.

    ...

    Don't you just want to find her and give a stern lecture? And by "stern lecture," I mean "a couple blows about the head." This is entitlement parenting at its most obnoxious. Most mamas I know, even the ones with "good jobs," struggle to make ends meet, and they do it without a nanny. I'm not going to say that raising an infant is easy work, no matter how much help you get. What astounds me, is that Eckler (and her editor[s?] and publisher) really thought that anyone would care about her particular "struggles."

    I'm not a parent, but I'm pretty annoyed at this whole treating your child like just another accessory thing going on here. I can't imagine anyone with kids, who didn't have the privilege that Eckler has, would be able to spend more than five minutes in Wiped World, without ripping the book to shreds, in a sort of voodoo ritual. Eckler continues the whine fest in her own blog (oooooh, I wonder if she's looking for trackbacks). "I think to find a reviewer who would 'get' and be open to someone like me would be very hard indeed," she writes. "I mean, how many other writers in Canada write openly about getting knocked up in a drunken state? (Trust me, I know a lot of babies are made that way.)" Probably a lot of 'em would, Becky, but they don't have the connections, and the cash flow to allow them to take time out from their child-minding duties to write the damn book.

    We all "get" that it's not what you know, it's who you know, and we know Eckler knows some folks. The bad reviews weren't generated because no one really understands her (the rallying cry of adolescents everywhere); the reviews exist because we know her -- and her type -- far, far too well. While fictional, and fraught with its own problems, a book like I Don't Know How She Does It sold exceedingly well because the everymama could relate, at least on some level, to the real exhaustion portrayed in those pages.

    I have a feeling Wiped didn't sell too well, and here's some interesting backup for that feeling (and the raison d'être of this post):
    "Eckler says film Knocked Up too close to home" (via Bookninja). Yep, she's suing because "'Alison' was an up-and-coming television reporter; in my book, I was an up-and-coming newspaper reporter." Oh, and the baby daddy was Jewish. And the pregnancy was the result of a drunken one-nighter. (Wait, wait, wait, didn't she say in her blog "Trust me, I know a lot of babies are made that way." She knows a lot of babies are made "that way". But she's suing?) Clearly, we're talking Viswanathan-esque levels of plagiarism here! Except, not. We're talking about a woman who
    whines about having to spend two months in Maui and begrudges her fiancé’s frustration as he forks out for endless new portable DVD players after the baby destroys them. She inadvertently spends $400 on a jean skirt for the child on a weekend trip to Paris and $1,500 on her second birthday party [...]*
    The hilarity. It burns.

    By the way, if you or anyone you know has ever gotten pregnant accidentally, by Jewish guy, while being an up-and-coming something-or-other, do let me know in the comments, won't you? Just don't bother writing a book about it.

    Edit: Steven W. Beattie at That Shakespeaherian Rag takes apart the whinge post here.
    Eckler threatens job action against those would would critique her. Well, not if they're "just some weirdo 60 year-old who still lived in his parents basement who made fun of me." It's really threatening to have educated, successful types disagree with you, ain't it? "I'm laughing so hard I basically have tears streaming down my face." Sure, hon. Her blog, it burns.
    Here is the parody blog. Go to June 1st for the redux of the "threatening" post I link here. Holy cow, who knew there was all this hubub around one self-centred *expletive*?! And now I'm feeding it (not that anyone actually reads this). UNCLEAN!
    Globe and Mail commenters go to town.

    *Quoted from the linked Quill & Quire review by Emily Donaldson. A woman. Not the "middle-age men [who] wouldn't exactly get where I'm coming from." Though what the hell do I know? I'm just a childfree person, struggling to pay the bills.

    Control/Pomo

    Hello Blogland. It's been a while; forgive me. I discovered Facebook and all the evils that go along with it.


