Thursday, March 28, 2013

A slap in the face from fate

Elaine, his wife, had never been able to bear this place where everything bore, like a stigma, the mold of deterioration, and this epidermal discharge had doubtless played a part in their separation. One more item in the multitude of faults that had been hurled at him out of the blue one evening the previous September. All the time she was talking, his mind had been filled with the standard image of a house eaten away by termites that suddenly collapses without the least sign of the impending disaster having been visible. The idea of trying to vindicate himself never entered his head, as it doubtless never enters the head of all those who are surprised one day be a slap in the face from fate: can you imagine justifying yourself when faced with an earthquake or an exploding mortar bomb? When his wife, suddenly an unknown woman, had demanded a divorce, Eléazard had submitted, signing everything he was asked to sign, agreeing to all the lawyer's requests, just as people allow themselves to be transported from one refugee camp to another. Their daughter, Moéma, was no problem, since whe was of age and led her own life that is, if one can call her way of shirking all obligations day in, day out, "leading a life."

Eléazard had chosen to remain in Alcântara and it was only recently, six months after Elaine had left to go to Brasilia, that he had started to go through the debris of his love, less to see what could be salvaged than to find the cause of such a mess.

— from Where Tigers Are at Home, by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

15th Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival

The 15th Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival runs April 22–28. The full program is now available on the festival website.

The recipient of this year's Grand Prix is Colm Tóibín (whom I have not read, but you can be sure I'll be reading up on him now).

And if you're in Montreal that weekend, join me Sunday, April 28, for a breakfast salon to discuss the work of Sylvia Plath, and The Bell Jar in particular.

See you there.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Just let it go

The Subversive Copy Editor, by Carol Fisher Saller, it turns out, is less a handy desk reference than it is an all-round morale booster, encouraging me in my daily grind. Yes, I am the best editor I can be, my decisions are sound, and my writers/contributors respect that. Or so I tell myself. And this book makes it a little easier to believe.

What's key, in my work these days, is to leave behind the copyediting, subediting, and to think in terms of big picture editing. I'm a capital "E" Editor now.

An assigning editor at a famous children's magazine told me of her exasperation after one of her staff had copyedited the same text in three revisions and kept finding errors. "Stop looking for mistakes!" she yelled. "Think like an editor and just let it go!"

I believe I've discovered my new mantra: Just let it go.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Biting on tinfoil

"There's something in you that's like biting on tinfoil." I love that line.

Stephen King's The Stand is very long. Too long.

This is the first time I've read anything by Stephen King (except for his essay on taxes and a page or so that was excerpted from On Writing and referenced in an editing workshop I attended).

Its treatment of characters is unbalanced, in a seemingly random way. We get little backstory for some characters that are major endplayers, and too much of others. I'd've preferred them to be threaded together more evenly, symmetrically.

As it is, King risked losing me a few times. Lucky for him I'm not a book abandoner, and it's the only book I brought with me on vacation.

Taken on their own, several of the vignettes that make up these backstories are deeply affecting.

The summary on the back cover mentions Mother Abagail. She first appears on page 455. Another 130 pages go by before she enters the story proper.

It drove me nuts that Mother Abagail's name was spelled that way, and not "Abigail." Nuts! Every time I read that name was like biting on tinfoil.

The ending was disappointing. After all the build up to armageddon, I wanted something more biblical than it was. The nuclear explosion is too neat, too '80s.

It made me seriously flinchy to be reading this on vacation — people coughed on the plane, sneezed in the dining room. I mean this in a good way, a sign that the book got under my skin.

As far as post-apocalyptic dystopian novels go, I liked it way better than Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but not nearly as much as Doris Lessing's Mara and Dann, the point of comparison being that they are stories of struggle for survival after "natural" disaster and involve epic journeys.

I know I sound down on this book, but I really enjoyed it. I love the premises on which this story is built.

There's the story of the world dying from the flu, and the story of surviving after the world has died. And the fate-and-prophecies armageddon story. All separate stories really.

I think my daughter would like this story, and while the novel is still far too advanced for her reading level and I judge some elements on the sex and gore front as too graphic, we have started watching the TV miniseries together.

