Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Actually, it is my favorite curse word.
It is the one I used when my laptop conked out on me yesterday.
Just kidding. Most of you will know that it is part of the title of a famous short story by J.D. Salinger.
A Perfect Day For Bananafish.
On this very day in 1948, the story first appeared in The New Yorker.
58 years ago.
Today it can be found in the collection entitled Nine Stories, which is a book I am going to highly recommend to you if this stupid Library computer will let me post this blog without deleting it as it has done three times now.
Before reading Nine Stories I was only familiar with Salinger's Catcher In The Rye and Franny and Zooey, so I am no expert on his work, per se. But I know enough to know what I like, and I must say, these stories seemed very.... Salingeresque.
Which is to say, wonderful.
I must highly recommend them, as being stories that will somewhere, at some point, touch something deep within any reader. They will resonate.
What confounds me, what astounds me, is how Salinger takes such mundane (seemingly mundane) vignettes, and then just rips them, tears them.... somewhere among the final lines of each.
Provides just that little wee twist. These aren't "mysteries" per se. Yet, they are, in that each goes much beyond what it says. They are mysteries.
Nine believeable HIDDEN CAMERAS..... tape-recordings (the dialogue is utterly superb). Each story will leave you with personal "hmmmmms" to ponder. In my opinion.... a great book for book clubs, really. Much discusssion to follow each installment, even though the stories are so OLD! They are TIMELESS!
I once said that Flannery O'Connor was the greatest 20th Century short-story-teller. After reading these, I am not so sure! I honestly think Salinger surpasses her work, in relevance, in cadence. Everything here is definitely timeless.... read it now today, or 58 years from now, it's going to be every bit as meaningful and wonderful.
My favorites? For Esme - With Love And Squalor, followed by A Perfect Day For Bananafish, and Teddy.... in no apparent order. De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period was also beautiful. Fantastic.
Hell, why don't I just say they are all great!
How can anyone even categorize such work? Each is a masterpiece in itself.
I loved all nine.
Best wishes to you all.
Monday, January 30, 2006
My computer (laptop) has been acting up for a while and this morning it pretty much said "I've had enough!"
Hence, no Splash du Jour, no voluminous erudition here tonight.
Nope, here I am at a downtown Library computer, with a sea of people tapping away on either side of me.
I am officially COMPUTERLESS!
So I just thought I would at least stop by and inform whichever Puddle-ites are out there in Blogland that it may be a good long while before I am up and running again.
Possibly with a Mac this time!
I will miss blogging you worse than you will miss reading me!
Sunday, January 29, 2006
I writ it about 83 years ago.
It’s got the regulation number of syllables for a haiku.... but dangy if I know anything more of what a haiku is?
Is this thing a haiku?
There was a drop…
There was a drop crystal clear
It clung and would not plop.
© Ciprianowords Inc. 2006
Friday, January 27, 2006
It was the one from yesterday. Milan Kundera’s words:
All great novels, all true novels, are bisexual.
It’s so succinct. So uniquely put. So much more can be said about it.
Admittedly, (a truly and I mean truly) UN-literate person, albeit nice and wise and lovable in every other way (like my mother, for instance) would read that sentence and say, “What? The only books that are great books are books about bisexual people?”
Or (again, I’m going to the extreme here with the unliterate thing).... “What? He thinks that a book has to have a bisexual theme for it to be good?”
But we know that this is not at all what Kundera is saying.
He is saying that for a novel to be truly “great” it should appeal equally to both male and female readers. It should be so great in scope, so fair in its treatment of ideas, so unbiased in its assessment of what makes humanity human, that it can be received equally by male or female readers.
A novel that sets out to be (or somehow ends up being) one that only a man would read.... a book that would never capture the interest of a woman, cannot be said to be truly “great.”
Similarly, a book that only appeals to women may in many ways be a good and enjoyable book, but can it truly be considered “great” if no man on earth would read it?
The question may then be raised.... “Which books are which?”
What is the criteria? Who decides?
I don’t know.
But can you imagine if books, like Olympic sports, had to be constantly separated into male and female? Can you imagine if we had to award authors in this way?
We’d have what? The Man Booker Prize and the Woman Booker Prize?
Some guy might say at this point, “Yes, that’s all fine and well, but when I read, I want to read a MANLY book. A book that is talking about MAN-type stuff, and doing so in a manly way!”
Hmmm. From a literary standpoint, I worry about that guy, to tell you the truth.
Does the above hypothetical scenario mean that the man is unliterary?
I guess I would venture to say..... “Probably yes!”
In my humble opinion, if a man seeks out only the type of novel that he supposes a man ought to read, he cannot possibly be involved in the honest quest of great literature.
Because great literature is never written in order to exclusively appeal to either of the sexes, be the proposed reader male or female.
Truly great novels transcend this limitating factor, and in so doing, can be described as bisexual.
I think that this is the kind of thing that Kundera is getting at, with his succint and more-than-meets-the-eye phrasing.
Now, here is why I had occasion to think of these matters today.
I began reading a new book, having just finished the [excellent] Kundera one.
This new one is called Life Mask, and it’s by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue. I have read two others by her and I find her to be a FABULOUS writer.
But there is the little matter of the COVER of the book. [And it can be seen in my “Currently Reading” sidebar to the left, but I will also place it directly here in this blog, in case this particular entry is one day being read from the Archives section by aliens who are interested in investigating the blog-lives of the earthlings that they have long since abducted and taken to their own planet to be housed in cylindrical cold-storage containers labelled Humansicles: “Male” and “Female”.]
Anyhoo... here is the cover of my current novel in progress:
As you can see, it is not exactly, umm.... manly-ish.
It’s not exactly.... The Hunt For Red October.
Nor is it anything like the covers of the Sackett series, by Louis L’Amour.
