December 28th, 2008
Yesterday morning I went with my aunt and nephew to the new AGO. The cost of admission is quite steep at $18.00 for an adult, and considering you could become a member for under $100.00, I’m guessing they’re keeping the costs high to encourage people to spend in that way. The new Gehry building is breathtaking from the outside, the oblong exterior, the brushed concrete, it’s open and inviting as well as stoic. But the interior honestly took my breath away. The new second floor, with the blond wood and natural light just adds warmth to the collection. I remember going to the AGO back in grade school — it was dark, gloomy and crowded. Not a single of these adjectives apply anymore. The new building is simply spectacular.
We went with a toddler, who was very good at sitting in his stroller and looking (not touching, I was told many times, “not touching Auntie Deanna, not touching!” He was particularly impressed with the ship’s models in the lower floor, as well as the kids’ space, where we spent some time too. We didn’t see enough of the collection, but enough to make me honestly consider becoming a member so I could stop by after work sometimes and simply wander around. Another part of that “becoming a tourist in my own city” new year’s resolution from way back.
March 14th, 2008
Last night Sue and I went to see Zesty’s play at the Village Playhouse, Enchanted April. It’s been ages since I’ve been to see a play, and I’m certainly not counting the abysmal Dirty Dancing fiasco as actual theatre.
[Pause to hang up on a telemarketer.]
The play is a sweet and charming story about two women who take their holidays into their own hands just after the First World War in England. Following her heart and her visions, Lotty (Zesty) basically drags Rose to Italy to spend a month in a castle in a way that’ll change all of their lives.
But what I liked best about it was seeing Zesty become a completely different person. She’s Lotty from start to finish, and it’s always nice to enjoy the success of your friends when they’re doing something they love. I was feeling really crappy last night but went anyway, and I’m glad that I did.
March 1st, 2008
Splatter zone indeed. Famous last words before Act II: “There’s not enough blood.”
The weather tried very hard to act as a deterrent. We waited for a half hour for a streetcar until we gave up and finally hailed a cab to cart our soggy butts to the Diesel playhouse. Shared a pint. Found our seats that were eerily reminiscent of the show in Havana where you sit at communal tables. That’s where the similarities ended.
Lights down, the show began, great performances, hilarious moments, fantastic sets. The RRHB got splattered as he wished. And even though I’ve never seen a single Evil Dead movie, I enjoyed the camp, and the audience were so into the whole show as they shouted out the more famous lines and thoroughly enjoyed getting buckets of blood dumped upon them.
December 11th, 2007
There are reasons why I hate starting every post with, “Goodness, I am so busy I barely have time to sleep these days.” Firstly, it’s boring, no one cares how busy I am. In fact, I don’t even care, and I’m the one living this manic life. Secondly, being swamped with work doesn’t count as almost every single person I know professionally and personally is in the same boat. Thirdly, I miss the comments, the emails, and frankly, the love, that I get from my blog and when I don’t post, I don’t get anything back. After all, you get back what you put out in the world, right?
So, I apologize in advance for the brief list-post detailing what’s gone on in the past few weeks. I know it’s just not the same.
1. Sales conference sucked up a good chunk of my life in the last couple weeks. However, it introduced me to Tim Winton, an Australian writer who has written a beautiful, lyrical and utterly compelling novel called Breath that I devoured in a 24-hour period (#77). It’s not coming out until next year so I won’t go into too much detail except to say that I would urge anyone and everyone to pick up his book of short stories The Turning and let me know what they think. It’s the book that’s top of my list now.
2. Another book I read before conference made me think that the subject matter of stories doesn’t matter as long as the telling is compelling. (Am I rapping? Take it to the break! Yeah.). The Art of Racing in the Rain (#78) has a dog for a protagonist. A dog obsessed with race car driving. Do you think that deterred me? No, it did not — it’s a charming, engaging and sweet book that proves, much like Friday Night Lights, the power is in the storytelling and not the subject matter. This is an interesting lesson so late in life.
3. Zesty and I went to go see Atonement. I think she had a greater emotional response to the film than I did, having read the book and remembering how heartbreaking the story ends up being. It’s a beautiful movie with an interesting soundtrack, and I think James McAvoy is simply delicious, but on the whole I’d give it a solid B, maybe moving on to B+ in certain parts. There’s a scene when Robbie’s at Dunkirk filmed in one long, gorgeous shot that truly brings home the destructive, debilitating experience for British soldiers in the Second World War. With none of the Hollywood-style American touches of huge explosions, instead showing a choir of rag-tag men battle weary and broken who are singing, the film takes a totally different point of view than that which we’re used to in terms of exploring the war.
