Thursday, September 30, 2010

See you in September.

September means back to school for some, and back to complete insanity for others. I fell into a bit of a void this month and took a little sabbatical from blogging. Here's what I was doing instead.

1. Wrangling writers at Kingston WritersFest.

Highlights: Deborah Ellis, who is so down to earth and passionate and generally awesome. Also, Iain Reid, a local boy made good, whose new memoir One Bird's Choice is so, so funny. I interviewed him for Kingstonist and he did not hate my questions--success! Oh, and I shared an elevator with Charlotte Gray, which was nearly as exciting as the time I washed my hands next to Margaret Atwood while she combed her crazy hair.

Lowlights: Nearly breaking Dave Bidini's finger as I tried to shake his hand while he simultaneously did a zombie impression. Also, getting booted out of Chez Piggy due to a fire code violation. At least they let me stay for a bowl of soup.

2. Reading memoirs.

Highlights: As you may recall, I am a huge fan of the genre. Literary agent Bill Clegg's amazing and horrifying Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man bears the ambivalent honour of being a book that really, really made me want to try smoking crack--he makes it sound THAT GOOD. I nearly didn't read it after a close and careful analysis of Clegg's author photo, which put me off for some reason. Something about the three-quarter profile and his teutonic features just reminded me of seventy-five percent of the boys I met in my twenties. I'm so glad I pressed onward. Clegg delves a little too deeply into his own subconscious at times, recalling his childhood compulsion to urinate and trying to tie it vaguely to his adult demons, but you can skip those passages and get right to the good old fashioned crazy stuff. Smoking crack with cabbies after a meeting with your newest author, being refused entry to the W Hotel, stuff like that.

Midlights: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. This book is basically the jailhouse version of Eat Pray Love, and there is no sensible reason why I should enjoy it. Usually tales of haute bourgeoisie forced into some humbling life experience tend to piss me off. But Kerman's story of the year she spent in jail for a ten year old drug offense was so compulsively readable and beautifully realized. I've read reviews that call the book reductive, and at times it sure is. She boils down issues of women and criminal justice to pretty simplistic terms and ends the book on a bit of an "isn't it great that I've grown so much and discovered yoga thanks to a Rodney Yee video someone left behind in the prison gym" note. But her portraits of her fellow prisoners and the description of her daily life in the clink are very humanizing and fascinating and darkly entertaining, so I'll allow the lack of a real conclusion for the sake of a pretty decent story overall.

3. Reconnecting with some of my favourite hometown heroes. Welcome home, boys.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Oh no, Oprah.

See? I knew this would happen. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is the latest Oprah book club pick. Sorry, ma'am, our brief honeymoon is over.

Click here to listen to the most tooth-grindingly, navel-gazingly boring podcast of all time if you need a Franzen refresher.

And don't you feel worse for having heard that interview? Because I do.

Alright alright maybe Freedom is really going to be amazing, but I am a creature of habit, and my habit around Jonathan Franzen is comprised of a strong and abiding dislike of his work. These days, this opinion seems to put me in the minority. There was a frigging piece about him on the Saturday evening news, for lord's sake. A piece involving his visit to a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. A piece that I actually enjoyed listening to, if only because it felt so painfully humbling to think of a public library that hosts Jonathan Fucking Franzen, having only worked for places that bring in, um, this woman who is a patron who also happens to have self-published a chapbook, you know? PERSPECTIVE!

Anyway, this piece drew a really absurd link between Jonathan Franzen and Lady Gaga, and it irked me, as most references to overexposed literary heroes do. I guess I just feel like I'm one of the only book nerds in the world who doesn't get the in-joke, who can't stand Jonathan Franzen. I read The Corrections a looooong time ago, and I read it because he had jive-talked Oprah, because that's the kind of hifalutin' twentysomething I was. I pretty much hated the whole thing, but I told everyone how much I loved it. At the time I was working on a Bookmobile, and my job consisted of sitting in a lawn chair outside the bus and waiting for kids to come and tell me about the books they'd read and then giving them stickers--pretty well the best job I'll ever have and arguably among the top five jobs of all time, anywhere. Between tiny visitors I schlepped that giant Franzen tome onto my lap and got angry about how cold and unemotional it was and what nerve this guy has to write creepy CS Lewis metaphors about antidpressants and I'd work myself into this rage and then pause to talk to some child about how they'd just finished the fourth Harry Potter. It was all a bit jarring. Perhaps this was not the ideal environment in which to read Jonathan Franzen, but the die was cast. I think what I've realized since is that I hate a lack of sympathy in my reading. I crave emotional fullness and vulnerability and I hate dispassionate, post-pomo reflection. There, I said it.

