Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The week so far

1. Monday morning, on my way to work, I almost miss my metro stop. Because I was reading. While this could be construed as a good thing (lost in a book — The Keep, by Jennifer Egan, by the way), mostly I'm disturbed that something's awry with my inner sense of timing, that feeling, when you just know it's time to look up. Lucky for me all our stops were unusually long ones, but it meant having to scramble and, worse, feeling stupid.

2. Helena decides to affix her train (construction-paper "cars" variously coloured and pasted together) to the "Christmas tree" (a large yucca-type floor plant I'd temporarily moved from its usual location for a thorough watering and wiping down) — with glue.

3. I leave the room for a moment while Helena is brushing her teeth (Monday bedtime preparations). Her sobs bring me back fast. She has cut her nose and upper lip with the disposable razor that was lying on the counter, her face dusted with tiny bits of hair. The middle portion of her left eyebrow is missing. (This evening, she faces the mirror and delivers a grand speech on the evils of said razor, while wielding it before her imaginary audience. "Friends! Never touch the razor, for it is dangerous.")

4. I come up from the metro on my way home. It's not really a station; it's a secondary exit/entrance, never manned, fully automated (and closer to home). The "station" is barely larger than our master bathroom. The doors slide open, I turn left as is my habit. But there is something wrong with the picture. On the floor to my right is a television set; I want to say it's old — it's clunky enough to be of the previous decade. It is plugged into the wall under the phone. It is on, and broadcasting something between snow and modern blue screen. It doesn't seem to belong to anybody. In fact, nobody else seems to register its presence. A girl casually steps around it to use the phone.

5. It's only Tuesday.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Worth remembering

The look of delighted astonishment on Helena's face when, during last week's episode, the Doctor exclaimed, "Allons-y!"

Gasp. "Doctor Who can speak French?!"

Sunday, July 29, 2007


"Tell me one last thing," said Harry, "Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?"


"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"

— from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by JK Rowling.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


1. My Harry Potter book arrived last Saturday afternoon (delivered by a large man who looked suspiciously like Hagrid), and I've barely had any time to read it. I've passed the halfway point (see #7 below). If only there were more time in a day...

2. I stayed up late that last Friday to finish up the other books I'd been reading, so as to clear my plate for Harry. I finished Jonathan Stroud's book 2 of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, The Golem's Eye, which was highly entertaining (not much to it in terms of plot, but some very good character development). And I'd been reading The Portrait, by Iain Pears, which, well — will I write more about it? I don't know — while full of interesting ideas, felt contrived. I had to stay up, to keep reading, to see how it ended, but it was less than satisfying in the end.

3. I lost my vegetable peeler. Its absence was noted about 2 weeks ago, and the last I recalled using it was about a week before. I loved that peeler — a sleek curve of perfectly weighted acrylic; it looked like a bending raindrop. I paid an outrageous $8 for it (for a vegetable peeler!) some 6 or 8 years ago. And now it's gone. Maybe slipped far under the fridge. Maybe scooped among discarded vegetable matter into the garbage. I'd seen such a peeler in recent months in a little kitchenwares shop on Mont-Royal; I'd even considered purchasing a backup as I'd detected a crack in mine — a purely aesthetic disruption. I made a detour this week to pick one up (maybe in translucent orange this time, I thought), but allegedly, this particular design has been discontinued. I hold out hope that the sales clerk was mistaken and in fact had no idea what I was talking about, a likelihood borne out by her tossing out brand names that didn't ring a bell and Google searches of which do not produce the desired result. I cannot find my vegetable peeler on the internet.

"Ergonomic" peelers such as Good Grips tend to have handles wide in the same plane the blade spans; my peeler handle was wide in the other direction, perpendicular to the blade edge. Do you have any idea what I'm talking about? I should just draw a picture. Do you know my peeler? Do you know where I can get one?

4. I made the mistake of purchasing the first season of Doctor Who on DVD. It was too good a price to pass up, and it was something I'd been thinking about acquiring as a birthday or Christmas treat, but it's a mistake right now, because I have a ton of work to do (honouring an ongoing pre-full-time-employment freelance contract). If I'd been thinking clearly, I would've set it up as reward, not to be opened until the job was delivered, but I wasn't thinking clearly, so I opened it. Helena's been watching it (she's never known the Doctor as Christopher Eccleston); I've been working and being distracted by it, alternately watching it and feeling guilty for not working. This is a less than satisfying arrangement.

5. I don't understand Facebook. I mean, what does it actually do?

6. I fell in love with a $785 pair of shoes this week. It's remarkable — there's no seam between the sole and the upper. Oh, they're gorgeous. I want them.

