Wednesday, May 31, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage

Firmin begins life at a disadvantage. Born the runt of the litter to an alcholic mother sheltering in the basement of an independent bookstore, Firmin begins to eat pages of books in order to survive. When Firmin realizes the books he’s digested have given him the ability to read, his love affair with literature is born. Existing through a daily diet of nourishing classics, Firmin quickly becomes an outsider existing in a no-mans land between what he is (a rat) and what he wishes to be (human). Sam Savage’s Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife can be read as a quirky little tale about the book-loving rat in all of us, or as a philosophical look at life. It is a witty novella and a powerful homage to a life lived through and around books and the enduring influence of great writers.

Firmin’s initial consumption is rather indiscriminate, one book tasting much like any other. Soon however, Firmin notices subtle flavour differences between works and as his understanding of literature develops, his need for literal consumption diminishes. Firmin reads and “lets the books center my dreams, and sometimes I dreamed myself back into the books.” Any true booklover has often wished to disappear into a book; the weak becomes strong, the housebound travels and the voiceless thunders speeches to the masses. Firmin finds relief from his outsider status by becoming the characters, “I must constantly remind myself, sometimes by means of a rap on the head, that Eisenhower is real while Oliver Twist is not.”

The name Firmin comes from the Latin Firminus meaning “firm” and is the name of several early saints, but Firmin the rat is anything but firm or saintly. He worships at and is torn between two temples; Pembroke Books and the Rialto movie theatre; knowledge and lust; sages and his “lovelies” (the ethereal actresses that parade nude through the late night movies at the Rialto).

Savage positions before the reader these two elemental aspects of humanity; the earthy nature of the body and the spiritual realm of the mind. By casting this dichotomy into the body of a conscious rat, he is able to mock our delusions and perceptions. Holding a mirror up to our souls in the character of Firmin, we question our essential selves and our understanding of reality. Should our perceptions be taken as true or, like Firmin, do we delude ourselves into believing we are other than what we are?

Both of Firmin’s temples offer an escape from reality and the pull from both is strong. By casting the theatre into the role of seducer, Savage resurrects the worry that movies will destroy books. While today it is clear that books have survived the assault of movies and television, the concern for the relevance of the great works of literature in modern society continues.

Savage holds a doctoral degree in Philosophy from Yale University so it should come as no surprise that this slim volume is full of more questions than answers. Whether Firmin, capable of consciousness and immersion into the great works of fiction, is a better mirror for humanity’s frailities because he is a rat is difficult to state. What is apparent is that Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife merits repeated readings for Savage has filled its pages with much food for thought. This gem of a book should be a treasured addition to any bibliophile’s bookshelf.

See the review posted at ReadySteadyBooks - Firmin.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: One Mississippi by Mark Childress

Daniel Musgrove’s family has moved six times in 10 years. That’s what happens when your Dad is a saleman for TriDex, a company that moves its sales force around every year or two to keep them on their toes. Daniel’s mother is thrilled to be moving home to the south, closer to family and a place where her toes will finally be warm, but the Musgrove children are decidedly unhappy.

Things quickly go from bad to crazy in characteristic Mark Childress style. On the drive to Mississippi the van carrying all the Musgroves’ belongings is destroyed in an accident. Daniel and his siblings start at their new school on the first day of court-ordered integration. A few months later their Granny dies and crazy Uncle Jacko comes to live with them. All of these are minor happenings compared to Arnita Beecham, a beautiful black girl, winning Prom Queen and, later the same night, being run down by another student as she bicycles home. Suddenly the hidden tensions rise to the surface, spiraling ever further out of control. The match that finally sets it all alight - Arnita comes out of her coma believing she is white.

One Mississippi carries on in the trademark narrative style of Crazy in Alabama and Tender, a form descended from generations of front porch storytelling sessions - luminously descriptive, yet full of caustic wit. Childress peoples his novels with exaggerated characters, misguided do-gooders and desperate loners, all in their own way demanding the reader’s empathy and understanding. The South is a strong character by itself in Childress’ novels, for it is only in these expertly crafted settings that his novels can exist. Time and place demand as much attention as the people strolling casually across the page.

Childress writes coming of age stories particularly well, effortlessly transporting the reader to the awkward days of adolescence.

“In high school it’s all about how you walk down the hall – whether you stroll through the flow or dart along the edges, whether you hold the stack of books on your hip with one hand (guys) or press them two-handed to your chest (sissies and girls.) Notes are scribbled and passed, rumors fanned and blown down the hall.”

