Monday, December 27, 2010

Time I Want Back

One of the inevitabilities of the holiday season is the glut of Christmas-themed movies, specials, and television shows.  Some are good, some are so-so, and others notoriously bad.  I would like to begin this entry by talking about the absolute worst Christmas special in existence, The Star Wars Christmas Special.  I'm not an expert on television and film, so there may be another, more mediocre Christmas offering, but that is extremely doubtful.

The movie revolves around Chewbacca and his family who he is trying to reunite with so that they can celebrate "Life Day."   Chewbacca's family, who were never even mentioned in any of the Star Wars movies as far as I can recall,  are introduced to the viewer in the opening scenes of the movie.  These scenes contain very little entertainment value.  After the necessary introductions, Chewbacca's wife Mala, father Itchy, and his unfortunately named son Lumpy, communicate through a series of growls and grunts.  In order to figure out what they are saying, one needs to interpret their body language and there is little payoff for the effort.  After some primal howling, presumably because Chewbacca might not make it home for "Life Day", Mala calls up R2D2 and Luke Skywalker to see if they know where Chewy is.  Thus the cameos by the more beloved characters are injected into the plot.

From there things go more downhill, not that it had far to go.  There are a number of reasons why this special is one big flop.  One of the primary reasons why it dragged on is that the audience has no investment in Chewy's attempts to get home.  His family is unknown to the viewer, and their grunts and howls do nothing to endear them.  Nor is it really explained what "Life Day" is or what significance it has to his people.  To be frank I couldn't have cared less whether or not Chewy got home in time.  I think that it was a strategic error for George Lucas to write a special centered around new characters which the audience doesn't have a history with.  Also, the fact that their language requires body language interpretation is another stumbling block that Lucas should have anticipated.  Another aspect that bothers me is the fact that he used a clich├ęd "I'll be home for Christmas" plot rather than being a trifle more inventive.  In fact the whole special reeks of laziness, from the pedestrian storyline to the second-rate special effects.

One of the reasons that my boyfriend wanted to watch the special is that Lucas tried very hard to suppress it after it first aired.  He was rightfully embarrassed and felt that this misstep might jeopardize future box office successes, so he did everything in his power to stop the public from viewing it.  I wish he had been more creative, and that the hour and a half that I spent watching it was used more productively.  There are other specials out there that use tried and true holiday plots that still manage to bring something new to the table.  For instance, how many good productions have been based upon A Christmas Carol?  Also, there are other Christmas specials that introduce new characters/plots, but those are few and far between.  What bothers me is that Christmas seems to be a bit of a cash grab where studios (movie, television and music) pawn off second-rate material.  It makes movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas and other great holiday movies seem like unlikely masterpieces. Maybe I should just stick to the classics and leave the curiosity to more adventurous people. 



Monday, December 20, 2010

Talking About My Generation

Before I talk about Douglas Coupland's recent book Generation A, I must confess the mixed success I have had with his novels. Whether it was the writing style or my own restlessness, I could not get three pages into his previous work, JPod, though I'm told it is good.  Despite the fact that JPod was relegated to the large pile of books that I need to reread in future, Generation A managed to hold my fickle attention.  

The story revolves around a small group of five people from all over the world who had the misfortune to have been stung by bees.  At this point, bees are considered virtually extinct and fruit is sold on the black market at exorbitant rates.  Thus, scientists want to figure out why the bees were attracted to these people in particular, so that they can turn around the insects' fate. These twenty-somethings are whisked off to be examined by scientists and held in isolation for months while being poked and prodded.  After a period of examination and a brief homecoming, the people are then transported to Haida Gwaii where they undergo further scientific study.  Their isolation allows them to reflect on their position as research subjects, and gives the reader an opportunity to think about how aspects of modern life connect and push people apart.  

Coupland discusses how the lives of Generation Xers are both interconnected more than ever before and disconnected at the same time.  The group of people are brought together by their experiences and quickly grow into a collective which is in contrast to the rest of the world.  Those who surround them are checking out of life and dependent on a new pharmaceutical called Solon that destroys peoples' need for community.  Additionally, there is an environmental bent to the novel.  By showing how disastrous the virtual extinction of one species may be to our future, Coupland shows the importance of conservation.  With these themes, Coupland touches upon some of the large issues dealt with by my generation.  The use and abuse of prescription drugs, the way in which the internet encourages us to live in isolation and connect at the same time, and the worries of our changing environment are huge problems for people my age.  

What impresses me the most about this book is how Coupland uses his great powers of observation and equally effective wit to reveal the foibles of Generation X.  There are many moments in this book that are laugh out loud funny, especially those involving the shameless farmer, Zack.  He will do anything for quick cash and momentary gratification, and is a figure that effectively satirizes the vices of his time.  I identify with a lot of the characters in the book, and think that everyone my age can recognize a bit of themselves in them.  The message of the book really shines through and it is made memorable due to the sheer entertainment Coupland's characters provide.  I'm clearly going to have to give JPod another chance. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Grappling With My Food

The other day my boyfriend and I were in the produce section of our local grocery store, when we were stopped in our tracks by another example of genetic tampering.  My boyfriend, being a curious soul, picked them up and simply had to try them.  So we tried our first grapple.  

A grapple is an unnatural genetic amalgam between an apple and a grape, something that needs to be experienced to be believed.  And experience we did.  Before we even left the grocery store parking lot, he bit into it and shared it with me.  I would describe it as having the familiar crunchy texture and appearance of an apple with an artificial grape taste. To be honest, the whole concept of it bothered me and continues to creep me out.  As an avid reader of Michael Pollan's explorations of food production, I was well aware of how corporations are taking food genetic modification to an uncomfortable level, but seeing such irrefutable concrete proof of it at the Country Grocer put me over the edge.  Though I know that farmers have used genetics to alter their crops for centuries, I'm not as disturbed by a farmer creating a new variety of pear by combining two different kinds of pear, than I am about this new cross-species gene splicing.  

Genetic research has made a lot of medical advances possible, so I'm not averse to it in general, but I draw the line when it comes to food and profit-driven experimentation.  I get that companies like Monsanto want to create larger corn yields, and some customers would rather their roses last longer without scent.  But I don't have to like it.  There is something to be said for food that resembles something my great-grandmother would recognize and not some unnatural lovechild of two dissimilar species of fruit.  After we finished the grapple, my boyfriend, the avid environmentalist, tossed the core out of the car window and onto a grassy median.  I freaked out about it, worried that, when introduced to the natural world, grapple seeds might produce a tree/vine that would take over.  We talked about how a tree with vine-like branches may take over that median and crowd out indigenous trees, kind of like the Scotch Broom.  

I don't think that will happen, but while the seeds germinate I need to figure out what to do with the three remaining grapples.  I'm thinking muffins.   

Friday, December 3, 2010

It's Payback!

I must confess that I feel really guilty about how neglectful I've been to my blog.  Without getting into too many details, there has been too many things on my mind and so a lot of aspects of my life were put on the back burner.  I was feeling down about more stuff I can't control, when I thought that I would stop my self-pity and write.  I recently finished Margaret Atwood's book Payback and I believe it's very pertinent to the holiday season.

