Wednesday, August 30, 2006

About elevators

It feels like a crime novel. Noir. The prose is clipped, the images gritty and surreal; the plot and characters are wholly engrossing. It's philosophical and allegorical. The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead, is beautiful.

There's a Guild, for which the position of Chair, a government office, is up for election next week. An accident and an investigation. Internal Affairs. The minions of unknown employers conducting "interviews" and ransacking homes. Corporate interests and mob involvement.

And it's all about elevators.

There are two schools of elevator inspectors: the Empiricists (by-the-book examiners of the machinery) and Intuitionists (who are guided by, for example, the sound and "feel" of an elevator to detect problems). Lila Mae Watson graduated from the Institute for Vertical Transport and is the Guild's first black woman inspector. She's also an Intuitionist.

(One of the most interesting things (to me) about this novel is that if you tilt your head just right you can almost see how it might be written, how this slightly off reality could be created from everday scraps filtered through an uncommon perspective (in this case, the elevator inspector's). I felt a similar effect reading Auster's In the Country of Last Things and to a lesser degree Mantel's Beyond Black. It's a different kind of creative imagination than involves original plotting or oddball characters. There's something skewed, exaggerated, brought into relief, but you can sense something you know at its core, you can almost see it when you walk through that part of the city at a certain time of day.)

Here's a flashback to Lila Mae's school days I found highly entertaining:
"The Dilemma of the Phantom Passenger asks what happens when the passenger who has engaged the call button departs, whether he changed his mind and took the stairs or caught an up-tending car when he wanted to go down because he did not feel like waiting. It asks what happens to the elevator he summoned."

Professor McKean said, "That's right. Fulton asks this question and leaves it to the reader, abruptly proceeding on to the psychology of the Door Close button. How do you think Fulton would answer his question?"

"Obviously, " Gorse said, "the elevator arrives, the doors open for the standard loading time, and the doors close. That's it."

Johnson, the burly freshman who always sat next to Lila Mae, ignored Gorse and offered in his stumbling voice, "I think that Fulton would say that the elevator arrives but the doors do not open. If there's no need for the doors to open, then the vertical imperative does not apply."

Professor McKean nodded. "Any other theories?"

Bernard, who could usually be relied upon to provide a sensible response, said, "For one thing, the vertical imperative applies to the elevator's will, and doesn't apply to passengers. I think what Fulton was referring to in this section was the 'index of being' — where the elevator is when it is not in service. If, as the index of being tells us, the elevator does not exist when there is no freight, human or otherwise, then I think in this case the doors open and the elevator exists, but only for the loading time. Once the doors close, the elevator returns to nonbeing — 'the eternal quiescence' — until called into service again." Bernard sat back in metal chair, satisfied.

Professor McKean said simply, "That's good. Anyone else?"

Lila Mae waited for someone to give her an answer. No one did. Lila Mae cleared her throat and said in a thin voice, "Fulton is trying to trick the reader. An elevator doesn't exist without its freight. If there's no one to get on, the elevator remains in quiescence. The elevator and the passenger need each other."

Professor McKean nodded quickly and then inquired of this pupil, "And if we set up a film camera in the hallway to see what would happen, what would we see when we developed the film, Watson?"

Lila Mae met his eyes. "By leaving the camera there, you've created what Fulton calls 'the expectation of freight.' The camera is a passenger who declines to get on the elevator, not a phantom passenger. The film would record that the doors open, the elevatar waits, and then the doors close."


New York Times

Betraying a weakness

My mother lets out a cry, a sharp intake of breath stifling a pained sob. "My table!" An apparent scratch, a thin line like wood wriggling across white, about an inch long at the very middle of the table. Her face is clenched in an awful vise, part horror, part dismay, part dam against the welling of tears.

I know that face. I've inherited that face.

It turns out not to be a scratch, not in the veneer but on close examination bulging convex on its surface. The faintest whisper of a drizzle of jam tracing the shadow of the spoon path from jar to plate. Or maybe chocolate milk splatter from the flick of Helena's straw. It flakes away under my fingernail. My mother sighs with relief.

