Wednesday, December 27, 2006

That's a relief!

I thought I was just disorganised but no, I'm creative! My desk tells me so.

...January is now Get Organized Month, thanks also to the efforts of the National Association of Professional Organizers, whose 4,000 clutter-busting members will be poised, clipboards and trash bags at the ready, to minister to the 10,000 clutter victims the association estimates will be calling for its members’ services just after the new year. But contrarian voices can be heard in the wilderness. An anti-anticlutter movement is afoot, one that says yes to mess and urges you to embrace your disorder. Studies are piling up that show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds...source

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I haven't been writing

I haven't been writing. I feel dry as dust word-wise. I didn't win Nanwrimo this year. I got a few thousand words done and then gave up. I just didn't have the focus this year. They do say the second year is the hardest but I am not happy about it.

I haven't been reading that much either. I haven't even commented on our last book circle book which was My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult.

We did have a good discussion. There was much to think about. You can read a synopsis elsewhere. Of more interest is perhaps the opininon expressed by our little group. It was a while ago but my memory of the consensus was that once you embark on this kind of "experiment" the resulting drama and moral conundrums are inevitable. Guilt, resentment of the favoured child, a feeling of being used or being left out all natural outcomes. Moral of the story: Don't take that first step. Perhaps though I remember that as the consensus when in fact it was only my opinion.

I can't avoid making a moral judgement about this fictional couple. How did they make the decision to engineer a child? What were they thinking? Did they look down the road? Did they think at all about the unborn child? Did they think about their son who seems to have been left out of the equation? Where was their sense of responsibility? Given they did what they did the rest followed like sunset after sunrise. So many people now think in such short term.

I have to applaud the author for attempting the subject. I would like to see the issue handled by more skilful hands but hey.... I can't squeeze out 50,000 coherent words myself .

Friday, November 10, 2006

Playing Hooky

I should have been home writing my 2000 words. Instead I went to a movie. BUT it was a good movie for a wannbe writer to see - Stranger than Fiction which is based on a premise I actually used in one of the short pieces I wrote a couple of years ago, that is, an author who writes and his stories come true.
In this movie the author's main protaganist, Harold, an IRS auditor, becomes aware that he is a character in a book and that his creator is trying to bump him off. ( Why didn't I think of that!) Emma Thompson does a great job as the tortured writer with writer's block trying to figure out how to kill her hero. Dustin Hoffman plays an English prof who helps Harold find out who is directing his life and probably his death. There is a love interest for Harold and we, the viewers, get very attached to Harold and his life and don't want to see him die.

I won't spoil the ending for you as I recommend you go see this tragi-comic movie. It is better than the usual fluff you see on the screen these days. Now I should be inspired to write deathless purple prose shouldn't I? Well I should try anyway. I am way, way behind on my count.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Call me Crazy

I am too. But I have signed up for NaNoWriMo again. And I am late so I am already "down" over 3000 words. But ... here I go again aiming for another 50,000 words. Will I get there this year? They say the second year is the hardest. I can believe that. But one foot in front of the other, bird by bird... that's the way to get there. Anybody want to join me?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

late on Saturday

I've been away for a couple of days with other things on my mind. I had hoped to get my thoughts on Saturday down before I left, while they were fresh in my mind but I found that there was so much to say that I couldn't possibly manage it.

But I must say something about Saturday.
It is one of the best books I have read so far this year.
It is dense but readable. The author has a lot to say and he says it well, without preaching. His characters are everyman, maintaining the complexity of humanity, exposing human weaknesses and contradictions.

Without reminding me in any way Atonement, one of McEwan's earlier works, it has all those qualities that made that a great book - good story, well drawn, authentic characters, clear, unpretentious descriptive writing.

McEwan places his protaganist Henry, an ultra-rational neurosurgeon, within a largely artistic family and logs his reactions to an often irrational (familiar and real) world of terrorists, peace marches, petty crime and medical tragedy putting us into his head for one pivotal day in his life, a specific day in Feb. 2003. The villian of the piece, Baxter, who ultimately threatens Henry's comfortable life and family is someone we are tempted to be sympathetic to because of his medical condition and social deprivation.

The book raises moral questions. Is violence ever justified? It is easier to ignore or minimise distant threats but when they come close one's reactions seem clearer. If violence is needed when it threatens you personally can you extend that strategy to the international scene? Does art trump reason? Can poetry reach the irrational and divert them from violence where reason or force cannot- as the poem diverted Baxter away from his intended violence? Where does responsibility begin and end? Henry in a way drew the dangerous Baxter to him and his family by his earlier actions. The novel ends with Henry and his family safe and Baxter's life in his hands. But Henry does not take revenge and instead tries to pick up the messy pieces left from a situation he had played a role in creating.

When they're feeling abandoned in the dark, people could do worse than cling to one another. McEwan's novel ends with the hard-won virtues of forgiveness, familial love, and decency. It's not the grace found at the end of "Atonement," but there's something moving in the fact that Henry always can be counted on to do the decent thing. [source]

I notice that Saturday is # 2 on this list: 1001 books to read before you die.

Interesting also that my the book my friend Mamie raved about, Never Let me Go, is #1!

Looking over the list I see I have managed to read only about 20 of the first 200 on the list and about 33 of the first 300 so extrapolating on this basis I probably have about 90% of the 1001 left to read!!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Getaway wrap up

We just got back from our annual anniversary getaway at our favorite spot. It was a lovely retreat to a riverside chalet with a wood fire to warm us and the sound of the river and a nearby brook to lull us to sleep.

It poured rain on the way up so the fall colours were hidden but the foggy shroud obscuring the hills and trees had its own beauty. The power went off about an hour after we arrived but we didn't really mind. We had a glass of wine by the fire and then headed to the main building for our supper reservation. The menu was restricted by the outage but luckily planked salmon, the specialite de la maison, depended only on an open fire and we enjoyed it just as much or more by candle light. I was almost disappointed when it came back on again a couple of hours later but I suppose I would have got even less reading done if it hadn't.

I hoped to get more done. Perhaps I was too relaxed! I had visions of finishing two books, working on my writing and my painting all the while drinking in the natural beauty of the spot. I was a bit ambitious. I did finish The Double Life of Anna Day but didn't finish Saturday ( and I have to do that before Tuesday's book club meeting! I do want to do it justice as I can see it is a powerful book.) I did work on my painting and probably gave it more time than I should have but I got quite engrossed and the time just flew by. I didn't get any writing done at all. It seems to be the poor sister [ is there a better simile?] and gets left behind in my list.

My friend Mamie has posted a photo of one of the painting she has on exhibit at the hospital . Rather than do the same I will post one of the one I am working on, my work in progress. I am only at the underpainting stage but I have high hopes for it.

Saturday, September 30, 2006


It is Saturday. A good day to start Saturday by Ian McEwan. I picked it up the other day at Chapters for $10.00 - in hardback! It was the only one on the table so perhaps the last. I have also started The Double Life of Anna Day by Louise Candlish which I am enjoying. It's a Brit book which I tend to like anyway. The author's style reminds me of Lynne Truss somehow but not quite as outlandish - at least not yet. I have some good reading ahead.

Also have been painting and can hardly wait to get back to that as I have started a new canvas based on a photo I took at Blue Rocks. Only wish I had more time for my hobbies!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Lucy Moon

It has been a while since I have dipped into a book for a "young reader" as they call them. I guess the last Harry Potter book would be the occasion. No, I lie, it would have been His Dark Materials series. But, anyway, I have zipped through That Girl Lucy Moon by Amy Timberlake and can honestly say that this is a book I would have happily bought my daughter - and I was pretty fussy.

Lucy is quirky,brave, believable and also changeable, vulnerable, unsure of herself in her new milieu of middle school. I liked many things about her more than the almost reflexive activism which she wore a bit like her hat as part of her persona. I liked her questioning of things, her desire for truth, her courage, especially the courage to apologise and take her lumps. Yes, I liked Lucy. Not that she didn't have faults but that is what makes her so human, so tangible that you want to just take her in your arms and comfort her as Mrs. Rossignol did.

I also liked the way the author crafted the book. It has young humour. It is spoofy, campy, with names like Turtle Rock and Wiggins, Dee Reams and Mrs. Mudd, a tofu turkey dinner and all the fuss about sledding (but maybe sledding is to Minnesota what hockey is to Port Huron?) Yes, the plot is a bit predictable (historic document proves hill cannot be controlled by Viola Wiggins and therefore free for community sledding after all) but the story really isn't about Wiggins Hill. It is about how Lucy and her Dad get through Lucy's Mom's mid- life crisis, how they grow and how they support each other. That is the real power of the book, the psychological insight it offers.