As hard as it is to be looking down the barrel at another head-on collision with our consumer culture, Atwood makes me feel better.  She wrote this book prior to the economic downturn and there are definitely moments where her work is eerily prophetic.  Particularly when she describes how banks in the United States began handing out sub-prime mortgages to those who could not afford them, she shows how an educated person could have predicted some of these issues.  Atwood also delves into the language that people use to describe debt and being in debt and how this affects our psyches.  She points out how indebtedness is compared with drowning or limbo, and that this negative connotation only furthers the shame many experience when they confront their finances.  The book explores these attitudes and how they are rooted within society and connected to our sense of justice and fairness.  Though it is hard to reconcile a mortgage with monies owed in ancient times, the origins of debt can be found in early mythologies. Female goddesses involved in justice and death abound in ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt and their histories helped in the development of our notions of debt.

Another stretch of history that Atwood believes is instrumental our ideas of debt is the Victorian period.  She references Charles Dickens' story A Christmas Carol a lot to express how deep-seated economics was in that particular society.  Most of Dickens' writing contains a dreary picture of the dispossessed who have fallen on hard times in an unforgiving society.  Debt and money play a large part in the writings of his contemporaries as well, with Heathcliff using his fortune to manipulate Cathy in Wuthering Heights and the constant reminder of fortune in the background of most Jane Austen novels.  Getting back to her study of A Christmas Carol, a portion of it that I particularly enjoyed was her characterization of "Scrooge Nouveau".  "Scrooge Nouveau" is the modern-day equivalent of Dickens' character that Atwood creates to illustrate how he translates into today's society.  She uses her trademark wry wit to lampoon the overpaid CEO's we're accustomed to and adds a little levity to such a heady subject.  

This book is such a good read because it allows the reader to challenge their notions of debt and forces people to delve into why they feel the way they do.  Money has a large amount of power in our society which is evidenced with every Christmas list and Canadian Tire flier.  I was trying to make a Christmas list for myself and I had a hard time.  There isn't anything material that I want, with the exception of a Starfrit collapsible dish rack.  I have no space in my tiny kitchen and it has the possibility of making my life easier. Unlike most things I've bought, Margaret Atwood books tend to be regret-free purchases, and Payback is yet another example of her excellent observational skills and dry humour.    

Friday, November 12, 2010

Call of Duty Widowhood

Yesterday I suffered.  I went to the store with my boyfriend little knowing that his seemingly innocent purchase of yet another video game was going to put me over the edge.  Just to put this conflict in context, I would characterize my relationship with video games to be tumultuous at best.  As a child, my family had no money and therefore I had very little exposure to the gaming world, with the exception of a half-dozen Sega Genesis titles.  I can remember some of the satisfaction I felt when I beat a level, but generally I view video gaming as a waste of time.  With the exception of Wii games, where a person is physically doing something besides repeatedly pushing buttons, I feel people go into a mental coma while causing bloody carnage.  Besides the odd exclamation, I never hear a peep out of my boyfriend as he is busy shooting something, his eyes glued to the glowing screen.  

My latest nemesis in my dire quest for male attention is Call of Duty: Black Ops.  As of this morning, the game has raked in over $360 million in sales this week, so clearly there are many other frustrated girlfriends.  Just to put this into perspective, the only other release that has garnered anywhere near this amount of sales, is the latest movie in the Twilight series, which brought in $70 million.  To be fair, I have nothing against the game itself, and the graphics do seem quite intricate and innovated, but rather I grow increasingly mad whenever I am forced to compete with a war simulation.  Yesterday I found myself trying to fit conversation into game pauses, and chores could only be started after a mission was completed.  My boyfriend literally could not listen to me unless he paused the game which caused me to repeat myself over and over.  Becoming more and more resentful of the power that this fake world had, I lost it.  I threw a temper tantrum and demanded that he hear me and contribute some time to the household chores.  

It was not my most flattering moment, but I think that he got the message that his gaming policy of isolationism is not really going to fly with me.  He tried to convince me of the validity of gaming as a hobby, similar to any other.  Sitting on the couch pushing buttons and exclaiming every once in a while does not strike me as a good pastime. Unless of course you are playing with another person, and it can be viewed as a bonding experience of sorts, but that is the exception.  Also, if one reviews video games or writes about their gaming experiences, then I can see it as a legitimate pursuit.  If it brings you together as a couple to shoot a zombie's head off, then go for it, but if a person simply sits by themselves and kills, then I don't really understand the appeal.  

Considering the widespread influence of video games I think that it would take an effort on the part of women similar to that of the Greek ladies in the play Lysistrata.  In that play, women withheld sexual favours until the men in their lives negotiated a peace settlement and ended the Peloponnesian War.  Things have not gotten tense enough in my household for me to go to these extremes, but it would be an amusing parody for a woman to raise her voice in protest of war simulations that steal away their partner's attention.  If I have a quick moment while his game is loading, I may share these thoughts with my better half.  Or just hope that he beats it quickly, and I will have his attention before the next over-hyped title hits the stores. I live in hope.         

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Remembrance Day Must-Read

It has been a few weeks since my last update and I am glad to be back in the saddle. Originally I had intended to talk about Fifteen Days by Christine Blatchford over a week ago and not a few days before Remembrance Day, but sometimes things work out the way that they are supposed to.  I wanted to read this book for years and never got around to it until I saw it a few weeks back on the library shelves.  When it first came out, I heard positive reviews and filed it away in the back of my mind.  My boyfriend brought it up again when we went to the bookstore, saying that when he was in basic training, all the guys were reading it.  Upon reading this book I soon found out why it was so popular amongst future soldiers.  It gives a great snapshot account of how life in Afghanistan really was for our men and women in uniform in 2006.  Blatchford was covering the war for The Globe and Mail and had a knack for getting the soldiers to open up about their experiences in a manner that hasn't been duplicated.  Her voice as a writer is very singular and I think it gives the reader a clue as to how she could succeed in her pursuit of the stories of her subjects.  To me, her tomboyish style and willingness to put her life at risk probably endeared her to the soldiers she accompanied and allowed her more access.  

This access gave her a tremendous amount of material for the book which posed a large problem for Blatchford when she decided to finally compose it.  She begins the book by outlining this dilemma in her Author's Note, where she explains how she came up with the format.  Each chapter represents one day of fighting and its repercussions.  The action as detailed by Blatchford and the Canadian soldiers is just plain riveting.  I considered myself to be an informed person, but I really had no clue as to what Canadians faced in their battles against the Taliban.  With few exceptions, I think that the coverage of the war tends to focus on the deaths of individual Canadian soldiers without giving the public much of an idea of the daily struggles they deal with.  I had some idea as to the brutal conditions  that soldiers continue to battle, but didn't fully comprehend how burnt out our overstretched military was.  Blatchford chronicles how Canadian units were often sent into battle or on supply runs without sleep or reprieve of any sort because there was no one else to get the job done.  The other thing that I didn't have much knowledge of is the terrain of Afghanistan besides the caves, opium fields, and desert.  One element that proved problematic for the soldiers in the same manner as in Vietnam, is the green belt of jungle that the Taliban retreated into.  I was not aware of any such greenery nor did I know about how many times Canadians fought in towns.  Often (especially in the Panjwaii District) NATO forces had to fight over the same collection of buildings on multiple occasions which provided a lot of frustration for our troops.      