4. Awww, Enchanted. I was so glad that Tara was home for a whirlwind weekend that we got to see this film together. It was the perfect girlie movie. Amy Adams is delightful, and will probably get nominated for an Oscar. I can take or leave McDreamy. You get the feeling that his giant head wobbles a bit from walking around with all that hairy ego.
5. Dirty Dancing: The Stage Show? So not worth the money. The Evil Empire (where we were all employed three years ago, before half of us were unceremoniously fired) Ladies and I got together for a lovely pub dinner and set out to get our hearts broken by Baby. Only it never happened. Because the show is awful. Not even good-bad like Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights which was awesomely bad, and hilarious. The stage show truly sucks, despite its lovely art direction: the dialogue is painful, the performances beyond wooden, and the leads don’t sing. In a musical. And there’s no dirty dancing except one very small part at the beginning. Trust me, it’s not worth it, even for the laughter factor (we cackled through the entire performance). It’s troublesome because we were laughing at the actors and not with them, which is never a good thing.
So that’s about it in terms of my latest cultural indulgences. Lots more to come in terms of reading challenges, my top 10 books of 2007, my top 10 movies, and all kinds of other delightful lists that I adore making. And I promise, more regular updates.
November 28th, 2007
The weather outside my window at work turned ominous in the afternoon. First there was whirling snow. Then there was strange looking rain. Then so much wind that you could see whitecaps on top of the puddles on the buildings. Finally, there was sun. Bright sun reflecting in the windows in the condos across the way. Fascinating.
It all seemed quite fitting to head off to St Barnabas Anglican Church to see Dave Eggers in all his McDreamy hair, fidgety hands, and soft-spoken intelligence. The church filled up quickly and so I was especially glad to have the rock star treatment from my friend Randy, who was kind enough to bring me along as his guest. We had good seats but the church pew was kind of hard on the old tragic hip.
It’s been years since I’ve seen Dave Eggers, way back around the time when McSweeney’s was all the rage and I was working at a now defunct Canadian magazine doing the worst imaginable job: customer service circulation. Numbers so do not befit this girl. And it explains why I hate the phone so much, still to this day. The event I saw was at the Horseshoe, and Eggers was accompanied by Neal Pollack. They did a really funny bit about superheroes and he drew many pictures on an overhead projector about some kayaking trip. Then, he was incredibly patient as people asked some really dumb questions about his first book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
Annnywaaay. When Eggers came up on stage this time, he seemed so unassuming with his shirt hanging out of his grey cable knit sweater all collegiate and kind of preppy. But he was also almost stumbling over himself in a nervous way (goodness do his hands fly when he’s talking), and kind of sweetly funny, starting off by teasing the TINARS guy about not knowing he wasn’t supposed to use a lectern, asking if there were any parishioners in the audience and joking up some girls in the front row. Once he started talking about his new book (we were at the paperback launch), he sobered up, and told the audience about how What is the What, the biography of Valentine Achak Deng, began, carefully and with an incredible amount of detail. And once it was all over, the picture show reminiscent of something you’d experience at a local Rotary dinner (awesome), and the short videos, he answered questions, many of which were intelligent and well thought out, which is always appreciated at these kinds of things.
As much as I enjoyed the atmosphere of the church, beer would have been good too. But all in all it made me want to read What is the What, and got me thinking about oil, China, Sudan, humanitarianism, artists as activists, curly hair, local action, international action, Jane Fonda, the novel as memoir, Truman Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a whole host of other random thoughts in my poor, muddled brain.
November 10th, 2007
We saw them. The show was very good. Andre Ethier was incredible. And then fellow who I am not familiar with took the stage, maybe he could have brushed his hair, but whatever, I felt like I was in Singles. That’s no comment on the quality of his performance, just that after Andre Ethier, it seemed incongruent.
Regardless, that’s not the point of the post. In speaking with a friend of ours, the RRHB said something about Ethan Hawke. To which, said friend said, “What a [insert derogatory comment here].”
