Wednesday, December 30, 2009

can't stop don't stop.

Guys, I'm obsessed with Best Ofs. I don't think I ever want to read or write anything that isn't in list format, ever again. Although I just read the Time Person of the Year issue and that was pretty much the worst. I just don't care about the economy, or the people who are trying to improve it. Sorry, folks. I was more entertained by the totally ludicrous drug ads that seem to be on every second page than by the content itself, save a truly lovely old photo of John Updike (which I cannot find online), who will always be one of those writers I like better in theory than in practice. Anyway, I'm sure you're quite sick of indulging my list-whoring but here's one last one to sum up what has probably been the silliest decade of my life.

Best library checkout: a huge Eightball compilation from the Vancouver Public Library's Renfrew branch, summer 2005. At the time I'd read Ghost World over and over, but I had no idea what a genius Daniel Clowes really was till I started reading Eightball. His comics were the reason I got into comics, and I can't even imagine where I'd be without that particular obsession.

Best apartment: a two-way tie between 1836 Arbutus Street in Vancouver and my current Kingston homestead. It's hard to top the view of the ocean and North Van, though, and sometimes I feel like a piece of me is still tucked behind the gas stove in that living room.

Best TV series: Six Feet Under. This show messed with my head, consistently and thoroughly, for the better part of 5 years as I slowly made my way through each season. When I watched the last episode I felt like part of me had died too. Hands down the best character development and combination of creepiness and integrity of all time.

Best movie: A two way tie between The Royal Tenenbaums ("Did you say you were on mescaline?") and Almost Famous ("It's all happening."). What can I say? I'm a sentimental girl. The movies I loved most were the ones I watched at the Cumberland Cinema and then on DVD, over and over again, in the dorm rooms and dive houses of the Annex.

Saddest literary loss: Carol Shields. Her death was my nerdy version of the JFK assassination: I remember exactly where I was, and I totally cried. No one will ever construct and deconstruct characters the way she does, taking them cradle to grave, holding them up to the light to make sure she hasn't missed anything, sitting next to them at the kitchen table. I'll love her forever and like her for always.

Best concert: This could probably be a seventeen way tie but I'm going to narrow it down to Wilco in Vermont, June 2007. (aka the day we nearly puked on John Stirratt). Free Ben and Jerry's ice cream? Jeff Tweedy making fun of the hipster kids in the audience? Nearly breaking down a snow fence from rocking out so hard next to it? Watching the sun go down behind the stage? HELL YES. Waking up the next morning in a tent without any sleeping bags, still clutching cans of 50, was so worth it.

Best feeling: That it can only keep on getting better from here.

See you next year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

but wait! there's more!

Best Of lists are fun! Especially when you write one and then you are plagued by insomnia and spend the loneliest hours of the night coming up with things you should have included in the first place!

Best audiobook that made a completely unreadable book totally amazing: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson; read by Peter Francis James. This is a historical epic about slavery and the American Revolution. There is no good reason why I should enjoy this book, and yet, I absolutely did. The reader is frigging unbelievable and the story is so twisted and weird. It's one of those audiobooks that make you drive around the block an extra time or two so you can keep listening.

Best celebrity memoir: Moon River and Me by Andy Williams. Laugh if you want, but this book is fascinating. Therapeutic LSD experiences, Christmas specials, and criminal exes.

Best Flight of the Conchords song: Hurt Feelings.

Best film set decoration/confirmation that suburbs=beautiful death: Revolutionary Road.

Best meal: The tuna platter at Casa Domenico.

Most dangerous drinks menu: Atomica. (bottles of prosecco, you are the key to my spiritual depantsing.)

Best breakfast: Star Diner. Although the waitress dressed as Michael Jackson on Halloween was somewhat off-putting.

Best essayist: Zadie Smith. My fondest wish is to be half as smart and sassy. She gives intellectualism a good name and makes me feel so much better about watching bad movies. And I'm pretty sure that distillation of her writing is completely insulting, but whatever. I'm high on advent calendar chocolate and regret.

Best movie trailer: Where the Wild Things Are. I probably watched this five times the first day it surfaced online. It gave me goosebumps. It made me teary and anxious and nostalgic. Jen pointed out that this is also the best use of a pop song (Wake Up, by the Arcade Fire) in a movie trailer this year, and I'd go one further and wager that it might just be the best trailer of ALL TIME. It was so good that it made me nervous about whether the movie would live up to it. I never did see the movie.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 28, 2009

au revoir, oughts.

It's been a banner year for me, and as usual, as I come to the end of 2Cait9 I make the realization that I've been so caught up in the pure winningness that is my life these days that I've forgotten to keep track of whether the things I loved in this last year of the decade were actually released in the last year. I'm pretty sure most of them weren't. I'm gonna go by some 2009-specific stuff on iTunes now but here's a list of the Best of Everything, 2009, to keep you occupied.

Best move: Ottawa to Kingston.

Best non-moving-related decision: forsaking vegetarianism and eating a lot of bacon (and also, a bird).

Best private radio discovery: 98.9 The Drive. For real! hardly any commercials and they reintroduced Banditos by The Refreshments into my life. If only we could somehow convince their lobotomized idiot DJs to never, ever speak ("We call it essential alternative because we play music that is essentially alternative! EXTREME!").

Best public radio standby: Wire Tap with Jonathan Goldstein.

Best book set in the grainy, sepia toned streets of 1970s New York involving latchkey children and the 20000$ Pyramid: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

Best love-hate relationship: Q, with Jian Ghomeshi. (Seriously though, Moxy Fruvous was fucking awesome. This song was the best.)

Best terrifying dystopia: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Best re-read: The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank.

Best Batman comic: All Star Batman and Robin, Volume 1, by Frank Miller and Jim Lee.

Best emo comic memoir: Funny Misshapen Body by Jeffrey Brown.

Best superficially stupid movie that is actually awesome and involves Muppets: Forgetting Sarah Marshall. (Oh Jason Segel, you have my heart.)

Best song that totally reaffirmed my faith in pop rock when it came out and then slowly, so slowly, made me want to gauge holes in my eardrums whenever I hear it: Help, I'm Alive by Metric.

Best musical rediscovery: Pavement.

Subsequent best song of all time discovery: Stereo by Pavement.

Best show: Plaskett at the Charles Bronson Centre. Or maybe, just maybe, the sheer anticipation of possessing orchestra level seats for Wilco at the NAC this winter. That might be better than all the shows in the world lined up in a row.

Best non-Plaskett album that actually came out in 2009: Hold Time by M. Ward.

Best friends: every last one of you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Come in! And know me better man!

To quote the big red-headed Muppet in The Muppet Christmas Carol (and maybe Dickens?), "my mind is filled with the here and now, and the here and now is Christmas." Yuletide cheer leads to a significant lack of reading time, although I have snuck in one decent book in the last couple of days. Don't worry, though, it's Christmas themed. I had some serious doubts about You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs, mainly because the only other book I'd ever read by him was Running with Scissors, and I had my doubts about how this weird, sad, abused kid could possibly tease a holiday memoir out of his childhood. This book is every bit as strange and dark as I expected, but it is also hilarious. I usually hate Christmas stories that get needlessly twisted, but something about the image of young Augusten subbing cooking sherry for the molasses in his gingerbread recipe is incredibly awesome, as is his inadvertent creation of a gingerbread shanty/slum. It's like David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries on meth.