There is nothing even remotely Zane Grey-ish about this cover.
And so today at lunch, I retreated to the Board room where I love to put my feet up, digest, and read for a bit.
But I was not alone.
My co-worker Kevin was in there.
He was reading John Grisham’s The House of Torts.
Damn good cover.
As I retrieved this Donoghue book of mine and set it on the table, I actually found myself making several attempts to hide the cover of the thing, and I tried to also be very quiet and invisible-ish, so that Kevin would not ask me what I was reading.
And he never did. All went well.
My point in all of the above is to show that there is a subtle (and I guess sometimes not so subtle) IDEA of what we should be reading, and often the lines of demarcation are drawn along gender-laden presuppositions. As in, this book is for women. That one is for men.
But the really great authors, like Kundera, Donoghue, Saramago, Atwood, Tolstoy, Nabokov... these people are, (or were) writing for a much larger audience.
Humans in general.
All great novels, all true novels, are bisexual.
You can’t tell a book by its cover.
out of ten, you're just about top of the class.
-- Mordecai Richler –
On this day in 1931, Mordecai Richler was born in Montreal, Quebec.
He was the author of ten successful novels, including Barney's Version (1997), Solomon Gursky Was Here (1989), Cocksure (1968) and [my favorite] The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959), as well as numerous screenplays, essays, children's books and several works of non-fiction. His last book (entitled, On Snooker) was published posthumously in 2001. He was the recipient of dozens of literary awards, among them two Governor General's Awards, The Giller Prize and The Commonwealth Writers Prize. He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2001, only several months before his death on July 3rd, 2001.
I remember him, today.
Have a great Friday!
Thursday, January 26, 2006
So I had to think. And the answer arrived rather quickly.
Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.
A lot of Canadians may have had to read this thing in high-school English class. I, on the other hand, read it of my own free will, at a time when I could barely even remember high school. And I loved the book. It is unforgettable.
I love it. And in my opinion, it is a hilarious read! The scene at about midpoint, where there is the screening of the movie that Duddy produced in collaboration with J.P. Friar [entitled “Happy Bar-Mitzvah Bernie!”]... well, I cannot recall laughing that much while reading anything, before or since.
In a (1970) television interview Richler said that his best writing was the stuff that flowed out from him and did not require too much revision or re-writing. I think that a lot of that sort of "one-take" inspiration must have found its way into this fourth novel of his. As I read it, there was one word that kept recurring in my thoughts... "raw"!
Richler seems to me to be the type of writer who would not have had much use for a thesaurus in his study. And I say that in praise of his ability as a writer. Everything is just right up front and center with him, nothing embellished, overcooked, or re-written for the sake of eloquence alone. The result is sometimes brash, often vulgar... but all the while, it is very real and necessary to explain the impetuous character of Duddy. Very well written. Great bantering dialogue. [Count how many times Richler puts the word "but" at the end of a sentence.] It's bizarre.
It is a story of ambition run amok! A precocious upstart trying to satiate his obsessive perception of success. Duddy is like... an over-confident Jewish Holden Caulfield on amphetamines!
A certain phrase haunts Duddy Kravitz: "A man without land is nobody!" It becomes Duddy's particular obsession.
Richler creates a fascinating (realistic, albeit despicable) character here. The quintessential shyster! There were a few redeeming moments, but most of the time I just wanted to strangle Duddy... in fact, my feelings for Duddy alternated between wanting to strangle him and then (next page) laugh at him.
I maintain that the story is hilarious.... but the thing is, it's really not funny. I see Duddy as a tragic figure. He consistently abuses the two people (Yvette and Virgil) who are trying the hardest to help him realize his dreams. Ultimately, Duddy has to face the fact that perhaps the only thing legendary about him are the stories that his father Max is already inventing down at Lou's Bagel and Lox Bar.
The message of the story seems to be that there can only be one thing more miserable than someone who reaches his goals by trampling on others, and that is to find out after all the trampling, you are no success story after all. In the end, Duddy can't even afford bus fare. He becomes a nobody... [with land!]
It is a great book that I unreservedly recommend to one and all.
A Canadian literary icon who was with us not long enough. 1931 – 2001.
-- Milan Kundera –
I am currently reading [just finishing] Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, one of the most profoundly good novels I have ever read.
I am finding Kundera to be one of those rarest of contemporary novelists who are writing for people who want to think.
He’s magnificently good.
The light that radiates from the great novels time can never dim, for human existence is perpetually being forgotten by man and thus the novelists discoveries, however old they may be, will never cease to astonish.
--Milan Kundera –
Have a great Thursday!
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
-- W. Somerset Maugham –
On this day in 1874, William Somerset Maugham was born in Paris at the British Embassy.
In the 1930’s, he was the highest paid author in the world. Although he published no poetry of his own, he held the art of poetry in high esteem, saying “The writer of prose can only step aside when the poet passes.”
Have a great Wednesday!
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Monday, January 23, 2006
-- from Ch.8 of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations –
Have a great Monday!
And listen! If you are Canadian, get to the polls today and vote.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Just a word today, nothing near as deep as the snow outside, about something I saw on a signboard on the way here.
There is a bookstore (I’ve mentioned this place before) that I always pass by and they will put a sort of a quote-of-the-week out front on a chalk-written signboard.
Well, as I passed by about an hour ago, I read:
Beware the man of one book. – Thomas Aquinas –
As I walked on, I mused upon the possiblities of what is meant by that brief quotation.
I know very little about Aquinas.
Really, I know next to nothing, other than that he was a Catholic Italian saint and theologian who lived between the years 1225 and 1274. And here is a picture of him, taken with an actual Canon EOS 5D, just before he started eating only at Subway©!