Apparently, he and his wife had seen Ethan Hawke at the Toronto airport around the time of the festival surrounded by his “people,” barking on the phone and wearing a baseball cap. Tucked sideways. Yes, sideways. I can’t help but have preconceived notions, such as the aforementioned feeling as though I was in Singles when a guy with long, scraggly hair came on stage and got all emotional. Really? Sideways?
The Sadies rocked though. It was packed, and we were both tired from moving furniture all day, the RRHB having injured himself in the process, so we only managed to stay until mid way through their set, which was still 12:30 AM. All in all, a good night for fun.
November 7th, 2007
A bunch of us publishing types were down at Steam Whistle Brewery’s Roundhouse for the Giller Light party last night. It’s always fun to see people out and about celebrating books. Although I do have to make a confession that up until the very moment before I left for the party, I was obsessively watching Friday Night Lights, which is quite possibly the best show on network television. And then I ducked out right after the announcement was made that Elizabeth Hay had won. I’m waiting for my copy of her book, Late Nights on Air to come in the mail, after reading Kerry Clare‘s recommendation, I had put it high on my ‘want to read list,’ and have been waiting patiently ever since. I enjoyed her previous novel, Garbo Laughs, very much.
Anyway, a friend has saying, “choose tired.” That when you’ve simply got way too much life to live and not enough hours in the day, simply choose to be tired. And it’s going to be that kind of week. School monday, Giller Light Tuesday, Weakerthans Wednesday/Thursday (with a dance class thrown in there), and then I think we’re going up north on Friday so we can close the cottage on Saturday. Crazy.
The light at the end of the tunnel? I have taken next week off to do some research for my book and I’m incredibly excited about it. Day trip to Millbank, Ontario Monday, and then overnight to Stratford to look at the archives on Tuesday.
October 21st, 2007
I’ve spent the past two nights out at the 28th annual International Festival of Authors. Even though I barely made it out the door yesterday, having come down with one awesomely evil cold, I am so glad that I did because it was the best night of readings I’d been to in ages.
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Friday night was also star-studded, with Michael Ondaatje, whom I adore, ending the evening with his dulcet tones and brilliant accent, reading from Divisadero, a novel I’m still deeply conflicted about despite its multiple nominations this fall. It’s been years since I’d heard Ondaatje read his work, and the last time I saw him at Harbourfront, he read poetry. Small things I noticed this time: he’s so jaunty, floating up to the stage with a bounce in his step, and being very unobtrusive about his own words that it belies the actual age, success and experience of the author himself. He stood with one foot slightly stepping on the other, like a child at a candy counter, shifting his weight back and forth as he read three different sections from the novel.
The other readers that night, including a new part to the evenings, poets “opening” for the fiction and memoir writers, were all satisfactory. And Marina Lewycka stood out in particular. But on the whole it was nothing compared to the brilliance of the readings we heard last night: Shalom Auslander, Amy Bloom, Anne Enright, Vendela Vida, Souvankham Thammavongsa.
Every single reader was excellent, even Souvankham Thammavongsa who seemed terribly nervous, did a good job, even if I might need to read her poetry on paper so I can truly understand the context of her work. Truly, however, it was Anne Enright’s passionate, brittle (she’d had only four hours of sleep since her novel The Gathering “took” [her words] the Man-Booker on Tuesday), and gut-wrenching reading that made the night for me. So much so that I’ve moved The Gathering up on the night stand pile to follow A Farewell to Arms, which I’m enjoying immensely.
As always, it’s such a treat to be at a “classy” (Vendela Vida’s words) festival surrounded by literary superstars who glide up on stage to share their words and their voices with the masses of adoring fans like myself. Oh, and I heard some awesome gossip that I will not share in these pages but would be happy to get into over lunch at some point (insert wimpy emoticon here). And I would have more to say except this cold is forcing my fingers into numbness, fogging up my head, and I’ve still got a pile of editing to do for my latest abridgment.
A writer’s work is never done (insert another lame emoticon here if you’d like and don’t blame me that I’m resorting to them in a time of need). Sigh.
July 1st, 2007
Massey Hall in Toronto was the last stop on Wilco’s Eastern Seaboard tour (dunno if that was the ‘name’ of the tour considering how totally un-rock sexy it is). And it’s been so long since I’d been to any kind of ticketed rock show (Prince, I think, was the last stadium show that I’d seen), that you kind of forget the whole experience. How far you are away from the band: I always prefer to be right up front so I can see what’s going on. How big the show seems: lots of flashing lights and the smoke machine. How everyone sings along to the big songs and whoops when they hear the first chords of the ones they really like.