Though the revelations the book provides about the situation on the ground are compelling, the stories of the individual soldiers and their families are equally riveting.  I came to this book from the unique perspective of someone who is both within and apart from the military community.  As time goes on, I feel more and more connected with other women whose partners are serving, but the experiences of army spouses is something that I can only relate to on an extremely superficial level.  The story of Darcia Arndt, the wife of Master Corporal Ray Arndt, really touched me.  She always kept the phone next to her when she slept in case her husband was trying to get in touch with her and only stopped a week before he was scheduled to return home.  He was killed in a motor vehicle accident during the last week of his deployment.  Before I read that story, I often kept the phone on my bedside table because my boyfriend called at odd hours from the ship, and I found the connection extremely eerie. 

The book ends, appropriately enough, with the soldiers discussing Remembrance Day. They are in a unique position within the community of Canadian veterans because they are the only group to have seen serious action since WWII.  Sure we have been peacekeeping in various locations throughout the world, but Afghanistan is an entirely different kettle of fish.  Blatchford successfully conveys this point with her stirring and detailed analysis of the lives of Canadian soldiers and the challenges they faced.  As a Canadian, I felt even more proud of the troops and was more awed by their everyday issues.  Though I'm sure I've said this about a number of books, Fifteen Days is definitely required reading for any Canadian, not just those in basic training.  


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Do I Want to Know?

I must admit that I've always had a fascination for crime.  Due to the fact that I am a pretty law-abiding straight-laced individual, I have always been interested in the motivations of killers and the circumstances surrounding their crimes.  This is what directed me to take a Holocaust seminar during my university days, and watch gritty procedural dramas and documentaries today.  

This week there has been plenty of criminal drama to satisfy my curiosity.  Last night I was up later than I should have watching The National's coverage of the ongoing Russell Williams trial and sentencing hearing.  When the news of his crimes initially broke, I was dumbfounded.  The fact that such an individual managed to lead two very different lives without any professional issues, is quite amazing in the worst sense of the word.  For someone to be committing serious, perverted crimes during the night, and still have the ability to function in a demanding, high-profile job come daytime, is so startling.  It's like he just flipped a switch between his two identities.  Though there are many dysfunctional relationships amongst those in the military, the men and women who serve our country place a high value upon human life and thus his actions are more puzzling.  

The other question that coverage of his trial poses is how much the media should reveal to the public.  During the broadcast, there were a number of details of the sexual torture that Williams put his victims through before he eventually killed them.  The reporters were candid that there was a large discussion in the newsroom about how much should be reported, and what was considered excessive.  Apparently they reported only a small fraction of the evidence the prosecution presented in the courtroom, and tried to balance the curiosity of the public and compassion for the victims' families.  I think this is a very interesting question, and one that came up a few years ago during the Robert Picton murder trial as well.  The gruesome facts of his story presented reporters with the same dilemma and I often felt that I was being told too much.  My main issue with grisly crime details is that once I hear awful facts, I cannot unlearn them.  They are stuck in my brain and will be summoned by my psyche at the worst possible moment.  I will turn off the rational part of my head and become even more paranoid of possible crimes that may be committed against me.  

As a woman who sometimes lives alone, I have enough things to fear.  If my identity isn't being stolen because I bought clothing online, or I'm not being harassed by some drunk guy in a bar who thinks I'm a bitch for not wanting to dance with him or any other typical thing women think about, then I'm at my apartment concerned about home invasion.  I don't actually worry about any of these things, but the media does promote a certain amount of fear amongst the population in general.  Particularly, American news broadcasts seem to relay one possible tragedy after another.  If I'm not prey for roofie-bearing slime, then I may get cancer from my plastic water bottle.  Though I would never downplay the severity of any of these issues, I don't need to have any more paranoia in my life.  Whenever I listen to coverage of high-profile trials, I lose confidence in my own instincts and my ability to protect myself.  The women victimized by Williams were probably smart, savvy people and it's hard to differentiate them from myself.  That's the real scary thing.    

Saturday, October 16, 2010

One Week

I have been thinking a lot about change lately, and about whether or not I like it.  I am the type of person who enjoys burying herself in the daily rituals of life, so as to not think too much.  When I was recently unemployed, the thing that drove me nuts the most was not having a routine to fall back on.  I didn't necessarily have to get up at six o'clock every morning and could eat and sleep whenever I felt like it.  Needless to say, I was really adrift.  I am working again and gaining further confidence as I get more and more familiar with the work and the rhythms of the office.  I am finding myself falling into patterns and the security feels good.  

Things are about to change again.  My boyfriend is returning from his sail with the HMCS Vancouver in a week and I will have to adjust everything again.  I am looking forward to his arrival and will be there to meet him on the jetty when he sails in.  We will have to get used to one another again, now that I've become accustomed to sleeping alone and cooking for one, but it's all worth whatever adjustments we have to make.  When I talk to my mother about the deployments we joke that my relationship should be considered an "alternative lifestyle."  At my new work, they have been asking me what my boyfriend does for a living and when I say that he is in the navy, and that he has been gone for a few months, their mouths generally drop open in horror.  And I agree with them.  If I didn't fall hard for him, our relationship would not have lasted through the separations that the navy has already put us through.  It is the ultimate test.  For someone so buoyed by routine, living with a person whose job is anything but, can prove to be problematic.  

For me and every other navy woman it is a difficult test, but allows you to learn pretty quickly whether or not a relationship will work.  The navy, and the armed forces in general, are quite the marriage graveyard and if there isn't commitment on both sides, then there is no chance.  I've had to channel that self-reliance that I developed as a single woman living alone, and just got through my day-to-day life.  The days went by and things got easier, and my boyfriend made it better by calling on a regular basis.  Lonely moments come and go, and my countdown continues to motivate me to get on with it. Happily, this experience has given me more confidence in my own ability to take care of myself on an emotional level and strengthened our relationship.  Neither of us knew how hard the separation was going to be, but we've come out the other side knowing that we can live with our "alternative lifestyle."  It's definitely not for everybody, but sometimes change is a good thing. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Unbridled Success and Legal Woes

My sister is in town for Thanksgiving and she brought with her a copy of Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.  I have not personally read any of the books in his Millennium series, but I appear to be in the minority.  These books are all at the top of the current bestsellers list and have grossed approximately $40 million dollars in sales to date.  There are also movies based upon the books, which have only served to heighten their popularity.  In Larsson's native Sweden, people are paying to go on tours of places featured in the novels, much like the homes of the stars.

