Friday, July 30, 2010

Summer dreams, ripped at the seams.

Fun games to play while watching reruns of Being Erica:

1. Documenting pop-historical inaccuracies. Examples: use of a Sam Roberts song that wasn't really popular yet in an episode about the Great Blackout of Aught-Three; putting Ethan, the whitest, milquetoastiest place-holder/unrequited boyfriend in all fiction, in a fucking Public Enemy t-shirt during his second year of university.

2. Spot The Former Or Current Degrassi: TNG Star: Jimmy (you will never be Drake to me, sorry dude), Paige's gay hockey-playing brother, the late-addition goth girl who dated Spinner for a bit, Crazy Craig (still number one on my TNG secret husband list)*: They're all here, folks!

*(NOTE: If I had to pick an all-time Degrassi secret husband I don't think any of the new cast would make the list. I'd definitely go with Patrick, the sensitive Irish exchange student who helped Liz get over her childhood trauma. Second only, perhaps, to Snake, before be got boring and old. The shine wore off that apple when I saw him picking up his dry-cleaning one time on Queen West.)

3. Blackberry Commercial Emotional Bingo: When you don't have cable and only watch TV online, you forget how hypnotic and consuming and upsettingly fun to watch commercials can be. It's the media equivalent of going through the haunted house at the fair, with even more jarring results.

4. Think about what a good thing it is that you are leaving town this weekend, because this is getting pretty ridiculous.

Happy Civic Holiday, y'all. Here's the official anthem of a four-day weekend.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

from the disappointment files.

I'm rarely super disappointed by a book. I usually find something to like about everything I read, or else I put the damned thing down. This weekend, all that changed. I read Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz and I would have thrown it across the room several times if it hadn't been a library book. It was a perfect storm of disappointment, and like the perfect storm, I found myself trapped and unable to escape.

I've loved the Peanuts comics since I bought a stack of old paperback collections from my next door neighbour's garage sale a million years ago. I love their melancholy, adultless universe, the philosophical and spiritual truths coming out of the mouths of babes, the bittersweet unfairness of childhood. I've read a handful of biographies of Charles Schulz already, as well as the thoughtful introductions of each volume of Fantagraphics' exhaustive Complete Peanuts. My intense love of the comic strip as well as my existing knowledge base is probably to blame for my hatred of this book. I knew too much going in, so I could poke holes in author Beverly Gherman's superficial research.

I also blame the critics for my hatred of this book. I'd read several really positive reviews that praised everything from its use of Peanuts strips to illustrate periods of Charles Schulz's life to the very construction of the book, which is more like an art book than a traditional biography--glossy pages, large fonts, collages of old sketches and photos. Okay, okay, it was neat to see some of Schulz's early work, and I enjoyed reading a few strips I'd never seen before, but there was no analysis or depth. I wanted more than Gherman's storybooky narration could give me. And her insistence on referring to Schulz as Sparky throughout got so annoying. It was his nickname! We get it! Cease and desist!

So I'm a fangirl. Sue me. Give me what I want.

If you're at all interested in Charles Schulz's life (which is fascinating, by the way), read Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis. This book is sensitive and well-researched, and draws on Schulz's comic strips in an expansive, analytical way. Instead of making Schulz into a sort of bumbling folk hero, as Gherman tries to do, Michaelis' biography exposes Schulz's depression, his anxiety, and his fear. As someone who's always appreciated the back-handed sadness of the Peanuts, I found this book so illuminating.

And if you're as obsessed as I am with the Charlie Brown Christmas special, read A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition. It looks like a coffee table book, but it's so much more than that. It's full of the rich history of the first Peanuts TV special, interviews with the kids who voiced the characters, and a full script of the program, as well as stills and flip-book-style images.

In hindsight, maybe it's appropriate to be disappointed by a book about a comic strip that chronicles the inherent unfairness of life, the early realization that the odds of life going your way are pretty slim. Ah, synchronicity.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer reading club.

