Recommended Reading

As someone who works a day job at a desk staring at a laptop and as a writer who spends many of my non-working hours sitting in bed or at the kitchen table staring at my laptop, I take frequent breaks to read miscellaneous things on the Internet. Aside from the usual social networky suspects, many of those sites are listed on your right under “Inspiration, etc”, blogs written by people I know and like a lot or that I just simply think are inspiring, etc. For 2010, I resolved to update my blog more often rather than simply surf aimlessly, which is why I’ve updated 3 times in the past week, and I think other people felt the same way because there’s been a marked increase in the number of posts for me to read in my Google reader. I wanted to bring to your attention a few of them.

What Looks In is written by Darcie Friesen Hossack. In 2006 I enrolled in the Humber School for Writers Program. It’s a correspondence course where you work one on one with a mentor, sending your writing to them and getting feedback and suggestions in return over a period of about 6 months. Because it’s a correspondence class, everything is done via snail mail and email. What you get out of it depends a lot on what your mentor puts in, and results can sometimes vary. I was lucky to have Michael Helm as my mentor, and he was wonderful – kind, but challenging, and he gave me the best reading suggestions. The other hard part of doing a correspondence course is that you miss out on the interaction between your fellow students. But, again, I was lucky, and discovered that this didn’t have to be the case. I met Darcie, along with a handful of other great ladies, via the Humber message board and to this day we keep in touch, regularly sending emails, celebrating each other’s successes or commiserating if necessary. I’m excited that Darcie’s first collection of short stories, Mennonites Don’t Dance, will be released by Thistledown Press in Fall 2010. I’ve read a few of her stories already and they are staggeringly good; her writing is luscious and evocative and I can’t wait to read the entire book. Anyway, she has started a blog to talk about writing and her upcoming book, and you should read it.

Girl on Wine is written by one of my best girls, Lesley. She’s my literary partner in crime, and whenever I go to a reading without her, someone will ask, “So, where’s Lesley?”. But, she’s also an aspiring sommelier. Until now this has meant that whenever we go out to eat, we’ll hand her the wine list and make her pick, or we’ll get her to help us figure out what wine to buy. For instance, this past Christmas, we had a big dinner with friends, and everyone bought a specific wine (a cabernet sauvignon from Chile, California or Bordeaux or a riesling from Alsace or the US) and we tasted each one. We didn’t do a proper tasting (let’s face it: when you have that many bottles of wine among a small group of people, things start getting a little… rowdy), but we tried, and it was a good opportunity to truly distinguish differences in wine, especially for someone like me, who often gets lazy and is satisfied with dep wine. It’s nice to have an excuse to drink something better. Her new blog has good information about wine for beginner winos like me, and more specific, detailed recommendations for those with a more refined palate.

Samantha Garner is a freelance writer and editor in Calgary and we’ve known each other for a loooong time, did a litzine together (I liked all of them, but Pinpoints #1 is one of my top 3 zines that I’ve ever been involved in, period), and this past year she did something very brave and started concentrating fully on her freelance work. If you’re in Calgary (or elsewhere) and need a freelancer, use her. But she also writes about language and grammar and literary things on her blog, so even if you don’t need her services, you should read her posts.

LalaLindsey is blogging more too, and that’s awesome, but what I want to tell you about is her book, You Are Among Friends: Advice for the Little Sisters I Never Had. This started out as a zine, and then she used Kickstarter to turn the zine into a book, which she’s distributing to women’s shelters, Planned Parenthood clinics and schools. You can buy the book too, and I strongly suggest you do. Sometimes I think about what life was like when I was in high school, how difficult it was to figure stuff out, to trust people or to stop myself from trusting people too much. Discovering zines, the Internet and indie rock helped me out a lot, but it was mostly indirectly. I saw girls in bands and thought, hey, I could learn how to play guitar. I read Sassy magazine and thought, wow, it’s cool that these models are a little different from the models in YM. It would’ve saved me a lot of trouble if I had Lindsey’s instruction manual, so if you have a little sister or cousin or neighbour who could use some advice on how to grow up as a girl in this world, buy it for them. Personally, I bought the book for myself. I mean, the advice she gives is directed towards teenagers (there’s lots of good information about sex, budgeting, what to do when your best friends starts dating a dude and ditches you), but the whole tone of the book inspires me, a thirty year old woman, and just makes me feel good about myself, so of course I would like it on my bookshelf. Sheesh, thank you, Linds. Many people were posting photos of themselves holding the book, so here’s my Internet meme of myself holding YAAF.
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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.