Lucy is at first sympathetic to and patient with her mother, even proud, but then impatient and annoyed. But as she learns and understands more she becomes angry, bitter, and feels abandoned but in the end she is relieved and reassured when her mother returns home from her rather self-indulgent adventure. In between she grows up a little and in noticing her father's pain loses some of her childish self-centredness. She recognizes the fickleness of fame and the meaning of true friendship. This is the kind of character and kind of theme that makes a book a classic.

Amy Timberlake builds an edifice of community in her portrayal of Lucy, Lucy's friends, and the people of Turtle Rock. Their reactions, Lucy's father's subtle presence and strength and Lucy's rollercoaster ride over a very rough, icy patch of hill, that is the real strength of the book shoring up and overpowering the flimsy plot structure. As Alexander McCall Smith said it is in the small actions and events in life that the moral dilemmas of our time become most clear and Amy has succeeded in expressing some of these in her deceptively simple, charming story.

I am relieved. I was afraid I wouldn't like the book. But if I hadn't I honestly would have said so, even though I was given the book on the understanding I would mention it ( for good or bad) .

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Book circle

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries. (4.3.218)

We must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures. (4.3.247)

Both quotations from Julius Caesar seem somewhat apt for the theme of The Wreckage. Except that sometime it is not a normal tide to be taken but a tsunami which picks one up and tosses a life this way and that.

The message of the book started to come through loud and clear by the last half after a lengthy set up. Little decisions, impulsive actions, can have lasting and often disasterous consequences. What if Wish had not said the rosary over the coffin, and Hardy had not come to bribe him away, if Wish had not beaten him up so he thought he was dead, and had not run away? What if he Wish had not met up with the two Canadians? What if Mercedes had not followed Wish and stayed in Little Fogo? Lots of "what ifs".

Like our lives, the course of the lives of Crummey's protaganists seemed both determined by their earlier actions but also crafted from the pressures surrounding them - religious and cultural conflict, intolerance, discrimination - passed down to them from families and generations past.

I thought the author in putting together his stories and characters, showed considerable psychological insight. The characters had distinct and believable personalities. The author has put in some details which are puzzles to intrigue the reader: We search for meaning for example from the story of the horse put on fire prior to Wish's birth and it's possible connection to Wish's birthmark on his neck which looked like a horse and the death of Mercede's daughter, killed by a horse. Crummey also added some nice historical colour without letting his research swamp the "boat" of the story.

I liked this book in the end after having some doubts about it in the middle.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

More books!

My books arrived - ie. the two books I signed up for with the mini book expo for bloggers.
They are That Girl Lucy Moon by Amy Timberlake and The Double Life of Anna Day by Louise Candlish.

They couldn't have arrived at a worst time in some ways since I have less than a week to finish The Wreckage and of course I want to get at these new ones right away! I will just have to hold my horses, reign in my enthusiasm ( but save it) for later.

My daughter is helping me with this as a young(er) reader so I can take one to her. She is an even more voracious reader than I am so even though she has school start up, moving to a new apartment and work to deal with now, she will probably finish one before I finish the other!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The new year

On the Facts and Arguments page of the Globe this morning there was a piece titled Start something in September [by Lene Anderson] about how Sept. rather than New Year should be the beginning of the year. Strangely I had been thinking about this just the other day then see that it is not an original thought. Not that strange really. I am sure the thought is common.

As the writer says "The remnants of school shape my new year." I think that is embedded in our all our psyches. She describes almost precisely my feelings.

"Late summer still finds me making a pilgrimage to the nearest Staples ...I wander the aisles, lost in the scent of paper and ink ...folders, labels, notebooks and pens, yes, more pens, lovely and perfect for starting something new. And then I immerse myself in what can best be described as a minor orgy of categorizing, alphabetising, filing and labeling... I cannot but help but think how a clean desk is much like a blank slate. Now there is room for the year to enter, for yet to be born projects and for new ideas...."

That is the way I feel as September approaches. It is a time when I like to reassess where I am at and where I am headed and what needs to be done and when I feel an urge to organise things so that things get underway. It is a time to make appointments and get back at those projects delayed by that procrastinating " oh it's summer" attitude. A back to business time. I don't dislike it. I always enjoyed getting back to school after the summer break, looking forward to the clean pages, the fresh start, the new teachers. Yes, a new year.

The Wreckage

One thing about having 3 books by your bedside. As my hand hovers over them a swift little dialogue goes through my head. "Which one do I want to read tonight? This one? No, not in the mood for that. Perhaps this one. No, this one." The Wreckage has lost out most nights to Small Gods ( which I have almost finished) so I am only 50 pages into it.

But now duty calls. I have to finish it by next week so I have my work cut out for me. I have to get back into the book. Back into Wish's head and Sadie's (Mercedes') head. I have forgotten a bit and have to back track. I catch up a bit and read some more. I want to see how many pages I can manage in half an hour. 30 pages! Not bad. I am getting interested again. The part about the Newfoundland quake and tsunami of 1929 is interesting. I look it up on the internet and print off a bit of information for the book circle members.

And I start to ask myself, as I always seem to do, what is the message the author is expressing in the book because that's the thing about writing - you have something to say. What does Michael Crummy have to say in this story of young lust in a fishing outport? Is it the Catholic vs Protestant issue? Such prejudice seems really silly "Bloody old foolishness in the end" as one character says but having lived in Dublin I know it's real enough.

Or is it a love story mainly? Do Sadie and Wish really love each other or are they both just looking for escape or someone to cling to? Is it mainly about loss? Wish's family lost everything in the tsunami and then he lost his father and after he meets Sadie she loses her father, both to the sea. And we know from the introduction set in the War that it is coming and will play a role in the story.

Better get back at it. Maybe I can get another 30 pages read tonight.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A new bookcase

We have ordered a new bookcase for our bedroom. A bigger one. Books are spilling out of the smallish one we have and are stacked in piles around it and around my bedside. I can let go of some books now at Bookmooch [ big decisions- which ones!] or at the booksale our ladies group has every spring but many I can't get rid of, either because I want to read them again, or because I haven't read them yet. Yes, my list of books to read is getting ever longer and the time I have for reading is shrinking. Presently I am reading three books - I am still dipping into the Lynne Truss Treasury ( this time it is the section "Making the Cat Laugh" her columns on being single, which are very good for just picking up and reading one or two with a chuckle before turning out the lights)- and I have started The Wreckage ( powerful opening) and enjoying Terry Pratchett's Small Gods (twisted humour- love it). All very different, although Truss and Pratchett are both funny. Think I am going to take a day off other activities to just sit in the garden and read. Haven't done that for ages. There is something exquisitely self indulgent in that.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Recycling books a new way

You know those people who borrow books and never give them back. Moochers! Don't you hate that? But what if when you gave them a book you got one back. Neat idea? That's the plan offered by BookMooch. A way to exchange books you've read for new ( to you) books.

When you give someone a book, you earn a point and can get any book you want from anyone else at BookMooch. Once you've read a book, you can keep it forever or return it into the BookMooch system for someone else. And it only costs you the postage to send the books. You receive points: a tenth-of-a-point for every book you type into the system, and one point each time you give a book away. In order to keep receiving books, you need to give away at least one book for every two you get. BookMooch is connected to several charities to which you can give your points - children's hospitals, Library funds and African Literacy for example, (or you can give your points to the owners of BookMooch) but this is purely optional. You can request and get books worldwide ( points are increased to compensate for higher postage costs) and you can post feedback as with e-Bay. "If you keep your feedback score up, people are most likely to help you out when you ask for a book."

The brilliant idea of BookMooch is conceived, designed, written and administered by John Buckman who also runs the online record label Magnatune as well as several other web sites with his wife Jan.

"If you're passionate about books, you know how emotionally difficult it is to throw a book away, even if you will never read it again. You want to find a good home for your books, have them find someone who appreciates them. Also, you may be interested in trying a lot of books out, and keep the ones that are great. It's a great crime to have a book disappear, out of print, for none to read... our goal is to make more use out of all books, to help keep books from becoming unavailable. The worst thing that can happen to a book is for no-one to be able to read it."

The founder obviously loves books. He says, "... I love everything about them. What better way to share the wonderful experience of owning and reading books than by starting an online exchange?

I've got stacks of books on my shelves that have been read once, but will never read again. The local used bookstore would be only interested in a few of them and will pay next to nothing for even those they do want. Plus, it's a hassle.

The books could be thrown away, but I just can't bring myself to do that. There's got to be a better use for these perfectly good books.

Why not give books away to people who want them?"

We have a feeling this will be very popular. It is too good an idea to fail. We are signing up!

