Archive | October, 2009

Mightier Than the Sword

27 Oct
World Without End, Ken Follett


Last week I finished World Without End by Ken Follett. At 1024 pages, it really had to earn its daily 10-lb spot in my purse.

A lot of people have made the very important point that if we all got Kindled, hotties on the bus would have no way of knowing if we were reading Dostoevsky. In my case, I think publicly flaunting a hefty book served an even more practical purpose – it made me look tough. I’d flounce onto the tube and whip out this encyclopedic brick and people would know I meant business. No more stranger-danger! And it’s not the first time I’ve witnessed the awesome self-defense power of a nice, meaty hardcover.

My family once took a little trip down Ukraine-way. It was not exactly a bustling tourist destination at the time (1996), but we managed with my dad’s so-so Ukrainian skills and a local guy with a 9-seater van. One night, dad and Misha the driver went off to look for a hotel and my mom was left alone with the three of us kids. Suddenly a man threw open the side door and jumped in. There was a heated English/Ukrainian exchange, and miraculously, the man finally took off. Five minutes later, more men, more door slamming and yelling. Did I mention the door wouldn’t lock from the inside?

By the time a pair of purple-haired ladies hit the scene, we started to think we might’ve misjudged the situation. We eventually learned that not only was our vacay-van a public transit mini-bus, but we were also parked in the actual mini-bus stop. It was all worth it though, because somewhere between the KGB lookalikes and a group of pale Chernobyl kids, my mom frantically hissed, “Girls, get me my book. Get me my book!” and then sat crouched beside the door, clutching her hardcover.

It was pretty scary for a couple minutes there, but even my six-year-old sister wasn’t about to miss out on the comic potential of my mom actually clocking some unsuspecting Ukrainian dude with a copy of The Stone Diaries or something.

Food for the Thoughtful

21 Oct

Eatng Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer


In this essay for The Times Magazine (adapted from his new non-fiction book, Eating Animals, out in November) Jonathan Safran Foer writes about his decision(s) to go veg, from misguided high-school attempts to renewed efforts upon the birth of his first son. 

He manages to make absolutely everything sound kind of sad and kind of dreamy:

In the meantime, my choice on their behalf means they will never eat their great-grandmother’s singular dish. They will never receive that unique and most direct expression of her love, will perhaps never think of her as the greatest chef who ever lived. Her primal story, our family’s primal story, will have to change.


Some of my happiest childhood memories are of sushi “lunch dates” with my mom, and eating my dad’s turkey burgers with mustard and grilled onions at backyard celebrations, and of course my grandmother’s chicken with carrots. Those occasions simply wouldn’t have been the same without those foods — and that is important. To give up the taste of sushi, turkey or chicken is a loss that extends beyond giving up a pleasurable eating experience. Changing what we eat and letting tastes fade from memory create a kind of cultural loss, a forgetting. But perhaps this kind of forgetfulness is worth accepting — even worth cultivating (forgetting, too, can be cultivated). To remember my values, I need to lose certain tastes and find other handles for the memories that they once helped me carry.

Wowza. I would have just said something like, “But what about Taco Tuesdays?”

Do I Smell a “Merv the Perv” Series?

12 Oct

Lisa and Randy

Lisa and Randy


As I mentioned earlier, I love to find out about the nuts and bolts and neuroses that go into a book. I’ll be satisfying this curiosity by (hopefully) interviewing lots of writers, as well as other booky folk.

First up: Rookie novelist Lisa Guenther, who lives on a farm in rural Saskatchewan and is busy writing a fiction novel based in… yes, rural Saskatchewan (small town Can Lit is a fine tradition to be a part of! No matter what Victoria Glendinning says!).

The writer’s pets are Wanda (cat) and Rufus (furbaby).

What’s the breakfast of a writing champion?  I don’t know, but my breakfast, without variation, is home-made, plain yogurt, homemade cereal, and some sort of fruit.

How long can you continuously write without taking a break?  It depends. Anywhere from half an hour to a couple of hours. I don’t force it – if I need a break, I’ll grab a cup of tea or something. I just try to meet my goal, which is usually a chapter.

Come across any interesting words lately?  Mendacity – a lie. Example: “This room is full of mendacity.” From “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Also “furbaby” – a puppy. My friend Kim introduced me to that one when she found out I was getting a puppy.

Do you have a lucky pen or notebook for ideas?  I have several writing journals and several pens – I guess they’re all lucky

Who do you imagine as your readers?  When I think of future readers, I think of people I actually know. My friends in Edmonton. You, and other folks from this neighbourhood. 

How do you store your books?  Messy stacks on a bookshelf. I just moved, so the ones I don’t look at often are in plastic totes.

What’s your favourite non-book thing to read? The Western Producer (farm newspaper) or a good blog.

Do you judge a book by its cover?  Yes, always. Especially if it’s an author I’m not familiar with. Some authors have a similar look to their book covers, making it easier to pick out their new books on a crowded shelf. When I saw “The Flying Troutman,” I knew instantly that it was Miriam Toews’ new book, as it has a similar cover to “A Complicated Kindness.” I usually read the first few sentences too – if they don’t grab me, I don’t buy it.

What’s your first creative writing memory?  In grade one or two I wrote a creative non-fiction piece about these older boys that mooned me and my friend. We then tattled on them, and they got in trouble.

What’s the worst thing you think you’ve written?  Melodramatic poetry from high school. Bleh.

A freestyle writing challenge (A character muses that they like the smell of burning garbage):  The smell of burning pop bottles flows like water into Merv’s nostrils. Without thinking, he inhales deeply, and exhales a contented sigh. Suddenly embarrassed, he glances furtively around the dump, afraid that someone has noticed his strange reaction. Scolding himself silently, he heaves the last bag of garbage into the burning pit, lumbers to the open door of his beat-up half-ton, and slowly drives away.


Lisa's Books

And Tango Makes Squee!

3 Oct

And Tango Makes Three

It’s the last day of Banned Books Week! (but thankfully, it’s more like, books the red states tried to ban). This is really just an excuse for me to talk about the most complained about book this year: And Tango Makes Three, which may as well be called, “Gay Penguins are Cute, Baby Penguins are Even Cuter: Based on a True Cute Story.” Homosexual zoo animals might really do some damage to a kid’s development when instead they could be watching a team of forensic scientists solve a rape/murder on prime time.

Sliding in at #2 is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. People get pretty touchy about the whole killing you-know-who thing. Apparently, Pullman enjoys his comfy spot on the Banned list. And well he should – Tango’s new bad-boy image resulted in a huge sales boost.


The Subtle Knife