Perhaps the bookstore put that quote out there as a sort of subliminal suggestion, so that everyone reading it as they entered in would be inexplicably drawn to buying WAY MORE than just one book?
As I thought about it, my first impression was that Thomas is simply making a statement about deliberate ignorance. But if this is so, why didn’t he say, “Beware the man of no books at all.” [??]
Beware the man who does not know how to read, or has absolutely no interest in reading.
No, I do not think this is what is meant.
Rather, beware the man of ONE book.
This changes everything.
I right away move from my thoughts of a person who simply has no use for literature in general, to thoughts of someone who venerates one book to the exclusion of all others.
Never mind the superiority of one book above all others (which is also dangerous) but here we are considering the exclusion of all other books.
Only this one book, is a book.
And I was immediately struck with the sense that yes, this would be a far worse (in the sense of dangerous) state of affairs than if a person could not even read at all.
Of course, I then thought of fundamentalism in general, and fundamentalists of all stripes. Religious fundamentalism, I mean. Anyone who claims, and really believes, that only this one book is the one that God wrote.
And then I realized that I thoroughly agree with Thomas, if this is what he is saying.
By all means, beware that man. He is a man of one book. Sift everything he says to you through the seive of knowing that this one phrase is the most important thing that could be said of him.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Plus, I need to get a crown on the tooth that marks the site of an ancient root canal.
Even though I have insurance that covers most of these bills, I once again opted to forego any further optional excavation of my jawbone[s]!
But this time around, I noticed something as I sat in the chair... staring at the dental lamp.
Obviously, in any Dentist Office worthy of the name, great care is taken toward sterility, cleanliness, hygiene.... I mean, what is the word?
Lack of GERMS is what I am after.
Lack of the spreading of germs.
Obviously, my dentist works on a myriad of patients on a daily basis, as do his many assistants. Today, no less than three people had their hands in my mouth for quite a while. The dentist, his main assistant, and then a sort of rookie-type girl who came in to finish off with the cleaning and polishing.
So, as they all worked away I sat there and stared up at the kite of a butterfly in the top corner of the room, and of course, I also stared into the lamp.
That bright lamp, with the stainless steel handles, just like the one shown here, in the picture.
Of course, every one that had their hands crammed into my mouth had those latex gloves on. Whenever anyone entered the room they put on those gloves. When they left the room, they took those gloves off, and discarded them.
This is all as it should be. So far so good, right?
[I am far too observant....]
I noticed that all of them, in between having their hands crammed in my mouth, [which was, of course, full of my own personal saliva and germy thingys]... all of them also raised and lowered that lamp at least forty times!
My question is this.
Every time they reach up to that lamp and grab those handles, aren’t they putting my germs all over them?
And then every time they bring those hands down back into my mouth, aren’t I sort of eating the germs of whoever it was that last sat in that chair, just before me? And then, before that guy too?
Like seriously, when I get up off of the nice recliner chair and rinse out and then go to the desk to settle the score and book my next appointment, I have never once seen anyone scouring that dentist lamp with any sort of... scoury thingy!
In fact, I have seen other people pretty much walk straight in there.
So what is the deal with the dentist lamps?
Like seriously, as I got into my car and drove away I thought to myself, “Hey, there must be tons of my spit-juice all over that lamp!”
Is there a dental hygienist, or dental assistant, or DENTIST out there that can answer my questions?
WHO WASHES THE LAMP HANDLES.... AND WHEN?
AND HOW OFTEN?
AND WITH WHAT?
Seriously, if someone is not regularly hosing off those lamp handles real good, it really doesn’t matter if the dentist is wearing three pairs of latex gloves at a time.
He [or she] is still putting other people’s germs (and my own) all over those things!
Thursday, January 19, 2006
I have read some of Sandburg’s stuff and I truly do like it.
In my reading of poetry I have developed a peculiar habit. In the Table Of Contents I pencil in an asterisk before the titles of poems that I especially enjoyed. I find that this helps me to quickly relocate special poems later when I want to re-read them.
In my copy of Sandburg's Chicago Poems there are many asterisks.
I think that one of the things that appeal to me about these particular series of poems is their "urbanity".
As the title suggests, these are often poems about "city"... about the "cosmopolis". Sandburg had a way of animating concrete and asphalt, and making us aware of the inner life of things that millions of us urbanites walk past each day. In one of my favorites entitled Skyscraper, he says "It is the men and women, boys and girls so poured in and out all day that give the building a soul of dreams and thoughts and memories."
And it ends beautifully with "By night the skyscraper looms in the smoke and the stars and has a soul." It is as though if any of Sandburg's Chicago Poems were to just remain silent for a moment, we would hear the faint night-time "humming and thrumming" of "a copper wire slung in the air." (cf. Under A Telephone Pole).
He writes with a solemnity that avoids being morose, which is refreshing. And take note... these poems never rhyme. As for metre, his poems are in a free-verse very much reminiscent of Walt Whitman. The perfect poetry to read while feeding the pigeons, or otherwise commuting to and from the park.
And not ALL of his poetry is about.... cities and concrete.
Open the door now.
Go roll up the collar of your coat
To walk in the changing scarf of mist.
Tell your sins here to the pearl fog
And know for once a deepening night
Strange as the half-meanings
Alurk in a wise woman's mousey eyes.
Yes, tell your sins
And know how careless a pearl fog is
Of the laws you have broken.
-- Carl Sandburg --
-- Carl Sandburg --
Have a great Thursday!
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
For those of you readers who may not be aware of who Jack is, well, he is my purebreed Ragdoll cat.
I’ve gotta say that quietly though. Just the other day, he overheard me describing him like that and he growled and said “Hey, when I talk about you, I don’t call you my purebreed HUMAN OK? Ease up on the ol’ nomenclature a bit Old Man.”