Which isn't to say I won't read Freedom. I probably will, because I still possess the same mix of masochism and high-mindedness I've always possessed. And I might email his publicist and see if he might like to speak at my library, on the condition that he has to help me kick everyone off the public internet stations at the end of the night. I'm a woman with standards, you know.

Now let's all cleanse our palates with a little rainy day ditty from Julie London.

I feel better already.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday, Monday.

A few crumbs from the start of the work week.

1. Oh please, people, send me your best and least disgusting cabbage recipes. My CSA is overloading me with the stuff and I never want to eat coleslaw again. I just made the most insane soup involving lentils and cabbage and lemon and pain. This is what cabbage does to me! It makes me hate soup, which is horrifying.

2. I spent a lot of the weekend reading Anna Quindlen's new book, Every Last One. I concluded that it is the beautiful, rich, character-driven equivalent of being punched in the gut several times in succession. She breaks my heart in the most wonderful, captivating way.

3. I spent the rest of the weekend hiding from the rain and driving all over hell's half acre, listening to Judith Light reading the audiobook version of Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner. I love Jennifer Weiner, I really do, and it was an audio CD of her short story collection, The Guy Not Taken, that really sold me on her. I like her subtle quirkiness and self-deprecation and soft but still sarcastic humour. And Angela Bower just sucks the fun right out of her, reading the story like a Southern melodrama. This might be one where you need the hard copy, but I'm giving it my thinking woman's chick lit stamp of approval nevertheless.

4. Now that Oprah's show is in its twilight season, I finally feel comfortable with admitting that I think she is absolutely awesome. I may hardly ever watch her show, and I will probably renege on this with her next book club pick, but today, I wholeheartedly endorse her. Whatever, all you haters! She is getting John Travolta to fly 300 people to Australia! She gets 'er done!

If you are not entertained and touched by that, you have no heart! NO HEART AT ALL!


Friday, September 10, 2010

It's Friday. I'm in love.

It is a telling, telling time when you draw more inspiration from the Letters page of the August 30th issue of People than anything else. I should maybe just turn this blog into a People fanzine. I would have reams of material to draw from.

Proof 1.

I suffered a severe case of emotional whiplash after reading about the Marines coming home from Afghanistan and then turning the page to see the ridiculousness that is the Jersey Shore cast. Could there be two groups of people so completely the opposite in relevance and importance?

...I just love picturing Debi, of Garland, Texas furrowing her brow and typing this letter with rage and believing in the journalistic integrity of this publication.

Proof 2.

They print retractions about misspelling someone's name in the Puzzler. I would really love to be a clue in the People crossword. I think that's the sign of true, common-denominator cultural ubiquity. Although I have to admit I have no idea who Gordon MacRae is, beyond the fact that his name was misspelled in last week's Puzzler.

I know it's probably becoming excessive and maybe even a little creepy, but I really do love People Magazine. I don't know where else I would learn that Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence have a SITCOM on TELEVISION where he plays her MANNY. YES, REALLY! Is it so wrong that I'd like to download the first season? Is it so bad that I am earnestly glad that Sabrina the Teenage Witch is doing alright? Is it unforgivable that I am now going to make you all watch Joey Lawrence's music video?

The answer to all these questions is yes, yes, oh my gosh yes.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I am never having children

Are they getting ruder, or am I getting crankier? Or perhaps, the horrible third option, are they getting more astute? Observe, if you will, an exchange at the desk tonight:

Mother: I'd like to check this out.
Daughter throws jacket over Mother's shoulder, disrupting library transaction.
Daugher: Here, YOU take it!
Mother: That's not funny!
Daugter: I KNOW it's not funny! It's not SUPPOSED to be funny! It's SUPPOSED to make a POINT!

She's got moxy, I'll give her that. In the meantime, I'm heading off to renew my birth control prescription.

Fall into it.

So, I took a bit of a hiatus. I'd love to say that I spent labour day the way it ought to be spent, marching in solidarity with my brothers and sisters and all that. Instead I chose to drink poorly-chilled Caesars out of a plastic cup and stack logs. Anyway, last night there was a crazy thunderstorm and this morning I awoke to find that the rain washed away the last thick vestiges of summer heat, along with my sad, dying tomato plants. Fall might not quite be here, but we're definitely on our way. My yoga teacher told me last night that this season is one of upheaval and transition, of windy upsets and uncertain possibilities. I feel that. All I want to do is burrow under blankets and eat muffins and re-read the whole Ramona series. I'm feeling quiet these days, and a little out of it, and a little uninspired. I'm back to writing, but not really. I'll let you know when I'm really ready to return, I promise. In the meantime, here's a song to get us through the long, slow, ultimately pretty satisfying crawl toward darkness.