7. I'd started writing this entry Wednesday. I've since finished the Potter book (just this morning) — I'm looking forward to poking around those blogs I know to be talking about it. Also, now I can get on with Bartimaeus book 3. Phew. And maybe now I can email all those people I've been meaning to write, and blog a little, and finish that freelance job, and get a decent night's sleep. Maybe.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Angel and W 40th

I had the sense to do a little research before I headed to New York for the day, to confirm the address of the office, to check what was to be had, beheld, within a few blocks' radius of it if I had a few spare minutes before meetings, or if I could sneak away at lunch, or before making haste for the airport again at day's end. Sadly, I had none of those opportunities; but I did have a 15-minute coffeebreak, a break I stretched to 20 (which, fortunately, amused my coworkers, rather than brought their disdain).

The Drama Book Shop, a mere 5 blocks away, was known (by me, what with my careful and indepth investigation techniques) to house 5 copies of Patrick Hamilton's Angel Street, otherwise known as Gaslight, though I'm confused now as to which was the original title. (Oh, right there on the copyright page, originally "under the title 'Gas Light'.") I'm delighted to say that the Drama Book Shop now has one copy less.

On my coffeebreak. I ran. I found the shop. Confused by why some plays would be shelved alphabetically by author and others by title, and against my natural impulse to 1. browse and 2. figure things out for myself, I asked at the information desk. Filed by title, this one — well, one of its titles. There it was. I grabbed a copy, and paid — just a little more than the price of a fancy coffee. Then I ran back.

Within the front matter, a copy of the program of the first performance of the play in New York announces the role of our villain is played by Vincent Price.

I'm not much for reading plays (Shakespeare included), as I feel they're meant more to be seen, experienced, rather than read. But for Patrick Hamilton I will make an exception.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tomorrow in Manhattan

Tomorrow: Isabella in Manhattan.

Tomorrow evening: Daleks in Manhattan.


I won't be able to watch Doctor Who as it airs, but full episodes of season 3 are now available online.

"How do you stop from dreaming?"

asked Helena at bedtime.

I ask her if she dreams a lot. Yes. Every night. It wakes her up. (Me, my dreams rarely, barely register with me.)

Helena doesn't want to dream about monsters in her closet, she tells me. I suggest she think about nicer things as she's falling asleep; maybe she'll have nicer dreams.

Jellybeans, she decides. She's thinking of jellybeans; maybe she'll dream she comes home with Papa and the house will be full of jellybeans, all over the floor, the sofa, over the stairs, she'll jump in jellybeans, and then I'll come home and jump in jellybeans with her.

But then she remembers. She doesn't want to dream. Not about monsters in her closet. She doesn't want to dream at all. How do you stop? she asks again.

I suggest that if she should start to dream, pretend it's a television program, and just turn it off.

She says she'll press the button. She presses her finger to her nose and giggles.


[I]f I'd studied a thing in school I assumed it was general knowledge. I hadn't yet discovered that I lived in a sort of transparent balloon, drifting over the world without making much contact with it, and that the people I knew appeared to me at a different angle from the one at which they appeared to themselves; and that the reverse was also true. I was smaller to others, up there in my balloon, than I was to myself. I was also blurrier.

— from Moral Disorder, by Margaret Atwood.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Have you ever...

Have you ever, on a long, cold, melancholy winter night — alone with your thoughts and the wind whistling through the hallways, the rain pounding against the windows — have you ever leaned your forehead against the mantel, absently watching sparks dance on the hearth, and longed to flee our wet and muddy Paris for some enchanted oasis? Somewhere fresh and carpeted in green, where you could lie in the shade of a riverside palm tree and doze off without a care in the world?

Well, the paradise of your dreams exists! Eden awaits you; the water flows clear and bright there, falling and surging up in bright dust; the palm fronds wave gently in the soft sea breeze like feathers in a genie’s cap. The jambosa trees, laden with iridescent fruit, stand ready to offer you their sweetly scented shade. Come, follow me now.

So begins Georges, by Alexandre Dumas. Who can resist following?

I love that I can have "new" books from this long-dead author, in lost manuscripts or fresh translations of forgotten stories.

I picked up this novel because it's Dumas! I'm not sure I would have done so on the basis of a synopsis alone. But what a fine, swashbuckling adventure it was. I'll comment more on this, but first I must read a little more about Dumas as well as the history of Mauritius.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Our swashbuckling hero,

name drawn out of the proverbial hat (plumed, of course), winner of Captain Alatriste, by Arturo Perez-Reverte, is Tim of Geistweg.

(Tim: send me an email with your mailing address.)

Thanks to everyone for playing along. I'm keeping your thoughts on the subject in mind as I proceed to work my way through Dumas.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

There will be swordplay!

(and the winner gets a book!)