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

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Handing out books

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Panayiotis and Marieme looking at one of the books.

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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”.

Partly because of your love for yoghurt

It has only recently occurred to me that I can search for writers on Youtube the same way I search for musicians or television or movie clips or whatever. Here is a video of Frank O’Hara reciting one of the loveliest poems ever, Having a Coke With You.

I’ve never been very good with following television shows and have been staying away from Mad Men, but then I found this:

Jon Hamm/Don Draper reciting the last part of O’Hara’s heartbreaking I-am-getting-over-heartbreak poem “Mayakovsky”:

Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.

Ok, I really need to watch this show.

Some notes on a literary festival

The Blue Metropolis literary festival was held in Montreal between Wednesday April 30- Sunday May 4. I attended at least one event every day, usually with my literary outing date, Lesley, and it was fun, inspiring, overwhelming, etc.

April 30, 2008: Reading with James Meek, Nancy Huston and Donald Antrim. A good, solid reading. My favourite was Nancy Huston, who read excerpts from her recent English translation “Fault Lines”. I was unexpectedly taken by Donald Antrim, who I was not familiar with. He read from a hilarious work-in-progress. I found it surprising that he began the novel 6 years ago, but shelved it when the project became unwieldy. There’s something strangely comforting in knowing that a “real writer” can start a novel, get stuck, trash it and pick it up again after 5 years. You just sort of assume that once you have books published you write and complete things and they get made into books in neat 2 year spans or something.

May 1, 2008: An interview with Nancy Huston lead by CBC’s Michael Enright. Nancy Huston is probably my favourite “new” discovery of the festival. (“New” in brackets because she’s written dozens of books, is respected and well known, etc.) Caroline and Lesley had both glowingly recommended “Lignes de faille”, but I never got around to reading it. I was charmed at the reading the night before, but what really sealed the deal was this interview. They discussed things like the complexities of being an ex-pat in Paris (Nancy Huston was born in Calgary and lived in various parts of Canada and the Eastern United States before moving to France), the impact of childhood, the problems of language (trivia: Nancy Huston wrote her university thesis about taboo under the tutelage of Roland Barthes!) and more. The interview will be broadcast on the CBC sometime soon and would definitely be worth listening to. I would now like to read every one of her books. Okay, go. (One down – I breezed through “Losing North” this weekend; it’s similar in topic to the interview)

May 2, 2008: A panel discussion called “From manuscript to book: The publishers have their say” with Jon Paul Fiorentino, Robert J. Sawyer and Patricia Aldana. Jon was the more contemporary, indie side of things, Patricia covered children books (she works for Groundwood Press) and Robert was science fiction. It was an interesting panel and covered a lot of things I already knew, but didn’t mind hearing again i.e. submit everywhere, but know who you’re submitting to and why you’re right for them. Patricia was the only one who believed that people shouldn’t simultaneous submit, but come on, guys. We will simultaneously submit anyway, especially if you’re going to wait 6 months to give us rejection letters. Things got a little prickly when the topic of self-publishing came up. Jon valiantly defended DIY culture, much to the chagrin of Robert. Discussing it later on, Lesley made a good point that it really depends on the genre. A science fiction chapbook is probably weird, but a poetry chapbook is lovely. Anyway, it was an interesting panel.

May 3, 2008: A lecture/reading by Daniel Levitin, who wrote the book “Your Brain on Music” about the science behind listening to music. The lecture was fascinating and he talked about things like how the part of your brain responsible for movement is stimulated while listening to music, which is why in general we have to suppress the urge to dance or tap our fingers when we listen to a song we like. Admittedly, the lecture portion was too short, but he was eager to read to us an excerpt from the book that he will be releasing in the summer, which will deal more with the evolutionary side of things. After the lecture I realized that I hardly just listen to music anymore. I am always doing something – taking the bus, driving, doing the dishes – and I wonder how this has affected my relationship with music?