I am realizing: I loved the story, it's the novel I had trouble with.

I love how Fran ends her journal entries with a list of "Things to Remember." I should list more things to remember.

I will consider reading more Stephen King in the future, but I feel no sense of urgency to do so, certainly not before I get around to The Brothers Karamazov.

A.V. Club: "Post-plague, the characters of The Stand live in a world where they can know evil when they see it."
The Guardian: "The sickness was a flu that killed 99.4% of the world's population, and it's terrifying, because we all get the flu."
New York Times: "The characters and situations are virtually all reproductions of American cultural icons."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Panic in grey

For reasons I won't get into just now, I'm doing some background reading on Sylvia Plath.

Among other books, I ordered Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, a collection of short stories, essays, and diary excerpts, and it arrived on my doorstep earlier this week. Apart from the fabulosity of that title and wishing it were the name of a punk rock band from my youth, I am loving the packaging.

I picked a 1997 hardcover edition from Buccaneer Books, paying the design no mind, because it was the cheapest and most readily available option.

It's grey. No dust jacket. No title embossed on the front, nor printing nor symbol of any kind. Just grey.

The spine displays the usual specifics, but from most angles the book is a slab of grey.

For some reason, all this grey tickles me pink. I hope this will be enough to keep me from sticking my head in the oven. If, however, you do see me slipping into a deep funk over the coming weeks, please take all my Sylvia Plath books away from me.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Jolie lectrice

We noticed it for the first time coming home from the airport last week, just blocks from home. "That's one lonely old man." "Helluva romantic." "Rich, either way."

Où es-tu
la jolie lectrice à la
robe rouge?
Tu étais ici.
Un samedi au parc, tu faisais la lecture à un homme âgé.
Nous lisons le même livre.
J'aimerais te revoir.

I spotted it again in Old Montreal (pictured here).

It plasters the wall of the metro's central hub.

In English it would go something like this:

Where are you
pretty reader in the
red dress?
You were here.
One Saturday in the park, you were reading to an old man.
We were reading the same book.
I'd like to see you again.

The arrow points to a bench, clearly in Parc Lafontaine. Although, the park hasn't looked so green in many months.

And we keep asking each other, can it be for real? Then why now (it's been a bit cold for sitting on park benches)? Or is it some obscure publicity stunt, the purpose of which is yet to be revealed? But publicity for what — a dress shop? reading in the park? What if we call the number? I dare you to call the number. It's a bit pervy if you think about it. Maybe he wants to bequeath his fortune to her. Or start a book club.

Whatever it is, it's costing a fortune.

[Actually, it's the sort of thing I can see an ex-boyfriend of mine doing. I mean a particular ex, of 25 years ago. I mean, I don't mean for me, but as an expression of his character. He's in advertising now.]

One short series of tweets testifies to poster sitings in Laval and Trois-Rivières. It has a brief newspaper mention in Sherbrooke. Apparently the man's name is William.

Most mystifying to us is how little internet trace these posters have left. What seems wildly impactful on an individual level might in fact be deemed a media failure. It's as if its tracks are being deliberately swept away.

We want it to be real. We want grand gestures. We believe in the potential of hopeless causes. We want it to be face value. I kind of want to be the girl in the park.

But the most pressing question of all has yet gone unasked: What was she reading?

Monday, March 18, 2013


This poster caught my eye when I was downtown this weekend.

Codex Seraphinianus, by Luigi Serafini, is considered by some to be the world's weirdest book. Written in a made-up language, it is essentially unreadable, and since its publication in 1981 it has amassed a cult following.

It will be payed homage, cabaret-style, at the Theatre Rialto, April 1, 2013.

The event is sponsored by, among others, the Université de Foulosophie, being a play on the words "philosophy" and fou, or "mad" (in the sense of "crazy"), though I suspect there may be something foul about it too.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Being stuck inside an egg

"I am not a religious person, but if I was I would call what has happened a judgment of God. In a hundred years, maybe two hundred, it will be ours again."

"Those trucks won't be gone in two hundred years."