Advice for Authors

Good advice too.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Back from the heartland

Or should I say HEATland. G_d it is nice to be back in NS where it is a trifle cooler.

Just before I left I discovered the minibookexpo for bloggers and signed up for two books. They weren't the ones I wanted first but having come across the site late there weren't too many left. However, I am anxiously awaiting my (second) choices from what was left on the shelf. They are That Girl Lucy Moon and The Double Life of Anna Day. Both are books for young adults which is fine since my daughter is home and she and I will have fun reading them and comparing notes. She has writing aspirations too and would love to write for young adults some day. So stay tuned!

In the meantime, until the post arrives, I will be reading The Wreckage by Michael Crummy, our next book circle book, which is finally out in paperback. I picked it up yesterday. That is in between doing all the laundry!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

On my Wish List

Just heard a radio segment on CBC interviewing Anosh Irani about his new book, The Song of Kahunsha, set in Bombay (Mumbai). With the mass murder there the other day it was particularly timely. I was impressed with what the author said about his book and about events in Mumbai. His comments about the difference between Bombay and Mumbai (its new name) and how the change of name was representative of a change from a tolerant city to one of extremism was insightful. How sad that his work has been rejected for publication in India ; thought too negative he said. The book sounds like A Fine Balance which I really enjoyed and admired. The readers reviews are very good too so I am putting it on my wish list.

I am reading two books at the moment... Going Loco ( highlighted in my last post) and The Bookman's Wake which I started the day I bought it while I was waiting for the car to be serviced. I should finish that today. It is a great read.

My husband is away for a few days so I am also hoping to get some uninterrupted writing (and painting) in! Sure wish there were another 24 hours in each day. Time is our real enemy. No, I shouldn't say that. It isn't an enemy, it is neutral, but the waste of it is a crime and as I get older I must really make the most of it.

Going Loco

I have been reading from The Lynne Truss Treasury the past few nights, a story ( novella?) called Going Loco. Laugh out loud funny. I wonder if Truss's sense of humour is obvious when you meet her in person. I've read two of the others in the Treasury now -With one lousy Packet of Seeds (also very funny) and Tennyson's Gift ( which I didn't care for as much).

Truss comes up with the oddest ideas and the oddest characters. In Going Loco, Belinda, a harried writer is married to a Stefan, a Swede, who turns out not to be Swedish or named Stefan at all but a man who is impersonating a mad Swedish scientist who is now dead but had originally kidnapped him to use him for cloning experiments. There is irony here as Belinda-who writes horsey novels for young girls- is trying to write a more academic book about Literary Doubles through the ages. Belinda's friend has a cleaning lady, Linda, who is a "gem" but Belinda tempts her away from her friend to come work for her-since her household is a shambles- and Linda begins to take over Belinda's life. Really take over, doubling for her in public for example. All this sounds quite serious but the way Lynne writes it, it's a hoot. I am not quite finished it and wonder how she will end it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Book illustrations

If you like books you probably like illustrated books. I do. Photos are alright, I like them for some books like cookbooks or travel books but for fiction obviously photos are out. Not many fiction books are illustrated these days though, with the exception of children's books, and it is a shame. Old books and old illustrations have a real appeal.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Boggled at the Bookstore

One of my favorite places is a book store but it is also very daunting. SO many books and SO many choices. And every one of them different and interesting in some way. Well, to me anyway. It is mind boggling isn't it the range of human thought? I always have trouble choosing.

But today I had a few titles in mind. First I checked on The Wreckage by Michael Crummy - our next Lit Wits book- to see if it was out in paperback yet. Nope, not yet. Then I wanted to find The Book Thief that "jar" said was so good. Waaah. They didn't have it. I mean I looked on their database and everything. Looks like I will have to order it on line from Amazon! So far I was striking out and getting a bit discouraged.

Well, not too discouraged. There were lots of other books to console me. I saw Memoirs of a Geisha which will be on our list next season so I picked that up. Then I wanted to follow up on Linda's tip so I picked up one of the Bookman mysteries by John Dunning - The Bookman's Wake. While in the mystery section I saw a book titled Bookmarked to Die, by Jo Dereske. Since I seem to be on a "books about books kick" I thought why not? I headed for the cash register and on the way I saw The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. Another author club book! I had to get that didn't I ?

I managed to close my eyes and ears to the lovely assortment of journals sirening me from the display near the check out. As my discount card expired 4 days ago- d___- I was lucky to get out for under $80 Books are expensive aren't they? But worth every penny.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Poor finish

I finished The Club Dumas a few nights ago and I have been thinking what to say ever since. I was disappointed by the ending. That is the first thing, but that is not enough. I was disappointed because the book promised more and that cannot just be written off. There is something to be learned- by the author and by me (amateur writer) and that is to finish strong.

The Club Dumas finish was hurried and the unravelling of the plot in one way too simple and in the other too obtuse and not really explanatory of the events the author had presented up to then: if the Club Dumas really was a harmless society interested only in the handwritten Dumas chapter then why did their henchman level a gun at the protaganist, for example? The reader feels gypped by this. Well, I did. Then the very separate denoument of the Nine Doors Book - a book collector descending into madness or what? The real calling of the devil, thwarted? Not really clear.

I would still recommend the book and I will still try to read other books by this author. But if I was his editor I would have a lot to say [ are there any go0d editors anymore???? This is one of my almost constant plaints!!!]

Friday, June 30, 2006

Book Clubs

The book I am reading at the moment, has a lot in common with The Jane Austen Book Club which I read not that long ago.

  • Obviously there is the title: both involve clubs centred on an author. In the case of The Club Dumas the "club" is a mysterious and ultimately sinister force in the book.
  • Both books refer frequently to the author's works and it helps to have read them although it is not absolutely necessary to enjoy the book. I have to say I know a lot less about Dumas ( either pere or fils) than I do Austen! The author though is extremely knowledgeable and tells me more than I really want to know about Dumas his life and all his writings as well as about The Anjou Wine and The Nine Doors and other works.
  • Both books talk about books and writing although The Club Dumas has a lot more detail as the plot involves a hunt for incunabula.
  • And in both we are led to closely associate characters in the novel with characters in the authors' works. This is very marked in the Club Dumas where characters who are chasing the protaganist look and act like characters from The Three Musketeers.
The writing I think is better in The Club Dumas, at least I think it might be if the translation were better. It has an awkward feel in English which I think is probably not in the Spanish version. The author plays with his character, teasing him. Is he real or not? Here's a quote or two.

The flesh and blood Corso...was increasingly tempted to see himself as a real character in an imaginary world. But that wasn't good. From there it was only a small step to believing he was an imaginary character who thinks he's real in an imaginary world. Only a small step to going nuts. And he wondered whether someone, some twisted novelist or drunken writer of cheap screenplays, at that very moment saw him as an imaginary character in an imaginary world who thought he wasn't real. That would really be too much.

In a chapter titled The Plot Thickens the protaganist, the bookseller Corso, thinks...
One way or another things were getting out of control. This was more than a matter of quaint coincidences. It was a premeditated plan...Here was a plot with all the classic ingredients of the genre [the genre of Dumas] and somebody - aptly an Eminence Grise- must be pulling the strings....And yet the key to the mystery had to lie in its very strangeness and novelistic nature."

A little later he says: " I'm not suggesting anything. I'm just trying to work out the serieal that somebody's writing at my expense." These little double entendres are little jokes shared with the reader who like the author knows Corso is indeed not real, but only a character with the plot written in around him.

As for the is quite involved and I haven't quite finished. With three chapters left, the unravelling of all the tangled strands is yet to come. But it story follow's Corso's adventurous and dangerous search for three copies of The Book of the Nine Doors which is a book supposedly used to summon the devil. Each book is slightly different and all three must be collected to solve the puzzle of the proper incantation. The Club Dumas is a secret society whose members are chasing Corso either for the Nine Doors book or for a hand written chapter of one of Dumas's books or both.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A painting a day

Now that is productive. I came across this artist's site and it seemed so like the effort I put into my Nanowrimo experience that I had to comment on it. I also like many of the paintings! So here's a plug for Jeremiah

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A book about Books

I enjoy books that have to do with books in some way. Usually they are non-fiction, perhaps about writing or about reading, such as Margaret Drabble's A Writer's Britain; Landscape in Literature. but sometimes they are fiction books. I enjoyed Chasing Shakespeares by Sarah Smith for example about Shakespeare's real identity which involved "reading" clues from his plays and his life.

I have come across another book of that ilk, called The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte. It is translated from the Spanish and is not an easy read in some ways as it is quite involved with lots of detail about antiquarian books and many clues to absorb but I am enjoying the mystery of it very much. I would like to see the movie which was made from the book, by Polanski ( The Ninth Gate starring Johnny Depp) I hadn't heard of it so missed it when it came out -good movies never seem to come here- but I will have to look for it on DVD.