The table is near 25 years old. Round, white particle board atop tubular legs. Nothing special.

An extreme, unjustified reaction, I think, on the part of my mother. I wonder was it always this way? Was she always like this? When I was little, too? Or did it start only after I left home?

It's a long week.

Helena is tired after a full day's shopping, and bored. I'm on the phone. Helena bundles up a doll, finds keys, packs a purse with snacks, for their metro journey to some imaginary place. My purse. My purse after our shopping expedition contains a bottle of cranberry juice, about a third full. Helena gives some to her doll and returns it to my purse. I'm on the phone.

I relay hugs and kisses from her Papa. Helena invites me to sit beside her in the metro, asks if I'm thirsty, retrieves the bottle from the purse, offers me a sip of her juice. I grasp the bottle. Not just sticky. Dripping.

I grab my purse and set it on the kitchen table (yes, that kitchen table), stretch open its mouth and begin the extraction with a lump in my throat, as if the removal of contents in the wrong order might release a secondary detonation from the shallow red pool collected at the bottom.

I don't mind about the purse, my carryall, a messenger bag really. Wallet, case for my glasses, comb, powder compact, empty tupperware-type snack container, pens — all wipe clean easily. A package of kleenex, some stray receipts are garbage. The bag itself rinses easily, will be dry well before I leave the house again. It's the books I mind about.

I take a deep breath. Helena has already apologized, is standing by, wanting to help. I say nothing. We take care of our books. She knows this. And you shouldn't play with mommy's purse either. She doesn't often, and when she does I don't mind. This was an accident, I know. I wipe the books down, fan the pages, prop them up to dry. I go hide in the bathroom to cry.

My emergency transit reading, a cheap Dover Thrift Edition, I expected to someday look worn. But I feel sorry for Harold's Circus, purchased just the day before — for $3.99 and it's not even mine.

Weeks later, my transit reading is back in my bag — the dye crept off the page as it dried, leaving a faint pink tinge along the book's bottom edge. Harold also retained barely any colour; the bottom few millimetres of every page are "water" stained and lightly rippled — it looks still wet. It has not diminished Helena's enjoyment of the story.

That night we survey the damage. It's still wet, but that's not going to stop us from reading it. Very seriously Helena tells me, "C'est pas grave, Maman."

Something passed between us that day, a look, when first I yelped and later when my eyes were tired. She knows I overreacted. And she knows I know I overreacted. I think she is both startled and amused by this knowledge, puzzled by what (im/ap)plication it might have. I can't help feeling like I've given her something she may choose to call up many years from now — ammunition.

12 books in 120 seconds

A series of unfortunate events summarized, narrated by Tim Curry. View at your own risk. Better perhaps to frolic on a pony.

Monday, August 28, 2006

About the bookshop

The Haunted Bookshop, by Christopher Morley, refers to Roger Mifflin's Parnassus at Home, the Brooklyn shop where he (having retired from the bookmobile business) sells used books, haunted by "the ghosts of books I haven't read. Poor uneasy spirits, they walk and walk around me. There's only one way to lay the ghost of a book, and that is to read it."

So I read it. It is charming, sweet, funny, etc, but not quite so carefree as its predecessor.

Written in 1919, this little mystery story (no ghosts or hauntings, by the way) strings together several monologues (some disguised as debates or letters) mostly about the importance of literature, the power of books (in shaping our leaders!), but also against war, and with plenty of anti-German sentiment thrown in.

One of the most interesting exchanges, still timely today, concerns whether the publishing industry drives the public's tastes or feeds its demands and what role the bookseller plays between them.

While I agree with most of his points, Roger Mifflin tends to sermonize, and given the type of person likely to pick up this book, he's preaching to the choir. Repeatedly he makes the case for "good books" — real literature — over the pulp the vast majority of the public consumes (without ever really defining the qualities that constitute either; we all have a sense of what falls into these categories...).