Other than that title, though (and a handful of back issues of Real Simple and Gourmet), illiteracy abounds at the Charles Street homestead. Last night I spent way too much time thinking about the superiority of the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street versus the original, even though I still have some big issues with the content (Why was Santa living in New York City? Who was at the helm back home? What about his wife? What would have happened if they'd lost the court case?). Seriously, that little girl is adorable, and for any fan of Weeds, it is an absolute trip to watch Elizabeth Perkins in a role other than that of Celia Hoades. I always forget that it was directed by John Hughes, and I really feel like we should all watch it in his honour this year. It's definitely the gem in his non-teen angst crown (Curly Sue notwithstanding).

Before I start thinking too hard, let's all sit back and watch this Muppet Christmas montage.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Can't Lit.

This week, I failed to read the following books by Canadian authors.

Galore--Michael Crummey

And I had such high hopes for this one. He's a former Kingstonist, and was engaging as hell at Kingston Writer's Fest. And it's a sweeping Newfoundland saga with all those elements of epic-ness that slay me everytime--characters with names like King Me and mysterious strangers washing up on shore and all that. And yet I never even bothered to stick a bookmark in it. Instead I used a wadded up Kleenex, and my apathy probably should have been a tipoff (for anyone who borrowed this book from the library and is worried about getting my germs, I assure you it was unused).

February--Lisa Moore

I always recommend her books to other people, but I've never actually read one myself. So I tried, and then stopped trying. I can't quite pinpoint what I didn't like, but then at work today, one of my colleagues mentioned that she's never been able to read Jane Urqhart because she's like the Alex Colville of writers: Stylistically perfect but somehow emotionally incomplete (I'm paraphrasing, but seriously guys, working in a library is this awesome 78% of the time.). That kind of rang true for me as far as Lisa Moore is concerned. It was beautiful, but I couldn't find the heart. At least it had one really great scene, with one of the characters ordering a tea from the world's slowest cashier in the Tim's at Pearson International Airport. I think that might be the most Canadian moment I've heard described in awhile.

The Carnivore--Mark Sinnett

This guy was equally charming at Writer's Fest, and I feel extra bad about not finishing this one, because I'm going to be on a panel with him on Cogeco cable in a couple of weeks (no, seriously.) and I'm worried he might ask if I've read it or something.I blame my inaction on not really feeling like reading a book about a failed marriage, but I'd still totally tell you to read this book. It's about Hurricane Hazel hitting Toronto in the 1960s, and it is fucking crazy. I don't know why they didn't teach us about the monstrous natural and human disaster of it all. So much more awesome than the peasants' revolt of 1837.

See, I think it's really important to read Canadian books. As, like, a civic duty. And I try to keep up on the new stuff, because I like to be that asshole who, ten years from now, will say things like "I TOTALLY knew they'd give Crummey the Order of Canada. I called it that day in 2009." So when I can't get into the books that everyone is telling me I should be into, I get nervous. Not being able to read books like these is like not digging The Stone Angel (arguably the best Canadian novel about an old lady taking a shit in the woods). Actually, I dislike The Stone Angel, so maybe this whole theory is totally out to lunch. Nevertheless, I feel like I let Canada down this week.

I atoned by singing this to myself all the livelong day.

Oh Neil, you're so right. About everything.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Fuck You Five.

1. Folding laundry.

2. Magic realism.

3. The Twilight saga.

4. Pronouncing words like "nukeular" and "afgoneistone" (seriously, CBC, I will enunciate and pronunciate my can off if you hire me. I'm good good good and oh so smart.)

5. CanLit.

I blame the radio for my sombre mood. Those jerks should know better than to dedicate a full hour to Great Big Sea on my day off.

Not even a terrible Canadian music video can cheer my worried heart.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Can I help you with that?

An evening on the reference desk is fertile ground for non-sequiturs.

1. I am pretty sure Andy Williams is my new favourite celebrity of all time. In his insanely fascinating new memoir, Moon River And Me, he calls bullshit on the snootiness of the elites of Monaco, puts on greasepaint with Judy Garland, and pals around with Kay Thompson. And I haven't even gotten to the juicy stuff about Claudine and Spider Sabich yet.

2. If I ever have children, I am going to make them do their own homework rather than drag my own flu-laden butt to the library to cough all over the staff and demand books on Communism at a fifth-grade level.

3. If one more person tells me that I am at the perfect age to start thinking about children I am going to punch them in the nose.

4. It hurts my feelings that Sesame Street is 40 years old. I'm sure it's still super important for a lot of kids but I just don't want to believe that it's progressed past this.

or this.

5. Remember when the only thing you were responsible for was knowing how to count up to twelve, apparently? Ah, those happy golden years.

Friday, November 6, 2009

You had me at Criterion Collection.

So I cracked the spine on Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem today. In the process I realized I can't keep from confusing Jonathan Lethem and Jonathan Franzen, partly because of their very similar names and partly because I find them somewhat dickish and annoying. Anyway, once I figured out that Lethem is the one I hate a little less, I decided to give Chronic City a go. Within about thirty seconds I knew I was going to love it, based solely on one completely lame occurrence: the mention of the Criterion Collection on page one. I am nothing if not a sucker for semi-obscure cultural references. Seriously, as pretentious and annoying as they inevitably are, references to institutions and events that I like to pretend no one knows about but me are SO the way to my literary heart.

At that point I put down the book, already satisfied I could give it a glowing review founded on two paragraphs' worth of reading, and started thinking about the other things that hook me without question. Here's a list, minus the one listed above.

1. Career women in the 1950s (see: The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe). Ah, for the days when girls were either typists or struggling actresses and the only way to get a good meal was to con one of the men you worked for into taking you for a nice steak dinner.

2. Teenage girls in the 1990s (see: Girl by Blake Nelson). I talk about Girl way too much but there's just something so gloriously familiar about that universe of bad all-ages shows and ill-fitting vintage clothes and clumsy sex.

3. Precocious children (see: The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews). When a writer can get to the heart of the fundamental weirdness of a smart kid it is so, so priceless. Sadly, most writers can't. Furthermore, most kids are not really worth dissecting on the page. There, I said it.

4. Tortured teenage boys (see: Blankets by Craig Thompson, Someday this Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron, and many, many more). Bonus points for sexual confusion as a plot point (see: Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn). They're my emotional kryptonite. Catharsis!

5. Teens in Dystopia (see: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden). As a rule, I totally hate any kind of sci fi or fantasy that isn't Harry Potter, but populate a creepy and sadistic future hell-world with teenagers and I am ON BOARD.

But enough about me. What's on your Win list?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oh Kurt.

I was reading Kurt Vonnegut's new book of unpublished short stories today, Look at the Birdie. It was pretty okay, full of the usual randomness and implausibility and smart goofy language his writing always is. But after about the third story, I made a realization about myself I've made many times over: I don't really have any strong feelings about Kurt Vonnegut. Don't get me wrong--his writing has always meant something to me. I went through the mandatory self-revelatory experience of reading Breakfast of Champions as a teenager. I bought Welcome To The Monkey House after it was referenced on an episode of the Wonder Years. But I've just never grown to LOVE LOVE LOVE HIM the way so many people do.

