Sunday, September 28, 2014

book review: annihilation by jeff vandermeer

i wasn't quite sure what to make of this book at first. the opening pages moved slowly but as soon as the four female unnamed research explorers (our narrator the biologist, the surveyor, the anthropologist, and the psychologist -- the leader of this party, the ostensible twelfth expedition to area X, a place that they have been trained to explore, a place that wasn't always there, a place encroaching on their border) venture to the tower, i found myself riveted and really anxious about what was happening and where the hell they actually were (is this really our earth? an alternate one? has our earth breached an alternate dimension?), and by the end was substantially spooked, in the best of lovecraftian ways. the novel strongly evokes and expands on ideas from his "the colour out of space", lovecraft's own favourite, and the story of his i love most, alongside "the shadow over innsmouth". vandermeer's prose is wonderfully crafted and moves the reader slowly and insidiously closer to chaos, as the biologist flickers on and follows her own trail as the expedition falls apart, all the while the possible? inevitable? infection coating her insides until her final stand-off inside the tower. the horror vandermeer drenches this moment with, in pulse-pounding, mind-splitting images also reminded me of one of my own negative personal experiences: drug-addled terror and anxiety that built within me at a rave one night many years ago, when the dancers and the lights seemed to combine into an unholy wall of pulsing flesh. i recognized this horror and i shrank from it again.

this is the first book of a three-part series that was released in quick succession over the quarters of 2014 -- i very much like this marketing concept -- it reminds me of when volumes of books were published separately before they were available as a whole. after reading annihilation, i immediately put library holds on the two others because i am curious as to where vandermeer will go from here.

i've looked over other reviews of this first book and found that readers are quite divided: many really enjoy the book, as i did, finding in it a remarkable addition to the canon of weird fiction, while others compare the book to the television program, lost, and complain that there is not enough pay-off and that the book alienates them through via the use of the unnamed and unreliable narrator. while obviously there are always different strokes for different folks, i can understand how the pace and the distance that using an unnamed narrator unfailingly creates, and was no doubt chosen by the author to underscore the biologist's alienated and isolating personality could have the same effect on his reader: "i don't like this character and i don't care what happens because you're not giving me any answers that make sense" -- certainly, i have reacted in the same way in regard to other stories, and the biologist admittedly keeps doing things she supposes she ought not to have done after the fact, that i would argue make it more difficult to get behind her at times, but the notion that she is an unreliable narrator bothered me. while i appreciate she might fit the definition in broad terms because she believes that the psychologist has done something to her, using hypnosis not only to trigger certain behaviours but also to alter her memories and also withholds details of her story as she reveals her experience in area x, i do believe she holds nothing crucial back from the reader, and that she believes she is earnestly telling us the truth -- more perhaps, than she has ever told before. this may be close the real world but it's still speculative fiction and i think these devices work in that realm only to enhance horror, not to make you doubt your narrator. the book is actually a tremendous feat of authorial engineering, employing such devices to create a book seemingly simply told, writhing with reference and unfurling like its central nightmare, a terrifying crawler that invades our psyches and our world.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

frozen smoke

so here i am in what i've been calling the mental aberration. i can't focus on anything. the world is full of hypnotic white noise and i just want to go away, not here, be anywhere, and not have to think about surviving. i flip through the screens of the internet and my gaze settles on an item from science porn on twitter. it's frozen smoke. really seriously, there's my mental aberration pictured before me, and i've never felt so covetous. maybe if i could just own it, i reasoned, as a physical thing. if i could focus all that not focussing on that block of frozen smoke? two minutes of research and i discover i can buy a block of frozen smoke for 89.50 GBP or 150 dollars canadian. i certainly can't afford to spend 150 dollars on a non-essential object. and now i live with the wanting of a thing along with the lack of focus and desiring to be somewhere else. ain't life grand?

the socially responsible part of me wants to reject the whole notion of owning things but here i am, trusting them more than people.

review of frenchman's creek by daphne du maurier

a few months of staring blankly into space means that finishing this book was a major accomplishment for me. it would have normally be a quick read but for this cursed lack of focus.. it is a simple little romance, and i do like enigmatic, artistic pirates very much, so i found some fun in frenchman's creek. i wasn't crazy about it, though, beyond the eponymous pirate.

