Friday 14 January 2011

Curious/Creepy: Totally Super-Epic Pan-Toronto Edition!!!

It's probably going to take me days to finish writing this post, I have so many book sightings to share with you. If it does take me days to write it, I hope it won't take you days to read it. Okay, dammit, LET'S DO THIS THING.

Wednesday Evening, westbound train

Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir by Marina Nemat

This tome was the catalyst for this latest frenzy of creepiness, although it was noted with total ease - the woman reading it was sitting right beside my husband and me. Even though this is just the sort of book I've mocked Earnest, middle-aged white women who don't necessarily have passports, for reading before, this reader hadn't wrapped her book in brown paper for the sake of either anonymity or self-respect.

Ironically, I am now going to respond to this book earnestly, and mildly angrily: I would like just ONE person in my spyings ever, ever, EVER to be reading a book about the plight of natives in this country. But no, it won't happen - too close to home. Iran is so comfortably 20 hours and complicated visitors' visas away by aeroplane. Not that simply reading a book changes anything, of course, but still - can y'all at least pretend to give a shit about your neighbours if you're going to pretend to give a shit about someone?

Oh dear, I'm going to lose you if I don't put on my clown nose and funny hat!

Next up: P-Greg wannabe Anne Easter Smith's The King's Grace!

I have a sneaking suspicion that some bodices are going to be the subject of energetic ripping in this novel! I hope the grace to be shown by the king, wink wink, will only be offered in deep summer; otherwise, someone might catch cold and die the death.

I think there's a certain sense, in terms of maintaining sanity in the winter vortex of hellish hell that this city has recently become, of reading steamy books on very cold days. On the steamy subway. In a parka. Phew! I bet the ladies who read this sort of book in such close quarters end up tearing off their own bodices when they get home...and then catching the pneumonia but not dying the death because we have antibiotics. (I mention this because apparently Gaston Leroux died of a urinary tract infection, which is silly - but no antibiotics!!! I know!)

Further down the train on this fruitful but dangerous Wednesday evening, I very ineffectively (for he saw me coming and wondered what was wrong with me) crept up on a fellow reading Julian Barnes's Nothing To Be Frightened Of.

Friends, Barnes is operating under a grave delusion, and so I fear was the reader of this book, for he looked, inexplicably, as though he were enjoying himself. There is plenty to be frightened of. Examples: Our eventual and inescapable deaths. Nuclear war. Biological weapons. The greenhouse effect. Sarah Palin. Strangers spying on your reading. Julian Barnes novels. MSG. Overdue fines at the library. People who own personal sets of tarot cards. People who don't own personal sets of tarot cards. Occasions on which one is expected to wear high heeled shoes. Flu pandemics. Cockroaches that fly. Sweatshirts prominently displaying cute kittens. Pot of Gold chocolates. Blinding oneself while applying mascara. Lists of random but terrifying things.

Avoid this book, unless you prefer to operate under grave and dangerous delusions - or like to wear sweatshirts prominently displaying cute kittens.

I've read is Max Brooks's World War Z; this doesn't make me as proud of the two books below which I've read - guess which ones they are!

This book, like most vampire and zombie films, had potential and then ended up shitting the bed in ways even the Toronto Raptors can't conceive of. Alright, I might be exaggerating - but only a little.

I am frankly shocked and unpleasantly surprised that this book has remained in the public consciousness so long. It's so obviously the diabolical precursor of those Classic + Weird Shit books which started coming out, what a year ago? Why anyone would read such-

Oh dear God, I see it, I understand but wish I didn't. Brooks put out this book and it has, like one lone bite from a slavering zombie demanding BRAAAAINNNNSSSS, created a pandemic of increasingly rotten and mindless bad taste in terms of popular fiction. First, it was just Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but then the infection began spreading exponentially and there are now approximately 500 similar titles out there. It's just a matter of time before those of us unwilling to let go of our David Mitchell, George Eliot, Hilary Mantel, Ian McEwan, etc will be holed up in our cellars blowing the heads off the encroaching multitudes of famished Robin Cook paperbacks. AAHHH!!! AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!

Ahem. And finally, on that Wednesday evening westbound subway train, I also saw Christopher Fowler's The Victoria Vanishes.

This book looks like a mystery, and it is, but you may be surprised to hear that it features former Ontario attorney general and cyclist-runner-over Michael Bryant teaming up with federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May! Yes, it's true! Together, this unlikely and star-crossed duo fight crime and solve the mysteries of shrinkage at Toronto's new flagship Victoria's Secret store in north Toronto.

You wouldn't think shop-lifting would be such a problem in the posh Yorkdale Mall, where there's a cover charge simply to look in the windows of the shops, but there is. You see, the young ladies working there still make only minimum wage - which means they can buy approximately 1/5 of a clearance table thong per each hour of paid employment. Obviously, you can't go back to wearing Sears bargain basement scivvies after shilling lace and silk anal floss all day long, and so previously honest girls trying to make some money for college quickly turn into hardened criminals.