Maybe part of the reason is that there are just so many damned people who do LOVE LOVE LOVE Vonnegut. When you get right down to brass tacks, I can't stand loving something everyone else loves. Especially when that something is an author who's been embraced by hipsters and quasi-intellectuals and all the other clubs I wouldn't want to join. It drives me crazy when something I care about is something everyone else cares about too. I know it's snotty, but seriously, google "Vonnegut Tattoos" and tell me you're not disappointed that everyone else has already had the same amazing idea for a tat you had one time. I guess Vonnegut's only one of many authors who's been co-opted by the internet generation, but he's the one who most readily comes to mind. And I know I'm only feeding into the cult by complaining about it, but I don't really care.

Anyway, in spite of my ambivalence, I'm still glad to know Vonnegut. I get a little flutter in my stomach whenever a kid of a certain awkward age comes in the library and asks for Slaughterhouse Five. Even if, a few years from now, that kid is wearing a ratty lumberjack shirt and trying to find a theremin player for his new side project, I will be happy that at least he read one good book.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fright Night.

I've always been a huge fan of Halloween. I think I'll probably post a full list of my myriad breathtaking costumes later this week so you can get an idea of just how much I've always loved it. But I think my commitment to the holiday really came of age in my undergrad years. One of my dearest pals in the world became one of my dearets pals in the world when she knocked on my res room door dressed as a devil, bearing a bottle of vodka and asking if I wanted to do shots. It was a night that still lives in infamy. We all know that I love opportunities for nostalgia, and Halloween is great because it makes me nostalgic for being stinkin' drunk and totally giddy in public, which is a state I don't find myself in nearly as much as I'd like these days.

Anyway, I'm still trying to decide if I'm dressing up for Halloween this year. Part of my reluctance stems from a burgeoning relationship with someone who refuses to do anything more than "put on a hat" for a costume (and actually, he later withdrew even the hat offer). The guy once dressed up as Che Guevara, though, so I have leverage and precedent for getting him back into a costume, you know? I was discussing this extremely important issue with my best friend Freya (she of the vodka and devil suit of yesteryear) the other day, and she suggested pouring Captain No-Fun back into his Che suit. And to round it out? I should dress as Sexy Fidel Castro.

To fully appreciate this idea, I think you probably need to have gone to school with us back in the halcyon days of Sexy Devil, Sexy Village People, and Dirty Superhero to really get how important it was to really whore it up for parties at our college. This past weekend there was an article in the Globe and Mail about just how douchey the place was, and how this doucheyness leads to increased literacy, or perhaps just a lingering literary pomposity that translates into elevated sales at the college's annual book sale (at least, this was my interpretation). The article poked fun at the Brideshead-on-cheap-sherry foolishness that was and is our alma mater, just like every article about Trinity does. The college gets a lot of totally understandable flak in the national press. I think these journalists are all missing the mark, though. I think they should expose how buffoonishly skanky the place was. Red light parties and completely baseless cross-dressing nights are so much easier to target than a love of British aristocracy and a gown.

Come to think of it, when you stand back and think about the two solitudes of Trinity College (vomit-inducingly awkward sexual awareness, and vomit-inducing misguided sociopolitical opinions), I'm pretty sure Sexy Fidel Castro is the greatest costume a Trin party never forged. Maybe I'm just feeling nostalgic, or maybe this is most fitting tribute I could ever pay to Old Trinity. If anyone needs me, I'll be on my way to Michael's crafts for a Made In Cancer beard and a camo bikini.

I also briefly considered dressing up like Feist. Or maybe I didn't. Maybe I just wanted to post this song, because I am a terrible music fan and always about five years behind the eightball and I only just heard this for the first time tonight. Also, she's kind of pointy in the face. Witchy, right?

Friday, October 23, 2009

You can't go home again.

Sometimes you have these days where you feel like maybe you're a professional, you know? You sit at the same table as a blogger you really like (even just for like ten minutes) and he tells you he remembers seeing your blog (even if it's just because you linked to him) and you meet a GG-nominated author while you're at your friends' place for dinner and you read most of a book (This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper is possibly the greatest book ever written about siblings, infidelity, and the shivah-sitting experience, and excellent train station reading). You're on track. You're networking, You're doing your thing. You're alright.

Then, you take the train home to your parents' house and are forced to listen to three girls in the next row argue about their perfect wedding, their perfect wedding dress (VINTAGE! no, PRINCESS NECKLINE! of COURSE my fiance isn't coming with me! it's MY wedding, not his!) (I wish I were making that up.). It's pouring rain and the cute boy in the next row is reading The Hockey News, and you totally judge him for it even though you've got a shitty old VC Andrews paperback tucked in your purse in case you finish your public-consumption book too soon. You finally get home, and feeling alternately virtuous and guilty you decide to floss your teeth, and a chunk of your tooth falls out on the bathroom floor, and your mother picks it up and then loses it. And then all you can think about is the fact that it's a very thin line between you and the lady with no teeth with whom you got in an argument yesterday because Darryl took out videos on her library card even though she told him not to, and now they're overdue and it's as much your problem as it is hers. The wind is howling and your mother finds your tooth again and tells you it looks like a little pearl and you pretty much want to vomit.

At times like this there's only one thing you can really do: skulk on down to your basement bedroom, burrow into the single bed you slept in when you were a kid, pull out the copy of Catching Fire that fell into your lap earlier, when life was still worth living, and read till you pass out.

Mixed blessings, friends.

It's good to be home.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Guilt is the gap between belief and action." --mom/buddha

Maybe it's the sub-arctic weather we've been having lately, or maybe it's the changing of the seasons, or maybe the reading part of my brain has stopped working while the rest of my body works overtime to digest twelve pounds of pumpkin cheesecake, but lately, I haven't been able to get through a book to save my life. In the spirit of guilt-ridden slackerdom, here's an incomplete list of books I tried to read this week.

Suddenly--Bonnie Burnard. Call me crazy but I can't read anything where a character has cancer. It freaks me out! I start feeling lumps in places where there are no lumps! I become short of breath! I die!

Year of the Flood--Margaret Atwood. See above, but replace cancer with global warming. Come to think of it, I don't think I've read a new Atwood novel since Alias Grace. I think I can hear the citizenship cops coming to revoke mine.

Best Friends Forever--Jennifer Weiner. I love me some chick lit but I'm a little worried that ol' Weiner is a one-trick pony. Self esteem issues are awesome fodder but if she keeps writing books about overweight, partnerless women who do ridiculous things like solve mysteries or act as criminal accomplices I might hunt her down and punch her in the neck. (If you want to read her greatest work, though, check out her short story collection, The Guy not Taken. Funny and poignant chick writing at its best.)

What makes all this even sadder is that the only things I actually "read" this week were a back issue of House Beautiful magazine (there was a house inspired by The Big Chill! It was amazing!) and the audio version of The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult. Three words: illiterate torture porn. Seriously. And the worst part is that every time I try to read one of her books I lose interest after the disgusting pivotal deed is done (highschool shooting, date rape, take your pick!). I don't know who's worse, her or me.

I'm in a literary shame spiral. Help.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I've got plenty to be thankful for.

In the twilight hours of the long weekend, in a hungover haze of food and wine and lit candles in the dark evening, I'm sitting here thinking about the things I should be thankful for. I have a lot of them, really. We all do.

Just to name a few...