the heroine, lady dona st. columb starts off very precious, driving the thirsty and exhausted horses of her carriage on despite the admonitions of the servant she commands. there is nobody chasing her, except perhaps an image of herself wearing boy's breeches. she had lately done so, alleviating the boredom she feels by scaring an old lady while sneaking around in the middle of the night with her husband's cousin and best friend, rockingham. as a result of the shame she feels about this incident, she has commanded that her husband, sir harry, stay behind in london while she exiles herself to his country seat, navron in cornwall, with just the children for company.

lady dona, or lady lady, if you will (dona is used as the honorific "lady" in latin countries) has come to realize that she doesn't much like the woman she's become (she will repeatedly tell everyone within hearing that she is "near thirty" in the novel) and that she worries that the dignity her title affords is all she feels she has retained. she does not love her husband (she married him because she liked his eyes but apparently that is no longer enough) and she tries to love her children (she has two) but there's really only evidence of some affection or perhaps more properly, a compulsive maternal connection to her son, james. her daughter henrietta is only casually mentioned and most often she doesn't distinguish between them, only mentioning how much she enjoys picking flowers with the children. of course, that's when she's not leaving them in care of their nurse, and sneaking off the estate for a few days to go fishing in the creek with our titular frenchman, the pirate. the pirate does has a name but in dialogue he is always the frenchman, so i'm not going to bother telling you what his name. sometimes he draws pictures of dona when he is not sketching birds or teaching her about fishing or the natural world. and of course he used to have a title and be fancy but he gave up all that for adventures on the high seas (and the high creeks, of course). so hurray for the pirate.

the thing that bugged me most about the novel was du maurier's handling of the period, the historical part of the romance. it never feels planted in the seventeenth century even though the bulk of the action takes place then. though she had already shown so much command in the previously-published rebecca and had already written the bodice-ripper jamaica inn, from the beginning, du maurier seems unsure of the time period. in fact, the first chapter has a contemporary unnamed yachtsman sail past the part of cornwall where dona's story unfolded two centuries before. she even provides a full precis of the action of the novel here, called forth by the land of cornwall as he floats by: it is as if the birds, the creek and the country is haunted by this lady and her lover. perhaps she meant this "foreshadowing" as an effect to heighten the power of her romance, that the love herein described still echoes through the ages. i didn't find it did so.

and then there's lady dona herself. du maurier wants you to knows she is an inevitably devastatingly beautiful, fiery and strong-willed woman who is used to getting her way, born in the wrong era. the problem in terms of the novel is that everybody else, ostensibly supposed to be part of the norm in society, accepts her behaviour and conveniently accedes to it at every point and frankly, i didn't buy it.. really? lord godolphin would allow her to do *that*? du maurier doesn't make the remotest effort to have dona's movements or actions impeded by her time or position.

as other reviewers have noted, lady dona seems to be du maurier's tragic mary sue, a woman who can bend anyone to her will, whose portrait can make a man lose her heart but whose face is conveniently forgettable when it counts. she cannot have everything she wants because she is constrained by her sex. i do actually feel that if du maurier didn't think Society would judge her for it, she would've given this novel the ending that some romantics yearn for. had she not had children herself, i don't imagine the novel would have unfolded the way it did at all.

so generally i found it hard to buy, but the worst parts of the novel for me were two scenes where dona and her frenchman were together, at their first late-night supper, and later on when fishing. dona is at her most annoying here as she petulantly mewls about the limitations of being a woman, about how much less a woman is than a man. thankfully the pirate argues with her in defense of the sex she disparages but it seemed to me her limitations were of class not sex: she could not fish or cook was because she was wealthy, because she was a lady lady. stop saying women aren't creative, stupid dona.

anyway. i liked the servant william and her dynamic with him, though i grew tired of dona's describing him as a man with a "button mouth". what does that even mean? (i keep imagining sylvester stallone's mouth.) also, i know i already mentioned it, but i thought i should end on a high note: the frenchman pirate is really attractive. come tell me about birds and share your cheese with me, monsieur. still, i couldn't help but think of how much more i had enjoyed sabatini's captain blood. now there's a pirate romance!

