Friday, April 29, 2011


Was Is It About This Writer?

Susan Vreeland, Clara and Mr. Tiffany: I picked this up because I had read The Forest Lover, given to me by my sister years ago. I’m interested in Emily Carr and found that book pretty good, though now, after Clara, remember that I had to get over the writing style, which I found awkward in some way. This feeling was worse with Clara: was it overly writer-y? arch, somehow? I didn’t believe the main character, at least, was of her time (turn of the century NYC)—though, to be fair, who knows how a woman of that time and type would describe the world to herself? I certainly didn’t “cry over the glory of women’s work” as one blurber said. On the contrary, the detailed descriptions of cutting and setting and glass in general got a bit tedious—I could never picture it. My conclusion? Meh.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Margaretha’s Recommendation

I’m not a huge fan of fantasy that involves an invented language and history and cultural notes in an appendix (I’m too lazy to learn something that isn’t real) but this one was recommended by Biggie and so I persevered. The story was great, the main character a real winner, and some of the feminist issues involved (not driven, just there) make The Naming by Alison Croggon a rich read. it got me thinking about the physics of magic. I think it would take a lot of energy. Afterward, a magic worker would be need to be kept warm, like an athlete. A magic worker would be pretty thin, as a rule, though not fit—this isn’t muscle work. He or she would eat a lot and suffer from weird food cravings. Some kinds of magic would involve more drawing on the universe than others, and would have unique physical effects: deep shivers, perhaps, or blanking out afterward. As I write this, I begin to believe that writers of magic don’t take the human body into account much. Alison did, more than most—her heroine gets her period (though weirdly frequently, it seemed like).

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Good News

Ages ago (it’s funny how those two words look alike) I wrote about Case Histories by Kate Atkinson; it’s my joy to say now that there are sequels! I found out by accident. The second book is One Good Turn; the third, which I just finished (I’m going to work today, honest!) is When Will There Be Good News? (I have the answer to that question—when you learn that there are sequels to a book you loved.) This is detective fiction for people who don’t like detective fiction. In Good News, Atkinson brings together Jackson Brodie, the hapless sleuth; a character from the second book, wonderfully underwritten somehow, even when we’re in her head (she isn’t very self-aware); and two new characters who carry big bags of unluckiness. One of these is pure genius of the writer’s art. Read the books and then let’s talk about how.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Novels that stir up the pond

My first Walter Mosley was The Man in My Basement, which I thought was extremely odd but couldn’t forget. When I found Six Easy Pieces on a bargain table, I bought it, and then had to read the Easy Rawlins series (I’ve only got about 3 in so far, the early ones being hard to find, and I must read them in order). Now there’s The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. Let’s get this straight—the only thing I have in common with the characters in this novel is that we’re all human beings. But that’s enough for Mosley, who never loses hold for a second in this book. The story is this: a scared old man descending into dementia gets a reprieve through the arrival of a teenaged girl and an experimental drug. He uses the reprieve to deal with the particular memories that haunted his dementia; to love the girl as thoroughly as he can; and to carry out a task given him by a man he loved and saw lynched as a child. How he does this is as satisfying as it always is when a character who has suffered uses money and knowledge/power to exact justice without mercy, and to reward the merciful. That’s the detective fiction part of Mosley’s craft. But deeper than that is how he looks at aging, and love, and one human being seeing another over barriers of age, experience, sex. I finished the book at bedtime and then couldn’t sleep, for all the memories and thoughts it had stirred up.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Polygamy Sucks

... for women.
I’ve had a bit of a smiley-face on for polygamy ever since I started watching “Big Love.” With the ending of that show (a first-class pie-eyed wimp-out, IMO) my eyes have gone a bit squinty on the subject. “Sister Wives” makes it look so wholesome—and then there was the article on plyg in Canada in The Walrus, and after that a nonfiction book on Bountiful and a memoir of an escapee—the latter rather spectacular. Finally, Hidden Wives by Claire Avery. Nothing new here, information-wise, except for a detailed description of some “temple” practices that recalled that one episode of BL where Barb goes to the temple. Fig leaf aprons over white garments and being pulled through a white sheet, etc. As for the book itself... hm. I could hear the writing instruction hovering in the air: “Don’t say your character is afraid; instead, describe the physical effects of fear.” So this book was full of acid reflux, vomiting, stomachs clenched like fists, burning throats, etc. Except for the gastric distress, the narrating characters were empty—while the others were laughable stereotypes.

For refreshment after that, it was nice to turn to When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. The humour was there, yes, but what struck me reading this collection is the way he collects separate little experiences and brings them together in a way that lets you feel how they may have come together for him, in his own mind. This looks simple, but I’ll bet it has taken a lot of time and effort to learn to do. I’m always having mash-ups going on in my head, but I’ve seen the glazed look on Husband’s face (and he loves me!) when I’ve tried to explain why they matter.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011


I’m Back!

“A long while” turned out to be two years; but my little cyberspace time machine returns me to the point at which I departed, and unchanged, even, unless I make “physical” adjustments to this page.

The world is different, though: no more DWJ.
[moment of silence]

I wonder if she would have enjoyed the movie I saw last night, “Source Code.” A completely satisfying movie-going experience, which has left some bits in my mental teeth that I could pleasurably worry loose. The ideas in that movie were so beguiling I was willing to accept what didn’t work, a mood supported by the lead actor’s sad/hopeful face and his character’s good-soldier persona. Go and see this movie, and then consider these two points: Could the 8-minute conceit work anyhow but as a movie? and, That magic 8 minutes is a perfect metaphor for the work of the writer’s imagination. Source code, indeed. Watch for the nerdy guy in the short-sleeved dress shirt who charges up the machinery, who looks like Neil Gaiman as a short-sleeved dress shirt-wearing nerdy guy.

As for reading: in the past two years I've been a member of two reading groups, one new. The later has been... interesting; during the second year there was an accidental influx of new members, some of whom drive me up the wall. But some of them are not afraid of argument and they keep me going. Next month’s book is/was The Bishop's Man by Lynden MacIntyre: what a boring mess. I couldn’t connect with the main character, couldn’t keep track of the three or four timelines the author was working out, and by the end, felt I had missed the key moment that may have explained everything.

For the old book group, we read Room by Emma Donoghue; that was fascinating, hard, unbearable, and then the author helped us all escape from the unbearable place and the novel became a more ordinary one which you continue to read because you wish the characters well.

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