Red wine. Homemade salsa. Afternoon spelunking trips through abandoned buildings in a town that has so quickly become home. Standing up twice in one year for two of my best friends. Mornings spent in bed with the Globe and Mail in one hand and the other one touching a sleeping giant. Yoga. Joel Plaskett. Brothers. Mothers. Fathers across the ocean. Walking home from the movies in the rain. Reading cookbooks and planning all the meals we still have to make. Breaking bread. Unbreaking hearts. You. And me. And you and me.

It's easy to fill your heart up when you really put your mind to it.

Happy thanksgiving.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Friday Five.

By this point in the week, it always feels like it's been a long one. Especially when you're still eight hours away from the glorious weekend and your amazing plans to unplug your phone and watch an entire season of Extras while cooking yourself dinner from The Minimalist (Mark Bittman, will you be my roommate?). With that in mind, here's a little something (or a few somethings) to get us all through till five. Till then, if you need me, I'll be taking a lot of coffee breaks, striding down the streets of Kingston wrapped up in a pashmina, trying to look brave.

The Weight--The Band and the Staples Singers.

This is the official song of driving to work on a foggy fall morning. Some days I listen to it three times over. It's a balm for what ails us.

Mutiny, I promise you--The New Pornographers

Actually, the song I've had stuck in my head all week (and most weeks) is Unguided but I could only find totally crappy versions online. Also, I am a sucker for a bad CanRock video. And I am pretty sure that's the chick from Flight of the Conchords in there. WHAT!

Part of the Union--Strawbs

Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. Labour politics will apparently be meltdown fodder for the next two years, friends. Incidentally, this is what came up when I was trying to find a version of Union Maid I could actually embed. I love happy accidents of internetism. Who the hell is Strawbs and where did they come from?

Sailor's Eyes--Joel Plaskett

This week I missed a Plaskett show. He was playing around the corner from my house, pretty much. Sheer exhaustion and poor footwear choices will do weird things to a girl. Anyway, I've been humming this one with regret all week.

Tonight I'll Be Staying Here with You--Dylan

...because Nashville Skyline is the official album of autumn, and this song is the official anthem of figuring out your shit, and coming on home, and spending the night. Not a bad way to sign off.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Don't tell me what the poets are doing.

This morning I did my favourite thing in the universe, which is to get up, go to yoga, come home, eat breakfast, and go back to bed. Seriously, going back to bed feels better than free pie and free cake and free comics combined. When I woke up for the second time, I finished reading The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker, and I am so glad that I did. See, I am a huge literature dork. The only reason I got through my undergrad degree in English, wading through classes filled with aspiring Atwoods and Harold Blooms and professors engaged in the kind of desperate intellectual masturbation you only get at schools that call themselves "The Harvard of the North" (begging the question, does Harvard call itself "The U of T of the Eastern Seaboard?"), was my completely nerdy and lifelong devotion to reading. Whenever I got pissed off at the misogyny/unfairness/laziness/complete incoherence of one of my professors, I just sat back and kept reading. I got a whole hell of a lot out of it, in the end.

Anyway, The Anthologist is pure literary academic candy, with a side of hilarity. The narrator is a professor-slash-poet whose girlfriend has completely given up on him, and for good reason: the guy is a mess. He's stuck trying to finish an introduction for an anthology and just generally hold his life together, but seems to be plagued by the disease that befalls so many research-oriented people: complete obsession with his work, which in this case, is poetry. Not much really happens in this book, but in between all the nothing is so much lovely, hilarious, informative, tender, and genuinely passionate description and exposition about poetry and its importance. That might sound cheesy and boring and possibly snooty, but seriously, this book will make you think about poetry in ways you probably never dreamed of, and will make you laugh out loud while doing so. There's just something so sympathetic and naive about this guy, and something very real about the way he bounces from references to Ezra Pound to Ray LaMontagne to wondering about getting into podcasting ("I could never keep it up. You have to hand it to those podcasters. They keep on going week after week, even though nobody's listening to them. And then eventually they puff up and die.") that is just very real and random and engaging. I can't say much more because it's the voice and the tone that sells this book, the sharp wit and the irreverent quipping and all that, and as much as I'd love to sit here and quote it ad nauseam, I'll just strongly urge you to go out and get yourself a copy. Even if you've always hated poetry and you thought all your profs were blowhards, I guarantee you'll find something to admire in this lovely book. You may also end up requesting for your library to buy the complete letters of Sara Teasdale, Elizabeth Bishop, and Louise Bogan. Don't worry, residents of Kingston, I'm gonna do everything I can to get them into your hands.

So yeah, in spite of what Gord might say, I WOULD like to know what the poets are doing.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Generation yay.

I just finished reading Generation A, by Douglas Coupland, and it made me crave apples so bad. We're at the height of the delicious fall fruit harvest here in Ontario, when apples are almost too plentiful. As a gal who has always loved a Yellow Transparent or a Russet, this is one of my favourite times of year. I ate two Honeycrisps before I sat down to write this. It's a good life for us apple-holics these days.

Not so in Coupland's world. The crux of his new novel, which takes place in the not-so-far-off future, is the recent extinction of honey bees, which, of course, means the end of anything that needs to be pollinated, including apple trees. At a few points, one of the main characters describes her love of the Braeburn in juicy, almost porny detail. I salivated, and was embarrassingly aroused, and also terrified at the prospect of a world without my daily staple. Leave it to Coupland to freak me out in such a particular, absurd way.

I've been an obsessive Doug Coupland fangirl since I was a teenager. I devoured Generation X and wrote three book reports on Shampoo Planet and even kind of loved Polaroids from the Dead. Girlfriend in a Coma made me cry and Life After God still remains high on my list of all-time favourite short story collections. (If you haven't read the amazing post-nuclear meltdown "The Wrong Sun" you really probably ought to.) Sometimes I'm not quite sure what he's up to (sorry, but I might be the only person who hated Microserfs) but then he always seems to redeem himself (Terry basically redeems everything). That's why, while Generation A might not be his strongest book, I still loved it, and I'll still always love him. The narrative dropped off into fragments in the final act, which I guess is part of the point--different characters telling their stories, raging against a post-Internet world where human stories have been replaced by digital nightmares. Like always with Coupland, I admire the idea, and even though the execution may be flawed, his writing is as sarcastic and satirical and spot-on as ever. But I guess what I liked about GenA, more than the book itself, is what it represents. GenX was all about the end of culture, the end of personal narratives, the end of history. I used that frigging book as an example in so many poorly articulated essays about postmodernism and the decline of civilization that Baudrillard is rolling over in his grave. It was my go-to for proving that as a poetic, thoughtful society, we were in our twilight hours. And yet, here we are, 18 years later, and Coupland's still cranking out insane, implausible, joke-soaked stories about unbelievable characters in strangely familiar situations. He's lapped himself, and I love it. It gives me hope.

I don't know what else I can say about this, except that this line from GenX is just simple and stupid enough to be totally profound: Nothing very very good and nothing very very bad ever lasts for very very long. Words to live by on an autumn Sunday, although I'm not sure why. See above re. that being the point.

Here's a Sunday night song.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Six for Kicks.

It's been a long week on Walton Mountain, and I'm not in much of a mood for talking books. Instead I thought I'd celebrate the advent of the much-needed weekend with a little mini-playlist. Fall nostalgia might be my favourite nostalgia of all. Part of me loves the early nights and the frost in the air every morning, the clean-sheets feeling of a fresh start as the seasons change. I've had a lot of good falls, in a lot of good places. Here are the six songs I'll be listening to on my way home from work tomorrow.