probably closer to 2.5 stars but given that i am happy to have finished something, i'm shining up three.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

reviewing my copy of thomas malory's morte d'arthur (edited by eugène vinaver)

cross-posted at goodreads and at booklikes:

my copy of le morte d'arthur is the vinaver edit. i haven't read it in years but picking it up now, i assure you this copy is well-thumbed and annotated from my first reading in university. in the first fifty pages, i have written in a very small hand above words to explain their meanings, as i did when reading other, older middle english works much more difficult to ken. still, i smile when i see that i have copied from the glossary "provoked" over "syke" which rings so closely to our modern "psych!". eventually the notations taper off, as i began to get the rhythm and word structures set in my head but there is pencil-underlining throughout the texts, and bright-pink pen underlining some of the notes at the back. i see here that i argued with some of the notes in the margins. i read the hell out of this book, twice. there is a major crack in the spine at page 519, in book 8 of "the quest for the holy grail" or more properly the "Sankgreall". i find i even made the time to draw a two-tone flower on the page thickness, and more faintly, a pencil one-eyed monster eye, and a triton.

i had always had a soft spot for Arthurian legend and i was thrilled to read Malory's translation of the French tales in English. despite the lengthy and repetitive lists of who slaughtered whom in battle after battle, i loved reading it. i have always been interested in questions of honour and what is right, for the individual, and what he must forsake for the right to honour in his community as a whole. there is both blame and beauty in this book, and notes i scribbled in its blank pages at the end show i was preoccupied with these ideas, of camelot as a dream, and arthur's inability to ignore the slights to his own personal honour in order to protect it.

the last lines i underlined are these:

"And therefore, seyde the king, wyte you well, my harte was never so hevy as hyte ys now. And much more I am soryar for my good knytes losse than for the losse of my fayre queen; for quenys I myghte have inow, but such a felyship of good knytes shall never be togydirs in no company. And now i dare sey, seyde the kynge Arthur, there was never Crystyn kynge that ever hylde such a felyship togydyrs. And alas, that ever sir Launcelot and I shulde be at debate! A, Aggravayne, Aggravayne,! seyd the kynge, Jesu forgyff hit thy soule, for thyne evyll wyll that thou haddist and sir Mordred, thy brother, unto sir Launcelot hath caused all this sorow.
And ever among thes complayntes the kynge wept and sowned."

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

cross-posted from goodreads reviews of the hydra by bernard evslin

on september 20th, when the goodreads world again began to explode, i was preoccupied by stress and health issues. it was also my father's birthday, so whenever that comes round, i think about how much i miss him. i have been burned out for a while, and not posting on goodreads very much. but i missed reading the reviews, and the writing and so i started scrolling through the newsfeed, and the infamous thread in the goodreads feedback group with increasing dismay. what is the goodreads world coming to? i got pulled into the sadness, the chagrin and the disgust that littered my feed. where does censorship begin? where does it stop? and why did something something wonderful have to be destroyed? is this "progress"?

i came here, along with a bunch of other book refugees who lost their internet home when myspace groups began to collapse. i looked at goodreads as a book-lover's haven, a place where you could talk about the books you loved, that united you with others, or where you could argue that you didn't much care for "X" -- and "X" included a variety of things: a particular book, a particular author, a particular genre -- really anything at all. or you could read or write more off-topic, tangential reviews which were ridiculously funny, or were instead incredibly intimate and beautiful. above all, goodreads was a tremendously creative place where people felt comfortable speaking their minds. as the book group i came with went their separate ways, i stumbled upon new book friends and books, and writers of all stripes by reading these amazingly varied reviews.

but now things are different. now people sit wondering if their many hours of hard work will be expunged from the site because what they've written is "inappropriate" to somebody somewhere, and they've filed it on a shelf that goodreads might question as questionable for some reason that has not been clear to everyone. google changed their TOS recently. i couldn't sign in anywhere without being hit over the head with it -- it was everywhere, and clear as day. when these recent goodreads TOS changes were made, they were hidden, and as we've seen by the letters shared with disappointed reviewers, apologies were made by goodreads for jumping the gun on this campaign but they didn't stop. the whole thing seems to have been terribly mishandled and it makes me sick to my stomach. i don't want to have to double-check if my reviews are *still there* from day-to-day. so far, everything i've written seems to have passed muster. or maybe they just haven't scrutinized me yet. what is the benefit to me in writing reviews if i have to cringe away from an invisible hand that might slap me down for saying things that i think are perfectly legitimate and reasonable. i don't want to have to look for a new book home again. and i'm sort of sick of people creating a service or a product and then telling me it's different now, and it's not for that anymore, and let's do the minimal viable bullshit thing, or have some random someone determine we are "inappropriate". there are things i never liked about goodreads, but the good always outweighed the bad -- until now.

