Wednesday 31 December 2008

The Reading Lamp: that there's devil music

My mamma always tole me that heavy metal music were the work of Saytan hisself. This is proved to be true by the red, devlish eyes of the misguided young laydee reading Slash's book. Lor' save her fragile soul. Books ain't so good either - they puts ideas into people's heads, dange'rous ideas.

Your name:
Erin Ball

What are you reading now? Slash by Slash.

Where are you reading it? Mostly in bed and on the bus.

How did you discover this book? Oddly enough, I found it in Shopper's Drug Mart. I rarely go in there but I went in with a friend one evening.

I saw the book, realized I had nothing to read for the bus ride home, and with a bit of coaxing from my friend, bought it. I didn't even know that Slash had written a book.

What do you think of it so far? It's a pretty great "junk food" book. There are tons of hilarious and crazy stories and I'm learning a lot of awesome useless facts about G n' R [That's the band Guns N' Roses for all you people born either before 1950 or after 1990 -Ed.]. I heart Slash (especially now that I've read the book).

What's your favourite either unknown or underappreciated book? The most recent favourite would have to be Girl Bomb by Janice Erlbaum. Great story about her wild youth.

Favourite childhood book? The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

Friday 26 December 2008


You didn't think I was going to finish this one, did you? Well, I can't blame you - it HAS been sitting in the "What Colleen is reading now" section for what may seem like forever to you.

I, however, have been enjoying the prolonged and laid back relationship I've had with Late Medieval English Lyrics and Carols, 1400-1530 and so "forever" doesn't hold for me any negative connotations.

I started reading this collection several months ago in anticipation of finishing my PhD; specifically, I wanted to brush up on my middle English reading skills with the goal in mind of reading some medieval romances when I was free and clear.

Of course, I'm too tired right now to read much but kiddy lit, so I'm not sure when that might happen. But this collection has helped me keep my brain working in that direction because while I can read middle English, I wouldn't say I do so anymore without some difficulty - I'm way out of practice and so there's usually at least one word per poem that I don't know (thank goodness for the editor and his handy marginal notes).

You may think that middle English poetry is as boring as this post is turning out to be. No sir. I knew you'd think that and so here's a naughty poem for you:

There was a ladie leaned her backe to a wall;
He tokke uppe petticote, smocke and all;
He laid her legges uppon his knee;
It was as white as white might bee;
He took a thing that stiffe did stand,
And hunched her and punched her and made great game.
'O Godes bodie,' says she, 'fie, for shame!'
Yet he would not leave her so
But he did ease her and please her befor he would goo. (p. 147)

There are two things about this poem that blow my mind a little: 1) This is apparently a riddle, the answer to which is "A shoe"; 2) Who wrote, transcribed, and then preserved this poem so well that it ended up in a 20th-century anthology?

Thomas Duncan, the editor, doesn't answer these questions for me (likely because he can't) and so I can only assume that some pervy nobleman thought it would be a lark to keep a nice copy of this riddle. Also, I clearly don't know enough about cobbling (even though I apparently had an ancestor in Holland who was a cobbler circa 1400) to know how precisely this is about shoes and not, you know...swiving.

Speaking of swiving, I took an undergraduate honours seminar in Middle English Literature and one of the minor assignments was to consult the Middle English Dictionary and inform the class about the meaning of some word assigned by the prof. I was assigned "swive" which means either to screw or to fuck!! I was worried. I read that MED entry about a hundred times, assuming I was COMPLETELY misunderstanding and about to make ass of myself in class.

But I couldn't understand it any other way and so I went to class and I said "This word means 'to fuck'". My fellow students gasped, were shocked, thought I was crazy but the prof, who looks about as stern and conservative as you can imagine, said "Yes, that's correct. So, in 'The Miller's Tale'..." HA. But still, I count that as one of the most STRESSFUL school experiences of my life.

You may still be skeptical about my reading medieval poetry for fun. Don't be. I got hooked on the stuff in that same undergraduate class, and I can pinpoint my addiction to a particular reading moment. The first part of the course was super difficult because I was basically teaching myself this earlier version of modern English that sometimes seemed entirely unrelated to the English I spoke.

I was slogging through Sir Gawain and the Green Knight when I did a double take. My mental conversation went something like this: "Wait, what? Did I just...? Did he just...? Did the Green Knight's head just roll into Guinevere's feet? Did the Green Knight's body just go and pick up the head and did the head start talking? Oh my god, yes. THAT'S WHAT JUST HAPPENED. This is the best thing I've ever read!!!"

It was magical: not only was I breaking through comprehension-wise but I was also realizing that this was truly kick-ass early fantasy literature. That particular poem is much more than fantasy but the talking head was all that was required for me to become a middle English lit devotee - and soon I will have the energy to read more of it!

In the meantime, I think there's either some more kiddy lit or some 17th-century Chinese porn for me to read.

In anticipation of the coming new year, I will give you one more sampler from Duncan's kick-ass anthology:

Now ys comen a messyngere
Of yore Lorde, Ser Nu Yere,
Byddes us all be mery here
And make as mery as we way.
Hay, ay, hay, ay,
Make we mery as we may. (p. 154)

I'll see you in 2009 if not before! (I may manage to sneak in one last post.)

Thursday 25 December 2008

I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows

My easy reading project continues and I would say it's been a success so far. I'm loving the return to mostly kids' books and want to thank my good friend Yuri for so strenuously recommending that I check out Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth.

Juster's book is a sometimes heavy-handed fictional ass-kicking for all those kids out there who think everything's boring and go around moping all the time. It was, however, also hilarious and Juster's endlessly energetic word play was delightful; indeed, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that this book helped to inspire that PBS TV gem WordGirl. In fact, I would say that as much as I like WordGirl, it's kind of the homeless man's version of this book, the latter of which presented about 20 big and awesome words on every single page (WordGirl just does one massive new word per episode).

If I had sprogs, I would get them reading The Phantom Tollbooth for besides being fun as hell, it also provides great overviews in basic linguistic theory, math, the butterfly effect, and peacenikishness. A perfect storm of early learning I'd say.

Having finished The Phantom Tollbooth this morning, I dove right into and finished another book I've had on the go for awhile, Richard Lederer's Anguished English: An Anthology of Accidental Assaults Upon Our Language. Rohan from Novel Readings suggested this one to me after I blogged about Herrings Go About the Sea in Shawls and so I was really looking forward to more hysterical giggling.

I definitely got a good dose of the hysterical giggles from Lederer's compilation, although not nearly as many as I was expecting. For me, a misplaced modifier isn't in itself enough; the resulting sense has to be truly absurd for me to be amused.

But there were gems in this one such as the following, which I transcribe for your Festivus reading pleasure. (The entire accident reports section had me curled up in a ball on the streetcar trying to stifle my hysterical laughter.)

About Socrates:

"After his death, his career suffered a dramatic decline."

From an actual courtroom:
"Q. When he went, had you gone and had she, if she wanted to and were able, for the time being excluding all the restraints on her not to go also, would he have brought you, meaning you and she, with him to the station.