There is one stop which will not make it on the tour, and that is Larsson's apartment which he shared with his common-law partner, Eva Gabrielsson.  Yesterday, I read an interview with Gabrielsson written by The Globe and Mail's Anna Porter, and it was quite the eye-opener.  What makes Larsson's success story so intriguing is that his international fame only came after his sudden death in 2004.  He died of a heart attack while in the midst of writing a book, and sadly left no will.  This point is key to the events that would follow.  At the time of his death, he had already brokered a publishing deal for the three books in the Millennium trilogy, and they were completed.  According to his partner, Gabrielsson, he was approximately two hundred pages into his fourth book when he passed away.  All of these factors add up to an intense legal drama which has been brewing for years.  

Sweden is known for being a progressive country, so I would never have suspected that Swedish law would not support the concept of a common-law union.  Gabrielsson and Larsson were together as a couple for over thirty-two years when he passed away, but she has received none of the money generated by his work. Due to the fact that Larsson never created a will, all of his earnings have gone to his father and brother. What is even more extreme is that Larsson's half of their shared apartment was inherited by them as well, and it was only after a large legal fight that she managed to own her own home. As Gabrielsson explains, Swedish law strives to protect the familial bloodlines, and so the male relatives of a deceased person would automatically inherit his/her assets in the event that there is no will.  

Upon reading Gabrielsson's story of grief and legal woe, I grew very sympathetic to her plight.  I am in a common-law relationship and many of my friends and relatives have been in the same situation.  If a person does not have a positive relationship with their partner's relatives, or if there is a lot of money involved, I can see how the legal wrangling might transpire.  Luckily in Canada common-law relationships are recognized, but a will is always a good idea no matter what the status of your love life is.  Needless to say, I feel for Gabrielsson who doesn't strike me as a gold-digger or a fame seeker.  She has her own career as an architect, and only seems to be speaking out because of the misconceptions about her partner's work and her legal battles.  The father and brother are combating her claims by questioning her influence upon the work itself, which seems to be really subjective grounds for not allowing her a percentage of the royalties.  As his companion for over thirty years, she undoubtedly had some impact on his life and work.  Some writers' significant others play key roles in the development of their work, but if that wasn't the case with Gabrielsson, I don't think that she should be disinherited.  

For what it is worth, I hope that she succeeds in shedding more light on this legal issue and ultimately gets what she deserves.  Whether she helped in the creative process or not, she supported his career in her own way and should be compensated.  Though I clearly have no clout with the Swedish legal system, that's just how I see it.            

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Canada Reads: What is the Best Canadian Novel?

Today is my day off and therefore I am at home catching up on my chores and listening to CBC Radio.  I particularly enjoy Jian Ghomeshi's pop culture program, Q.  Sadly, it is probably most famous for the controversial interview he conducted with Billy Bob Thornton last year.  Nonetheless, I was listening today and he announced a new twist in this year's Canada Reads.  For the uninformed, Canada Reads is put on every year by CBC Radio and this year is its tenth anniversary.  The idea is that a panel of Canadian celebrities, such as they are, choose Canadian novels that they feel all of Canada should read.  They debate the merits of their books and at the end of each show, a book is voted off Survivor-style until one book remains. 

The debates become quite lively and I look forward to listening to it every year.  This year the twist is that all the books must have been published within the last decade.  That got me thinking.  What is the essential book that I feel every Canadian must read?  It is far easier to look into the past and pull out the gems of yesteryear such as The Handmaid's Tale or The Stone Angel.  I feel it's a much bigger challenge to think of recent books which I passionately feel all Canadians should read.  My initial thought (without having much time to think about it) is that I would recommend Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood as a work which continues to resonate in our collective consciousness and has been prescient in its predictions.  Unfortunately, it has already been on Canada Reads, and thus cannot be advocated this year. 

I think that what we have here is an embarrassment of riches.  There are many talented Canadian authors who have produced great novels over the past ten years and it is very difficult to choose just one for everyone to read.  Though books by Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood are perennial favourites and no-brainers during trips to the bookstore, there are many other great writers in Canada.  I would offer the example of Douglas Coupland, the Vancouver author who is always exploring the issues affecting my generation and generally pushing the envelope.  There are many other authors who have done excellent work during the last decade, and that makes this challenge all the more difficult.  

When I was in a Canadian Literature class, there was a huge debate involving the merits of Canada Reads. The idea of a group of Canadian elites who aren't professors or experts choosing a book for every Canadian to read, seemed to bother some people.  I personally feel that programs like Canada Reads are much like the Harry Potter phenomenon.  However people feel about Harry Potter, at least that wizard got children reading, as a gateway book, if you will.  Discussion about Canadian books is always good and may expose people to books and authors that they may not have otherwise heard of.  

If you have any suggestions as to what you feel is the quintessential Canadian novel published in the last ten years then feel free to comment on my blog, or nominate your selection formally on the CBC website (link provided below).  Happy pondering!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chick Lit With a Twist

Books are a lot like life, no matter how much you prepare for a certain outcome, there are often curve balls thrown your way.  I have been reading a lot of heavy subject matter lately, which has only serves to highlight the chaos and loneliness that are the staples of my life.  So, in order to combat the general heaviness that has pervaded my life, I began reading a good piece of Chick Lit, The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs.  

When I checked out this book from the library, I was expecting a frothy tale about a group of women living in New York who frequent a wool shop.  It started off with the usual trappings of a novel written for a primarily female audience, a group of female characters with varying levels of self-awareness who pursue positive change both personally and professionally.  The story revolves around Georgia Walker, the owner of a wool shop affectionately named Walker & Daughter.  She is a feisty single mother whose business and parenting savvy has not translated to her love life.  There is a large cast of supporting characters including Darwin, the clueless academic, Lucie, the pregnant filmmaker, and Anita, Georgia's fairy godmother and mentor.  

The plot speeds up when Cat Phillips, Georgia's ex-best friend arrives on the scene, causing both women to question themselves.  Cat's wealth drives the self-made Georgia crazy even after she commissions Georgia to knit a one-of-a-kind gown.  Georgia's self-sufficiency brings out feelings of inadequacy in Cat, who remains married to a jerk out of fear of the unknown.  This relationship is at the heart of the book and remains that way until the story takes a twist.  A twist which took me to an emotional place that I didn't expect to go, not with this book.  I will not reveal what happens, but needless to say it threw me for a loop. It dredged up a lot of issues that I had thought that I dealt with and I had a very hard time finishing the book.  I think that the book is well-written and that my purely emotional response is to blame, rather than the writer.  

Overall the book has been a good, if emotionally draining, reading experience.  As a knitter, I related on a deep level to the calming effect of the clacking of the needles and the sureness of the wool.  Sometimes having a project to complete and something to do with my idle hands is the only thing that stands between me and total insanity.  In life you rarely get do-overs, but with knitting you can always rip out your work and start again a little wiser.           

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Love Letter to Me

Today has been a bad day.  For the last year I have been on a personal and professional roller coaster and I don't know when it is going to let up.  But there is some hope on the horizon, because today I figured out some things. I have been handling my boyfriend's absence in a way that I didn't think was entirely possible.  In our relationship, I haven't made too many mistakes if I do say so myself, except that I accepted a secondary role.  Due to my professional woes, I have put myself on the back burner and chosen to support him and his career fully.  Though I miss him terribly, my life has gone on regardless, I have laughed and been happy without him. Our separation has given me the opportunity to think about how I've conducted myself in my relationship that I wouldn't otherwise have gotten.  