but if you're going to do the bullshit thing, at least make it clear to everybody what the rules of the game are -- tell me clearly in ToS changes that are emailed, and posted in ways that can't be avoided on the site. don't tell us in a feedback group that isn't required in goodreads membership.

i expect that this tangential review will be deleted. if it does, it will be the first time i have ever had my hand slapped here even though i am usually an active user and have filed over two hundred reviews on this site that up to this point have never been pulled. i wrote it because i like the vibrant community that used to thrive here, because i would like a return to that kind of environment, and i don't like censorship, even if i am not (yet) its target. if i have to find a new community, i will. i have done it before and have learned that though functionality might differ, it's the people and the ideas that matter.

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** the following has been reposted by permission of manny rayner **

In the shower just now, I suddenly had a Eureka moment. The aspect of this current censorship war that's been upsetting us most is the feeling of powerlessless. Goodreads can arbitrarily change the rules, and they hardly even bother to respond when we complain. But we are not powerless. There are twenty million of us, and only a few dozen of them. We just need to get a little more organized, and we can easily resist.

So here's one concrete way to do it, based on the legend of Hercules. You will recall that Hercules had a difficult time against the Lernean Hydra; every time he cut off one of its heads, ten more grew back. We can do the same thing if we adopt the following plan:

1. Back up all your reviews, so that you have a copy of everything you have posted.

2. If you think that one of your reviews has been unreasonably deleted by Goodreads, repost it with an image of the Hydra at the top.

3. If you see someone else posting a Hydra review, make a copy of it and post it yourself.

We can improve this basic scheme with a little thought; for example, it would be better to have a place where we keep HTML marked-up source of reviews, so that they can immediately be reposted with the same formatting, and we need a plan for duplicating deleted shelves. But we can sort that out later. Without getting too bogged down in the details, I'm sure you see what will happen. The net result of Goodreads unreasonably deleting a review will be that it immediately comes back in many different places.

People who know their Greek mythology will be aware that Hercules did in fact defeat the Hydra, and Goodreads can use the same method if they dare; they can close down the account of anyone who participates in the scheme. That will work, but I am not sure that anything less drastic will be effective. I think Goodreads will be reluctant to escalate to this level. A large proportion of the most active reviewers are now part of the protest movement, and they would be losing much of the content that makes the site valuable. Even more to the point, the media have already started to get interested (maybe you saw the article in the Washington Post). They would love the story, and it would create a mountain of bad publicity for Goodreads and Amazon.

I'd say the odds are heavily in our favor. Why don't we try it? I promise now to respond to any Hydra calls.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

once upon a time there was a troll on goodreads...

and he annoyed the hell out of me. i wrote this in response to a spate of comments he made on a book review that was very positive about an author he hated and had dismissed after beginning to read a novel, disliking the style and voice, and deciding not finish it because it wasn't to his taste. fair enough. that he could decide he was going to show everybody who admired the author in question that they were wrong, and that he was the arbiter of taste for western literature or heck! the world, or to simply not respect that not everybody likes the same writing, or art or anything at all made me want to deck him. it seemed to me he was a troll -- somebody who was seeking out controversy by visiting his opinions on those who simply did not see eye-to-eye but who had also initially attempted a thoughtful response, only to realize he was there to needle them. i can understand the attraction of needling. it can be very satisfying. but the penchant for trying to raise the ire in strangers whom you are seeking out for only that reason, or in some misguided approach to friendship makes me crazy. it made me realize that people have taken their television viewing habits to the internet. and so i wrote this:

i think it is pretty simple to discuss and even disagree on topics on the internet. here's a basic template for disagreeing with posts by people you do not know well, if at all, not containing vitriol or adulation:

hi, _____. it appears your view of ____________________ was very different from mine. i can appreciate that you thought _________________________________________________________ but for me, it seemed __________________________. i can't agree with you on ___________  because i thought x was y. what about when 1 did ________________ to 2? that was______________. that's my take on it, anyway. nice chatting with you, even if we disagree.