The Avalanche--Sufjan Stevens.

Autumn time is Sufjan time for me. I think it's because I first listened to him in the fall, just after moving to Ottawa, wandering around the city by myself and feeling pretty lost. That feeling never subsided, and neither did the wistful sense I get whenever I listen to him. Of note: I am totally okay with this budget YouTube video which gives me an excuse to stare at his motionless little hipster boy frame for three solid minutes, in the name of art.

Uniform Grey--Sarah Harmer.

She makes all my playlists these days. Ever since I moved to Kingston I moon about the streets listening to You Were Here over and over again, wondering if this is the corner from Around This Corner and where The Hideout is (actually, that one I'm pretty sure I know). I'm going to offer the Sarah Harmer Kingston Reality Tour someday. It'll be like the Peterman Reality Tour but with better bagels.

Handshake Drugs--Wilco.

This one's all Vancouver. My dear Kitsilano roommate was responsible for Wilco shifting in my mind from The Band My Boyfriend Used to Play When We'd Have Dumb Fights to The Band I Cannot Get Through The Day Without. This song reminds me of riding the bus up to the UBC campus and wondering exactly what anyone wanted me to be.

Never Had Nobody Like You--M. Ward.

Because, you know, the weekend's gotta come sometime. And when Friday rolls around all I want to do is dance. M. Ward's full of sweet little love songs that just get your hips swaying. This song's pretty great for easing on into the weekend. A delicate rockout. The "To Be With You" of our generation, if you will.

What's your favourite Mr. Big album? Mine is Japandemonium. And while we're talking about places, this one takes me right back to awkward slow dances in Hamilton, Ontario. Oh god, middle school was the greatest.

Singer Songwriter--Okkervil River.

Let's fucking party, guys.

...From suicide to salvation in six songs. Not bad.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Being smart is hard. Especially when you find yourself constantly resisting your intelligence.

Case in point:

The new Alice Munro book came in for me this weekend at work. I got super excited about it and chatted like a literary fangirl with all my coworkers about how I couldn't wait to go home and read it and one time my mom saw her on a plane and isn't she frigging classy for pulling herself out of the running for the Giller? I came home all ready for some subtle, poetic fiction-reading.

...And then, I spent the rest of the evening watching episodes of Young and the Restless online, and getting depressed at how confused and disoriented that show makes me now. Gone are the days when you could tune in once every three months and find the plot had only progressed slightly past where it was when you and your grandma used to watch it together. Now it's all Silver Chipmunks and kidnapping and peanut allergies.

...And then, I googled pictures of Lady Gaga and tried yet again to figure out why I think she is so cool. Me liking her makes the least sense than anything, ever.


Anyway, it's bedtime and I've got some old Sweet Valley High paperbacks to flip through before I pass out, just to round out this incredibly stimulating evening. Watch this video, if you know what's good for you. (Thanks, Harold.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Back to school , back to the kitchen.

I'm a firm believer in random resolutions, and September is pretty much the best time of year for that sort of thing. No matter how old I get, I still get that excited back to school feeling, the pleasant anxiety that worrywarts like me totally love because it's a nervousness rooted in possibility instead of insanity. (Rationalization will get you everywhere, I'm told.) Anyway, the cool windy mornings fill me with hope, and ideas, and resolve, all of which are soon tempered by an all-encompassing fear of failure and a quick devolution into stasis. It's a rich tapestry, this mind of mine.

Recent example: I had vowed to write every day on this blessed blog, beginning on September first. I also promised myself that I'd start reading novels again, curbing my recent obsession with music journalism and magazines in favour of something a little meatier. These plans have not come to fruition, but I am quite happy to say that some of my other resolutions are coming along nicely. Like the renewed commitment to domesticity, for instance. The end of summer means it's time for hunkering, storing, and preparing for the long winter. I've talked before about how much I love this required burrowing, and this year I decided to embrace it wholeheartedly. I made jam this weekend, and the jars are sitting on my counter like a row of cute little rubies in a jewel box. The smell of a blueberry brunch loaf is currently wafting from my kitchen as I type this; the best part of living alone is not having to fight anyone when you want to lick the batter from the bowl. I don't think you can have any idea how satisfying it is to make something like that unless it's bred in your bones, and it certainly is in mine.

And I guess in a way my return to the kitchen has got me reading a lot more, because I've been nose-deep in cookbooks for the better part of the last week. My current favourite is one I picked up from a Friends of the Library sale in Ottawa, called The Best Recipes This Side of Heaven: Home Tested Recipes from Anglican Church Ladies. This book is so, so classic, and a perfect example of the kind of culinary lore I hope never disappears from our collective memory. It is blessed by the Archdeacon of Moose Mountain, Manitoba. It includes recipes like Beef Upside Down Pie, Salad Dressing Cake, Hard Time Pudding (I used to make a version of this almost weekly until I developed uncontrollable heartburn), Italian Pizza (in the "ethnic" section), and Chinese Wedding Cake (surprisingly, not in the "ethnic" section). Primary ingredients in most desserts include Eagle Brand milk and suet, canned fruit cocktail and dessicated coconut. They do not write recipes like this anymore. This is the kind of stuff your grandmother used to make, the kind of stuff I think we should feel obligated to keep alive.

Which is why I think I might add a new resolution to my list, one that combines my commitments to cooking and writing--a Julie and Julia style project wherein I cook my way through the church ladies' recipe box. You're all invited over for Low Cal Dinner Rolls and Wedding Salad this weekend.

This will be our dinner party music.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sincerity alert.

My mother bears the proud distinction of owning every single copy of Canadian Living magazine ever published. She bought the first few on the newsstand and then promptly started subscribing by mail. For as long as I can remember, we've had stacks of them kicking around the house at all times, mostly splayed open to the recipes section. Some issues are so well-used that you know exactly what random CanCon celebrity was featured on the page next to a beloved dish (cinnamon roll-ups? they're near the feature on the 1992 World Series winning Blue Jays, DUH). Canadian Living is a personal touchstone for me, partly because it reminds me of my family, but also because it's about exactly what it says: living. Day to day stuff. Making a nice dinner and rearranging your closets and hanging out with people you love. This magazine is maybe the only non-cynical thing I actually go out of my way to read.

When I moved out, one of the things I looked forward to on my trips back home was flipping through the latest issue. Something about the complete lack of irony, the incredible earnestness, and the food just made me feel like I was home. And as of yesterday, I won't need to wait for a visit to my parents' place to get that same warm hug feeling--I now have my own subscription, and my first issue has arrived (Pet Special! Save on Vet Bills! Room Makeovers!). It's everything I dreamed it would be: a well-researched article on workplace hazards, a recipe for an all-locally-grown Cobb salad...this is the stuff of my dreams, folks.

But I think the thing I like most about the magazine now, at this thoughtful stage of my life as I try to figure out my place in the world, is the Letters section. I love that people in Antigonish Nova Scotia and Morinville Alberta are making the same cake and are so excited with the results that they've sent in their photos. I love knowing that people all across this huge, scary country are as excited as I am to bake and learn and just do things for the sake of being comfortable and cozy. We don't focus on the little things nearly enough anymore.

The full article on local cheese doesn't hurt too much either.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Born in a bad time.

