Tuesday, November 28, 2006


My former bookseller friend Amy and myself once came up for a term for the books you read during exams when your brain cannot take the flickering lights of the 13th floor of Robarts any longer; the books that latch onto your brain and keep you steadfastly reading into the wee hours of the morning during your Christmas break...and then keep you well-fed throughout the next day starting at whatever time you roll headachily out of bed. The same books that sustain you through flights and bus trips to Reading Week destinations or to the cottage on the long weekend; the books you tuck under your arm as you scale down the boardwalk to the harbour on a balmy Spring night.

These books need not have any literary qualities, need not be disected or chewed on or discussed. They need only the following elements:

---a setting so fantastically unlike your own you blink twice to form it in your mind's eye (bonus if historical and set on a ship).

----characters so deliciously like and yet so unlike yourself you wish upon wish for more than a resemblance as you scan their happy and fairytale-esque lives with envious glee

---a frosting of romance or adventure so sweet and understated you go back pages upon pages to get it exactly right mouthing: " did this just happen? Let me see that again!"

The one jolly thing about my hiatus from school is my ability to read whatever the heck I want. As I tend to read about 5-7 books a week, I try, as is my duty as a bookseller, to read from a wide range of genres. I will usually read one book of literary or classical fiction ( or revisit old favourites ), one work of biography, history or literary criticism, one Young Adult novel and one genre novel ( usually mystery ). The other books I read are completely wild card!

In the past couple of weeks I have over-indulged in a lot of candy. Namely, fantasy-romances. Anyone who knows me knows that this is about as unlikely for me as a bout of sudden passion for the works of Dan Brown. Fantasy romance?!?!?! I can see many a jaw dropping. Yes, Virginia, there really is a pile of Luna books on my dresser. Once I got past that surge of guilt one immediately has upon cracking the spine of a candy novel, I fell deeply into the spell woven by Holly Lisle, Caitlin Brennan ( a nom de plume for Judith Tarr ) and Maria Snyder.

My candy reads for my recent long weekend in London ( the Ontario kind ) and my lunch breaks at work have been tantalizingly fluffy and delicious.

Looking for candy this holiday season? Candy so sweet and filling it tastes like the 18 mini mars bars you sneak from the jar on Hallowe'en night while waiting for kids to ring your doorbell?

Lose yourself completely! Hop from whatever work of "legitimate" literature you have pawned yourself into appreciating and dive into:

Talyn by Holly Lisle, Poison Study and its sequel Magic Study by Maria Snyder and the works of Sharon Shinn.

Some argue that all reading is candy.... it tastes good, is addictive and can be bad for you ( staying up well past normal hours for one more chapter ), I argue differently. Literature is tasty--- like a filling meal that tempts your palate with a range of complicated sensations. Often rich and dizzying, sometimes sour or stale.....often leaving you more than full. Candy, on the other hand, offers temporary hyper-satisfaction; a sugar rush that dissolves and leaves you craving sterner stuff. Reach into the jar now and then and pull out something colourful and chocolatey and sweet, but remember boys and girls, never let it completely spoil your appetite!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Reading Thomas Hardy backwards.....

Jasper Fforde once claimed to read Thomas Hardy backwards; the endings of a Hardy novel being what they are ( Jude, Tess, Return of the Native, Casterbridge..... ) how could one not try any plausable means to change the dismal outcome?

Currently reading the advanced copy of Claire Tomalin's excellent Thomas Hardy : The Time Torn Man (see also her Life of Jane Austen ) I have been engaged in a re-evaluation of one of my favourite Victorianists. Like Woolf and LM Montgomery, Hardy straddles the Victorian period he loved and romanticized and the modern period inevitably closing upon him. Hardy's magnificently melancholy poem The Darkling Thrush, written on the cusp of the millenium, seems to lyrically battle Hardy's ascerbic frustration with the dawning of a new age. In fiction, Hardy revisits his fear of change on numerous occasions in numerous different guises. Perhaps the lightest book to express his disenchantment is Under the Greenwood Tree. The choir at a small parish is threatened to be replaced by a new harmonium commissioned by the forward-thinking Parson Maybold. Underneath Fancy Day and Dick Dewey's enchanting and lighthearted story of wooing and romance ( wooing and romance in Hardy ....who'da thunk?! ) , is Hardy's age-old battle with resistance and change.