i debate and discuss and disagree with people on the internet all the time, especially on goodreads and on facebook. some i know well, some i know slightly, and some i don't know at all. i don't need to kowtow to express an opinion, and if i am enthusiastic it's because i want to be. i can't deny that occasionally it has got feisty or heated because that wouldn't be true, but i can honestly say it's never ended with me willfully refusing to understand the point of view(s) being expressed. asking that you show a little consideration and respect when you make a comment is not a debating point; if you can't come to any kind of agreement and it's clear that never the twain shall meet, it seems all there should be left to say is, thanks for letting me know you disagree, hopefully i can take your cues about further dialogue in future and get to know you better (if you are determined to continue to talk to these people you so vehemently disagree with), or walk away. or switch channels...

in fact, it seems to me that people become trolls when they confuse the internet with tv. people are used to spouting their opinions at their tv as they flip its channels. plenty of people watched LOST for example, and yelled at the tv "why the fuck am i watching you?", "you are stupid!", "i am turning you off because you are bullshit" but still kept watching every week. i've no doubt when some people continued to watch as they shouted "i am not watching you ever again! this is not an island show! every island show should have coconut phones and a skipper too" and then posted their disgust somewhere on the internet, if not taking the further step of placing an ad in variety, to let the producers know. but the tv itself doesn't care because it is not a person. and people think because they watch so much of it, they are entitled to give shit without respect. and since the tv can't reply "if you don't like what i have on, go watch something else." people have got used to giving to their non-responsive hardware the gears and brought this practice to the internet. if only it stayed there: again, i see nothing wrong with somebody shouting at their computer because of a comment they read on the internet: "good gravy, man, you're a moron!" but people on the internet can and may respond. they are not plastic cabinets filled with tubes and wires. navigating internet dialogue means understanding that people can and will reply to comments you make if they choose but the author can also choose to ignore you. trying to debate a request for civility or to refuse to agree to disagree because you wish to debate is just self-important and rude. it is like beating a dead horse. on dallas. i'm probably going to wake up in the shower now, and this whole thing will never have happened.

book review: alice adams by booth tarkington

i wished after reading alice adams that my younger self had discovered it, ideally the version of me who was besotted with pride & prejudice and identified with the impudent, winsome miss elizabeth bennet. i doubt the young maureen would have identified with alice adams at first but it's hard not to see the parallels between elizabeth and alice: both have deep affection for their fathers, and somewhat difficult relationships with their simpering, preening mothers. both have siblings that embarrass them and make their lives difficult. and both novels feature cringe-worthy scenes of social distress. both girls are pretty; both girls are relatively poor in relation to the class of people with whom they associate. we all know how elizabeth's story ends; my heart sang each time i read the ending of pride & prejudice for many years. it wasn't just happiness for elizabeth that i was feeling -- the novel assured the young maureen that if you stayed true to yourself you would be rewarded in time. a reading of alice adams at just that point might have tamped my optimism in that quarter somewhat and better prepared me for my future.

alice adams lives in an age between me and elizabeth bennet. i live in a culture that aspires to meritocracy where miss bennet's was severely stratified and class rules were firmly established. alice adams lives in an era that shows a transition point between these two societies. the novel is set after the first world war and before the great depression. it is an era of change, where horse and wagon is being replaced by the early automobile, where local robber barons have firmly established their wealth and watched those with lesser acumen assist them, struggle along, or be subsumed. alice adams is the daughter of a lesser businessman in the employ of the "great J.A. Lamb" the local leading light. (i would love to discuss this character with somebody who's read this novel. he plays a small but pivotal role and i am fascinated by what he represents here... is lamb benevolent? do i doubt him because of my modern sensibility?)