A. Objection. That question should be taken out and shot."

From actual car accident reports:
"Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I didn't have."

"I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment."

"I saw a slow-moving, sad faced old gentleman, as he bounced off the hood of my car."

"I was thrown from my car as it left the road. I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows."

"One wheel went into the ditch. My foot jumped from brake to accelerator, leaped across the road to the other side, and jumped into the trunk of a tree."

"A cow wandered into my car. I was later informed that the unfortunate cow was half-witted."

Courtesy of Sam Goldwyn:

"Anybody who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined."

Besides too many examples of misplaced modifiers and nonsensical things that just weren't ridiculous enough to be funny, I was a little put off by how many of Lederer's examples I'd already chuckled over while reading Herrings Go About the Sea in Shawls.

My irritation wasn't that I thought Lederer was stealing shit but that probably the funniest ones, which both books share, were actually made up by somebody smart and funny, and have since become the stuff of student blooper urban legend (i.e., "Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of the same name" or "Gorgons have snakes for hair and are like women but only more horrible.") For me, half the fun was in believing students really wrote such things and when that belief is cast into doubt, well...

Well, it might be time to get back to the fiction is all. Happy Saturnalia everyone!

Sunday 21 December 2008

The word of the day is "vulpine"

Vulpine (adj.): of or resembling a fox; cunning or crafty. Stephen King must like this word a lot for he uses it noticeably often in his short story collection Night Shift.

This is my second time reading Night Shift, the first being approximately 21 years ago when I was given to staying up all night reading shit that scared me. What really scares me now is that I can talk about books I read 20 years ago without referring to The Berenstein Bears or Hop on Pop or I Wish That I Had Duck Feet.

Getting back to this classic King collection has been part of my post-thesis easy reading project, although I began it on the train to Kingston for the event in question. I had to skip the first story, "Jerusalem's Lot", though, because it was epistolary, and that's the last thing I was up for as I hurtled towards what I imagined would be my final destruction.

I read the epistolary tale last and I enjoyed it perhaps best of all, which surprised me, because I don't really remember reading it before. I thought, when I decided to read this book, that revisiting the stories I remembered best would be the most pleasurable (in a hair-raising way). I recall finding finding "Children of the Corn", "The Mangler", "The Boogeyman", and "I Am the Doorway" to be great examples of horror fiction.

Re-reading them, however, hasn't been the scary thrill ride I'd been hoping for. "The Mangler", "I Am the Doorway", and even "The Boogeyman", the latter of which has caused a friend of mine to have a night light in her bedroom for the past 20 years, completely failed to affect me in any way.

"The Children of the Corn" still freaked me out a bit, but it was the stories that I barely remember reading that got me this time, at least a little. "Gray Matter" and "One for the Road" were pretty freaky, as was "Jerusalem's Lot". But I think they wouldn't freak me out were I to read them again. I'm thinking Stephen King may be a one night stand kind of read, not a permanent relationship kind of read.

Not that I didn't read his massive novel It twice when I was 12, of course. But that may have had more to do with the 12 year old characters' crazy sexual tension with each other than the fear and alienation associated with scary clowns and giant spider-ish things.

Another thing: Stephen King is very 70s. The casually racist and sexist comments he just throws out there I don't think would fly now. E.g., referring to one of the undead villains in "Sometimes They Come Back", he described his "negroid lips" specifically as a sign of said villain's obvious...villainy. It was awkward.

But I'm done with Stephen King for this decade, I suspect. We took over our bookstore on Friday and as I've been re-organizing the shelves, I've been accumulating a stack of books that absolutely must be read. Said stack is so awesome that it would have to kick any Stephen King book that tried to join it right in the face.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

What I've missed out on

It hurts me more than a little to think of all the amazing kiddie lit books that I didn't read when I was a kiddie. It's not that I don't enjoy the kiddie lit now, because I really really do.

But I want to experience all kiddie lit books now the way I experienced Bambi then - full of the greatest anxiety and heartbreak and deep loneliness imaginable - and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - full of desperate hope and hunger and being able to taste that one chocolate bar Charlie got every year; I can still taste that chocolate bar as I imagined it when I was 6 and dammit, no chocolate in the world could taste as good I dreamed Charlie's once-a-year bar did.

For this intensity of emotional and physical experience, I wish I'd read Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden when I was little. I still feel all weepy and nostalgic for it but if I'd read it when I was a wee sprog, I think it might have changed me forever the way those books mentioned above did. Tom's forays into the wrinkles of time were as compelling to me now as re-reading L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet as an adult was, but without the discomfort of noticing the author's racial and religious weirdnesses.

Pearce just knew how to write a good magical yarn for kids - and for me, as I recover from PhDing and as I delve into the extremely tiring life of owning a bookstore, this is perfect. Because book-selling could kill a girl's love of reading if she weren't careful, and that just wouldn't do at all.

Friday 12 December 2008

The spy who shagged me AND wrote cool books

In case you're wondering, my thesis defense went well and I'm free and clear. I did let out one incredibly loud "WOOOHOOO!" on the day, but mostly I've just been feeling really laid back and free of a burden that's been weighing on me a long time. It's nice!

But on to more important things: books. I brought 3 books with me to Kingston but I finished one on the train (Skellig) and am almost halfway through another (Stephen King's Night Shift) which is not the scary thrill-ride I was hoping for.

The third book was an Ellis Peters whodunnit which I haven't read because after devouring Skellig, I really wanted more kiddie lit. I ended up going to Novel Idea, Kingston's only independent book-seller of new books and spent money I don't have on a new book I should have instead borrowed from the library.

I ended up picking up Marcus Sedgwick's Blood Red, Snow White purely on the basis of its title, which reminded me of a fairy tale I recall fondly from my childhood called "Snow White and Rose Red". It involved a prince disguised as a bear who's set free by the hot sisters' kindness.

The book wasn't obviously related to that particular fairy tale, but it was about Arthur Ransome who was a real author famous for his books Old Peter's Russian Tales and Swallows and Amazons. Ransome was also a reporter, a spy for the British, perhaps a spy for the Bolsheviks, and in love with a Russian woman who happened to have been Trotsky's secretary during the Russian Revolution. His life was complicated, and the book reflected his combined tastes for fairy stories, espionage, and foreign women by being itself a fairy tale, a spy thriller, and a love story all at once.

I thought Blood Red, Snow White worked best when it was addressing the political and historical issues through fairy tales. It was just a really good read then, and I thought perhaps an excellent way to get teens (the intended audience for this book, I presume) interested in history. When Sedgwick started emphasizing the spy/love stuff more I found it less compelling but who knows what the kidz would think.

What I do know for sure is that Sedgwick's book really made me want to read Old Peter's Russian Tales, which has been sitting around our house for the past 10 years feeling unloved and under-appreciated. Soon, my poor abandoned book, soon.

