Friday, April 27, 2007

Cats in Hats

I hear it is traditional to post cat pictures on Fridays on blogs. Here is one of my two cats- Gizmo and Delaney- wearing the souvenirs that I brought home for them from Mexico recently. I'll be home soon kitties!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

On the Duck

We're now in lovely Jasper, getting ready for the Alberta Library Conference. The road from Edmonton to Jasper is very long and very straight, but put four of us in a car, high on too much coffee and last night's decadent chocolate desserts, and we can find all sorts of delightful ways to pass the time, take in the sights, and hum along to showtunes from South Pacific.

For instance, we hope to shortly post some pictures of what seems to be the world's largest aluminum baseball bat (at the corner of Edmonton's 97th St. and 118th Ave). And then there's Edson, Alberta - a small town about half way to Jasper. We usually stop to stretch our legs, grab a coffee and engage in what is now a yearly ritual. We recommend going into the Tim Horton's and (if female), making a pit stop at the women's washroom. When it comes time to dry your hands, you'll put them under the "Xcelerator", possibly the world's most powerful hand dryer! I swear, it makes the fleshy folds on the back of your hands suddenly morph into mountain ranges. L. - without missing a beat - calmly proclaims it the best blow job in the province.
[We should note for curious tourists, that the Xcelerator is only available in the women's washroom. Last year, when we were driving Canadian mystery writer Peter Robinson back to Edmonton, we sent him to investigate the hot air options available in the men's room and he came back empty (or is that wet?) handed. Yet we have utter confidence in his detection abilities and so the reasons behind the inequality of gendered drying time in Edson must remain a mystery.]

We've also invented a new driving game which may only seem funny if you are in the book business. But we've discovered that if you insert the word "duck" into almost any book title, it can effortlessly replace any noun and sometimes even improve the title. Here's how it works. You get one point if you can guess what the real title of the book is. Two points if the book actually has a duck in it. Three points if everyone in the car agrees the duck title is a much better title for the book. For example, if you want to play along...
The Curious Incident of the Duck in the Night-time
The Da Vinci Duck
Wuthering Ducks
Ducks in Paris
The 100-Duck Diet
Brave New Duck
The End of the Duck
Duck and Punishment
This game works particularly well for Canadian classics. Think of the possibilities! In the Skin of a Duck. The Edible Duck. Oryx & Duck. Who Has Seen the Duck? As For Me and My Duck. The Apprenticeship of Ducky Kravitz.

You get the idea. This game lasted for 20 kilometres until we realized it wouldn't work for the proliferation of books we sell that have one word titles. Duck. Duck. Duck. Duck. Duck. We got bored. Yes, we really are as corny as Kansas in August. We blame R., who has us in stitches everytime she talks about this book, that contains a demonic duck who can disembowel a man in thirty seconds.
(Is it any coincidence that our bedspreads in Jasper are covered with ducks? I feel a Dewey mascot coming on!)

(one of our favourite Dewey Diva children's books picks)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hotel glee/Hotel lit

En route to Edmonton we have a conversation about the simple things that make us happy in hotel rooms (places reps spend a lot of time in). Apart from a need for a certain standard of cleanliness and a comfortable bed, it's the little things that matter (and incidentally do not have any direct relationship to the cost of the room). Such as a window that opens, even if you're on the tenth floor (even better if I can hear a forlorn night train whistle in the distance). A good reading lamp is essential - bonus marks if it's on a swivel. There must be hooks on the back of the bathroom door. A decent latte needs to be no further than two blocks away, and toast must be available on the room service menu (even if I never order it, I need to know I can - it's a comfort thing). Our hotel in Calgary was trying just a bit too hard to be trendy. Our more modest one in Edmonton has quirky rooms with strange wall angles and everything I've listed above. Our complimentary soap and shampoo even lists fresh ginger, white tea and nutmeg as ingredients and smells wonderful. We're all very happy.

But even though my suitcase is loaded with more reading material than I'll ever plough through on this trip, I do get homesick for my personal library. I've been thinking about my favourite hotel literature and wondering if those fictional rooms meet any of my criteria (or suggest some essential ones of their own) but I can't pad my way to my shelves and check. I do know that someday I want to check into a hotel room that is as decadently pink as the cover of Ali Smith's fabulous Hotel World (just as one utterly luxuriates in the complete originality and beauty of Smith's use of language in this novel).

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

On the road in Calgary...

