Top 10 Favourite Things About 2009

1. My favourite books read in 2009 were Lorrie Moore’s “A Gate at the Stairs” and Roberto Bolano’s “The Savage Detectives”. I read many good things this year, but those are the ones that stuck with me the most.

2. One of my favourite reading memories was the morning of my thirtieth birthday. That weekend Andrew and I had been in Toronto for my bridal shower at my parents’ house, and then we took a long detour back to Montreal through New York. We stopped in Ithaca for the night and the next morning, my birthday, I woke up absurdly early and read Karen Solie’s “Pigeon”. It was quiet and sunny and peaceful.

3. The two readings I did in 2009 were so fun. I wrote about the reading at the TZL already. The reading at Le Pick Up was also fun and probably the oddest setting for a reading that I’ve ever done. Depanneur Le Pick Up is not just a dep by name – it’s really a dep, with shelves of cereal and toilet paper and fridges full of beer and pop. But, it’s a little different because you’ll also find things like vegepate and soy milk, and there’s a zine rack by the door, and the lunch counter serves pulled pork sandwiches (real pork and vegan equivalent). It was set up so that the reading was done in the back corner, next to the ATM machine, in front of a few shelves of tampons, near the fridges.

4. I stuffed three seasons of Mad Men into one year and as a result feel more in control of my career and wardrobe.

5. I bought an Iphone after I unceremoniously dumped a bottle of Vitamin Water on my Ipod and couldn’t stomach the thought of music-less commute to work. Instead of spending money on another Ipod, I decided to consolidate my phone and mp3 player into one device. It was probably my favourite purchase of 2009. I also now understand the appeal of e-readers. I’m definitely not in the market for something like a Kindle (I don’t need any more electronic devices), but it’s nice to have certain books loaded on my Iphone to read when the book I have in my bag isn’t cutting it.

6. I quit my job and started a new one, and it felt good.

7. The songs I listened to the most did not come out in 2009, but I listened to The National a lot, and Neko Case (“Middle Cyclone” was a 2009 release!), the Pixies and Julie Doiron (especially “I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day” and, recently, the folky side project Daniel, Fred and Julie).

8. Cafe Comme Chez Soi was my favourite brunch find of 2009, followed by The Sparrow. Boite Gourmande wins for consistency, reliability and lots of good sunshine.

9. Istanbul was strange and beautiful. We walked everywhere and I stopped and petted nearly every stray kitten we passed (many). I got pummelled in a steamy Turkish bath. We drank a lot of tea. We took a ferry to Asia. Michael Jackson died and we watched many MJ videos in our hotel room. We sat on the roof of the hotel at night and listened to prayer calls from all of the mosques surrounding us. I should’ve bought more scarves, but it was hot and I didn’t have enough foresight. We ate a lot of food.

10. Getting married was so much fun, but intense too. We gathered people we loved and went to Greece and did things like rode scooters around the island and went swimming in blue salty water and drank lots of weak white wine and ordered Greek salads. On our wedding day it rained, but then it stopped, and my girlfriends did my makeup and my hair and made sure I looked pretty, and I cried a lot, and Andrew and I danced to “Northern Sky” by Nick Drake, and the bottom of my dress was muddy from the rain, and my mother accidentally locked us up on the roof, and Andrew and I read each other poems we wrote for our vows and they were embarrassing and personal and so full of love, and wow, yeah, it was intense.

So, 2009: an intense, full year. A great year. But I’m ready for 2010 to start and I have big plans for this upcoming new year. I’m excited to share them with you.

Mix Stories

So after The Odyssey, I wasn’t kidding about reading something less epic. Instead of launching into another novel, I’ve been reading short stories, selections from various books, dipping in and out as I please. It’s a bit of a refresher course: sometimes I just need to be reminded how stories work. I’ve been revisiting many of my stories and I sometimes get lost in them, wondering, does this need to be longer? Or shorter? Is this interesting? This is SO not interesting. How do I make it better? One evening I stood in front of my bookshelf and pulled some of my favourite collections off the shelf. Curiously, in the pile of books I had selected the authors were overwhelmingly female. I love the dudes of course (those classic C-men: Chekhov, Cheever, Carver), but when I think about the stories I am most influenced by, they happen to be written by women.