    A.S. Byatt's The Biographer's Tale is a thin book that took me far too long to read. Byatt is not easy reading, by any stretch, and she's very hit and miss with me. However, even when she misses, I can't blame the writing, or the book, because she's just so damn good. Biographer's Tale is somewhere in between for me. I didn't devour and love it, like any of the four books in the Virgin in the Garden series, but I didn't roll my eyes like I did reading Possession. It's an odd book, that makes your brain scream "meta," even as it denounces post-modern theory, which becomes a bit meta in itself! See? Screaming brain. Problem is, I'm really big on narrative and character, and Biographer's Tale lacks both for the first half of the book, and good sized sections afterwards. So, while I deeply admire and appreciate the work itself, it's something that would have been better foisted upon me in an English lecture, rather than something for leisure.
    An excellent scholarly review of The Biographer's Tale can be found here.

    Speaking of meta, The Guardian's digested read of Don DeLillo's new one, Falling Man, is hilarious.

    I don't see a lot of movies, but I can't wait for the North American release of Control, Anton Corbijn's biopic of Ian Curtis. Looks like everyone at Cannes is loving it, but I'd see it if it got terrible reviews, just because everything Corbijn shoots is gold to me. If you're not aware of his name, you're surely aware of his work. He's worked very closely with Depeche Mode for many years on videos, album covers, and promotional photos. He's done my favourite series of Morrissey (shot for Details magazine in... hmmm, 1994?). Perhaps his best known work is the cover of U2's Joshua Tree album (and by "best known" I'm really saying "best selling").

    Atmosphere: Joy Division



    While googling for one of those Moz images, I came across this quiz from the CBC:
    Bigmouth Strikes Again: Test Your Knowledge of Morrissey. Awesome.
    I scored 9 of 10, because one of the questions is really about Coupland, and not Morrissey. Also, the quiz is too easy. Heh.

    The Sun Shines Out of Our Behinds

    A bout of strep kept me from posting, and online reading last week. Being stuck in bed was good for blasting through some fiction however.

    Polished off Cloud Atlas, which was shortlisted for the Booker, but didn't win if I recall correctly. I can't even begin to do the novel justice, so go ahead and read that linked review, as I mostly concur with it. The book is very smart, startlingly so on occasion. Twice, I -- rather audibly -- said "OH!" reading the second half. The connections are so casually thrown to the reader, and yet so essential to the whole. Excellent writing, though ultimately a bit tiring... or maybe I was just running a fever.




    The New Yorker printed the first chapter of the latest Ian McEwan novel, On Chesil Beach in December. If that doesn't grab you, then McEwan isn't for you. That's him, that's his voice. When you're reading him, you know you're reading him (which is not to say he's derivative of himself, repetitive, boring, Koontz-like. Every book stands very well, very solidly, on its own). If that tidbit did interest you, and you've not read McEwan, you should start. This moment. Run, don't walk. I recommend Atonement everywhere I go, and it's still my favourite of his. Chesil Beach is a slender novel, concentrating on character details, something I always appreciate. I do have a complaint with the strangely rushed dénouement, but I'll leave it to you to read the thing and tell me if I'm being too critical. It's just a bit over 200 pages. YOU CAN DO EET. *ahem* Also, I'm going to buy a copy for everyone who doesn't understand why Brits just can't emote, or talk about anything unpleasant. This and The Queen. Pip pip.




    My love for Morrissey is no secret; the title of this blog is from "Sweet and Tender Hooligan." Spurred on by an excellent article in The Guardian: "Morrissey - so much to answer for," I've been revisiting The Smiths today. My only problem with the article is this quote at the end: "If you notice, it's really all blokes. Men are in love with him... not women." Well, that's news to me and my estrogen! Maybe it's different in the UK, and I've certainly known my share of "blokes" who've been mad about Moz. However, there's something very appealing to women about Morrissey, who developed in his solo career all the bad boy sexuality of Kenickie in Grease (a formative film for women my age [admit it, it was never about Danny]), yet held his sensitive asexual (ahem, sorry, gay, gay, gay) self up for us to see. I think the divide is really along the lines of Smiths era Morrissey, who was a skinny outcast, and solo Morrissey, who had a swaggar and a growl (that really came out on Strangeways). The unsporty, spotty teenage boy sits in his room and seeks to identify with Smiths Morrissey (though no teenage boy will ever be so erudite, pshaw!). The unpopular, Plath loving teenage girl sits in her room, and swoons over the camp exaggerated masculinity of Solo Morrissey, who's missing none of the wit and charm of earlier years. Those teenagers are always going to be somewhat alive in us, even after we turn 30. Salut, Moz. How difficult it is not to pack this page with everything you've ever said.


