Saturday, December 10, 2005

Our next book the Constant Gardener by John LeCarre. I like LeCarre - I have read a number of his earlier books although none recently- so I am looking forward to it. I have to wait for Christmas though as my husband has bought it for my stocking! I think this author both writes well (with a literary style) and also has great story lines, plot and action - the kind of book my husband could also like whereas some of the books we read in our circle he doesn't care to finish!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Finished- and a day early

I am so relieved. I did it. It isn't very good but it is 50,000 words and that is more than I have every written and that was my challenge. That's two challenges down one to go. The first was to write a short story in 24 hours (for an on line contest) did that!
Second was to do NaNoWriMo. Done! The third and last is to prepare and submit a piece somewhere, anywhere and get that first rejection letter. That is next!!! I think I intended to do it all in a year but I can't remember when I set these challenges for myself, will have to go back and look, but realistically I know I will NOT get no. 3 done before Jan 1. I think I will have to set a date in say Feb. or March for that!!!

Friday, November 18, 2005

A bad day

Very blocked today for some reason. I wrote only half of what I hoped to and I don't know where to go next. Need some real inspiration for tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Half time

Whooohoo. Half way point. I just have to do the same again and I know I can do that right?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Back on track

Managed to get going again today and get the words down. I am actually ahead of the quota by a few words. Whew. And I had choir practice tonight too! Quantity not quality-that's the ticket to get this done.


Today was the first day I have not met my word quota. Not a good sign. It may have had to do with spending 3 hours helping out at a church tea but I think that is just as excuse. I just didn't know where to go next in the story. Perhaps sleeping on it will help.

Monday, November 07, 2005

23 days to go

I'm past the 10,000 mark but my inner child is already saying, "Mommy are we there yet?"

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Day Five is past, Day Six begins

Well,it is after midnight and I managed to squeeze out my daily quota of words again but am struggling. Each day it gets harder. I need to bring my plot into focus. Right now it is a fuzzy blur. I feel like a blind man feeling my way around the story and I'm tripping over the furniture!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

First day done

Yesterday I wrote 1866 words, not quite my goal of 2,000 but over the 1667 necessary, so I felt enough ahead to go to bed at midnight. Can I keep this up? The first part is the easy part when you still have ideas to get down and images to include. But what happens when those run out? I have written another 323 words this morning. I am aiming for at least a 3,500 total by midnight- only 1311 words to go. No reading until the end of November!!! Oh dear. How will I read Rockbound for the next book circle meeting?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I'm off and running

I did 433 words after midnight, before I went to bed last night. I figure that was a "leg on". I kept to my normal schedule today. It was a glorious day...warm and sunny, like a summer day really and I went out to the Botanical gardens at the university with my art group to sketch. Yes, the novel was in the back of my mind but I held it off and then this evening I got back at it again. And I did pretty well... I only have about 400 words left to do to meet my quota. But I am taking a break to update my stats and think about where to go next. And to brew a pot of tea...tea solves everything.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Knitting my thoughts

I have started knitting. Something very straight forward. It is exactly the kind of activity that Dorothea Brande noted as a release for thoughts. Very helpful. I have an idea now of how this novel might go. And I might get this knitted item finished too! But I am still sweating.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Word meter

I have a meter now to count my words: That number one represents my working title. I haven't started writing yet! That would be cheating. I don't even have a plot.

Update..I've changed the number to 0 to see if it is working! 'Tis

NaNoWriMo Progress Meter

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Counting down

Nov. 1 looms. I have a working title "Footprints" I don't know what this means exactly except it has something to do with ancestors leaving their mark on present generations.

Carl Hiassen and Flush

Random House has a contest inspired by Carl Hiaasen's book Flush ( a children's book) I've read some of his books and like some of them ( although not the last one I read) but unfortunately the contest is only open to people between the ages of 8 and 25! Maybe I could get my daughter to write something. She could win a trip to Florida. And the contest doesn't end til 31 Dec. so she'd have lots of time.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A matter of taste

As with tea-so books.

Our book circle considered McCall Smith's The Full Cupboard of Life and several found it wanting. They thought it too light hearted "considering the terrible situation" of Aids in Africa. They thought the author's "tongue in cheek style" was somewhat disrespectful to Africans. Most, however, appreciated the simple, humourous style with the buried complexity and the great respect and dignity the author gave his characters. These were people he knew, having spent much time with people like them in Botswana and South Africa.

I had some beaded pins which were made by ladies in Zimbabwe which I had bought on spec. The money goes to help Aids victims in Africa. One of the ladies bought one off me. They were able to take a look at some video clips of Pete's Pond (unfortunately the live wildcam was down again that day). Some of them were brave enough to try the bush tea. That too was a matter of taste and not universally approved. I like it though and won't have any trouble gettting through the packet.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Oh dear. Pete's Pond's livecam is offline again. Oh well we will just have to look at the video clips when my book group comes in this afternoon. We are having red bush tea to contemplate Mma Ramwotse.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Pete's Pond Botswana

The Wild cam I referred to in my last post was down but now is back and the site says it will be extended into December. Take a look. And a hat-tip again to JAR for the ref.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Our next book for our book circle discussion is The Full Cupboard of Life set in Botswana. Thanks to a reference by my blogging friend (we exchange comments! Thank you JAR!) I have found this wonderful, wonderful website where one can eavesdrop on animals in Botswana.

The first time I went to the site to look, it was dark there, about 7pm Botswana time, and there was a storm-you could hear the thunder rolling in the background. I thought, how marvelous. The sounds alone take you there. Then wonder of wonder a small elephant came strolling into view. Absolutely thrilling.

It should be a great source of discussion for the group if some of our members can look in on it first and for those that can't ( because they aren't on line or haven't the right plug ins) I can have the site up and they can take a look at it when we meet.

At Pete's Pond webcam in Botswana

UPDATE_ Since I wrote this but before I posted it unfortunately the camera has gone off line. That storm I think did it as it was the same day. does still show some video from the archives.


Okay, I've done it. Signed as a participant in National Novel Writing Month at Nanowrimo

So I have to write 50,000 words in the month of November starting, like, midnight of Oct. 31! Can I do it? Well, my last challenge was to write a short story in 24 hours and I did that so I am hoping I will succeed at this challenge too.

I'm excited , I'm nervous and I haven't a crazy clue in my head about even what genre this novel will be but, well, it doesn't have to be good, it doesn't have to even make sense. Since my main problem is writing anything over about 2-3 K words I am hoping this will break the length barrier for me.

Wish me luck won't you?

Friday, September 30, 2005

I love this book

The one I am reading that is -Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I think it is not for everyone but it is definitely my kind of book. The humour is subtle, almost hidden, so light you might miss it. I find it hard to describe. It is like a shadow that flits in and out of the narrative. I find the writing to be similar to books written in the 1800's and I expect the author meant to have this effect. She succeeds very well. Mr Norell is revivng magic in England but he is very jealous of his position. Jonathan Strange is another magician of talent who becomes his protege but it appears that the student might outdo the teacher (they eventually they have a falling out). A synopsis, however lengthy, couldn't give you as much of the flavour of the book as can an excerpt. So I will copy a segment -abridged slightly- from about the middle of the book at a point in the story where Jonathan Strange is helping Wellington fight Napoleon.

Strange was in some anxiety lest Mr,. Norrell get to hear of the magic he had done at the ruined church at Flores de Avila . He made no comment of it in his own letters and he begged Lord Wellington to leave it out of his dispatches.

Oh, very well” said his lordship. Lord Wellington was not in any case particularly fond of writing about magic. He disliked having to deal with anything he did not understand extremely well. “But it will do very little good,” he pointed out. “Every man that has written a letter home in the last five days will have given his friends a very full account of it.”

“I know, “ said Strange, uncomfortably, “but the men always exaggerate what I do and perhaps by the time people in England have made allowances for the usual embellishments it will not appear so very remarkable. They will merely imagine that I healed some Neapolitans that were wounded or something of that sort.”

The raising of the seventeen dead Neapolitans was a good example of the sort of problem faced by Strange in the latter half of the war. Like the Ministers before him, Lord Wellington was becoming more accustomed to using magic to achieve his ends and he demanded increasingly elaborate spells from his magician. However, unlike the Ministers, Wellington had very little time or inclination for listening to long explanations of why a thing was not possible. After all he regularly demanded the impossible of his engineers, his generals and his officers and he saw no reason to make an exception of his magician.....