One Mississippi feels like you’ve stepped into a world where the air is thick enough to chew, the lemonade is tart enough to kill a three-day thirst and the neighbours are friendly enough to invite y’all over for some southern fried chicken. This is the perfect read for the long, hot days of summer.

See the review at Armchair Interviews: One Mississippi.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugrešić

“…stimulating the memory was as much a manipulation of the past as banning it.”

The Ministry of Pain (Ministarstvo boli) explores what it means to be a refuge, to live in exile from your country. Told through the eyes of Tanja Lucic, a temporary teacher in the Department of Slavonic Languages at the University of Amsterdam, Dubravka Ugrešić’s novel follows Tanja’s journey as she and her students explore their memories of a lost country, language and the meaning of language.

Throughout The Ministry of Pain, Ugrešić invokes the idea that the life of an exile is like living in a fairy tale or a parallel world. Early in the novel Tanja states:

“I had the feeling I might well – if like Alice I should lose my footing and fall into a hole – end up in a third or fourth parallel world, because Amsterdam itself was my own parallel world. I experienced it as a dream, which meant it resonated with my reality. I tried to puzzle it out just as I tried to interpret my dreams.”

Fairy tales provide resolution, heros winning and justice prevailing. In a world of chaos, Ugrešić expresses that the simple plots and “literary heroes who are brave when ordinary people are cowardly, strong when ordinary people are weak, noble and good when people are mean and ignominious,” are what appeal in a country where “languages were used to curse, humiliate, kill, rape, and expel.”

For émigrés, exile means defeat and dysfunction. On her return from a trip to Zagreb, Tanja meets another émigré who councils her to forget anything as a way to create a new life for herself. Through his voice, Ugrešić suggests that for émigrés time moves slower than reality. Those left behind have moved on and adapted to the new reality while émigrés are still stuck in their own time. The return home means a return of the memories, and a search for a fairy tale land that no longer exists. To achieve peace and a release from the past, émigrés must forget using the “miraculous little erasers we all have in our brains.”

Ugrešić’s fundamental questions appear to be these: For those lost in time and place, does forced remembrance equal torture? Can pain lead to reconciliation, a penance that allows émigrés to live outside their former country without guilt? Ugrešić has created a novel that leaves the questions without answer, compelling each reader to search inside for an answer.

In The Ministry of Pain, there is much discussion among Tanja’s students on the value of Yugonostalgia: the yearning for a country and culture that have vanished into the maw of history. Ugrešić’s gift is in creating a novel that functions both as Yugonostalgia and a paean to the resilience of the human spirit.

Dubravka Ugrešić was born in the former Yugoslavia (Croatia), left her homeland in the 1993 and currently resides in The Netherlands. A novelist, essayist, and literary scholar, The Ministry of Pain is her seventh work to be published. Her books have been translated into over twenty languages. Ugrešić has received several international awards, including the Italian Premio Feronia 2004 (previously awarded to José Saramago, J.M. Coetzee, Günter Grass, Ismail Kadare, and Nadine Gordimer).

Michael Henry Heim, a professor of Slavic languages and literature at UCLA, translates works written in Russian, Czech, German, Serbo-Croatian. The Ministry of Pain is the fourth work by Ugrešić in whose translation he has been involved.

See the review posted at Curled Up with a Good Book - The Ministry of Pain.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Thoughts on a Saturday

There is something about being wide awake at 3 am that makes getting up at 5:30 am rather difficult - so my day started without much sleep. It was already a busy morning at the Mennonite Relief Sale when I arrived shortly before 7 am. The plant tent had done some pretty brisk business on Friday night, selling over $2,000 of plants in a few short hours. The tables were looking rather picked over but more plant donations kept arriving throughout the morning so we were busy pricing and selling house plants, perennials and vegetables/herbs.

I picked up several new house plants: a really healthy coffee plant, a philodendron, Dracaena and a tiny baby palm. Hopefully I be able to find them all the proper light and humidity to keep them healthy.

I've spent most of the rest of my time reading and will have some new reviews to post as soon as they are posted on the review websites. David Long's new novel The Inhabited World causes a lot of reflection and Mark Childress returns to small-town life in the south of the 1970's in One Mississippi. Both will be out in early July.

For pure kooky fun, grab Shanna Swendson's Once Upon Stilettos, as says, it's chick lit for the Buffy and Bewitched crowd.