    This is the way to market a book. Weeks after first seeing it, I'm still thinking about how clever it is, and it really does make me want to buy the thing. Hopefully the writing has the same slight silliness as the website, and all the creativity.

    Bass Tabs are the Communist Threat

    Last night I was inspired to look up some Siouxsie bass tabs. This is what I got for my search:
    Whats up fellow bass player? You're probably looking for the bass tablature of Siouxsie And The Banshees - Spellbound. We regret to inform you that this file, along with many other Siouxsie And The Banshees tabs have been removed due to legal pressure from the MPA. Good luck figuring this song out, we know you can do it!
    We are providing an education service to the benifit [sic] of musicians everywhere, including the artists we feature on this site, but we lack the legal knowledge and resources to fight this in courts.
    In the mean time [sic], if you want help learning the bass line of Spellbound, check out the Siouxsie And The Banshees sheet music selection at Sheet Music Plus

    Ok, so music piracy on the internet is one thing, but these are tabs for cryin' out loud. They're one person's attempt to understand the song and share it with others, so bass newbs like me can having some sort of starting point. Oh I'm supposed to buy the sheet music, am I? Well let's toddle on over and attempt to do that. OH! You've never heard of Siouxsie And The Banshees? Quell surprise! Let me tell you something else: sheet music doesn't have bass tabs. It's usually arranged for piano and voice, possibly with guitar tabs. Yes, I could just play the bass clef part of the piano score, but it would be wrong, because that's not the bassline.
    The argument, of course, could be made that I should just learn to play by ear, but I'm in the S.O.L. group that doesn't have an ear, yet. Hell, it's only been a couple months! Tabs are great because they give me a place to start, and help develop my ear. Why is the MPA so worried about that? Why does everything now come with a price tag? I have these dystopian visions of someone helping me figure out a song, and the MPA, or RIAA, or whomever, bursting into my apartment in full riot gear, waving sheet music about.

    I finished Winterwood last week. It starts in an almost identical fashion to Sharp Objects, which I read earlier this year. Reporter is sent back to hometown where creepy goings on ensue. Fortunately, Winterwood is a far superior book. It's not that Sharp Objects was bad, but it was definitely reminiscent of V.C. Andrews work, before she became a registered trademark. That was great stuff when I was 14. Not so much now. Sharp Objects got mixed reviews, but I never did feel the high tension that the positive reviewers remarked on. I guessed parts of the ending, and I hate when I can do that. To say nothing of the tacked on love interest. I get the feeling it went like this:

    Editor: "Hey there's no hetero sex in this book!"
    Author: "Yeah it's not really about that, see it's about the reporter, who's a cutter, right? And..."
    Editor: "We can't sell this without a manly man and some smoochy bits."
    Author: "Uh, well see she doesn't really have relationships like that because..."
    Editor: "I got it! He's a cop!"
    Author: *sigh*

    Possible that the author is fully to blame, but since she's an entertainment reporter, I'd like to think she'd avoid such a trap, if possible, in her own work.
    In Winterwood you get this epic downward spiral of a man, who descends into madness, slowly but surely. You're taken through every signal, every sign, in lurid first person detail, and though you know this just can't end well, you want to know, need to know, how it all ends. Just how mad can madness get? What's weird is I guessed parts of this ending too, but because Winterwood isn't set up like a genre mystery-thriller, that wasn't a Bad Thing.
    Funnily enough, I'd seen Patrick McCabe read at the International Festival of Authors last year, and hadn't made the connection at all, 'till I got to the part I'd heard before.

    "You can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make [him] think"

    Whatever you think of Yann Martel's plan to send the PM a book every other week, I think you'll agree that the most hilarious commentary on it is/will be from Nathan Whitlock. Being the cynic I am, I doubt Harper will even check out the covers, but I'm sure some of his staff with be happy with the free stuff.