May 4, 2008: I spent the day at a workshop called “Pitching the Pitch” lead by Gerald Wexler. While I’ve done my fair share of research about the publishing world, the movie industry is a complete mystery to me. Over the past few months Soraya and I have written a screenplay, and now that it’s done, we’re not sure what to do with it. I was hoping this would clarify things a little. I have no experience in pitching, which was obvious when it came time for me to pitch my movie, but I got great suggestions from Gerald and the class. The respected (and um, dreamy) journalist/non-ficton writer, Adam Lebor, was in the workshop as well, hoping to get pointers on pitching his novel/movie. He had been on several panels at the festival and I didn’t expect to see someone “established” in a workshop with me. Similar to how I was surprised by Donald Antrim, I was shocked to find out that Adam’s novel is having a difficult time getting published. I assumed that, given his credentials, the book would be snapped up in a second. Oh, publishing. What a fickle beast.

The only way to be quiet / is to be quick

Timely: The New Yorker published an article about Frank O’Hara’s “Selected Poems” (which I mentioned in the last entry).

His poems, so full of names and places and events, are exquisite ledgers for the tallying of reality. They all attempt to move the vital but fleeting items in Column A—sandwiches and torsos, lunch hours and late nights—into Column B, where works of art stand, “strong as rocks,” against the ravages of mortality. The attempt to move people from Column A to Column B is called “elegy,” and, while every poet tries it, few have done so with the illusion of real-time improvisation that makes O’Hara’s poems so risky and so satisfying.

Yeah.

Stuff to keep me warm.

I’ve been really good about winter this year. I haven’t really minded the snowstorms – they usually happened on Sundays and I felt cozy sitting at home – writing, cooking, baking – relieved that I wasn’t out on the streets. I even went skiing once. But now, February 29th, the temperature a frigid -15 degrees celcius and I am officially cranky. I mean, come on, enough with it already! The upside is that I’ve been writing a lot this winter, and I’m wondering if it will keep up when spring comes. It’s easy to settle in with my laptop and a warm beverage on a cold night, but it will be a different story when it’s 25 degrees and there’s a bottle of white wine in the fridge.

Anyway, word-wise, I went to two readings this past week. On Tuesday many people crammed into the delightful Drawn and Quarterly store on Bernard to watch a bearded Adrian Tomine give a slideshow presentation about his work, mostly his last graphic novel “Shortcomings”. It was interesting to see the progression of sketches to final graphic novel, and Adrian gave a thorough discussion of the process. He also addressed the “unpolitical” issue that has kind of plagued him his whole career. People expect a visible minority to tackle their otherness in their work, and given that Adrian never has really talked about being Japanese the way say, Sandra Cisneros discusses being Mexican, there have been people who criticize him for what they see as avoidance or internalized racism. It was interesting, and something I’ve definitely thought about myself with my own work. He stands firm in his position that he writes about what he wants to write about, that he’s interested in human behaviour and the small moments between people, and that to do otherwise would be forced. Anyway, his work totally resonates with people, so obviously he’s not doing anything wrong. And like he said, it’s great that people are actually paying attention to comics as valid social commentary, something that wouldn’t have been considered 20 years ago. The funny thing is that you can still sense how self-conscious he is about his work, especially his earlier stuff. It’s endearing.

Last night was the Atwater Poetry Project featuring Elizabeth Bachinsky and Carmine Starnino. Elizabeth was my favourite; she is such a great reader – charming and seductive and funny.

And some zine news!
“Cement, Flour, Saints” will soon be distro’d by the amazing Ms. Hipp’s My My distro. Also exciting, for those of you that have read the zine, an amended, edited version of the first section (“cement”) is going to be published in an upcoming anthology by the Montreal based small press, Invisible Publishing. I’ll post more details about the anthology when I know, but yay.

And I don’t think I mentioned it earlier, but there’s other book activity going on in our house – Andrew and his friend Michael will have a book published by Furnace Press about Buffalo’s grain elevators in September. Details are here: http://www.furnacepress.com/news.htmMichael is a wonderful, erudite writer and you know how I feel about Andrew’s photos, so I’m obviously excited to see the end product.