A couple of Deweys are in Calgary to do a presentation to the librarians en route to Edmonton and then the Alberta Library Conference in Jasper. Despite the fact that we left a balmy, sunny Toronto at 23 degrees for a cloudy 1 degree in Calgary, we've had the afternoon to ourselves and for us that means shopping! I've long wanted to go to the Kensington area of the city to seek out Pages Books on Kensington - one of Canada's best-known independent bookstores, but in the past, I've always been told it was too far away from downtown to get there without a car. However, once we looked on the map, it really was only about twelve blocks from our hotel - for Torontonians who walk everywhere downtown, anyplace within an hour's walk is imminently doable. It's a nice area full of interesting shops and restaurants - between the two of us we've managed to buy a funky book bag, lingerie (which you can really only buy with a girlfriend - check out the Cat's Pyjamas if you're in the area), lemon daisy cookies, jewelry and of course books! Pages runs a wonderful reading series - one of their walls is covered with numerous black and white author photos from past participants - and has extremely knowledgable staff who are avid readers. Now we're trying to figure out if the noise on the streets tonight will be louder if the Flames win, or if they get kicked out of the playoffs....

Friday, April 20, 2007

Librarians on the road...

I think one of the reasons I decided to go back to school part-time was simply to get my hands on a university library card. Here's a fascinating article on how academic librarians travel the globe getting specialized and rare materials for their collections. (Thanks to the Literary Saloon for the link).

Can your cat do this?

For my fellow Deweys (you know who you are...). The book will be out in October.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Wonderful World of Wharton

I was thrilled last night to attend a reading by one of my academic idols - Hermione Lee - who was in town on a book tour. I loved her biography of Virginia Woolf and am deep into her latest book on the fascinating, rich (and long) life of Edith Wharton. Lee was a marvellously entertaining speaker who talked about some of the difficulties with her research because Wharton had destroyed so many of her letters. So while she could grasp concrete things like the colour of her bedsheets (pink silk) or the depth of her grave, more personal subjects such as the true nature of her unhappy marriage with Teddy, eluded her, or had to be gleaned from Wharton's fiction, which in Lee's words reflected, "oceans of vulnerabilty and pain".

What Lee does so wonderfully in her writing is to merge the life with an intelligent and enthusiastic reading of the work - Wharton wrote over forty books and numerous short stories. I have temporarily put the biography aside to pick up Wharton's novel The Reef, simply because of Lee's descriptive endorsement. At the reading last night, she quoted liberally from Wharton's letters and fiction to convey the true flavour of her frequently humourous and still extraordinarily contemporary voice. And I have come across passages in The Reef that have literally made me gasp with their beauty -such as this description of rain falling outside a Paris window:
"There were no variations of rhythm, no lyrical ups and downs: the grey lines streaking the panes were as dense and uniform as a page of unparagraphed narrative."

Wharton had a lifelong fascination with interior design (much of her fiction compares her female characters' lives to certain rooms and passages in houses). Her first book was The Decoration of Houses and Rizzoli has just published a fascimile.

I immediately turned to her section on designing one's library and unlike most modern decorating magazines that think of books as simply incidental to some aesthetic design scheme, Wharton gives them their proper worth:
"The general decoration of a library should be of such character as to form a background or setting to the books, rather than to distract attention from them. The richly adorned room in which books are but a minor incident is, in fact, no library at all."
In the fall, NYRB Books will be publishing a collection of Wharton's New York Stories, which I am eagerly anticipating. In one of those strange literary coincidences that happens often when I think I'm reading completely disparate subjects, I also discovered this week that Brave New World (see my earlier post) was even in part inspired by Wharton's novel The Twilight Sleep. Now why isn't that common knowledge?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Review: Divisadero - the new Ondaatje novel out today!

Today is the publication date for Divisadero, the new novel by Michael Ondaatje. It's especially exciting because it comes out in Canada more than a month before its publication in the U.S. and several months before its U.K. debut. So it really does feel like a world premiere! One of the best things about being a book rep, however, is that we get finished books in advance of the pub date, and so I got the chance to read this over the Easter weekend.

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

Monday Roundup...

... of interesting book news.

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.

Books and Dystopias

I've been re-reading Huxley's Brave New World over the weekend. I had forgotten that in his version of "civilization", books were banned, but then this always seems to be the case in all dystopias or totalitarian societies. Nevertheless, there are always a few that inevitably survive, like John Savage's complete works of Shakespeare. Or that get hoarded away as treasure by the very people who order their destruction. A very good companion read to Huxley is Tatyana Tolstaya's The Slynx, just re-issued from New York Review of Books.