Next on the reading pile? The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue, Ticknor by Sheila Heti and The Dodecahedron by Paul Glennon.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Type Books: Toronto's Newest Independent Bookstore

I'm posting this for my friends who don't read BookLust's great blog. Toronto has a new independent bookstore so you must all go forth and shop! You can find this gem at 883 Queen Street West and business hours are as follows: Mondays – Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10:00am to 6:00pm, Thursdays and Fridays from 10:00am to 8:00pm, and Sundays from noon to 5:00pm. Type's website is still under construction but given how cool their logo is, I can't wait to see the website in all its glory.

I know where I'll be going on my next trip into Toronto.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: It's the Crude, Dude: war, big oil, and the fight for the planet

This review has been submitted to Alternatives Journal but I do not know when/if it will be included in their publication.

The Iraq Invasion as Smokescreen: Fight for Democracy or Oil?
It’s the Crude, Dude: war, big oil, and the fight for the planet, Linda McQuaig, Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2004, revised and updated 2005.

“…the Middle East, with 2/3 of the world’s oil and lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.” Dick Cheney, November 1999

Linda McQuaig, a journalist well-known for taking pokes at the big myths, now focuses on the largest. In It’s the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil, and the Fight for the Planet, McQuaig aims squarely at the debate no one is having - Why was information on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction falsified and why did the United States want to invade Iraq? During the 18 months since the falsification came to light, no commission or committee has been convened to investigate. It’s the Crude, Dude is an attempt to bring into perspective the US’s actions in Iraq by positioning them within the historical perspective of their behaviour in the Middle East, and their quest to control the world’s oil resources.

McQuaig posits that the Iraq invasion was already planned to serve the interests of Big Oil when Cheney was still CEO of Haliburton. Once George W. Bush took office, two key policies to benefit the oil industry were immediately implemented: withdrawal from the Kyoto Accord and the beginning of the invasion of Iraq. Bush and Cheney have continually put the interests of Big Oil before those of democracy, global law and the American citizen. The “war on terror” has provided the smokescreen of “national security”, creating the illusion that there are no competing interests at work within Bush’s administration.

The oil shortage has already begun, mostly unacknowledged by officials, and, thanks to NAFTA, Canada gave up its right to reduce oil exports to the US, unless we reduce our own consumption by the same amount. McQuaig believes this wake-up call needs to be heeded and the reliance on oil reduced if Canada hopes to weather the coming war between China (second in oil consumption) and the US over oil.

At a time when the world’s focus should be finding renewable energy sources and environmental conservation, the current US administration is rolling back environmental protections and promoting reliance on oil.

McQuaig doesn’t put forward anything Canadians don’t already know or suspect. It’s the Crude, Dude provides a starting point for the discussions that must happen, framing the research and statistics in a clear, concise manner understandable by the average concerned citizen.

2006 Mennonite Relief Sale in New Hamburg, Ontario

I'm putting in a plug for the annual Mennonite Relief Sale being held this Saturday (May 27)in New Hamburg, Ontario. This event involves 2,000+ volunteers each year and since 1967 has raised more than $12 million for the relief efforts of Mennonite Central Committee.

What will you find at the sale? The famous quilt auction, lots of great food, homemade pies, indoor and outdoor plants, and a tent featuring items from Ten Thousand Villages.

Events start at 7:00 am at the Fairgrounds in New Hamburg and the Quilt Auction usually begins at 8:30 am. For a partial preview of this year's quilts, visit the online gallery. Maps to New Hamburg can be found here.

If you're in the area, this is an event you shouldn't miss. As an added bonus, many people in New Hamburg hold their annual garage sales on Saturday.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Initial musings on finishing "The Ministry of Pain"

First I have to say wow...totally not what I expected from the blurb on the jacket. Incredible writing and I have to admit that I wish I could read Croatian to have the experience of reading this in the original.

I wanted to read this prior to reading the postings in the Book Group at Words without Borders or any of the interviews with Dubravka Ugresic. I didn't want others' comments to affect how I read the book, which is my general practice when reviewing a book.

There is so much going on in this book that I need to digest. I hope to have a review up here shortly - in the meantime I can suggest is that you go and grab a copy of this book and read it as soon as possible. It's well worth your time.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Long Weekend

After so much posting on Tuesday, I went into a dry spell. I've been writing so many reviews lately that I had lost any words to put here.

Today's a new day and the start of the weekend that I always think of as the beginning of summer. I'm not sure why other than warmer weather beginning and this being the first long "party" weekend...which so does not go with it being the celebration of Queen Victoria's birthday. Yet this is traditionally a party weekend. The name most people call it by is the "May 2 - 4" weekend (a two - four is what we call a case of beer in Canada) since May 24 is the office Victoria Day.