[God forbid he should ever overhear me using the term “declawed” since he has all nine hundred of his, currently intact!]
He is a reading cat.
But as I was saying, I have noticed lately that his selection of reading material has sort of degenerated. He is getting a bit intellectually sloppy.
I mean, he and I used to enjoy a good mutual foray into Tolstoy, or Dostoevsky.
God we would talk!
He would read deep, philosophical books, like The Fountainhead for instance.
[I myself have not even read Rand yet.]
He’s also gone through mild spiritual pseudo-religio phases, as you can see in this next picture:
I can also recall the good old days when he would spend hours and hours alone with some great works of fiction: Then he started subscribing to a number of periodicals. The mailbox was bursting with stuff that he had ordered while I was out at work making money for the two of us. I didn’t mind this. We still talked. Things were OK. In fact, some of the magazines were rather interesting: But then..... I came home the other day and found him with his paws all over this:
And as if things could not get worse, he’s really started hitting the sauce, and hitting it hard...
It’s the booze that is really killing everything between us.
-- Winnie-The-Pooh –
Today is Alan Alexander Milne’s birthday. He is better known as A.A. Milne, the creator of Winnie-The-Pooh. He was born in London on this day in 1882.
Of his chosen profession he is known to have said: “Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being.”
Poor Milne. He was probably quite poor! And yet, according to the Forbes Fictional Characters Listing, back in 2003 Winnie-the-Pooh was the second most lucrative fictional character, behind only Mickey Mouse in annually generated revenue. In 2003, Pooh, and Pooh related, umm, Pooh-stuff was bringing in 5.6 billion dollars of revenue. [That’s a lot of hunny!]
In 2004, figures were roughly 5.3 billion.
In light of those facts, Pooh-Bear himself seems downright prophetic... stuff can become “quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”
Have a great Wednesday!
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Monday, January 16, 2006
You are thinking that my love is shallow.
That it is based only upon appearances.
You are thinking that I only love The Corrs because of the eye candy feature. [And I must admit... even Jim looks good here!]
Plus, some of you may recall my other declaration of love, which, admittedly yes, seemed to consist of mere fanatical and fantastical lust.
But I have moved on.
I have matured.
The truth is, I really love the music that this amazing family has written and performed over the years.
For those of you who may not be familiar with The Corrs, they are an Irish family, consisting of (as seen here) Sharon, Andrea, Caroline, and Jim. I have watched all of their DVD’s, with the intensity of Copernicus mapping the heavens... and last night I watched their most recent one, entitled All The Way Home, shown here:
It was bittersweet.
The DVD package contains 2 CD’s. One is of the Geneva concert from their last tour.
The other is an in-depth documentary, with interviews and footage from the very genesis... the very beginnings of their phenomenal rise from obscure Irish-pub appearances, to packing out the largest arenas in Europe and America. From obscurity to #1 on the charts, worldwide.
Among their biggest hit songs, one would have to mention Breathless, Runaway, perhaps Forgiven, Not Forgotten and most recently, Summer Sunshine.
They are so talented..... ach! It is just crazy!
At any rate, the bittersweetness comes in when, towards the end of the documentary, we learn that this last project of theirs, this last tour of 2004-2005 is perhaps their last altogether. All of the members of The Corrs have other interests that may spell the end of subsequent CD’s and tours.
Andrea is pursuing her love of acting. Sharon and Caroline have both married and become mothers. Jim is now engaged to the vivacious Miss Northern Ireland (Gayle Williamson) and has focussed on piloting helicopters.
I can’t stand it that they are all getting on with their own individual lives!
What the hell am I going to do if The Corrs quit making music?
Saturday, January 14, 2006
No one could be a huge-normouser fan of the entire Starbucks genre, from product to ambience. I love it all. If I were to get one tattoo on my body, it would be this:
[I'm thinking maybe forehead?]
Anyhoo, Patricia, whom you can meet here, sent me an email about a new avenue of consumerism, coming to a Starbucks near you and I.
You can read of it here.
Always on the cutting edge of everything that is cutting or edgy.
Friday, January 13, 2006
It’s about the staying power of superstition.
By way of background, I live on the 14th floor of an apartment building.
I know, I know... some of you real keeners will recall that I have posted this particular poem before, like maybe on July 7th, 2005 or something like that, but.... it’s just so damn GOOD that I must do it again!
Living On Fourteen
I am convinced of it.
Something adrift in communal laundry-room air
spawns the philosopher / political strategist / polemicist
in folks that are elsewhere, none of the above.
Today, two graying hens, churning more froth
than a chorusline of Maytag agitators
reminded me that in this room
we know everything.
Religion, Louise, has always been a primitive response
to the deeper, intrinsic need for superstition in mankind.
I thoroughly agree, Myrtle, and I am exceedingly glad
that both propensities have gone the way of the dinosaur.
My basket of warm towels in tow, I faintly smiled
and entered the elevator for my minute of ascent.
Reaching my own floor, I stepped out and, still smiling,
walked the length of what is really the thirteenth.
© Ciprianowords Inc. 2006
Have a great [and hopefully unsuperstitious] Friday the 13th!
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Well, just sitting here sipping this Starbucks coffee, I thought of another out-of-the-ordinary-ish thing that happened to me once.
I once felt an earthquake while I was leaning back in a chair that was balanced on its back two legs.
Exactly as this chair is, here in the picture, except I was sitting in it.
And then this earthquake happened.
I was in college at the time. In Peterborough, Ontario. [Canada]. The year was either 1988 or 1989.
I used to read a lot when I was in college (go figure)!