Whether or not you read Hardy backwards ( Wessex Tales, Greenwood Tree and the lesser-known A Loaodecian suggest that is not always a necessity ), the thematic elements stringing Hardy's novels rarely stray from their intrinsic core: the pending certainty of change.

I am fascinated by authors who write their personal problems again and again into their fiction; hoping that with each instance they seep themselves into their words they will be automatically healed or, in Hardy's case, absolved from the pressures of transition.

So, Hardy gets depressing ( I can think of little worse than the scene solidifying the demise of Jude and Sue's children in Jude the Obscure or Tess and Angel's parting steeped in a bile-tasting double-standard ) I cannot wholly blame him. His cocoon was slowly evolving around him, enmeshing him in uncertaintly and doubt. For all of the Tess in the Western Canon, there are the Greenwood Trees. Hardy straddled dark and light as much as he struggled with the present and the future. Yes he paints a golden age and blemishes it with strife. Was the oncoming 20th Century not that very thought incarnate?

Jasper Fforde can keep reading him backwards: Knowing Hardy's absolute obsession with the things that have been and his terror of that before him, he would probably heartily approve.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Side-Kick syndrome

I finished Sharpe's Fury last weekend. I love these books. They are like Hallowe'en candy; they can get sickeningly sweet somewhere in the middle what with the same scenarios, green rifle-coat one-liners, and Sharpe's attraction to women who string through the novels like Bond girls, but they are addictive.

And, as always, my opinion of Cornwell's long serial was heightened by my fervent enjoyment of Patrick Harper.

I love Patrick Harper. In the television series as well as in the books. Harper always commences a stream-of-consciousness loop that leads back to my high school English ISU: Side-kicks in Literature and how they are often stronger than the lead character themselves. Watson is more than a "whetstone for Holmes' mind", he is the moral centre of the book, the counterbalance between the willing reader and Holmes' egotism.

Along with Watson and Holmes I delved into Robinson Crusoe and his good man Friday ( however politically incorrect his portrayal seems nowadays with its "savage" overtones ) and Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

My love for the "side-kicks" never fails me. I wonder if the "everyman" in me ( the every "person" for those who hate the gendering of terms ) leads me to relate more to those slightly out of the spotlight.

Consider Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations: often Pip's compass and moral advisor; Consider Gabriel Utterson in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Often times the sidekick is made of sterner stuff than the man or woman given the leading role. Or, for a different splash of flavour, Harriet in Jane Austen's Emma: certainly not the centre of attention but the reason that our titular heroine is able to play out many of her schemes. The sidekick becomes project, thus. The sidekick becomes essential to the unravelling of the plot.

Modern literature, as well as 18th and 19th C literature aforementioned, is peppered with sidekicks worthy of our acclaim. The major root of my love for the mystery genre lies in its serialized format. Should a devout reader fall hard for a sidekick---legman Archie Goodwin in the Nero Wolfe books, Meyer in John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series, Barbara Havers in Elizabeth George's Lynley books and Melrose Plant the sidekick who supersedes the traditional role of sidekick and turns it on its ear----they have publication after publication to watch them grow and evolve.

The historical adventure novel lends itself well as a landscape where happy sidekicks can exist. Think the interesting role of Maturin the secret agent/nautical surgeon in the brillian Patrick O'Brian series, Ate in the Jack Absolute series by Humphreys, and Renzi in Julian Stockwin's interesting "Kydd" books.

Ron in Harry Potter, Brom in Eragon, Miles Dorrington in the Pink Carnation books by Lauren Willig---the list goes on and on.

They are far more than foils. How many fandoms on the internet arise from sidekick love? Think the fabulous Doctor that plays roomate to the uptight House, Archie Kennedy ( or even Lieut. Bush ) in A and E's Hornblower, Milner in "Foyle's War."