It was a great show, and I knew a lot of the songs just by osmosis because the records are in constant rotation around our house, but I was super-pleased when they played “A Shot in the Arm,” and the lovely “Via Chicago” from Summerteeth, which is the one I listen to most of the time. And I liked how funny Jeff Tweedy waswhen the audience started clapping spontaneously, he said, “You’re in the wrong tempo!” And he encouraged the audience to clap during the second encore, when they were playing “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” from A Ghost is Born, while the band stayed silent, he said, “Keep it together Toronto!” (or something of the like). Because many of the audiences all sped up. Funny those things that musicians notice; things that my RRHB notices, that I would have no idea whether or not we were faster or slower than the beat. “Did we speed up?” I asked my RRHB afterwards, “a little,” he said.
Funny, though, too, because I did a lot of thinking yesterday about the greatest rock shows I’ve ever seen, and most have them have been in small clubs: Tricky Woo at the El Mocambo, The Cons and Weakerthans from backstage at Lee’s, the Hip from backstage at Copp’s. Shows like that where I’ve been spoiled by a small crowd or by the RRW status, so it was a real treat to see a band from way up high, sort of observing the show as much as taking part in it. It’s different, for sure, to feel so unconnected to what’s going on well beneath you, but still hearing and seeing it all from a distance. But it was so much fun and the band was so good: big and intimate, cavalier and intense, brilliant and subdued, tight and fluid, all kinds of adjectives that prove I have no talent for writing about rock and roll.
I’d see them again in a heartbeat.
NOTE: the rest of the ‘during the show’ cell phones pictures are still on the RRHB’s phone to be edited in later when he gets back from the cottage.
June 12th, 2007
After a whirlwind few days, the dust has settled, all the booths are now packed away, and this year’s Book Expo Canada (BEC) is over. We were so busy in our own booth that I barely managed to find the time to walk the show floor. Personally, this was my favourite of all the expos I’ve attended, even though last year I met Kim Cattrall, and the year before that had a funny signing experience with Michael Winter. My one disappointment was not having time to go and introduce myself properly to Chantal Simmons, who signed on Sunday, right when our booth was cracking with appearances by Clive Barker (who is AMAZING), Susan Juby and James Rollins.
But the trade show proper aside, what I really want to talk about today is the now-annual online conference presented in part by Humber College called Devices and Desires. Despite some fairly interesting speakers, including the two Terrys (McBride and O’Reilly), and an exceptional presentation about Web 2.0 by Wayne MacPhail, which included real-world examples from the book universe, including our wiki, I found much of the conference both tiresome and uninspiring.
I think the trouble might be that much of the conference isn’t geared to people like me who work for books online already. And it’s hard, especially, to sit through question after question from people who either a) don’t respect blogs (Mary Lou Finlay, I’m looking at you) or b) are still labouring under the notion that blogging, facebook, delicious, flickr, myspace, etc., are simply passing fancies. My favourite part of Terry McBride’s very down-to-earth panel participation, was when he tried to make the point clear that you can’t legislate behaviour, you can only adapt, and if you don’t, you’ll become obscure or obsolete.
Having worked on or around the internet for the better part of a decade now, I can see that this simple piece of advice shows his own innate business acumen in a way. The music industry has been hit hard and, to an extent, books haven’t been hit the same way. Quite the opposite, I would argue. By discrediting or not opening yourself up to the world of books online, again, Mary Lou Finlay, I’m looking at you, you’re closing yourself off to a world of intelligent, readerly, writerly people who have now found the space to expound, in many ways, about the words closest to their hearts. And not even 24 hours later were my thoughts about all of this confirmed when I sat down with a bunch of Toronto book bloggers for a lovely afternoon of chatting about books, blogs, authors, families, husbands, boyfriends, libraries and more books. It was a brilliant afternoon which made the previous day’s conference seem even more redundant in terms of my actual real-life experience in the virtual world.
So much of what I hear at conferences like Devices and Desires stems from fear: fear about antiquated ideas of proprietary content, fear of changing tradition ways of doing business, fear of putting opinions out there that might rock the boat in terms of the book world. But mainly it’s hard when all kinds of people get up there and spout on about the problems without necessarily taking the time to investigate any kind of solution (Wayne MacPhail being the obvious exception to that statement).
Anyway, fingers crossed I get to skip the conference next year.