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January 8, 2009

Links and birds

Now reading The Darren Effect by Libby Creelman, which is fabulous, and I’m right in the middle with no idea of what comes next. Maud Newton speculates about why copies of Lush Life (which I reviewed last month) are so hard to come by. Dovegreyreader encounters The Robber Bride. On the history of stenography (subscription required). Jon Evans wonders why he shouldn’t write about Africa, which led me to “How to Write About Africa” by Binyavanga Wainaina. A short story by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. And more on used books.

I watched The Birds on the weekend, which is based on a short story by Daphne DuMaurier (whose Rebecca I so delighted in last year). I’ve not read the short story but checked out the plot synopsis and it seems as though the screenwriter really only used the premise– and yet… Though this is a full length film, it seemed undeniable that it’s source material was a short story. What we know of the characters and what happens to them is really not the point, rather the point is the moment (which is so incredibly terrifying, tacky special effects aside). So interesting to me how clearly the short storyness remained. I’ll have to read the story and see if it came about itself similarly.

September 3, 2008

Being Taken Places

Oh, how books do take us places. After reading Francine Prose’s Goldengrove last week, I absolutely had to watch the movie Vertigo. Which wasn’t a particularly good or convincing film all around, but there was something about it, how it came by its filmishness absolutely brilliantly, and was so thrilling to watch. How the movie and Prose’s novel informed one another; I absolutely loved it.

And then I finished reading Owen Meany, which became far less plodding halfway through. And yes, I understand that some of the plodding was a narrative device, but I think some of it could have been fixed by an editor. Still, I remembered why I’d loved it, which had been the very point.

Then onward to The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh, the sequel to Harriet the Spy. And I’ll say this– I think Louise Fitzhugh is one of the best writers I’ve ever read, ever. Out of children’s lit. and lit. the world over. I loved The Long Secret when I was young, and I could see why upon rereading– I was just as baffled and fascinated as I would have been the first time around, and not every kids book reread can do that twice. In both of her books I’ve read, Fitzhugh captures the awfulness and inexplicableness that is real life in a way I can only compare to Grace Paley (class differences of their characters aside, of course). In no way watered down at all, Fitzhugh renders that reality palatable for children, which is truly amazing. This is the kind of literature children deserve…

And how strange here to see the number of parallels between The Long Secret and A Prayer for Owen Meany— religious fanaticism, grandmothers, bad parenting, coming of age, summertimes etc. etc.– which would have gone unnoticed had I been reading in any other direction.

April 27, 2008

Snail's pace

Today was a bit ridiculous, in that I woke up, went to brunch, and then came home and had a nap. And after that I prepared a tea-party. The whole weekend similarly low-key, mellow and pleasant with flowers in bloom and brunch on the patio. Last night was just as crazy, as I stayed home to watch Michael Clayton, and what a movie that was. That so much was going on but so little had to be explained was a wonderful for lesson for this apprentice writer.

This weekend my Emily Perkins kick continued, as I read her first novel Leave Before You Go and absolutely loved it. I’m now reading her second book The New Girl, and as I can’t find her 1997 short story collection Not Her Real Name anywhere around here, I’ve ordered it used off the tinternet, because now I’m quite sure that I can’t live without it. I also read Pulpy and Midge by Jessica Westhead, whose receptionist didn’t even have a name but whose disdain at having to cover the desk during cake-occasions was truer than life.

April 20, 2008

Indie Cred

Last December I dared to request National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation from my local independent video store, and the clerk asked me if I was serious. This was his version of customer service, it happened all the time, and maybe he thought he was helping me. He probably thought he worked “in film” too, but he reminded me of Dawson’s Creek. One day in February, I asked him if he’d caught Alvin and the Chipmunks yet, just to be annoying, and he practically threw up on me. Everything I rented, he might have laughed at, but being too ironic for laughter, he’d scoff instead. Each time we came out of there, we vowed a boycott, but we always returned, since Blockbuster has had nothing in stock ever since they cut out late fees.

