I kind of missed the Harry Potter boat. I read the first book on a flight to Greece a few years ago and ended up feeling cheated. It didn’t seem clever or cute; I had been expecting more. I’ve been told many times that the books get subsequently better and I believe this, but ugh, all those books and pages – I know it’s an easy read, but I just never felt like committing myself to the series just to be up to date with the cultural zeitgeist. And then I read the His Dark Materials trilogy two Christmases ago and loved it so much. It gave me what I had been looking for in HP – magic, good writing, complex themes, sweeping adventures. I cried when certain characters died and cheered when things worked out. The ending was surreal and dreamy and perfect. I didn’t feel that way, or even get an inkling of that feeling with Harry Potter, so eh, maybe I’ll read the series one day, right after I finish “War and Peace” and “Remembrance of Things Past”.

This is how I felt about the whole Twilight series too – I was just going to let it pass. I had picked up enough pop culture references to get the gist of what it was about and to decide that I didn’t feel like reading it (Human-vampire romance! Robert Pattinson is really hot! etc). But then I saw the book at a friend’s house and couldn’t resist. At the time I was trying to read “Infinite Jest” as part of the Infinite Summer challenge and needed a break – I wanted something page-turny and easy. I tore through “Twilight” kind of breathlessly and in spite of myself. I devoured “New Moon” immediately afterwards. I sheepishly wrote to my friend and asked her to bring the last two books when I saw her next. I consumed the entire series within 2 weeks, cumulatively more pages than “Infinite Jest” but requiring 99% less brainpower to digest. (And I still haven’t cracked the first 15% of Infinite Jest. I suck.)

Stephenie Meyer is a bad writer, but she writes the way a teenager first writes, all melodrama and brooding, so I wasn’t so distracted by it – I was familiar with that type of writing. She’s good with plot, although isn’t so good at filling in the details (which might explain why there is so much Twilight fanfic; it’s practically begging for it). As a whole, “Twilight” was the best – it had romance, an awkward, angsty, lovestruck underdog teenaged girl, hot vampires with skin that sparkled in the sun like diamonds, frantic cross country travel and unequivocally evil vampires. It worked. “New Moon” was supposed to further Bella’s relationship with her main squeeze werewolf, but I failed to see why she fell for him so hard so fast. And then things started to get kind of unhinged. “Eclipse” was basically thin plot and lots of backstory (which paves the way nicely for plenty of prequels, other possible movies, etc). And then the final book, “Breaking Dawn” was just so off-the-wall it was almost embarassing. Because of its pure wackiness it was my favourite – vampire pregnancies, vampire sex, weird vampires from all over the world, werewolves falling in love with babies, humans learning forbidden secrets. It was VC Andrewish in its perversity, but without any incest. So much fun!

So, yeah, it was a fun read and I ultimately enjoyed reading it. And now I will move on to Proust or something.

Kind of full circle

When I was making zines, I used to send them off to magazines like Exclaim or Broken Pencil and weeks later I would eagerly scan the magazines to see if I was mentioned in them at all. This was before the Internet, so I wouldn’t have any inkling about a review until it was in print in my hands. You’ll find a few reviews for “melt the snow” in the Broken Pencil online archives (on mts #11, “I think I’d like to sit in my pyjamas on a rainy Sunday afternoon listening to Belle & Sebastian, reading Melt the Snow and that would be the closest I’d ever get to being Teri.” Ha, that was so me at age 20!) When I was 18, one of the most exciting things that happened to me was coming home one day to a letter from Hal Niedzviecki asking to reprint a story from mts, the one about me crashing my car. It’s still online, in all of its awkward teenaged glory.

So, I was happy to hear that my essay from She’s Shameless was going to be the featured excerpt for Broken Pencil #44, the DIY issue. You can read part of it online (although the formatting is a little wonky?) and the rest in the magazine (or in the book, of course). I even quote that car crash story in the essay, full circle-like.

Steal this idea

One of my favourite parts about getting married was planning the wedding favours, the little lootbags guests get to bring home. We weren’t sure what we were going to do at first, and so I clicked through my favourite wedding blogs (i.e. Indie Bride, Off Beat Bride, and my all-time favourite, A Practical Wedding) for ideas. Nothing really seemed to fit, but the sites always reminded me that weddings should be about what you and partner love, what you want to do, and not what the Wedding Industrial Complex thinks you should do.

We finally made a few decisions. For the majority of the guests we distributed the traditional Greek koufeta (sugared almonds wrapped up in the prettiest of lace and cloth) and to represent Canada, Andrew and I brought a box of maple-leaf shaped maple sugar candies from Jean Talon Market. For our best friends, the ones who travelled from all over to celebrate with us in Greece, we wanted to give something special.

Andrew and I love books. We own a lot of them. They accounted for the heaviest boxes we had to move last fall and part of the reason we cursed our “stuff” and how all our “stuff” was keeping us down, man. But, in the end, if we had to get rid of “stuff”, the books would be among the last to go. Many of our friends also love books and Andrew and I thought it would be fun to show our gratitude to them in book form. So, Andrew designed bookplates and we bought them each a book. Buying books was more difficult than I expected because we wanted to get them something that they would genuinely enjoy reading and that would be a solid addition to their library. Something that reflected that we knew them and what they liked. Something practical, keeping in mind that some people would be travelling over the next few weeks, while others had long flights home ahead of them. There were multiple trips to bookstores around Montreal, some debates, a few returns, but I think we got them right. And it was so fun to gather our friends together after the ceremony and hand out the presents.

Bookplates designed by Andrew and then printed on sticky paper to put in the books.

Handing out books

Panayiotis and Marieme looking at one of the books.

Tassos psyched to open his book.

Look at everyone’s smiles! I love it. If you’re getting married any time soon, feel free to steal this idea.