"...if the stuff's amusing, it has its place. The human yearning for innocent pastime is a pathetic thing, come to think about it. It shows what a desperately grim thing life has become. One of the most significant things I know is that breathless, expectant, adoring hush that falls over a theatre at a Saturday matinee, when the house goes dark and the footlights set the bottom curtain in a glow, and the latecomers tank over our feet climbing into their seats — [...] but it makes me sad to see what tosh is handed out to that eager, expectant audience, most of the time. There they all are, ready to be thrilled, eager to be worked upon, deliberately putting themselves into that glorious, rare, receptive mood when they are clay in the artist's hand — and Lord! what miserable substitutes for joy and sorrow are put over on them! Day after day I see people streaming into theatre and movies, and I know that more than half the time they are on a blind quest, thinking they are satisfied when in truth they are fed on paltry husks. And the sad part about it is that if you let yourself think you are satisfied with husks, you'll have no appetite left for the real grain."

This book then is a light snack, nutritious and tasty, but not very filling. The stuff's amusing, and has its place.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Renee's audio book club

Because sometimes we want to talk and listen about books, rather than write and read about them.

Renee has the brilliant idea to produce an audio montage of readers talking about a single book. The first selection is Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Call 415.992.8622:
Tell me whatever you want about the novel. Tell me what you liked, what you disliked, or just your reactions. What made you think? What images or words stuck with you? Read me passages from the book... Feel free to be creative.

At present there is no fixed deadline for voicemall submissions. I haven't read the book yet, but am considering it.

Read more about Renee's project here.

I can't wait to hear what everyone has to say about this book, to put voices to your names, and to know what future selections are in store.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I generally read one book at a time.

While I found the recent essay on compulsive book-starting mildly amusing, I couldn't relate. I readily admit to the compulsion to buy and to own books, but I work through them rather methodically. I actually feel pretty smug at this, my restraint, but also knowing what reading material I have on hand, knowing my pace and having a sense of the time available to me, knowing what can wait for later. My stack of unread books is under control. So I thought.

When other bloggers started counting and listing, I thought I'd do the same. I checked to see what was by my bed, and then I noticed there were books under the bed and remembered the bottom shelf of the nearby bookcase. I thought uh-oh, and walked away.

A few days later I'd mustered up the courage for a closer look. In all, about three dozen books, including nonfiction, which I don't read very often and which I don't always read cover to cover, dipping into it over years, using it as a reference; some titles had already been dipped into. There are a few books I will likely never read: a couple used books that smell funny, a couple misguided impulses, a couple castoffs from friends. Some are books I fully intend to read someday, but haven't found the time or frame of mind for (among these, Proust, Ulysses, Dickens, and Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle), and some of them have been there for years, but I do not suffer guilt for these. Only a handful of the unread books chastise me. Not so bad.

My book-buying binges may result in one step back, but I rationalize that my reading and general acquisition habits push me many more steps forward.

Book acquired before going on vacation, in case I couldn't cope with War and Peace and finished my ongoing light read (remaindered):
Captain Alatriste, Arturo Pérez-Reverte — Which begins, "He was not the most honest or pious of men, but he was courageous." I've thoroughly enjoyed all of Pérez-Reverte's books (although The Nautical Chart significantly less so, but I think because I was reading it in the obgyn's waiting room — the stages of my pregnancy were measured in novels).

Books ordered via internet and picked up at depot while on vacation (bargain prices):

The Knight of Maison-Rouge, Alexandre Dumas — A review of which I'd saved from 2003. Because it's Dumas! and there's swordplay! and revolution! And it's my Napoleonic summer!

The Gold Bug Variations, Richard Powers — For my left brain. All the cool kids read it ages ago, and I want to hang out with them.

Little Children, Tom Perrotta — Having saved two reviews of this book from 2004, being still intrigued by it, and hoping for a laugh at the expense of suburb dwellers.