Irrational behaviour

I was in the business program in university and although my concentration was on accounting, I essentially minored in economics, a field I desperately wanted to be really awesome at. I probably studied harder for my economics classes than I did accounting, and despite all the studying, I was only ever average at it. Eventually I realized it was because I was treating economics as a proxy for the English lit classes my practical (and scaredy cat) self had opted out of. I zoned out at the charts and equations and instead daydreamed about the metaphors of economics. Micro vs. macro. The concept of quantifying utility. Efficient markets. We touched on the economics or love and marriage in one class and I think I flipped out a little. I loved this stuff, the language of it, the concept of mapping all of our messy, human traits onto a grid. Anyway, I graduated and most of my real economics education evaporated away, leaving me with the superficial poetry of its nomenclature rather than the weight of real knowledge. But I was reminded of my interest in economics this morning reading this article by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker that talks about “behavioural economics”. The concluding paragraph summarized the flaw with projecting human behaviour onto economic theory:

If there is any consolation to take from behavioral economics—and this impulse itself probably counts as irrational—it is that irrationality is not always altogether a bad thing. What we most value in other people, after all, has little to do with the values of economics. (Who wants a friend or a lover who is too precise a calculator?) Some of the same experiments that demonstrate people’s weak-mindedness also reveal, to use a quaint term, their humanity. One study that Ariely relates explored people’s willingness to perform a task for different levels of compensation. Subjects were willing to help out—moving a couch, performing a tedious exercise on a computer—when they were offered a reasonable wage. When they were offered less, they were less likely to make an effort, but when they were asked to contribute their labor for nothing they started trying again. People, it turns out, want to be generous and they want to retain their dignity—even when it doesn’t really make sense.

Recent word-related things

I’ve felt especially word inspired recently. Maybe it’s the winter? The erractic seesaw between bitter cold, freezing rain and numbing snowstorm means that I want to spend a lot of time curled up in bed with something to read. On my bus rides to work I make a beeline for the first available seat and read steadily until it’s my stop. No dreamy window peering; I can barely see out the window.

  • True Grit – Charles Portis: These days I just want to read books that take place in the steamy, dusty South. I want to read about horses and heat. I guess it’s another response to the weather. This book met that criteria, was laugh out loud funny, had a scrappy 14-year old heroine and was written beautifully. I was truly sad when it was over.
  • Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste – by Carl Wilson: I’ve been a little disapointed with the 33 1/3 books I’ve read to date, but this one was a pure delight. Wilson examines sentimentality, the politics of taste, Quebecois culture, uses a Gilmore Girls episode to make a point about what works with Celine’s music, travels to Las Vegas and has a horrible time, quotes “The Book of Love” by the Magnetic Fields and more.
  • Went to a zine reading featuring Jeff Miller (Ghost Pine zine) and Julian Evans (One Way Ticket), and I don’t know why zine readings never occured to me before. Zines are so chatty by nature – they work so well in this format. Speaking of readings, this month’s Pilot was also fun and there is just something vaguely satisfying about drinking a gin and tonic at the bar while listening to writers read on a late Sunday night when I’m normally home cuddled in pjs and thinking about the work week ahead of me.

Tags and books.

I was tagged by An Endless Banquet, so voila, a post.

1. Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 random and/or weird things about yourself.
3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Instead of 7 random things about myself, here are 7 of my favourite bookstores I’ve encountered during my travels, a list I’ve been meaning to compile for awhile. In the past few years I’ve realized that my favourite kind of souvenir is of the printed paper variety. Kitschy t-shirts shrink in the wash, postcards get shoved into boxes, the novelty of a gift-shop trinket fades. Books have staying power, and it’s nice to look at my bookshelf and remember when I bought a certain book or where I read it. Most of these shops are East Coast/New England heavy, but that’s just because I take a lot of roadtrips and since I live in Montreal, that’s about as far as I can venture in a car on a weekend.

