Monday 25 April 2011

Curious/Creepy: Gerard Kennedy edition

This installment of Curious/Creepy is brought to you by Canadian MP (Parkdale-High Park) Gerard Kennedy. Well, not really. It just so happens that he was in the subway by my house this morning* and I met him on my way to work. For my non-Canadian friends, yes, we’re having ANOTHER federal election (May 2) and the politicos are out in full force. Well, maybe they are; Kennedy is actually the only politician I’ve ever seen in vote-garnering action. This seemed like a good enough reason to get off my butt and do my first Commuting Curious/Creepy.

 *Ahem. When I wrote this, "this morning" was still "this morning", but now "this morning" is almost two weeks ago.

The commuting curious-creep is a difficult endeavour, friends, for it’s so crowded on the subway car at 8 am that I am physically unable to move around to increase my creeping range. All my spying was confined to what I could see from my cramped square half foot of floor space. I managed to discover some gems both on the way to work and then again on the way home. Let the well-paid and politically inspired creepiness begin!

Tuesday morning

J is for Judgment, Sue Grafton
Ah, murder mysteries for the Sesame Street set! I think there’s nothing better than getting pre-schoolers used to the notion not only that people will die, but also that they will die in horrific ways. I think getting this important bit of understanding ingrained early – while also handily teaching sprogs the alphabet at the same time – will be sure to make our next generation of thinkers both highly literate and great fun at parties.

I hear Grafton is partnering with the ghost of F. Nietzsche to create a new product line for young readers and thinkers more interested in philosophy than in fiction; while I don’t know yet what all the titles will be, I’m certain that J for Juggernaut and D for Despair will be included. I’ll be up at the top of a building somewhere reading if you need me. (This segment of C/C is brought to you by: THE CATASTROPHIZER!)

Six Metres of Pavement, Farzana Doctor
I can’t imagine what this book is about. I think it could just as easily be a murder mystery, a spiritual and sentimental "travel log", or a geography textbook. I don’t care, really; I’m most interested in the author’s name: Farzana Doctor. If your last name was Doctor, would you not feel terribly and irresistibly compelled to become a doctor? A doctor of any sort, but a doctor, just so you could be called Dr. Doctor?

Life would be meta-everything all day, all night AND a song by The Who/UFO/The Thompson Twins/Iron Maiden/Gyroscope/Just Jack would accompany every meta-action you performed. This would be too much awesomeness to handle, especially because of the Thompson Twins, Iron Maiden interface; of course, the world would necessarily explode – so you’d have to be a non-medical Dr. Doctor because making the world explode is not in keeping with the Hypocratic Oath.

Top 10 New York City, Eyewitness Travel Guides
I’ve seen a number of people publicly consulting travel guides not for Canada recently, and you’d think this might make me jealous. Well, it does, actually. I've been reading the travel guide to North York, and it's not exciting reading.

The fact is, owning a bookstore has shown me that a shocking number of people buy travel guides and read them cover to cover like novels – to see if they want to go somewhere, not because they've already decided to do so. But travel guides are designed to make you want to go to the places they describe, regardless of your tastes – so how will reading one actually reveal anything but good marketing and the directions to a particular pension? Perhaps I’m being cynical. The other thing is this: in the internet age, I feel like the only real point of the physical travel guide (and this will change too) is the handy map at the back. When our machines become sophisticated enough to read our minds, my Top 10 New York City “book” will contain maps for the following: 1. Babycakes, 2.The Strand, 3. Babycakes, 4. Central Park, 5. The Strand, 6. The Sixth Borough, 7. Babycakes, 8. Candle 79, 9. Moo Shoes, 10. The Strand.

Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain, Sue Gerhardt
Before I realized this book had a sub-title, I was ready to scorn both author and reader for being involved in something both so hokey and self-helpishly oversimplified. The sub-title changes everything, however.

I’m incredibly relieved to see that someone has finally written an owner’s manual for parents trying to make their kids live their own shattered dreams for them, regardless of what said kids might actually desire. Trying to make your kid’s art-shaped brain into a lawyer-shaped brain is something parents haven’t been able to achieve with sufficient skill in the past, and everyone’s suffered for it. No more. Determining the course of your offspring’s life has never been easier or more effective! Please sign this waiver indicating that you agree that we’re not liable, either legally or morally, when your kid snaps and starts killing people at school one day. Thank you.

Heart of the Matter, Emily Griffin
I am thankful that whoever markets these infernal Griffin books makes the covers so recognizable; it makes my job as transit spy much easier. That said, every time I see a highly plucked and manicured lady in high-high heels reading one of these damned things, I despair for the fate of the world. I can’t believe this shit isn’t simply the product of a make-up or lady-purse marketing company and that "Emily Griffin" isn’t a trademarked product name, like Pepsi, Yahoo!, or Glenn Beck.

Never mind Griffin’s place in the nightmare that is our corpocratic future – what would the first wave feminists say about books that celebrate the shallowest of shallow female stereotypes? I fail to see how wearing shoes you can’t either fight or run away in, skirts ditto, and eyebrows so thin they can’t be used to effectively and menacingly glower, constitute gains in the quality of women’s lives.

The morning was bursting with books to spy on; the afternoon was an embarrassment of espied riches!

Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe
This volume was almost certainly in the hands of a student in action, for it’s a rare person indeed who would, without being compelled, read the very long and plot-spoiling introduction in the Norton Critical edition of this play. I’m not knocking him; most students wouldn’t bother with the intro for any reason, if my relatively brief experience as a shaper of undergraduate-age minds is any indication. But that’s beside the point; someone was having their mind blown, perhaps for the first time, by Marlowe’s demonic romp with the doomed doctor. I can’t say how many times I’ve read this play, but its horrors ("Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God / And tasted the eternal joys of heaven, / Am not tormented with ten thousand hells / In being deprived of everlasting bliss?") and its silliness (a detachable leg) never get old. And neither do the extra demons who reputedly danced on stage during the play’s 16th and 17th century performances - eternal damnation was never so jazzily choreographed!

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Another Norton Critical edition, or at least one I’ve seen a lot in university bookstores (I couldn't find the precise cover shot, boo). I think it was probably the copy I read in my own ill-fated Brontes seminar. I don’t love this book even one bit. That it’s self-indulgently melodramatic isn’t the problem – I love Dickens, after all. The problem is, I guess, that it’s just not as good as Charlotte’s best (still Jane Eyre, IMHO) and definitely not nearly as good as Anne’s best – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

If I were a teacher wanting to give my students a taste of the 19th century, I don’t know that this would be the right choice – but it might be the effective choice, as it’s so much more sexualized than other, better books from the same period. And gawd knows, sex is the way to get the kidz to like books and stuff, at least according to outdoor Shakespearean acting companies – how else can one explain how everything in Shakespeare is turned into a leer and a hump? E.g., King Lear (King Leer, ha!): “You do me wrong to take me out o' the grave….*wink, wink, etc.* / Thou art a soul in bliss *lascivious hip motion* but I am bound *pant, pant* upon a wheel of fire *growl naughtily* / That mine own tears *look at crotch* do scald like moulten lead *deadpan*."

Gears of War: Anvil Gate, Karen Traviss
You know what's awesome about this book? No, not the title and its weirdly mixed metaphors. Not that the author has added an extra "s" to her surname to make it more tough and hissy. Not even that video games, like teen flicks in the 1980s, are being novelized. But that I saw this book being read by the same guy this morning! ("This morning" still means "almost two weeks ago.")

Somebody who can math: tell me what the odds of this are based on the fact that the TTC gets approx. 1.5 million riders each day - and that we didn't get either on or off at the same stops. I know! It's impossible. It's like being a gifted enough athlete to play in the NFL, being ridiculously good-looking, having a perfect voice, and being able to act - hilariously. Like getting hit by lightning 30 times in a row while winning the lottery and spontaneously learning to speak Swahili.

Belinda, Maria Edgeworth
This was my last spying victim of the day, and it certainly is a glorious way to conclude. At first, all I could tell was that it was one of those lovely trade paperbacks Oxford World Classics puts out; you know, the ones that are generally a joy to read because of their nice fonts and generous margins, never mind their content? It’s true that I didn’t enjoy the one Edgeworth book I’ve read (Castle Rackrent) but the circs under which I read it (for the worst course of my graduate career, hands down) were not conducive to the formation of fond reading memory. But I’ve wondered over the years if I shouldn’t give her another chance. I'm still wondering, but not very actively.

Because the person reading Belinda was so clearly an office lady and not a student, I’m deeming her the winner of this day’s spyfest. I need to fashion a crown made of recycled books and gold lamme, glued together by dog-eared pages and increasingly poor eyesight. I have no doubt she’d wear it proudly….if it weren’t a creepy-ass book spy presenting it to her, but was instead the soon to be forever lost Prince William.


Trapunto said...

Curious/Creepy makes my day. "Tough and hissy"! I always wondered what that second ess was supposed to do. I think you've got it!

Irene said...

I'll be watching for you. I must be on at the wrong time, (I'm on the GO) most of my creepy/curiosity are using kindle or the like. Makes it hard. Although I do see other curiosity seekers reading my titles. I'm tempted to change book jackets.

Vee said...

I feel I have to defend Sue Grafton as a writer of perfectly fine disposable mysteries that make sense, although I wonder how often she has had cause to regret embarking on a project of writing an entire alphabets-worth of books in the same series. I'm sure in 1983 a series of 26 perfectly acceptable mysteries seemed like a good idea--at least the naming conventions of each book would be immediately taken car of--but now that we are at U is for Undertow 28 years later I would think she must be getting tired of the whole thing. The interesting side effect is that these books have now become 1980s-themed historical mysteries since the all 21 cases have taken place in only 5 action-packed years of the protagonist's life. In these period pieces, no one can use a cell phone, or check for DNA, or fax things, or use a computer to search for documents, and so, charmingly, the detective spends a lot of her time going to the library, dialing 0 for the telephone operator, and booking airplane tickets by talking to people. A vision of a slower, if not gentler (because full of criminals) era.

Stefanie said...

I love your curious/creepy posts! I started laughing with "murder mysteries for the Sesame Street set" and kept laughing until the very end :)

Bookphilia said...

Trapunto: I am to please. :)

Irene: I'm seeing a lot of Kindles's cramping my creeping style. :(

Vee: No internet? But...Ah, my head hurts.

Stefanie: Thankee! I think I enjoy writing them as much as you enjoy reading them.