Being the significant other of a person in the military was never part of my life plan, and I don't think that I would have made an exception for anyone less worthy.  It is not how he treats me that I am reflecting on, but rather how I have been so hard on myself.  With every professional setback I beat myself up, and cause unnecessary harm.  I am a great person who is talented, strong, and fun.  These things need to be at the forefront of my mind while the world inevitably beats me up.  Along with other military girlfriends and wives, I've developed a lot of resilience, and must learn to have more faith in my ability to bounce back after facing a little bit of adversity.  Obstacles are what I'm used to, and tearing them down is what I do best.

I am not sure where along the way I forgot all of the points I made in my last paragraph. Being Lindsey Bevan has never been an easy endeavor, but nobody does it as well as I do. I find myself gaining in confidence every time I solve a new problem and regardless of my boyfriend's whereabouts in the world I will be okay.  Though I love him and every moment that we spend together, my every happiness is not dependent on his presence and approval.  The fact that he will allow me the freedom to follow my own professional destiny, and pursue my personal ambitions, shows how much he respects me.  I hope that I can do him proud, but more importantly I want to build my own self-confidence and re-learn how to be more of an individual.  And learn how to drive.              

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Culture Days: More State-Sponsored Fun

As I was listening to the CBC Radio the other day, I found out that this week we are celebrating Culture Days in Canada.  There are free cultural events happening from coast to coast in praise of all things Canadiana.  What I find ironic is that it is our Conservative government who created this state-mandated revelry.  On a number of occasions the Conservative government have been very antagonistic to the arts community by reducing funding and making smug comments about those who receive government grants.  I think that if Canadian culture is to survive, there needs to be more of a movement within households and communities to support the arts, because for the foreseeable future the federal government is only going to give token gestures and meaningless lip-service.

Now that my spirited political views have been aired, I think that I will take some time to reflect on the Canadian arts scene.  Granted, I am by no means an insider in the local arts community, and I probably represent the average Jill Six-Pack in terms of my expertise, I do have an opinion.  With the amount of talent in Canada, I feel that I can support Canadian artists of all descriptions without that nagging sense of obligation.  Though musicians and television productions do owe a lot of their success to the rules regulating Canadian content, many artists and shows manage to find success within other markets. I think that people underestimate the level of talent we possess simply because they don't know who is Canadian and who is American.  And by "they" I am referring to Americans. It is almost devious how our accents sometimes sound identical to those of our southern neighbours and we manage to blend in without exposure.  Take note Arizona politicians.  

I have digressed from the topic of Canadian culture with yet another political reference. With this blog entry I planned on praising the merits of our writers, musicians, and artists, but I don't think that this is really all that necessary.  I don't need a government-mandated pseudo holiday or Entertainment Tonight Canada to reflect upon the amount of talent that my country has produced.  The area where I feel that I can do better is my support (or lack thereof) for local culture.  I should take in local theatre productions more often than once every five years, attend film festivals and squint at paintings whenever an interesting art exhibit comes to town.  At the very least, I think I should put in an appearance at the arena more often. These are the type of institutions that we need to get behind.  I highly doubt the Vancouver Canucks are much affected by those who jump on and off their bandwagon with the alacrity of a gymnast, but theatre troupes, aspiring musicians and small-market teams will die without our collective support. 

These inaugural Culture Days have caused me to make this resolution in favour of my local arts community, to reflect on my behaviour as a Canadian.  Being patriotic is slightly more complicated than getting festive on Canada Day, it means being a positive ambassador for your country as a whole and within your community.  Generally, I think that I do a good job  in this role, but there is definitely room for improvement. However, I do drink local beer, so at least that can be said for me.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I do believe that I sometimes get sucked in by a good title and that certainly was the case with The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.  Originally I had heard about the book when a reporter from CBC Radio interviewed the author, and the title managed to stick in my mind until a recent trip to the library.  Another confession that I need to make is that in addition to my tendencies to gravitate towards books with appealing titles, I am prejudiced against small books.  This is silly I know, and there are plenty of classics which don't pass the two hundred page milestone, but there is a certain tactile pleasure in holding a large book.  Freudians may classify me how they will, I generally read books that are over three hundred pages, so this book was a slim number for me.  More of a novella really.

Now that all of those dramatic, mind-blowing confessions are out of the way, let me tell you about the book itself.  At the beginning of the book the main character, Changez meets an American in a cafe in Lahore, Pakistan.  Throughout the rest of the book, Changez recounts his life in America before and after the September 11th terrorist attacks to the stranger.  He begins the book as a Princeton graduate who is recruited by the prestigious financial firm, Underwood Samson and is on his way up the New York corporate ladder.  At the same time, he develops feelings for the troubled writer, Erica, who is his invitation to the city's social scene.  While they sashay from event to event, Changez becomes more and more drawn to her, even as she reveals secrets from her past which should give him some pause.  

The story takes a turn when a terrorist attack which occurs in India is attributed to a Pakistani group.  This brings the long-standing conflict between India and Pakistan to a head , and causes Changez's priorities to shift.  Around the same time, the attacks of 9/11 occurred and his adopted country becomes further embroiled in the affairs of the Middle East.  As the jingoistic fervour reaches its fever pitch, Changez finds himself an outsider, despite his hard work and Ivy League pedigree.  Slowly, as tensions increase in his home country, he questions his place in post-9/11 America.  It is no surprise that Changez chooses to return to his homeland (there is a bigger surprise than that), but rather the long decision-making process is more dramatic.  

As a story of the American Dream gone wrong, this small book is quite an interesting ride.  A Muslim man living and working in Manhattan during one of the most dramatic times in American history, Changez provides a unique point of view.  He presents himself as a modern Scheherazade, weaving a compelling story over the course of one night and thus the author creates an intensely readable narrative.  Once I got into the book, the pages just flew by.  I did have a bit of a hard time connecting with Changez, and felt frustrated with his unabated fascination with Erica, who clearly did not return his affection.  This disconnect does not diminish how well-written this book is and how important it is to reflect upon the events which immediately followed the September 11th terrorist attacks. The book is also slim, so even if you hate the book, at least you know that your misery will not last long.  Now that is a ringing endorsement.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Anticipation and Trepidation: Books On the Big Screen

Whenever a book that I have read is adapted for the big screen, I always look upon the event with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.  Currently the movie Atonement is setting untouched on my shelf because I haven't been able to muster up the courage to watch it.  It is in no way a reflection on the quality of the film; in fact I heard from a friend of mine that it is a sweeping war drama and perfectly worth my time.  The main reason why I have not watched it is that I really enjoyed the novel that it is based upon and don't want to taint my positive feelings with the doubt brought about by an inferior movie.  

