Friday, April 27, 2007
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
(one of our favourite Dewey Diva children's books picks)
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
The photograph was taken by Sophie Calle, a French photographer/performance artist that I really admire for being the ultimate professional narcissist. In one of her projects she took a job as a chambermaid in a Venice hotel in order to photograph the objects (and the state in which they were left) of the rooms' occupants. She then created these huge installations consisting of a pair of horizontal frames, one hung on top of the other to approximate the shape of a queen sized bed. The top frame was dominated by a colour photograph of the headboard, placed on top of text which described the objects in the room, and which was arranged graphically below into three columns. This resembled a top sheet pulled over the patchwork "quilt" she then created using black and white photographs of the objects in the bottom frame. You can see examples of this exhibition (a room full of these wonderful "made" beds) in a collection of her work called Did You See Me? or read the descriptions of her project more fully in her book, L'Hotel.
I love the intellectual playfulness of her work. In one example, she describes three objects on a bedside table - a copy of Time, an International Herald Tribune and Somerset Maugham's novel The Moon and Sixpence, open to page 198. When one finds a copy of the book and turns to page 198, one gets a description of a woman lying in bed smoking cigarettes. In the accompanying photograph of the bedside table, the newspaper and magazine are there, but instead of the novel is an ashtray full of discarded butts. How fun and cheeky is that? You can read more about her work here.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Friday, April 20, 2007
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The novel begins with an amazingly riveting section as the strong bonds between Anna, her adopted sister Claire, and Coop, a young orphan also adopted into their family, and with whom Anna is having an affair, are completely shattered when Anna's father discovers their relationship and reacts violently. The rest of the novel explores the aftermath of this incident in the lives of Claire, Coop and especially Anna. Coop gets caught up in the dangerous world of professional gambling, and is possibly saved by Claire. Anna moves to France and becomes intrigued both in researching the life of Lucien Segura, a poet who took his own life, and in her relationship with the private and mysterious Rafael.
The writing in this novel is of course everything you'd expect with Ondaatje - poetic, sensual and full of complex images, such as a recurring shard of glass that jolts with its beautifully menacing power and yet also reflects the broken and painful fragmentation of these characters' lives. You'll also recognize some recurring images from The English Patient - Ondaatje loves a good thief, an historical church and a man physically and verbally trapped within his own body. But what really makes this novel intriguing - and has led to some fascinating conversations with my colleagues - is Ondaatje's narrative technique. Throughout the novel, books constantly appear to shed insight on the characters and provide them with inspiration. This, I think is the key to the novel. Anna the writer, learns that, "sometimes we enter art to hide within it." The very title of the novel, Divisadero, is explained as being Spanish for "division" but also deriving from the Spanish word "divisar" - meaning to gaze at something from a distance. And as Anna tells the reader, "I look into the distance for those I have lost, so that I see them everywhere." Is storytelling thus a form of looking "into the distance"? Who really is the narrator of this novel? Do we accept the continual re-appearance of images as just coincidence, or are they a way of rewriting and rethinking the past? (Or hiding within it?) There are enough subtle and intellectual teases in Divisadero to merit multiple readings (and re-readings), which is what makes this such a worthwhile and thoroughly enjoyable read.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Yann Martel, author of the Booker-winning Life of Pi has set up a new website as he tries to entice our Prime Minister to read great books. I can't wait to see if Harper responds and how. Check it out here.
The Guardian has a great weekly feature, giving us a photographic glimpse into some writers' rooms. God, I'm glad some of them have as messy a desk as myself. This week it's Claire Tomalin. You can see the whole series here.
Michael Dirda, one of my favourite literary journalists (he uncannily has my identical reading taste) and author of several great books about reading, has a weekly online chat at the Washington Post website. Last week, he did a special tribute to Kurt Vonnegut. You can read the full transcript here.
The Independent has an interesting piece on why certain books don't get made into movies. And maybe that's a good thing. Read it here.
I don't read a lot of science fiction, but when a book describes a character as being the "bibliophile from hell", then my interest is immediately piqued. The setting is Moscow, two hundred years after a nuclear war, and the remaining people have to live with the "consequences" which are strange physical deformities. There are also Oldeners, whose consequence is never to die from old age. More importantly, they remember what the pre-Blast world was like, when people could read whatever they chose. In the present world, scribes like our main character Benedikt, copy out the writings of their leader Fyodor Kuzmich without really understanding what the poems and stories are all about (since he is passing off pre-Blast literature as his own). As Benedikt gets more curious about books and moves up in social status, the novel shows the flip side of obsessive and possessive reading. It's a strange and often creepy satire, containing equal and paradoxical portions of dark fairytale and humourous nightmare. Recommended also for those who enjoyed Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 or Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.
