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?"

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


"Sleep knits up the ravelled sleeve of care". A friend quoted this line to me recently, from Macbeth she said. She wants to sleep for ever and if it had not been for her dogs she might have arranged it. The image of a life unravelling is apt. So often cares are cumulative; stitch by stitch the fabric gives way.
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)