I realize my writing isn't very lively tonight. The fact is that while I'm very happy and relaxed right now, I'm also very tired. I promise to write positively sparkling, crackling, ass-kicking, jubilant, etc reviews soon. But now it's time for a 10-hour nap.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Panic mode, activated

Oy. My defense is tomorrow. At 10 in the morning. I should be weeping or something now shouldn't I? For once, my desperation is quiet and I would like to celebrate that quietness with a short blog post. The last pre-defense blog post I will ever write!

So, I've got two books to very briefly review here. The first is Barb and J.C. Hendee's vampire extravaganza Dhampir. A dhampir is, according to Balkan legend, the offspring of a vampiric dad and a human (and I would assume doomed) mom. They're also known to sometimes hunt their full vampire cousins.

It may be best for everyone if you don't ask why I already had Dhampir in my possession, well before Darren instructed me to read fluff in preparation for this week's ordeal. But already have it I did and it wins the award for fluffiest book in my collection (soon to be in my bookstore's collection).

I have to say, this was exactly the right book to be reading in the lead-up to tomorrow's festivities. It was light, it was action-packed, and it was all story and luckily, the writing was no impediment. The writing was just fine, which was more than I was expecting. And because fantasy writers just can't stop, there are at least three more books in the Noble Dead Saga for me to soothe my weary brain with in the future.

The second book to discuss, which I read in its entirety during my train ride to Kingston this afternoon, was David Almond's Skellig (which, yes, I read entirely on David Maybury's recommendation).

Fellow babies, that's a good book. If you have kids, get yer butt to the bookstore and buy it for them for Festivus. If this book had existed when I was a sprog it might have been my favourite book of all time. Poor Bambi might have been the runner-up.

As an adult, it made me feel just a little bit emotionally manipulated but I didn't care because it was so good. If you like children's lit, just trust me and go get it for yourself!

I heart books.

Tomorrow morning I have to talk about the worst never-to-be-published book ever written: my thesis. I've been given some great advice on how to handle tough questions and these are my three favourites, in no particular order:

1) Respond with a Cape Breton sucker punch.
2) Allow the evil leprechaun who tells me to burn things to field those questions.
3) Present obvious as though gift of Magi.

Any other suggestions are welcome.

Saturday 6 December 2008

The Wodehouse cure

It won't be long now until the final day of reckoning on my thesis. My friend Darren who long ago defended his has instructed me to read fluff for the next little while and because he's a Doctor (of Philosophy, but no matter - he can still prescribe good times!), I'm doing as instructed.

The first stop in what I'm hoping to make into a series of mindless fluff reads was P.G. Wodehouse's Uncle Fred in the Springtime. I have to say, there's only one other Wodehouse novel I've enjoyed this much and it was the first: Leave it to Psmith.

With Wodehouse, it's all about the characters, and Uncle Fred is as charming, scheming, benevolent, and hilarious as Psmith. Indeed, if these characters were going to fight for the title of The Most Superior Ultimate Super-Wodehousian Character of all time, I honestly don't know who would win. I'm going to have to do more research, clearly, into each of their various other exploits and, of course, to see if there are any other contenders.

Spoiler Alert
I think I've mentioned before that the pleasure in reading Wodehouse comes not from plot (because they're all pretty much the same, with a few alterations in each story) but in the characters. Uncle Fred in the Springtime generally followed the usual pattern but the conclusion turned out somewhat differently than usual.

Normally, when the Efficient Baxter shows up, one can count on him becoming the sort of fall guy whose gulling and humiliation become central to the other characters' desires working out. Uber-secretary Baxter has, in my experience, tended to function as a sort of Malvolio character, receiving all the abuse and etc. before being run out of town like any good scapegoat should.

This time, however, his fate was left curiously unresolved; indeed, this time, the focus of the denouement was entirely on Uncle Fred's grand success rather than on Baxter's comeuppance. This definitely makes for a more pleasant read. With both Shakespeare and Wodehouse, I've always been made a little uncomfortable by their Comic resolutions needing to hinge on someone's downfall, even the downfall of characters as irksome as Malvolio and Baxter.

Squeamishness aside, it's nice to see that Wodehouse was capable of sometimes departing, even in a minor way, from his very successful template.

Now, the Doctor has ordered drivel as my current reading material so there are two things to note: 1) I'm not even going to consider trying Pilgermann again until this is all over; 2) I think it may be time for a vampire novel. I take the Doctor's orders very seriously indeed.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Curious/Creepy: 50% more creepiness at no extra cost!

Oy, lots of book-spying today on the TTC so this installment of C/C could be a long one. I'll try to keep it light and fluffy but I've got the stamina to go the distance if necessary - I'm eating the world's best white bean hummus with rice crackers so I could do this alllll day.

1) A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. This and the following four books were spotted by yours truly (henceforth to be referred to as Y.T. in homage to Snow Crash) on the westbound subway line today.

The reader of this newly paperbacked tome was a youngish woman with black hair and black fingernails. That's all I can tell you about her because in this case, which is not normally the case, I was literally looking over her shoulder. Normally, I sort of walk by readers while making surreptitious glances into their books. I don't know which method is closer to the full-creepy line. That's a philosophical debate for another day!

Not a happy book A Long Way Gone, telling as it does just how spectacularly shiteous it is to be a child soldier in Sierra Leone. My husband's read this book and says it's just as hard on the head and heart as anything on this topic should be.

But as I recall, there's been some controversy surrounding Beah's claims about how long he was a soldier and some apparently key aspects of the historical record that he gets wrong. I haven't heard news since of Beah being deemed the child soldier's James Frey, however, so I'm going to assume/guess/hope that it's blown over and he's got his credibility firmly in his pocket.

2) Blood Bank by Tanya Huff. The reader of this classic example of Can Lit was sitting almost back to back with the reader of Beah. I'm going to guess that in spite of the cover's promise of a lurid combination of sex and violence, this novel isn't as gripping as Huff's lesser-known but Giller-prize winning prequel, The Lucid Wing of a Lost Bird Singing My Heart Song - she read approximately 3 pages and then curled up against the window for a nice nap.

According to Amazon, Huff is from Nova Scotia but has lived in Ontario since she was 3; nonetheless, she considers herself a Maritimer. Does she now? Gettin' a bit above herself in't she? Wonder when she'll be moving back home then, where she belangs? Does she still say "caaaar" properly, or like one of them Upper Canadians, with only one "a"?

Question: as part of the NS diaspora, I understand that there aren't many jobs down east - but does writing shitty romance/detective novels really require moving away? Maybe her fambly just didn't understand her art.

3) And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. No, I know I'm not a very nice person. If I were, probably no one would read my blog. Do you know anyone who's so nice that they don't have one drop of mean in them? I do - THEY'RE BORING - so a pox on your moral condemnations.

The young lady in possession of this Christie book was reading it out loud to herself, very slowly. You're assuming that I'm going to mock. Wrong. Wrong. I may mock people's choice of books, but I NEVER mock people who are working at reading when it doesn't come easily to them. So, to you, young "it doesn't come easily to me" reader - keep going! Soon, you'll be setting your library card on fire! Go, go, go!!