Isabel's Bed, Elinor Lipman — Which I came across while browsing a bookstore near my sister's place when I visited her in 2002 (or was it the trip before that one?) and neglected to buy and have kicked myself for ever since. I have a fondness for characters who bear my name, or some variant. (Does anyone else thrill to see their name used in fiction?)

Women in Evidence, Sebastien Japrisot — Considered by Danielle to be a great underappreciated author. It's noir and said to be "diabolically clever."

Honeymoon, Bittermoon, Ramon Perez de Ayala — Because I needed to spend $2 more to be able to apply my $5 coupon to the total purchase and it leapt out at me, having heard about it previously in connection with Polanski's Bitter Moon (which I loved) tho' that film is in fact based on a different novel, but it's surmised there are some thematic connections.

Book purchased on impulse while picking up book order noted above, because I had to take just a quick look to see what gems they might have out on the floor:
Harold's Circus, Crockett Johnson — Because it's Harold! with his purple crayon! It begins, "One moonlit evening, mainly to prove to himself that he could do it, Harold went for a walk on a tightrope." We must have more Harold! It's not actually for me though.

Book acquired in passing, while out "shopping" (by which I mean wandering about the mall close to my mom's house cuz we didn't seem to have anything better to do), and for which I feel very guilty (remaindered and further discounted):
The Red and the Black, Stendhal — (I see just now that I'd also kept a review of this one.) Yes, I already have a copy. It was a Mother's Day present. When they presented me with the paberback, I had to suppress my disappointment, having expressed my wish for a particular translation (which this was) and given explicit directions regarding the location of the hardcovers near the right edge of the second shelf from the top on the bargain shelves facing the checkout of the store situated at a particular intersection. It didn't take long for me to get over the soft- vs hardcover, as I was quickly engrossed in the introduction and already making this copy my own; but it niggled at me that he spent more than $6.99 and on a lesser version. I made a joke about it in the days that followed. He told me this book was also marked down, $3.99. Which made me unbelievably happy, and I forgot all about it. Till I did laundry a few days later and found the receipt for full price in a pocket (from that same store). While I'm still flummoxed by the inability to carry out instructions (copies in question were still to be had weeks later), I'm touched that he knows so well what pushes, and releases, my buttons. Still, when I found a copy (hardcover, Modern Library, just so tactilely pleasant) further reduced because of a coffee splotch on the jacket (easily wipeable; I checked), I couldn't resist. Please don't tell J-F. Gawd, I feel so guilty. And I have it and mean to read it in French, too.

Book acquired in the days following my return from vacation, while browsing used book shops — it now being a mission to search out and explore (finally) all the (few) English-language book stores in the city, one neighbourhood at a time (my own neighbourhood is predominantly French) — which, both the browsing and the purchase (and the subsequent reading), helped balm some work-related stress (used):
The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley — Which I've already read and may have some words about in days to come.

Thus concludes my book acquisitions for calendar year 2006, excepting books received as gifts for my birthday and for Christmas and including those select two (one on each of those occasions) that I will warrant to bestow as gifts on myself.

And I will read them all. Soon.

Monday, August 21, 2006

On finishing the masterpiece

I did it. I finished War and Peace. All 1456 pages. One could even say I read it twice, what with circling back to refresh my mind and hunting down specific passages.

Helena, after begging me to read to her from it and then having sat through my reading of a couple pages of the epilogue, seems to be undertaking to read the whole thing for herself from the beginning.

Greatest novel ever written? At the risk of losing the respect of, umm, anybody who's read War and Peace, I must say: Not in my opinion. Sure, it's pretty good, they don't call it a classic for nothing, but...

(Possible spoilers ahead.)
(Consider this space a dumping ground for some of the things running through my head; some of these ideas may be further thought out and, someday, posted here.)
I mentioned previously that the book takes off for me with Prince Andrei's vision of the heavens. The book ends for me with Andrei's death (p 1177; cut out all the philosophizing that repeats the second epilogue, which is now placed at the beginning, and you've got yourself a manageable 800-page book) — it's all (well, mostly) downhill from there.