alice, feted in her first bloom, socialized with the "better" part of society but now, at twenty-three, she is already losing her social status, being cut from acquaintance, partly because her family never got as rich as the others, partly because she has not made an advantageous marriage, she is perceived as grasping to those who have it all, and alice is only just beginning to perceive she has never had enough. still, she wrangles an invitation to one last ball, and there she meets a young man, arthur russell, apparently affianced to the giver of the ball, his cousin mildred palmer, in the time-tested fashion of bringing two families and their fortunes even closer together. but mr. russell isn't as sure of his engagement as the rest of society is, and he begins to call on miss adams, sitting outside her house on the porch. and as we know, two attractive young people sitting under the stars and talking stuff and nonsense can't help but be romantical.*

i won't relate any more of the plot turns in alice adams -- there is certainly more to the novel that readers should discover for themselves. she does not face a tragic end, even if she does not get the happily ever after that cinderbennet gets. rather, alice adams gets to become a modern girl, one who has to face up to her own future and her own survival. she has overcome her own pride & prejudice and comes to find that the world might still have brightness to it despite all the things she lacks. the novel ends in a way that solidifies its importance. this book is a tonic to peel away romantic illusions and face a little reality.

a few words as to why i gave this novel only four stars: true to the other tarkington books i've read, there is a peppering of racism here. i would suggest that in the case of this novel, it's plays better than it does in the unfortunate penrod, which not only reflected the racism of the age and failed to contribute to the plot of the novel, but also needlessly wedged in racism wherever possible -- feel free to check out that review if you require more detail: here at least, we find alice's brother walter (who could very well be an older version of penrod) loves jazz, and as a consequence of that, and his penchant for shooting craps, socializes with black people and respects them even if he uses racially provocative epithets to describe them. the other people who are horrified by these associations are just plain racist in that smug condescending way, that was unchallenged in that era. still, it bears remembering that tarking probably did mean for his readers to respect walter's character even if he is perhaps more sympathetic to modern eyes, and i can't even get started on the other gross portrayals of serving staff: as usual i think tarkington has done both his writing and humanity a disservice by indulging in slur.

beyond the racism is *my disinterest in the romance between alice and russell. i didn't like her talk when she was wooing and he just seemed like a pretty moron. every conversation they had i thought, how can either of them imagine wanting to spend another moment together, let alone another hour having a stupid conversation like this? this romance didn't have the interest tarkington imbued into his other celebrated novel, the magnificent ambersons. given the necessity of this connection to the book, i wish it had sparked more. still, i think this is a very instructive novel, and one i will definitely prescribe as a romantic palliative in future. :)

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book review: travelling sprinkler: a novel by nicholson baker

i adore nicholson baker's writing voice and i really feel i can give no higher compliment than this: quite often it is how a writer's voice resonates with me that makes or breaks a novel for me; no matter what craft it might otherwise hold. my first encounter with it came when i read the dry observations of the mezzanine and then later i was alarmed, allured and amused by two of his smuttier works, the fermata and house of holes, and was pleased but not awed by the paul chowder novel previous to this, the anthologist. still, each time i was simultaneously stimulated and comforted by that voice. and then came the travelling sprinkler, his latest and arguably best novel.

karen alerted me to the fact that this was on net galley so i downloaded it. but then she kindly put a print arc in my hands (the hardcover doesn't come out until september) and i was really excited because it stood to reason that i would enjoy it too -- because of the whole voice thing.

what i didn't realize was that i was about to read what has become my favourite nicholson baker book thus far. in true "i love this" fashion, i read it twice through. and while i know the book is about paul chowder, i couldn't help but feel when reading the travelling sprinkler, that i had really spent a few days visiting with him, but even more so with his author, in the same manner i would with an old and dear friend, who might ask "have you heard this one?" and pull up a video on youtube. there is, in fact, at least one url printed directly in the book, and i suspect that the enhanced ebook they're also publishing will have direct links to other content embedded within it, permissions clearance permitting.

despite this being a sequel of sorts to the anthologist, i don't think you have to have read that book to love this one; aside from a passing references to his flying spoon poems a new reader wouldn't get but doesn't really need to, the novel stands perfectly on its own.

