Friday, January 31, 2014

Splash du Jour: Friday


It’s important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse.
-- Yann Martel, Life of Pi --


Have a great Friday!
*****

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Splash du Jour: Thursday


Anyone who tells you that it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all has never done both.
-- Jon Richardson, It’s Not Me, It’s You --


Have a great Thursday!
*****

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

Dave Letterman's
Top Ten Signs You'd Make A Bad Pope


10. Typically spend Sundays disabled by a hangover.
9. Religion isn’t really your thing.
8. You pronounce the “P” in “Psalms.”
7. Last time God spoke to you, he told you to stay out of church.
6. Know nothing about Vatican, know a lot about Vicodin.
5. You think “Papal” is an online payment website.
4. Only want the job as an excuse to avoid sex with your wife.
3. In times of trouble, ask yourself, “What would Keith Richards do?”
2. Your most recent prayer: “Dear God, don’t let it be herpes.”
1. Even Jesus thinks you’re a stooge.


Have a great Wednesday!
*****

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Splash du Jour: Tuesday


There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five --


Have a great Tuesday!
*****

Monday, January 27, 2014

Splash du Jour: Monday

If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.
-- Yann Martel, Life of Pi --

Have a great Monday!
*****

Sunday, January 26, 2014

An Appetite For Wonder

I am a huge fan of the writings and thoughts of Richard Dawkins.
And so I attacked his eagerly anticipated memoir [which was a birthday gift to me] like a sabre-toothed tiger trying to hasten its way up the evolutionary chain!
And admittedly, it was a fairly savoury feast.
It was neat to learn so much about the child who became the man. He was born in Nairobi Kenya, and his father was an agricultural civil servant in the British Colonial Service. This led to a well-travelled lifestyle, and  even though Dawkins refers to it as a "normal Anglican upbringing" -- it seemed pretty exotic to me.
In his teenage years Dawkins latched on to the idea of Darwinian evolution and this would shape the course of the rest of his life as not only a world-renowned scientist, but [later on] an equally renowned atheist. If you want to spend some time on YouTube, you can watch an easy ten years worth of Dawkins lectures and interviews, and most of these will centre around the topic of God, or the lack thereof. But if you are looking for the same kind of thing in the memoir, it sticks more closely to its subtitle: The Making of a Scientist.
It focuses primarily on his groundbreaking biological experiments, his academic career, and the influence of his own mentors and heroes. And always laced with Dawkins' wit and eloquence. I was surprised to learn of his affection for and affinity towards poetry, of all things.
This is an engaging, worthwhile read for anyone who wants to know more about Dawkins. 

If you have the appetite, quit wondering. Sink your teeth.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Splash du Jour: Friday


Never confuse faith, or belief—of any kind—with something even remotely intellectual.
-- John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany --


Have a great Friday!
*****

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Do I Trust Humanity Too Much?

I just got home from my nightly after-work stint at the Chapters bookstore… well, actually, the Starbucks within it. I spend about 75% of my non-work life reading there. But something so weird [and hopefully funny?] happened there tonight, as I was leaving.
In anticipation of the nearly Absolute Zero temperature out in the parking lot I thought I'd go start my car and then come back in where it's warm. I shut down the laptop and left it there at my table in my backpack. When I re-entered the store I walked around and looked at books for a few minutes. My God, there are so many good ones waiting to be bought! Admittedly, I got a bit distracted.
Imagine my reaction though, when I finally walked back into the Starbucks area, and while still a ways off… looked over to see one of the barista girls reaching into the top part of my backpack, taking out my wallet, and sort of… looking through it.
I was stunned. In fact, my initial reaction was a sort of embarrassment for her, coupled with a thought in my head [real loud] that could be verbalized as "What in the frigging hell are you doing?" I just sort of stood there a bit, and then approached her. She looked up and said, "Oh! Is this yours?"
Before I could even respond, these two elderly ladies sitting at an adjacent table piped up and said, "We told her to check because we thought maybe there was a bomb in there." 

What? A bomb? Now I was really confused -- but at the same time, I laughed. These two ladies had sat down while I was browsing books, and seeing an abandoned backpack, immediately went to the Starbucks people and said it looked suspicious, or something.
So I began explaining that I had just left it there to go and start my car outside to let it warm up -- and  now all three of these females were berating me for leaving valuables behind like that. I had never really given it a second thought, I guess. One of the ladies then asked me if my car was LOCKED as it idled outside, and I said, "Nope!"
They gave me this look like I had just arrived on planet Earth from Mars or something. 