My enjoyment of this book makes me want to also read this author's previous book, The Flander's Panel a murder mystery involving a painting.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Garden shots

Nothing like some photos to brighten up a blog post.

To be Continued

After all the rain we have had the last few weeks the last few days of warm sunny weather have been wonderful. With a few of the gardening things done ( oh, yes, there is more to do but those chores can wait) I took the time to just sit in the sun with a book and a notebook.

I sat enjoying the warmth of the sun, the chirping of the birds and the sibilant sound of the stream running past. I started thinking idly about my Betty story [ I really must come up with a better title]. Mostly I thought about what had to happen next. Where should Lizzie head after Bar Harbor, what job should she get, what mischief could she get into? Meanwhile what was Janet discovering back home? What gossip could she pick up? Where could I find a believable hand in bridge to play out in the next chapter? I did come up with a few ideas which I jotted down in my notebook. My writing group meets tomorrow you see. I HAVE to come up with something.

When the ideas stopped flowing I turned to my book, A Passion for Narrative, by Jack Hodgins which I had picked up second hand somewhere. The introduction has an excerpt from Nabokov's Lectures on Literature in which he says a major writer combines storytelling, teaching and enchantment. Ah, yes, the great writers are enchanters. Think about the books that are truly memorable. There is that something that is beyond just the story, beyond the message, some elusive quality that charms, besotts, casts a spell. Witchery. I wish I had that but since I don't I can be the sorcerer's apprentice.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Farewell to Scotland Street

I lost 44 Scotland Street and then I found it again. Yes, I looked for it all over the house and couldn't find it anywhere so I knew I must have left it somewhere and the only place I could have left it was at the sauna, at the excercise club I sometimes (but not often enough) frequent. I finally got myself organised to go in I asked after it and yes, it was still there by the sauna, but with another book mark in it. Someone else who had a sauna after I did had started it - in preference to the many magazines offered- and marked their place hoping no doubt to continue when they came again. They did not make off with it. I almost felt guilty taking it away with me. Now that I have finished the book I think I may take it back and place it with the magazines so my unknown reader can continue!

Somehow that was like the book itself - a little moral anecdote -peripheral to plot. That is 44 Scotland Street. The book was not about the sketchy story line, not really about the Peploe that turns out to be a Vetrianno and then a nothing, not about Pat and her murky past and not about her supposed love affair with the narcisstic Bruce. It was about the little incidents and philosophical asides that flesh out the characters. McCall Smith offers up a view into a number of lives, a pastiche of people and their messy but compelling situations in a restricted window of time and as always with a complex moral sense that gets the reader thinking - or should. It reminds me of Seinfeld. And McCall Smith says it very well in the introduction when he says: It is in observing the minor ways of people that one can still see very clearly the moral dilemmas of our time.

Here is a small sample - an exchange between two lesser but important characters: Domenica the older woman who has seen much and Angus Lordie an anti-establishment artist with a dog that winks.

"We live in such a humourless age" Domenica remarked. It used to be possible to laugh. It used to be possible to enjoy oneself with fantasies - such as your ridiculous hymn- sorry, Angus- but now? Well now there are all sorts of censors and killjoys. Earnest ignorant poeple who lecture us on what we can think and say. And do you know we have lain down and submitted to the whole process. It's been the most remarkable display of passivity. With the result that when we encounter anybody who thinks independently or who doesn't echo the received wisdoms of the day we are astonished." [Angus replies]
" In such a way is freedom of thought lost ... by small cuts. By small acts of disapproval. By a thousand discouragments of spirit."

And here is the priceless inner dialogue of Bertie's Mum;

Irene cast a glance over in the direction of the mysterious politician. Bertie was right: there might well be a strong resemblance between Tam Dalyell and Robin Harper and certainly if one asked the average five year old boy to say which was which one would not expect a clear answer. But there was nothing average about Bertie of course. Now she was uncertain herself. It was very unsettling really not being sure whether one was confronted with Mr Dalyell or Mr Harper and really should one find oneself in this position? Robin Harper was younger than Mr Dalyell who was a very senior politician and one might be expected to distinguish on those grounds. But Mr Dalyell did not really show the years at all and both had a rather, how should one put it , enigmatic look to them, as if they knew the answer to some important questions and we did not and both of course were good men of whom there was a very short supply. She smiled. How was the matter to be resolved short of asking him directly? But what would one say " Are you or are you not Tam Dalyell? sounded a bit accusing as it there was something wrong with being Tam Dalyell. And if one were to be given a negative answer, would one proceed to say: " In that case are you Robin Harper?" That sounded as if it was somehow second best to be Robin Harper which of course it would certainly not be, at least if one were Robin Harper in the first place. Presumably Robin Harper was quite happy about being Robin Harper. He certainly looked contented with his lot.

Tam Dalyell and Robin Harper are real politicians of course ( there are footnotes). They are not the only real person to play bit parts in the book. Ian Rankin shows up rather prominently (no doubt with his permission) as the purchaser of the perhaps Peploe. Real places are used too of course and these references to real Edinburgh must have been a delight to the readers of The Scotsman where the book was serialised.

There are lots of loose ends so I am not surprised his readers demanded a sequel. I want to find out:
Does Bertie escape his Stalin of a mother and get to go to Watsons where he can finally be blood brothers with Jock and get to ride on a train?
Does Mathew actually find a carreer that he could be good at?
Does Bruce get into the wine trade now that he has been fired?
And will we ever find out why Pat is on her second gap year except that something went frightfully wrong with a man with a patch in Australia?
And if that sounds like plot, no, it is character because we wouldn't care at all what happens except that Smith makes us care by his delineation of character.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Nature's cathedral

We had such a wonderful outing today thanks to an enthusiastic friend and guide. Our fabulous five hiked through an old growth hemlock forest, along the edge of a ravine through which ran a tea coloured stream. There were violets, there were lady slippers, there were waterfalls and moss covered rocks. Along the way we heard the silence punctuated by trickling of water or the song of warblers and vireos and often our exclamations of discovery- "Oh look!" There were sugar maples and red maples, red spruce and white spruce, pine and tamarack but the most impressive were the hemlocks, some of them old enough to have lived in my great great great grandfather's day, some of them downed nursery trees. We finished our walk at a heart shaped pond where the water mirrored the surrounding million shades of green, the surface occasionally shattered by white ripples when the breeze teased it . We sat devouring with appetite our packed lunch, our eyes drinking in the scene, satisfying both physical hunger and our cravings for beauty.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Book Choice

I'm still wandering down Scotland Street. Will the Peploe be found? Is it really a Peploe.? Will our heroine really fall for the unappealing character Bruce? Will Bertie manage to convince his mother that he really hates learning Italian and how to play the saxophone at the age of 5 and would rather play with trains? Will Bertie's mother drown in the floatariam as I hope?

Meanwhile our book circle members are choosing their books and I am collecting their entries to organise for our next season of meetings starting in Sept. I had to make my own choice too and the mention of Amy Tan in McCall Smith's preface made me think " Why not an Amy Tan book? I haven't read all of hers and I'd like to." So my choice will be Saving Fish from Drowning which will be out in paperback in Sept 2006. Sounds like just my kind of crazy book.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A walk along Scotland St.

I am enjoying my sojourn so far in Edinburgh. There is a litle map in the front of the book. Don't you love that? I think AA Milne must have started it. Wasn't there a map of the 100 Acre Wood?
It makes one feel you know where you are. There are also illustrations by Iain McIntosh - simple pen and inks. They too give one a feeling of knowing the place.

I am getting to know the inhabitants, as did the readers of The Scotsman. Know and love. Here is what the author says in his preface: " I enjoyed writing this so much that I could not bear to say goodbye to the characters so that most generous paper the Scotsman, agreed to a second volume, which is still going strong, day after day, even as I write this introduction to volume one. In the somewhat demanding task of writing both of these volumes I have been sustained by the readers of the paper who urged me on and provided me with a wealth of suggestions and comments. I feel immensely priviledged to have been able to sustain a long fictional conversation with these readers. One reader in particular... wrote me regularly, sometimes every few days, with remarks on what was happening on 44 Scotland St. That correspondence was a delight to me and helped me along greatly in the lonely task of writing."

It occurred to me that my blog readers ( imaginary beings mostly but real in my mind) serve some of that role for me ( and when I get comments - whohoo!) And my writing circles provide some encouragement. But I digress. Back to the street.