Lately I've been reading books that leave me incredibly pissed off that I wasn't born at a different time. Case in several points:

1959: The Year Everything Changed, by Fred Caplan. I'm not sure what I find so appealing about living through the early stages of the Cold War. Maybe it's just the numerous references to the RAND corporation that make me envious. Fun fact: I learned about this book from a paparazzi photo of Renee Zellweger in which she was using it to shade her face from the camera's glare.

The Road To Woodstock, by Michael Lang. I could probably talk about this book all damned day, because as many of you know, I am a big fucking hippie and moving to Kingston has only made me embrace this aspect of my personality moreso than ever before. This book is full of amazing anecdotes about the festival and the days and months leading up to it and also includes full set lists and a timeline of performances. Every little side story seems like the best one yet, and I'd like to synopsize them all for you, but I'll leave it with this: I really, really wish I could have seen Pete Townshend smack Abbie Hoffman in the face with a guitar when he tried to commandeer The Who's set.

Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, by Dervla Murphy. Dervla Murphy started cycling the world on her own in the 1960s, and she is TOUGH. Within the first twenty pages she gets attacked by wolves and totally fends them off with a pistol she's carrying in her saddlebag. She goes on to get in a fight on a bus in Afghanistan and basically tear things up across the globe, and she writes about these crazy things that happen to her on the trail with typical formal UK prose, and it is awesome fun to read. The copy I borrowed from the library is clearly an early edition, and has the publication values of an original Bobbsey Twins book, all cute line drawings of a lady on her bike passing camels and following a dotted line across a pre-USSR map of the mid-eastern world. I'm so glad no one threw this one out of the collection before I got to it.

Unrelated: I was listening to Cross Country Checkup on my drive back to Kingston today. It was all about the purported end of the economic crisis, and every caller had a sometimes absurd, always poignant anecdote that called bullshit on the notion that we're all on the mend. All that talk of mills shutting down left me with this song stuck in my head.

I have such a schoolgirl crush on early 70s Rick Danko.

Monday, August 24, 2009

they don't write them like they used to.

Karla Kuskin died late last week. As a kid, I was extremely obsessed with two of her books: The Philharmonic Gets Dressed and The Dallas Titans Get Ready For Bed. They're picture books, illustrated by the inimitable Marc Simont (also the genius who brought Nate The Great to life), and they are exactly what they sound like: spare but poetic accounts of musicians getting ready for the night ahead and football players putting on their pajamas.

Her LA Times obit sums up the boring glory of these books: they "celebrated mundane routine." The New York Times does it even better, noting the way the books describe the things that happen when we're not around to see them. That's exactly what I loved about both books when I was a kid. Reading about the absolute pettiest details of people's daily ablutions was so satisfying and comforting. It felt cozy. I also loved the voyeurism of each story; reading these books was like peering through a hundred dilapidated keyholes, and helped fuel my childhood nosiness (which I still prefer to think of as curiosity). These are pretty simple books, but they opened up this incredible adult world to me, the secrets of the musician's boudoir and the sight of a soaking wet football giant, the clumsy cellist hailing a cab with an instrument in tow, the exotic notions of other people's lives.

It's so sad when we lose a great artist, but I love that I spent this afternoon revisiting a chapter in my literary education.

And now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to enact my own tribute to Karla Kuskin: the librarian passes out.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Did you ever know that you're my hero?

Two things happened to me last week to get me thinking about heroes.

1. A colleague came back from a Loretta Lynn concert with reams of awesome pictures, which she ecstatically shared with me, talking about how frigging unbelievable it was to see her up close after listening to and loving her for so many years.

2. I read I Met The Walrus, by Jerry Levitan. The book is actually a follow-up to Levitan's Oscar-nominated short film about his surreal encounter with John Lennon in Toronto, just a week before the Montreal bed-in. Levitan was a ballsy, Beatles-obsessed fourteen year old whose risky move--stalking John and Yoko at their hotel--paid off with the opportunity to interview the couple and record the experience. (He also scored free tickets to Englebert Humperdink at the O'Keefe, but that's less short-film-worthy.)

I haven't seen the movie, but after reading the book, I want to. This is such a sweet, lovingly-told story of a kid like so many other kids who loves the Beatles so much his heart nearly bursts when he hears the White Album for the first time. I was that kid once. I remember a rainy summer morning at the cottage we used to rent, sitting on the floor in the living room and listening to a scratchy old tape of Beatles songs my dad had recorded of his LPs. That might have been the first time I ever heard If I Fell. I also remember another summer at that cottage a few years later, then in my pimply, chubby, misunderstood teen years, lying on that same floor and listening to Helter Skelter on repeat, feeling so motherfucking badass. (I also listened to I Will no less than a million times that summer, to redeem my reluctantly sentimental heart.) And I spent most of the second year of my masters listening to Abbey Road more than any other album, partly because I believed--and still do believe--that You Never Give Me Your Money is the greatest song ever produced. The Beatles have always occupied a huge space in my musical soul, partly because they remind me of my youth, my family, my parents passing on their musical legacy, and partly because they were just so timelessly cool, political and weird and otherworldly compared to the other bands who meant so much to me.

But all that is kind of beside the point. Reading I Met The Walrus, especially the parts about the sheer dumbfoundedness that comes with meeting one's greatest hero, I paused and thought about my own heroes. I realized that unlike Jerry Levitan, I don't really have a hero, not someone someone I'd risk my life or my reputation to meet, anyway. Levitan also talks about Trudeau, another of his personal idols whom he also got to know, and I felt this incredible envy, that he came of age at a time when public figures in this country were actually worth admiring. I can't say that I've ever been truly inspired by a politician. And I've certainly been inspired by a million artists, but I don't know if I'd ever really sell my soul to see them face to face.

Maybe Joni Mitchell, although I bet she'd be a crank. In fact, I want her to be a crank. Or maybe Dylan, although I bet he'd seduce me and never call me back. In fact, I kind of want that too. Maybe Douglas Coupland, because it was his writing that made me want to write even more when I was a teenager. I don't think he'd be a dick, although I'm sure I'd freak him out like most fangirls do.

Maybe we're in a post-heroic era. What do you think?

Also, tell me this song isn't amazing. I DARE YOU.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Here's to the happy couple.

I've been stewing and stewing over how to address the sad and extremely deeply felt event of John Hughes' death all week, to the point where I've given myself writer's block in the process. Not good, friends. Not good. So instead I'm putting those feelings on hold for now, because this weekend is pretty much going to be the best weekend of all time. Saturday is my best friend's wedding. I never get tired of saying "my best friend's wedding," partly because it is the name of one of the goofiest movies ever made and no pop culture reference could be less apt. But mostly I never get tired of saying it because it is going to be so frigging fun, and because I love the happy couple so frigging much. There's nothing I enjoy more than tripping out in my head about how fast life moves and how much things can change and stay the same all at once. This party's going to be a big old object lesson in that very thing, with a side order of spinach dip and love.

This morning when I woke up, my mind was on this funny channel-surfing kick where different ridiculous Freya moments kept passing through my head--the time I played After the Gold Rush and made her cry, the time she wrote out a whole Gord Downie poem in a letter to me from a tree planting camp in Alberta, the time Greg, then only a casual twinkle in her eye, showed up on our Walmerhaus doorstep bearing Balderson cheese for one and all, the time I came home to find her curled up watching one of my My So-Called Life videos proclaiming, "Cait, this explains so much about you." So much has changed in the last ten (TEN!) years, and yet so much is still exactly the way it always was, and either way it's all the way it ought to be.

