Goodbye…

January 22, 2014

I think this is goodbye, at least for now. For the last couple years I haven’t been able to keep up here as much as I’d like, and it’s not fair to leave it around without offering regular content. I’ve loved talking books and culture with you, and the conversations will go on, in other ways and other places.

Books of 2013

December 7, 2013

January

Dave Cullen. Columbine.

Ken Jennings. Because I Said So.

Nate Silver. The Signal and the Noise.

Gavin deBecker. The Gift of Fear.

Kenneth Oppel. This Dark Endeavor

Ally Condie. Matched.

Nicholson Baker. The Anthologist.

Caitlin Moran. How to be a Woman.

John Boyne. The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket.

Dick Wolf. The Intercept.

Greg Malone. Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders.

The highlight from January was probably Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist. Alongside all the teen books and non-fiction, the novel was fun and touching, and I like Baker’s creative fiction. The sequel, Traveling Sprinkler, came out in the second half of the year, and is also a lot of fun.

February

John Green. The Fault in our Stars.

Shirley Jackson. We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Kevin Powers. The Yellow Birds.

Richard Wagamese. Indian Horse.

Jan Andrews. When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew.

Eric Walters. Power Play.

David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview.

Bram Stoker. Dracula.

Highlights: Fault in Our Stars and Indian Horse. Ignore: Dracula. A friend called it a “slow-moving cheese wheel”, and that sums it up.

March

Franny Moyle. Constance (on Mrs. Oscar Wilde).

Stephen Hunter. The Third Bullet.

Paula Byrne. The Real Jane Austen.

Sarah Dessen. What Happened to Goodbye.

Charles Phillips. Illustrated History of the Kings and Queens of Britain.

March’s Third Bullet is when I realized I need to stop reading thrillers (mystery thrillers, not horror thrillers). I keep trying, but don’t like them anymore.

April

Sheldon Kennedy. Why I didn’t Say Anything.

Elsie Chapman. Dualed.

Michael Grant. Gone.

CS Lewis. Magician’s Nephew.

Sharon McKay. War Brothers: The Graphic Novel.

Paul Auster/JM Coetzee. Here and Now: Letters.

Allan Casey: Lakeland.

Mason Currey. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.

David Sedaris. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls.

More YA, more non-fiction, but it was mostly a lot of fun. Listen to David Sedaris’ books in audio…his delivery makes it. Lakeland will instill a love of Canada’s freshwater in anyone, environmentalist or not.

May

Brian K. Vaughan. Pride of Baghdad.

DFW. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.

Phil Robertson. Happy Happy Happy.

Georges St. Pierre. The Way of the Fight.

Corey Mintz. How to Host a Dinner Party.

Samuel Beckett. Waiting for Godot.

Attempted and abandoned: Aldous Huxley. Brave New World. Just wasn’t doing it for me.

A lot of variety this month, and they were mostly pretty good examples in their genre: graphic novels, non-fiction, the play…Oh, just noticed, no novels. Weird.

June

Morrison/Quitely. WE3.

James Martin. My Life With the Saints.

Andrew Sullivan. Love Undetectable.

Dan Savage. American Savage.

Lily Koppel. The Astronaut Wives Club.

Read the Martin and the Sullivan, whether you think they’ll have insight for your life or not. Ignore Dan Savage (lots of fun, but not a lot of insight) and the Koppel: read Wolfe’s Right Stuff instead.

July

George Packer. The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.

Neil Gaiman. The Ocean At the End of the Lane.

Rick Riordan. The Lost Hero.

Khaled Husseini. And the Mountains Echoed.

Wesley King. The Feros.

Katherine Longshore. Tarnish.

George Packer’s book is long, worthwhile, and terrifying.

August

Anne Serling. As I Knew Him.

Don Gillmor. Stratford Behind the Scenes.

Vincent Bugliosi. Reclaiming History.

Reza Aslan. Zealot.

Anne Serling’s book is largely a content look back at the life and work of her father, Rod, but also considers what it’s like to lose a parent in your 20s. Vincent Bugliosi’s consideration of JFK assassination conspiracy theories doth protest too much sometimes, is overlong, and doesn’t hold to the standards of argument he thinks it does, but his very detailed outlines of the life and actions of Lee Harvey Oswald has me convinced over all the conspiracy theories.

September

JRR Tolkein. The Hobbit.

Meet The Press: 65 Years.

Henrik Ibsen. Hedda Gabler.

Samuel Beckett. Waiting for Godot.