When we were assigned books of 500 or 600 pages to read, I actually READ them. Not like my roomate, who was pretty much... never in the room! I would sometimes read entire books, in research for an essay. And my favorite reading position was leaning back in my simple straightback chair. I would rest my knees lightly against the desk, my feet tucked into the little foot support on the chair. Then I would gently push outwards with my knees, until I found that perfect balance... literally I got to a place where I could balance on the back two legs of the chair without falling over.
One day I was all alone in my room, balancing away, and absorbed in a book.
Suddenly, the entire building seemed to move a bit, and I wobbled.
I actually doubted that it happened, but it was sort of undeniable, for it had knocked my equilibrium all askew and I fell forward in the chair, toward my desk. I just sat there then, in utter silence and wondered, “What the heck was that?”
I actually thought that something had exploded perhaps in the lower level of the dorm. Something powerful enough to shake the entire place. Also, as I tried to recall the moment at the time, I began to imagine that I had also heard a noise, like a rumbling, along with the shaking, but till today, I am still not sure about that. Not sure if there was an accompanying noise.
I went out for a walk on the campus grounds and asked a few people if they knew what it was all about. Had they experienced any wobbly chair activity? No one seemed to have a clue what I was talking about.
Even then, it had not really dawned on me that it had been a mild earthquake, because earthquakes just aren’t supposed to happen in that part of solid Ontario, and especially not in my dorm-room.
At any rate, unable to find any other Exploding Boiler-Room survivors, I returned to my room and read about ten more books while balancing in my chair.
And sure enough, the next morning in the cafeteria, it was the talk of the town. It was front page news.
WE HAD EXPERIENCED AN EARTHQUAKE.
The epicenter was quite a way from Peterborough, but nonetheless... I had felt it.
I was perhaps the only person for a hundred mile radius that DID feel it.... because I was (no doubt) the only person balancing themselves on the back two legs of a chair at the time!
So, of course, I ran around in the cafeteria telling everyone how I had happened to be balancing in my chair and how... and how.... like, when I was sitting there like that, the whole building, ummm... shook and...
[nothing but blank stares, similar to the kind that you have on your face right now, dear reader....]
No one has ever believed me. Not even my own family. Not even my cat.
But I swear to you, that it happened just as I am telling it here. Why would I make something like this up, huh? Why?
I even tried recently to research earthquakes that took place in Ontario at that time, but have not been able to find the pertinent information. I would just love to have a news clipping of that day... the front page of the Peterborough Examiner [once editored by none other than the legendary Robertson Davies] or the Toronto Star or whatever, because, I must admit, I do sometimes wonder about my own story.
Like, I KNOW it happened and all, but sometimes proof is nice to see.
Especially when, in other areas, one has been known to be occasionally delusional and/or a bit mentally ill at times!
-- Alice Munro –
Have a great Thursday!
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
If you have not read Alice Munro, well.......
If you love short stories and you have not read Alice Munro, well.....
Her most recent compilation, [Runaway] resonates in the mind of the reader with a force that is usually attributed to the concussive thump of a powerful novel. It is as though you are getting eight compressed novels in Runaway... six, to be precise, since three of the stories are sequentially connected to each other.
So wonderful is her characterization and style that I would have remained interested, if any story had been expanded to be the length of a novel.
Having only read one other Munro collection (Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage), I am no expert on her work. However, I would say that I enjoyed this book more than the other, simply because these stories seem to me to have a better resolve about them. They close, but they are not closed. Fine-tuned, their open-ended endings beg to be reflected upon. Runaway was an excellent source of near-endless discussion in my own elite Book Club of Two.
I highly recommend this book to any and all. I was thrilled to happen to have my TV on one evening, to see the elegant Alice rise and accept the Giller Prize, for Runaway.
I joined in the applause, and startled the cat.
The stories are centered around the lives and experiences of women, that is to say, women are the protagonists of each story. As a male reader, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the themes, the motifs, the relevance and style of each story, and I conclude that Munro is not a writer only FOR women.
Men who enjoy the very best that writing has to offer us today, should read Munro.
I think my own favorite story was Tricks. The twist of fate, the "trick" in this story alone, is worth the acquisition of and reading of this book.
Runaway is unforgettably good, and makes me want to go on and explore all things Munrovian.
The wonderland of Alice Munro.
A Thunderstorm In Town
(A Reminiscence, 1893)
She wore a 'terra-cotta' dress,
And we stayed, because of the pelting storm,
Within the hansom's dry recess,
Though the horse had stopped; yea, motionless
We sat on, snug and warm.
Then the downpour ceased, to my sharp sad pain,
And the glass that had screened our forms before
Flew up, and out she sprang to her door:
I should have kissed her if the rain
Had lasted a minute more.
-- Thomas Hardy --
Have a great Wednesday!
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
That’s all I will say.
I will let someone much wiser than me say the rest...
Widespread intellectual and moral docility may be convenient for leaders in the short term, but it is suicidal for nations in the long term. One of the criteria for national leadership should therefore be a talent for understanding, encouraging, and making constructive use of vigorous criticism.
-- Carl Sagan –
Have a great Tuesday!
Monday, January 09, 2006
More like I was just telling him about this Elaine Pagels book I am reading and he was over on the couch, licking himself.
But then he looked up and said, “I notice that you haven’t posted a picture of me on bookpuddle© for a while. What’s the deal with that?”
I said, “Look Jack. Do you really think that people tune in to my blogpage to see pictures of you?”
“I just think they might.”
“Well, I don’t think so.”
“All I’m saying is it’s been a while, don’t you think?"
I didn’t know what to say. He had a good point.
Then he jumped down onto the floor and sashayed over to his food area, in the kitchen.
I looked over, and just as he was shaking his head back and forth and lowering it to his water dish, I heard him mutter....“It’s always gotta be about you.”
So I feel real bad.
And I urge you to have a look at this recent photo of my life partner.
He was sort of striking a pose, yes.