The second epilogue really ought to be used as an introduction. Moving that chunk of text would save many people the compulsion to reread the damn thing. Once you know Tolstoy's views on the mechanical and spiritual forces of history, the significance of the characters's actions and inactions, the patterns and themes are far more evident.

John Bayley's introduction to my edition ought never to be reprinted again. Who the hell is John Bayley anyway? "There are more happy marriages in War and Peace than in any other novel" — hah! There are two, maybe three (counting the old Rostovs). He says of Middlemarch that Dorothea is interesting while unhappily married but loses her interest once she is happily married. I would level the same criticism at Natasha, Marya, Nikolai... Not Pierre so much, though of all of them he's the only one previously unhappily married; he remains interesting, perhaps because he's offscreen for most of the first epilogue (to which all of married life is relegated for that examination in such fine detail, according to Bayley) and he's developing a new politically minded passion; rather in many ways he reminds me of Andrei when we first met him, married but not fulfilled and looking outwards for purpose (how compatible can this be with Natasha, whose life's meaning is found in family?)

(One book that I wish had been written, though I answered differently a short while ago, and I'm sure I'm borrowing this idea from something I've read over the lat week or so: the early life of Prince Andrei, including his engagement and marriage to Lisa, up to that point at which we make his acquaintance at Anna Pavlovna's.)

And poor Sonya. Says Natasha:
Perhaps she lacks egoism, I don't know, but from her is taken away — and everything has been taken away. I feel dreadfully sorry for her sometimes. I used to be awfully anxious for Nicolas to marry her, but I always had a presentiment that it wouldn'thappen. She is a sterile flower, you know, like a strawberry blosson. Sometimes I feel so sorry for her, and at other times I think she doesn't feel as you or I feel.

(Watched Match Point this weekend: "I'd rather be lucky than good." Are we born one way or another? It seems Dostoevsky thought so (Match Point's main character has an interest in him). Maybe Tolstoy too. Not exactly unlucky, but Sonya seems kind of doomed. That beyond free will or predistination lies some essential element of character? I'm liking this movie better the more I think about it. Another great line: "faith is the path of least resistance.")

I'd had some trouble understanding Andrei's death. Karatayev's story (told in complete ignorance of Andrei and his death; a completely separate element, not related to Andrei at all except in my head) spoke a little to me about it; it could be said of Andrei that God pardoned him (but still, for what? for Lisa? for lack of faith?) and he was dead. And it is still not clear to me why suddenly Andrei decided to die; he did not give up, he let death in. And why did he break off from discussing the Gospels with Marya? Because he understood that she already knew, it didn't need discussing, or because he couldn't yet admit his change of mind/heart (to himself, that his life to that point had been meaningless after all? to others, that he'd been wrong in mocking them?)?

Ellen's death was disappointing, serving only to free Pierre. Tolstoy was lazy on this one.

I'm glad I read it, cuz it's a good book, but also to be able to say I actually read it. Would I ever reread War and Peace? Would I reread it 5 or 6 times? No. There are scenes I'd like to revisit (namely the hunt, and the visit with Uncle), but I don't imagine myself having an ongoing love affair with this book. Maybe it wasn't in the right time for me; I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about undertaking it. Maybe I really don't get it, its full significance hasn't yet clicked, and maybe when I do, when it does, I'll feel differently. I would recommend War and Peace to history buffs, but not to most casual readers I know.

Go ahead. Tell me what a literary heathen I am. I can take it. I read War and Peace, and at age 36 I'm brave enough to formulate (and modify as necessary) an opinion on it. What did you do this summer?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Book clubs

From We Need to Talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver:
They may not always talk, but there is an assumption of fellowship in their proximity, an esprit de corps reminiscent of a book club whose members are all plowing through the same arduously long classic.

"They" are the black mothers in the prison visitors' waiting room, and the analogy made me smile (as it reflects largely how I feel about the cameraderie surrounding my reading of War and Peace).