In the early summer of 1813 Strange again performed a sort of magic that had not been done since the days of the Raven King: he moved a river...The new position of the river so baffled the French that several French companies when ordered to march north, went in entirely the wrong direction so convinced were they that the direction away from the river must be north....Lord Wellington later remarked cheerfully to General Picton that there was nothing so wearing for troops and horses as constant marching about and that in future he thought it would be better to keep them all standing still while Mr. Strange moved Spain about like a carpet beneath them. Meanwhile the Spanish Regency Council in Cadiz became rather alarmed at this development and began to wonder whether, when they regained their country from the French, they would recognize it.They complained to the Foreign Secretary ( which many people thought ungrateful). The Foreign Secretary persuaded Strange to write the Regency Council a letter promising that after the war he would replace the river in its original position...

pp 334 335

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Friday, September 16, 2005


I have been getting comment spam so I have had to delete some of the comments on some of my posts.

I have changed my settings to set up obstacles to these so and so people who use blogs for their own purposes. Commenters will have to use word verification to post a comment. This repetition of a randomly generated word requires a human and should stop those who use automatic means to spam the blog. If that doesn't work I will have to switch it to allow only registered users to comment. I have had this problem on my other blogs too and it is extremely annoying.

Sons of Fortune disowned

My book circle absolutely panned Sons of Fortune. Whew! They do have taste. I didn't bother to finish the book which gave me a way out of being scathing. I think I am rather known for being negative or picky about our books. I always seem to find some little thing to complain about, even if I generally like the book. About books I dislike I can be, well, rather withering in my criticism. But in this case the book was so bad that saying what I truly thought of the book would be cruel to the person who suggested it. But I didn't want to be dishonest either and not be as critical as I felt so my answer was not to read the book!

No one liked it, even the Archer fans, saying it was not up to even his standard. I tried to read one of Archer's books before and couldn't get into it so I don't know what his best is. Kane (Cain?) and Abel was mentioned.

Another of our members didn't get around to reading it and we all suggested she not waste her time with it. That's pretty bad.

Our next book, as suggested by one of our members, is The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith I have read it but that is okay as I am only half way through Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell. Someone thought there wouldn't be enough to discuss. It is a short book but if the members read the series we can discuss all of them and they are deceptively simple. There is a lot of thought in them and I think a lot we can pull out with some reflection and contemplation.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Book store

I have added to my stack of books to read having spent an hour or so in Chapters today. Looked for Margaret Drabble's The Red Queen but they didn't have it in stock. Did find the Lynne Truss Treasury which was on my wish list and after much musing I picked up Penelope Lively's The Photograph and Adultery by Richard B. Wright, the latter because it is likely to be on our book circle list. I am still working through Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell. It is a thick book in more ways than one. I still haven't done more than dip into The Jane Austen Book Club so I have a lot of reading on my plate. Now that Sept. is here I am hoping I will have time for it all. As for writing, the drought continues.

Friday, September 02, 2005


Our writing group met in Aug. and the theme for next meeting is either "new beginnings" or haiku. I tried a haiku today on Katrina. These are my poor first efforts.

Flood, famine, looting
Victims sitting and waiting
Test of a nation

Water, death, rubble
Angry eyes, waiting asking
When are you coming ?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


I am sure that Margaret Atwood's aunt, who used to be in my writing circle, would be shocked and "not amused" to find herself the subject of an article in Frank magazine. Not that it said anything outrageous, just what she left to whom in her will. I'm sure her neice neither expected nor needed a bequest.

Strange & Norrell strange

I am finding Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell a very odd book but I love it. I find it humorous in the most sinuous way. The author Susanna Clarke has her tongue firmly planted in her cheek I think. I haven't tired of it as I thought I might and so have not really delved into the Jane Austen Book Club. But Strange & Norrell is 782 pages and I know I won't be able to get through it without pause.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Strange, Norrel & Austen

Well I have cast my reading lot with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark, a huge book but intriguing in the extreme and as a relief from that if need be The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. Should be an interesting combination and should keep me busy well into the Fall because it will probably mean I will have to re-read some Jane Austen too and I like any excuse to do that.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

What now?

I have finished Master Georgie. I trifle disappointed in the ending but only because it wasn't happy or satisfying not because it wasn't well written. I am casting around for another book and haven't picked anything yet although I have a stack waiting. I will go through them and see what appeals.

In writing I am doing zip except my blogs....and I am doing a project for my family which is interesting: transcribing a memoir written by my great grandmother about her childhood 1874-1879 or so. Fascinating. An era and lifestyle that is so familiar ( from books) but so alien in that it is far removed from ours.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Writing drought

I have a writing circle meeting coming up on Saturday and I am absolutely uninspired. I just can't seem to be able to write anything ( except my blog entries of course!) Perhaps there has been just too much on my mind recently. I do find that I need a lot of "empty" time, thinking time, for ideas to flow. Blogging is good , it does keep me writing but it is also counter productive in some ways because it keeps me busy and away from more creative work.

I continue to read. Whether that helps my writing or not. I haven't found the kind of reading that really spurs my writing - yet, anyway. But I keep reading. I may yet find something that really "feeds" my writing urge. Right now I am almost finished Beryl Bainbridge's Master Georgie. It is a book my sister left for me, written in the voices of 3 characters and I like it. It is set in Scotland and then in the Crimean War. I had a relative who served at the battle of Sevastepol so that gives it even more interest for me.

Monday, August 08, 2005

I give up

I have been away for a week in Hades, oops I mean Ontario; it was just as hot and humid and filled with traffic as I imagine Hades to be!!!

I tried and tried to get interested in the Sons of Fortune but I just can't. So far I have managed about 11 chapters and only got that far with the book circle in mind, otherwise I wouldn't have persisted even that far. Do I really want to waste my time reading this book? I am sure it appeals to some people but I suspect it is just an attempt by Archer to pay his lawyers' bills, and I don't see that it is very well written.

So what have I read/am I reading instead? I re-read My family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. Laugh out loud funny that is and great insight into Lawrence's character!!

What else...hmm...oh yes, I read The Sunday Philosophy Clubby Alexander McCall Smith. Nice book, not quite as charming as his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, but easy and enjoyable. Isabel Dalhousie is a lovely quirky main character but I did feel she seemed older than her supposed age in her forties. It is worth the read just for the philosophical questions raised and has all kinds of erudite references which are a real test of and addition to one's general knowledge. I learned for example that Tycho Brahe died of a burst bladder after a bout of beer drinking. You would have to know who Tycho Brahe was to find this interesting.

Otherwise I am dipping into Bookworms a collection of writings about reading edited by Laura Furman & Elinore Standard. Just very nice little pieces by such worthies as Emily Dickenson, Flaubert, James Joyce and others less well known which you can pick and choose from, not too long, so just right for bed-time reading.

Friday, July 22, 2005

More from Temple

I have been away for a short trip and haven't had much time to read but I did finish Temple's book. I didn't expect to learn about God from Grandin's Animals in Translation but I did learn something that gave me a perspective on the spiritual.

In her chapter "How animals think", she talks about Susan Schaller's research on language-less people and how they differ in their thinking from people with language. One of these was Ildefonso. Because he didn't have language he was missing a layer of abstract thinking. Susan did teach him some simple language and although he asked what the word God meant he had already figured it out on his own. Susan writes that he had guessed that the word "God" stood for "unseen greatness apart from and more important than the tangible stuff in front of us." Although Ildefonso had the idea that there was something greater than the material world, he didn't seem to have any concept of human justice...Ildefonso was an innocent. He didn't see all the good and bad that people do...After he learned language, he was sad to learn of the terrible things people do...Ildefonso's innocence was not the same thing as being stupid..Although Ildefonso didn't have an abstract sense of just and unjust, he did have an immediate, concrete sense of right and wrong..That shows you don't have to have language to have a conscience... Temple then talks about how this is what animals are like- innocent but not stupid, with a simple knowledge of right and wrong and an ability to show remorse.

Temple says a bit later: Ildefonso had gone to church when he was little but he didn't know what any of it meant, although he instantly figured out that the baby Jesus in a creche ...was the same as the grown up Jesus he had seen on crucifixes, which I think is pretty amazing. ... Although he ( Ildefonso) didn't know anything about the Christian religion his family practiced, he still had a religious sense.This is obvious to me from the fact that he picked up the word "God" within three weeks of first discovering language and understood that God meant "unseen greatness."... Religion is probably hardwired into the human brain, so it doesn't surprise me that a religious feeling or sense managed to shine through in Ildefonso even without words. Temple then goes on to speculate on whether animals have religious feelings and perceptions.

Interesting isn't it? Where does that innate knowledge of right and wrong come from? I would say from God.