*****

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Have a great Thursday!
*****

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Splash du Jour: Wednesday


"The lower a man is in an intellectual respect, the less puzzling and mysterious existence itself is to him."
-- Arthur Schopenhauer --


Have a great Wednesday!
*****

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dirty Love

Either I just know how to pick good books to read, or I am a very lenient and un-critical reviewer. I've been accused of the latter thing, but like to think of myself as the former.
Once again -- just a gem, a gem. I cannot think of one negative thing to say about  this new book by Andre Dubus III. Dirty Love.
These are four stand-alone stories that are nonetheless linked -- not only in theme, [and oh, how dirty these loves are!] but in that they take place in the same community, and often the characters overlap. As the dust-jacket says, they "walk out the back door of one story and into the next."
In the first story a husband confronts his wife with video-footage of her infidelity. They've been married for 25 years and her suspicious activity leads him to hire an investigator to confirm or assuage his doubts. The reader wonders as much as he does -- will she now come back to her marriage and make things work, or hop back into loverboy's Audi coupe? It's a searing 80 pages, riveting. Nothing is simple when these things happen, and this story knows that.
But the book is still in first gear, it gets better and better --
Next story is about Marla, a female bank teller [same bank as loverboy works in, from the last story.] She has a bit of a self-image problem. She lives a loner lifestyle until she meets Dennis. Again, the course of love runs not as smoothly as anticipated.
In the third story a would-be poet  but actual bartender moves with his new bride, freshly impregnated, to The Whaler -- a restaurant/hotel/resort where they both live in the adjacent cabins. Soon, a waitress there challenges him as to his umm… physical attentions. Will he risk everything? I can't say any more -- it's just a pitch-perfect story. Heartrending.
In the last one, an 18-year old girl [she works at The Whaler from the former story] is devastated by a video that was posted online after a drunken party. As her family disintegrates around her, she finds solace in [of all places, given the source of her current problems] the world of social media. But is there true solace here, or even greater danger, awaiting her?
This is the amazing thing about each of these stories, they are left open-ended and ambiguous, but not in that way that can be a real killer with short stories [in my opinion]. Not in that way where you finish a story and it is so vague at the end that you are left wondering why the hell you read it in the first place. No, that never happens here in this collection. With every scenario there is the possibility of redemption -- maybe not even reconciliation -- but at least redemption. Lessons learned. Maturity gained, etc.
Knowledge to use next time around the block. Hope, even.
A wondering -- will these people make it through? A sense that "love" is indeed a world fraught with frustrations, dashed dreams -- and is sometimes, yes -- "dirty" even.
But so real. This book is so real. So vivid and clear. Definitely worth the hardcover price.

*****

Splash du Jour: Tuesday


There will be mistakes, and maybe the point is not to forget the rest of yourself if one little part might go bad.
-- Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club --


Have a great Tuesday!
*****

Monday, January 20, 2014

Splash du Jour: Monday


There is nothing louder than an American hotel; and, mind you, this was supposed to be a quiet, cozy, old-fashioned, homey place - ‘gracious living’ and all that stuff.
-- Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita --


Have a great Monday!
*****

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Avuncular Thoughts

As I survey the course of my life I find that I've seemed to somehow steer clear of some of the major designations or roles that denote the basic functions of our human species. Things like husband, or father, this last one precluding ever being called a grandfather.
Anyone, simply by virtue of being born at all becomes a son or a daughter -- so that's a free-be. A given. It just arrives all on its own. But with those other things, you have to be a bit more creative. 

You have to actually do stuff.
I am a brother to four dear people. So that is not to be discounted. But again, it's the result of someone else's initiative, that of my parents. And these siblings of mine have produced their own offspring, 13 of them! So, of all things, I am most, an uncle.
It was real neat, on my recent vacation, to overhear a time or two, myself referred to as "uncle" by the girlfriends of my nephews. And once or twice by the husband of my niece. 

I found it cute. I liked it.
So, my conclusion is that I should focus on being a good one.
Now as I begin my second half-century of life, it's looking like I am not going to be a husband or father. I need to appreciate the fact that my brother, sisters, nephews and nieces, think I'm OK. It feels good to be so accepted and loved, at those levels. Especially since now that both of my parents are gone, that first designation -- son -- cannot be spoken aloud by the dearest people I have ever known.
Be a good brother.
Be a good uncle. One worthy of that coffee mug in the above image. 

*****

Water Music

The last time I went to Mexico on vacation I took a real dud of a book along with me. Stendhal's The Red and the Black.
Definitely not a beach read! Have you ever done that? Taken the totally wrong book with you on vacation?
So this time around I didn't want to make the same mistake. 