We’ve moved, and our new house has a branch of the same independent video store just around the corner. The difference between the two locations is astounding, in that every video we’ve been after has been in stock (incl. new releases) and that the staff aren’t mean. We’re just not used to the latter. Today we returned Juno, and as we walked away from the counter, the clerk began making strange noises. We turned around, prepared for whatever was coming, which was potentially being spat on.
“What,” we said, bracing ourselves.
Juno,” said the clerk, in mock-dramatic tones.
“I liked it,” I said, pleading. “It was a good movie.”
The clerk cackled in an evil fashion (instead of the unevil fashion).
“Come on, what is it?” said Stuart.
“No, just everyone’s been wanting this and it’s the first one back. Thanks for bringing it back guys! And have a great day!”

Our gratitude at not being abused was almost sad.

April 8, 2008

Sark: The World's Newest Democracy

Am I ever excited to pass along a link to Sark: The World’s Newest Democracy, a short documentary film by my friend Paul Kutasi. Partly because I take every opportunity to brag about my clever friends, but also because the film is fabulous. Sark is a small island in the English Channel, and the last feudal state in Europe– but not for long. Well done Paul.

March 12, 2008

Dance dance dance

Stuart surprised me with a present today, and a tea accessory at that! A porcelain tea infuser, as seen on this rather fabulous tea blog. I also ate a raspberry white chocolate scone at work. Today the sun is shining, hinting spring, and Marian M. seems outdated again.

I just finished reading The Outcast by Sadie Jones, which presents a tonier 1950s British austerity than I’d ever before glimpsed. “If she had been a drawing, she would be drawn with a few lines, and strong ones”, and all its characters seemed as such. And quietly cinematic.

And speaking of cinema, I watched Once on the weekend, particularly due to my friend KD’s endorsement. It was truly extraordinary, and I don’t think I’ve been so convinced by a film in a long time. Any writer could learn loads by understanding the dynamics in that love story, a story where plot seemed secondary to human nature. If that makes any sense. And it’s been on my mind for days and days since, running through my head and not just its music. I think I had forgotten the possibility of fundamental goodness in a film.

Do note that my favourite song right now is “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You” by The Black Kids. And I like that their chosen tracks include songs by Sloane and Lauryn Hill.

July 24, 2007

Truth is Overrated

I’ve been thinking a lot about the authenticity of fiction, and the Penelope Lively quote I cited a few weeks back:

Story is navigation; successful story is the triumphant progress down exactly the right paths, avoiding the dead ends, the unsatisfactory turns. Life, of course, is not at all like that. There is no shrewd navigator, just a person’s own haphazard lurching from one decision to another. Which is why life so often seems to lack the authenticity of fiction.

As a woman who yesterday fell over a ledge, landed hard at the foot of concrete staircase, and has spent today at home packed on ice, there is plenty I could discuss about this from a personal perspective. I will, however, refrain, because I recently watched the movie Breach, which I enjoyed for the reasons I like most movies involving Russians and espionage, but I also found the things wrong with it so worthy of discussion.

Breach, you see, is BASED ON A TRUE STORY. As a result, the tension is subtle, pacing is slow, and various aspects of character don’t make a lot of sense. The main character has a wife who is East German, which is incidental to the plot. Afterwards we were discussing the movie and I said, “I just don’t get why she was East German.” And then I remembered– oh yeah, because she was. It’s that simple. Why didn’t the movie come with much of a climax? Because real life doesn’t tend to take the shape of an arch. Why did some bits drag? Because that what days do. And so on– I suspect the mini-climax this movie offered was fictional; it seemed implausible. There were other bits which suggested mere spice, and it was jarring to be knocked in and out of truth and fiction this way. I might have even felt manipulated, had they actually managed to do it well.

The movie lacked the authenticity of fiction. Forced to be based on truth, a fascinating story was stripped of liberties, bound, gagged, and wrapped up in a 110 minute package where it faltered. A better script might have saved the film, but its relationship to real events would have always been troubling. Life is stupid, for example people fall off ledges. And later we will tell the story, its very point being unreality, but in the realm of the unreal, the story doesn’t function. The story is without context, like most things. Threads will fail to tie up neatly, and people will keep insisting upon being East German for no reason. And all of this mess isn’t even truth, but just somebody’s supposed version of it. At least with fiction you know what you’re in for, and you can do with the story what you may.