Friday, April 13, 2007
And the DVD of Notes on a Scandal comes out next week. If you haven't seen this movie (one of her very, very best roles) or read the book (which has one of the most scary and heartbreakingly sustained narrative voices I have ever read) you are in for a real treat. I much prefer the ending of the book, but totally accept the changes that screenwriter Patrick Marber had to make for the film. He was the perfect choice to tackle the script, having written one of my favourite plays, Closer, which he also adapted for the screen and was a pretty decent movie, although it would have been even better if Cate Blanchett (the original choice) had tackled the role of Anna, instead of Julia Roberts. Many people I know actually hated that film because of the narcissim and general disagreeableness of the characters, but that was the whole point. You aren't expected to LIKE them. Marber is apparently at work now tackling Ian McEwan's Saturday. I wait in deliciously nervous anticipation.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
And then my friend K, who is a bookseller, e-mails me that she has two passes to see Away From Her that night. God, I love the internet. Obviously good things happen to those who blog!
Apart from a few scenes that I felt moved a little too slowly, I really did enjoy the movie. It's about a couple who have been married for 44 years and have to deal with the wife's onset of Alzheimer's, which brings up past resentments in their relationship. Julie Christie (still stunningly beautiful) and Gordon Pinsent were just wonderful in the lead roles. And how can you tell this is a Canadian movie? The characters read aloud from Alistair MacLeod's No Great Mischief and Michael Ondaatje's The Cinnamon Peeler. The couple dance to Neil Young, while k.d. lang croons over the closing credits. There's a reference to Canadian Tire. But my favourite scene takes place in the rest home where a group of seniors in various stages of Alzheimer's sit around a televison set watching the Leafs get kicked out of playoff contention yet again. If you liked the movie Iris - the story of Iris Murdoch and her battles with Alzheimer's then go and see Away From Her. The disease is not just played for weepy sentiment, but as a catalyst to explore the hidden tensions and secrets in a seemingly loving, long-term relationship. Sarah Polley's script and direction was extremely intelligent and perceptive blending unexpected ironic moments with poignant humour.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
However, there's a nice surprise lurking in the middle of one of my fall catalogues - an insert with a sneak preview of movies based on books of course, that are coming out in the summer and the fall. And some of them look fantastic. So I offer you a little peek to give you time to read the book first!
Atonement by Ian McEwan. This is the one I'm most looking forward to as I absolutely love the book. It will star Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Brenda Blethyn and Vanessa Redgrave and is directed by Joe Wright who did the recent Pride and Prejudice (also starring Knightley). Hmm, will they include the scene in the library? You know, THAT scene!
Lust, Caution by Eileen Chang. I haven't read the particular short story that this movie is based on, although it will be published this fall, along with the screenplay and a preface written by director Ang Lee. However, I have read her earlier collection of stories, Love in a Fallen City (doesn't it have an incredibly striking cover?) and I was completely moved by these stories of women trying to survive in the inter-war years in Hong Kong. Absolutely beautiful writing. So this film has great potential. Love the director. It will star Tony Leung and Joan Chen.
Away From Her, based on the short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain by Alice Munro, which you can find in her collection, Hateship Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage. This movie got great buzz at the Toronto Film Festival. It's directed by Sarah Polley and stars Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent and Olympia Dukakis.
Evening by Susan Minot. This movie looks to have one of the best ensemble casts since The Hours. Actually a bunch of them were in The Hours. It stars Vanessa Redgrave, Claire Danes, Eileen Atkins, Meryl Streep, Toni Collette, Natasha Richardson, Glenn Close, Hugh Dancy, and Patrick Wilson. Directed by Lajos Koltai.
Jindabyne, based on the short story So Much Water So Close to Home by Raymond Carver. The story can be found in his collection Where I'm Calling From. Stars Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne and is directed by Ray Lawrence.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Also looks wonderful. It's directed by Mike Newell who did Four Weddings and a Funeral and stars Javier Bardem, Benjamin Bratt and Fernanda Montenegro.
Silk by Alessandro Baricco. Stars Keira Knightley, Alfred Molina, Michael Pitt and Koji Yakusho and is directed by Francois Girard who did the Red Violin.