    Surprise, surprise, the book I'm currently slogging through, Arlington Park, made the Orange Prize shortlist. I gotta say, I'm a bit surprised. Especially given that the chairman of the judges (how ironic, you think they'd have called her the "chairperson"), Muriel Gray, wrote this back in March:
    As a judge in this year's Orange prize, it's hard to ignore the sheer volume of thinly disguised autobiographical writing from women on small-scale domestic themes such as motherhood, boyfriend troubles and tiny family dramas. These writers appear to have forgotten the fundamental imperative of fiction writing. It's called making stuff up*.
    I kind of love books like Arlington Park, if only because they prop up my child-free self, brush off my divorced-girl ego, and say "Hey look, you're not doing so bad. See what you could have wound up with?" It's a nice little fantasy, but knowing as many mamas as I do, I know the reality isn't as constantly grey as the author, Rachel Cusk, paints it. It's a roller-coaster, yes, but people with families are sometimes -- *gasp* -- happy. Then again, Cusk writes in, and about, England. It rains almost constantly in Arlington Park (not subtle!), and that can't be good for anyone's mood. Hell, this is the first sunny day we've had here in Toronto in what feels like weeks, and it's going a long way to elevate my mood.

    *Full article, titled "Women authors must drop domestic themes" is here.

    Rainy day music recomendations, and the wonders of surya namaskar


    I've been a fan of Red House Painters for an awfully long time. Last year, I saw Mark Kozelek do an amazing set at Lee's Palace, where he also played some selections from his Sun Kil Moon project. Little Drummer Boy records that tour, including some of the Lee's Palace set. What I found so amazing about that show, is the absolute hush that came over the crowd as Kozelek played. No one sang along, no one talked to their buddies. Everyone simply stood in rapt, respectful awe. A couple acoustic guitars have never been so lush, and so melancholy (and considering all the sensitive types that play acoustic, that's saying something).


    I have no idea how well Thom Yorke's solo album Eraser sold. I'd like to think that all the crazy Radiohead types went and snapped it right up. Eraser has got a bit of sound in common with 2003's Hail to the Thief, but it's most definitely not a Radiohead record. Doesn't much matter though; I'd pay to listen to Thom yowl the phone book.






    There's a lovely little shoegazer station on live365.com called Vertigo. A little jangly, a lot dreary. Suits the rain, and it suits my mood.

    On Saturday night I came up with a surefire cure for hiccoughs*: sun salutations! I only had to do one, with the proper breathing technique (five breaths in the downward dog, if you please), and I was cured.


    *Yes, you really can spell it that way.

    I'm not a book reviewer; I just reads 'em.

    Johnathan Lethem's latest, You Don't Love Me Yet, is the best thing I've read so far this year. The Times gave it a so-so review, but I'm a bit more enthusiastic (obviously). Lethem's debut, Motherless Brooklyn was widely praised, but I was a bit bored of the whole concept by page 50. You Don't Love Me grabs from the beginning and races you to the end. It took me all of three days to finish; a nice change of pace since I'd been plodding through Quicksilver for most of the last month. The characters in You Don't Love Me are quirky, yes, but not annoyingly so. Nothing seems forced, and everything just flows. Finally, I see the talent that everyone's been saying he has. Granted, I didn't read Fortress of Solitude, but I'm certainly more disposed to doing so now!

    Next up, I'm reading Arlington Park. Again, something I decided to read based on a review. I just looked at the review again, and I'm thinking I must have been in one of my "yeah, marriage sucks, men suck, relationships suck" moods when I placed my reserve with the library. I would not be reading this book in this mood, given the info The Times provides. The writing itself, a chapter in, is quite good. Reminiscent of Margaret Drabble. What I can't get over, is the ridiculously precious cover.

    Uh, if this is a "marriage sucks, men suck, relationships suck" kinda book, what's with the Ode to Maeve Binchy here? The font, both on the cover and dustjacket can only be described as "twee." Did the designer know anything about the subject matter? I can only assume not.








    I had to give one of the writers on Bookninja a little smackdown today. I've seen this "Oh booksellers don't know anything about books" attitude far too often. Trust me, I don't let it slide, ever, when I see it. You can read the post, and my comments here.

    If you're into D.H. Lawrence, and more specifically The Rainbow and Women in Love, you might want to check out this article about Katherine Mansfield who was, apparently, the inspiration for Gudrun.