Having recently discovered that I very much like the writing style of T.C. Boyle, I took along Water Music -- and it was a good choice.
In this, his first novel, Boyle fictionalizes the adventures of an actual 18th century Scottish explorer, Mungo Park, whose obsessive mission it was to chart the course of the Niger River in Africa. Sounds boring? Trust me, it isn't. And trust me, it's more fun than Stendhal.
Boyle has two threads going throughout the book, and intricately brings them together in the final portions. He weaves the story of Ned Rise, a lifelong criminal from London, with that of Mungo, the explorer. Ned is adept at escaping death many times over, and leads a life of rampant profligatry, whoremastering, and chicanery. Mungo, on the other hand, has one thing on his mind, and that is to get to the Niger River and establish himself as a key figure in the history textbooks of the world. Many men have tried to map the Niger before and have failed. Mungo is persistent, and carries out two expeditions. His absence is devastating for his wife and family, left behind.
It really is an amazing look at the almost insane sacrifices made by intrepid explorers like Mungo. The bulk of the book really delves into the extreme deprivations, dangers and hardships faced by Mungo and his team. And it raises the question: What does it even mean to be the "discoverer" of a "new" region of our planet -- when there are people that already live there and look upon you as an interloper rather than the next guy to make it into a textbook about them.
Africa does not want him there! And it doesn't want Ned there, either!
At times quite comical, others deadly serious, I found Water Music to be a ripping good book overall. It made me add T.C. Boyle to an ever lengthening list of Authors I Want To Read In Their Everythingness.

*****

Friday, January 17, 2014

Splash du Jour: Friday


The ultimate truth about money: even though it doesn’t care about me or you, to make money requires us to care deeply about it.
-- Kevin O'Leary --


Have a great Friday!
*****

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The "Cold Hard Truth" Card

I'm writing this after work while sitting at the Starbucks in a bookstore. While browsing around in the books I ran across one by Kevin O'Leary, who just happens to be one of my favourite multi-billionaires in the world.
O'Leary is a Canadian financial guru, and one of the stars of my favourite TV show, Dragon's Den. Anyhoo -- cut to the chase, I just leafed through this book called Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women & Money, and landed on a real interesting page. O'Leary suggests that every person should carry in their wallet or purse a thing he calls the "Cold Hard Truth" Card. 

Before making any purchases a person should have a look at this card and consider their answer to the five statements on it.
 



I pledge to make no purchases unless I can answer TRUE to the following FIVE statements.
1. I have given this purchase sufficient thought.
2. Buying this item will not create debt for me or anyone else.
3. I not only want this item, I need it.
4. This item is more valuable than the interest I'd earn if I saved the money instead.
5. This item will matter to me in a year.


I think this is PROFOUND advice!
I myself am a very good…. budgeter, I think. I do not make a lot of money, and yet I am never really "in want" -- or even "in debt". And live a very comfortable life.
Even so, I'm going to take O'Leary's advice for what it's worth -- believe me, when it comes to money, and how to make it, and keep it -- and keep on making it -- no one is better at all those things than Kevin O'Leary. To help make him even richer, click on the above-linked book title and buy a copy, like I just did here in the store. [But only if you can answer "TRUE" to the five statements]!

*****

Monday, January 13, 2014

Back From Vacation...

…and oh, what a rude awakening it is!
My first day back to the ol' millstone, and I worked almost a twelve-hour day!
I miss Mexico!
I had quite the adventure, I must say -- I think it was maybe my favourite vacation time of my life. There were 28 of us in our group -- family members and friends who gathered for the wedding of my nephew. I was the first to arrive, more than a full day before everyone else, which meant I was also the first to leave. However, things did not go quite as planned and I managed to snag an extra day out of it at the expense of my airline company. When I arrived at the Puerto Vallarta airport on Saturday night [after several delays], the two pilots of the plane announced to all 180 passengers that they could not fly us home. Seems that the combination of delays managed to somehow exceed their allowable working hours. Flying us back to Canada would have taken them above the 13 hours of uninterrupted travel time.
There was mass pandemonium at the gate. A half hour later the pilots re-emerged from some sort of conference held in full view of us all, and told us that we would all be shuttled to another hotel to spend the night. We were bussed back to the terminal to retrieve our luggage and then taken to another gorgeous all-inclusive resort. We spent most of Sunday there, generously partaking [trust me] in all the free food and booze.
There are so many pictures I could share with my readers, [and some I can't] but since this is supposed to be a blog about books after all -- I thought I'd show this one picture. The main resort I stayed at during the week had a zoo within it. Ostriches, monkeys, peacocks, deer, etc. -- and, of all things, a crocodile.
I was reading a novel by T.C. Boyle at the time, called Water Music. As I was walking by the croc-enclosure one afternoon, it seemed like the thing almost posed for me, very similar to the cover of my book. Here's a picture of it, and vid-clip.
By the way, I'm not sure what sort of sound effects I was making toward the end there -- please forgive me, I was half-loaded at the time… 