(Originally posted the afternoon of July 4. This post will be sticky.)

Recently I read Purity of Blood, the second volume in the adventures of Captain Alatriste, by Arturo Perez-Reverte. What fun!

The plot in itself is not very complicated: The Captain's services are bought to help rescue a girl from convent, for some reason or other — it doesn't really matter why. But surprise! it's a trap! Alatriste doesn't get caught, but his young charge (our narrator) does, so Alatriste must rescue him and set things right. The politics behind all the trap-setting is a bit harder to follow.

Blinded as I was by adrenaline, the details of the back-alley dealings were a bit too shrouded in shadow for me to make out clearly. But it doesn't matter! There is swordplay! Near death! Twirling moustaches! Obscene hyperbole! Eyes glinting from beneath the brims of ostentatiously plumed hats! A treacherous young woman! Inappropriate gallantry! Bad poetry! And the Spanish Inquisition!


Our young narrator early makes the observation: "Never trust a man who reads only one book." Since the time I first read it, I've already quoted this line often. Of course, he means this in the context of the religious clashes on his country's soil, their proponents' absurd notion of purity.

But on a more literal level, I'd like to ensure that at least one more person reads just one more book...

I'm offering up a brand-new copy of Captain Alatriste, the first in the series (don't worry — the story in this novel stands alone). (For the record, I really enjoyed it.)

To be eligible to be entered into the drawing, leave a comment telling me what, in your opinion, is the most essential feature of a swashbuckling tale.

(International responses are both welcome and eligible. I'll accept entries until midnight, July 10.)

Sunday, July 08, 2007


we set out to sample green ice cream. Pistachio wins out over chocolate mint, in both our opinions. Helena and I would eat it in a box; we would eat it with a fox. But I had but the merest hint of a taste of it. Somehow I got saddled with eating the losing flavour, but I guess there are worse things to do on a sunny afternoon. Next up: green tea ice cream versus lime sorbet.

we will watch Doctor Who. We're only two episodes into season 3, but we like Martha, even while we miss Rose. We loved the Shakespeare episode, Helena for the witches, me for the idea of the power of words, old magic, the naming of things (which fit really nicely with the book I was reading at the time (The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud)). We both chuckled at the Harry Potter references.

(I'm amazed that Helena is even aware of the phenomenon. We did catch a portion of the third movie on tv some time ago. I'd all but forgotten about it but Helena is quick to notice his image anywhere. Apparently one of her classmates is a big fan, which I find odd for a 4-year-old, but hey, here I am telling you about our Doctor Who adventures. It's the cutest thing, though, that Helena now refers to him in French, that is, with her accent: 'Arrie Poterre. Yes, I pre-ordered a copy.)

So Helena learned a little bit about Shakespeare being a writer (who wrote about witches!), and she was very pleased to realize that now she knows about two writers: Shakespeare and Dr Seuss. But she knows more than that, I had to remind her, and I had time only to say "Dumas" and could not go on with my list as she was already proclaiming "Tous pour un, et un pour tous!" and she was running off to tell her grandmother (we were at her house when the Shakespeare episode aired) about the musketeers' capes and hats. Ah, yes, the power of words.

(I love this play-by-play from other young fans.) (Season 3 is barely under way here, and already there's news of next season's shakeups.)

I've been watching Gaslight (with J-F, not with Helena). I'd seen it (the Ingrid Bergman version) many, many years ago, but I have fresh interest in it now knowing that it was based on the play by Patrick Hamilton. Certainly I'm recognizing traits and themes that are present in his other work. We've not yet viewed the earlier, British film adaptation. (I'll have more to say about it in weeks to come.) I'm drawing out the viewing actually, as I'm impatiently awaiting delivery of (along with a "guide" to Hamilton that suddenly appears not to be available till 2009) The Gorse Trilogy, the third part of which I've not yet read. (And of course, I've yet to read Hamilton's actual play, Gaslight, for which I've not yet placed an order. — Why am I waiting to do that, exactly?) And still I search the same second-hand shops regularly hoping that a Hamilton I haven't read will crop up.

Next week
I travel to New York City, for my job. Sadly, it's just for the day. Sadly, it will interfere with my usual Doctor Who watching. Weirdly, the thing I'm agonizing most over regarding the trip (even more than having to have my passport application expedited) is what to wear. I'm aflutter at the prospect of maybe, just maybe, having some time at lunch to shop for shoes. I'm aflutter at the prospect that maybe I'll have to fly in again some time.

Key reasons I like working for the private sector: 1. Sometimes the company orders pizza for lunch, for everybody, just because. 2. The other week we had a visit from Ben & Jerry — carting their cart around the office to ensure everyone had an ice cream cone that fine summer day. 3. Oh! I have to go to New York.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Professional help

"So what's for dinner?"