I haven't read any Agatha Christie books. Shocking, I know. I will likely remedy this gaping hole in my reading history one of these days but right now, I'm taking The Wodehouse Cure, thank you very much.

4) Phantom by Terry Goodkind. It is my personal opinion that there are too many mass markety writers names Terry. What really is the difference between Terries Goodkind and Brooks? If I hadn't read any Pratchett, I'd have to include him in that rhetorical question too.

This Terry, like the other 2, writes fantasy and so not surprisingly, Phantom appears to be part of some kind of series. If series were banned, I think all the fantasy writers in the world would disappear in a blinding flash of light and the Jedis among us would have to sit down because they'd felt a large disturbance in the Force, as though millions of people had cried out at once and then were suddenly silenced.

What I love about this sighting is how the book didn't obviously fit the reader. In my C/C adventures I've seen almost no book/reader combinations that surprised me but this one did: the woman reading this tome (in hardcover no less!) was a late-40s office workery-looking mom type who very closely resembled any random member of an Oprah's book club audience. But she wasn't reading an Oprah book! She was reading fantasy, which I will assume was her symbolic kick in the face to Oprah's book club books - ROCK ON!!!

5) Dynamics of Faith by Paul Tillich. I, of course, wanted to make fun of this book because I assumed it was some New Age bunk, but it turns out that Tillich, who died in 1965, was a widely respected Theologian.

Because I will not be making fun of the book, I am going to chide the reader of the book (a young women in her early 20s) for making it too obvious that she was being forced to study this volume for a course.

Girl, it's just low class to be snarking (in this case silently, but no less expressively) about the rigours of attending university when so many people don't get the chance to go. I pronounce a plague on your house, thou thing, thou bull's pizzle!

6) American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. This book was being read by a teen of dubious intelligence on the east-bound train that brought me home to write this wordy C/C post. (Sorry! As a result of grad school, I'm no longer capable of even writing my name in 10 pages, so this had no chance of being short. Sorry for the false promises above!)

The reader was in the 16-18 years old range and had on a winter coat but no socks with her cute little flats. (No, she wasn't a sad case, her clothes were pricey, her hair a well-dyed red, and her skin healthy.) This girl appeared to be convinced that socks are the anti-Christ, for she wasn't wearing any even though it's -10C out.

I thought about saying something but didn't. As an old lady in my 30s, wearing sensible shoes and a parka that looks like a 1980s sleeping bag with a hood sewn onto it, it seemed unlikely that she would appreciate my fashion advice, even though I would have prefaced it by saying "When I was your age, I also had fewer brain cells than years on this planet and likewise wouldn't wear socks no matter the weather. Now let me tell you about the consequences, to come in 10 years or so, of your foolishness..."

No, I remained silent and scornful. You see, I'm shaping up to be one of those curmudgeons who just mutters quietly about those damned kids instead of shaking my fist at them and heaping verbal abuse upon them.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Warning: Dickens' books make me extremely emotional and completely inarticulate

Oh man, I'm one weepy mess right now, having just finished reading Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens has thus far consistently overwhelmed and devastated me (when he isn't being hilarious) but this was an even more intense reading experience with him than usual. This is an amazing, brilliant, incomparable book; but I'm very tired now.

Set during the years leading up to and during the French Revolution and its most horrific period known as the Terror, A Tale of Two Cities allows to flourish what for me sets Dickens apart in a narrative sense from any other writer, save perhaps Dostoevsky: a profound sympathy for and faith in the good that humans are capable of, even in the most unthinkable circumstances. With Dostoevsky, this sympathy sometimes reads as somewhat more intellectual than emotional; with Dickens, it's all heart and that is why I find him, and especially this book, so crushing.

I am fully aware that I am not doing this book justice. I appreciate Dickens' narrator's transcendence of cold intellectualism, but I don't have the vocabulary to discuss it without sounding both maudlin and two-dimensionally sentimental. I expect mockery from certain quarters in response to this post. Since I can't do this novel justice I will only say: read this book now, if you haven't already. (And let me be a lesson to you: Don't let your grade 12 English teacher's fumbling of Great Expectations turn you off Dickens until you're an old lady! I beg of you, for your own good!!)

Potential Spoiler Alert
I will go sniffle and remain red about the nose and eyes for a little longer (or maybe a lot longer - if you've read the book, you'll know why I keep thinking "Oh Sydney, Sydney!!" right now), while I try to recover from the reading of this book enough to make some dinner.

I have to say, whatever book I read next is probably going to suffer for coming after Dickens. I think Russell Hoban is going to end up on my dead pile soon. Just the thought of going back to Pilgermann after reading A Tale of Two Cities makes me feel kind of cruelly amused and a little sick at the same time.

Thursday 27 November 2008

As promised...

This is a picture, which I've stolen off the interwebs, of Charles Dickens and his sexy mustaches.

This is the face of the man that both Raych and I would go back in time to make out with. Not necessarily at the same time.

He looks mad, bad, and dangerous to know, doesn't he? HOT.

The cure for reader's block

Damn it, I've kind of been feeling a lot like not reading. I've been thinking of taking a break from reading, although what I would do instead I can't even conceive of.

I think it's a testament to the emotional and mental exhaustion associated with being at the very, very end of my PhD ordeal that I'm so tired as to be having trouble having fun with books. I've never felt this way in my life. NEVER. I find it disturbing in ways I can't begin to describe.

I recently began reading Russell Hoban's Pilgermann. It's short and it started off funny in a dark and Absurdist way, which I often enjoy (unless it's completely incomprehensible, like The Third Policeman). But it's quickly turned into a very earnest and kind of pretentious foray into mysticism and the disturbing unity of all things. Did I mention it's short? Well, I'm half way through and I think I might still abandon it. In any case, I've abandoned it for today in favour of the only Dickens novel available (that I haven't already read) at the Queen/Saulter branch of the de-gorgeous Toronto Public Library.

Dickens may seem like a strange choice to some of you but consider: all I want is good writing, a good story, and a complete lack of pretentiousness. Add some charm and a dash of hilarity, and that's Dickens' perfection pretty much summed up.

The only Dickens here for me has turned out to be A Tale of Two Cities and so far I'm quite enjoying it, which is a world of change from the torturous loathing (of self and book) that has been my experience so far with Pilgermann. (Pilgermann may be an excellent book but now is absolutely the wrongest of uber-wrong times for me to be reading it. Ugg.)

I have been preparing for my thesis defense today, which is why I'm not lolling about or painting the living room at home. I'm now officially at the less than 2 week mark and so have to get my preparation on. But damn, I have an attention span the size of a gnat and I feel like I'm reading a thesis written not just by someone else, but by someone I neither know nor have even heard of. It's really quite disorienting. I wish the lack of familiarity could make this thesis interesting to me but alas...