Are book clubs a shared prison sentence?

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Recently watched and enjoyed:
Kung Fu Hustle: It has kung fu! and hustle! and an awesome soundtrack!

V for Vendetta: No, I didn't read the comic, but I might. It reminds me a lot of War and Peace, thematically, but then everything reminds me of War and Peace these days. And China Miéville's Iron Council. As far as what makes a hero, a revolution, a pivotal historic event, etc. The movie had the unfortunate effect of planting in my head a continuous loop of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, probably only made continuous by the confluence of also currently reading War and Peace. This confused me actually, what with V's referencing the Boston Tea Party and all sort of revolutionary-type things American, because, I thought to myself, it's Tchaikovsky, he's Russian, obviously it was written to commemorate Napoleon's march on Moscow, though I'd never given it any thought before and didn't know for sure, but I'd just reached that point in the book, so this realization made me feel pretty smart, and pleased with myself for it, but this is neither here nor there.

Recently watched and not enjoyed:
A completely forgettable zombie movie with almost no redeeming qualities, which is a shame, cuz I love zombies, especially in movies.

Best science movies (via Maxine).
Cuz it's science! (See Primer.)

Best sports movies (via Tim).
I can't say I'm a big fan of sports movies, but 1. I've been for years wanting to see Damn Yankees, I don't remember why, it couldn't just be that Lola song, could it? — oh, right, that whole Faustian thing, and 2. having recently espied a copy at the local video store, I intend to rent Game 6 in the near future, cuz Don DeLillo wrote it, and in the first 100 or so pages of Underworld, boy, he made baseball sing.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


I am back, and have been for a few days, but I have work to do. You may have spotted my ISP visiting your blogs, and I may even have left comments — that's just me procrastinating.

I've acquired more books, I've read some more of War and Peace (but little else), I've seen some movies, Helena acquired a bicycle, I'm consumed with motherhood-related angst, and I need some sleep. And I have paying work to do, as well as laundry.

Back later.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


I'll be back in a week or two after a visit, as yet undetermined in length (long enough that it doesn't seem too short, not so long that we come to hate each other), with my mother.

Why don't you go read War and Peace while I'm gone so we can talk about it when I get back.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Child's play wordplay

Documenting the evidence of Helena's linguistic understanding, mastery, and mockery at age 3 and a half (these instances having occurred and been repeated over the last few months):

Helena's favourite word: bibliothèque. We don't go very often together, but she goes about once a week with her daycare group. Some mornings I hear this word a hundred times, broken down into syllables and then at breakneck speed, tying up her tongue around the "l"; a whisper in my ear and a public broadcast through the paper towel tube megaphone; in her baby voice and in her monster voice. One word affirms that she is her mother's daughter.

Helena riffs on green. "Vert. Il y'a trois 'verts.' Vert, verre, et ver. Oh, et verre. Quatre 'verts.'"

That's (respectively): green, glass (receptacle), and worm. And glass (material).

Yet to be identified by her: "vers" (verse) and "vers" (toward).

Cross-lingual homophony:

"Il n'y'a pas de trou. That's true. It's true there's no trou."

We've been watching the animated Cat in the Hat, and singing: "Cat. Hat. In French: chat, chapeau. In Spanish he's a gato in a sombrero." Naturally, this leads to Helena's own improvisations about a gato in a gateau.

Helena no longer corrects my French pronunciation or makes fun of my accent (although I'm certain this little entertainment has years of life still ahead). On the other hand, she's only just realized her father has an accent when he speaks English.

There's a reason I'm the one who usually gets stuck with reading Dr Seuss. But when Helena puts The Cat in the Hat in J-F's hands, he complies. When first we meet Thing One and Thing Two, Helena gets angry. "Pas 'ting,' Papa." 'Ting' is the sound phasers make. Of course, Helena has a little pronunciation difficulty of her own. "C'est 'fing,' Papa. 'Fing!'"

