Monday, November 28, 2005

Insert clever title here

My sister visited for 24 hours this weekend, and I took no pictures. We had a marvelous time — Helena insists "Ciocia Iwonka est tres drole," though I fail to see it — and we remain basking in the glow of the birthday gifts she lavished upon us.

We went for a walk in the snow to buy bagels to send home with my sister. Even as we discussed the pointlessness of, for example, mothers sending their grown children home with pre-packaged goods. But these are Montreal bagels.

I later made awesome sandwiches, with bagels of my own and leftover roast beef, inspired by Jamie Oliver, even though just hours earlier I'd snickered at the thought that the book (a gift to me, which I'd requested) should include sandwich recipes. Who needs a recipe for sandwiches? But I admit the usefulness of such advice as "if your eyes don't water you need more mustard." (I'm convinced, perhaps wrongly, that I don't need a cookbook, I just need inspiration.)

Other gifts I'll be enjoying over the weeks to come:
Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad (U.S edition, which cover art I prefer), inscribed to me personally, though I'm debating postponing its reading till after I've familiarized myself with the Homer's Odyssey. Ya, right.
Japer Fforde's The Big Over Easy, a Nursery Crime book (in which he signed himself just Jasper).
And Gormenghast on DVD.
Oh, I am so lucky.

Helena's trainset — from drole Ciocia Iwonka — is awesome!

Helena drives all the little trains into their "house" (repair shop). Then the tugboat knocks on their door and they all have tea. Helena turns them all on their side and kisses them goodnight. When they wake up they have turns at running Mr Topham Hatt off the bridge.

How do I explain that the picture on the box in no way necessitates the manner in which we configure the tracks? Helena insists on this and is wary of any deviation. Almost as much as I insist we look to the picture on the box for guidance in completing jigsaw puzzles.

A couple weeks ago Helena wanted me to open the 500-piece jigsaw puzzle stored on the top shelf of her closet, and very stupidly, I caved in to her demands. Of course it's too hard! Of course she mixed all the pieces up with the 100 of another puzzle she was helping me with! This weekend, she wanted to try that puzzle again, and stupidly, I thought it'd be a great opportunity to sort all 600 pieces to their respective boxes. I am so stupid. And very mad at myself for being impatient with her for moving around already sorted pieces, breaking apart and reconfiguring already built borders. I hate that feeling of wronging my daughter, almost as much as I hate being interrupted while puzzling. And when I heard Helena ask if the reason Papa was getting her ready for bed was "parce que Mama est busy," I cried.

On the up side, she's as drawn to jigsaw puzzles as I ever was (and I have not been pushy about it — cross my heart and kiss my elbow!). I can't wait for the day, 2 or 3 Christmases from now, I reckon, when Helena, my sister, and I huddle together for long hours, in our pyjamas, drinking port or tea, refusing to go to bed till the damn puzzle's done. Damn puzzles.


It's that time of year again for The Great Canadian Literary Quiz. Does anybody do well on these? Is it me, or are they hard? I can answer 7 of 40 (confidently, if not with certainty). One of the possible answers to #12, though I don't know if it's the "highbrow" one, is Joseph Mitchell, and I mention it only because Joe Gould's Secret, both the book and the movie, had a profound impact on me — cuz it's not about Joe Gould at all, it's about Joseph Mitchell's obsession — and you should read it, watch it, love it, be awed.

Last week I purchased, as a post-birthday treat, the latest Lemony Snicket book, and read it one evening and afternoon. A bit of a letdown, really, not nearly so strong in plot or parody as the preceding volumes. But yes, I look forward to the 13th and final instalment.

I'm taking a break from A.S. Byatt's A Whistling Woman. While the characters are multifaceted and emotionally complex, Byatt writes rather clinically about them. Whether this is her intention or her failure I have yet to determine. I loved the ideas in Babel Tower, felt intellectually (and consequently emotionally) involved. But with this follow-up novel I feel completely removed, and disappointed. However, it persists in having an organic dialogue with other recently read books: Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake and Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook (both of which I still intend to write a little something about).

I'd received from J-F a book that surprised me — I'd made no mention of wanting to read it; in fact, it had barely registered on my radar. But 100 pages in, I'm finding Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys to be a lovely light diversion and, in this sense, a very fitting birthday gift after all.

I feel like I'm forgetting something.


Anonymous said...

Isabella, is The Whistling Woman a follow up to Babel Tower? I'm curious if you've read the two books that came before Babel Tower, The Virgin in the Garden and Still Life. Still Life was my introduction to A.S. Byatt, and I adored it, and I've had my eye out for related books ever since. I enjoyed Babel Tower too, but I had a little trouble with the censored book premise. It's always a problem for me when someone in a novel is made much of for being incredibly talented, a genius; when the author includes the material that is supposed to be so amazing, or in this case, so shocking, I'm often a little underwhelmed. Wow, that didn't make much sense. I haven't finished my morning coffee.

I also love puzzles and almost never have time for them, but my mother and I did jigsaw puzzles for hours before my boys were born. They are lovely when you have stretches of time to fill.

Isabella K said...

Yes, Whistling Woman is the fourth in the quartet. I have not read the first two. I keep meaning to, and at this point in WW I could really benefit from some insight into Frederica's family history and early years (which I assume they cover).

I completely relate to the underwhelmed feeling. I've read a couple things like this (titles aren't springing to mind), where I think the author would be better off leaving the material in question to its reputation. (However, if it were left out, I'd be demanding to see it, to hear it speak for itself.)

In WW she "quotes" from her roommate's just published fantasy novel. Haven't figured out its relevance yet, but at least it's not touted as a work of genius.

Julie recently called Byatt cold, and I have to agree. I know rationally I'm supposed to feel something for these characters, but I don't. Byatt's technically adept, but the soul is missing.

Raehan said...


I just want to say how much I enjoy your writing. I have not been coming over here, as much as I would like to, but I plan to now that things are slowing down.

I love playing with good toddler toys. Good ones. There are a lot of bad ones out there that drive me batty, too.