All this rambling leading to one point. It's a long weekend, Monday is a holiday, summer is officially starting here at the Eclectic Closet - party on!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary by Alice Sparberg Alexiou

"Designing a dream city is easy, rebuilding a living one takes imagination." Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs coined the phrase “sidewalk ballet” to describe the chaos she believed created livable cities. An advocate for increased density and diversity in urban settings, she believed that nothing is safer than a city street that everybody uses, one that is not too long, with a mixture of workplaces and residences where “the eyes on the street” provide a secure environment. In Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary, Alice Sparberg Alexiou has created a lively portrait of one of the leading thinkers on cities and urban renewal.

Self-taught, Jacobs gained her ideas by questioning everything she observed and read. She spent long periods walking the streets of New York City, noting the bustle and rhythms of neighbourhoods and natural gathering points. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs’ seminal work, gathered these observations and shared her groundbreaking opinions on rebuilding cities. Fiercely opposed to the human toll caused by the bulldozing of America’s slums, Jacobs’ work challenged the establishment, as did many groundbreaking works of the Sixties.

Refusing to cooperate with Alexiou’s biography and asking her publisher not to facilitate the book, Jacobs claimed the biography distract from her writing. Alexiou displays obvious admiration for her subject; however, she is not blind to Jacobs’ shortcomings. One of the strongest criticisms of Death and Life was its failure to address the race question by analyzing communities where access to capital was impossible. Alexiou makes the case that Jacobs never did addressed race.

Jacob’s words and passion were the weapons that she marshaled in her battle, her razor-sharp language so at odds with her down-to-earth appearance. Opponents like Roger Starr, a former New York City housing administrator, found that her appearance was misleading; "What a dear, sweet character she isn't."

Right up until her death on April 25, 2006, at the age of 89, Jane Jacobs continued to work. Perhaps this tribute by New York Times best sums up her life and career: "Jacobs’s legacy can be seen in the New Urbanism, in the landmark-preservation movement and in the brain cells of architecture and city-planning students everywhere."

Alexiou’s work is timely. The battles Jacobs fought are still with us; the exodus to the suburbs continues while New Urbanists argue the benefits of intensification and SUVs replace pedestrians in ever increasing numbers. Alexiou’s writing style helps the reader feel comfortable with Jacobs’ message, one needed now more than ever, before the “sidewalk ballet” is lost forever.

See the review posted at Armchair Interviews: Jane Jacobs

The Ten Books One Would Save in a Fire

Found this interesting exercise on A Work in Progress and just had to fill it out myself. Taken from A Passion for Books: The Ten Books One Would Save in a Fire (If One Could Only Save Ten)

So this raised an interesting question for me - do I save the books it would be difficult to replace (i.e. those that are out of print or terribly expensive to replace in hardcover) or those I truly love.

I decided to do two lists and see how they compare.

The Ten Books One Would Save in a Fire (If One Could Only Save Ten)- based on books I love:
1. Persuasion by Jane Austen
2. A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas A. Basbanes
3. Make Way for Lucia by E.F. Benson
4. The Jeeves Omnibus: No.2 by P.G. Wodehouse
5. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
6. Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn
7. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
8. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
9. Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
10. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

The Ten Books One Would Save in a Fire (If One Could Only Save Ten)- based on the difficulty to replace the books in hardcover or at all:
1. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
2. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
3. Bloodsmoor Romance by Joyce Carol Oates
4. Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins
5. Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
6. Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality by Paul Barber
7. The Comedians by Graham Greene
8. English Eccentrics by Edith Sitwell
9. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (Great Grandma received this as 3rd prize in one of her classes in 1931.)
10. Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen

Not sure what to think after completing the two lists. Any thoughts?

BOOK REVIEW: After Helen by Paul Cavanagh

In 2004 the London International Book Fair held its inaugural “Lit Idol” contest modeled on the popular “Pop Idol” television show. Submitted as a 10,000-word manuscript, with accompanying two-page story outline, Paul Cavanagh’s After Helen was selected as winner out of a field of 1,500 competitors. Cavanagh’s completed novel (substantially more than 10,000-words) was picked up by HarperCollins Canada and released with a relative lack of fanfare when compared to the publicity surrounding his “Lit Idol” win.

After Helen is the story of the relationship between Irving Cruickshank and his daughter Severn, as they deal with the death of Helen. Irving, still reeling from the loss of his wife, has no idea how to deal with a teenage daughter. Severn, walled up inside herself with grief and anger, is quickly spinning out of control.