Helena babbles. Sheer and utter nonsense. Not simply to fill a silence. It's a game. It started with pipi and caca being used to replace other everyday words. Then strings of nonsense syllables within barely identifiable sentences. Now strings of sentences, with inflections and pauses and a face full of expression, but otherwise meaningless (to me). If I dare ask for clarification, or for a confirmation of my haphazard guess at interpretation, she retorts, "Mais, je peux dire qu'est-ce que je veux." (I can say what I want.) By which I know Helena to mean: "Words mean what I want them to mean."

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master — that's all."


Victor Pelevin reinvents the myth of the Minotaur in The Helmet of Horror, the book in Canongate's Myths series I've been most looking forward to.

From Jon Fasman's review:
A myth, Pelevin explains, can refer either to an explicative, time-honored story or to "a widely held but false belief or idea." From that telling dual meaning Pelevin draws the twin premises of his book: first, that progress naturally harbors hostility to the lessons and belief systems contained within myths, and that "the concept of progress has been around for so long that now it has all the qualities of a myth. It is a traditional story that pretends to explain all natural and social phenomena. It is also a belief that is widespread and false." The second premise reminds you that Pelevin, for all his literary pyrotechnics, has a background in science (he was trained as an engineer); for him, myths function as the mind's "shell programs: sets of rules that we follow in our world processing, mental matrices we project onto complex events to endow them with meaning." Hence this novel, in which technology and myth conspire to trap and disembody eight people, who end up returning to humanity's primal drives — love, religion, storytelling — in order to make some sense of their surroundings.

Great underappreciated authors — quick reference

Where "underappreciated" is a subjective term.

Great underappreciated authors
Banville, John
Bradbury, Ray
Chavez, Denise
Donaghue, Emma
du Maurier, George
Ford, Ford Madox
Hamilton, Patrick
Hlasko, Marek
Hudson, WH
Japrisot, Sebastien
Kavan, Anna
Lambrichs, Louise
LeGuin, Ursula K
Lipsyte, Sam
Maalouf, Amin
McCarthy, Mary
Morley, Christopher
O'Brian, Patrick
Selimovic, Mesa
Sorrentino, Gilbert
Stamaty, Mark Alan
Walker, Lars
Webb, Mary
Wesley, Mary
West, Rebecca
Willis, Sarah
Wiseman, Adele

Specific underappreciated books
Baker, Nicholson. U and I.
Bock, Dennis. The Ash Garden.
cummings, ee. The Enormous Room.
Shriver, Lionel. We Need to Talk About Kevin.

See the original list with links to background information and comments.

The Underrated Writers Project:
Syntax of Things — 2005 list.
Syntax of Things — 2006 list.
Metaxu Cafe — thread.

The Neglected Books Page.

Moorish Girl: underappreciated books archive.


For a better understanding of life as a Flatlander (as in Flatland, by Edwin A Abbot) or other-dimensioned being, see the animation primer Imagining the Tenth Dimension.

See also: thoughts on having your own corner of the world, in 33 dimensions.

(Via Collision Detection.)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A little ado about nothing much

I had it all planned. A midweek evening out. Meeting up with my man and our child after their day at work and daycare respectively. A stroll through Old Montreal. A quick supper, maybe even just fries and ice cream. And then a little Shakespeare. In the park.

I was ready to go, planning to take care of an errand or two on my way. Then it started to rain. To storm.

I phoned the theatre office. They told me to bring an umbrella. No, there was no indoor backup venue. But the show must go on.

Much Ado About Nothing — I'd been looking forward to this for weeks, and Ella's recent review had upped my aniticipation. But it'd be pushing my luck to get either J-F or Helena to sit through Shakespeare in the rain. I'd go on my own, I decided. I whipped over to the store to get a frozen pizza for their dinner, to buy their indulgence. Plenty of time still to get them fed and hear about Helena's day before showtime. Even the skies cleared up.