As he was here, and here, and here, and here.......
-- Anna Quindlen –
Have a great Monday!
Sunday, January 08, 2006
I had been here at Starbucks for quite a while (the same one I am in right now, actually) when I felt that it was time for some food. I only walked about a block from here when this guy sort of came around the corner and asked me where the Salvation Army place was. So I tried to describe it to him, and I was pointing way up ahead at this sign, and telling him to go left from there and all.... and then I said “Well, I’m going that way too, so come along...”
He said his name was Manny, and that he was from British Columbia. I told him that I too, had lived in BC. A few steps later he said “I don’t normally do this but could you spare me something man, I am starving.”
And right then and there I instantly realized that there is no way I could live with myself if I said “No” and then went directly into the next Grease-Emporium I pass, you know?
But at the same time, I don’t want to give guys money to go buy crack.
So, I said to him... “Well Manny. I don't usually do this either, but what do you like to eat?”
“Anything. Whatever,” he says.
We were just passing a Subway place, so I said “How about this?”
“Sure,” says Manny.
So we go in, and I say to him, “Order whatever you want.”
And he says to the guy behind the counter in a serious dramatic fashion... “I want you to make me a CRAAAAAZY sub.”
And the guy is like..... “O.......K.....?” [looking at me, and I nod].
So this guy Manny is ordering something and I wasn’t really listening because this girl was taking my own order.
Then I overhear the guy saying to Manny... “That’s going to cost you man!”
So now I am all ears. Because whatever it is going to cost “him” is going to cost “me”.
What the hell is this guy ordering?
Well.... turns out first he says he wants bacon. Then chicken. Then seafood. And more bacon. The guy behind the counter is confused and looking at me.... and so I say to Manny.... “No, no man. See all those kinds of pre-fab Subs listed up there? Just pick one.”
So Manny decides (honest to God, I am NOT kidding)... he wants a seafood sub, but WITH BACON. So the guy puts the bacon on this stuff, and then Manny says... “NO NO... MORE bacon!”
So, this guy is creating this Sandwich That Time Forgot, and I am sort of smiling, but also worried that Manny is inventing the world’s most expensive sub (and he was).... anyways... put it this way... MY sub was 5 bucks. Manny’s sub was $11.00.
And he got it toasted.
Never in the history of my eating Subway sandwiches have I ever heard of an eleven dollar sandwich!
And then he only ate HALF of it! Stuffed the rest of it into his backpack.
So we sat there and talked while we ate, me and this Manny character. Out of his backpack he pulled a DVD of the movie I Robot, and tried to sell it to me. And then, he pulled out the six videotape series of the X-Files, in two boxed sets of 3 each.... "a steal at 20 bucks" he says to me. I say I don’t want them.
He then showed me pictures of his wife and three kids. Said to me... “You must be the best person ever." [I was shaking my head and saying “No, totally not. Don’t say that. It is not true.”] and he was going on... “Yeah, but most people they won’t even talk to me... a minority. So this is really neat.”
And I said “Hey, we’re all the same, Manny.”
And then he is hollering “Amen! Amen!” and the Subway guy is looking over at us. Manny says “You are black too, just a lighter shade of it.”
I am nodding in agreement that yes, I am black too.
So I finished my Sub and we went out onto the street again. A block farther up, I pointed out the Salvation Army place, and we parted.
As he walked across the street, he turned and shouted, “Bless you. One day I’ll be on my feet and I’ll see you and I will return the favor.”
“Yep” I said, and waved.
Saturday, January 07, 2006
However, before I tell of it, I want to be very clear about something.
Right up front, I want to say that I have nothing against giving money to people that are on the street asking for money. I often do it. Rather, I am simply musing today on one specific aspect of giving money to [it is probably a politically incorrect term nowadays, but...] BEGGARS!
Here is what I saw.
I was walking down the street, on my way here for coffee. Across from me, and a little ways ahead, a man was walking towards me, and he passed a beggar. A street person type, sitting cross-legged, holding a cup of some sort, asking for change.
The man passed by, stopped, dug in his pockets, turned back a few steps and dropped the man a few coins [I assume]. By now I was about level, across from them. The man walked on, as did I.
But I wondered. We have all done a similar thing as this man did, no doubt. We’ve seen someone asking for money, passed by, thought some thought, turned and gave the person some spare change.
My question today is: What is that thought?
What is it we say to ourself, that causes us to turn back and unload our pockets?
I once had a conversation with a co-worker about this very act of spontaneous generosity.
He asked me if I gave money to beggars.
I replied, “Most of the times, no. I do not.”
He said “I always do. Every time.”
I said to him, “You obviously do not go downtown very often.”
He lived in a little village, and even then, on the outside of the village. As for me, I live in the very downtown area of a city of one million people. Nearly every day, I walk around downtown. If I gave even a wee bit of change to every street person that asked it of me, I would be broke. And that is no exaggeration.
So I’ve learned to be fairly selective, even callous, in the voluntary emptying of my pockets.
The need that is everywhere evident on our streets, has long since ceased to amaze, shock, or surprise me.
You soon learn how to say "Sorry, bud" with nary a tug of conscience. The demand demands it!
So, back to my question.
What is it that the man today was probably saying to himself, as he turned back to the beggar?
Admittedly, it may have been merely the thought of being kind. Also, there may have been no thought involved whatsoever, nothing that could work itself out into an explanatory sentence.
But I am going to suggest the following. I think that very often the thought that accompanies the streetside donation goes along these lines:
“I don’t ever want to end up like that... so...” [clink, clink, clink].....
This is mysticism.
Or perhaps the thought is something like: “If I myself were ever in that position, I would want someone to stop and...” [yadda, yadda...]
Again. It is mysticism.