It was a great book. I really must now start Sons of Fortune and I don't want to really.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Temple Grandin

I am supposed to be reading Sons of Fortune by Jeffrey Archer which is our next book circle book. I did start it and got about 2 chapters in but was not captivated enough to keep at it when I had Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation sitting beside it on the bedside table just asking me to crack the cover. What an interesting book. I saw Temple being interviewed on the TV not long ago which is what reminded me about the book and I had to buy it for my daughter who is trying to get work her way into a career in the animal behavior field.

I also have a niece who has aspergers syndrome and I found the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime fascinating so I knew I would get a lot out of this book also. I am about half way through and I am learning so much about animals and how they think and about people and how they think because Temple compares how autistic people (and animals) see the world and how "normal" people see the world. Temple has learned something about how she differs in her thinking from most people and can bridge the divide between the two worlds to some degree.

You know I really think there is a whole continuum of thinking modes and only when you get to one end of the spectrum do you get the aspergers and autism diagnoses. If I was to put myself on that continuum I would say that I might be closer to that end than most other people as there are some things about her thinking that I share ( and since it runs in my family...)... an insistence on facts or truth, perfectionism, some attention to detail...on the other hand I am highly verbal and I don't think in pictures so...I don't know. Anyway, there is no way I am going to get back to Sons of Fortune until I finish Temple's book, so there.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


I have just finished re-reading C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy. I was struck in our last book discussion by a certain similarity between The Spiral Staircase and Lewis's book, on the surface anyway. They are both autobiographical journals of the authors' maturing spiritual paths. Both authors are scholars and writers, who started out with a traditional child-like view of Christianity (as most of us do), both "came to atheism" through rationalism but then found it unsatisfactory, although C.S Lewis came to theism and then to Christianity, wheras as yet Armstrong claims only a kind of monotheism. Armstrong's strict and painful time in the convent compares somewhat with Lewis' very painful schooldays. Both found a kind of bliss in literature and study. They both critiqued a materialistic and spritually barren culture they often met in the World.

But oh the differences. I was prepared to really like and get a lot out of Armstrong's book. I dared hardly say I was disappointed. How can one be disappointed in a memoir when the author has honestly told her story. My expectations were too high I told myself. I expected more than a memoir. I wanted more than she was willing to give. I wanted what I got in Surprised by Joy, which was not just the story, how things happened, what instances and people in the life changed thinking but also great insight into the nature of God as the author saw God, as the writer came to know God. There are wonderful comments in Surprised ... on practically every page. The difference I think is in the degree of introspection and contemplation that is articulated in Lewis' book. Armstrong may have those insights but she did not fully share them with the reader or at least was unable to communicate them to me.

I think that is what I meant when I said that Armstrong did not reveal her intellect in Staircase. Lewis's intellect shines through constantly in his clear, elegant critiques and explanations. His comment on the society of his "Coll" was like a mini sociological treatise. His comments in the chapter "Light and Shade" on the evils of the World ( ambition) compared to the evils of the flesh (homosexual affairs) are compassionately brilliant. I also get a very clear idea of Lewis' personality and weaknesses- some of them self confessed, some perhaps unconscious like his belief in the intellectual inferiority of women. I think if I met him I would not be surprised by him. I found it hard to get a feel for what Armstrong would be like if I met her. I get the feeling Lewis would come off the more humble for less reason.

Surprised by Joy is a keeper I will re-read again and again and still come away with something new. I wonder if I could get anything more from Armstrong if I read Staircase again?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Karen's journey II

We had our book circle discussion yesterday on Karen Armstrong's book. I think we all agreed on many things but the discussion was lively nonetheless as we compared our own spiritual paths/growth with Karen's very tortured trail to much the same conclusions. Not that her ( or our) journey is over- We all look forward to a book on the next 20 years of her life!

Perhaps if we disagreed on anything it was whether Karen at this point believes in God at all but then that depended on how we/she defined God and so we were back at alpha again. There was certainly a point where she didn't at all and that is almost a prerequisite, some of us felt, for a mature faith. In studying other religions - Judaism, Islam, Buddhism- she learned much about her own tradition about which she was largely ignorant.

I feel reading her book that I can say more about what Karen does not believe than what she does believe. She does not believe in certainty in belief. She is certain about that! She does not believe in the virgin birth or the divinity of Jesus ( at least in the normal sense of the word divinity). She knows the gospel stories are largely mythic. She doesn't call herself a Christian- She calls herself a freelance monotheist.

What can I say about the content of what she does believe? She appreciates Paul (hurrah!) She says she believes in compassion for others, although in this book I did not see a lot of action on behalf of other people ( except Jacob) which is not to say she isn't a compassionate person-just that she doesn't show it in this book- this book was about something else. She appears self-centered (another in our group thought this as well) but that is natural I think in a memoir. I think she may feel that profound spiritual experiences have a biological source and are not "God given"; her experience as an epileptic makes her distrust her own senses. I think she thinks the experience of God is identical to aesthetic appreciation.

Karen, if asked directly whether she believed God "exists" might be fuzzy in her answer, although I could be wrong about that. I am not fuzzy about that. God is. That's all. What I am fuzzy about is what God is like, how can I/we define or express God. That is impossible for any human to do but something we all strive or should strive to do. I am fairly sure about certain qualities of God, or certain aspects of God. Truth is one of my big ones. " Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood" Science and God are compatible although sometimes it may look like they aren't - if they seem at odds it is because we don't undertand one or the other, or usually both. "Conclusion of all that is inconclusible" Truth and beauty and goodness which humans can recognise in themselves, in others and the world at large are symptoms of God's action or existence in the universe. Order out of disorder. Life. Light. Creation. All traces of God. Not God but traces of God, left from "his" passing by, so to speak. Yes, language is inadequate. "Speech without word and word of no speech"

How we humans relate to and attempt to understand God is a different question entirely and that involves worship, liturgy , religious forms, different religious traditions. I grew up in one tradition. That is the way I find I can relate to God ( and why I am angered at those in my church who try to destroy that tradition and deny it to me and others) I am interested in other traditions but if I were to give mine up and take up say Zen Buddhism I would have too much catching up to do, a whole lifetime of study to get to where I am in my tradition. The same is true of my Hindu friend who finds she can find some understanding of God in her stories of Krishna and Vishnu. Why should she give that up? We have great discussions comparing stories and the truths they lead one to. These are cultural artifacts but ones with value if they are not perverted.

Humans have a tendency to perversion of religion for their own ends. This of course leads one to a discussion of evil which Karen Armstrong didn't mention once. If she does not believe in God but only an ethic then why is there any imperative or tendency for humans to act in any way which is contrary to their own self interest? All the great philosophers, theologians, thinkers dealt with this question. Maybe she confronts this in her other books? "struggling with the devil of the stairs..."

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Karen's journey

I am amazed by Karen Armstrong's story.

I am shocked that her physical symptoms went so long un-recognised as epilepsy! I read what she described and I, a laymen, knew immediately what she had. I did know as background that she had an illness but what it was I had forgotten by the time I got a hold of the book and when I read her symptoms in the early chapters I said to myself oh yes-epilepsy! Perhaps however I know more about epilepsy than other people as my daughter was tested for it when she was about 3. But could the doctors of that day truly been so stupid? Yes, I guess they could. My mother who had classical symptoms of ulcers went undiagnosed by several doctors for many years until shortly before she died and that/they killed her. I am perhaps also puzzled that Karen herself did not do some research into her symptoms. Even though this was an age before the internet she must have been very comfortable indeed in a library and an adept at research. Perhaps this was an attitude of the times? Taking a Dr's word as gospel?

Karen's ignorance of Christianity is equally disturbing. I can believe that, young as she was, she didn't know many things when she entered the convent. What amazes me is that she knew so little about her own faith coming out. She did not realise it was originally a Jewish sect? She did not know that Paul wrote before the gospel writers and that many of the epistles, Acts for example, credited to Paul weren't his? She did not know that much of the supposed events in "life of Jesus" are later accretions? She did not know of the viciousness of the Crusades and of the enlightened years of early Muslim culture? These all came to her as surprises after she left the convent? My, my!!!! It is not her fault. But, I still say, my, my!

Were they not allowed to READ when they were in the convent? I went to a convent school in the 1950's- it was , however, Anglican. Could Catholic nuns be so different? Our nuns read! They read, they read to us and they made us read. Was it the times? There has been an explosion in exposure for these kinds of ideas in the past 2 decades. I have to say also that my father was a priest; he had been through Divinity school in the day when divinity school was a rigourous, almost classical, education so I learned many things from him, and he was perhaps not a theological couch potato. It makes a difference, I guess, because these things that you learn young are taken in, absorbed slowly, woven into your faith so it grows like a garden, from a childhood monoculture until it becomes complex ecosystem of thought, and it is still growing and evolving as plants sown long ago change into maturity. In a slow nurturing one fits contradictions, intitially anti-faith things, into what you believe and in the end what your credo is a rich construct, a personal construct. Poor Karen had a few sad vegetables to tend for 7 years and then left those behind and had to do everything to rebuild, replant I would say her Eden.