Which probably makes this next thing fitting. My favourite love poem, and maybe my favourite poem, is "Departure," by F.R. Scott, which maybe isn't even a love poem at all, since says goodbye more than it says hello. But more than that, it's about the vast landscape that becomes a part of every relationship when you live in this snowy minefield of a country, the eternity of the natural world and of the love you could find there, knowing it might not last forever but hoping that it does.


Always I shall remember you, as my car moved
Away from the station and left you alone by the gate
Utterly and forever frozen in time and solitude
Like a tree on the north shore of Lake Superior.
It was a moment only, and you were gone,
And I was gone, and we and it were gone,
And the two parts of the enormous whole we had known
Melted and swirled away in their separate streams
Down the smooth, granite slope of our watershed.

We shall find, each, the deep sea in the end,
A stillness, and a movement only of tides
That wash a world, whole continents between,
Flooding the estuaries of alien lands.
And we shall know, after the flow and ebb,
Things central, absolute and whole.
Brought clear of silt, into the open roads,
Events shall pass like waves, and we shall stay.

--F.R. Scott

Here's to you, Tony and Lily. I searched the annals of YouTube for "We're Hardcore" but clearly Gord hasn't left the digital footprint one might have hoped for. Anyway, this one's just as good, and just as true.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The lord helps those who help themselves.

So it's no secret to many of you that I am a bit of a sucker for the self-help genre. I think I like self-help for the same reason a lot of people do (at least, I sincerely hope, for the sake of humanity, that people share my reasoning): these books make me feel better about myself. You read Date Like A Man and you say to yourself, "Well, at least I'm not having unprotected sex to please guys!" (I so, so wish I were exaggerating on that one.) Or you pick up He's Just Not That Into you and muse, "At least I don't take life advice from a book based on a dubious line from a dubious television show!" (And then maybe you get a little meta about how they made a MOVIE of a BOOK based on a QUOTE and WOW POP CULTURE IS SO CRAZY. Or maybe that's just me.) These books make me laugh, they make me wince, and every once in awhile, they make me think semi-seriously about how I cope with certain situations and people and problems. I might not heed the authors' advice, but they definitely get my psychological hamster back on the wheel.

Or at least, they used to. I think maybe I've reached a point where I'm either too self-righteous or too cranky to read these books anymore, even in jest. After a long, sweaty day at work yesterday, I sweatily picked up Why He Didn't Call You Back from our new books display, figuring that at the very least it would give me something to giggle at before bed. How wrong I was. Instead of drifting off to sleep on waves of moral superiority, I laid awake and flipped each page fuelled by rage. I cannot even begin to tell you how mad this book makes me. The basic premise is a quasi-scientific "study" borrowed from the syllabus of the so-called "research methods" class you have to take to become a librarian. You know, surveys, qualitative analysis of episodes of The Office, that kind of thing. Anyway, the backbone of this woman's "research" is the Exit Interview, which organizations use to get a beat on why people are leaving their jobs and figure out what they could have done differently. She goes on and on about what a great technique this is for the business world. The idea of applying this principle to dating is so clinical that it makes me want to cry. And then she takes the resulting "data" and creates ten archetypes of failure with clever names like Debbie Downer (someone who wears too much black and is negative), The Closer (someone who wants to have children and is seeking a long term relationship--what an unrealistic expectation for dating!), and Bitch-In-Boots (I think this is just someone who is mean and wears nice shoes? I kind of lost her train of thought here). AND THEN she tells you all the things you should do to basically not be yourself anymore. AND FINALLY she includes a script for performing exit interviews on your own dates to see just how bad you screwed up in the eyes of your potential suitors. I know, I'm as disgusted as you are.

This book is a perfect storm of shame and self-doubt, and it presupposes that you're a hot mess, it's just a matter of figuring out what kind. It's the Lucy Van Pelt school of therapy. I know the whole premise of self-help is to examine oneself I know they usually go above and beyond anything that could be considered rational self-assessment, but this one seemed particularly egregious to me. The thing about Why He Didn't Call You Back that really tips it over the angry edge is this: not only does the author ask you to examine your own faults, she also asks you to solicit feedback on your flaws from the people around you. This is fucked up, and not even the cute appendix of "success stories" (including one from her own husband about how she drank a lot of Dr. Pepper on their first date--I'm as confused as you are, people!) can detract from the fact that this book is designed to make you feel bad about the way you are. Not to mention the inherent weirdness of applying business principles to the supposedly fun and fabulous pursuit of a life partner.

Anyway, I'm declaring a personal moratorium on self-improvement for the rest of the summer. I'm going to help myself by purchasing wine coolers and making playlists for weddings and burying my nose in Martha Stewart Living, because if there's one thing I've learned, it's that there are few problems that cannot be solved by trying a new panzanella recipe or doctoring up your dining room chairs with a little bit of gingham ribbon. Seriously.

Happy Friday, ducklings. Here's a song to kick off the long weekend dance party.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back to the land.

The Man Booker International Prize list came out yesterday. This award is different from the standard Booker in some way, and you will have to read the press release yourself to find out just how, because I got bored halfway through the first sentence. Lately I am somewhat disillusioned with literary fiction. With a few exceptions, those high-profile public-intellectual books just aren't doing it for me anymore. I blame a decreasing attention span, a recent obsession with the Runaways series by Brian K. Vaughan (serious genius) warmish weather, and my weekend rafting trip up the Ottawa River. The latter has resulted in me half-assedly learning more about the great outdoors, adrenaline junkies, and simple living. So far this pursuit has manifested itself in checking out every Jon Krakauer book from the library and googling international standards for the difficulty of white water rapids, but don't worry--pretty soon I will be doing everything in an extreme manner.

Speaking of simple living and crazy wilderness, in a grand gesture of CBC Radio serendipity, the first thing I heard when I got home all sun-baked and waterlogged on Sunday night was a particularly uplifting episode of Dispatches. Usually Dispatches is my least favourite hour of the week. 6:30 on a Sunday evening is an undeniably depressing time of day, and listening to segments on bombing girls' schools in the middle east or the increasingly screwed-up wetlands of Tahiti or whatever this week's feel-good item may be always makes me want to stick my head in the oven. But this past weekend, the radio was on my side, and I was treated to an interview with Dervla Murphy, this incredibly honest, eco-minded woman who travels the world by bike and has written an awesome-sounding catalogue of travelogues on places from India to Siberia to Europe. I usually hate travel writing, but just listening to her rail on traditional hotels and the lazy way westerners travel and tick their meaningful experiences off a list as they go made me want to dive right into her books. And I will, if anyone ever returns them to the library.

I guess what I liked best about her is that she is this feisty, funny old lady who looks like your grandmother but continues to beat a path around the world on her own terms. I'll never be a traveler, but I'll always admire people who do things their own way.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sylvia Plath, get out of my head.

When I was thirteen I was, like so many other angsty teen girls, a wannabe poet and a wannabe suicide risk. I also had a borderline unnatural obsession with being published in Seventeen magazine. Everybody knows that no self-respecting seventeen year old actually reads Seventeen--this periodical (if you can use such an esteemed word to describe it) is meant for the twelve to fifteen year old set. Before you learn to drive, before you start sneaking out to go to peach schnapps-fueled house parties, you read Seventeen and dream of one day having a boyfriend and maybe buying a Hypercolor t-shirt.