The MC is Pat, a young person with a past, Bruce with his mirror, Domenica - a widow lady who has seen a few things, a misguided mother Irene and poor Bertie, her oh so special and driven son of 5. Those are some of the inhabitants of 44 but Pat works for Mathew, the un-arty art dealer. And there is Ronnie and Pete and Big Lou who Mathew meets regulary at Big Lou's coffee bar. Kinda like Tim's you know? So I am having fun with these folk and their quirks. A whole neighbourhood... just like the 100 acre wood.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

And now for something completely different...

Well, enough of Austen. And Fowler's amusing take on Austen.

So what tickles my fancy next? I looked at the stack of books at my bedside waiting their turn, lifted this one, turned that one over, picked another and looked at the first page, the preface, and said yes, this one! 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith. All the other books sighed and shrank back into dusty oblivion in the corner, envious of the one brought into the light. What was in that preface that so appealed? Serendipity at work.

You see this afternoon I was at my writing circle (one of two I attend) and was chagrined that I had nothing new written for it ( somehow the "rock" theme just didn't get my creative juices oozing). But, as something to read, I brought a chapter of my book in progress, or I should say from one of my two books in progress. The piece I brought was not from my NANOWRIMO effort but from my "Betty Story" an unfinished murder mystery (who killed Rev. Kevin by incinerating him in his own car in his driveway and how will Janet help her friend wacky friend Betty, the minister's wife, find the killer?) I read them Ch. 4 where Betty who has done a scarper "phones home" after cycling all the way to Bah Habah, Maine, a piece which I hope I had not read them before. But what, you are saying, has all this got to do with 44 Scotland Street. Get to the bleedin' point. Right! This is what I read in McCall Smith's preface that grabbed me:

"Most books start with an idea in the author's head. This book started with a conversation that I had in California, at a party held by the novelist, Amy Tan, whose generostiy to me has been remarkable." [ Interested already as I like Amy Tan's books and Stephen King who wrote a great book on writing -as well as some great books- writes about Amy Tan and she seems like a neat lady, so I continued reading] McCall continues: " At this party I found myself talking to Armistead Maupin, the author of Tales of the City. Maupin had revived the idea of a serialised novel with his extremely popular serial in The San Francisco Chronicle. [ And I said to myself hmm what an intersting name Armistead, I must look him up- so I kept reading]

" When I returned to Scotland I was asked by the Herald to write an article about my California trip. In this article I mentioned my conversation with Maupin and remarked what a pity it was that newspapers no longer ran serialised novels. This tradition, of course, had been very important in the nineteenth century, with the works of Dickens being perhaps the best known examples of serialised fiction. But there were others, of course, including Flaubert's Madame Bovary, which nearly landed its author in prison. [Interesting] McCall Smith then goes on to describe how the editorial staff of the Scotsman decided to "accept the challenge which I had unwittingly put down" and at a lunch with him said said "You're on".

McCall Smith goes on to say " At that stage I had not really thought out the implications of writing a novel in daily instalments; this was a considerable departure from the weekly or monthly approach which had been adopted by previous serial novelists." [and I am thinking - doing that is just like Nanowrimo 'cause you have to write so much a day - only it has to be good enough to publish !!!] " However, such was the air of optimism at the lunch that I agreed." McCall Smith said. " The experience proved to be both hugely enjoyable and very instructive. "
[And I said to myself - what did he learn and how did he do it?]

"The structure of a daily serial has to be different from that of a normal novel. One has to have at least one development in each instalment and end with a sense that something more may happen. One also has to understand that the readership is a newspaper readership which has its own special characteristics. The real challenge in wriitng a novel that is to be serialised... is to keep the momentum of the narrative going without becoming too staccato in tone... Above all a serial novel must be entertaining. This does not mean that one cannot deal with serious topics, or make an appeal to the finer emotions of the reader, but one has to keep a light touch."

So I hope to learn something about writing - about how to continue my Betty story- and besides I like McCall Smith's writing, so there. I will be exploring 44 Scotland Street.

Friday, May 12, 2006


We met the other day in an idyllic setting to discuss The Jane Austen Book Club. One of the discussions was a bit of a revelation to me, in that it articulated something which I immediately recognized as something I had felt but not brought to the surface of my thinking. It came about because one of the members said " We tend to see Austen as a bit of a period piece...the costumes, the history." [which is what the movies emphasise] and I realised when she said this that yes, this masks the reality of the books for us. When Austen wrote and people read her the historical window is not what they would see. The readers of Austen's day would see only the stories, the gossipy situations, the irony, the tongue in cheek humour etc. Austen's books were much more like Fowler's book than they seem on the surface.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Prudie and Mansfield Park

My book club meets tomorrow and I am no where near finished my book by book, chapter by chapter analysis. Ah well. But I can at least do Prudie. She is sorely tempted, isn't she? Her wonderful, sensitive, romantic and caring husband seems dull, uninteresting, too familiar.

" What was wrong with a solid kind of guy? Did you want a marriage full of surprises, or did you want a guy you could depend on?" But later ... " Prudie had thought that was what she wanted. Someone with no pretense...But just occasionally she felt more lucky in her marriage than contented with it. She could imagine something better."

Around her are the raging hormones of her students ( and her own) She has very "unAustenish" thoughts about Trey Norton ( but of course these were exactly Austen thoughts as Austen's characters are similarly beseiged and in MP Maria succumbs!) She has the glimpse of an affair between two colleagues one of them married. "Prudie's own feelings on adultery were taken from the French". She dislikes the character of Edmund for not being more forgiving of his sister who commits adultery.
The rehearsal for Brigadoon ( about love) in Prudie's chapter mirrors the rehearsal of " Lovers Vows" in MP - the play itself is never performed. There is the whole courtship problem of the student players which mirrors relationship flirtations in MP.

Then there is the theme of change. There is the computer trouble which Prudie has which must be handled by her young neighbour Cameron with all his talk about DSL and bandwidth. She sees all the young students and is not really part of their world. Then there is the death of her mother ( which she dreams about) Jane showing her through an estate ( like MP-heaven) and in one room she has put her mother - the island in the distance - the great sea change of her mother's death.

Prudie's mother made her care more for unreality than reality, living in imagination more than in the actual. I am not sure how this relates particularly to Mansfield Park, except it perhaps explains Prudie's love of Austen's fictional world. Perhaps the others in my book group will have a better idea.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Mansfield Park

I have been away but I have been reading. I finished The Austen Book Club and read Mansfield Park; it is the one Austen book I had never read! This was a good time to make up this deficiency. It is perhaps the most moralistic of Austen's creations, but also the most profound, especially in its writing, I think.

The main theme as always is courtship. How different types "choose" their partners. In MP there are a number of possible partnerships in the pot which Austen stirs vigorously.

But in addition, Mansfield Park is about temptation and about change. The place of the title is in a sense the main character; it is everything that is good and right ( like heaven) and the characters who will inherit the kingdom ( the Park) are the righteous. Fanny Price has been described as the most unlikeable of all heroines in English literature. She isn't bright or witty, she seems passive and inactive. She is a goody two shoes. She is humble and diffident, worried and unsure of herself, fearful for the soul of others. She has a very strong sense of the correct thing, the kind thing, of decorous behaviour, moral behavior. She is a lover of peace and order. But as the book opens the influences around her attempt to divert her inner compass. This is symbolised in great part by the theatrics where her cousins and their guests try to get her to act in the play when she doesn't wish to. The play, titled Lovers Vows, we are led to believe, is very unsuitable, and she worries not only about her own reputation but about those of the other participants.

The other characters in the book are much more interesting ( as are things that are not good for us). Her cousins and their friends are well bred, well educated, well heeled, and they are witty, bright, sophisticated, fashionable, active. But they are also unkind, unthinking, self indulgent, irresponsible, and guilty enough in the end to let the kingdom slip through their fingers. Well, except for Edmund (about to be ordained) who is almost as dull as Fanny and who marries her in the end, but not before he is sorely tempted by the more fascinating Miss Mary Crawford.

What most impresses me about this book is the discipline of the author. It must have been extremely hard for Austen to make her main character so uninteresting. But that is the whole point. It is often dull to do the right thing, it is often unexciting and unappreciated, and painful indeed to do the right thing. Fanny seemed passive externally but internally she is on the boil-always grappling with her conscience.

So that's the temptation part. The other main theme is about change. Change is also exciting, novel, what people crave. But Austen, writing on the verge of the industrial revoluation which she saw would destroy the country life she saw as a sensitive social ecosystem which deserved to endure, emphasizes the emptiness of modernists love of change for change sake, of tossing out the baby with the bathwater. Mansfield Park stands for tradititon, for manners, for order and peace, for a rural community where personal connections and mutual responsiblities ruled. The urban infiltrators into this society (the Crawfords) brought with them an citified insensitivity, a contempt for the unsophisticated, an authority based on wealth and power, which compared poorly ( in Austen's view) to country society where conflicts were tempered by personal interchange and affections.