"Food," said his mother. "Followed by dessert."

Milrose stared at her with admiration. His moth—reer was one of the few people on the planet with an even greater gift for sacasm than his own.

"Isn't dessert a kind of food?"

"Not this desesrt. I've decided to poison you."

"Mm. Will it at least taste good?"

"For a minute. And then you will fall into it, face first."

"Are you sure you want ot murder your only son?"

"Quite sure, darling. Woulk you set the table, please?"

As he set the table, Milrose realized that his mother had succeeded in cheering him up. All of those mothers out there who read books by specialists — witless books about how to bring up perfect children — probably never threatened to poison their offspring. His mother, on the other hand, never read these books — and in fact held them in contempt — as a result of which she knew how to make him happy when he was annoyed.

— from Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help, by Douglas Anthony Cooper.

Milrose Munce sees ghosts. His school is full of them. But the Administration would rather keep this quiet, so they need to keep Milrose quiet.

There's more attitude in this book than there is anything of substance; although, I do love how the jock ghosts and the science geek ghosts keep to their separate floors, and that many of them died horrid deaths.

The book's not meaty enough to charm most adults, but I'm sure it's a pleasant enough diversion for its intended age-group.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"The Great Bolaño"

In The New York Review of Books:

When Julio Cortázar, in Hopscotch, portrayed young Latin Americans in Paris, one implication was that Paris was where they had to go to find personal freedom and an interesting and modern way of life. Bolaño has frequently acknowledged a debt to Cortázar's novel, but the Mexico City of The Savage Detectives, for all its local character and danger, has more in common, at least in the manner that the book's comparatively sophisticated and bohemian young characters inhabit it, with cities like New York or Paris than with any traditional Latin American setting. The novel depicts Mexico City during the very years, ironically, that the rest of the world was discovering One Hundred Years of Solitude in translation, a book whose global success had the consequences, which its author could never have foreseen, of creating folksy stereotypes of Latin American life and the association of Latin American literature almost exclusively with magic realism that has endured for nearly forty years.

See my thoughts on Last Evenings on Earth, with excerpts (1, 2).

Sunday, July 01, 2007

How the bricks fell


This is why I generally don't go in for reading challenges: because I fail! I won't commit to anything much unless my careful weighing of the situation shows the prospect of success to be likely, and even then, well, it seems I can still fail.

The Chunkster Challenge, hosted by Bookfoolery and Babble, was this: to read books of intimidating length, between January 1 and June 30, 2007, with "chunkster" defined as anything over 400 pages.

My self-inflicted variation of the challenge was to read 6 books of at least 600 pages. I named 5 books, reserving a few options for the 6th. Here's how I did:

Dickens, Charles: David Copperfield (pb, 750 p).
I read it, read it fast, thoroughly enjoyed it. Am currently mulling over which Dickens to set myelf for next winter (one a year is plenty, I think).

Powers, Richard: The Gold Bug Variations (pb, 639 p).
Read it, loved it. Quite possibly the best book I've ever read.

Wallace, David Foster: Infinite Jest (hc, 1079 p).
I started it, and it bored me. My bookmark is placed at page 85. I still intend to read it, as I still want to understand what all the fuss is about. But life events have not been conducive to my wallowing in a glut of postmodern nonsense. That'll have to wait a couple more months.

Dumas, Alexandre: The Count of Monte Cristo (1276 p, including notes).
Purchased. That's a step in the right direction. I made the mistake of thinking I'd warm up to it by reading a slimmer, recently released retranslation of Dumas (Georges). I haven't even gotten very far with that one, though I am picking away at it, and in combination with the swashbuckling tale I read last week (Purity of Blood, by Arturo Perez-Reverte), I'm building up a huge appetite for The Count. This will be my big summer read. I start next week. Or maybe the week after.

Stephenson, Neal: Quicksilver, The Baroque Cycle, Volume I (hc, 944 p).
Umm. I know where it is in my house. Along with the rest of the Cycle.

So that means I've read, uh, 2.

To my credit, I note the successful completion of the following "chunksters":
Mieville, China: Un Lun Dun (448 p).
Hamilton, Patrick: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky (527 p), which is amazing. (Really. Amazing!)

Stroud, Jonathan: The Amulet of Samarkand (462 p), although I haven't exactly finished it, but I did pass page 400 yesterday, and I can't imagine being able to sleep tonight before I know how it ends.

Oh, never mind. I'm not sure about counting kids' books either.

But I'm willing to credit myself with half a challenge completed, even amid gruelling work contracts, and weird diseases, and the general upheaval of my life (why do I so desperately feel the need to justify myself?), and give myself the second half of the year to finish.

See how everyone else fared.