December 31, 2011
Next year, I was going to eat fewer sweets, but then I received a Kitchen-Aid Professional Stand-Mixer for Christmas, so it really doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. I am consoling myself, however, with the realization that I’ve achieved both my 2011 goals, which were to read Great Expectations and finish a draft of my novel manuscript. I have read 132 books this year, and have also been successful at reading through my to-be-read shelf (and putting them in alphabetical order has made all the difference in the world, by the way) and I’m on the Ps. I vow to never let such a pile-up occur ever again. In 2012, I am going to finally finish reading John Cheever’s collected short stories, and write a brilliant second draft of my novel. I am also going to restrict myself to blogging 3 days a week in order to make time for other kinds of writing.
This time last year, I had just finished up a fulfilling creative year, but had no idea but 2011 would have in store. And to think that it would include a National Magazine Award nomination and publication in a book would have been nearly too much to wish for, and so I am pretty grateful for those opportunities, as well as writing gigs with some great publications, and my work at Canadian Bookshelf and Uof T. In addition to my novel, I’m at work on a couple of other interesting projects, and would also like to publish some short fiction this year, though perhaps it’s too much to wish the cup be eternally runneth over.
Speaking of cups runneth over (or at least bowls), we’d been planning on a chocolate fondue to bring in the new year tonight, but then our neighbour who’s departing on vacation brought over the contents of her fridge, and now it looks like we’re going to have to make a clafoutis as well. So I really mean it when I say that we’re doing poorly on the fewer sweets thing, but if that’s my biggest problem, we’re really doing all right.
Happy New Year and all the best for 2012.
December 31, 2011
It’s an exciting time in any parent’s life when your child moves out of her crib onto the futon that was once your living room couch. It’s like the circle of life for the not-so-upwardly mobile. But it’s gone off without a hitch and, like everything ever in the history of Harriet, was a much bigger deal for us that it was for her. She likes the new bed because she can turn somersaults on it, and is fond of the comforter she received for Christmas from one of her grandmothers. From the other, she received custom bunting spelling out her name (and you can catch a glimpse of it in the first photo). All these new things being the best excuse for a bedroom reorganization, and I’m very happy with the result.
You can click here for a glimpse of how Harriet’s library began, and from the picture on the right, you can tell that we’ve come a long way. And aren’t kids books impossible to get rid of? I am pretty good at pruning my own collection, but with Harriet’s books, every one seems so essential.
December 24, 2011
Christmas Eve is my favourite day of the holidays, and with yesterday being a holiday too, it’s like we’ve had two of them. But with Christmas Day nearly upon us, it means it’s time to get down to the holiday reading I’ve been saving. It is by coincidence only that all these books are blue, but I like the connection. I’ll be reading ZZ Packer’s Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, which I bought on clearance ages and ages ago and am finally getting to because I’m at P in my to-be-read pile. And I’ve been looking forward to this one. The Louise Penny book I tried to read in the summer during that time when the temperature was 50 degrees celsius, and it just didn’t work for me. With the cover so wintry looking, I’m thinking now is a better time to try it, and don’t mysteries just seem somehow more December-ish anyway? And finally, I’m going to read A Family of Readers by Roger Sutton and Martha Parravano (in fact, I’m probably going to read it first), which was a gift from Nathalie Foy (and this is the part where you get to envy me for not only having Nathalie as a friend in my online life, but also as a friend in my neighbourhood).
I hope you have a holiday just as lovely. xo
December 23, 2011
Of course, this was our favourite book from the library haul this week. Don’t Slam The Door has rhyming couplets, fabulous vivid drawings, and is one of those causality lesson books (like Tumble Bumble, one of our favourites). The little girl implores the dog not to slam the door, but then he does and all hell breaks loose, just as she’d predicted– knotty wool, stinging bees, cows in the bed, and whatnot. Delightful. But I especiall admire the bossy little girl at its centre, demanding everything of everyone around her, and doesn’t she seem just a little bit familiar.