Sadly, there are plenty of poor adaptations and I don't think that the trend is going away anytime soon.  Due to the recession, studios are going to produce movies which have a built-in audience so as to better justify the expenditure. Though I can't speak to the quality of the book or the movie, Eat, Pray, Love is a good example of this phenomenon. The fact that millions of people purchased the book and its sequel, pretty much guaranteed that the movie would gross a lot of box office revenue.  There are other books on the literary scene that also command enough of a following to merit film production.  Good adaptations of literary works like Jane Eyre, Lolita or Anna Karenina will always have a big audience because many people have read and loved them over the years.  If one were to compare the sales of modern bestsellers to the yearly sales of the classics of literature, books like The Lovely Bones would be left in the dust.  Therefore there will always be a spate of adaptations some of them good, and a lot of them not so good.

Just because I have this venue to vent my feelings, I am going to take advantage of this opportunity and point out some of the worst offenders.  Granted, I am limited by the fact that I tend to avoid film adaptations, but I will still make a few accusations.  The Beach by Alex Garland is one of my favourite novels and it is the perfect Generation X thriller. When the movie came out I was unimpressed to say the least.  Firstly, they changed the nationality of the main character when Leonardo DiCaprio is totally capable of faking some semblance of a British accent.  Secondly, and more shockingly, the writer(s) completely changed the ending in order to make it more palatable to its audience.  At this time, DiCaprio was considered a huge heartthrob amongst teens and the ending of the book is dramatic enough to merit an "R" rating if translated properly to the screen.  This would have prevented a large portion of the target teenage audience from seeing the movie.  In my opinion, this is the main reason why they totally altered the ending beyond recognition.        

Another offender is The Other Boleyn Girl.  As someone who has read the book by Philippa Gregory and a lot of other books about the Tudors, I was pretty blown away by the amount of inaccuracies.  Natalie Portman's performance in the role of Anne Boleyn is great, but I was unable to enjoy it because I was too busy focusing on the factual liberties the writers took.  Firstly, it bugs me when writers change facts that don't need to be altered in order to service the plot.  The movie contends that Anne is the firstborn daughter, when in fact Mary is the eldest and this stuck in my craw.  What was the point of changing their birth order?  It just serves to undermine whatever historic credibility the filmmakers had.  Secondly, there is a very disturbing scene between Anne and Henry VIII which characterizes him as an abuser, when in fact Anne had a lot of power within their relationship.  Despite the way their marriage ended, Henry treated Anne with respect and went out of his way to accommodate her demands.  Immediately after seeing this movie, my friend Alysia stood outside the movie theatre and listed all of the historical and literary inaccuracies.  That does not make for a good viewing experience, but, as I indicated earlier, I relish every opportunity to vent.  

If you know of any good film adaptations feel free to suggest them to me.  Maybe I will gather the courage to take Atonement off the shelf, but if it doesn't work out, you will be hearing about it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Poetry of the Doomed

When I begin reading books I often have stylistic expectations and this is even more true in the case of novels written by poets.  Often if a poet tries their hand at writing a full-length novel or when a short-story writer makes same transition, I view the move with a certain amount of trepidation.  I'm all for writers expanding their horizons by experimenting in different genres, but the results are often mixed.  Margaret Atwood is one of the best success stories in terms of authors who has produced great work within multiple genres and I would argue that Victoria author Patrick Lane is another.  

Though he is best known for his poetry, his recent memoir There Is a Season, has been both a critical and commercial success and remains one of the books I most regret that I haven't gotten around to reading.  The book that I did read is Lane's first foray into fiction, his novel Red Dog, Red Dog.  What most attracted me to this book is the fact that it is set in the interior of British Columbia and its tone reflects the grit of that part of Western Canada.  This is not the genteel, more British than the British hippie haven that I inhabit, but rather the more earthy, rough and tumble Wild West.  The story focuses on the Stark family, the narrator being the deceased sister of the protagonist, Alice.  Alice tells the tale of the emotional Tom Stark during one pivotal week in the life of the family using language which I would never associate with the psyche of an infant girl.  This gritty tone is presumably because the narrator has adopted the jaded tone of the people of this small town and the Starks in particular. With the exception of Marilyn, Tom's girlfriend, the town seems composed of troubled souls addicted to drugs and hopelessly doomed to change their fate.  

Eddie Stark is the embodiment of the tragic dysfunction amongst the people of the community.  Though it seems everyone has their share of personal demons, no character is fated for a tragic end quite the way Eddie is.  He has that classic doomed rebel air about him and his charisma attracts people to him.  A power which he uses to manipulate those around him including his mother and Tom.  Inevitably he pulls Tom into his schemes and relies on his brother to get him out of the scrapes that a drug-addicted criminal often get into.  Tom's conflict between his loyalty to his brother and his own moral compass is the most compelling aspect of the novel and it kept me on the edge of my seat for most of the story.  

The dilemma that Lane creates for Tom is not the only impressive aspect of the novel.  A criticism which people often make of poets who write novels is the language they employ. Sometimes poets (and novelists too) get carried away with creating indelible word pictures to the detriment of character development and plot.  I felt that Lane balanced the language, plot and character development remarkably.  His gritty tone is consistent throughout the novel and is perfectly in keeping with the setting of a despairing, dusty farming town.  Through the memories related by the narrator, a realistic, vivid picture of the main and minor characters is painted and I found myself caring a lot about the fate of these flawed individuals.  I have been reading a lot of great, quality books lately, but Red Dog, Red Dog is definitely the one that I would most heartily recommend and it makes me proud to see an author from my hometown able to so successfully straddle the novelist/poet divide.    

Friday, September 3, 2010

Books Bring Us Together

My sister Jessica has come to town and has helped shape my reading list for the next year or so.  She is unequivocally my best resource when it comes to books and always gives me the straight goods.  Over the years she has pointed me in the right direction time and again and I really value her input.  Like most people, I don't have much patience for crap, especially when there are so many quality books out there just begging for my attention. Jessica is the literary equivalent of that crusty guy at the record store who is just that much cooler than you and knows all.  

I am not sure that my sister will enjoy that comparison, but it fits nonetheless.  Today we had one of our long book chats as we went on a caffeinated book bender and bantered back and forth about the books we'd been reading.  When I was in university I always swore in a shortsighted way that I would never date another English major because I wanted to avoid the inevitable literary debates that would ensue.  One of many regrettable statements of my early twenties.  What I have come to realize is the value of the company of readers.  I am not being snobby and insinuating that I exclusively enjoy the being around people who read the literary classics, that's not the case.  I think that I like people who are curious about the world around them and like to read newspaper articles, blogs, magazines, books, or poetry.  It's so much easier to make conversation and build a rapport with people who have developed opinions about issues and reading allows a person to take in the information that is required for critical thinking.  