Anyway, the sad-sack teenagae wastelander that was me at thirteen could not have been more delighted to discover that Sylvia Plath had actually once won the Seventeen short story contest. (Incidentally, she's not the only respectable author who has--Curtis Sittenfeld, Meg Wolitzer, and a handful of other seriously great woman novelists have also graced its pages.) Wow, I thought to myself, this Sylvia Plath character really has it all--publication in an established magazine, a suicide legacy, great bangs. I need to learn more! This was truly the level of my analysis when I checked out a bunch of her books from the library before a family trip to the cottage. I spent the better part of a week in the loft, devouring The Bell Jar (that was the same summer I read the Catcher in the Rye, I think--ah, to be a completely unwitting cliche again) and working out a timeline for literary fame and fortune. First, I'd win the Seventeen contest. Then, I'd intern at a better magazine. Then, I'd stick my head in the oven (or maybe OD on pills? I couldn't quite decide). My life's work was figured out.

Luckily, years of therapy and a serious attitude adjustment set me on a different path, and I didn't give Sylvia a whole lot of thought after that, excluding a brief period after her biopic came out, when I became obsessed with her wardrobe and the way she layered cardigans over one another. Until this weekend I don't think I'd read any Plath since I was a teenager. Then on Sunday night, I was skulking around a friend's place, looking for something to read. "Here," he said, from behind a Patrick O'Brien paperback, "you'd probably like this," and threw a battered copy of Plath's collected works at me. Bear in mind that this person has also urged me to read The Dark Tower series and had two James Patterson books on his bedside table. It was probably the weirdest recommendation he'd ever passed along. It turns out that he had to read it for an English class in another life, and he'd never thrown it out after he gave up on academia. I'm glad he didn't. There's something really vulnerable and strange about reading someone else's copy of a book, especially one that's been underlined and marked up and dog-eared within an inch of its life, one that you'd never in a million years think you'd find in their possession. It kind of makes you think about the writer and the person in a totally different way.

So I guess this isn't really about Sylvia Plath. It's about writers coming back into your life for random reasons at random times. And it's about finding something good to read under a trash heap, and finding some part of yourself long forgotten too. Has this ever happened to you? If not, I hope it will soon.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I'm a wrecking ball, in a summer dress.

I've been reading a little this week, but mostly I've been watching Veronica Mars (thanks Alice), lusting after fictional characters therein, and wondering why I have a 16 gb iPod that's practically maxed out when really the only songs I need on it are Midnight Train to Georgia, This Flight Tonight, and this.

Incidentally, part of the reason I love Midnight Train to Georgia so much is the episode of 30 Rock that ends with the whole cast doing an epic version of this song. (This episode is also the one where Liz gets dumped by the co-op board and she drunk dials them while drinking white wine on her treadmill--a scene I found depressingly relatable). Also, this short version starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr., which aired on American Idol last year, and is arguably American Idol's greatest contribution to western culture.

Further incidentally, I've always thought that Nazareth's version of This Flight Tonight is the most successful cover song of all time, if only because you would totally not know it was a cover if you'd never heard Joni's version. THEIR INTERPRETATION IS JUST THAT PERFECT.

And finally, this song is probably the one I get stuck in my head more than any other.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Negative Nelly Goes to the Library.

When I was a kid I had some issues with anticlimacticism. I'm not sure if that's actually a word but it's the best way I can think to describe the feeling of really really looking forward to something, like a sleepover or a birthday or an episode of Full House (random divergence: for a long time my brother and I were only allowed an hour of TV a day, and if we wanted to watch Perfect Strangers and Full House on Friday nights, it meant giving up the after-school halcyon hour of Get Smart reruns. Torture!), only to be kind of disappointed by the event itself. Maybe it's the Eeyore in me, but the more I look forward to something, the less awesome the thing itself seems to be.

I am sad to report that lately, this feeling has bled out into my reading. Two books I was really looking forward to turned out to be complete and utter washes. The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb sounded like my kind of literary crack: rich characters, generation-spanning plotlines, framed around a recent disaster (okay, not that I am into books about Columbine, but I love a good current plot point, especially one about twisted teens). But there's something about Lamb's writing that's just so unemotional and rough. I couldn't find anything sympathetic in this book. And then I skimmed ahead and saw that the narrator was going to spend the next 300 pages delving into some piece of his ancestors' past, and I saw the words "Civil War," and I promptly returned it to the library.

And then I checked out The Incident Report by Martha Baillie, which everyone in the library and literary worlds seems to be losing their minds over these days. On the surface it's a pretty great premise, especially for anyone who's ever worked in a public library (the few, the proud, the cranky). Every chapter of the book is framed as an incident report, those awful, tedious document that has to be completed everytime someone utters a death threat or barfs or calls your children's librarian a devil worshipper for dressing up on Halloween. Around the tenth report, I realized that this book hit way too close to home. I don't want to read about a library employee helping a patron figure out if the government is spying on her via the pizza truck parked outside her building. I live that shit. And I think I could've written it better. Because I'm a sore loser today, folks. A sore loser about to spend eight hours of sunshine indoors.

Here's something to look forward to though: A weekend spent re-reading Harry Potter and rekindling my university love affair with the Strokes, as well as all their killer side projects. (Thanks again, Noah.) Happy Friday, ducklings.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Baby, you can drive my car.

Recently I've started driving to work again. That last sentence makes it sound like I have a choice in the matter, when sadly, I don't. It's either driving or the Kingston bus system, which, I'm told, is somewhat lacking in the functionality department. I guess I could take a taxi, but that's excessive even by my standards. I'm not a huge fan of driving, although I do love being driven around. I once wrote that very thing in an online dating profile, back when car ownership was one of the qualities I was looking for in a potential partner, mostly because I hoped to eventually have a boyfriend to pick me up from work. Sadly all the automotive owners were either crazy or drove Saturns, and I bit the bullet, closed down my Nerve account, and bought my own car. These days I make a lot of badass mix CDs to quell the cranky panic that often overcomes me every morning. Here's a sample of the world's best drive to work playlist.

The North Pole--The Walkmen

Arguably the best Fuck You song of all time.

Weakened State--Sarah Harmer

I've posted this one before but it bears reposting.

The Cheapest Key--Kathleen Edwards

Embedding disabled my ass. This is a truly terrible video.

Heavy Metal Drummer--Wilco

This clip is from I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, which I pretty much know by heart. This is one of the best moments in the whole movie, second only to all the other moments of the whole thing.

Gronlandic Edit--Of Montreal

Best played when you have other people to do the harmonies on the chorus.

Cut Your Hair--Pavement

I don't care how played into the ground this song was in 1994, it still gets me jacked every damn time. Every hell damn ass time.

Panic--The Smiths

Or, you know, most Smiths songs.

Baby Don't Do It--The Band

Listening to this song should be mandatory for all people on all days. Hell yes, Levon. Hell yes.

And finally, anything and everything by Joel Plaskett, but mostly A Million Dollars.

Driving to work in the summer makes me feel like I'm seventeen again. There was one summer when my parents went away and left the car with me, and I could drive myself home from work after the late shift at the library. I'd cruise the streets of Hamilton with the windows down, listening to, like, lounge music or Van Morrison or whatever cultivatedly eccentric thing I was into. I felt freer than I'd ever felt in my life. It was pretty amazing.

So maybe, on second thought, I don't hate driving so much.