I was interested in the people who helped her do this replanting. Michael Goulder particularly. I highly respect the ex-Anglican, atheist Goulder, he whose ideas Spong has popularised, almost bowdlerised, benefitting hugely from Goulder's years of scholarly work. Spong says they are friends and he has Goulder's blessing, well, this says a lot for Goulder but I am not impressed with Spong's self-serving use of Goulder's research. Goulder has done his homework and is truthful about his loss of belief in God. I like his work but it has not destroyed my belief in God, only added to my "what God is like" garden.

It is emphasized throughout the book how smart Karen was considered. I saw none of this intelligence, either in her description of her life in the convent or in her writing in this book. She keeps referring to it and I don't doubt it, although she claims herself to doubt it. She is probably smart indeed. I may have to read her other books to see it at work. This was perhaps too personal and too humble a work for her to display her intellect. I sense that she feels her intellect has not served her well and she is almost loathe to display or use it.

I have many other thoughts about her book, about her conclusions about what God is or isn't. These I will put in my next post.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

I'm back

Gosh, I didn't realise it was so long since I last posted. No excuse really, except I've started a new blog on a different area of interest so have been taken up with getting that going I guess.

I have been reading. Finished The Tipping Point which I really liked. A keeper that will bear reading again. It reminded me slightly of the Peter Principle, one of those books that gives you insight into how societies function, how individuals and systems "work". The main idea is that incremental change can happen but radical changes come about with that "last straw" which could be a very little thing but it is the tipping point where things go over the edge. Water could be used as anology: you heat it up slowly but it doesn't change to steam until a certain point...the boiling point. Many things work that way, Gladwell is saying. He also stresses the importance of movers and shakers- he calls them connectors, mavens and salesmen but they are people that make things happen because of the number of people they know, their expertise or knowledge and their persuasiveness. Some people have all three qualities and they are the essential difference between some idea or product "taking off" and becoming popular or successful and not.

I have also been reading (not finished) Dark Matter by Phillip Kerr, a mystery with Isaac Newton as one of the main characters. Very interesting but a bit thick and not a really easy read.

And I have just started The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong our next book circle book which I had trouble finding at a nearby bookstore so I have borrowed it from a friend.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Spiral Staircase

That's our next book, a memoir by Karen Armstrong. I am looking forward to reading it. My sister recommended it highly and I was glad when someone put it on our book circle's list. The staircase metaphor is a good one with the spiral adjective descriptive of the vagaries of life. An inventive title. There are some reader reviews here.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

not -sob-even honorable mention-sob

Well, my story didn't win. I didn't really expect it too but you know I did hope I might get a mention. Well, at least now I can go ahead, work it up a bit and send it elsewhere. I do think it has potential and so do my writing buddies, well some of them anyway. If you want to take a peek at the winning stories at they are here.

I thought the winning story was a bit inane and the 2rd place story a trifle predictable, although well written....a will! Of course I had thought of that one first off! They put such an emphasis on good endings and I thought the ending on that one fell a bit flat. So he found the will ( and some money!) but what was IN the will? and wasn't he duty bound to show the will to the others? Too many questions unanswered. The 3rd place story was inventive at least but a perhaps a trifle forced? Am I biased? Probably, but I would appreciate your comments, especially those who have heard my story.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

In-between world

What can I say about The In-between World of Vikram Lall? It was a rich book, like an Indian tapestry, with many colours and patterns. I liked the way the protaganist eked out his story in a slow memoir, a confession, which was his legacy in the end. In hearing his personal story the reader learns much about the history and politics of Kenya. In the book Lall's cool, secure haven in Canada is contrasted with the dangerous "hotbed" of his homeland- which in its turn was only his grandfather's adopted homeland. As several pointed out at our book circle, the title was very well chosen; Lall was always in-between ... in colour, in race, in politics, in citizenship. He never felt he truly belonged -or wasn't allowed to belong. He had done much wrong which he felt sorry for but tried to explain in his memoir. Eventually he HAD to go back and in so doing at least saved Joseph even if he could not save himself. I think I would like to read more books by MGVassanji

Monday, May 09, 2005

Better Hurry

I haven't finished Vassanji's book yet! And the Lit Wits meet tomorrow. It isn't because it isn't interesting. I have been away and I didn't get the same time to read. AND I got sidetracked by other things to read one of them being The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. A must read book and a good companian to Blink which he wrote after. These two books explain a lot of things to me about how people - in general- work. I think that a lot of people who read them will think, this way of acting, reacting, does not apply to ME ( I feel that way for example), but I bet my boots it does indeed apply, just when we are least aware of it!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

MG Vassanji

I'm impressed by The In- Between World of Vikram Lall by MG Vassanji so I thought I would find out a bit more about him. I seem to like books written by East Indian authors. I don't know whether this is because I have East Indian friends, because I met quite a few in Trinidad, or just because I happen to like the themes they write about. This book reminds me in some ways of Alistair McLean's book in its themes of immigrant families and the tie to the place, to the land they grow up in as well as the connection to an earlier homeland.

Monday, April 18, 2005

New Book

Our next Lit Wits book is M.G. Vassanji's The In Between World of Vikram Lall and I am starting to get into it. I think I like it. It is not an easy read but like A Fine Balance, worth the effort.

I found this wonderful quotation:

Books...are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with 'em, then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.
Dorothy L. Sayers, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, 1928
English mystery author (1893 - 1957)

Blink again.

"One of the things I'd like to do is to show people how to start "positive" epidemics of their own. The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and it can spread very, very quickly. That makes it something of obvious and enormous interest to everyone from educators trying to reach students, to businesses trying to spread the word about their product, or for that matter to anyone who's trying to create a change with limited resources." This is from The Tipping Point.
I think I will have to read this book. More about Gladwell here.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

I did it, I did it!

My short story is in. All 1095 words of it. I don't care if it wins or not. I reached my goal. I entered, wrote the thing and sent it in. That's all I intended. Winning something would be encouraging of course...:-) Should I enter the summer contest? Hmm

Thursday, April 07, 2005


I finished Blink by Malcolm Gladwell a while ago. Very provocative. Certainly made me think about the strengths (positive and negative) of our subconscious which "informs" our actions often without our knowing.
On the negative side - do you think you have few biases? That you are not racist or sexist? Why not try some of the tests Gladwell talks about. They can be found at

Friday, April 01, 2005

Short Story Challenge

I have entered an on-line short story contest. The challenge is to write a short story of a given length and theme in 24 hours, starting April 9th. I don't hope to win only to get the writing done and send it in. By announcing my goal here I hope to increase the odds that I will meet the challenge. I will let you know how I do - or don't!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Outnumbered but unconvinced

As I expected most, if not all, of my book circle agreed with the reviews and praised Anne Tyler. I listened and asked questions, put my viewpoint out there to get shot down, hoping to find what I was missing.

I concede that aspects I considered inauthentic in the characters were probably purposeful on Tyler's part and therefore not necessarily flaws but an attempt at a certain effect which they appreciated and I did not. They got a message from the author in what I found missing in the book...the lack of love, the lack of forgiveness, the lack of introspection and growth in the main protagonists. Somehow these shallow, selfish characters Tyler created, spoke to them - although what the message was still is not really clear to me- perhaps there but for the grace of G_ go I or, or I'm not alone , or thank heavens that's not me, or I am doing better than that? Good; they got something out of these made up lives . I just found it sad. How many ways can lives be messed up? Oh, here's another one. It was like reading the newspapers or watching reality T.V. -The Osbourne Family maybe.

But there is something else. I can't put my finger on it. I thought of A Fine Balance, also a book about lives filled with tragedy and obstacles but my what a difference. Now why did I love that book and not The Amateur Marriage? Blink!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Our Miss Brooks

We attended a memorial service a few days ago for a friend of ours who died recently. She was a lovely person and a wonderful teacher. It was odd how my husband and I learned that Sheila was a mutual acquaintance. Shortly after we met we were talking about the impact of good teachers on our lives and I mentioned Sheila's name. He exclaimed that she had been his lab partner in High School-he often copied her lab notes as she was so much better at them than he was. Sheila was extremely bright and competent, but also a kind and approachable teacher with that just right combination of authority and warmth. She taught English and had a love of the subject which was infectious . I can't say she inspired a love of reading in me- I already had that in spades- but she taught me to be more rigourous in my thought, more demanding of myself, more critical, in the broad sense, of the material. She taught me to be independent of mind and to trust my own instincts. So thank you Sheila, thank you.