Reading also helps to reinforce bonds that already exist.  Whenever I've read a good book or article, I like to share it with someone I love so that it's a collective experience.  That and I can't keep my mouth shut.  My recommendations have had mixed results, but luckily my sister and my boyfriend both tell me gently when my picks don't pan out.  Which is fortunately a rare occasion.  When my sister comes over to my apartment, the first thing she usually does is go through my collection and pick out any books she would like to borrow and I am happy to lend them to her.  For whatever reason, I always get a kick out of seeing my boyfriend's books on the shelf mixed with mine.  It's the perfect metaphor for our relationship, a fusion of our diverse tastes and interests, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  

For the heck of it I've added a link to a YouTube video by Henry Rollins.  It perfectly sums up why readers make the best dates.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Crummey, Not So Much

The day that my boyfriend left for his deployment I consoled myself by going to the library and grabbing whatever drew even the most remote interest.  One of the books I checked out in the midst of this frenzy was Galore by Michael Crummey.  I own two of Michael Crummey's other books, The Wreckage and The River Thieves, but have never gotten around to actually reading them.  It's not a case of buyer's remorse, but when I buy books I usually take my sweet time before I actually get around to reading them.  Whereas with books that I borrow, I feel motivated to finish them quickly.  

With Galore I didn't really need extra motivation in order to wile away the hours reading it.  The story takes place in a small fishing village named Paradise Deep (in case you were wondering the name is a double entendre) where superstition, folk tales and witchcraft are incredibly influential.  Two families intertwined by marriage and mutual dislike form the heart of the story, one headed by the local "witch" Devine's Widow and the other ruled by King-me Sellers.  As the story begins, a mute man is discovered in the belly of a beached whale and taken in by the Devine family who house him in the shed to combat his unique smell.  This story, and unfortunately the fish stench, is passed down through the generations along with other tales surrounding these two controversial families.  

What interests me as a reader are the changes that take place in the village over the course of generations.  At the beginning of the book, stories and folk traditions hold the most sway over the small community.  As competing religions take hold, a doctor arrives from the United States and people become more politically active, the influence of the old ways lessens.  The process is gradual and there is a lot of suspicion with regard to progress within the community and the tension between different forces makes the story fascinating.  For me, the focus the author gives to the character of Dr. Newman, an outsider looking for adventure, is particularly riveting.  The difficulties associated with conducting medicine in rural Newfoundland hadn't really occurred to me besides the obvious transportation issues.  Even when a patient comes to his office, the person doesn't have the education or the language skills to properly describe what's wrong with them and there is a lot of guessing involved.  Eventually the doctor does adapt with the help of people in the village who take him under their collective wing.  

Without going into more detail and giving away the story I will say that Galore has been one of my favourite reads this year and I will most definitely take on his other books in the near future.  Though I don't like the fact that I am recommending two books set in Newfoundland so close together, I thought it was okay given the fact that Alligator by Lisa Moore is completely different from Galore.  They bear no resemblance to one another besides both being set in Newfoundland and both show the depth and variety of literature from that province.  Despite the success I have had with books from Newfoundland authors lately, I always try to vary the authors I read so I will take a break from them, unless compelled by another library frenzy.  It's happened before and will again.   

Friday, August 27, 2010

I Will Expose My Future Children to Racist Books

A while back I was at a book sale in the children's section looking for books for my cousin's infant daughter.  I was shooting the breeze with a mother about which books were appropriate for a little girl and she told me that there were a lot of books which she doesn't allow her children to read based upon their content.  She gave me the example of a Berenstein Bears book where Brother Bear is being picked on by a neighbourhood bully and Papa Bear teaches him how to fight in order to deter the bully from bothering him anymore. The mother felt this message to be inappropriate for her small children and thus the book never made it into their library.  I don't know why I was surprised considering the rampant political correctness within our society, but I thought her reaction was more than a little extreme.  

Her reaction to a pretty innocent, if outdated, plot makes me wonder how she would respond to a book like Herge's Tintin in the Congo which went on trial for its racist content.  A Congolese man living in Belgium spearheaded a campaign to ban the work based on the way that Africans are portrayed in the book.  After I heard about the controversy, I made a point to take a look at the book next time I went to the bookstore and I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that Africans in the book are represented as childlike and pliable.  There are a lot of classic works which contain racial slurs and discrimination, but I don't think that banning these books or restricting a child's access to them is necessarily the way to deal with their content.  By banning them, it creates a larger buzz around the works and may cause children to be even more curious about them. I know that when I was in high school, Chapters made the decision to ban the sale of Hitler's treatise Mein Kampf and this only increased my interest in buying a copy.  I am not so sure that this stance deterred any future neo-nazis, and as an unintended consequence gave the work more attention.  It also drove up the price of the book.  

There will always be books which feature unsavory plots and racism, but what is important is how parents present these books to their children.  I think the mother at the book sale was wrong to shield her children from books which contain plots that she doesn't agree with philosophically.  Whether we choose to believe it or not the schoolyard can be an intolerant place and by the time a child is of a certain age they've seen racism and sexism in action.  Books with plots about bullying or racist characterizations allow parents to begin a dialogue with their children about these issues.  Keeping children shielded from controversial books does them no favours in terms of their development and if you have taught your children to be tolerant of others, than they will recognize intolerance around them.  Also parents need to prepare their children for the periods of time when they are not around to monitor what their children come in contact with.  If a child goes over to a friend's house and watches Peter Pan, they will not necessarily come home maladjusted and full of ignorant notions of Native culture.  

Overall, helicopter parenting isn't entirely effective when it comes to books and movies. Even if you carefully monitor what your children read and watch at home, other children's parents may not share your philosophy.  You can't regulate everything your child comes in contact with so you might as well talk about the big issues of life.  My parents never talked to me about bullying, sex, and racism and I was really ill-equipped when I entered junior high where I felt totally isolated in my ignorance.  In retrospect, I wish that my parents would have pulled out a book and shared the world with me and I refuse to pick and choose what books my future children will be exposed to.  

Monday, August 23, 2010

My Commitment Issues

I must admit that I have commitment issues with books and if I am stressed out for whatever reason, I become a veritable serial dater.  If a book fails to hold my interest, especially after the first hundred pages, I tend to cut my losses quickly and move on. This almost happened again while I read Brick Lane by Monica Ali.  I had genuine difficulty with this book up until I got about two-thirds through the novel and today I was trying to think of why I failed to be pulled in.  

The story's main character is Nanzeen, a woman from Bangladesh whose arranged marriage requires her to leave her small village and move to London.  Once there, she deals with the many issues faced by a woman adapting to a new country and getting to know her husband.  Luckily she has the support of other Bangladeshi women within her housing development who help her navigate through the streets of London and provide her with much needed entertainment. Her boredom during the day and general dissatisfaction with her ineffectual husband cause her to begin an affair with a young radical.  His passion is intoxicating and Nanzeen finds herself unable to end their affair even though she knows that the relationship won't last. 

Though Nanzeen is the lens through the reader views the world, I found her journey as a foreigner and a new bride less than compelling. Within the Bangladeshi community in London and in her homeland there exist women who provide the reader with far more entertainment than Nanzeen.  Razia, the strident widow who embraces the independence that England allows her, is the opposite of Nanzeen who relies on the concept of Fate to sort out her problems.  Also, Nanzeen's sister Hasina is another character who chooses a different path.  She eloped with a man her family disapproved of and even in the face of the tragic events that follow and the lack of options for women in Bangladesh, she maintains her optimism.  I found myself looking forward to reading Hasina's letters to Nanzeen because they provided an escape from Nanzeen's hopeless existence. 