The match thrown into this powder keg is the reappearance of famous author Jack Livingston, Helen’s old lover. He is in town to promote his new novel - a tale of a young girl’s search for the truth about her bloodline, and a mother who has left her, set against the backdrop of Sir John Franklin’s doomed Arctic expedition. After meeting Jack at a book signing, Severn disappears and Irving’s memories of Helen come brilliantly to life as he chases the daughter he fears lost to him forever.

The question critics and readers will ask is this – does this “Lit Idol” winning, debut novel measure up to the bar set by its early promise?

Cavanagh chose to structure his novel in a discordant manner, alternating chapters told in the past and present. The reader is on a journey of discovery with Irving; however, we have only the briefest hint of current knowledge against which to position the flashes of his developing relationship with Helen. This disjointed narrative is unsettling for the reader, pushing one into feelings of anxiety and unease that invoke an immediate empathy for Severn and Irving.

Despite the deep connection the reader feels with Irving, the roller coaster of emotion brought on by the flashes between the birth of his relationship with Helen, and life after her death, quickly becomes overwhelming. Empathy turns to frustration as Irving’s tendency to function as an emotional doormat becomes more apparent. Just as the reader wants to leave the ride behind, Cavanagh pulls the book back onto the rails by having the storylines of the past and present converge.

Like the fictional author Jack Livingston, Cavanagh has taken a true-life plot and used it to cast light on modern day relationships. Whereas Livingston used Helen’s story to cast light on Franklin’s doomed expedition, Cavanagh has used the obsession of the explorer with the frozen north to look at the emotional wastelands that exist after a family member dies.

“Severn and I are no different. We’ve both become lost searching for Helen in a landscape of bitter emotions that we can barely begin to understand. It’s about our own survival now.”

Emlyn Rees, one of the “Lit Idol” judges, commented on Cavanagh’s eye for the little details that bring characters to life. It is his skill in evoking the sense of a character that distinguishes After Helen.

“I claw my way to the edge of the bed. I can’t summon the energy to sit up, so I lie on my belly and let my legs slide off the bed until I’m kneeling on the floor, my face still planted on the mattress…I feel like a little kid saying his bedtime prayers.”

Cavanagh has shaped engaging, realistic characters and, despite some irritation with Irving and Helen, After Helen is a promising debut. The little details show his developing ease with his craft, and vindicate Cavanagh’s win of the inaugural “Lit Idol”.

See the review posted at ReadySteadyBook: After Helen

BOOK REVIEW: The White Rose by Jean Hanff Korelitz

In a complete departure from her previous novels, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s third novel is a modern retelling of Richard Strauss’s comic opera Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose). Set in Manhattan and the Hamptons, The White Rose is the story of Marian Kahn, a professor and discoverer of the eighteenth-century adventuress, Lady Charlotte Wilcox, and Marian’s much younger lover Oliver, son of her oldest friend. Married for many years, and comfortably settled in her relationship, Marian is stunned to discover the passion that explodes when she meets a grown-up Oliver. Their relationship is a source of joy and misery for Marian, one that is made more difficult by the arrival of Marian’s cousin Barton, in town to announce his engagement to Sophie, a young graduate student in Marion’s department. As the lives of the four become increasingly entwined, Korelitz has many opportunities to meditate on love and its relationship to time.

Compared by many reviewers to Edith Wharton, Korelitz has a keen eye for the vagaries of the privileged classes. Reexamining New York Society’s views on adultery, social climbing, wealth and status, Korelitz presents the old money position through the characters of Marian and Caroline, Oliver’s mother, and the cutting views of gossip columnist Valerie Annis. The satire on this position is represented by Marian’s cousin Barton and contrary views are portrayed through Oliver, with much of the commentary coming in the voice of the adventuress Lady Charlotte.

One of the central points explored in The White Rose is whether happiness can come from wealth or status. Marian suggests that if people followed the example set by Lady Charlotte, they’d be happier.

“If she [Lady Charlotte] had gotten too attached to the idea of happiness coming from wealth or status, she would have spent most of her life feeling that she’s lost her chance to be happy, but she never linked those ideas together.”

Marian seems to be questioning herself in this passage, raising the question of why she can’t be free like Lady Charlotte and be happy with Oliver, overturning the status quo and walking away from society’s expectations of her. The characters in The White Rose fall out on two sides of this entrenched debate, lined up in the camps that fit with their place in New York Society’s hierarchy. Caught up in Society’s expectations, Marian seems unable to stir from the torpor induced by her wealth and position. Her minor rebellions from this set role – her affair with Oliver, publishing her work on Lady Charlotte and her relationship with Soriah, a fan of her book - still are not enough to enable her to follow the lead set by the adventuress.