And here is why it is mysticism. It seems to me that such thoughts suggest that in the action of anonymous giving, in the action of charity, we are sowing into some sort of unseen account. And this account is directly linked to future possibilities in our own life.
In the first imaginary self-talk [above] the person is subtly suggesting to themself that if they give the beggar money, this will somehow improve their own chances of never being a beggar. Does it follow then that the best way for the beggar to advance out of his current state is to turn to someone worse off than him and give his donation away?
Ipso facto, if I don’t give.... I might “end up like that.”
Is the world [is life] really orchestrated on such a cause-and-effect karmic scale?
Is the beggar in question a beggar because he did not give to others when he could have?
Are not some of the world's wealthiest people also the most uncharitable?
Now, the second sort of self-talk is similar, yet subtly different.
It reminds me of something I read recently in a short story by Margaret Atwood.
In The Sunrise [from the book, Bluebeard’s Egg] Yvonne wanders into a dingy place called The Donut Centre where she has a coffee. She leaves a tip because, as Atwood tells us, “She’s considerate of waitresses because she never wants to be one again.”
There it is.
The very thing, the very mysticism I am trying to nail down here.
We do these kinds of things, I know we do.
As though Yvonne, if she leaves the restaurant without tipping, is being dangerous with this unseen account I am referring to. As though the leaving of this tip is some sort of insurance premium, paid against ever needing it!
Who is in charge of the balancing of this account?
Even if it is “God”.... still, it requires an incredible amount of mysticism to maintain that belief.
So, to recap. Don’t get me wrong. I am not at all saying that we should not give to those who ask it of us. Furthermore, I would say that it is almost always a good thing for us to help others in this way, when we can. [The exceptions being when our donation, in effect, helps the other person harm themself. If my two dollars is going to help someone buy more turpentine to drink, both of us would be better off with the two dollars staying nice and warm in my pocket].
I am simply noting how that perfectly rational people in every other respect, can have moments of fleeting mysticism, and be unaware of it.
It intrigues me.
Mysticism: belief in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the understanding.
Friday, January 06, 2006
“If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world.”
Food for thought!
By the way, the picture shown here is one of my favorites.
It’s C.S. Lewis as a kid!
Have a great Friday!
Thursday, January 05, 2006
I know. HUGE surprise.
Piles of snow outside, really, it is obscene. It looks so.... Antarctic-ish out there I think I am going to stay in here just a bit longer.
I just finished reading a terrific book.
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis.
This thing was first published in 1960, and as such, I’m sure a lot of people might say “Hah. It is out of date. We’ve learned a lot about love since then!”
To which I would reply, “No we haven’t. There’s nothing new, really.”
The subject matter of this book is as applicable today as it was back then. And just as applicable as it was fifty years before Lewis wrote it! The main reason for this is because he is not discussing love in a Dr. Phil McGraw sort of way.
Poor Dr. Phil. He is the butt of so many.... Dr. Phil jokes, and stuff.
I have his new book Love Smart: Find The One You Want – Fix The One You Got© in my hands right here. I’m flipping through it. Yes, this type of fad-based discussion of love and relationships does change with the times, for sure.
But in The Four Loves Lewis is talking about timeless meanings and principles of love, albeit, from a decidedly Christian perspective.
He begins by distinguishing what he calls Need-love (based on need, such as the love of a child for its mother) from Gift-love (selfless, the kind of love some attribute to God, or to a loving father), and then divides love into four categories, based on the four Greek words for love.
Each word is treated in its own chapter.
Affection (storge) is described as fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance.
Friendship (philia) is a stronger bond (than Affection) and exists between people who share a common interest or activity. I love the part where he said, In this kind of love, as Emerson said, Do you love me? means Do you see the same truth? – Or at least, “Do you care about the same truth?” The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance, can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer.
This kind of Friendship goes beyond mere Companionship. It’s like a celebration of common ground, between people of similar interests and compatibility.
Then there is the Greek word Eros, which is love in the sense of 'being in love'. This is distinct from sexuality, which Lewis calls Venus, although he does discuss sexual activity and its spiritual significance in both a pagan and a Christian sense. He warns that if Eros is elevated to the status of a god, it has a tendency to self-destruct or at least not deliver what was promised or expected. However, he praises (to the rooftops, really) the proper (indispensable) function of Eros and Venus!
Charity (agape) is a love towards one's neighbour which does not depend on any loveable qualities that the object of love possesses. In this final chapter, Lewis presents quite a challenging and well-reasoned argument against living a life of “self-invited and self-protective lovelessness.”
Overall, I think it a tremendously relevant book. Better than Dr. Phil’s.
Mind you, I have not read Dr. Phil’s, this is true. And I won't. And I’ve read Lewis’s book twice now.
In probably the most radical statement found in the entire book, he says “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
You’ve got to admit, that sounds pretty serious, even if a person did not believe in the possibility of either contingency.
Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.
-- C.S. Lewis, in An Experiment in Criticism –
Have a great Thursday!
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
I’ve read it before, and I’m reading it again. And I’ll probably read it yet again, one day.
Lewis fascinates me. I have read and re-read his books for a long long time. Some of you may recall my anticipation of the new Disney movie The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
Well, I saw the movie over the holdays, and the reason I have not said anything about it is simply because I did not really like it all that much. I think I am just real loyal to the Chronicles themselves, as in the books.
The picture shown here is of Lewis’s An Experiment In Criticism.
I read it a few years ago. I will definitely re-read it, as it remains one of the best things I have ever read, about reading.
Typical of Lewis's deeper insight into things, his "Experiment" consists in a reversal of the usual method of literary judgement. Instead of classifying books, he classifies readers and how they "use" or "receive" books. The true (unbiased) critic does not pontificate a judgement of 'good' or 'bad' upon a book without careful consideration of the possible confusion between degrees of merit and differences of kind.