But the unrighteous are cast out and the meek inherit the earth - the poor mousey Fanny Price inherits Mansfield Park.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Sense of Sense and Sensibility

In Sense and Sensibility Austen contrasts two sisters and their very different styles of courtship- one, Marianne- all emotion, the other, Elinor- all common sense and decorum. Since this Austen novel is paired with a focus on Allegra who is meteoric, passionate, emotional, and self centred we are encouraged to compare her to Marianne ( who is a secondary character in S&S).

In S&S Marianne falls head over heels for the gallant and adventurous Willoughby. He turns out to be a rat...well, perhaps not a rat, but while he "courted" Marianne when it came down to the crunch other virtues ( wealth, position) had more weight. Marianne, in her depression at Willoughby's betrayal goes out in the rain and becomes ill [but recovers]

Allegra is lesbian and her lover Corinne appears at first as adventurous and impulsive as Allegra but turns out not to be as she seems, we are told. Corinne betrays Allegra; Allegra tells Corinne secrets, stories and Corinne steals them and tries to sell them and fails. [It is speculated that Austen was lesbian as she never married and of course writes stories, and her early manuscripts were rejected.] Allegra discovers Corinne's betrayal. " How dare Corinne write up Allegra's secret stories and send them off to magazines to be published? How dare Corinne write them so poorly that no one wished to take them?"

She leaves in the rain in only a T shirt , drives to her parents and stays in bed for 3 days (compare to Marianne's outing in the rain in S&S) There are secrets revealed in S&S too. Elinor's love interest Edward is secretly attached to Lucy but this secret is revealed by Lucy's sister causing much upset in vaious quarters. In the end though Lucy succumbs to the lure of wealth also and accepts the "better" offer of brother Robert instead, leaving Edward conveniently for Elinor. But what about Marianne? She ends up with Col. Brandon, a nice older man, who cares for her. And what will happen to Allegra? If she leaves Corinne for good who will she end up with.

Fowler in the Austen Book Club is taking situations from not the Austen's main character but secondary ones. "It wasn't Jane Austen's fault that love went bad. You couldn't even say she didn't warn you. Her heroines made out well enough but there were always other characters in the book who didn't finish happily...These were the women to whom you should be paying attention, but you weren't"

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Some ideas to ponder

Here are thoughts I have had about the very modern society of the Jane Austen Book Club in contrast with the characters and society of Austen's books, and particularly to begin with, the novel Emma.

Some questions about Emma. What if Emma had not realised her faults and her true affections and not fallen eventually for Knightly, or if Knightly had not been so constant in his affection for Emma and been completely turned away by her foolish and sometimes cruel behavior? Would Emma have remained unmarried, still admiring/loving Knightly from afar? What if Knightly had married Emma's friend?

Jocelyn is unmarried. She had a relationship with Daniel but this was lost and Daniel married her best friend Silvia. Don't you get the feeling Jocelyn still loves Daniel? Silvia and Daniel are separating and the narrator says of Jocelyn " It was occurring to her for the first time that she was losing Daniel too. She'd handed them over, but she'd never given him up. Now, while she was breeding her dogs and dusting her lightbulbs and reading her books, he had packed his bags and moved away."

Breeding. This is an important issue. For Jocelyn as it is for Austen and her character Emma.
" We thought how the dog world must be a great relief to a woman like Jocelyn, a woman with everyone's best interests at heart, a strong matchmaking implulse and an instinct for tidiness. In the kennel, you just picked the sire and dam who seemed most likely to advance the breed through their progeny. You didn't have to ask them. ..." Wouldn't it be nice if love/marriage was this simple? This is Emma as she starts out, the controller, the matchmaker. She "knows" what is best for Harriet, for Mr. Elton, for herself. But of course, like Jocelyn she doesn't really know what is best at all. What Austen points out is that what is necessary is a moral compass of sorts, a love compass. Emma starts without one but gains direction in time. Jocelyn learned but perhaps too late. It isn't just class as Austen makes quite clear ( in my view) in all her books. There is something else that is more important.

An incident of note in the back story of Jocelyn...the picnic with her friends with her mother and Jocelyn makes cruel and cutting remarks to her. This compares to the incident at Box Hill where Emma makes cruel remarks to Miss Bates and Mr. Knightly rebukes her. Daniel rebukes Jocelyn: "That was kind of mean Jocelyn ...After she cooked all that food and all."

...and it is just after this incident that he reveals to Jocelyn that he loves Sylvia not her.

I get the feeling Jocelyn feels she missed her chance. She likes Austen because Austen recreates a world where it is all possible again, where people ALMOST make the wrong choices but are saved and all works out in the end. Is real life like that? Not for some. Does Jocelyn wish she could go back and do things differently? Of course, don't we all? Austen herself was unmarried- like Jocelyn. Did she have the same feeling? Austen didn't breed dogs and dust light bulbs- she wrote books instead.

The choice of who we marry is perhaps one of the most important choices we make. It is no less fraught with false leads in our day and age and society than it was in Austen's day.

But we all have our own private Austen. This is jumping ahead a bit, but reading the comments at the back of the book about Austen and her novels...everyone has a different take. For example ( from Martin Amis) Jane Austen is weirdly capable of keeping everybody busy. The moralists, the Eros and Agape people, the Marxists, the Freudians, the semioticians, the deconstructors- all find an adventure playground in six samey novels about middle class provincials. And for every generation of critics, and readers, her fiction effortlessly renews itself." Jocelyn you see is reading herself into the novel and Fowler who wrote the Book Club is reading herself and her characters into the novel and we read ourselves into it. Which tells me that Austen captured some of the complexity of life in her novels about middle class provincials and that is something!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Emma- My take

I have found the synopses of the Austen books in the back of The Jane Austen Book Club to be woefully insufficient. Here is a full summary but in addition I want to give my take on Emma emphasising the points which I think are most pertinent to The Jane Austen Book Club.

The question in Emma is “What is love”. It is not so much about marriage as it is about "courtship”. How does a woman determine when she is really in love and who she should marry, a “suitable match”. Breeding and class are important ( to Austen) not for themselves but for the personal qualities that came along with them (or should) in her day, and Austen is very pointedly acerbic about those who judge quality solely on the basis of wealth and position and critical of marriage which is not accompanied by a depth of feeling. Emma is also about how blind one can be when it comes to “love” and what “love” really is.

Emma starts out a spoiled, class conscious, prig.

The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having
rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little
too well of herself; ... The danger, however, was at present
so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes
with her.

In the book Emma decides to play matchmaker for Harriet and does it- as Austen might say- “very ill”. Marriage and love is a serious business and not to be trifled with and Austen must teach this lesson to her character, Emma. This she does through the character of Knightly. Emma seems oblivious or dismissive of the real currants of feeling swirling around her. She ignores the attentions of Robert Martin to Harriet ( and discourages Harriet’s obvious affection for him) thinking him beneath her friend's station.

Instead she tries to put Harriet in the way of Mr. Elton the new vicar thinking him more “suitable” ( read higher class) even though Harriet doesn’t “love” Mr. Elton. This backfires on Emma as Elton thinks the attention means he has a chance with Emma herself. He doesn't care for Emma but is impressed by her status and wealth, while Harriet has neither. This Emma is unaware of at first.

Emma is susceptible however to the artificial charms and flattery of Frank Churchill the son of a neighbour who doesn’t really care for Emma at all but uses her to mask his secret engagement to Jane Fairfax (granddaughter and niece of a couple of impoverished but respectable ladies of the town.) Instead Emma imagines that Jane is involved in an affair with Jane’s former employer Mr. Dixon, a married man. She is also jealous of her as she rivals Emma in accomplishments.

Emma seems unaware that Mr. Knightly ( her brother-in-law and long time friend of the family) whose concern for Emma is constant, if at times critical, has any interest in her other than fatherly.

Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see
faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them:
and though this was not particularly agreeable to Emma herself,
she knew it would be so much less so to her father, that she would
not have him really suspect such a circumstance as her not being
thought perfect by every body.

"Emma knows I never flatter her," said Mr. Knightley,

Knightly calls Emma out when her behaviour is below what he expects of her, especially when she is cruel to Jane’s aunt, Miss Bates, a poor- of lower status- but a sweet lady. Meanwhile Harriet mistakes Knightly’s kindness and respect to her as affection, while Emma, finally realising she doesn’t really care for Frank, thinks he might be a match for Harriet, which is far from Harriet’s mind taken as she is now with Knightly. Only when Emma believes Knightly might care for someone else (Harriet, Jane) does she realise her own affection for him. Nothing is as it first appears to Emma. All is surprise.