I haven't been altogether generous in my praise of this book and I think I know the reason why it received such a lukewarm reception.  I really became more and more impatient with Nanzeen in her reliance on Fate to guide her in the right direction rather than listening to her own instincts and feelings.  What bothered me most about this is that passivity is a quality that I dislike in myself and I have little tolerance for it in other people, fictional or otherwise.  When Nanzeen is forced to act, the narrative became really engaging and the last third of the book made up for any moments of frustration. The book is well-written and paced in such a way that the reader is compelled to stay committed.  Overall, reading this book was a positive experience because it allowed me to examine my own views on inaction and gave me hours of entertainment in the process. Though I had my problems with the main character, I would still recommend this book, just not wholeheartedly which probably reflects more on my biases rather than the talent of the author and the quality of the work.   

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On a Personal Note

I was debating back and forth today about whether or not I should blog about my personal life and found it to be a huge struggle.  I can't recall ever being the subject of anything I've ever written, except for the writing assignments I had in junior high school which routinely featured less-than introspective accounts of my summer vacation.  The issue that has caused me to break with tradition is the absence of my boyfriend.  He is in the Canadian Navy and he is currently on a two-month sail to exotic destinations.  This sail isn't really plaguing my thoughts because it is the appetizer for the six-month sail which is scheduled for the spring.  Though he has been in the navy for almost two years, the longest that we have been apart has been three weeks and during that separation we spoke every night.

I think that what bothered me most about his sail was the lead-up.  I knew his departure wasn't going to be pretty and it did not disappoint.  I tried my best to get my crying over with while he was in the shower, but he saw through my thin veneer of poise.  Poise was the last thing I was capable of in that moment.  What upset me was not just the fact that I wasn't going to see him for two months because I am confident that I can do two months standing on my head.  The thing that really bothered me was that this time is going to be the first major test of our relationship.  My boyfriend was in the navy and committed to a contract before I came along and I had a small idea of what I was getting myself into when we started dating.  It will only truly dawn on me the sacrifices I will have to make when I am in the midst of a long sail and the loneliness sets in.

For now I am only at the beginning of a baby sail and it doesn't seem so bad.  Being in the apartment by myself feels weird, that is the best way to describe it.  I'm still at the stage where I'm almost expecting him to walk through the door and tell me that his sail has been cancelled.  At the moment I'm keeping myself busy with all of the little projects I've cooked up with the sole goal of expending excess energy.  By the end of his sail I expect that the apartment will be unbelievably clean and I will possibly have used my elliptical for something besides hanging laundry.  Hopefully that sentence convinced somebody.  Meanwhile I will deal with my mother's unwanted helicopter parenting, missed holidays and unpleasant reminders of my life as a single woman.  Fortunately I have many people and things to to provide me with adequate distractions and will try not to lose sight of the fact that I am a lucky girl in every way that matters.  Who happens to have one of the best libraries in the city and access to horrible reality television.    

Monday, August 16, 2010

Alligator With Bite

As a reader there are three moments that I like the best. When I reread an old favourite and it still gives me that comforting, fuzzy feeling very few experiences can top that.  Also, I love it when an author I like writes another great book which I enjoy as much as their previous work.  Lastly, I love it when I discover a new author whose work just blows me away.  That was definitely the case when I read Newfoundland author Lisa Moore's novel Alligator

I had been wanting to read this book for some time and because of my carefully honed book-sleuthing skills and managed to find it amongst the thousands of books at this year's Times-Colonist Book Sale.  What really drew me to the book was that I thought that the book's plot revolved around an alligator showing up in St. John's and terrifying its citizens.  I was totally wrong.  Though there is an alligator in the book (and it shows up pretty early on), it never appears in Newfoundland.  Nevertheless, this book is amazing with memorable characters and a plot like a runaway train.  The story is told from the points of view of ten different characters that are all interconnected, and it's a style that runs the risk of creating a lot of one-dimensional characters.  In this case Moore manages to draw the reader in with compelling characters such as Valentin, the Russian psychopath, and his victim, Frank the enterprising young hot dog vendor.  The cast is rounded out by Colleen, a lost teen who tries to emulate her eco-terrorist idols, her grieving mother Beverly, and her aunt Madeleine, a dying filmmaker.  

Not only are the characters memorable, the plot moves quickly too.  With the sheer number of characters involved in this tale and their complex backgrounds, this novel had the potential to be one of those character-driven works which move at a snail's pace.  Some people prefer this style of book and others like books that revolve around a compelling plot.  I feel that ultimately the best books are a combination of both and Alligator is a great example of it.  I found it hard to tear myself away from this book and often exclaimed out loud when a new plot twist was revealed. Even though it is always a risk to take a chance on an author whose works I've never read, in the case of Lisa Moore I'm glad that I took the risk and I look forward to reading her other books in future. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Everything in Moderation

I was at home this morning listening to CBC Radio 1 when I came across yet another debate about the place of Chick Lit within the literary world.  The debate was between two authors, one of which went to the dramatic step of changing her pen name from Diane Connell to DJ Connell so that readers would take her book seriously as a valid contribution to the humour genre rather than lump her in with Chick Lit writers.  For those not in the know about the term Chick Lit it basically applies to books which fall into the romantic comedy category that are written by women for a female audience.  Some of the more famous Chick Lit books which easily come to mind are Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding or the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella.  Though this phenomenon is a recent version of it, women have been writing novels in this style for centuries.  Many books in this genre owe a large debt to Jane Austen, whose works shaped the romantic comedy model while still being considered pieces of great literature.  Since Austen there were many female writers whose target audience was the literate women of the upper crust and similarly to some Chick Lit authors of today, their work was not taken seriously in literary circles.

And now for my opinion.  When I was in university reading books considered to be good literature for my classes, I liked nothing better than to crack open a trashy romance novel or Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella in order to take my mind off the serious plots of my required reading. In the radio debate and in her written reply to DJ Connell's thoughts on the subject, author Michele Gorman makes some pretty good points about the validity of Chick Lit as a genre.  I agree with her argument that there are terrible books written in every style and that people seem quicker to criticize the merits of Chick Lit books as opposed to mystery novels and science fiction thrillers.  One of the main problems that critics have of Chick Lit is that it fails to address the serious issues that ordinary women face in their day to day lives.  I've read enough dramatic realism to know that there are moments where you would prefer not to be transported to the generally dreary existence that is "real life".  At the end of a tiring day sometimes I don't want to read about the very real problems that plague women and am sick and tired of hearing people put down books that allow me to unwind.

Now that I am not a student and haven't been for a number of years I can choose to read what I want, when I want and that freedom is empowering.  I try to vary what I read in the same way I choose my food; a little bit of everything.  There are times though, that I come home and I eat a bag of microwave popcorn.  It's convenient and it is what it is without the usual surprises of my cooking attempts.  I know what I'm getting with Chick Lit too, and am more than slightly peeved that I have to justify reading it in a way that I don't have to with crime or science fiction.  Arghh!