"I want to convince people," says Lewis, "that adverse judgements are always the most hazardous... A negative proposition is harder to establish than a positive. One glance may enable us to say there is a spider in the room; we should need a spring-cleaning (at least) before we could say with certainty that there wasn't. When we pronounce a book good we have a positive experience of our own to go upon... In calling the book bad we are claiming not that it can elicit bad reading, but that it can't elicit good. This negative proposition can never be certain."
Central to his argument is the fact that the same book may be read in different ways.
It follows then that there is a certain speculative nature to evaluative criticism, and therefore no amount of reliance upon literary criticism can absolve one from the responsibility of becoming a GOOD READER.
And what is a good reader? Well, that is the question isn't it? In my opinion, I feel that Lewis's "Experiment" can answer that question more effectively than anything I've ever come across. I would encourage you to read it, and see where you fit into his categories of the "literary" and the "unliterary" person (too lengthy to enumerate here). If at any point, you feel offended and want to hurl the book across the room... you are probably of the latter category.
Lewis deplored the technical dissection of what he loved so dearly... the simple act of reading.
I loved his image in chapter 2 of the "status seeker" type of readers, gathered to discuss the finer (and, of course hidden) points of "approved literature" while the only real literary experience in such a scenario "may be occurring in a back bedroom where a small boy is reading Treasure Island under the bed-clothes by the light of an electric torch."
Lewis sought in books (as he called it here) an "enlargement of his being". He says on page 52, "I am probably one of many who, on a wakeful night, entertain themselves with invented landscapes. I trace great rivers from where the gulls scream at the estuary, through the windings of ever narrower and more precipitous gorges, up to the barely audible tinkling of their source in a fold of the moors. But I am not there myself as explorer or even as tourist. I am looking at that world from outside."
This is a terrific/significant book that will be read, re-read, and cherished by anyone who has ever had similar musings.
Oh, and by the way... all GOOD readers have!
-- Albert Camus (1913-1960) –
On January 4, 1960, Camus was killed in an automobile accident while returning to Paris with his friend and publisher Michel Gallimard. He was only forty-six years old.
In 1957, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Among his best-known novels are The Stranger (1942) and The Plague (1947).
And have a great Wednesday!
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
(1) Tremendous skill as a biographer.
(2) Almost unlimited access to primary source material.
(3) Actually meeting the man, J.R.R. Tolkien.
These three points combine to make Humphrey Carpenter's work a benchmark in the ever growing sea of books about Tolkien. The third point, (meeting Tolkien) actually makes for a very amusing first four pages... Carpenter describing exactly what it was like to find himself standing before this Ent-like genius of a man... "Again I struggle to think of an intelligent remark, and again he resumes before I can find one."
I picked up Carpenter's book directly after my second reading of The Lord Of The Rings (reading Tolkien is definitely hobbit-forming), and I was not disappointed. It spans a timeframe of around 82 years, and we learn all about Tolkien's ancestry, early years, his life-long love of languages, his lengthy courtship and marriage to Edith Bratt (both were lengthy), his service as a soldier in WWI, his devoted fathering of four children,the development of his mythology and struggles with procrastination, the creation and publication of his stories and subsequent fame, the accolades, and the quiet return to Oxford after the death of his wife. Never does this book falter, and never will the thought "oh, get on with it already" enter the mind of the reader.
After reading the book, I am convinced that Tolkien is a hobbit.
At one point he confesses, "I am in fact a hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much."
It’s really an excellent, well-written book and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about this great man.
-- J.R.R. Tolkien (1892 – 1973) –
Today is the birthday of one of the greatest authors of the 20th Century.
[No... it is not Orlando Bloom’s birthday.]
It is Tolkien’s birthday, and here is a picture of Bloom, who played lead Elf Legolas in the movie version of the book he holds in his hands, Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings.
One of my favorite books ever.
Have a great Tuesday!
And remember. “Not all who wander are lost.”
Monday, January 02, 2006
The last day off... for a while. Holidays are now really over. Actually, I have a few days off, coming up in mid January, but after that... wow, it is full steam ahead until late July.
The New Year.
It is here.
I just got a pound of Starbucks Yukon© blend coffee ground up. I did not buy it here though.
The pound of coffee was a gift from my sister, at Christmas. It was in bean form.
Thing is, my own coffee grinder at home is not all that great. It does not grind as fine as I want my coffee ground. I like it smashed to a Turkish pulp. Like dust, really.
So I brought it here.
I've done it before, and Starbucks gladly obliges to grind up their own beans, bought elsewhere.
I always feel a bit funny about doing this though, because, I mean... I could have picked the bag of coffee right off the shelf, you know? Like, I always worry about proving that I did not steal it.
So while I was in the lineup at the till, I literally put the bag of coffee on top of my head. I even left it for a while, and it balanced there, I’m serious. It was some sort of psychological problem I was having. It was my feeble attempt at saying “I am not stealing this coffee that is on top of my head here.”
In reality, all that I probably accomplished was to have several people think I have some sort of brain damage.
So, now I was at the front of the line and as I was explaining to the barista girl about how this coffee was a gift to me at Christmas, when she said, “Oh, I can see right here, there is a piece of tape and gift wrapping...” and dang it all... there was. Stuck to the side of the bag of coffee.
It was very obvious that this was gift-wrapping. So, I felt better.
But now that I am back sitting down at my table here, I am wondering if she thinks that I am simply a more skillful thief than most. Like, I am one that thinks ahead, and travels with a bit of tape and wrapping paper and a story....
These people who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp, staccato ideas, such as: "I see where I can make an annual cut of $3.47 in my meat budget." But they have no slow, big ideas.
-- Brenda Ueland --
Have a great Monday!