The Hottest State by Ethan Hawke. I have to say I did not enjoy this novel beyond the first page, but maybe the movie will work. Hawke is directing himself and the rest of the cast which includes Mark Webber, Jesse Harris, Laura Linney and Michelle Williams. Heck, I'll see anything with Laura Linney in it.
The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter. A modern take on A Midsummer Night's Dream. Stars Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinear, Radha Mitchell, Jane Alexander and Selma Blair. Directed by Robert Benton.
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. Will probably give this film a miss because I fear it will be far too violent for me. It's McCarthy. It's directed by the Coen brothers. Enough said. But if you're a fan, the movie does have a great cast - Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Kelly MacDonald.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Sean Penn writes the script and directs. Stars Emile Hirsch.
Reservation Road by Jonathan Burnham Schwartz. Directed by Terry George who did Hotel Rwanda. Stars Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connolly and Mira Sorvino.
So there you are. Lots of great movies to look forward to and summer reading suggestions. Start your Oscar predictions now!
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Kimbooktue is also on the hunt for the best bookstores in the world - it was from her blog that I first saw photos of this incredible theatre in Buenos Aires that was converted into a bookstore. You can see a photo of it here and here (scroll down a bit to see the photos).
Sunday, April 8, 2007
Some of Canada's best writers have poignantly and imaginatively explored WWI. Here's a list of some of my recommendations: The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart, Broken Ground by Jack Hodgins, The Sojourn by Alan Cumyn and its sequel The Famished Lover, Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, Deafening by Frances Itani, Generals Die in Bed by Charles Yale Harrison, Maclean by Allan Donaldson and for a particularly female point of view, pick up L.M. Montgomery's Rilla of Ingleside, The Deep by Mary Swan, a beautifully written novella about two sisters who travel to France to nurse the wounded and Aleta Dey by Francis Marion Beynon (a wonderful novel about a pacifist/suffragette, orginally published in 1919 but brought back into print by Broadview Press). Wendy Lill took some of the elements of Beynon's life and her novel and weaved them into her play The Fighting Days. Other Canadian playwrights who have tackled the theatre of WWI include Guy Vanderhaeghe with Dancock's Dance, R.H. Thomson with The Lost Boys and Stephen Massicotte with Mary's Wedding.
A few years ago, McGill-Queen's University Press published the War Diary of Clare Gass, a nurse who spent four years in France. I looked up her entries for April, 1917 and she did nurse many of the wounded after the battle at Vimy and reported of heartbreaking cases of gas and gangrene.
I have no doubt left many books out (including children's books). Please add any you may have read and liked.
Saturday, April 7, 2007
Of course we will always need beautiful places to read books in too. Lanchester describes the miles of stacks underground in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. I once spent three weeks happily reading Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf in the Bodleian. I still tingle when I think of it - it was truly a religious experience. One afternoon I went to retrieve some books I had requested and the librarian apologized for the absence of one of them. "I'm so sorry," she said. "But we had to send the van for that one and it won't be back until later." That tingle again. It felt like such a privilege -almost a guilty one - that someone was going to all this trouble so I could read a physical book. And not even a rare one at that - a pamphlet on Woolf, written by Margaret Drabble, if I recall correctly.
Friday, April 6, 2007
This is an ambitious 500 page novel that was very reminscient of the movie Sliding Doors, which follows Gwyneth Paltrow’s character through two parallel stories depending on whether or not she catches a certain train in London’s Underground. Shriver takes a basically happily married woman and tracks how her life would change if she went off with the dishy but selfish snooker player Ramsey, or stayed with her solid but rather dull husband Lawrence. It’s not giving anything away to mention that both choices are rife with problems and disappointments. But this novel is not chicklit - it's a very moving reminder of all the minute, daily details of life, crafted into both narratives - the little things one forgets and regrets in the throes of an unexpected passion or a fear that somehow life is passing one by. Irina is a children’s book illustrator, and Shriver is particularly clever about envisioning the two different types of children’s books she ends up writing in her dual storylines. A highly enjoyable read; in the hundreds of “what-if” possibilites we encounter daily, it’s good to have a little fictional re-enforcement about trusting our gut instincts and accepting the outcome of our choices.
This book also reminds me of John Mighton’s play Possible Worlds (made into a movie with Tilda Swinton and Tom McCamus) which also depicted a strange love story in parallel narratives. Which reminds me to get cracking on the manuscript of his new book, The End of Ignorance due out in May - it’s a look at improving some of current methods of teaching in our schools - more about that later, as well as a review of a BIG Canadian novel that I just finished reading but can’t talk about yet…