The Old Port was quite desolate when I got there. Show cancelled. In that small window of time between when I called and when the rain let up. I was home before J-F and Helena returned from the park.

I've been moping about this all day. Why bother living in a city with great cultural attractions if you never bother to take advantage of them (oh, just to know that I could if I wanted to)? Of course, it's no one's fault, but I feel picked on — why me? I never get to go anywhere...

The show runs through August 15, but I'm set to leave town in a few days, and the venues for shows between now and then are far from convenient. I missed last year's production cuz I was visiting my mother. I'm debating postponing this trip to see my mom for another day to catch a performance close to home, but I don't know how I'd break it to her, and this show will probably be rained out anyway.

Repercussion Theatre presents Much Ado About Nothing, swing-style, "as if it is inhabited by The Rat Pack."

Scientific editing

Visualize it as a game: Rapids of Inaccurate References, Castle of Convoluted Conclusions...

"Referring manuscripts to Scientific Editing really boosts my self-esteem. When my documents come back the editor has usually changed nothing, except for all the words, punctuation, and figures."

(Ya, well, I thought it was funny.)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Nine times one book

Pearl tagged me.

1. One book that changed your life:
I find this question extremely difficult. So I searched my archives to see how I've answered this previously. The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster. It made itself felt on that time in my life, fed my fascination with the myth of the Tower of Babel and my choice (finally) to study linguistics, and solidified my tastes in literature. I'd love to say the answer to this question is an Important Book, like George Eliot's Middlemarch (which has changed the way I read) (Will any book I read from here on in be powerful enough to change my life, or is reading at an age on the brink of adulthood crucial? I think the context is more telling than the actual book.), but that wouldn't be honest.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
The Razor's Edge, W Somerset Maugham.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
A notebook (with pens).

4. One book that made you laugh:
The Pleasure of My Company, Steve Martin.

5. One book that made you cry:
Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, Gina B Nahai. I honestly don't remember much about this book, but I remember the crying over it. Ordinarily it'd have to be quite an exceptional book to make my eyes water, and in this case pregnancy hormones were a contributing factor.

6. One book that you wish had been written:
The Complete Book of English Prepositional Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. Really.

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
There's one book in recent history I hated vehemently (and I can't believe I bothered to read the whole thing!) and I decry its publication as a waste of resources, but it's not polite to name names. So I will tell you instead about a book I loved, Paul Glennon's The Dodecahedron (yes, I mentioned it months ago; yes, I mean to tell you more someday soon) — I wish it had never been written because it comes eerily close to the book I might've written.

8. One book you’re currently reading:
The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
The Crusades through Arab Eyes, Amin Maalouf. I single this one out from the lists of "latests" (the latest Saramago, Auster, Eco), being books I know I will get to in short order, and of classics to read before I die, which, now that I've put a few big ones behind me, are no longer pressing. The Crusades has been on my nighttable for years, and I feel I ought to read it, both to fill a gap in my knowledge of history and to round out my assessment of Maalouf as a great underappreciated writer.

10. One person you will tag [I edited this one to make it parallel]:
Cipriano of Bookpuddle.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

My weekend

1 sexy haircut.
1 hour in a used bookstore, whose stock I've determined smells funny and is generally overpriced and in worse condition than that of other used bookstores — no purchases.
1 online book-buying spree.

2 trips to 2 different parks with wading pools.
2 trips to yet 2 other parks for good ol' sandbox and slides.

1 excruciatingly powerful novel.
1 fairly entertaining B-movie, resplendent with stilted dialogue and crappy acting, its only truly memorable aspect being the heroine's boots — sleek and sexy yet sporting remarkably sensible heels.

1 Parc Safari excursion, complete with:
-giraffes! I love giraffes!
-and camels!
-countless slobbering beasts poking their heads into our vehicle
-picnic lunch
-playground, with bouncy tent
-amusement park rides
-1 very delighted little girl with a new and sudden fascination with zebras
-2 slightly sun-tendered shoulders, plus exhaustion