So, why do Bryant and May devote their downtime to pursuing such nefarious and but relatively minor crimes? Simply because they love justice. Especially when justice is being exacted on poor people (Bryant) and involves environmentally friendly, because existing almost entirely in the imagination, undergarments (May).

Thursday morning, heading east via various forms of public transportation

My first inkling that an EPIC Curious/Creepy was in the making was on Thursday morning, as I headed into Kensington market to do some reading and eating before heading even further east to have a good palaver with my excellent pal, The Catastrophizer. Yes, I am friends with a website - what? It's not like I'm going to marry my dakimakura or something...Damn it, you just leave Franklyn out of this! That's not what we're talking about here!!!

I saw this very unique and perhaps interesting, not to mention smarty-pants, book being perused on the southbound Spadina streetcar: E.P. Sanders's Paul and Palestinian Judaism.

I think this book might have something to do with religion, but I'm not entirely sure because none of the big names are quoted on the cover, e.g., "Palestinian Judaism is an oxymoron" - Elie Wiesel; "It's all bollocks, you bloody weaklings!" - Christopher Hitchens; "Can I just read Philip Pullman instead? This looks hard." - Terry Eagleton; "Why would I want to review this book if I won't make any money off of it?" - Dan Brown.

And what's with the rolling pins on the cover? I don't understand religion at all, but I'm suddenly having a mad urge for pie.

Next, I espied two interesting books while I was in Moonbean; the first was Noam Chomsky's Profit Over People.
Ah, grad students - you are so obvious! The young lady reading this book had very correct posture, a small laptop, and her hair tied back in the regulation half-bun that shows one is intelligent but not narrow-minded, hard-working but confident and relaxed when appropriate.

She read this book like it was her enemy, and frequently put it down to write no doubt scathing critiques of Chomsky's failure to see how important it is that grad students be able to afford to buy clothes, which they can only do when said clothes are made by 9-year-olds in Asia, so that they can leave the house and do important work on Noam Chomsky.

I wonder how many people were quietly laughing at me/commiserating with me as I wrote my thesis in Moonbean? Good times!

At the table next to me, I saw one of those older men who are blessed with retaining a full head of hair that turns a lovely white instead of a drab yellow, and which they grow to wavy, shoulder-length glory so people know that they're "in the music business" and therefore capable of making sweet love to very young and feisty women. This was his book, of course: Electronic Music and Sound Design, Volume 1 by Alessandro Cipriani and Maurizio Giri.

So. Hot.

But seriously, I thought Lady Gaga was the last word on electronic music. Why bother consulting these dry book-writing scholarly types when you can just listen to "Alejandro"? She loves you, boy, hot like Mexico (which I hear is pretty damned hot) - rejoice! (Yes, I had to watch the video after linking to it. Why are these hot boys in hot hot-pants made to march like Nazis and sport such terrible hair? I think these must certainly be human rights violations. I want to rescue them. Don't judge me.)

After leaving Moonbean, I took the eastbound Queen streetcar to Te Aro (maker of coffee dragons) and finally met up with my friend, the website mentioned above. Immediately, I saw a young lady sporting the regulation Uggs, gross baggy sweatpants, puffy coat, and blond hair of the Ontario undergraduate; she was reading The Diary of Anne Frank and underlining parts of it for her essay, or at least for class discussion.

Question: Why, why, why are Uggs, gross baggy sweatpants, puffy coats, and blond hair so ubiquitous that I can entirely without irony call them "regulation undergraduate" apparel? Such slatternly costumes are sinful, dammit! They sin against the 20-something's duty and ability to get laid as much as possible (because, little ladies, you need to look good in your clothes to make people want to take you out of them!). Such outfits sin against the Christian God, who knew that fig leaves were the way to go when both broke and young and looking to get laid. And, finally, they sin again Anne Frank. Did she die so that you could look like you have to buy your underwear at Goodwill on half price day? No, she didn't. So stop it with the Derelicte; only Ben Stiller can pull that shit off without sinning against anyone.

Near the bar, sat a young fellow with a mohawk. He was possessed of a computer. As a counterbalance to his display of counterculture and toughness, he had on display but did not read, Marguerite Duras's The Lover. What exactly does this particular novel indicate to the young ladies smart enough not to wear Uggs, gross baggy sweatpants, and puffy coats (blond hair is acceptable if it's natural and/or not worn in conjunction with the preceding)?

This book thus displayed says, "I love sex. I might even like dangerous sex - the kind of dangerous sex that you would shamefully enjoy. But I'm also sensitive. Thoughtful. Well-read. And quite possibly a subtle enough kisser not to go at your face like a horse after a bag of oats." In a total fail of being sufficiently either curious or creepy, I didn't notice whether or not the other ladies in the cafe were responding appropriately.

You see, besides having a coffee date with a website, I was noting other interesting books. Also on display and not being either read or consulted were, together, Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita and A Dictionary of Modern American Usage.