I mentioned earlier that most of my reading of late has been magazine-based. Working for the library has turned me into a compulsive magazine reader and I am very much okay with this. I love the brevity of a good article (or the satisfying length of a piece if we're talking New Yorker or Vanity Fair; with those publications you can trick yourself into believing you've read ten books over 200 pages) and the possibility of learning a little something, or at least adding to an arsenal of party trivia. I also love pretty pictures of pretty people, and I bet you do too. Here are the best ones I've read lately.

1. Psychology Today, August 2010 issue. This contained a really fascinating article about sibling relationships which confirmed a lot of the things I already suspected about myself and my family. Which is exactly what every pop-psychology article is designed to do, I guess.

2. Vanity Fair, August 2010 issue. Angelina Jolie is a complete nutjob with the most amazing delusions of grandeur. So many of the things that come out of her crazy mouth make no sense at all! If you read some of her quotes out of context you could confuse her with the weirdos who come to the reference desk asking for books on auras; I am not even exaggerating. This issue also contained a really crazy article about an eccentric, high-society French family who got taken in by a scheister who convinced them they were being targeted by a freemason-oriented conspiracy; I love that kind of thing.

3. People magazine, June 28 2010 issue. Jennifer Love Hewitt has some serious body image issues, and spends most of her interview justifying her decision to stay on a restrictive diet just so she can look good in a bikini. Pretty disappointing given that a few years ago she defended her healthy, non-emaciated body. Reading all about it made me hungry. More importantly, Zac Efron is on the cover, and in spite of my better judgment, I just don't know how to quit him.

4. Explore, August 2010 issue. Because sometimes you just want to read ridiculous articles about climbing Everest and pretend you will someday go heli-paragliding.

The Beach Boys make a really excellent magazine reading soundtrack.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thoughts on Mad Men.

1. Oh myyyy, this show is so goooood. I do not agree that it's the new Sex and the City; however this is worth a read.

2. I'd love to have an ex-relationship like Joan Holloway and Roger Sterling's--the occasional breezy but meaningful phone conversation, the knowledge that you will always be able to be done a kind favour by someone who thinks fondly of you, the banter. Oh, the banter.

3. Speaking of Sex and the City, I still see the actor who plays Roger Sterling as the congressional candidate who wanted to pee on Carrie Bradshaw.

4. It took me nearly three seasons, but I have a slow-burning crush on Pete Campbell. He is such a dick, but SO NAIVELY MORAL. I'm a sucker for that.

5. I'd like to be Don Draper's first wife, teaching piano lessons near the sea in California. She may be the luckiest supporting character in all of fiction.

6. Did YOU know the only other president buried at Arlington National Cemetery, where John F. Kennedy is buried, was and still is William Taft? I sure didn't! Thanks, Mad Men!

7. You know what's a good television narrative tactic? Closing an episode with a pop song that somehow underscores the plot. Weeds is also really good at this. The end of the JFK episode of Mad Men reminded me how frigging creepily evocative this song is.

...Is it me, or is this an off-putting video?

8. Does anyone in Kingston have cable and want to have me over for dinner the night of every new episode? I'll bring you nachos.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The attention span of a firefly in july.

Here is what happens during summer: I become intoxicated by wine spritzers, sunshine, and magazines, and I stop reading books. This year I've thrown Mad Men into the mix and honestly, I don't think I've ever been so happy. Mad Men is amazing. I want to be Peggy Olson. Actually, I may indeed be Peggy Olson already.

She embodies so many of my favourite characteristics: high achievement, self-consciousness, intelligence, bookish yet sassy style, and on-the-job drug use.

But anyway, with the exception of Diary of a Chav by Grace Dent, I have not read a single book in its entirety in about a month. Diary of a Chav is an ideal summer read, though. It's been billed by some as a modern day girl version of the Adrian Mole diaries by Sue Townsend (ARGUABLY THE GREATEST BOOKS OF ALL TIME), and I think this is an entirely fair assessment. Shiraz Bailey Wood is a hilarious heroine and any fans of fun and funny lady fiction with a hint of smarts and smarminess will adore this book. What's more, it's pretty real, which I like in a teen book. A friend of mine recently pointed out how sweet and realistic Shiraz's burgeoning relationship with Wesley Barrington Baines II is, and I agree with her. When she first meets him, she thinks he's a little pudgy and boring. And as the book progresses, she starts to see what a decent person he is (anyone who would pick up a girl running screaming from a bhaji factory and listen intently to her woeful tale of finding mouse bits in the prepackaged pakoras is indeed a gentleman, am I right?). At the same time, she starts to see just how intelligent she actually is herself, and comes to the realization that she deserves good things in life beyond hanging out in the Burger King parking lot. Things move slowly and sincerely, and I like that.