video

Splash du Jour: Monday


INTERVIEWER: Which nineteenth-century writers do you admire?
T.C. BOYLE:  Charles Dickens, for one. A quintessential artist, one who wrote brilliantly and well and originally, and who was the consummately popular author. You have to envy him his famous readings. He was the Mick Jagger of his day, the movie, the stage show and all the rest, all rolled into one. That was a power we poor pathetic scribblers can only dream of in these antiliterary, techno-obsessed days.

Have a great Monday!
*****

Thursday, January 02, 2014

The Ocean Is Calling Me...

Just a note to say that I may not be around on my blog much in the near future -- I am off to Mexico. I will still be here in what might as well be Antarctica tomorrow, but after that, I will be somewhere very near to this picture, because this is a photo from the very resort where I will be lounging around for a week like a beached… Canadian.
Please pray for me as I sometimes have been known to abuse the "free unlimited booze" privileges a bit at these all-inclusive deals. As soon as they snap that plastic bracelet around my wrist, I'm pretty much out of control! I've never been more desperately in need of a solid sun-drenched vacation than right now. And so -- the timing is perfect. A great way to kick off 2014.
Vive le Corona!

*****

Splash du Jour: Thursday


"Great writing is, you open the book, and you are surprised each time out. That's what I want to do."
-- T.C. Boyle --


Have a great Thursday!
*****

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Circle

Happy New Year!
I was right. A couple of days ago I posted my favourite books read in 2013 and mentioned that if I finished this new one by Dave Eggers in time, it may have had to displace one of those five. 

It would have done so, for sure. Technically, I finished it today [in 2014] so maybe you will hear about it again, next December!
The Circle -- my God, where can I begin, even. The whole book was just amazing. I literally could not put it down and devoured the 500 pages in a couple of days -- which is unusual for me.
We all are familiar with social media -- blogging itself is one of its many forms. Dave Eggers prophetically takes it all a step forward -- a giant step forward, in this book. The Circle is a corporation that basically develops a global monopoly on online activity. It's never stated in the book how far into the future this is taking place, but every reader will be able to extrapolate the potentialities that exist in our modern society. It's simply a matter of sort of "upping" the technology now available, and creating an accepted mindset wherein users gradually give in to an ever increasing abandonment of personal privacy.
I'm confusing the issue -- trying to put it into a summation is difficult.
Hmmm… how to summarize.
Currently, most of us are involved in the world of social media. One might say that potentially, we are all connected. Thing is, we currently retain the option of participation. And if we participate, we yet retain the option of limiting our participation. Personally controlling it, in other words.
But in the world of The Circle those options quickly erode, and society buys into the idea that ever increasing levels of "transparency" are of ultimate benefit to all.
The Circle implements what sounds like great ideas at first -- politicians that wear cameras on them at all times, criminals that are easily identifiable in a crowd, children that can never be abducted because they are instantly trackable via GPS, etc., -- but along the way, all personal freedoms are one by one jettisoned, and the reader is faced with seeing [literally] what it would really be like to be at all times monitored, and "known" by anyone else who wanted to observe what you were up to.
About midway through the book, one of the founders of The Circle states it clearly: 

"…what if we all behaved as if we were being watched? It would lead to a more moral way of life. Who would do something unethical or immoral or illegal if they were being watched?"
Hah! While at first one might nod in agreement -- The Circle gives us a startling look at just what such a world would be like. It's scary -- scary as hell.
The Circle develops a sort of mantra: SECRETS ARE LIES. SHARING IS CARING. PRIVACY IS THEFT. Eggers, in an exquisitely written story, shows us that those three phrases are a horror when unduly [and mindlessly] exaggerated. He becomes, in my opinion, the new George Orwell with the writing of this book. This is a 1984 for those of us living in 2014.
And because of technology, the stakes are higher this time around. Much higher. By the end of this book you will realize that you need to be vigilant in running, running for your life, toward any shape that is not The Circle.
For further reading, check out this excellent review by Margaret Atwood -- HERE.

*****