Despite Marian’s mundane existence, she seems to exist in a world apart, her own “Aubergine Time”:

“There is a time in each day that is neither afternoon nor evening but something breathless in suspension between them when every particle of air is briefly infused with fierce, fierce color, one instant so utterly there, than gone.”

The White Rose provides a window into this time in Marian’s life, that moment when she is poised to choose between what is comfortable and a chance at happiness. Marian’s story causes us all to question what we would do when faced with our own “Aubergine Time.”

Jean Hanff Korelitz is the author of a book of poems, The Properties of Breath, and two previous legal thrillers, A Jury Of Her Peers and The Sabbathday River. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey with her husband, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon, and their children.

See the review as it is posted at Curled Up with a Good Book: The White Rose.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugresic

Today's reading item is Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugresic. It got bumped up the queue since the discussion groups started today at the Words without Borders Book Club.

For an interesting interview with Ugresic, visit the House of Mirth (thanks to the Literary Saloon for the link).

And check back, my review will be posted soon.

When worlds collide

Lately my reading appears connected. This week I was reading an advance copy of the new biography of Jane Jacobs (Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary) and learning a great deal about the bulldozing "urban renewal" schemes of the 60s in major US cities. Then today I picked up Firmin by Sam Savage and it is sent in 1960s Boston, in a part of town (Scollay Square) designated for demolition and "renewal".

Makes me wonder what is going to connect next...

Friday, May 12, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: Every Mother is a Daughter by Perri Klass & Sheila Solomon Klass

What is it that makes the bond between mother and daughter so different from any other relationship? Is it the shared experiences? Or is it as Perri Klass and Sheila Solomon Klass contend in their book Every Mother is a Daughter: the neverending quest for success, inner peace, and a really clean kitchen (recipes and knitting patterns included) that every mother is also a daughter?

Klass and Solomon Klass have collaborated to write this engaging exploration of their relationship and the extent to which each has mirrored the life of their own mother. Both are published authors with distinct voices that fit well in a collaborative effort. Klass, a pediatrician, has a column in Knitter’s Magazine as well as writing non-fiction and fiction books. Solomon Klass is a retired English professor who writes fiction for adults and children.

Every Mother is a Daughter explores the stereotypes of gender and roles, especially as they pertain to the all-important role of feeding a family. Solomon Klass, raised in New York during the depression by Orthodox Jewish parents whose marriage was full of bitterness and conflict, internalized many of her mother’s fanatical beliefs about women’s roles. Escaping the bleakness of her silent childhood home right after high school, Solomon Klass carried many of her mother’s admonishments into her own marriage: men were not allowed in the kitchen; dinner must contain a starch, a green vegetable, a protein, and a fruit; and women should get dressed immediately upon rising.

Klass, born in Trinidad but raised in New Jersey, gently teases her mother for her quirks while marveling at her bravery and independence. While Klass deviates from her mother’s frugality and insistance on home cooked meals (dinners are often eaten out), she has carried on her mother’s legacy in raising strong and independent children, while working full-time herself.

Reflecting on all stages of their lives, Klass and Solomon Klass create a memoir written in two voices, the most compelling being the section on “Becoming a Mother, Becoming a Grandmother.” Solomon Klass writes so meaningfully on sharing the birth experience with her daughter that the experience stays with the reader for days.

As Solomon Klass states “this whole book is really about lives so blended as to be inseparable.” Perhaps that is all anyone wants, a relationship with their Mother that is so positive that all their lives are blended, not just childhood. Every Mother is a Daughter is a loving testament to the powerful bond between mother and daughter.

See the review as it is posted at Armchair Interviews: Every Mother is a Daughter.

Reading the World 2006

Would someone please help me understand how I missed this? And not just this year but last year also! The mind boggles...

From their website -> Reading the World 2006 is an exciting collaboration between booksellers and publishers to help bring international voices from around the world.

So even though it's already part way through this year's event, I'm going to try and do my part. Interestingly enough, I'm already reading The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugresic (Translation by Michael Henry Heim), published by Ecco for review at Curled Up with a Good Book. I'll have to see what other international authors I can read yet this month.

Thanks to Chekhov's Mistress for promoting this important concept.

Sock Woes

I knew I should try the sock on before now...but in a classic case of avoidance I was ignoring the potential problem. It's my first sock and I didn't want to jinx it prior to the gusset reduction. The thing is, it looked too big for my foot, but I was chalking that up to not having a clue about what the sock should look like.

