Thursday, June 25, 2009


Bedtime is altogether different with a new kitten in the house. For many weeks, Rosie has been confusing "bedtime" with "playtime."

Helena had hoped Rosie would sleep with her and would scoop her into her bed in the evening. But Rosie wouldn't settle down on command, and then it took far too many minutes to corral the kitty out of Helena's room, so now Helena doesn't even bother — she closes the door behind her to make sure no feline whips through her dreams.

Come my bedtime, Rosie is no better at settling down, but as I usually read for a while, it doesn't bother me too much. She circles the bed, surveils the territory, clears the corners of invisible predators, attacks my toes. She is curious about my reading material, and when my book lies open on the bed she creeps up onto the page as if trying to discern those strange markings. I remove her. The dance repeats itself. She eventually tires.

Last night was quiet. I read. When I turned over to turn off the light, I discovered Rosie was close by after all; she's found herself a comfortable niche among the mass market paperbacks.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I have a basket of strawberries hanging on my balcony. I am unreasonably excited about this.

As a teenager, many summers I picked strawberries on farms to earn some extra spending money (though having eaten a significant portion of my haul, this was hardly a profitable activity). But never have I grown my own berries.

This photo was taken a couple days ago. This morning Helena deemed the biggest of them had reddened enough.

Picked and eaten. The finest strawberry she's ever tasted!

Tomorrow will be my turn to sample one. A couple dozen more are currently in flower.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Goddamn phonies

Last weekend the kid had another birthday party to attend, obliging us to drive out to the burbs and exchange pleasantries with other parents with whom we have nothing in common except for our offspring being in the same kindergarten class (why do suburbanites send their kids to school at the end of our street? and why can't the downtown parents find fun, age-appropriate birthday activities for their children in the neighbourhood they live in?).

In those few awkward moments before we abandoned our children to the care of the unwitting parents who'd extended this invitation on behalf of their fresh 6-year-old, the conversation fumbled a bit, but being that there was a cinema complex in the mall in which we'd assembled, movies seemed a natural subject.

J-F mentioned he'd like to see the new Terminator movie, and I smiled in a kind of solidarity — it's certainly one of the coolest trailers I've seen in ages. Who doesn't love to watch the post-apocalypse?! Apparently, all the parents of my daughter's peers. We were promptly advised that the Star Trek movie is far superior — it's multilayered! — and were snubbed for the duration of the ritual smalltalk. J-F fails to understand their lack of appreciation, and has been fuming over this incident for days.

So it comes as a kind of vindication to learn that J.D. Salinger broke his public silence this weekend to share his fervour for the latest Terminator movie.

[Apparently he's developed quite a bit of literary material over the years, all of which appears to be "without a doubt the most personal and affecting body of Terminator fan fiction ever discovered."]

J-F can keep company with the likes of Salinger while the goddamn phonies pat each other on the back.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

That subspecies of readers

The rooms in which writers (that subspecies of readers) surround themselves with the materials they need for their work acquire an animal quality, like that of a den or a nest, holding the shape of their bodies and offering a container to their thoughts. Here the writer can make his own bed among the books, be as monogamous or polygamous a reader as he wishes, choose an approved classic or an ignored newcomer, leave arguments unfinished, start on any page opened by chance, spend the night reading out loud so as to hear his own voice read back to him, in Virgil's famous words, under "the friendly silence of the soundless moon."

— from The Library at Night, by Alberto Manguel.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Summer reading issue

I've never really planned my summer reading before, but then, my child has never finished a school year before, so it happens that we're all of us going to take off some time together, and much of that time will be spent simply hanging out, some of it in town, and some of it at the cottage, and "hanging out" means I should have a couple books on hand, particularly since "hanging out" to J-F means fishing, and we all know I'm happier with a book in my hand not catching any fish than having a fishing rod in my hand and not catching any fish, and I just bought a chair for my "garden" (where "garden" means stone courtyard with a couple pots, a couple baskets) that has armrests large enough to sit a drink on, and a footrest, all of which adds up to it being a perfect chair to while away the summer in, reading. I really am unreasonably excited about this chair, and the prospect of reading in it, but oh well, and notice how I've barely mentioned the kid; I guess I expect her to occupy herself.

The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I've essentially finished reading this ARC already, and will write more about it in a couple days. I fully expected this to drift into my "summer" reading, but I couldn't put it down, and, well, now it's done. (I thought Shadow of the Wind was grossly overrated. This novel, on the other hand, I enjoyed immensely.)

2666, by Roberto Bolaño. I'm trying to pace myself. I loved part 1, but I couldn't stop there. This put me ahead of the schedule for the reading group I'd happened upon. But while I subsequently ate up parts 2 and 3, I want also to consider them thoughtfully. I started on part 4, but as fate would have it, I was in no mood to read about gruesome murder details that day in the métro. So I've set it aside until I find a clearer mental space and the time to be able to write about it as I go.

The Sun over Breda, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. The further swashbuckling adventures of Captain Alatriste! I let out an involuntary exclamation of joy when I came across this at the bookstore last week. Obviously it was meant to be, meant for me, and meant for me now.

Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene. Being that everything I know about Brighton I learned form Patrick Hamilton, I thought I should broaden my education. Not that I'm particularly interested in learning more about Brighton. But I read an excerpt a while back, and was thoroughly wowed.

The Man in the Brown Suit, by Agatha Christie. Which remarkably I'd never read — I read dozens of Christie novels during my adolescence, but evidently not all — and I've been wanting to read ever since I saw that Doctor Who episode. Plus, I love the packaging.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. Everyone who's read it, raves about it, including a coworker for whom I'll be using this as a test book, to gauge whether her taste in books is reliably compatible with mine or not. I had a hard time figuring out what trilogy exactly she was so crazy for, as the title of the first book in French is Les hommes qui n'aimaient pas les femmes (nothing about a tattoo there).

(I ordered these last three — Greene, Christie, Larsson — from Amazon. It's tough economic times: Gone are the days when "ship when entire order is ready" meant they'd probably send you the bulk of your order straight away anyway. This makes me nervous, as the order is awaiting the release of the Larsson in paperback, and estimated package delivery is a day into my vacation time, and I kind of have to convince the family that we really ought to stick around town for a day or two before we trek off into the wilderness, to ensure that I have books with which to trek off.)

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. Because it's the Infinite Summer! Which sounds way more promising than that infinite winter when I didn't manage to finish it! And! I'll be covering the same geographic territory while I revisit the same literary territory! Like it's fated!

(Interesting reading related to DFW: About designing the inside of a DFW book.)

There's not a chance (is there?) that I'll get through this list before I have to show my face at work again; but I'm racing through pages lately, and set to cross titles off the list before even my vacation officially begins. I am prepared to steal back the copy of Spook Country (William Gibson) I picked up for J-F if I have to. And provided I'm on home ground when the pile runs out, there's the Nelson Algren I've been meaning to get to...

There's a good list of paperbacks in time for summer in this weekend's Montreal Gazette, a couple of which I vouch for (Petite Anglaise, by Catherine Sanderson, and The Painter of Battles, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, although this one isn't exactly light reading), and a couple more which greatly interest me.

I also like the list in The Telegraph. (You'll find 2666 and A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book, which I can't recommend highly enough, therein.)

What are you reading this summer?

Thursday, June 11, 2009


On our walk to school in the morning, Helena very gravely tells me, "Mommy, you're my second-best friend now." I've been usurped.

"Me and Rosie, we do everything together."

Including growing up too fast.

Monday, June 08, 2009

A walk on the beach

Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people's ideas, like listening to music (oh yes), like looking at the view, like taking a walk on the beach.

— from 2666, by Roberto Bolaño.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Economy of words

Last week I found a near-pristine copy of a 1974 editon of Words into Type.

I paid $10, at Cheap Thrills.

On December 27, 2004, someone bought this same book, used, at the Barnes & Noble in Burlington, Vermont, for $7 (USD), with a gift card, according to the receipt I found inside.

In 2000 (or was it a year or two earlier?) I saw the book, new, in a bookstore in New York City (or was it Washington, DC?), leading me to believe that in fact it wasn't so hard to find in the United States. I didn't have $48 (USD) to spare that weekend. I left the book on the shelf.

I have been looking for this book since 1996.

A quick search shows me that this book is more widely available (affordably) than once I thought (I swear I looked high and low when I first got Internet access in 1996, but I guess I gave up on that avenue of pursuit too early; I have carried this title over from one list to PDA to another over the years, and pulled the list out for reference in countless used book stores), but this does not lessen the joy I take in my great find.

Lots of grammar! Great indexing! Definitions of useful things like "apposition" and "cognate object"! Twenty-two pages devoted to the comma! What all those copyeditors said was true! This is the greatest reference ever!

How much is this book worth?!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The part about the critics

I'm greatly enjoying Roberto Bolaño's 2666.

By sheer coincidence, of which I have the luxury, I stumbled upon a bloggers' discussion, cohosted by Steph and Tony Investigate and Kiss a Cloud. I don't know who these people are, but they seem to love books, and have interesting ideas about this one in particular, and that's all good. I'll be checking in there as I progress to see what others make of this book.

I posted an excerpt and some comments a few days ago. Below are some of my thoughts, still relatively fresh, having completed part 1.

The name is easily confused with Archimboldo, to Pelletier's outrage and horror we learn on the first page. His paintings are, in my opinion, grotesque, but inviting scrutiny.

By his early mention, Bolaño invites the reference. This book is having an effect similar to that of the paintings: surreal and weird, faintly beautiful, not what it appears to be.

— "Pelletier was more intimately acquainted than Espinoza with Mnemosyne, mountain goddess and mother of the nine muses."
— "...Espinoza and Pelletier believed themselves to be (and in their perverse way, were) incarnations of Ulysses, and that both thought of Morini as Eurolychus..."
— Pritchard to Pelletier, regarding Norton, "'Beware of the Medusa.'"

There are allusions here. Yeah, I have no idea.

Edwin Johns, the (fictional) artist who cut off his hand to use it in a self-portrait, relates an argument about coincidence.