In a Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes famously informs Watson that he is "lost without my Boswell."

After another bout into Sargeant Harper-land, the sentence starts ringing true for many a delightful character and drives my respect for a well-drawn second-player even more.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Is that a time of day?

I enjoy buzzing around to different booksellers on the web. This one, Book Crossing from Maryland in the States is no exception. The site tells me it is located in historic Brunswick and has some pictures of cute bookclubs and events. A quaint, happy, cozy little shop not unlike the store I work at or The Shop Around the Corner Meg Ryan's character perpetuates in You've Got Mail.

Adorable. And then I scrolled down and my eyes caught the Hours of Operation:

Monday thru Friday — 5am to 7pm
Saturday — 10am to 6pm
Sunday — 1pm to 5pm Nov/Dec.
Also open during events on the square

Monday through Friday 5 AM?!?!?!? Are these people insane?! Who is up in time to bookshop at five o'clock in the morning? They had BETTER have a Starbucks, poor souls. I know that Independents have to keep up with the Joneses but is this necessary? !! Even if desperate times call for......

oh well. You get the point. I am a bigger booklover than most but my obsession will never take me into 5 AM territory.

Egads !

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Splendid !

Arthur Slade visited my blog. That just made my whole day. Once and awhile authors drop by and I think " Gee, I think I'll sell tons more of your books ! "

Picked up Downhill Chance by Donna Morrissey today..... my Newfoundland writer du jour!

Half-way through Dairy Queen Days by Robert Inman..... I quite enjoy the southern flavour.

Remembrance Day here in Canada: solemn and rainy. I am always moved to tears at the cenotaph.... the pipers, the uniformity, most of all, the attendance. It seemed more than half of my small city was there; standing in the drizzle, appreciating. Glad to Kailana for her November Challenge: am onto Night Watch now. Followed by Sojourn by Alan Cumyn.

Will write more tomorrow ---- post Author-Visit Euphoria.

Off to read.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I thought I better catch you all up on some of the books that I have read recently.

First, let's chat a bit about Time was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer. Mercer deftly paints a stunning portrait of his early 21st century sojourn at Shakespeare and Co.; the renowned bookshop near the Seine in Paris. Home to aspiring writers and established poets ( Alan Ginsberg included ), Mercer like many before him was given a job and a place to stay by the eccentric and brilliantly literate George Whitman. Imagine ! Living at a bookstore. A bohemian wonder with hidden beds and staircases and enough room at a table for perfect strangers to sit at high tea on Sunday afternoons. Many bookish people permeate Shakespeare and Co. on pilgrimages yearly. Mercer's story reminded me of the golden age of literary Paris ( that explored in Everybody was So Young by Amanda Vaill, That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan ....which we all know as one of my favourites...and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway ). Mercer, a former crime reporter for the Ottawa Citizen, is surprisingly romantic and self-effacing. In fact,his prose.... peppered with anecdotes of long nights with a bottle of wine and scraps of poetry.... makes you feel as if this book were written decades ago and the story was more deliciously aged than its 2005 publication date.

Charming. Read it.

My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain is a dissertation on passion: whether found or thwarted. Kathleen is a London travel writer long absorbed in a xerox of a divorce case an ex-lover once gave her. The "Talbot" divorce case involves the supposedly adulturous affair between the wealthy Marianne Talbot and the lowly groom, William during the aftermath of the Irish Potato famine. Akin to Possession , the story jumps ( seamlessly ) from the present to the early 1850's. The metaphor of famine as a physical and emotional state is pretty astute. Further, the idea of passion starved is fully realized in the old-maidenly narrator, the lonely Kathleen.

This book has a twist which makes the one so praised recently in The Thirteenth Tale pale quickly in comparison.

I read this brilliant book in one sitting with a cup of tea while watching the snow outside my window. The portrait of the famine was heartbreaking; especially in comparison to the wealthy excess she paints in the ignorant Talbots. More heartbreaking still is the starved existence of Kathleen....who yearns for passion and romance and must revisit a tattered courtcase to live it ( Think The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearn by Brian Moore ).