so what happens here? paul chowder is a poet who decides he wants to write pop songs instead. or protest songs. or both. he's experimenting with tobacco and he's going to quaker meetings. he misses his old girlfriend roz and he tries to be a good neighbour. in the midst of this little slice of his life, he also writes a book about music: about the bassoon, and about debussy and his sunken cathedral; about victoria de los angeles and bachiana brasileira nº 5, and also about guitars, and electronic keyboards, and seven hundred dollar microphones ordered from the B&H catalogue. and you might somewhat impatiently wait, as i did, for him to finally finish explaining about the travelling sprinkler. i was tempted to look it up on the interweb to see what it looked like but i restrained myself. i actually considered pasting a photo of travelling sprinkler into this review as i read the book because i was so impatient, so flummoxed by the trail of hose on the cover, but in the end found i was happier that i waited for it, waited for him.

paul digresses to us about the minute details of his thoughts and memories, of aspects of his life in that typical, tangential, signature nicholson baker way. but what's more, he reveals a gentle heart, an emotional depth that hasn't been apparent in the other baker novels that i have read, including its predecessor. and that's what really made the book surpass my expectations. and it felt like paul chowder had opened up to me, in a way he never had before, and that it was okay for him to try to take those rare moments of happiness for himself. and i could hear the smile in nicholson baker's writing voice and for a while, i smiled too. i guess i need to read it again. :) update one: it's also likely you'll want to check this out after reading the book: update two: and now i'm crushing hard on nicholson baker. this is an amazing interview: and as it turns out, he wrote some protest songs and recorded them when he was working on this book. you can hear them at this new yorker link: :)

Friday, February 8, 2013

repost from - hitchcock: where the truth lies

hey kids: i wrote another article for my friend and the estimable editor of cinemart, martyn conterio. it's called hitchcock: where the truth lies

common ground

when i was young, i believed in my blood. and then somebody told me about the portuguese legacy of conquest, that they decided to sail across the sea and take by force lands they found on the other side. and my pride and belief in my heritage fell away.

when i was a bit older, i believed in my citizenship. i was proud to be a canadian. and then i learned things about the canadian legacy that made me shudder, about what they'd done to indigenous people in the past, what they were doing to all of us now. that if i chose to serve my country, i would not longer have any choice. i shucked those thoughts and began to consider myself a citizen of the world whether or not i had a passport to give it provenance.

when i was older than that, i still believed in political parties. i voted one way, and i believed if you ascribed to a party politics, you were all united in doing what was best for everyone, within that party and without. but then i saw that lines blur and alliances are made in what might seem the unlikeliest of places, that leadership changes and parties collide. and i dreamed of a different kind of vote.

now i am older still, and find i can only believe in those individuals who do what they say they're going to do, and act in good faith toward other people, regardless of their politics, their nation and their blood. i believe that most would like the right to believe in what we want, to do what we want to do, and to take the path that makes the most sense to us without having to impact the choices of our neighbours or have them affect us in our turn. i choose to believe in people when i see the proof of their actions, appreciating those actions are always filtered by their own life experience, who want to be free to choose but not have others hurt, who honour the rights of the individual and the world. i wish we could all discover some way to do that. on that, i wish we could all agree.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

from the myspace archive: men of mexican mystery (b. traven, arthur cravan, ambrose bierce, and boston corbett) - jan. 20, 2007

men of mexican mystery (b. traven, arthur cravan, ambrose bierce, and boston corbett)