"No, but the road will be. The trucks will be standing in the middle of a field or a forest, and there will be lousewort and ladies' slipper growing where their tires used to be. They won't really be trucks anymore. They will be artifacts."

"I think you're wrong."

"How can I be wrong?"

"Because we're looking for other people," Larry said. "Now why do you thing we're doing that?"

She gazed at him, troubled. "Well . . . because it's the right thing to do," she said. "People need other people. Didn't you feel that? When you were alone?"

"Yes," Larry said. "If we don't have each other, we go crazy with loneliness. When we do, we go crazy with togetherness. When we get together we build miles of summer cottages and kill each other in the bars on Saturday night." He laughed. It was a cold and unhappy sound with ho humor in it at all. It hung on the deserted air for a long time. "There's no answer. It's like being stuck inside an egg."

— from The Stand, by Stephen King.

Came back from Cuba yesterday, and this brick of a book only half read. My first Stephen King. It's good and all, and I'm interested to see how it all unfolds, but really, I would've cut a few hundred pages. Still, all-round good and thoughtful storytelling, some nice literary allusions, too much dialogue for my taste. We'll see how the next 700 pages go.

"Being stuck inside an egg." A quick Google search proves that it's not an expression original to this novel, but not exactly common. I'd never heard it before, and still can't quite pin down its meaning. Any interpretations on offer?

Monday, March 04, 2013

No one can walk beneath palm trees with impunity

No one can walk beneath palm trees with impunity
and ideas are sure to change in a land where
elephants and tigers are at home

This is the epigraph to Where Tigers Are at Home, Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès. It is taken from Goethe's Elective Affinities.

The novel is about Eleazard von Wogau, a retired French correspondent in modern Brazil, editing a biography of 17th-century Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher.

According to the description on the publisher's website,

The rest of his life seems to begin unraveling — his ex-wife goes on a dangerous geological expedition to Mato Grosso; his daughter abandons school to travel with her young professor and her lesbian lover to an indigenous beach town, where the trio use drugs and form interdependent sexual relationships; and Eleazard himself starts losing his sanity, escalated by loneliness, and his work on the biography. Patterns begin to emerge from these interwoven narratives, which develop toward a mesmerizing climax.

Jesuits! Strange manuscripts! Sex and drugs! What's not to love! (Plus the comparisons to Eco and Murakami.)

The following passage from Goethe, in a different translation, gives slightly more context:

Many times when a certain longing curiosity about these strange objects has come over me, I have envied the traveller who sees such marvels in living, every-day connection with other marvels. But he, too, must have become another man. Palm-trees will not allow a man to wander among them with impunity; and doubtless his tone of thinking becomes very different in a land where elephants and tigers are at home.

Where Tigers Are at Home was written in French. Originally published in 2008, it won the Prix Médicis that year. It is released in English by Other Press on March 5.

I will be reading it beneath palm trees. With impunity.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Beach reading

Seven days, one beach, 2261 pages. Packed, and ready to go.

I suspect I'm being overly optimistic. It is a family vacation after all.

The page breakdown is as follows:
1439 pages, The Stand, by Stephen King
822 pages, Where Tigers Are at Home, by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès

I had decided weeks ago that it was time to read The Stand. So I bought it, and I've been meaning to take it for a test drive, make sure it feels right, but I haven't really had time.

On the other hand, I have started reading Where Tigers Are at Home, but as much as it intrigues me, it's an e-ARC in image PDF, so not easily zoomable and causing me some eye strain. (At this very moment, I'm leaning toward not taking it, but...)

I only hope everyone's right about how good The Stand is, or I may be sitting there, on the beach, with 2261 pages and nothing to read.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Books on buildings

To Flavorwire's Books on Buildings: 20 Bookish Murals From Around the World, I would add the mural in my daughter's school playground. Flying books!

(I didn't take this picture — I grabbed it off the Internet. There are generally no cars in yard, and right now it's more of an ice rink, and more gray. Over the years the mural has been marred. The playground is scheduled to be refurbished and landscaped next summer, and I don't think the mural is included in the reenvisioning of that space. It was created by the sister of one the educateurs at the daycare my daughter used to attend.)