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Gray is one of the Newbery Award winners of yesteryear. I have decided to try and read atleast one Newbery book every month. I have flirted with reading older Newbery books on and off for the past year, so I knew I would get to this one eventually. Adam is the son of Roger-the-Minstrel, in his Canterbury Tale-esque adventures we read of their musical adventures from town to town and Adam's captivating medieval journey. I was reminded ( delightfully ) of Crispin by Avi and his minstrel friend Bear.

Megiddo's Shadow by Arthur Slade is a Red Maple nominee this year and the first book of my November Reading Challenge. Edward, an upstanding Saskatchewan farmer's kid leaves his home on the prairie and enlists in the Great War despite his mere sixteen years to avenge the death of his beloved older brother. A natural horseman, he is sent to tame horses in the Palestine and to fight the Turks. The "Lawrence of Arabia" theme is coupled with Edward's love for his home and native land. Thus, the vast desert he rides becomes a stand-in for the similar dry Prairie terrain of his youth. The end brought me to tears. Arthur Slade.... now inducted into my Canadian YA authors hall of fame. Loved it ! Love him! More MORE MORE !!!

On the night table:

The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Forbidden City by William Bell

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

Fly by Night by Francis Hardinge

Thomas Hardy by Clare Tomalin ( I LOVE advanced reader's copies )

Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Idiot? ces't moi

Anyone else notice that I wrote Gabriel Garcia Marquez as the author of All Quiet on the Western Front?

Ridiculous, I am.

I think it's because I just finished ordering Love in the time of Cholera on the web: and we all know how these three-tiered name sound alike.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Excessive Adaptations 101 and November Challenge


Sometimes the worst you can do when in the euphoria following the reading of a good book, is watch the adaptation of the book you have eagerly wanted to see on film.

Tonight's movie was Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) which I had heard to be the closest interpretation of the novel I had read earlier this week. Instead what I stumbled upon was 2.5 hours of werewolf orgies, gushing blood, stigmatism and head-chopping and lots of bare chestage that had little to do with the book itself.

My mental checklist noted the introduction of Dracula as Vlad the Impaler, fiend and Crusading soldier, proudly brandishing the crest of the Order of the Dragon ( that templar-like society one now associates with the historical figure Dracula ). What it didn't mark so highly was the appearance of Winona Ryder's Mina clad as a Transylvanian Princess and Anthony Hopkin's Van Helsing as one historic incarnation of mentor/sage/spiritual advisor. All of this before the opening credits.

From there, it took any creepy and harrowing subtleties and bashed them over the head with lavish excess. In fact, I thought I was watching a kaleidoscope.... or carnival at best.... a campy, colourful affair that built no character further than its sexual desire or need to chop off people's heads.

The Dracula I read was erotic by default: lace pulled back to reveal an exposed white neck, a strange caped figure lurking near an open window, the touch of a hand, the thirst for an embrace. This adaptation left nothing for the imagination. In fact, I believe Coppola refused to believe we had any imagination at all the way he blatently stripped the text of any hauntingly mystic quality. Mystery? I think not. It was all laid quite bare on the table.... as bare as the well-endowed vampire brides who spent most of the film feasting on Keanu Reeves' pant legs and causing him such distress (?!) his hair was spray painted white for the rest of the film.

Even the Victorian scenes were bashed to shoddy death with Dracula and Mina rendevouzing in the Lyceum theatre toting a rather bawdy spectacle of women in corsets and each in turn strangling the fur of a wolf with gloved hands.

It was a stupid and ridiculous movie and I laughed throughout. How could they butcher such a book to that extent? Butcher seeming the appropriate word because the prop people had lots and lots of red paint to throw around the limestone bricks of Dracula's decaying castle.

