Doris #26 – Cindy Crabb: Today was one of those days, those simple, perfect ones. The weather was beautiful: Indian summer, a little cool, but still warm enough to eat breakfast on a picnic table in the sun. Andrew and I went to the market and bought eggplants and coloured peppers and avocadoes and the man in Tortilleria Maya spoke to me in Spanish, and then we went downtown to the Antiquarian book fair at Concordia and I bought a book called “Science and Psychical Phenomena” and then we went and sat at a sunny table at Reservoir and drank beer and ate fries and then, AND THEN, when we walked down Duluth there was a strange puppet show going on in the window of a cafe. We stood with the small crowd and watched a vaguely demented show about a girl who ate everything, starting with cupcakes and cookies and then moving on to cats and bicycles. And as she kept eating her belly (a balloon) started getting bigger and bigger and bigger until it exploded in a big pop and everyone laughed except for the one child in the audience who burst into tears. Her father hugged her and laughed and explained that it was okay and it was really very adorable. And throughout the day I would sneak peaks at the zine I had purchased that morning, the latest issue of Doris and this is one paragraph I particularly loved: but i think hope is like a crush. not the resigned hope, like – i hope things get better – but the hope that feels like suspended disbelief. where spaces open up and everything is possible again, and you’re pushed to adventure, pushed out of your regular boxes, pushed to show off, to be the person you want to be the most, working hard to show your best sides, your secret scars your hidden dreams. And I think that’s how I’m feeling these days, hopeful. It’s a worthy feeling to aspire to. What I did today has nothing to do with the zine, but the zine was a part of the day, you know? It made it better. Doris always seems to have that effect.

You can order Doris straight from Cindy or from Paper Trail distro. If you’re in Montreal you can pick it up from the zine rack at Le Pick Up (7032 Waverly), which is run by Jeff Miller of Ghost Pine fame. He has a great selection of zines. While you’re there you can also get a pulled pork sandwich or a really great breakfast bagel.

A Gate at the Stairs – Lorrie Moore: There has been so much buzz about this book that there’s hardly anything left to write about it. Everything I’d say has already been phrased perfectly and published.

For example:

Here’s Jonathan Lethem doing the gushing that I don’t have to do anymore, plus it’s totally legitimate because he’s all “published novelist” and “New York Times reviewer” and I’m just some half-hearted quasi-blogger who’s only published a handful of stories and essays in magazines hardly anyone will read. Thanks, Jon: …Moore may be, exactly, the most irresistible contemporary Ameri­can writer: brainy, humane, unpretentious and warm; seemingly effortlessly lyrical; Lily-Tomlin-funny.

Or here’s Lisa Moore elaborating on how well Lorrie Moore does that funny-sad thing I love so much (Bonus: one of my favourite writers discussing another favourite writer! And they have the same last name!): Language in Moore’s stories and novels is reversible, like those clever garments that can be worn inside out, or outside in; she shows that language can point at itself and at the same time expose – always unsentimentally – human pain and hope, vulnerability and strength, what’s funny, and what’s not funny and how everything, eventually, is both.

Getting down to the details of the book itself, it’s about a 20 year old girl, Tassie, who starts nannying the newly adopted mixed-race baby of a married couple in her college town. Along the way she meets her boyfriend in her Intro to Suffism class, watches as her brother graduates high school and enlists in the army, and plays her bass. In one of the more perfect details, Tassie talks about how she’s figured out how to play Sleater Kinney songs on her bass. “Huh,” I thought when I read it. “Funny!” But, Carrie Brownstein’s reaction was even better: Reading my own band name within the book’s pages was like having a movie character turn toward you, say your name and confer with you on the plot. It was a personalized fortune cookie. It was having a park named after you without first having to die.

And here’s Lorrie Moore herself on why she decided to use Tassie as the filter for this story: Here’s the thing about being 20 years old. It’s actually the universal age of passion. It’s the age at which nature and form come together and your individual passion achieves its final shape and expression. When, later in life, when you’re older, you feel furious, it’s the fury of a 20-year-old. When you fall in love, it’s the love of a 20-year-old. It’s articulate, it’s visceral, it’s platonic. It’s the pure form of the emotion. When you observe the hypocrisies and injustices of the world, and feel shocked and betrayed by them, you’re actually being 20 again. And yet, you’re just shy of being able to drink. How perfectly completed, and thwarted, at the same time.

I didn’t expect the novel to go the way it did, and I didn’t expect to feel so gutted by it. I admittedly felt a bit emotionally manipulated (here’s a blog entry that has some criticisms I agree with) but the writing was so good and Tassie was such a great character – nerdy and earnest, trying so hard to do the right thing, but still fucking up the way 20 year olds do – the perfect kind of heartbreaking.

My favourite thing I’ve read this year.

Ladies and Gentleman, the Bible! – Jonathan Goldstein: To tell you the truth, I was a little worried about this book. I love Wiretap and I had enjoyed listening to little snippets from the book on the show. I even went to Goldstein’s Jian Gomeshi interview at Blue Met and laughed a lot. But I was worried that the book would feel too gimmicky, that the jokes would be too predictable, that making fun of the bible was best handled via deadpan monologues on radio shows. But, no. The thing about this book is that it’s not just poking fun at the inherent silliness of religious stories, it’s also pointing out that they are good stories, that the characters are interesting and complex. And it’s funny; the jokes are good. So, yes, no disappointment here.

Holding Still For As Long As Possible – Zoe Whittall: I was looking forward to this book enough to splurge on the spendier hardcover version while visiting Toronto a few weeks ago. My mother accidentally ran the lawn mower over the telephone cable lines and we didn’t have phone or Internet for a portion of the weekend, which meant that I began reading almost immediately. The book is told from the perspective of three main characters and the story knit them together with enough foreshadowing to keep me tense as I approached the ending. I perhaps enjoyed the lead up more than the inevitable conclusion, but overall I loved the book and thought it was a great, solid follow up to “Bottle Rocket Hearts”. And as a former Torontonian, I loved seeing references to my hometown, ones I hadn’t seen in books before, like The Beaver or The Red Room.

On not just writing what you know

Selected Poems – C.P. Cavafy: On my way to Istanbul, I picked up a copy of Constantine P. Cavafy‘s Selected Poems at the Athens airport. Cavafy is one of modern Greece’s most celebrated poets. Whether he’s writing about Hellenic historical events or homosexuality, his poems have a kind of cool, elegant detachment, kind of like the marble statues you might find in an archaeological museum. The thing about Cavafy is that he didn’t live a Rimbaud-esque tortured poet existence. He worked for 30 years at the Ministry of Public Works, and spent a large portion of his life living with members of his family. So, his body of work didn’t necessarily follow that creative writing standby of “writing what you know”. In fact, this is from the introduction to the book: In an early ars poetica he wrote that the notion that a writer derives most profit from “personal experience is undoubtedly a sound one; but were it strictly observed it would limit termendously literary production”. Thanks for that reminder, Constantine.

I was also struck by the poem below – it’s a kind of warning for our over-sharing generation, all our blogs and twitter and flickr and facebook chatter (guilty on all counts).

As Much As You Can
If you cannot fashion your life as you would like,
endeavour to do this at least,
as much as can: do not trivialize it
through too much contact with the world,
through too much activity and chatter.

Do not trivialize your life by parading it,
running around displaying it
in the daily stupidity
of cliques and gatherings
until it becomes like a tiresome guest.