December 20, 2011
Someone asked recently what the reasons are that those of us don’t go to church still make a point of celebrating Christmas. To which I answered that it’s about lighting darkness, about remembering all things that are evergreen, and celebrating the miracle of new life. And so there’s a 7 ft tall balsam fir in our living room, stockings by the fire, and we’ve been baking cookies shaped like stars and crooked snowmen. Gifts are very far from the point, and what gifts there are are most often books. Harriet has asked if Santa not come this year, because she doesn’t like him. “I want my stocking empty,” she kept saying, and we’ll listen so not to traumatize.
We sing Christmas carols, traditional ones and ones by Slade, Wizzard and The Pogues, and this year we’ve told Harriet the Christmas story, because these things are of the culture we’ve come from, and we like stories of all kinds– we recently purchased our own copy of Dick Bruna’s The Christmas Book after reading the library’s copy to near-death. We’re also reading A Christmas Carol together, each of us for the first time, and however familiar the story is from popular culture, it’s a joy to be discovering. In particular since we have a gorgeous big edition with illustrations by Quentin Blake, and although I’m not sure how much Harriet is really getting out of it, she’s taken with Tiny Tim. Kristen den Hartog’s most recent blog post has made me interested in making the film version of the book part of our family holiday tradition.
And oh, tradition, isn’t that at the heart of it? These hooks we hang our lives upon. To be without religion is not be rudderless, I insist upon that. I guess some might resent that we pick and choose the pieces with which we build our life, but the pieces we’ve chosen are chosen with care, and held in reverence.
December 19, 2011
Much of this Fall was consumed by the adventure my first round of teaching The Art and Business of Blogging at through UofT’s School of Continuing Studies. An article on the course was included in The Toronto Sun‘s recent continuing education supplement, and is available for your reading here. And just a reminder that the course will be offered again in the spring!
December 19, 2011
Without actually intending to, I’ve gone on vacation, mostly thanks to the last two books I’ve read, both big, fat, enveloping novels. The first was The Spoiler by Annalena McAfee, which was published this year in the UK and will be out in Canada in April. McAfee is a veteran newspaper journalist, as well as (less interestingly) the spouse of Ian McEwan. The Spoiler is her first novel, something of a roman-a-clef, which takes on the UK newspaper business, whose own business has been creating its own press for last six months with the News of the World Scandal. Though McAfee sets her book in early 1997, not so long ago that the fundamentals were so different (or at least the sleazy, illegal tabloid tactic side), it was certainly a different time– John Major was at the end of his power, Spice Girls were only in the ascent, Princess Diana was still campaigning for landmines, and Liam Gallagher was married to Patsy Kensit. And notably, in the newsroom, expense accounts were limitless, and the internet was only going to be a fad.
The problem is that McAfee’s narrative is all too aware of itself, conspicuously placed on a pivot point, and when her protagonist Tamara Sim references Princess Diana and Jill Dando in the same chapter (who’d both be dead not before long, we know), or dismisses the internet as a fad, we’re taken out of the story, and placed above her. Though perhaps such a vantage point is appropriate, because we’re clearly expected to find Tamara something of an idiot. And it it is curious why she, glossy celebrity gossip scribe, has been enlisted with the task of interviewing formidable journalist legend Honor Tait, now aged 80 and doing publicity for a new collection of her articles and essays.
Fallout is to be expected as these two very different characters collide, and the effect is uncomfortable, amusing. As the novel proceeds, both characters become better developed, though Tamara mostly remains a caricature. Fortunately, the plot itself so picks up in the novel’s second half that such a flaw is forgiven. The book’s ending is surprising, absorbing, and serves to strengthen all that came before it. It’s a good old read, and quite devourable in its light touch. Comparisons to Nancy Mitford and Helen Fielding are apt, though I’d probably lean more to the latter. Perhaps like Helen Fielding equipped with a thesaurus is how you’d sum it up just right.