The knots are all eventually worked out, and we the readers, frustrated at times by Emma’s blindness, see her gradual enlightenment to the virtues of Mr. Knightly and her own fallibility. Harriet marries Robert as she well should, following her true affection, Mr Elton marries some rich lady as materialistic as himself, Frank’s love of Jane can be revealed when his controlling aunt dies and Emma, well, she falls in love with Knightly just when she thinks she has lost his favour. She wouldn’t have been happy with Knightly at the beginning of the book of course but because of the incidents through the book and what she learns about herself and what “suitable” means to her she is a changed woman and is no longer the stuck up, know it all, youngster she was.
So we start out in the Jane Austen Book Club in March at Jocelyn’s discussing Emma.

We are encouraged to compare Jocelyn to the character of Emma. There are things in her relationships that are similar to Austen's Emma and things that contrast.

That's for the next post.

Posting trouble

I seem to be having some trouble getting my posts to appear properly( in IE only- no problem in Foxfire or mozilla based browser) . Trying to sort it out.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Austen online

I realised that I don't have copies of all of Austen's books ( something for me to watch out for at the up-coming book sale!) However, I have discovered that they are on line! Thank you Project Gutenberg! Since it has been a while since I have read Emma or Sense and Sensibility I can refresh my memory with a few keystrokes! Wonderful.

He was not an ill-disposed young man,
unless to be rather cold hearted and rather selfish
is to be ill-disposed:
OUCH THAT'S AUSTEN but he was,
in general, well respected; for he conducted himself
with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Jane Austen Book Club

I like this book. I like it very much. It could fall apart I suppose, but it is quirky, it is holding my interest and it is making me think. First about Emma because that is the book the book club focuses on in the first session ( March -how about that?) but in which we mainly meet the cast of 6 book club characters through the very acerbic "group" narrator and we get some of Jocelyn's and Sylvia's back stories.

I like Fowler's style. There's something very, I don't know, surprising about her prose. She'll be describing something and then throw in something unexpected. Sample:

There were porcelain lamps in the shape of ginger jars, round and oriental and with none of the usual dust on the bulbs because this was Jocelyn's house. The lamps were on timers. When it was sufficiently dark out, at the perfect moment they would snap on all at once like a choir. This hadn't happened yet but we were looking forward to it. Maybe someone would be saying something brilliant.

She can be very funny.
"I think Jane is being ironic here", Prudie suggested..."she has an ironic wit, I think some readers miss that. I am often ironic myself., especially in e-mail. Sometimes my friends ask. Was that a joke?"
"Was that a joke?" Allegra asked. ...

Then further on Jocelyn says "The pretty marry the pretty the ugly marry the the detriment of the breed."
"Is that a joke?" Prudie asked

The book is set in California somewhere I believe but the author quotes Robertson Davies. Is there a Canadian connection?

Jocelyn and her dogs, Emma cf dog show Interesting. Nobility and wealth, money and breeding.

I have started April/ Sense and Sensibility but will leave thoughts on that for a later date.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Austen awaits

Our next book for my book circle is The Jane Austen Book Club. I hope this book lives up to my hopes and expectations. I wanted to read it because A) I love Jane Austen and it gives me an excuse to delve into Austen again B) it is another "book club" book. Having read Reading Lolita in Tehran I thought it would be a good contrast for discussion. C) the premise of a book club centred on Jane Austen where the participants' relationships are dissected by an Austen-like eye is wonderful. But will Karen Fowler pull it off? I hope she can match Austen but perhaps that is too much to expect. I will be happy if she comes close.

Wright's wrongs

Our LitWits met today and we tore into Richard Wright's Adultery. We didn't tear it apart but rather dove into the questions raised by the author.

On the whole I think we agreed it was a good readable book with much in it to think about. Some thought it better than Clara Callan as I did ( but at least one thought the reverse) The title put some of our members off initially. One member had several alternatives she thought might have been better( "the wages of sin" I think was one ?) but we agreed the adultery event was the central issue of the book with Denise's death only exposing the betrayal. We talked quite a bit about adultery itself. It seemed to be accepted by his colleagues, by the police ( except for the female constable) and by Denise's family. Does this partially absolve Daniel? I felt that it meant that the situation Daniel had to face was made easier for him but that it shouldn't in any way absolve him; he had hurt his wife and daughter seriously no matter what society thought of it.

Would Claire have found out about the affair had Denise not been killed? Would the affair have continued? I thought for sure it would have if Denise had anything to do with it as it was clear she had initiated the affair and had a "thing" for Daniel. And Daniel might have been weak enough to continue with it.

I felt Daniel was very detached through the first half or more of the book and was very self centred until he met Denise's family when perhaps finally he was made aware of the full tragedy of the events in which he was a central figure. But did he feel guilty? Did he really feel how much he had hurt Claire? We thought maybe men feel less seriously about betrayals of this sort and intellectualise it while a a woman's point of view might have had more emotion and obvious pain which Daniel did not seem to express. Was this what the author intended? There was a feeling that that the author is more confident in portraying male characters ( cv Clara Callan ) and I agree as the female characters were sketchily drawn, except for Denise who was fleshed out more toward the end.

My quibble remains. I question the logic, credibility, athleticism? of a 50+ year old man waiting in a car park until past dark for English rain to stop (does it ever stop) and having a "quickie" in the (small, standard shift, rental ) car when a comfortable hotel room awaited them. Necessary for the plot maybe but ....

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Books for Life

What stories/myths do I live by? What books have laid down paving stones I have followed in my life, or hope to follow? This was a question asked of herself by my friend "Mamie" in her Meanderings.

I had to think about this quite a bit but it was easier when I thought about the books I like to re-read or that I remember vividly from childhood. They must have meant something for me to be so attached to them. When I reflect on them and think about what they mean to me now this is what I have come up with so far. I'm starting with books from my childhood that I will never forget.

Winnie the Pooh - There are all kinds of folk in the Hundred Acre Wood, they can be quirky but take them as they are, warts and all, and they can be interesting friends.

Mary Poppins - Adults ( parents, guardians, teachers) can seem very stern and expect a lot from you but they have wonderful exciting stuff they can share with you; they love you underneath that crusty exterior. It is important to be disciplined, but there is a place for breaking out and having fun.

The Wind in the Willows: Ah friends. Friends care for and help each other even when they are silly. Nature is nice.

Heidi: Things, places, people that you may not like at first may end up being beloved. Give them a chance. Oh, and warm milk is sweet.

Tom Sawyer: Life is an adventure. Leaving home could be fun. You will survive

The Chronicles of Narnia - Don't be fooled by appearances. Turkish delight is a short lived "sweet" and can't replace the things in life that count. Life is a battle between good and evil and the choices you make are important. Power is tempting but its charm is a mirage. It takes courage to admit your own wrongs and it takes courage of a different sort to forgive others. Family matters.

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings- Evil must be fought. Life is a hard journey and you often feel as if the side of the angels is losing the battle but one must be brave and go on anyway. We are not alone; many others very different in kind are in the same struggle and we can help them and vice versa.

The Christmas Carol:- It is never too late to remake yourself. Generosity trumps frugality.

The Cosmic Trilogy ( C.S. Lewis again) - Science and God are not incompatible. There would be no science without God.

Well, that's a start. I expect I shall come up with more.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Daniel's adultery

This character Wright has created...what to think of him. Self centered or what. Has he yet really felt sorry? Yes, he has said he is sorry, and he is for what it has done to his comfortable life. Yes, he is sorry in a detached kind of way for Denise's mother. The author seems to be trying to show that Denise was the instigator of the affair. As if that absolved Daniel in any way. It doesn't. I do not yet get a sense of "Oh my GOD. What have I done" kind of sorry. The sorry of real guilt and penitence. Only, the "I'd like to fix this up", "Can't we fix this up?", kind of sorry. One has to ask, is this what the author intended or is it just that he failed to convey this, wasn't skilled enough? I haven't finished the book quite yet, but it will be the question I ask myself when I do.

Friday, March 17, 2006

My Library

I've just added "my library" from See the button in the left column. I started with recent books discussed in our LitWits book circle. I intend to add more from that list and then add more of my bookshelf and then a wish list. I often hear about a book and say- I'd like to read that- and then forget about it. This way I won't forget! I guess it's my librarian background that makes this "fun" for me. Others might find it tedious and it does take a bit of time but I think readers of this blog may find it interesting to see what I am reading and compare my reviews with other readers of the same books. Not all books are for all readers and after a while I would think that if you see a reader who has similar tastes you could then see what they are reading and be confident that a certain book would suit you.