Guys, I’m Anansi’s Reader of the Month for August! I mainly talk about how I don’t like e-books. You can also, see a picture of my face and my weirdly flat hair. House of Anansi is probably my favourite Canadian publisher, so I was psyched to do this quick q&a with Book Madam extraordinaire, Julie Wilson (speaking of which, have you been reading Seen Reading’s last few entries?).

I have to add that the only compelling argument I’ve read for electronic books has been this entry about the Kindle by Lindsey a few weeks ago . I’m not going to be adding a Kindle to my wish list anytime soon, but it did make me think, “ok, I get it; I can see the appeal”.

How To

I started this entry a few months ago when I was thinking about how much I enjoyed reading books about writing. I tend to eat them up, almost guiltily, like I’m cheating or something, like I should be learning about writing by actually writing or by reading the classics, not by reading these silly books that often amount to nothing more than self-help. Obviously the craft of writing cannot be condensed into a how-to manual, but listen – I didn’t take English literature in school. I work a regular 9-5 day job, and I’ve been doing so for the past eight years. So, I sometimes feel a little starved of the act of thinking analytically about writing. Writing books help my brain engage in a way I’m not accustomed to. So, here are a few of my favourites:

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead: Your Words in Print and Your Name in Lights – Ariel Gore: This book is cheeky and practical-helpful and doesn’t shy away from zines and DIY as a way to get your writing out there. It’s because Ariel understands the purpose and limitations of zines – she founded Hip Mama, after all. She also sagely advises beginning writers to submit to anthologies. She was so right about this. My “real book” publication credits are all thanks to anthologies.

A Writers Journal – Virginia Woolf: I love diaries, and I especially love diaries about writing. I couldn’t imagine analyzing my writing the same way Woolf does (How could I? My story about a teenaged girl kissing a boy for the first time does not have the same richness as “The Waves”, unfortunately).

The Narrative Craft – Madison Smart Bell: This book is great because Madison takes an entire short story and then describes why it works, usually within the context of a particular subject (narrative arc, character, etc). The best part is that he chose fantastic stories. It was through this book that I read Mary Gaitskill’s “Daisy’s Valentine” from her collection “Bad Behaviour” (which includes the story “Secretary” is based on).

The Elements of Style – Strunk and White: There’s been some Strunk & White backlash recently, but I find this slim tome reassuring. It might not have the right answers, but it has answers, and sometimes that’s all I need to get going. Plus, I have the gorgeous illustrated version – red hardcover, silky pages, whimsical watercolour photos by Maira Kalman – which makes it even more of a pleasure to read.

As for the “famous” writing books: I liked “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott enough, and really liked the advice about the importance of shitty first drafts. I remind myself of that a lot when I’m writing, and it helps me get over the fear that what I’m writing is crappy because why shouldn’t it be? It’s a first draft! “Writing Down the Bones” was good when I first read it (at the time, her advice that writing should be something that you practice, like exercise, really struck a chord), but sometimes feels a little too new age-y or something when I reread it now. I think it’s best for very beginning writers. And I liked Stephen King’s “On Writing” for the same reasons everyone else likes it: good, no-nonsense advice, comforting because he says that good writers can be made into great writers with practice, and it’s Stephen King and he rules.

Wedding festivities are officially over and I have hundreds of digital photos to prove it. I also have some Polaroids that, when stacked together, look like a pack of baseball trading cards. I understand now why Polaroids won’t (or at least, shouldn’t) die out – it’s not the immediacy of a printed photo, it’s the fact that a Polaroid photo is tangible evidence of a memory plucked from your brain – all hazy and dreamy and kind of diffused. A good Polaroid can distill particularly magical moments to their essence. So when I look at the ones I’ve snapped over the past two months, I can see why I found it so hard to concentrate on books – there were too many people around, too many things to experience and devote myself to. In Greece I wouldn’t even bring a book with me to the beach because I knew I wouldn’t be able to really process the words.

Acropolis - June 17 09 - 2

So, I read things that could be processed in short chunks. Right before I left, did their amazing style icon series and this post about Marguerite Duras inspired me to grab “Practicalities”, a collection of her very personal essays. Her writing was the right blend of nostalgia, wisdom, ex-pat musing and artistic process rambling for the kind of trip I was on. I couldn’t deal with much fiction so I also read John Gardner’s “On Becoming a Novelist” and enjoyed it the same way I enjoyed “Practicalities” – he was reassuring in his firm advice. He would quote his own writing to prove a point. He knew what he was talking about, even if I didn’t always agree with it.

Bookstore in Kadikoy

In Istanbul I wanted to read something kind of fantastic and different, sort of like the place I was in. I hadn’t brought much to read with me, so we went poking around Istanbul looking for the right book store. I was sadly disapointed with the Old Book Market in the Grand Bazaar (mostly Turkish textbooks and overpriced Orhan Pamuk). We found a decent place on the tourist hell strip of Divanyolu Caddesi in Sultanahmet, and quickly found more stores with reasonable prices and better selection across the bridge in Beyoglu. Then, during a quick afternoon rainstorm, found even more charming places in Kadikoy, the Asian side of Istanbul (only a 1.50 lira ferry away). Anyway, the book I eventually chose was “Life on the Golden Horn”, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s collection of letters detailing her of travels through Turkey and Constantinople in the 1700s (she was penpals with like, Alexander Pope). Her experience was a bit more lavish than mine.

Reading in the park

And now that I’ve settled into more-or-less normal life again in Montreal, I’ve been devouring books again, so I’ll have more to write about shortly. To begin with, I’ve decided to wade into the teen girl market and check out Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. Let’s just say that recently I’ve been that person you see in mall food courts at lunchtime dressed in business casual, eating some kind of crap fast food and reading those big thick books. Sue me.