These books were situated directly behind me, so discovering what they were involved my flawless execution of a complicated dance of dizzying heights and dangerous climbing rivalled only by the mating rituals of the leopard slug.

Yes, just like the video which I hope you've just watched, it was sublime and beautiful, as well as ridiculous, laughable, and disgusting. But sometimes great efforts, regardless of the potential damage to pride or reputation, are required when one holds the great responsibility of writing Curious/Creepy.

Soon after this balletic masterpiece of spying was accomplished, I left Te Aro and walked a bit further east to get my bunnies some hay. Yes, I have bunnies. They are both exceptionally good-looking and have PhDs in Urban Planning. They are very tolerant of my silly PhD in English and its embarrassing dearth of practical applications.

On my way to the hay, I saw a fellow standing at the streetcar stop reading Julia Glass's Three Junes. Yay for challenging gendered reading stereotypes, my friend! This is one of the most book-clubby looking covers I've seen. And the title. If Glass had changed her first name to Hank and the book's title to These are the Junes I Know, I Know, I'd know that this book wasn't just for ladies. And crazy avant-garde reading transit-takers.

Seriously, amongst those shopping for books for their book club meetings - ladies who always possessed nicely typed up lists and NEVER EVER EVER bought anything not on their lists, or even looked around AT ALL - this was one of the most popular writers in my store. If I were an author and somehow discovered, say through a handy world-famous blog, that my biggest fans were those who only read what other people picked out for them, and only probably once a month, I'd get all Dickensian and eat my own head. That, or blow my brains out. With a rocket launcher.

Thursday evening, westbound train - the circle is complete

I was not feeling primed for effective spying on this trip home. I was breaking under the weight of four bales of hay, a large bag of books bestowed on me by the website, and my feet were cold and wet as the result of a major footwear fail. I was rather more primed for sulking, laying around in my pj's, eating bowls full of cookies, and watching tv. You understand.

But the gods of creepiness were generous and bestowed on me Ann Rule's A Rose for Her Grave and Other True Cases. Ooohh, true crime! Which reminds me: I once got an online order for a book about serial killers. The buyer told me that one of the killers in the book had been one of his commanding officers in the forces, before being caught obviously. Personally? I don't think I'd want to know that. I also think that if I were going to write a true crime book, I wouldn't give it such a V.C. Andrews-esque title. I'd call it Killers and the Poor Doomed Bastards They Kill to Death.

And finally - thank blogness - I saw a young man reading Jake Adelstein's Tokyo Vice, ANOTHER true crime book, on the same train, sitting next to the woman reading the Ann Rule book - but they weren't together. I feel like this is a sure sign that I - and you my friends, you too - we're all in someone else's murder mystery novel.

The question I'm asking myself and which I'm sure you're also asking yourself is this: How the fuck did we all end up stuck in a Robin Cook novel and not a Dorothy Sayers novel? Because we so clearly are. How do I know this? There was no internet when Sayers was writing. SCIENCE!


raych said...

Specifically Pot of Gold Chocolates, subsection: the ginger one.

Heidenkind said...

That was truly epic. And rolling pins=lolz.

AB said...

Thank you, this post has enabled me to begin my Saturday laughing. I had no idea of the signals emanating from my public reading of The Lover, couldn't possibly comment on the accuracy of your analysis.

Interpolations said...

Well, damn, that was enjoyable. I especially loved the faux Brown quote, among many other little tidbits. Your energy is clearly returning!

Bookphilia said...

raych: You're right. The ginger ones are so disgusting, they should be illegal.

heidenkind: Haha, thanks.

Anthony: Saturdays should always commence with laughing - glad I could help!

Interpolations: It is indeed - and all that was required in the end was giving up coffee.

Stefanie said...

Thanks for the good laugh and for the image of those slimy mating slugs that is now burned upon my retinas and will surely give me nightmares tonight.

J.G. said...

Thanks for the amusing tour! I can't understand why the public transport people haven't picked up this angle for a marketing campaign.

The above fore-mentioned. said...

I did go an watch that Lady Gaga clip, having not seen it and therefore having no idea what you were writing about. It was truly dreadful, I had to stop it when all the boys started leaping about in a circle. This clip was utterly redeemed but the clip of mating slugs. Thanks for sharing your creepy adventures.

Carolyn said...

Wonderful. I think the rolling pins on the cover of Paul & whatever are meant to be scrolls, since that is likely Saint Paul they're referring to.

Bookphilia said...

Stefanie: How were your dreams?

J.G.: Good question.

The above...: Wow, you are an endangered species, my friend - someone unfamiliar with Lady Gaga videos. I like it!

Carolyn: You're hilarious!

Anonymous said...

Fun, clever post Philly! Loved your comment on the women who come in with their lists and NEVER buy anything else. Surely they don't consider themselves REAL readers!

Bookphilia said...

whispering gums: But they must, damn their eyes!