Last night, halfway down the foot of sock one, I slipped it on and - you guessed it - it's too loose. So I face a dilemma, continue on, make sock two and just wear them around the house or rip back to the end of the slouch ribbing and start over on smaller needles.

I'm inclined to rip back so that I actually wear my first socks out of the house. Any recommendations?

They grow so fast

I love being an aunt, honourary or not. So when I get photos of the wee ones, I have to proudly share! Is the blog the equivalent of pulling photos out of one's wallet?

This is Isobel Mae - 4 months old and absolutely gorgeous. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly their personalities begin to show.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Amazing Lace KAL

I thoroughly enjoyed the 2006 Knitting Olympics so when I found out Chris had joined The Amazing Lace KAL I thought why not? The Knitting Olympics taught me just how much I enjoy lace knitting so here is a chance to expand my scope as a lace knitter.

I will have to ponder what lace project I'll pick for my teammate on this adventure. Will it be Convertible from the new issue of, Ella from Knitty's Fall 2005 issue, the Yarn Harlot's Snowdrop Shawl or something else that will highlight the beautiful, deep red alpaca lace-weight yarn I picked up recently.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: Morehouse Farm Merino Knits by Margrit Lohrer

In the sea of recently published knitting books, Morehouse Farm Merino Knits: more than 40 farm-fresh designs quickly separates itself from the flock with its opening line: “Morehouse Farm began with a voodoo chicken.” An opening like that is difficult to live up to but while the patterns that Margrit Lohrer offers are simple, the book itself and its reasons for such simple patterns hold up admirably to that first sentence.

Morehouse Farm is well known for the sumptuous merino yarn they produce. This collection was designed by Lohrer to highlight the inherent beauty of merino yarn by designing to play to its strengths. Merino is one of the oldest breeds of sheep and has the finest wool, due to its tightly crimped and springy nature, making for finer, softer, and itch-free garmets. As Lohrer states about these patterns: “None of the patterns are particularly challenging, but all will yield attractive and functional knitted items…The patterns in this book are a starting point. Be creative…Knit what you want, the way you want it to look, feel, and wear.”

The patterns are divided into five sections: home, lace, children, accessories and sweaters. While Lohrer does specify which of her yarns to use for each pattern, weight and gauge information is provided so that knitters can substitute other yarn as desired. The patterns, while basic, are great foundation pieces that will provide years of knitting and leave room for individual creativity.

Lohrer’s introduction, scrumptious photos and in-depth details about Morehouse Farm make Morehouse Farm Merino Knits a worthwhile addition to any knitter’s library.

See the review as it is posted at Armchair Interviews - Morehouse Farm Merino Knits.

Further fuel for the Kaavya Viswanathan discussion?

Just in case you don't read Bookslut every day, check out this article from The Morning News. We need more words like schadenfreude in our daily lexicon.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: The Seas by Samantha Hunt

The Seas, Samantha Hunt’s debut novel, relates the coming of age story of a nameless 19-year-old young woman as she struggles to free herself from small town life and a terrifying destiny. Branded by her father’s suicidal walk into the ocean eleven years earlier, and by his insistence that she is a mermaid, the narrator is consumed by her love for the Gulf War Veteran Jude – to the point that it begins to affect her vision. Terrified that her mermaid self will destroy the object of her love, and isolated from a mother who “collects silence inside her”, the narrator spends her time waiting:

“Waiting to grow up. Waiting for my father to return. Waiting for Jude. Waiting for something big to happen.”

Caught in a place between reality and myth, her delusions lead to actions that ensure she will never escape the ocean’s pull and her increasing separation from reality.

Hunt has created a poignant yet creepy novel, filled with images of water that seem to overwhelm the narrator. Desperate to fulfill her destiny, yet caught by her obsessive love for Jude, this young woman is caught by the dilemma faced by Undine, the Elemental of Water and goddess portrayed by Homer. Her love for Jude threatens her true destiny as a water spirit, only through loving him and giving herself to him can she truly become a woman and gain a soul. Isolated from her mother, the young woman has only her father’s mythology and her own desires to guide her into womanhood.

Capturing the essence of mermaid, or water spirit, legends in The Seas helps Hunt create a truly unique tale that illuminates her personal views on being a young woman in modern times. Hunt describes her choice of topic thus:

“Mermaids, as of late, have been co-opted by Hallmark, Disney, and the like. But mermaids are terrifying…They are gruesome distortions of the female form that speak to the human fear of females, particularly females as sexual beings. I thought using a mermaid as narrator would be helpful in explaining how truly awkward it feels to grow from adolescence into a woman in America.”