But Dickens! A plot! Good writing! No ego! I would have been a Dickens groupie back in the day, I know it. (I would like to include a pic of Dickens and his sexy mustaches here but this library computer is giving me grief. I'll do it from home later.)

Sunday 23 November 2008

One book crime atoned for

It really shouldn't have taken me 5 whole days to read a book that barely cracks the 300 page mark, but I've been sleeping in till 11 like my former teen-aged self used to do every second day, and then I've been doing the house-cleaning and other super-sexy things like that.

But my halcyon days of mental relaxation are about to come to an end for in a few days I must begin preparing for my thesis defense, which will take place in just over 2 weeks. Very soon after that, hubby and I will be embarking on the dangerous but compelling adventure of taking over the bookstore we recently bought.

I realize I haven't mentioned this whole bookstore thing before. I guess I felt that talking about it might jinx it or something. I won't be linking the bookstore to this blog in any way because I want to leave myself room here to be as cranky and unfair in my reviews as strikes my fancy. In the bookstore, however, I'll just smile and nod when people ask if we've got any Dan Brown or when they tell me how great Nora Roberts' books are.

So, about Barbara Trapido's Frankie & Stankie. I read this book because Vee suggested it a long time ago. She even lent it to me but I committed the heinous book crime of carrying it around for something like 18 months but not cracking it and then I returned it to her unread, with head bowed in shame. I saw the copy I just finished in a pile of super-cheap books and took that as a sign from the gawds that it was time for me to make bookly amends, so I bought it.

First of all, I want to say that I've never shared or even understood my sister's distaste for used books but I think I'm starting to get it. This copy of Frankie & Stankie is the graveyard of at least 10 different, and different kinds, of dead buglet. I'd just be reading along and I'd flip a page to find in the margin the dessicated corpse of what looks like a tiny dragon fly or an ant. I can't imagine under what circumstances these bugs became interred in this book but it made me somewhat squeamish. I found myself hiding the book while reading it on the subway out of a paranoid concern that people would see the buglets on the pages and move away from me in lower brain stem-induced fear.

As for the literary contents of the book, Frankie & Stankie was a good read. It wasn't, for me, a great or stunning or challenging or even very disturbing read - and given that it's set mostly in 1950s South Africa, it should be disturbing. It's told in the third person but it reads like a memoir of disturbing times seen now only through the softening haze of several decades' passage and the distance of thousands and thousands of miles. Also, the main characters are white South Africans who are not extremely (or at all) political and so they're in many ways sheltered from the horrifying realities of Apartheid.

The writing was good and the book was funny, as Vee promised, but it didn't blow my mind. It was good, but good in a "just fine, pleasant" kind of way rather than in a "I MUST read more Trapido, now!!!" kind of way. Not that I wouldn't read more of Trapido's stuff but that I probably won't make an effort to do so - unless Vee insists. Vee fed me for a year and taught me the joys of Arrested Development and Wii shport so I owe her a lot. At least 30 book recommendations' worth I'd say, as a low estimate.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Sport, pronounced "Shport"

For truth in reporting's sake, I have to tell you that my stomach and arms don't look anything like Brandi Chastain's. It's surprising, I know. Bloggers who like to sit in front of the computer all day reading other blogs and writing their own are usually unparalleled specimens of physical power.

It's unfortunate that the German spelling of the word featured in this post's title is the same as it is in English, for it just doesn't convey the different sound and therefore spirit (in my mind) from the English word. The German "sport" is pronounced, according to my husband, as "shport" with the "r" being quite softly expressed. It makes one think of very tall and solid-looking specimens of youth who aren't winded by going on 10-mile hikes after having played soccer for 3 hours.

What's shport got to do with this blog, you may ask? Well, I found a silly little site, Typelizer, whose only purpose is to tell you what your blog says about your personality.

According to this site, my blog and therefore I fall under this category (here's the connection to shport, in case you were getting worried):

"The active and play-ful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time."

Eh, what? I've just spent the past billion years inside, rotting in a chair by myself while writing my thesis. I am perhaps better at starting things than finishing them, though. But I can't imagine on what basis this site makes these assessments, and does it distinguish what I write from what my Reading Lamp interviewees write?

A silly but fun foray on a brain-dead Saturday morning into the myriad weirdnesses offered by that series of tubes known as the interwebs. Now I'm going to get back to focusing all my attention on my tea. I will offer you a proper blog post either later this afternoon or tomorrow.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

The Reading Lamp: I'll read what he's reading, please

I want to read every single book David mentions below, including the made up one he hilariously assigns to the most unlikely literary duo he can imagine (which I won't spoil for you by dropping any hints about. Just keep reading).

I also want Children's Books Ireland to send me lots of free books but as I am neither Irish nor a writer of children's books, I'm guessing this, like my desire to become one of the WordGirl writers, is just another castle in the air...

Your name: David Maybury

What are you reading now? A whole lot of books published by Irish writers in the last 12 months for the Bisto Book of the Year Awards. And a few new ones out next year but not related to the awards, including Damsel by Susan Connolly and Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Where are you reading them? Anywhere I can find a spare five minutes—buses, trains, tea breaks in work and occasionally under the duvet at 2 in the morning.

How did you discover these books? Children’s Books Ireland hands over a huge pile of books once a month. How nice is that!?

What would your ideal desert island book be? Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s Worldevery time I read it there is something new there. Also, my brother brought my copy on tour through Asia with him so it’s filled with postcards and handy tips from each place he stayed.

What about a dessert book, a book you could read and then eat? There’s a series of cookbooks my Nan has from the sixties. They’re covered in splashes, dried up bits of pasta and cookie dough. If I had to eat a book it would be one of those. Tasty.

Who is your literary boyfriend or girlfriend? I have a bit of a man-crush on the illustrator Alan Clarke these days. The man may be a genius.

What's your favourite either unknown or underappreciated book? Two books that I haven’t seen/heard much talk about are Paul Muldoon’s The Noctuary of Narcissus Batt and The Last Thesaurus. Did they slip under the radar, or was it just me that missed them?

Favourite childhood book? One of the books that influenced me most was David Almond’s SkelligI reread it earlier this year and it is still as great as I remembered.

Ideal literary collaboration that hasn’t happened? The childhood dream come-true would be me writing something with Marvel Comic’s Stan Lee.

The most nightmarish and/or hilarious literary collaboration you can imagine? Jamie Oliver and Dave McKean—I imagine something along the lines of Killer Asparagus Goes to Aerobic Class, with great illustrations.

Weirdest/creepiest/most awesome thing you've ever found inside a used book? I found one of my grandfather’s love letters to my Nan from 1946 in an encyclopedia. It was all of those things at once.

Favourite book-related website (besides and, of course)? Children's Books Ireland—these are the people who keep the cogs turning across Ireland.

Who do you talk to about books? A few good interested friends but mostly I bend the ear of my long-suffering girlfriend…

Do you prefer hardcover or softcover books? Why? Softcover. If I ever do get stuck on that desert island and have to eat a book I think a softcover would be easier…

Do get in touch with me at colleen at bookphilia dot com if you'd like to be interviewed for The Reading Lamp.