Current mood:pensive
i'm in a bit of a reading rut right now because my focus is so off, so i went scanning the shelves for something familiar and quick to try to ease myself back in and i happened to notice my copy of the treasure of sierra madre. when i first got and enjoyed the book, i did a quick web search to get more info on "b. traven" the mysterious author but found nothing. today, i tried again. and it seems that b. traven was a (maybe?german) writer who didn't want to be found. b. traven was most likely a pseudonym, and there have been guesses at his true identity, but nothing concrete. wiki mentions a graphic novel i'm going to have to pick up that speculated b. traven was actually the prevaricator arthur cravan (who was a character originally named fabian avenarius lloyd -- nephew-in-law of oscar wilde) also last seen in mexico. then of course, my mind flitted to bierce, also never to be heard from again once he crossed over into that country. and then finally, one last hop to my new favourite historical figure, the man who probably shot john wilkes booth, boston corbett. now i don't know about you all, but i'd never heard of boston corbett until recently, though jack ruby is famous enough. so, for those of you in the same boat here's a brief synopsis of the guy's life:
born in england in 1832, he immigrated to the US with his family at seven. he became a hatter (mercury was used in the trade - remember that, it has bearing later on). then he got married. then lost his wife (and i presume child) in childbirth. then he moved to boston and became a born again evangelical christian, and rechristened himself in honour of the town. then he joined the Union army, was taken captive, escaped, was taken captive, was exchanged. oh wait! before he joined the army, and after he became a religious nut, he castrated himself with a pair of scissors in order to resist the temptation of prostitutes. apparently after the impromptu surgery, he managed to go to a prayer meeting, have a large dinner, and then took a leisurely stroll, before he ended up at the hospital for treatment. in the course of time, he ended up being one of the contingent picked to pursue booth after the assassination, who really didn't do an adequate job of escaping, since he got himself trapped in a barn which his pursuers promptly set fire to. though the fire could have done the job for him, corbett managed to shoot booth through a crack in the barn. initially he was arrested for this act, but then the charges were dropped, and he was hailed a hero, and received a reward. then he went back to being a hatter, was exposed to more mercury, (and now all of a sudden i understand the expression "mad as a hatter" outside of alice in wonderland -- we now know that mercury poisoning often spelled psychotic break in the haberdashery trade) alternately sermonizing, and shooting off guns, until they carted him away to an asylum. eventually he escaped, and made for -- where else? mexico...
so here's the thing: i don't think i want to die. maybe i just want to disappear into mexico, and have people wonder where i went. it certainly sounds romantic. i like to imagine bierce, traven and/or/= cravan, and corbett all chilling in some kind of mexican valhalla. i bet bierce and corbett would have some heated debates about religion and maybe some rounds would get squeezed off. and i could pass the drinks around and say alternatively, "mebbe", and "I don't have to show you any stinking badges, you goddamned cabron andching tu madre!"
here's a great quote from bierce in one of his last letters: "Good-bye — if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico — ah, that is euthanasia."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

the raid: a review

while i have been neglecting this blog for some time, i have somehow found some time to write something for martyn's film blog again, about the indonesian martial arts film, the raid.

you know sometimes i come here and start to write things, but i never publish them anymore. i'm spread pretty thin, and things are a little frantic. hopefully i'll be back again soon mo xo

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fundraisers and Polls

Hi folks:

First a message from my beloved Patty:

"A world without books? Unimaginable!

And yet there are kids out there in the world who live in exactly that world. You can help! My book club is raising funds for Room to Read, an organization that builds libraries and classrooms, publishes childrens books by local authors in local languages, and even provides support to kids who would otherwise not get to go to school at all. Please consider a small donation, or if you can't donate, consider sharing this link..."

Fiction Files fundraiser!

And now about polls! Don't you want to vote in the Goodreads polls for best books and best "enter genre name here" for 2011? I submitted write-in votes for Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory in two of the polls below because I obviously adore that book. Feel free to write-in vote for it yourself because IT IS THE BEST. But I suppose you could also write-in vote for some other book you read in 2011. Like Jonathan Evison's West of Here, if that suits you better... I voted for him in Best Author of 2011 for all his great work and tireless and unstinting support of other writers (for some reason i couldn't post the link to that poll though) or Subversia, which I voted "Best Non-Fiction" by Duke Haney. I see that Subversia it was actually published in October 2010 but the copyright year should be 2011... and I voted for him anyway. What's that you say? You want to vote for something else? One of the already listed options? One of the categories I haven't linked to? Well, there's no accounting for taste... :P


Vote now for your favorite books!


Vote now for your favorite books!


Vote now for your favorite books!

Monday, October 31, 2011

i wrote about black christmas 1974...

but not here. on Cinemart!

here's a link: Black Christmas: Home for the Holidays. There's puns and alliterations and word play.

i don't expect any more people will read it here than they did over there, but at least i gave it that old college try. :)

my life is complete suckage. i just keep thinking: stop this train: i want to get off. only if i got off everybody would get mad because somebody else just got off and wrecked a lot.

i know that probably makes no sense to anyone. i'm sorry. i'm really tired, and really stressed.
and really frustrated. and really lost. it's like i'm in a scary movie without any psychos chasing me. hurray!