Samantha Shannon. The Bone Season.

Gilpi. The Secret Daughter.

Jeff Lindsay. Dexter: Final Cut.

A lot of re-reads, but they were all worthwhile. Read Gilpi’s Secret Daughter, which was beautiful even if heavy-handed at times. Don’t bother with Shannon’s Bone Season, no matter what the hype.

October

Diane Setterfield. The Thirteenth Tale.

Ramsey Beyer. Little Fish.

Rainbow Rowell. Fangirl.

Nicholson Baker. Traveling Sprinkler.

Aidan Chambers. Dying to Know You.

Malcolm Gladwell. David and Goliath.

John Lewis et. al. March, Book 1.

David Levithan. Boy Meets Boy.

Si Robertson. Si-cology 101.

GREAT YA books here. Look at any of Beyer (graphic), Rowell, Chambers, or Levithan. And everyone alive should take the time to read the graphic retelling of the first portion of John Lewis’ experience in the civil rights movement.

November

Carol Shields. The Stone Diaries.

Brian Jay Jones. Jim Henson.

Stephen Jimenez. The Book of Matt.

Allie Brosh. Hyperbole and a Half.

Don DeLillo. Libra.

Jo Baker. Longbourn.

Pick up Jones’ biography of Henson and Jo Baker’s reimagined world from Austen. Jimenez’ investigation into the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard would have been better as a longform article…there’s too much he just hints at for a book of this length.

December

Earle Labor. Jack London: An American Life.

Kathleen Winter. Annabel.

JD Salinger. Catcher in the Rye.

Catcher is a re-read with my teen book club. The Jack London bio is fascinating. Annabel is the real gem. A beautiful, Canadian novel. If there’s time this month: CS Lewis’ A Grief Observed, and Seth’s illustrated volume of Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches.

Not a bad year in reading. The headstart I got at getting close to 100 books with YA and novels was all sucked up by huge books like the Packer and Bugliosi. Maybe I need to get back to fiction…

Happy Holidays!

Blithe Spirit

October 7, 2013

It was so much fun. Clever, lovely, seemingly light-as-air (like Elvira), but with a heart…

I do think in the same way I loved the Romantics and now find them stilted, I’ve gotten over the drawing room comedy. Perfectly entertaining as it is, and this one was perfectly presented, it’s stuffed full, where I yearn for spareness. I can love the wit of Wilde and Coward, but I may just be done going to see them.

A quick read may be a different story…I love that these couples fight in their smart, fiery way, and still so clearly love each other so much. Shades of Beatrice and Benedick…with a clever mid-century twist.

Book club

September 21, 2013

So I was asked to run an adult book club at work, aside from my “regular job” that’s teens and e-resources. I said yes, hoping it would expose me to the sorts of books I’ve been too lazy to pick up (literary fiction, which can be uneven…so I’ve been sticking with a lot of non-fiction, which is more predictable) and get me back to the kind of attentive reading I did as a lit student.

And the first book (I can’t speak to the first meeting, that comes on Monday) was a great success. Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s Secret Daughter. Not a perfect book…sometimes the interior lives of the characters are a bit heavy-handed, for instance. But she builds up patterns in a way that’s just subtle enough, and she’s content with a realistic ending, instead of the perfect one so many novelists seem to go for. I’m looking forward to the discussion, and hope I can regain some of the facilitation skills I once had. Time to get nimble again, brain!

Waiting for Godot

September 7, 2013

This may have been the most perfect piece of theatre I’ve ever seen.

The acting was stunning. Tom Rooney and Stephen Ouimette were fabulously balanced; Brian Dennehy was, well, Brian Dennehy; Randy Hughson was heartbreaking and terrifying as Lucky (what a name!) and even the boy(s?) stood their test well.

In the program the director talks about silence and space, and these things are all, in Waiting. How to pass the time while waiting leads to the question of how to exist in time and space when you don’t have any effect…on anything…even to the extent of not knowing where one was the day before.

And what to say about Beckett? It’s as though, in its spareness, the play contains multitudes. The other line to strike me from the program was that “Godot is a comedy whose actions take place in the field of tragedy.” I think this is what we were getting at at intermission as we discussed cruelty/evil in the play. Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky is a scandal, as Vladimir exclaims, but he may not be innately cruel. The world they live in has treated all of them very cruelly, though (if Vladimir and Estragon were to “drop” Godot, he’d punish them, Didi says).