I found this poem, typewritten on notepaper, left in a book I bought second hand. I don't know the author ( in spite of a google search) but it seems an appropriate tribute. I have changed the him in the second line to her.

Fitting Close
For such a life! Her twelve long sunny hours
Bright to the edge of darkness; then the calm
Repose of twilight and a crown of stars.

terminus ad quem: 1859

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Amateur Marriage

Okay, I guess there is something wrong with me. I did not like The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler. I had read The Patchwork Planet a few years ago and everyone said what a good writer she was but I wasn't impressed so I probably wouldn't have bought this book if it hadn't been chosen by our book group as the next book for discussion. The reviews have been good. One said it was her best to date. Well, forgive me but I didn't like it. It was one of the most depressing books I have read lately and if I am going to read a depressing book then I want to come away enlightened in some way. I kept asking myself "What is the author trying to say?" That life is messy? Duh! Of course. That the glow goes off marriage? Right - I mean something I don't know Anne. There was no resolution in this book anywhere. And one minute I am in Pauline's head and the next page, years later, she is dead. Just like that, dead. I was in so many heads at different times and that was okay in a way but then you would wonder, when in Michael's head, so what is Pauline thinking about this and you didn't know. And she never puts you in Lindy's head so we can figure out what the heck was going on with her. And some of the character's reactions didn't ring true. Shouldn't either Pauline or Michael have done more to find Lindy? It just seemed to me that it was a whole character cop out. We got bits of everyone but never really got to understand any of them. Am I wrong? Is that the point? It wasn't the writing itself. Although if the characters don't seem authentic then that is a writing flaw. But perhaps I am just not interested in what Anne Tyler has to say to me -whatever that is.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Time travel

I finished The Time Traveller's Wife last night. I read the last half in one sitting it was so good. A love story, a fantasy, a mystery in a way and an adventure. For a first novel, amazing. Dorothea said you must read what inspires you to write-well-I will have to stop reading such good stuff; it is too daunting, intimidating, discouraging. I say to myself "I can never write like that". Now when I read junk ( also published) I say- I can do that, better than that.

I am also reading A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel, a wonderful instructive treasure on the pastime. The conjunction of Niffenegger's book and this one have made me think of the book as time machine. Reading Austen, or Shakespeare or Homer is a kind of time travel . Stephen King said writing/reading was an exercise in ESP. ESP and time travel. No wonder it has an air of magic.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Dear Russell Smith-reprise

You had quite a response to your critique of literary readings. Enough to write another piece.( Globe and Mail, Russell Smith, Virtual Culture: “Why am I so grumpy about readings Thursday, March 3, 2005 – Page R1) I debated whether I should wade in again (see Virtual Claptrap entry below) but here I am a second time to defend the practice of reading aloud to an audience.

You talked about the support for your position first, the readers who shared your “bafflement over why anyone would go to public readings”. My only bafflement is why you would go if you don’t like them? You don’t like tea? Don’t drink it. Why complain about all the tea drinkers who do and tea drinking in general?

There was the painter who supported you and compared “responding to art” to making love - the presence of a third party is not required. I think the analogy is not very apt. Making love takes two and it is helpful I think if the partner is in the same room. I had to think I would not like to be this artist’s partner- passive, inactive, for the “responders” pleasure only, like the art piece (or book) he is responding to.

I can agree with those who, like you, say that jazzing up reading with visuals is distracting. I go to a Readings for the reading not anything else. But you didn’t complain that Readings should be real Readings, you complained about the practice in general.

Finally you get to those who responded to your piece who found value in Readings. You say that on the RARE occasion when the author is “dramatic and entertaining, they can bring new levels of understanding and appreciation to their work.” I have to agree except that I don’t think it all that rare for good authors.”You say “Authors will inevitably disappoint” and you say we, including yourself. I have heard Robertson Davies and Farley Mowat and Margaret Atwood and Jane Urquhart and Peter Gzowski and quite a few others, including some lesser knowns. Rarely was I disappointed. It wasn’t until I heard Dylan Thomas read A Child’s Christmas in Wales (on tape) that I really LOVED it. What about Garrison Kieller, or Stuart McLean? Their work sings in their voices. And I have heard good writing read by others, not the author. Have you heard a good reading of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Perhaps it is the quality of the writing you have been going to hear that disappoints? What authors have you been hearing?

You say the heart of your discomfort with Readings is “the promotion of author as performer”. You believe that the thing should stand on its own and the author's intention is only a distraction to what is in the work. Again a Reading is a reading, not a Q and A session although that might come after, and might offer some interpretation which the “listener” can take or leave but the listener is still free to interpret the work in a singular way. Each listener will take something different from the reading depending on his/her experience. It is usually only an excerpt too, not the whole work.

I detect in your piece an attitude that this is a chore expected of authors. Some authors don’t like book signings either. What a bore. Yes. But like hockey players and celebs who give autographs it is a gift to fans who care for such things. Have you perhaps ordered one of Margaret Atwood’s autograph signing machines, Russell? A Reading is a gift to members of the public who buy books and authors can also get much from them. When I read my pieces in public sometimes the audience laughs or sheds a tear and this is helpful. I know I have reached my readers with my writing.

So I liked the response of the lady artist who told you that “one of the most exciting things about performance is the chance and vulnerability that surrounds the act itself and one of the joys of presenting your work in a public space is an exchange that can happen with your audience.” And you end with “Perhaps this exciting thing is exactly what we are afraid of?” Have you changed your mind? It isn’t quite clear. Have you reached your reader?

Monday, February 28, 2005

Three to go

I am reading three books at the moment. I often am. And I have a stack of books by my bed that I plan to read but haven't got to yet. I have started The Time Traveller's Wife - great so far.

Then I am re-reading Saint Saul by D.H. Akenson. Poor St. Paul/Saul is never given the attention he deserves; as Akenson points out very ably, Saul wrote before the destruction of the temple, before the gospel writers, while Jesus' brother James still ran the "Jesus movement" so what he says about Jesus , or doesn't say -just as important- should be very pertinent.

I am also picking out parts to read from Margaret Drabble's A Writer's Britain which I picked up used. Now since I am going away overnight (again!) I have to choose which to take. Or I could take all three. No wonder my bags are always so heavy.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Retreat Treat

Imagine this: Four women writers, non-published writers but writers nonetheless, holed up at a country house for two days. No husbands, no kids, no dogs-or horses. No phones to answer, no newspapers, no televisions to suck away the time, no news and the only weather outside the window. And no worries except those brought along. Yes, 3 of my writer friends and I enjoyed such a weekend and what a treat. One brought lasagna, one brought salad, another brought sangria and lunch , one brought bread and breakfast and beverages. All brought their desire to write. We talked a lot of course about many things but we did write. Not as much as we wanted but we encouraged one another and read what we had written and made suggestions to each other and read books on writing. And we came away vowing a repeat of our writers retreat. T.C. Boyle's , in his book East is East, describes a sylvan writers colony, an absolutely enchanting writers environment but Steven King in his book On Writing suggests, nay outright says, such retreats do nothing for your writing. He is probably right. "You might not learn The Magic Secrets of Writing but it would certainly be a grand time..." . Yes, Stevie it was.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Virtual Claptrap

Poor Russell Smith. In an article on "Virtual Culture" entitled “Admit it. Reading doesn’t work as a spectator sport” - Globe & Mail Feb. 24 '05- he says "Writers of my acquaintance are being increasingly frank about public literary finds them long and simply can't pay attention." Russell adds "This doesn't mean we don't like literature. We like reading ourselves...grew fond of books in childhood and associate the pleasure with solitude."

I think poor Russell never had parents who read to him as a child. I like reading alone also. It would be awful to not be able to read unless the author read to you-intellectual property run rampant- but who says it has to be one or the other. Can't we enjoy both? A poetry reading last year put on by my women's group was a moving experience. The author's voice- in both senses of the word- really came through in her reading.

May I speak to you directly Russell? You ask what pleasures audiences get from readings. A "reading" is a different experience from that silent activity we also call reading. Rather I think like the difference between listening to U2 or Bare Naked Ladies or Natalie McMaster on CD and going to a live performance.

I enjoy readings when the writing is good and the author delivers his work in an expressive way. I think you have been to far too many bad readings. You say that "authors pick poetic rather than gripping passages to read and often don't read with much expression or drama." Of all the readings I have been to - probably not as many as you have Russell but quite a number- there have only been a few times I have been disappointed by the author's delivery. When I heard Robertson Davies read some of his work it was memorable. I agree if the author is not expressive it does change the quality of the event but why not just say that? Why pan the whole experience?