I chose the bibliophil program over the other jazzier one mainly because it was less commercial but I have to say the other one looked a bit more user friendly.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Just found out about this site. Neato. Going to look into this. Oh and now this one too
oh oh,now I have to choose.

Murder he wrote

I'm into Adultery. Perhaps I should clarify that... I have finally started Richard Wright's book. I have to admit, it has grabbing opening section. I am just into the part where he has to go home and face his family.

I only have a couple of niggling complaints, so far. Is it really believable that Daniel and Denise would have a quickie in the car by the side of the road rather than go back to their more than comfortable hotel room? If you didn't drive every time it rained in the UK you could be almost perpetually parked by the side of the road. Also, would Claire really use the word c___t to describe Denise. If Claire was of my generation ( ie. close to Daniel's age) not likely. Bitch maybe. But maybe I am a bit repressed. Daniel is narrating all this in a very detached and "dead" manner, but that perhaps is purposeful on the part of the author. I'll have to read the rest to see if it has real meaning.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Bedside reading

I am wading through Lynne Truss's second comic novella in the Lynne Truss Treasury entitled Tennyson's gift. I think I would like it if I was as knowledgeable as LT is about Tennyson and Dodgeson, Ellen Terry and everyone connected with that circle, which obviously the author is. It would be very witty I am sure if I was in the know. I loved her first one in the anthology which required only a more general knowledge.

I learned something very important, as a writer, though from this... if you write about a rather narrow subject which you know very well, you should make sure you give enough little "handrails" along the way for readers who are subject deficient. Those who are in the know can skip through them but they are invaluable props for us limping along behind.

I had better start Adultery. I should get over my reluctance.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Gaspereau Press

I was terribly impressed by Andrew Steeves who came to talk to our University Women's club members about Gaspereau Press. I knew about this local publishing house of course, that is I knew it existed but I didn't know "what it was about" if you know what I mean. I didn't know that the owners/publishers have a real passion for the book as an art object and a penchant for collecting old printing equipment and that they were so ideologically tied to the "art and craft" aspect of book- making, and committed to the idea of a community of writers, publishers, printers etc.

Andrew had a great presentation with a visuals of book making through the ages ( which sounds kind of boring but which wasn't at all) ending with how Gaspereau Press fit into the great publishing tradition. Our writing circle members have decided that a tour of the premises is a must for our group.

Train station-writing station

My writing circle meets here on Tuesday. The topic we were to be inspired by was "travel" or "a trip". I have not been inspired. Not by our trip away, not by the contrasting pictures I posted, not by Ami's success ( I really hoped that would get me going) not by my reading, not by anything.

Sitting down to write this I saw the train station photo I posted and I thought ... there is no train at the station. The train station ( ironically full of books!) with the empty tracks is a good metaphor for my writing. My writing station has been vacant. I have not been there, sitting down every day and writing as I did when I had the 50,000 words to do. Then I wrote - what was it?- something like 1700 words a day, every day for 30 days so surely if I sat down an hour or two every day something would come out. And I am sitting now and this idea of the train station just appeared. Maybe if I sit a bit longer something I can use will happen in that magical but unreliable and difficult way that it sometimes does. But if not, what to do. If not then I think I will have to pull out that 50,000 words and go through it to find a segment worth reading. Perhaps the part about Scotland. That involved a trip on the part of my protaganist....hmmm.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Win a library

From Random House! A contest open to Canadian residents only sadly, with the prize one of two libraries of books published in the last ten years, about 30 books. HatTip Ami MacKay

The Birth House Launch

I attended the launch of The Birth House by Ami MacKay at the Acadia cinema theatre the other night. It was a sold-out crowd; I was lucky to get a ticket. Lots of women, several with their babies. I bought two books; one for myself and one for a friend, Junie, who unfortunately couldn't come with me. I was impressed with the visual display Ami had projecting on the screen behind the podium with photos from the era relating to midwifery and the period she was writing about. After being introduced Ami came out glowing pride of course but still the Ami I knew from our writing class. She phoned her mother- who was ill and couldn't attend- using her cell phone when she first came out on stage, and we all said "HI" to her. Nice, different, relaxed. She read several excerpts from the book.

Then afterwards, naturally, she signed copies. There was an older lady ahead of me who said she had been born in "that house" the "birth house". I guess there were quite a few people from the community who had a connection with the house. When it was my turn and I offered my two books for her to autogrpah, Ami remembered me and Junie and asked me what I was up to so I told her I had done Nanowrimo which she applauded. And she asked if our group was still meeting and was happy to hear we were. And she remembered also her promise to come talk to my other writing circle.

It was nice and a bit inspiring. I must take a look at my Nanowrimo manuscript one of these days.

Sea Glass

Our circle met today and talked about Anita Shreve's Sea Glass. Most thought it not a bad book, perhaps emphasizing story over characterization. A notch above a Danielle Steele.

Points raised: the sea glass- symbol of beauty to be found in the unexpected, treasure from trash, symbolic of survival and even transformation in hardship, lives tossed and turned in the sands of time. One of our members brought some sea glass which she placed in a white dish. She had also done a watercolour of bits of sea glass! Wonderful.

Writing style. Most agreed that the different chapters given to each character's voice was a bit choppy and distracting at first but as the characters linked up and the story came together more as a unity this was not minded so much. I thought, as a writer, this was a relatively easy technique to pull off. It would be harder to put in the good narration to bring out the characters motivations and thinking.

Who was the most realistic character? Some thought Vivian ( as I did) , others disagreed absolutely and thought she was the least realistic. The mother, though her voice was small, was universally thought authentic. Honora- some thought her personality was a bit enigmatic , others thought that her character came through clearly from her actions and decisions in the story. Loyal, resourceful, hard working, well liked, compassionate, a woman of her time. McDermott and Alphonse, well portrayed but Sexton was less fleshed out; there was less back story on him.

The time period: Most thought the author did a good job of her research although some thought the mention of the Halifax explosion and some details were a bit forced, didn't seem natural or intrinsic to the story. All thought the details such as recipes and household tips from Honora's mother were dead on. Were the details of labour unrest in New England mills authentic? Probably.

The House: I tried to bring up the role of the house which inspired Anita Shreve's three books- The Pilot's Wife, Fortune's Rocks and Sea Glass but members didn't seem much interested in this. It was of great interest to me, my friend Ami having just written her first novel The Birth House inspired by the house she lived in which had been the house of a midwife in the community.

Next book- Adultery by Richard B. Wright

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Train Station Library

An allsorts reader JAR has a photo on her blog Daffodil Field of her library in a train station. Compare it to these shots of the Train Station Library in myTown.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Contrasting photos

I never think to post photos. This is a writing and reading journal after all but I couldn't resist this contrast. The photo left is a scene taken in our back yard earlier this winter and is more or less what we left. The photo below right is of one of the Curacao beaches we visited lately. Ah, well it was nice while it lasted and it may inspire great writing?

Tsk, tsk

I have neglected this blog. For shame. I have been away again. Yes, mentally still but this time also physically. We went to visit some friends in Curacao where we used to live for a while and although it was very nice we are glad to be home. The trip down was hellish as we left in a snowstorm Or rather we didn't at first leave in the snow storm and then did leave late in the same storm after missing all our connections. So we had to overnight in Miami and lost a day. Other than that... We did get back before the latest big storm which, had we been going through New York a day later, would have tied us up again so we must be thankful for small mercies.

I took 3 or 4 books with me and didn't crack open one of them. On the flight ( flights rather -six in all) and in the airports I did Sudokus. What can I tell you: they are better than reading for taking your mind off of those bothersome things of flying like waiting and turbulence and being tinned like sardines and waiting. And when we got to where we were going- my we were way too busy to read.

So... I have NOT read our next book club book which is Anita Shreves' Sea Glass. And we meet next week. Ah well, it won't be the first time I have read a book within a few days. It would help perhaps if I had the book in hand at least and I tried to solve this today when I went into our local independent bookstore. No luck. They didn't have it so instead I will borrow it from a friend who has been paying more attention to her reading duties.

But of course I have been reading ( not just sudokuing) . I just finished ( since we got back) Lynne Truss's With One Lousy Packet of Seed, which I had started before I left. Lousy title but great fun. I love her sense of humour, British natch. It is in The Lynne Truss Treasury which contains 2 other comic novels and some of her columns.

Okay that's it for tonight. I hope to be a more faithful poster ...

Oh, I should mention that tomorrrow I am going to a book launch of an acquaintance of mine who has just had her book published. I was in a writing class with her a few years ( 3?) ago; she was starting the book then and read us a few excerpts from it in class. Nice to see she has " made it". The book is called The Birth House and is inspired by the house where she lives which used to be the home of the local midwife.
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)