Hunt creates a mythology that suggests by remaining cold, a true mermaid, the narrator can gain freedom. She must put her father and Jude behind her, and adopt the attitude of the ocean, which “is full of everything except mercy.” If she doesn’t she is destined to suffer a fate similar to Undine, drowning her love with her kisses.

Words have power in The Seas - literal power. The narrator, falling on type, finds the letters have formed words in her bruises. Words also are the narrator’s only connection to her perceived reality, represented by her grandfather and his fascination with dictionaries. Her mother, used to silence, finds words too precise. The narrator finds water full of words with many possible meanings. It is here that Hunt leaves the reader – a novel that is open to whatever ending each finds within the words.

Samantha Hunt, an artist, writer and teacher at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, spent four years writing The Seas. As she explains in an interview with Powell Books:

“First I wrote this book as a collection of two-hundred-fifty-word stories. Two hundred of them. Then I put it aside and I had the bad idea to write it as a book of poems, which is around somewhere still. But I put it aside again, and when I went back to it I made it into The Seas. That's why the novel took four years.”

Her next novel - The Invention of Everything Else - on the life of Nikola Tesla and early electrical experiments in America, is to be published by Houghton Mifflin in Spring 2007.

See the review as it is posted at Curled Up with a Good Book - The Seas.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

18th Annual Elora Festival Book Sale

What a morning! Despite the cold wind and periodic drizzle, the crowd queued to get into the sale was quite long. We arrived about an hour and a quarter before the doors opened and were still about 50th in line. By the time the doors opened, the line snaked around the parking lot and had about 150 people in it.

The Elora Festival Book Sale raises money for the Elora Music Festival and, I think, is the best book sale in this area. So it goes into my calendar as soon as I get a new one each year.

So what did I buy? Well I should start by saying that I was on a much tighter budget this year so I was only able to spend half of what I did last year.

The Haul
8 books from my wish list
- House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
- Merde Actually by Stephen Clarke
- Publish and Perish by James Hynes
- The Sex Life of my Aunt by Mavis Cheek
- Lucifer's Shadow by David Hewson
- The American Boy by Andrew Taylor
- River of the Brokenhearted by David Adams Richards
- Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

3 Hardcovers to replace my paperback copies
- A Whistling Woman by A.S. Byatt
- Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
- The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

11 other books

Total? 22 books for $54.75!

Next year my plan is to be there when it opens for the initial pickings, have lunch and then go back in the afternoon for a more leisurely perusal.

So reserve May 5 & 6, 2007 for next year's sale!

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Cry for Help

The emergency call went out from Audrey - hundreds of books at the Caroline Street Recycling depot that need saving. There were a couple of workers trying to sort them out and make sure readable books were in appropriate bins, but they said there were too many and they would have to haul some away. In her words - "Get down there and rescue some of those books!"

As a member of the local BookCrossing group, it is my duty to rescue readable books and make sure they reach new, appreciative readers. So I did my part and went over, sorted through some of the bins and rescued about 50. I've been busy registering all of them to my shelf at BookCrossing and even found two wish list books, always a treat!

Overall, not a bad visit to the recycling depot. You never quite know what you'll find.

The real book event this week? That would be the 18th Annual Elora Festival Book Sale on Saturday. I'll be in line an hour before the doors open. This is my yearly book sale pilgrimage and I can't wait to see what treasures I find this year.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Few Technical Changes

You might have noticed a few minor changes at the bottom of the navigation bar. I added a SmartFeed courtesy of FeedBurner and have claimed my blog at Technorati.

Why? Well for two reasons...

1) This post by Bill Sweetman at One Degree.
2) I'm trying to learn as much as possible about Blog Optimization and decided to test it out here.

Stay tuned!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Le Sock

I turned my first heel! You'll have to imagine the happy dance going I'm afraid. The sock (Slouch socks from Not Just More Socks) traveled with me to Toronto for a day of fun at the Creative Sewing and Needlework Festival, although no knitting actually happened there.

I have to admit that a fair bit of frogging did occur as I was working on the heel. I managed to misread the pattern while doing the heel flap and then a second time while actually turning the heel. Despite all the frogging, I am really enjoying the process. Now for some gusset work!

Oh, and the CSNF was fun and I took a short class on crocheting rag rugs. While it was interesting and I ended up with a great hot pad, my wrist ached for two days afterward so I suspect this is not the craft for me.