1. The Country Bookshop, Plainfield, VT. – Plainfield, Vermont is the kind of small town I sometimes think about escaping too. It has all the necessities: a pizza parlour, a Southern BBQ restaurant (River Run, which is one of my top 5 restaurants of all time), beautiful countryside and a used bookstore. The Country Bookshop is a house crammed full of books, shelves running up to the ceiling, stacks along the floor. We usually visit after eating too much food at River Run, and flipping through books is the perfect digestif. Memorable purchases: A slim, blue-cloth hardcover of sparse and strangely beautiful poetry by Jose Garcia Villa.
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2. Atlantis Books, Oia, Santorini, Greece. When you’re in Santorini, you Must watch the sunset in the village of Oia. Everyone talks about it. It’s one those jaw-droppingly beautiful events, the huge sun turning pink and purple and getting all streaky and ablaze before disappearing into the sea. The thing is, it’s kind of surreal and eye-roll inducing to see the hoopla around it – people filming the sunset (seriously, who is going to watch a filmed sunset, ever?), clapping when it’s over, rating it against other sunsets, etc. It was pretty, but the thing we got most excited over in Oia was Atlantis Books. It’s a tiny bookstore that looks like it was carved out of a cave, with shelves and shelves of amazing books, the kind of trove a travelling bookworm dreams about. There was a lazy dog sleeping in the corner, and the girl running the shop for the evening was wearing an “Ithaca Is Gorges” t-shirt and playing Belle and Sebastian. Memorable purchases: The Greek Islands by Lawrence Durrell and Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon.

3. A&E Books, 1000 Islands Parkway, Ontario: Driving back from Toronto this past September we took the more scenic 1000 Islands Parkway route after Kingston so that we could see some water and trees instead of transport trucks. Along the way I noticed a “Bookshop Open” sign (the one pictured in the upper right corner of this very blog!). We drove a few minutes and then decided we didn’t want to pass it up and turned back around. A&E Books is on the top floor of a house and is small, but has a nice selection of books on topics like birdwatching or cartography. Memorable purchases: A gorgeous illustrated edition of Robinson Crusoe and an early edition of Scouting for Boys.

4. Black Sheep Books, Montpellier, Vermont: There is an amazing concentration of spectacular independent bookstores in Montpellier, at least 5 of them within one city block. Whenever Andrew and I take a little trip to Vermont (which is much easier now that we live in Montreal), we always seem to come home with a trunk load of books. Black Sheep Books is a little anarchist bookstore with a decent, but limited collection of books. The best thing about Black Sheep Books is that if it weren’t for their recommendation for River Run, we would’ve never discovered Plainfield. The people who work there are just friendly like that. Memorable purchase: a graphic novel about Emma Goldman’s life, of course.

5. Corporate chain, New Jersey, NY. There was nothing charming or unique about this bookstore – it was just a regular big box kind of place – but listen, it was a few years ago, late summer and I was stuck in the depths of New Jersey on a business trip. One night after a long day of work, instead of sinking into the hotel bed I took the rental car keys and drove around, trying hard not to get lost on the endless maze of highways. I was having one of those nights where I felt a little bereft, a little too far from home, and was comforted to find myself at a bookstore. I bought Joan Didion’s newly published Year of Magical Thinking and, for nostalgia reasons, “For the Roses” by Joni Mitchell, just so I could listen to “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” in the car. I read the book sitting in a McDonalds and felt a lot more restored. Memorable purchases: Self-explanatory.

6. Big Chicken Barn, off of Route 1, Maine. When I went to Maine one of my main(e?) goals was to find books by Robert P. T. Coffin. I had read a few of essays in a collection Gourmet writing and after falling for his exuberant, passionate enthusiasm for Maine cookery wanted to read more. I wasn’t able to find any of them in Toronto, and even in Maine had some trouble. I found a novel of his in Portland, but the book I really wanted was Mainstays of Maine, all rhapsodic food writing. I finally found a well-read hardcover of it in the depths of the Big Chicken Barn, a barn stuffed with good and bad books, antiques, junk and who knows what else. Memorable purchase: Mainstays of Maine, obv.

7. Pages, Toronto, Ontario. I visit Toronto once every two or three months now that I live in Montreal, and I rarely let a trip pass without stopping to visit Pages. It’s just one of those stores that I know I can rely on for something good and interesting, and sometimes I’ll schedule plans with people in the area so that I can get there early and spend a good 30-40 minutes browsing until I have to meet them. Memorable purchases: Too many to count, but on my last trip back, Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson
and the Maisonneuve food issue.

For reference, here in Montreal my book needs are met by the endlessly charming Word (469 Milton), the solidly stocked and perpetually open Paragraphe (2220 Mcgill) and the huge and awesome Bibliothèque Nationale. I am always keen on bookstore recommendations, in Montreal or elsewhere.

And I tag whoever wants to do this. (Sorry for the rule breakage).