Monday 17 November 2008

No love

WARNING: I have nothing good to say about Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, so if you love it and feel personally involved in how others feel about it, you probably want to stop reading now.

I haven't enjoyed Italo Calvino at all in the past, but I decided to give Invisible Cities a try for several reasons:

1) A few people I really like and whose reading tastes I respect recommended it highly.

2) I was trying to be open-minded because, after all, tastes change. I read Mr. Palomar and thought it was the most boring shit I'd ever read but that was 10 or more years ago; I thought that maybe I'd been too young to appreciate it and figured this would be a way to find out if my tastes had changed in favour of Calvino. (It's true that I've tried approximately 5 times to read If on a Winter's Night a Traveller and can't get past page 15, but I generally love Orhan Pamuk and yet can't get page 10 of The New Life, so that doesn't necessarily mean anything.)

3) I liked the idea of this book, of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan sitting together and discussing the cities of the world, all of which turn out to be Venice.

I must not have been thinking, for if I'd considered more seriously what the book's premise implied, I probably could have guessed that this novel would be too preciously post-modern for my tastes. I should have guessed that it would be exactly the kind of book that I hate. And hate Invisible Cities I did. It was only 165 pages long and yet it seemed interminable. It was just so earnest and "deep" and humourless that it made me want to tear Calvino's hair, and rend his cheeks, and make him gnash his teeth. (Yes, I know he is dead. Just go with what I'm trying to convey here.)

The only good thing that I can say about Invisible Cities is that it was so uninteresting that I won't be plagued by memories of its details; I found it to be so forgettable that I've already forgotten most of it and I finished it 20 minutes ago! Indeed, I forgot most of the chapters immediately after reading them which was sort of a blessing but also made continuing even more painful than it already was, for I knew with increasing certainty that the book wasn't going to all of sudden surprise me with some awesomeness.

So, I now have come completely to terms with the fact that no matter how many people I like love Calvino, and no matter how much I might like the ideas behind his books (as ill considered as that admiration may be), I can't stand the execution. Calvino and I just were not meant to be friends, which is okay - both of us have lots of other friends to keep us happy.

Saturday 15 November 2008

"The platonic ideal of bananas"

A few days ago, I expressed some concern that I would not pick the appropriate book to help me get over my mild case of reader's block; I suggested that I would have to choose very carefully a book that was heavy on story and light on characters, especially characters with complicated names.

Well, friends, I hit pay dirt when I chose Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. This was truly the most a propos book I could have read this week and because of the way it stimulated my reading cells, I'm almost ready to dip into my Henry James short stories again - almost, but not quite. Still, this is progress; I haven't been even close to almost ready to touch James in several months now.

Anansi Boys was an excellent yarn and so I was happy to sherpa it around in the cumbersome hardcover form in which we own it. The story is about Fat Charlie Nancy and the brother he didn't know he had, Spider, and their troubles with the gods who live at the beginning of the world - although the god who's given Fat Charlie the most trouble is their dad, Anansi, the spider god, who is obviously trouble for he wears a green fedora tilted at a rakish angle.

I have read a number of Gaiman's books now and except for Stardust, they were all very enjoyable and memorable but - BUT - Anansi Boys for me was the Gaiman book I'd been waiting for. I loved this book, absolutely loved it - there isn't one drop of qualification I can add to my gushiness about this novel. I really liked his other stuff, especially American Gods, but I feel that Anansi Boys reached all the potentials and pinnacles promised but maybe not quite achieved in the other Gaiman books I've read previously.

Anansi Boys is the perfect combination of fantasy, horror, and the mix-ups and hi jinx that characterize early Shakespearean Comedy, like Twelfth Night. It was funny and sometimes scary and always, always compelling. I could not put this book down and really, all I want in my reading life is to be engaged with books that I'm desperate not to put down for silly things like sleeping or making dinner.

If you're wondering what this blog post's title is all about, check out this interview with Gaiman, conducted recently by Irish writer David Maybury. In it, Gaiman discusses, among other things, the transcendental experience of eating bananas in Thailand. (I can corroborate Gaiman's claim that eating fruit in Thailand that was grown in Thailand is a spiritual act. Mmmmm, Thai pineapple...)

Thursday 13 November 2008


I was flipping channels sometime this afternoon and lamenting the lack of good things on TV (as I am not a fan of either soap operas or daytime talk shows) when I happened upon THE GREATEST CHILDREN'S TELEVISION PROGRAM EVER MADE.

No, it was not a classic like The Flintstones or Sesame Street, although the latter was pretty solid gold a lot of the time, at least when I was a sprog. No, this is a new show and I wish for two things: 1) that this show had been on when I was a kid and 2) that I could be one of its writers now.

In case you haven't heard, THE GREATEST CHILDREN'S TELEVISION PROGRAM EVER MADE is a PBS effort called WordGirl. It's about a 10 year old girl from the planet Lexicon who is stranded on Earth after her space ship crash lands.

Like all come-from-away super heroes, WordGirl has a human alter ego (in this case Becky) which allows her to fight evil in relative obscurity. WordGirl's main super power is her superior vocabulary.

The show is for 6-8 year olds and is designed to help them develop their vocabularies (because it assumes sprogs aren't dumb and aren't afraid of big new words, like "gloating" and "idolize" and "cumbersome"). And I can only assume that vocabulary development for youngins is desperately needed after they've spent too many years watching Teletubbies. (I think Teletubbies was some kind of conspiracy to send western civilization back to the sub-sub-basement of the Dark Ages by teaching kids that mumbling a lot and saying things like "Teletubbies go bye bye" make for good communication style.)

The episode of WordGirl I so fortuitously stumbled upon today featured the villain Dr. Two-Brains and his vocabulary-challenged stand-in Glen; it also featured WordGirl/Becky trying to get her hands on sufficient amounts of book-binding glue for her science fair project (oh the glorious nerdiness of it all!).

Dr. Two-Brains isn't the only villain WordGirl has to out-word, oh no; there's also Granny May, The Butcher, and Chuck the Evil Sandwich Making Guy. I don't know what agendas these evil-doers have but I suspect I'm going to find out.

If this show had been on when I was a kid, I would have been WordGirl for Halloween every year and maybe I wouldn't have gotten smacked down for reading books so much. Or maybe I would have been smacked down even more, but at least I could have imagined myself as a crime-fighting linguist (as opposed to a cunning linguist) just using my crossed eyes and thick glasses and ugly pants as cover for my true super hero identity. Ah well. At least there's hope for the sprogs of the 21st century...

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Now with 15% more testosterone

It took me much too long to read Bernard Cornwell's second Saxon chronicle, The Pale Horseman. As indicated in my previous post, I wasn't really enjoying it at first, but once Cornwell got to telling of Uhtred's role in King Alfred's attempt to win back Wessex from the Danes, it became quite compelling.