"The older I get" you say "the less patience I have for passive listening- I am distracted by everyone around me, by what they are wearing, and where they are sitting , wondering if we are going to be late for dinner..." etc, etc.etc. How do you manage a concert, a symphony playing Mozart, or an Opera, a ballet, or a show like Mama Mia or Rent? Most of us learn in grade school to extend our attention span so we can get past, nay ENJOY, these hurdles of "passive listening" as we get older. I'm sure you have no problem with those things really.

I think what you are saying-not very well if you are a writer, Russell- is that you don't like the marketing hype surrounding these events but ironically your lack of attention leads me to believe you are there for the wrong reason yourself. If you don't want to hear the "reading" why are you there? I suspect you are there for the very thing you decry- the celebrity factor. And when it isn't there you and the other "writers of your acquaintance" get bored.

I think you have to get out, Russell, away from your high powered writer friends perhaps, out to the boonies where perhaps people go to readings because they really want to hear the author read their works and aren't there just to hob- nob with celebs, flirt and chat and drink beer.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Supersize them

I am not the only one thinking about whether people read. Michael Kesterton- I always read your Social Studies section Michael!- points me to an article by Don Glaister of the Guardian writing in LA.

Apparently Books are in trouble in the US: The Book Industry Study Group reports that annual sales in the US have fallen from 600m in 1999 to 535m last year. I am hopeful that Canada’s book sales are healthier. But according to Don south of the border “There is a crisis in literature. Readers have stopped reading, drawn instead to other perhaps more modish forms of entertainment. Sales are down, authors are despondent, salons are closing and literary lunches have become drab affairs....Many people over the ripe old age of 40 are starting to have trouble reading, and reading mass market books has become very difficult," Jane Friedman, president and chief executive officer of HarperCollins told the Associated Press....

The answer is obvious: publishers are to make books bigger, thereby making space for larger print on the page and solving in one swoop the malaise affecting literature. Maeve Binchey, Nora Roberts, Stuart Woods and Robin Cook ... will be the first to benefit from the new supersized literature as Penguin launches its Premium range in the US this summer..."We think it will be a more comfortable reading experience, but still at an affordable price," said Leslie Gelbman, Penguin's president of mass-market paperbacks....

The new format, which other publishers also plan to adopt in the US next year, will be half an inch taller than existing paperbacks...Moreover, the books will be printed on higher quality paper and they will sell for a figure between the price of an existing paperback and hardcover book....Rather than being concerned about such old-fashioned literary gimmicks as plot, character and the careful choice of appropriate language, they must now recognise that the key to successful writing is to change the font size setting on their computer and to invest in some heavyweight paper at the stationers.” (emphasis mine)

All you authors out there take note but I have to tell you that although over the “ripe old age of 40" I take my glasses off to read and have no trouble with small print. So much for my mother’s admonition that all that reading would ruin my eyes.

MK also reports on an article in the Christian Science Monitor which says that Mexicans read on average only 2 books per year compared to the Swedes ( who read 2 per month)

Monday, February 21, 2005

Canada Reads?

Well, I’m not sure. The best figures I could find were for 1998 -from StatsCan- . If that holds true now 40 % don't read books! Only 36% read a book a month. Percentage of Canadians who read books :
Total -61.3% Males -54.3% Females -68.2%
At least a book a week T-31.1 M-26.9 F-34.3
At least a book a month T-36.2 M-35.4 F-36.9
At least a book every 3 months T-17.6 M-19.5 F-16.2
At least a book every 6 months T-8.0 M-9.7 F-6.7
At least a book a year T-6.2 M-7.7 F-5.0

I read about a book a week on average.
I did find some more recent book sale figures. Sales of books are going up but I wonder what the per capita figure is.

Net sales of titles ( English books) in $ thousands
1996-1997 1998-1999 2000-2001
1,550,899 1,704,914 1,858,471

Titles published 1996-1997 1998-1999 2000-2001
8,043 10,757 11,452
Textbooks 1,222 1,881 2,011
Children's books 626 1,121 1,421
Tradebooks 3,718 4,677 4,980
Other 2,477 3,078 3,040

I have been asking myself whether I and my book circle members are influenced by the Canada Reads “battle of the books”. I don’t think we have consciously paid much attention to it but perhaps we are influenced indirectly. We have read quite a number of the books on the Canada Reads lists . * = books discussed in our circle # = books I have also read on my own
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence.* Whylah Falls by George Elliott Clarke. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood # In The Skin of A Lion by Michael Ondaatje* A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.*
Next Episode by Hubert Aquin Translated by Sheila Fischman, Sarah Binks by Paul Hiebert# Life of Pi by Yann Martel*,The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys,The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston*
The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro,Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King, Le coeur est un muscle involontaire (The Heart is an Involuntary Muscle) by Monique Proulx, The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe*, Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler#

We chose A Fine Balance in April 2002 just when Canada Reads was on. But we chose Life of Pi for discussion in Jan 2003 well before it was chosen for that year’s contest. We discussed In The Skin of a Lion in Feb. 2003 almost a year after its winning Canada Reads. And we read The Last Crossingin July /Aug 2004 also after Canada Reads chose it as a winner. Perhaps the exposure of Canada Reads did have something to do with those choices. But we read Colony of Unrequited Dreams and The Stone Angel before 2002. And since I joined this book group some years ago (6 ?) we have read over 44 books. We've been at it longer than Canada Reads has. My favorite of all those listed above that I have read was A Fine Balance. Sarah Binks which I read years ago would have to be second- a very good and funny book but one I doubt very many people have read. Life of Pi would have to be my third choice. But then Atonement was excellent also. Hard to choose between them.

The Canada Reads Choices for 2005 - in case you have been, like away, are:
Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen, Rockbound by Frank Parker Day,Volkswagen Blues by Jacques Poulin, No Crystal Stair by Mairuth Sarsfield,Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Why not suggest your favorite Canadian book for the Canada Reads list.
I am not sure what my choice would be. I 'll have to think about it.

and then take a look at A how-to manual for future Canada Reads panellists
(or, 5 simple rules to make sure your book isn't KO'd in Round 2)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Rankin' Rankin

Was Fleshmarket Close vintage Rankin? I was impressed by his first book Knots and Crosses years ago, but having read several other books by Rankin since, I expect it to be of a certain quality. It just holds up. Could he have done the same in less than 400 pages? I think so. Does anyone else think there were some extraneous characters? Too many to care about some of them? I counted 18 characters introduced in the first 33 pages and 65 in all. I wonder why he needed so many. Red herrings? Did we really need 3 hairdresser friends? Did the story really require Rory Allan and Danny Watling? Or Cater’s buddy? What purpose did Jenny Lennox serve?

Was it a good mystery? Well, there were multiple mysteries- the skeleton mystery and the Ishbel mystery and the murder of Stef mystery. And of course HOW these tie together is the story. I wasn’t sure where the focus was. I didn’t mind that too much. It perhaps dulled the impact of the ending. There was not one satisfying resolution but a rather slow tying up of loose ends.

Is it good social commentary? It did present some of the complexity of the “immigrant” and “asylum” issue in Scotland. No one wins. The fleshmarket is there and where there is demand there will be suppliers. Because this is an unplanned influx there is no system to cope with them. Desperation makes minimal living conditions a situation asylum seekers and illegals accept opening opportunities for further exploitation. Police are charged with stopping smuggling and unlawful exploitation: this alone may not be in the interests of asylum seekers or illegals, then add in the unsympathetic attitude of many in the force. Rankin, through his characters, tries to cover the range of attitudes from downright racist to idealistic compassion. The tensions set up in the community can be felt. Rankin is careful not to stereotype Felix Storey the black investigator who has his own biases. Oddly, Mo Dirwan, who is more stereotyped in a way, comes over as a truer, more human, character than Felix. Caro Quinn, the protesting idealist, appeals to Rebus but ultimately does not satisfy. Rebus has compassion but recognises certain hard realities and limitations. DC Siobhan Clarke needn't have worried.

Enough flesh to chew on in our Lit Wits group I would say.

Note: What is Fleshmarket Close here in Canada (and in the UK) is Fleshmarket Alley in New York. Someone who has been there has assured me there is a real Fleshmarket Close in Edinburgh. I doubt there is an Alley there of that name.