It’s levels upon levels upon levels. There’s the social/class commentary of Pozzo/Lucky and the situation of V. and E., tied up in postwar concerns. There’s meta-theatrical commentary (“But nothing happens!”). These lead to the existential problem — the centre cannot hold; how to find meaning in a world in stasis, with no reaction to (and barely any memory of) your presence.

It’s so spare that every line is endowed with an incredible amount of meaning. And the people who brought it to life were masters, all.

The Dream

August 5, 2013

A friend just shared with me Anne Serling’s book, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling. This was a piece I wanted to share, from a commencement address he gave in 1970:

“…It’s simply a national acknowledgement that in any kind of priority, the needs of human beings must come first. Poverty is here and now. Hunger is here and now. Racial tension is here and now. Pollution is here and now. These are the things that scream for a response. And if we don’t listen to that scream–and if we don’t respond to it–we may well wind up sitting amidst our own rubble, looking for the truck that hit us–or the bomb that pulverized us. Get the license number of whatever it was that destroyed the dream. And I think we will find that the vehicle was registered in our own name.”

Before reading this, I finished George Packer’s The Unwinding, tracking three “regular” Americans over the last 30 years. Like a modern, non-fiction Steinbeck novel. I think the truck, or the bomb, has hit. But I also hope that, in ingenuity, compassion, creativity, kindness, Americans have enough insurance to start over.

It was understudy day at Tommy (from Captain Walker on down), and I’m amazed at how many of the players were making their Stratford debuts (all the way up to Robert Markus, Tommy himself), but Pete and Des’ show is resilient and vivid.

Everything’s been consolidated and condensed from the album and from Russell’s sprawling movie. With a few decades’ distance and the partnership of Des, Townshend’s vague story comes into focus. The relationships between the 40s, 50s and 60s, and between celebrity and spirituality, get more clear.

The direction and choreography, and lots of McAnuff’s team, are from the Broadway run in the 1990s. New to this production are some incredible visual effects, including the use of live video shot by cast members (and yes, Des directed that 2009 Macbeth with those stunning videos!).

I think the best gig I’ve ever seen on a Stratford stage is riding a spinning, bumping, sparking, flaming pinball machine.

Longform

July 8, 2013

“Your heart breaks when even the best novel sags a tiny bit, as they all must, sort of like the give in bridge suspension. A great short story is more like a stiff plank across a narrow but bottomless crevasse. The plank will hold. But that doesn’t mean you are not in danger of freaking out and falling off.”

Sam Lipsyte, found by Sully.

Faith Healer

July 2, 2013

So much to think about in Faith Healer, I’m not entirely sure what all to write.

When I read a very short description of the play (the work of a faith healer is described in monologues by him, his wife/mistress, and his manager, somehow trying to get through memory and confusion to something like truth), I was fascinated. And then I saw the cast: two Shaw favourites, Jim Mezon and Peter Krantz, plus (for us) a relative newcomer in Corrine Koslo, who was more than able to hold her own, offering a tour de force…but I can’t say that, because all three of them were so perfectly balanced.

And balance is such a strange thing to say about the acting, because the whole play is about being off-balance and searching for it. We can never be sure, until the end, what “happened”. All these filters of performance and story and history and memory. We only come to some conclusion in the last line: “At long last I was renouncing chance.” Claiming certainty from a trio of lives that have been characterized by miracle and sorrow but most of all by uncertainty.

Mom caught the thread by intermission, and it held true. Frank, the faith healer, as the ‘expression’, language, show. Grace (what a name!) as ’emotion’. We wondered if Teddy would play the role of ‘truth’. The trickster, huckster, fool — but TRUE.

And all three of these pieces are the keys to narration, story, memory. How we make sense of our lives. Poetic expression, strong emotion, coming to truth. At the end, what survives is what’s true.

Book of Mormon

June 16, 2013

Fun, fun, fun. Hilarious, heartwarming, great songs and choreography.

Hadn’t been at Shea’s in Buffalo since I’ve been a child, but it was just as wondrous a place now as then (what old glamour!). Full of theatrical pomp.

Wasn’t the best place, at least from our seats, to hear all of the show. Overamplified, I think. Excited to listen to the cast recording and catch all the quick, quiet jokes we missed.

Cast was amazing. Mark Evans, Elder Price, is from the UK. Christopher John O’Neill, Elder Cunningham, is unbelieveably making his professional debut. And one or two young Canadians in the company, too.

Excited for what Parker, Stone and Lopez do next…but it’s awfully hard to imagine it’ll be even better than Book of Mormon.