Sometimes I think it would be fun to make a mix tape-like list of some of my favourite stories. If you could amass a series of stories to give to a friend, what would you include? When I’m working on my own stories, I’m inspired by the following:
“Heaven” Mary Gaitskill (from “Bad Behaviour”)
“Terrific Mother” Lorrie Moore (from “Birds of America”)
“Sister Crazy” Emma Richler (from “Sister Crazy”)
“Diegesis (World of a Fiction)” Masha Tupitsyn (from “Beauty Talk & Monsters”) “When We Were Nearly Young” Mavis Gallant (from “In Transit”)**
“Bread” Rebecca Brown (from “What Keeps Me Here”)
“Nipple of Paradise” Lisa Moore (from “Degrees of Nakedness”)
These are from books that are sitting next to my computer – I’m leaving out a lot. But, still, seeing these stories in a list makes me realize that they all have the same kind of themes (motherhood, sisterhood, coming-of-age-girl-style). It’s no surprise that these are the ones I’m gravitating to most these days since many of my stories deal with the same themes.

** After writing the list above, I got to thinking about this particular Gallant story and why I liked it so much. At first it seems like a wisp of a story, a short collection of musings about the narrator’s life at a specific point in her life. It’s personal, but detached. But it’s the kind of story that sticks with you – maybe it’s the way it ends abruptly? The way the narrator and her “friends” seem so gripped with fear?

Wanting to find some analysis, I stumbled upon The Journal of the Short Story in English. It’s an academic journal that discusses the short story and it appears that they’ve put the full text of their back issues online. This appeals to my thwarted English major side. This essay, “Genre transgression and auto/biography in Mavis Gallant’s “When we were nearly young”", confirms why this story is so weighty. There’s a lot going on.

I haven’t updated what I’ve been reading for a long time, mostly because it took me forever to read “The Odyssey”. I read the epic poem in high school when I took Saturday morning Greek school. We were somehow supposed to understand the ancient Greek version, but considering that I had only recently mastered the alphabet, some verb tenses and basic vocabulary, I just borrowed an English translation from the library and followed along (this just reminded me that my Greek OAC exam was the day after my high school prom. I remember sitting at that desk at Burnamthorpe Collegiate and pulling stray bobby pins out of my hair). I filed the book away in the back of my head, and then didn’t really think about it until a month or two ago when I went to the John William Waterhouse exhibit that’s currently on display at the Musee des Beaux Arts. Waterhouse does those dreamy, pre-Raphaelite paintings – you recognize them as soon as you see them, pale ladies with long flowing hair, lots of lush nature scenes, etc. I wasn’t particularly interested in going to the exhibit, but Andrew and I have memberships to the museum and were feeling guilty about not taking advantage of them. Once I was there I became absorbed in the paintings and was especially taken with those devoted to the Odyssey. For instance, “Ulysses and the Sirens”, where Odysseus (or Ulysses) orders his crew to cover their ears so that they won’t be tempted by the Sirens, who are depicted as ridiculous/frightening birds with female heads. I had forgotten this detail from the story. When you read something so sprawling, you end up forgetting a lot. I remembered Penelope continuously weaving and unweaving her shroud and Odysseus challenging his wife’s suitors to an archery competition, but I forgot about many of Odysseus’ crazy adventures, like his encounter with the cannibal that ate his crew mates one by one or his stay on Circe’s island (where she turned the men into a bunch of pigs – ha!).

So, the exhibit inspired me to read The Odyssey again, but this time I read one of those modern translations (it was a good translation, but I’ve now returned the book to the library and can’t seem to find the author online). It’s probably a cop out, but I knew I would be distracted by the epic poem format, and I wanted to revel in the pure story, all those gods and godesses and betrayals and backstory, so I stuck with prose. It took me awhile to read through all 24 books and I’m already forgetting many details about it, but this time I took notes along the way. It was such a pleasure to read, although now I’m ready for something a little less epic.