And then there’s Thisbe Nissen’s Osprey Island, which I bought from a clearance bin in 2009 and never got around to reading. And I picked the wrong season within which to finally get to it, because this book is Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters meets Dirty Dancing. You’ve got the island lodge with the townies, a crop of Irish chambermaids on working holiday visas, and the preppy waiters (“You just put your pickle on everybody’s plate, college boy, and leave the hard stuff to me.” The thing you might not know about me is that I reviewed Patrick Swayze’s autobiography last year. But I digress.)
Plot hinges on a troubled couple, a fiery death, and battle for custody of a vulnerable boy, with sideplots involving chambermaiding, summer love, the Vietnam War and hotel life. Nissen’s a really good writer, which heightens the novel’s more trashy elements, and many of the characters are startlingly evoked. It’s a beach read for the thinking woman, and I enjoyed it even though I don’t even have a beach.
December 18, 2011
From my Christmas post at Canadian Bookshelf, “Books: Help to Make the Season Right”:
“Pictures of this Christmas book tree have been making the rounds online for the last week or two, representing a tangible link between reading and the spirit of the holidays. Though such a link would come as no surprise to anyone for whom gift-giving is a tradition, because there is no object on earth as easy to wrap as a book is. Even the clumsiest thumbs are capable of a present-worthy wrap job, thanks to compact solidity and right-angled symmetry. Further, once the wrapping is shed, the book is ready for reading straightaway, no batteries required, no plugging in to charge… Books have the potential to make everything that’s wrong with Christmas right, to make gift-giving about more than acquisition and stuff.”
Read the whole thing here.
December 18, 2011
I had a plan once, that I’d have a book before I had a baby, but it turned out that I had a book that wasn’t very good, and one can put off having a baby forever. So I had a baby, and then I wrote a lot of other things, but it’s hard to write a new book when one took you wrong before. The first (or, ahem, second) time around, you can fool yourself into thinking the objective is just writing to the end, but there’s more to it than that. It’s hard to write a book once you’ve learned that your best might not be good enough, that hard work really can come to nothing, that the doubting voices in your head might be telling you the truth. It took me three years (and many false starts) to get to the point where I was ready to start again, but once I did, I found myself tremendously liberated. There was no fear of failure, because I’d done that before and survived, and I could do so again if required. And having my illusions shattered, I knew there was no other reason to be writing another book except for the sheer love of doing it, and love it, I truly did.
I started this first draft in September of 2010, and my goal for 2011 was to finish it. The manuscript was finished a few months ago, but it was only this morning that I printed it out (on green cardstock, because what else am I going to use it for?): 128 pages, 65,000 words, absolute proof of goal achieved. And you know what? It’s actually pretty good. I’m looking forward to reading it over the next few weeks, red pen in hand, and then beginning my second draft with a blank page, new document, and trying to make it as good as I possibly can. Which is now my goal for 2012, as well as to enjoy every step along the way.
But in the meantime: hooray for right now. Another goal is to remember that hurdles are milestones.
December 15, 2011
Okay, here’s the perfect picture book for the darkest time of year. Caroline Woodward’s rhyming verse matched with Julie Morstad’s illustrations (and oooh, that cardinal!) make Singing Away the Dark an absolutely delightful book. “When I was six, and went to school, I walked a long, long way…” this book begins, and its narrator recounts her bravery as she walks a mile to the school bus before the sun’s even risen, facing the dark, the shadows in the trees, and other obstacles (errant cows!) by trudging forthwith and singing loud. “I see a line of big old trees, marching up the hill. ‘I salute you, Silent Soldiers! Help me if you will.’”
My love of Simply Read Books knows no bounds lately, and I’m so happy to have discovered them, for their books are always wonderful, but also beautiful (and oh, the endpapers on this one, a pattern of leafless trees). And once again, I’m cheating, because I didn’t find this book on my own, but rather it comes recommended by Theresa Kishkan, Sara O’Leary, AND the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. And really, the quality of the book warrants all the hype.