Friday, February 04, 2005

In praise of amateurs

Now isn’t that serendipity? I have just finished The Full Cupboard of Life and Alexander McCall’s distinctive writer’s is voice still ringing in my ears. So this morning I see an interview with him in the paper. This is obviously meant to be, arranged by some helpful angel to speak to me. And whoa -he writes 1000 words a day plus and that is just for his serial novel 44 Scotland Street published Mon-Friday in the Scotsman. He is up at 5:30 and finished that bit of writing by 7am! Oh, Oh.

But he is encouraging too. He says “ I think it’s really important, and it’s a sad day when amateurism is pushed to the sidelines.” (Alexander plays the basoon badly so he isn’t talking about his writing.) He goes on to say “many people start off as amateurs and then discover they have a particular talent. That’s definitely the case with writing, that every writer in the very beginning is an amateur....” Now isn’t that good? That’s me I say gleefully. There is hope! Then I crash again. He says”...the idea that you can create and train a writer in my view is very suspect... you cannot put into somebody the urge to create, to write, to compose music.” Well, perhaps all is not lost. I do have an urge to write don’t I, I do have an urge to create so maybe I’m okay.

And he talks about Ian Rankin who lives just down the street ( authors row obviously). Now I am supposed to be reading Ian Rankin for my book circle and instead I was reading McCall Smith. He calls him a “proper crime novelist” whereas he says his books “are not really proper detective stories. They are really novels about character.” Now we can discuss THAT at our book club gathering. What would Ian say about that?

So thank you Alexander and have a good time ice-fishing. I am glad you don’t expect to catch anything . My husband never did and I expect as a Scot you will be able to manage the fortifying liquids which are an essential part of this “very important element in the Canadian commune with ice.” I do hope you give it more than 10 minutes, though. It would be a shame to miss out on this “cultural experience” and I’d like to see how you might work it into a book some day.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Book Lust

“There are many many books. And all the time more books are coming. It is difficult to read them all.” Mma Ramotswe says in The Full Cupboard of Life.

So many books, so little time. So true. What to do? I find help in the Globe Social Studies section which passes on a report in USA Today:

Nancy Pearl librarian and author of a book of reading recommendations, Book Lust , suggests readers use a rule of 50: If you are 50 yrs old or younger give every book 50 pages before you commit yourself to reading it. If you are over 50 since you have less of your life left you should subtract your age from 100 which gives you the number of pages you should read before you give it up. If you are 100 or over, judge the book on its cover!

Hmmm What's my number?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

For my name is Will

So says Sonnet 136
But is it? Will the real Will please stand up? I was aware of the anti-Stratfordians and aware also that Edward de Vere was a candidate (among others) for the "real" Shakespeare of the plays and sonnets. I was already tending to the Oxfordian camp before reading Chasing Shakespeares.

One only has to read the sonnets. Compare the ego in the sonnets to the epitaph on the Shakespeare of Stratford's grave. It helps to be uneducated in traditional Shakespearean Literature as taught. The Shakespeare of Stratford is so safe and the Earl of Oxford is so NOT. But then I ask what writer would give his fame of which he seemed so proud to another. My mind is still open. Sarah Smith is quite convincing. Her knowledge and research commands respect and her mystery captures the raging and sometimes vicious debate by scholars - and the not so scholarly- while telling a stirring story. We can identify with her protaganist - very much a newbie in the field as most of her readers would be- and by presenting the arguments for de Vere in fiction she avoids being reviled by professional Shakespeare academics. Smart lady.

As a WIT ( writer in training) I did want to know where fact left off and fiction began, and there are other readers “who have done more graduate work than is good for them” as the author says, who feel the same way. Her website does help. When you write historical fiction ( which Chasing Shakespeares is in a way) there WILL be some readers who want footnotes or something like them. I am not an English major and not a Shakespeare nut. My brother, who is both, would probably be better equipped to comment on the merits of the author's "argument" for Oxford (de Vere). We will probably have flaming arguments about it. But I loved the line Sarah Smith repeats many times in the book "God is a librarian" (my graduate degree is in Library Science). I think it may be the librarians who finally solve this mystery.

Okay, now back toThe Cupboard

Saturday, January 29, 2005

dropped yods,eh?

Dear, dear. What is Canada coming to with young folk dropping their yods and their ehs?
And I was always so careful to say news not nooz. I guess that means stoo instead of stew for dinner. How would I tell you about pruning my yew? Are we going to end up saying oonity instead of unity I wonder? And how about that nose wrinkling EW when we come across something disgusting? Somehow OOO just doesn't do it for me. There will always be raised dipthongs in our house. And as for eh. I just can't believe that will disappear. What WILL the comics do and how will anyone indicate a Canadian in so few words without it?

Friday, January 28, 2005

Just Write or Just Read

I went to get Ian Rankin's latest for my book circle but the bookstore was out of copies so instead I came out with The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffennegger and The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith. I will read Smith's first. Precious is precious and it will be quick work. I would love to capture the charm of his writing. I have been reading more than writing these days. Dorothea says one should read what inspires one to write. I am perhaps reading the wrong books as I am struggling with the writing.

I suppose I should say something about what I am trying to write. It started out as a short piece I wrote for a writing class assignment but it sounded like it should continue, the start of a story, and I wanted to attempt longer pieces so I kept at it, extending it, trying to let the characters and the situation carry the writing. It has humour I think since people laugh when they hear the parts I have read aloud and I am trying to keep that but I am now at a place where I have to know what happens. Who did kill Kevin ( sounds a bit like who killed Kenny :-))? And why? and what is Betty running away from? And if I kill off Betty ( as I intended at some point) who in the book will carry the humour since Betty has the acid wit?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I was right- it took merely an afternoon to polish off The Haunted Bookshop. It was an interesting view of inter-war society, politics and mind-set. The number of books and authors mentioned that I have never heard of among the classics made me very much aware how fleeting the "fame" of some writing can be. It might be considered good in its time but to last beyond a generation is to reach a different standard of excellence. I was struck too by the moving anti-war rhetoric mixed with exactly the zenophobia and stereotypes that engenders it. A period piece one would say. I haven't decided whether it is a keeper or not. Might be worth it because of the number of books mentioned that may be worth searching up. What am I reading now? Chasing Shakespeares by Sarah Smith.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Haunted Bookshop

Time for another book. I have finished Too Close to the Falls by Catherine Gildiner. What a great book and what a heart rending ending. Life is like that- messy, unexpected. Childhood idealism and innocence are so shattered when we grow up and find out what the world is really like. It is NOT the way it should be, or the way we think it should be and people are not as we expect- not logical, honest, or kind. I really connected with her; I am also an empiricist and had the same young naivete. As a child she had something in common with the fictional protagonist in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime who has Asperger's syndrome. Are we all perhaps on a continuum in this respect? I would love to ask Catherine what she thinks. She is now a psychiatrist in Toronto.

With a blizzard bearing down on us - again!- I will have lots of time to read. Picked up The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley. It is an old copy I got second hand for $2. I had heard of this book so when I saw it I grabbed it. It is a book about books, not very long; I can probably finish it today, especially as we are already being snowed in.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Thanks Stevie

Just finished re-reading On Writing by Stephen King. It is one of the best, most useful books on the subject I have read. It has a lot about his life growing up, how he came to be a writer, worked to be a writer and then about his writing life- how he goes about it- but the guts of it is just sound, hard hitting advice about what one must do to write well. He makes no bones about it being hard work, emphasizing that there are no shortcuts, no magic bullets. I was right, it was Stephen King who said you must also read a lot to be a good writer.

I am reading at the moment Too Close to the Falls, a charming memoir of a precocious girl growing up in Lewiston, NY. Enjoying it thoroughly. She had a lot of unusual characters and events to enliven her narrative. My childhood is absolutely boring in comparison!!

Thursday, January 13, 2005


Cooking I could do without but NOT my cookbooks. I never part with one, and I always find new ones that are irresistible. They are a genre of Literature. I can't describe all of them but I can give a taste of this and a soupcon of that, to whet the appetite.

My first was given to me by my mother - The Chatelaine Cookbook- pedestrian but useful. Very much in the "how to" vein but it has sections I would never use. E.g. Broiled Marinated Bear Steak. Take 1 thick slice of bear loin...Cover and refrigerate in marinade for 24 hours . Or Pot Roast of Bear? "Trim fat from meat, scrape meat surface lightly with the blade of a knife to remove any hairs or splintered bone."

Along the same lines is the Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book. The ring binder style has pages added with recipes from periodicals or hand copied giving it the air of a scrapbook, reflecting food fashions over the decades. I love one page, with pictures and recipes of sundaes and floats . What wonderful names: Broadway soda- vanilla and chocolate ice cream with chocolate, coffee syrup and fine stream soda, or Moon over Moose Jaw -Vanilla ice cream, fresh fruit, maraschino cherries, pecans, and 2 slices of peach , or Merry Widow- vanilla and chocolate ice cream, thick French chocolate sauce, sliced bananas around chopped walnuts, topped with fresh whipped cream and a cherry of course! Better to read about these and not indulge in making them.