I am a little ashamed to admit that this 200-page book took me about two weeks to read, but whatever. I've got a lot of cocktail- and camping-related irons in the fire, you know?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

We're having a heat wave.

It's too hot to write. The residual heat from my laptop makes my legs sweat even more than they were sweating just from the incredible intensity of walking from the kitchen to the computer. This morning at yoga, my instructor suggested we open a water park with all the perspiration on the floor. She also referenced Ferris Bueller, and once again, I was reminded of just how much I love yoga.

Anyway, this heat wave is really frying my brain these days, to the point where I can't really read more than a couple of pages without getting confused and disoriented and cranky. I can't handle any intensity of theme, emotion, or subtext. I'm reading for PLOT, PEOPLE. If you're feeling the same way, I suggest you find yourself a copy of Cum Laude by Cecily von Ziegesar. I've never read a Gossip Girl book, or watched the show, so I can't say whether her latest book, which follows a group of rich-ish college students (and the requisite milk-fed towny boy with a heart of gold and intentions as pure as the winter snow) through their first year at a faux-Ivy school in Maine, is any better or worse than that series. But I will say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the way von Ziegesar takes stereotypes, like the pot-smoking hippie dude who builds his own yurt, or the virginal, beautiful blonde from Connecticut, and makes them relatable and entertaining. And as for the plot, well MAN, I can't put this down. It's like a sexy soap opera for the upper crust. Dynasty-esque, if you will. This is beachy crack-style reading of the highest order.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go take another cold bath.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I drew a map of Canada. Oh Canada.

In light of recent events, not to mention the fact that our country seems to have gone from police-state-style chaos to fawning over an outdated, money-sucking monarch with tenuous connections to our governance structure (NOTE: this statement does not diminish my undying attraction to Prince Harry), I wasn't feeling super Canadian going into this day. To be honest, I'm not the most patriotic person at the best of times. Too many years spent in Ottawa on this, the looniest of public holidays, makes me associate it with street-side insanity, public intoxication, and personal humiliation. And yes yes, I've been in that crowd of drunken revelers myself, and I'll admit, it can be a lot of fun. Not to mention humbling: when those kids got caught peeing on the war memorial a few years ago, I couldn't help but concede that, okay, yeah, that could have been any one of us. You just get THAT CAUGHT UP IN THE SPIRIT.

That spirit is sadly dead inside me this year, though. My plan for Canada Day plan for this year includes an unplugged phone, a whole lot of yoga and the third season of Mad Men. Nevertheless, I had a moment of unbridled patriotism while listening to Jian , who played an old Spirit of the West song, Far too Canadian. I got a little weepy, and I got to thinking about the other songs that make me feel like I'm part of this great country.

Some of them are totally cliche, like A Case of You by Joni Mitchell, or The Canadian Railroad Trilogy by Gordon Lightfoot (aka the song that I can't put on any road mix because I would have to pull the car over to tear up as soon as it came on). Some of them aren't even by Canadians, like I Wish I Was the Moon by Neko Case (although I guess she gets honourary status). It's the national anthem for staring up at the sky, which we seem to do a lot of around here.

Some get stuck in my head for days, in the nicest possible way, like Stompin' Tom's The Hockey Song (although Turkey Rhubarb's version, with Paul Fralick on lead vocals, totally outshines the original). Some are pure summer sunshine, like Plaskett and Sam Roberts, while some bring me back to frigid snowy nights, huddled by a fire, drifting off to sleep.

Some remind me of being far, far away, missing the land that I love.

And some bring me right back home again.

Happy Canada Day, folks.