I think I've also been suffering from a very rare but luckily quite mild case of reader's block. After submitting my thesis, I seemed to lose my desire to read much and that left me feeling isolated, confused, and generally quite modern, in the ennui-infused sense as opposed to the technologically advanced or fashionable senses.

I think I'm now starting to get over my reader's block but I also think my recovery therefrom may be rather tenuous, so I'll have to choose my next novel quite carefully. I need something fabulously light and mentally untaxing. Also, maybe something with very few characters and only 2-syllable character names.

The Pale Horseman picks up where The Last Kingdom left off and except for the weird Viking detour at the beginning of the book, was a good yarn. All of Cornwell's Saxon chronicles are based on true 9th-century English history and he sticks pretty closely to what's known while providing notes at the back about what he has played liberally with for the sake of good fiction. There was much more (if that's possible) male aggression in this second installment though, including against women; the "humping" he so often referred to in the previous book here became more obviously what it usually was - rape - and I think that may be more realistic as well. To make a play for understatement of the millennium award, war doesn't make for good behaviour, even in the face of Alfred's strenuous attempts to civilize and Christianize everyone.

This book is messy and testosterone-y and violent as hell; not really what I generally go for, but somehow still compelling, perhaps because I am too partial to anything related to early English history. Really though, I think I like the way Cornwell manages to show how disgusting and awful war is while still making it possible to empathize with a character like Uhtred; Uhtred defines himself by his battle success, even as battle alternately exhausts, terrifies, and compels him. In any case, my initial reservations about The Pale Horseman evaporated around page 90 so I think I'll see how book 3 of the Saxon chronicles stands up. But not right now. Right now, I need fabulously light.

Friday 7 November 2008

Ellis Peters might be the other woman to my neglected books

It took me a surprisingly long time to finish reading Ellis Peters' Monk's Hood, another incomparable Brother Cadfael murder mystery. But I've been so exhausted this week that before today, I was finding it hard to read more than 20 pages at a time. And me not being able to comfortably read 100+ pages in a sitting is like saying Tom Cruise should be the head of the American Psychiatry Association - WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

I have been sick, but my fatigue is only partially the result of negative things; the other part of my fatigue comes from the fact that I submitted my thesis this week; Tuesday, to be precise. YES. (For non-academics, that just means I've officially handed it over to the grand inquisitors, I mean examiners, who will question me at my thesis defense, which has now been officially scheduled for early December.) I would "woot" now but I'm still too tired. Okay, maybe a little "woot."

So, the most prominent sign of my exhaustion, barring my inability to stay awake in the afternoons, read more than 20 pages in a sitting, and lack of desire to do pretty much anything? I've lost the ability to count for, scouring the shelves for a good yarn, I picked up the third Brother Cadfael medieval whodunnit without having read the second, One Corpse Too Many.

I was sure it was time for number 3, but when my memory returned several hours into the reading of Monk's Hood I recalled that I'd read a non-Cadfael Peters (Black is the Colour of My True Love's Heart) precisely because I don't even own the second Cadfael yet. I began to despair for myself, thinking that being tube-fed and entertained with bright shiny objects dangled before my googly and unfocused eyes might not be too far in the future.

The Cadfael books don't appear to require being read in order but it offends my control freak sensibility not to read them in order. Monk's Hood was, of course, solid gold and Peters' mix of crime solving and historical description kept me completely engaged. I adore this woman and am so happy she was as prolific as your best Grub Street hack - I have at least 18 more Cadfael books to read before I run out, not to mention all her other non-Cadfael efforts. The coming reading years will be good ones, they will.

Now that I'm done Monk's Hood, however, which I just picked up as a little read on the side, I really need to get back to Bernard Cornwell. I will continue the relationship, for the kids, but I'm going to be totally honest and say that I'm not sure I love him anymore. It's sad but sometimes people just grow apart.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

The Reading Lamp: and the prize for most atmospheric profile photo goes to...

...Yuri! Yuri sent me three pictures from which to choose for posting alongside his Reading Lamp interview and the one below won for me hands down.

I love the way the lights glow eerily in the background, the way everything but the lights are dark (Yuri's shirt, the sky lowering over the street, and especially the book itself), and the way it looks like some passerby just caught him, in the dead of night, on a dark street corner engrossed in a book that is about dark streets that both invite and warn against lingering. Perfect.

All you Haligonians, post- and present: quick, quick, at what intersection is Yuri standing in this photo??

Your name: Yuri van der Leest

What are you reading now? Jack Maggs, by Peter Carey

Where are you reading it? Primarily in Halifax coffee shops: Just Us on Spring Garden and the Trident Booksellers & Cafe.

How did you discover this book? I first read Peter Carey’s The Tax Inspector in an undergrad English course, and have been slowly savouring his other works ever since.

What do you think of it so far? I am really enjoying it. The London depicted in this novel makes me think that David Copperfield could just wander in and feel at home. I love the way that Carey sketches his city through the habits and haunts of manifold eccentric characters.

What would your ideal desert island book be? I have to say that I have fond memories of my Norton Anthology of Literature (since lost to younger siblings marching through first-year English classes of their own). While the brevity of attention given to any one author, period or even publication would surely become frustrating, I imagine that the wide variety of content and sheer volume of literary tidbits in this tome would keep me occupied whenever I wasn’t constructing tree house mansions and coconut radios…

What book would you like to put into a mine shaft and blow up? Why? During my MA, I was assigned Sara Jeannette Duncan’s The Imperialist (shudder). Now all of her other novels could be masterpieces of early Canadiana, but I am not willing to take the risk involved in finding out. Let The Imperialist be blown to smithereens and then trampled by a horde of bison running amok!

Favourite childhood book? I was all about Rupert the Bear: the science fiction of jet packs, aeroplanes and autogiros; the adventure of Zeppelins flying to remote lakes in high mountain ranges; and the magic of flying carpets and enchanted princesses…

Do you buy books or borrow them from the library? Either way, what is your favourite place to get books and why? I buy my books for the most part. In Portland, Oregon, I was all about Powell’s Books (the world’s largest independent new and used bookstore) and so far in Halifax I have been haunting Trident Booksellers and Back Pages. Really I am happy with any used bookstore with a good selection that is well organized—digging through piles of books for literary treasure is a wonderfully romantic idea, but in reality such piles are dusty and ultimately defeat me.

How do you decide what to read next? If someone has not recommended a good book to me lately, I go back to a reliable and well-loved author and continue through his or her repertoire.

Favourite author? Why? Haruki Murakami. His imagined worlds are tinged with the sadness and isolation of modern existence, but show how the simplest and oddest little things can bring people together.

Favourite and/or least favourite literary time period? Why? Modern/post-modern literature grabbed hold of me during my undergrad and never let go. It was amazing to see the unvarnished essence of the world laid out before me in a way that I related to directly and understood instinctively—without a neat framework of religion or cultural norms to oversimplify it.