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

Judi, Judi, Judi

If you are a fan of the GREAT Judi Dench, I have got something absolutely fantastic to recommend. Though she's been getting wonderful film roles in the last few years, most of her career has been spent in the theatre and the BBC has just released the Judi Dench Collection of eight (!) DVDs featuring her performances in plays and television. There is the four part 1966 TV series Talking to a Stranger, TWO versions of The Cherry Orchard (in 1962 she played Anya to Peggy Ashcroft's Madame Ranevsky; in 1981, she took on the role of Madame Ranevsky herself), Ibsen's Ghosts with Kenneth Branagh, Keep an Eye on Amelie, a French farce by Feydeau, Absolute Hell, in which she plays, "an oversexed, alcoholic proprietor of a bohemian nightclub in post-World War II London", Can You Hear Me Thinking and Going Gently. There are also three radio plays, including David Hare's Amy's View (she won a Tony for her performance). I was up until 2am last night just watching some of the bonus features - various interviews she's done over the years. There is an amazing one with Alan Titchmarsh of all people - at the end of it, she sings "Send in the Clowns" as she was appearing at the time in Sondheim's A Little Night Music. I've heard many versions of this song, but Judi brings such pain, regret and cynicism to her rendition, that I ended up watching it three times in a row. This performance alone is worth the price of the box set. Now I just have to find the time for a little Dench marathon. I also highly recommend Trevor Nunn's Macbeth, with Dench playing opposite Ian McKellen. It too is available on DVD.

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

Cyber Karma

So. . . within hours of my last post about upcoming movies, my general question about the library scene in Atonement gets answered by someone who kindly sent me a link to the trailer (you'll see a tiny peek of the library scene). You can watch it here. The movie looks amazing - can't wait!
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

Read the book first...upcoming movies

My work desk currently looks like a dangerous parody of the Leaning Tower of Pisa with various piles of paper and incoming catalogues threatening to quite physically bury me at any moment. It's even more scary when one considers that this pile all represents what will eventually be actual books coming out in the Fall of 2007. Yep, it's that prep for sales conference time that all of us are currently undergoing.
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

I want to be a kid again.....

... and have this in my bedroom! Where's the adult version?

Living With Books

Here's a really cool site called Kimbooktu. This bookloving blogger finds all these amazing objects that have been designed or inspired by books. Book jewelry, lamps, fascinating shelving options, books about books etc. Some of it is fairly kitschy, some of it entirely amazing (usually the expensive stuff). I have to admit to being a bit of a sucker for some of this stuff. I do have Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Bronte and Thomas Hardy plates, numerous author tea towels and mugs, and last Christmas, my colleague gave me a very funny Kleenex box cover in the form of Shakespeares's face (the tissues come out of his nose).
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

Canadian Literature on the First World War

Reading and watching all the television coverage of the 90th anniversary of Vimy Ridge, I'm reminded of how entrenched the First World War has always been, not only in Canada's historical psyche, but also in its literary culture. My abiding interest in this period after all came from books - reading All Quiet on the Western Front and Timothy Findley's The Wars in high school made a big impact on me. Later in university, discovering Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth has led to an almost obsessive fascination with women's chronicles of this war.
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

The Future of the Book?

An interesting piece here in today's Guardian by John Lanchester, about whether electronic books/materials are going to go the way of the illegal downloading that is angering the music and film industries. He writes quite a bit about copyright laws and why he couldn't use a certain poem in the American edition of his latest book, Family Romance. I'm in two minds about electronic books and information being freely available on the internet. As a part-time student, I've found it invaluable at times. As a full-time bookrep, I'd like to keep my job until retirement. I agree with Lanchester that fiction probably does not have to worry for a while - what I would ultimately love to see is more aesthetic attention paid to books as art objects - the paper, the font sizes, the copyediting, the covers, the endpapers. See for example one of my favourite small publishers - Persephone Books. The beauty of their books will never be duplicated by the internet.
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

The What-ifs in life...

Hello cyberworld! With the long weekend upon us, it seemed a great time to start this blog (see the top right hand corner for what we’re all about ) I’m almost glad it’s cold outside as I’m not moving from my couch for three days in order to catch up on lots of reading. Last night I finished The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver.

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…