I am a firm believer in subtlety. In Dracula's case, less is definitely more. Think of him....as a character... when presented with hallowed grace; sliding mistlike into rooms and vanishing as an apparition, touching no part of skin but the side of the neck and leaving his two pin-pricked calling card, he is a creepy and volatile not boring and disturbingly malleable.

There was so much wrong with this movie it was hard to know where to begin my dissection of it......

The diary sequence voice-overs were true to form, but spoiled alas by Keanu Reeves and Wynona Ryder---neither possessing credible English accents. Lucy, draped in red like flowing blood was more than the Jezebel..... her figure was the first to disturb me.

Gary Oldman does what he can but the whole thing is so dreadfully misconstrued.

Poor Bram Stoker.... I bet you tons of wooden stakes he didn't want his name attached to this atrocity.


Kailana has come up with an excellent November reading challenge in honour of Remembrance Day. Having already partaken of most of the books she listed as her roster, I came up with a few of my own:

Megiddo's Shadow by Arthur Slade: a YA novel currently nominated for the Red Maple award which has a Saskatchewan farmboy experiencing the desert warfare of the Great War first hand.

Night Watch by Sarah Waters : Booker finalist that paints London during the Blitz years ( literary Foyle's War ... hmmm!)

The Sojourn by Alan Cumyn. I have heard this is one of the most beautiful Canadian novels of the past couple of years.

Here are some recommendations for your own November Challenge lists:

Deafening by Frances Itani

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

The Wars by Timothy Findley

The Russlander by Sandra Birdsell

All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Maria Remarque

Regeneration by Pat Barker

Selected Poems by Wilfred Owen

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

The Boy in The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Miles Dorrington...... Alright.... if we must ....

The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig is an even more enchanting read than its predecessor, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Using the lore of Scarlet Pimpernel-esque spies of the Napoleonic Era, Willig has fashioned a dollop of brainy chicklet that counterbalances the topsy-turvey adventures of a Bridget Jones-esh grad student with the romantic and flowery ton of the early 19th Century.

Best of both worlds? Well, counting some irresistibly dashing and rakish spies, some cravats, some sprig muslin and a healthy dollop of innuendo-ed wit, I would say definitely so.

The icing on this layer cake? Willig's astute sense of humour. My kind of humour.
I think the sentence: Miles contemplated leaping into the fishpond had me snort a generous load of tea up my nose.

Take Turnip Fitzhugh: the foppish frump who reminds one of the flappable Percy Blakeney ..... when NOT the dazzling Pimpernel.

Take Henrietta Selwick ( think Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey ) : daring and romanticized little sister of the cherished Purple Gentian, whose mind wavers somewhat between the ghostly and sentimentalized notion of a "Phantom of Donwell Abbey", her steadfast loyalty to her favourite stuffed toy ( Bunny-the-bunny ) , her growing love for her brother's best friend, the charming CHARMING CHARMING !!! ( sorry... can't help myself ) Miles Dorrington, and her eager dreams of being in cahoots with the idolized Pink Carnation.

Take Miles: not quite the hero, not quite the fop: somewhere unceremoniously in the middle.... enamoured and well-intentioned..... a bit of the side-kick, a bit of the leading man.... but meddling in each extreme fleetingly so he retains innocence and more than enough charm.

( Aren't the names deelish? And she had me at Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe ).

Willig subscribes to the school of Austen and LM Montgomery and some of the harlequin-esque romance novelists of our day ( Julia Quinn for one ). She adds to this a healthy dose of educated sensibility ( she is a phd candidate in history at Harvard ).

I quite enjoyed this book. It made me laugh and caused my heart to sing... and provided those warm little moments that stuffed a surreptitious "Ahhhhh " in my throat which melted every last centimetre of the unseasonable snow we have outside.

Did they unmask the Black Tulip and thwart the most dastardly of plans..... ?!?! oh well, probably but who cares ?!?! You don't read these things for espionage and wonder and hidden notes and codes slipped by firelight and over glistening satin at lavish parties. You read these things to find out whose going to end up with whom..... and how fast.

The Regency period is just one big circle of romantic possibility. And Willig is more than a capable matchmaker.