July 8, 2007

Store Bought Women

We shall save the island for next weekend then, as plans were thwarted. For some reason Saturday morning we didn’t wake up until eleven, and this morning we woke up to thunder. Fortunately there was plenty of other fun to be had. Friday night we had dinner at the Brown-Smiths (who become “the Smiths” full-stop come January how exciting!), and relished rooftop patio goodness and finally the CN Tower lit up. I hadn’t seen it before. Clearly I neither get out nor look up enough. Yesterday’s highlight was a swim in the pool at Christie Pitts– what a delight! Sweet relief from the humidity. Today was such a Sunday– I read The Portrait of a Lady (nearly done), worked on a new true story full of lies, and Stuart devoured The Raw Shark Texts in one sitting. This weekend we watched Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and adored it. You might remember that both of us read the book and loved it earlier this year. I love when a film can so well complement the book it came from. Two more days until the new Crowded House! And the big news? This weekend I successfully baked a chocolate cake. This has never happened before, as my cakes have variously exploded, disintegrated, failed to bake etc. But this cake is perfect, and easy. I shall not attempt a different recipe ever again. And tea of the week? Pomegranate Green. Yum zum.

April 22, 2007

April can be so uncruel

We stuck close to home this weekend, which is natural as close to our home is a wonderful place to be on a weekend like this. Lots of indulgences: first ice cream of 2007, first outdoor patio supper with the first pitcher of beer. Today we partook in chicken wings as the street went by. I’ve felt mellow enough to be boneless, which is so nice (and rare).

I read Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto this morn, and I loved it. My problem with Japanese fiction in the past has been its weirdness (I’m a realist to the core) but I rode with it, and I enjoyed it. It’s the first Japanese fiction I’ve read since we lived there, and it was nice to go back for an hour or two. Now reading Happenstance by Carol Shields, who I continue to be obsessed with. And then on to The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald who I’ve never read before, but is much championed over at dovegreyreader scribbles. I’m curious.

Tonight we’re watching Notes on a Scandal (a bookish film!) in order that I can get through the evening without fretting to death about my thesis defense (!) tomorrow morning.

March 25, 2007

Prairie Fiction should come with a warning label

I had book trauma this weekend. I don’t mean this lightly. As I have mentioned before, reading prairie fiction sends me into despair. Which I always forget about until I’ve nearly finished the book and am filled with deep sadness for the human condition. And I never stopped to think that Obasan is actually prairie fiction too, as well being, well, Obasan. Which, when read following my recent Burmese prison tale rendered the world pretty bleak. And the sky was the colour of paper, and I kept staring out the window pondering the meaning of it all. So in other words I was in dire need of a good slap, and around people far too kind to administer one. Luckily life got better.

First, I’m now reading Orphan Island by Rose Macaulay which is a delightful and interesting romp. You can read the 1925 review from Time Magazine here (ain’t the tinternet grand?) I’ve not read Macaulay’s novels before, though her Pleasure of Ruins is the most beautiful book I own, and I loved her essay on English “Catchwords and Claptrap” (which you can read here). I am reading this novel on the recommendation of Decca who acknowledged it in one of her letters as a favourite. It’s simply lovely.

And next up is The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (who I hope to go see read at Harbourfront next week).

Second, I watched Stranger Than Fiction last night, and I can’t think of the last time I enjoyed a movie so much. And it’s a bookish film, but I watched it with two boys who are a little less bookish than I, and they liked it as much as I did. I found it purely enjoyable from start to finish, I didn’t get bored once, and part of the reason I was so engaged was I had no idea how the plot would sort itself out. But it did perfectly, and all of us were so engrossed in the story that when we feared one character would meet an untimely (or timely, in this case, I do suppose) demise, we were out of our minds with agony. And I like a movie that allows you to care so much. Lately we’ve renting movies last minute with little selection, and then yelling at the screen begging the characters to off themselves so we wouldn’t have to watch them any longer. So it was very nice to feel differently, and of course the bookishness was ace. Six thumbs up.

The sky is still the colour of paper, but my outlook has greatly improved.

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