"And as far as coincidence is concerned, it's never a question of believing in it or not. The whole world is a coincidence. I had a friend who told me I was wrong to think that way. My friend said the world isn't a coincidence for someone traveling by rail, even if the train should cross foreign lands, places the traveler will never see again in his life. And it isn't a coincidence for the person who gets up at six in the morning, exhausted, to go to work; for the person who has no choice but to get up and pile more suffering on the suffering he's already accumulated. Suffering is accumulated, said my friend, that's a fact, and the greater the suffering, the smaller the coincidence." [ed: Just trying to wrap my head around this... No coincidence because there's an enforced(?) structure, whether the natural structure of geography and physics, or the social/economic structure of scheduled workdays. The more order there is, the less chance for chance. But how is this suffering, exactly, apart from being at the mercy of all this order?]

"As if coincidence were a luxury?" asked Morini.

[. . .]

"Coincidence isn't a luxury, it's the flip side of fate, and something else besides," said Johns.

"What else?" asked Morini.

"Something my friend couldn't grasp, for a reason that's simple and easy to understand. My friend (if I may still call him that) [ed: Who's Johns's friend anyway?] believed in humanity, and so he also believed in order, in the order of painting and the order of words, since words are what we paint with. [ed: Wait a second. Being a painter, Johns actually paints with paint (and body parts). Is his friend a painter? or a writer? Is Johns simply being metaphorical here or is there possibly something more to it?] He believed in redemption. Deep down he may even have believed in progress. Coincidence, on the other hand, is total freedom, our natural destiny. Coincidence obeys no laws and if it does we don't know what they are. Coincidence, if you'll permit me the simile, is like the manifestation of God at every moment on our planet. A senseless God making senseless gestures at his senseless creatures. In the hurricane, in that osseous implosion, we find communion. The communion of coincidence and effect and the communion of effect with us."

Coincidence, then, is evidence of a God who doesn't care, who has no interest. (How is this different from there being no God at all?) But it's just a simile. Why invoke the simile if it's only to negate the vehicle?

The story of Edwin Johns fascinates me. Could this personage and his claim to fame be based on a real artist?

Art is an act of self-negation. Johns certainly negated his painting hand. (Also: the only true representation of a thing is the thing itself.) Archimboldi is so negated as to possibly not exist at all.

Once in Mexico, Amalfitano explains to the critics the relationship between Mexican intellectuals with power. There follows a long and rambling yet beautiful passage, ultimately senseless, so Amalfitano admits, in which the shadows of the writers have slipped away, and this negates the worth of the intellectuals and their authority, or transmutes the intellectuals into something else entirely (reckless gods, or beautiful monsters, but pathetic all). (And here, when the intellectuals retire for the night, comes my favourite sentence: "The moon is fat and the night air is so pure it seems edible.")

The violence is jarring. My jaw dropped at an early instance, when the little gaucho is looking at the lady with the eyes of a bird of prey, and here there is an image so startlingly horrific (which I will not repeat here), and then it's gone, wrapped up, uncomfortably but dismissively, as if there is nothing threatening about this "clumsy young butcher."

Then there's the taxi incident. The cabbie wasn't entirely innocent, but surely he didn't deserve all that was brought down upon him. Pelletier and Espinoza have acted "out of character," but I think that's part of the point — we never know, often don't even suspect, what we're capable of, particularly if pushed or provoked, till it happens.

One of the critics commented that the cab driver, in calling the streets a labyrinth, had unconsciously quoted Borges ("I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London)"). Is that where the violence sprouts from? The cabbie feels he's being called an idiot, so he calls their woman a whore. Are they defending her honour, or their own authority as critics? Or does it stem from something else entirely?

There is more violence to come, I know. The above episodes really came out of the blue, with my primary response in both cases being, "What the hell just happened?" Presumably, subsequent episodes will follow in this pattern?

The dreams
Are creepy. And very realistically dream-like.

Morini really interests me because he's more an observer than a participant in all the events of part 1.

His fascination with Johns seems unhealthy. I'm not sure what it's founded in. Purely academic — philosophical — curiosity? Upon first hearing the story of Johns, "The urge to weep — or else, faint — persisted, but he restrained it."

I think it's this quality that saves Morini. Restraint.

Morini is all about critical detachment.

As a contender for Norton's affections, he detaches himself, and from his outsider's position he wins her.

Similarly, his interest in Archimboldi never consumes him to the point of dropping his real life to chase some crazy tale to Mexico. His interest remains professional and reasonable. He does, however, enable the others' obsession with Archimboldi, bringing word of his sighting to them. (Coincidence? Did he foresee how the others would react? Part of me want to believe that Morini is Archimboldi, but I don't think I can make this hypothesis fit the facts.)

Maybe Morini represents the reading audience: a bit perverse, voyeuristic, but reasonably so and with restraint (the one quality all the other characters seem to lack).

This is a lot of me having no idea, and raising (or repeating) more questions than I dare answer. But greatly enjoying the ride.

Gratuitous kitten picture

Under the tulips. Rosie likes flowers.