I made a few friends in this world early on, including Stephan Dedalus in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Pat, Toby and Zoe in The Edge of the Alphabet; Mrs. Dalloway in the eponymous novel…

Who do you talk to about books? Kristin, my very cool sister living in Belgium; Colleen, the keeper of this tribute to the printed word; and my friend Scott “the law talking guy” here in Halifax.

Best movie adaptation of a book ever made? The movie version of The Outsiders was perfection—each character exactly as I had imagined them and the city as gritty as S.E. Hinton describes. High points also go to Out of Africa, which I feel captured the essence of the book despite the need to impose linearity on an essentially non-linear narrative and the bow to Hollywood by greatly exaggerating the role of the romantic relationship between Baroness Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton.

Sunday 2 November 2008

Lord, I am a bird

I really should be sleeping. I didn't sleep last night and then I wrote like mad today because I have to submit my thesis on Tuesday. And I'm sick, yo. But sleep will not come to me, in spite of the fact that it's the only thing in the world I entirely want and love right now.

But making pretty blog posts which glow invitingly from the computer screen in the depths of night is pretty good too. It's telling, I think, that as tired and in need of relaxation as I am, I'd still rather sit goggle-eyed in front of the computer than read Bernard Cornwell. The Pale Horseman is okay but I think I made a tactical error when I chose it. Douglas Adams, I think, might have been more apropos. But here's what I've recently closed the back cover on:

Five Women Who Loved Love by Ihara Saikaku. The cover of this tome invitingly reveals that this is a collection of "amorous tales from 17th-century Japan". I like Japan AND the seventeenth century AND Amor! (But who doesn't like Amor!?)

However, as with the last seventeenth-century proto-porn I read (Aphra Behn's Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister), Five Women was somewhat of a disappointment. It's not that it wasn't good (I think) but that it really wasn't what I thought I was getting - and dang nabbit, marketing does matter.

There were certainly Amors! in this book but except for the last story they always concluded with moral retribution being visited upon the titular desiring females. Plus, the stories weren't porny enough, if I may be crude. There was far too much of the literary equivalent of soft lighting going on here. Ah well.

I should have known this would be the case; I've read Saikaku's approach to the Floating World before and while his contemporaries apparently made said World sound like a rollicking good time, Saikaku tends to conflate it with Buddhist meditations on the meaninglessness of everything, especially wiggy.

I think that in another time and set of circumstances (i.e., not reading at 3 am because sleep is flipping me off and running away), I would have really enjoyed this book even though Saikaku was clearly a player hater.

Herrings Go About the Sea in Shawls "by" Alexander Abingdon. I have by in scare quotes here because Abingdon didn't write this book; he compiled it. And oh, what a compilation this is. Herrings comprises only terrible/funny/unbelievable/mind-boggling things found on students' papers, assignments, and tests throughout Abingdon's teaching career.

I've actually read this book many times before, but not recently. I bought it right before I left Halifax to move to the urban jungle that is Kingston, Ontario to pursue my PhD.

I read this book over and over and over again that horrible first year and it made me laugh hysterically over and over and over again. It helped me sleep. So it did not seem unreasonable to me that it could help me again in similar ways last night. And because I'm submitting my thesis next week, it also seemed a fitting farewell to the lovely Queen's U.

Well, dammit, I sure laughed. Familiarity only increased the hilarity and I think I may actually have caused myself harm in the stomach area with the way I was carrying on. Jeoffy-cat and Sophie-bunny were alarmed by my cackling (which I was trying to keep quiet because hubby was upstairs sleeping, but that just made it even funnier) while Gregory-bunny, old one-eyed Dread Pirate Gregory Bunn, was flopping onto his back in pure joy. That also made me laugh. (In answer to your question, no, I hadn't taken any narcotic painkillers recently.)

So yeah, I think to celebrate the imminent end of my time in graduate school, I will share some choice nuggets from Herrings Go About the Sea in Shawls (the choicest being, perhaps, that when it was first published in 1931 it was called Boners. Teehee.).

Literature and Language:
George Eliot left a wife and children to mourn his genii. (This goes out to Rohan Maitzen of the great blog Novel Readings!)

In conclusion we may say that Shylock was greedy, malicious, and indeed, entirely viscous.

There are some passages in Shakespeare's work, which are quite pretty, as "Spoil the rod, and bare the child," and lots of others.

Describing Tom Sawyer: He was a smart looking boy, very fond of fighting, and he was always sharp at this kind of job. His character was always good sometimes.

Write a sentence showing clearly the meaning of the word "asterisk": Last night my father got drunk and made an asterisk of himself.

An injection is a shout or scream raised by a person too surprised or frightened to make a sentence with his thoughts. It is not quite a human language. The lower animals say nothing but injections. Accordingly ill-natured and cross people by their injections come very near to beasts.

An interjection is a sudden explosion of mind.

Degrees of comparison of "Bad": Bad: very sick: dead.

Pax in bello: Freedom from indigestion.

Ave Domine: Lord, I am a bird.

Bible, Religions, Myth:
The Papal Bull was a mad bull kept by the Pope in the Inquisition to trample on Protestants.

Why was John the Baptist beheaded? For dancing too persistently with the daughter of Herodotus.

The greatest miracle in the Bible is when Joshua told his son to stand still and he obeyed him.

Who was sorry when the Prodigal Son returned? The fatted calf.

The saints are classified so that there be one for each kind of human traits, as shipwreck, child-birth, etc.

Abraham was the father of Lot and had ten wives. One was called Hismale, and the other Hagar. He kept one at home and the other he sent into the desert where she became a pillow of salt in the daytime and a pillow of fire by night.

Eliza came before the King wrapped in a camel's hair, and said: "Behold me, I am Eliza the Tit-bit."

The climate of Bombay is such that its inhabitants have to live elsewhere.

The Esquimaux are God's frozen people.

The Eskimoes hardly have any wives at all.

The Arctic regions are neither hot nor cold, they abound in birds of beautiful plumage and of no song such as the elephant and the camel.

Science and Mathematics:
If anyone should faint in church put her head between the knees of the nearest medical man.

The principal parts of the eye are the pupil, the moat, and the beam.

A cat is a quadruped, the legs, as usual, being at the four corners.

When you stroke a cat by drawing your hand along its back it cocks its tail up like a ruler, so as you can't get no further.

The tides are a fight between the earth and the moon. All water tends towards the moon, because there is no water in the moon, and nature abhors a vacuum. Gravitation at the earth keeps the water rising all the way to the moon. I forget where the sun joins in this fight.

Most bulls are harmless, but cows stare horribly.

The Romans made their roads straight so that the Britons should not hide round the corners.

They gave William IV a lovely funeral. It took six men to carry the beer.

Drake was playing bowls when he was told the invisible armada was in sight.

Oh, the good times this book has brought me. I tried, when I was teaching at Queen's, to begin compiling my own list of such errors. Unfortunately, I have lost the list but I do recall one student opening a paper with the following: "Geoffrey Chaucer was clearly influenced by the theories of John Locke." Ahhh yeah.