From the same era is the Betty Crocker's Cook Book for Boys and Girls which my mother used to inspire in us an urge to cook. Where else would you find a recipe for S'mores? Brownies and fudge were popular- these pages have chocolate smears on them. I think my mother hoped we would pay more attention to the "Saucy hamburger crumble" or the "Chili Concoction" pages.

But it was French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David which convinced me cookbooks could be literature. Illustrated with a few pen and ink drawings of cooking utensils, it is a delight. Introductions to each section and scattered gems among the recipes inspire with a wonderful mixture of description, history, anecdote, and quotations from famous chefs. In reading one enjoys the feast without tasting a bite! I have two other David cook books, French Country Cooking and Summer Cooking, smaller but equally charming. All three are in terrible condition, with yellowing, loose pages and oily stains everywhere, but I cherish them and hope I will find them in fresher copies.

The most unusual cookbook I have is The Royal Cookbook- Favorite Court recipes from the World's Royal Families. I bought this in England, where else? In it one will find "Prince Charles' Summer Pudding" and "Duke of Windsor's Gingerbread" as well as "the only soup ever eaten by Queen Victoria". From France comes "Fillets of Sole Pompadour" and "Ballotine of Pheasant", from Italy "Umberto's Salad" and "Cavour Lemonade"- which is not a lemonade but a wine punch. There are entries from exotic kingdoms such as Tonga, Polynesia and Hawaii: "Island Pudding" made with sweet potatoes sounds good as does "Avocado Whip" with sugar, lime juice and coconut. More intriguing are recipes from antiquity such as "Ova spongia ex lacte" (honey omelet) and "Patina de piris" ( poached pears) with "Dulcia domestica" (custard sauce) supposedly enjoyed by the caesars. Impractical but a great read.

Along the same exotic line are cookbooks I have picked up when I lived in other countries. I have two books of Greek Cookery -Greek Cooking by Robin Howe and The Home Book of Greek Cookery by Joyce Stubbs. These were useful at the time for grocery shopping and at restaurants as it gave the Greek words and pronunciation for items I wanted such as lathi (oil) and melitzanes (eggplant) or Taroma salata (egg roe salad). From Trinidad I have Carribean Fruits and Vegetables and Cooking the Carribean Way and from Curacao Aasina nos ta cushina (This is the way we cook). Dishes from these books have become family favorites, such as satays with peanut sauce from Curacao, fried eggplant, horiatiki salad and tzadziki from Greece and curries from Trinidad. They are nostalgic reminders of pleasant times and good friends in those wonderful places. When I read these books I recall the first time I had spit roasted lamb fragrant with lemon juice and oregano, or balmy evenings at micro-limino where we enjoyed kalamari and fresh red snapper. When I see the recipe for funchi I am taken back to Marthe Koojis Restaurant in an old landhuis outside of Williamstadt where we would often stop for a biera after a day on the beach and the gregarious, hospitable proprieters would serve crisp fried funchi with pica. I sometimes get the urge to try dishes I never had time to make when there such as stuffed breadfruit- a concoction of minced beef, breadcrumbs , celery and pickled lime. But bread fruit is difficult to come by here so I am free to just think about it.

Illustrated cookbooks are tempting. A pretty book called A Basket of Berries has enticing watercolours by the author Val Archer. Perhaps some summer I will try Blueberry soup or blackberry vinegar. Another which is both useful and artful is Across the Table by Cynthia Wine, illustrated by Mary Pratt. The Nanaimo Bar recipe and the recipe for Tourtierre in this book are two I often use but Mary Pratt's watercolours- of fish in a sink , berries in a glass bowl, or tea in a china cup- are as inviting as the recipes. Photo illustration can make even common recipes look appealing. A friend sent me winter recipes by a British chef, Delia Smith. I haven't tried many but I love reading them and looking at the photos of Irish stew with Crusted Dumplings and Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding. The illustrations glow with warmth; one can almost smell the fragrant steam coming off the pages.

With so much wonderful reading no wonder I have no time to cook.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Well, that was disappointing. The members of our book group chose Ian Rankin's latest Fleshmarket Close as our new book. Now I like Ian Rankin, I really do ( oooo that sounds so Margaret Wente) but it just wasn't what I was hoping for just now and I fear there won't really be that much to discuss, although they said that he is including more social issues in his work. Was this an indication that there is a feeling in the group that the books we had been choosing were too literary? I would hardly call Coastliners literary. So I will have to find something else to satisfy my book appetite. I often turn to non-fiction when I can't find something that appeals on the fiction side. Perhaps I will re-read Stephen King's On Writing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Promises, promises

Okay , so I promised to tell you what book I chose to settle down with. Well, I have to confess that we didn't sit by the fire at all with a book Sunday night. We watched Seinfeld Season Two on DVD that we got as a Xmas gift! There goes the literary persona I was developing here, shot to heck!

But ...we like Seinfeld and as a writer in training I have to say that I admire to death Jerry's ability to take the smallest episodes of life and put them in a context where you think about them in a new way, or think about them at all. And that child-like view of the world , where everything is new and strange is exactly the quality a writer needs. Dorothea Brande talks about that ...the child view that the creative part of the brain uses, that part of the brain we don't use enough but that great writers tap into. She has great advice on how to develop that non-linear part of oneself.

My book circle meets this afternoon and we will have a new book to read and discuss. Coastliners is on for today and I have been thinking more about the book since I will have to say what I think of it. It occured to me that those affected by the tsunami (apart from the tourists) were "coastliners" and the book does deal with the dependence of these people on the vagaries of the sea. Their attempt to change their fate works for a time but then they are battered again and again by other forces, the last being an oil spill. There should be some good discussion of The Guardian's negative review.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Sunday best

Winter, especially this period after New Years Day and before spring, is a time of long quiet evenings with a wood fire, a hot drink and a good book. I NEED A NEW BOOK. Not just any book, but a book that I can get my teeth into and I can hardly wait to get to. I feel like Helene Hanff and wish for a Marks & Co to send me gems. She had a list in her head, what is mine? I am in the mood for something meaty, something like A Fine Balance, but not dry.

In keeping with Sunday tradition of a roast, dinner will be chicken, roasted and stuffed. A good red with and a good read after. I will tell you dear reader, tomorrow what I chose to curl up with.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

To Eyre is human

Jane arrived! We watched all 4 episodes in one night and it was as we remembered - excellent. Michael Jayston as Rochester was perhaps angrier than Bronte portrayed him but I would have to re-read the book to be sure. It is missing the early episode with Jane as a young girl at Miss Reed's and Lowood but I hope we may find that somewhere . I do wish BBC would release it in a remastered commercial version on disc. It is so superior to the current interpretations available. I can hardly wait to share it with my daughter as I have been praising this version to the skies for years and since we could never find it I believe she doubts its existence.

Regarding Coastliners, I gather the reviews have been scathing. I think there is a real bias against books that are just a good read. I have to agree with one friend that it is not worth a re-read but I had no trouble getting involved in the story, and read it easily in a few days ( not quite " I couldn't put it down" but a lot better than "I had trouble finishing it") . I did find the writing a bit disappointing after my first flush of admiration and I haven't read her previous books so perhaps if I had I would agree with the criticism that it was to a formula. As to the criticism that its view of France was romanticised or inaccurate I have to say that I thought of the island as a fictional construct not as a literal part of France.

At my writing circle the other day I read a short piece I wrote in which I referred to Trollope. Our newest and youngest member did not know who I was referring to. This lady has the first draft of a novel written. I don't expect everyone to have read Trollope but I did rather expect that most people of a certain education and especially a wannabe writer would know of him.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Coastliners - my view

I have finished Coastliners by Joanne Harris. Good story on the whole. I was irritated by some things like repetitions that a good editor would have caught. Are there no good editors anymore? Do previously published authors not get edited? I know that Margaret Atwoods books suffer from a lack of attention/discipline; if the author isn't himself ( generic masculine folks) disciplined to keep his writing tight then it is the editors' job to tell him what is needed. Does this get too hard with someone of the stature of Margaret Atwood? Or is it because the publisher thinks the book will sell anyway "on the name alone"? But it is aggravating when I see such things slip through detracting from what would otherwise be a good book. Do they think the reader doesn't notice? Perhaps they think we shouldn't care? But it does make me think less of the author because I say to myself "why didn't she catch that?"
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)