Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Jane Austen Is Always A Good Idea

"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her."

So begins Jane Austen's Emma, one of my lesser favourites (if that can be said about my attitude to any Jane Austen novel).  Lesser not because of the skill in execution, but because Emma is, for me, the least sympathetic of any of Austen's protagonists.  Even including Fanny Price from Mansfield Park.  She is - to use an Austen word - insufferable much of the time.  But in the interest of possible growth (on my part), I break out the novel from time to time and give Emma another chance to win me over.  And let's be honest, it's not really a hardship because Austen's prose more than makes up for any peskiness on the part of the protagonist.

This time around I've been inspired to try a reread because I've just watched the 2009 BBC mini-series version of Emma starring Romola Garai - who does a great job of capturing the character in the least offensive way possible - and Johnny Lee Miller. Miller's Knightley may not be quite as overtly sexy as Jeremy Northam's, but that is not necessarily a significant fault. This particular version of Mr. Elton is absolutely perfect, though Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are each a bit off.  The latter is, admittedly, extremely difficult to capture well. (In point of fact, Austen's characters are usually difficult to capture successfully and despite me watching film after film of all her novels, it is rare that I feel a production really nails it.  The only one I can think of that really hits everything - including most, if not all, of the supporting characters - is the 1995 BBC Persuasion with Amanda Root.)

So . . . to Emma.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Yay!  Anne Compton has won the Raymond Souster Award for her most recent collection of poems, Alongside.  One of the very best contemporary Canadian poets, Anne Compton's collections are always, always worthy of recognition and attention.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

In other news: I WANT this! (It's a forthcoming book of essays by Jeffery Donaldson called Echo Soundings: Essays on Poetry and Poetics. It's a must.)


Friday, 30 May 2014

Placeholder

You know when you come across that great read in poetry and you drop everything - the novel you were just reading, the poem you were just writing, the laundry - and you just sit back and absorb?  That's what I've been doing lately.  The book? Charmaine Cadeau's Placeholder.



Things hidden, things unseen, the presence of absence.  In detail-rich poems, Cadeau brings us self-assured (in the best sense) poems that linger and shimmer in a kind of chaos of the unexpected. Images shift and flicker in significance.  I had the feeling of walking through an abandoned sun-sparked forest after a rainfall. Awareness. Her poems are imbued with a sense of awareness.  But I don't want to give you the impression that these poems are all lightness and shine.  Because it's not that kind of collection. No, not at all. These are thoughtful poems, dark and rich, like the kind of earth things grow from.  There are poems that are darkly playful (like 'Possibilities' in which rhyme becomes something akin to macabre), and poems that are just dark.  She employs a clever trick of metaphor in 'Inside Out' and consistently offers up heart-stoppable lines.  Examples?  Surely. Try these lines:

"We tend towards disintegration like grace / notes . . . " and, later in the poem, "If only the heart had / antennae. If only the heart had antennae to tap // out the way to the safest places, the ones / run by the slowest clocks." (from 'Erosion')

Or these:

"The Milky Way lies like petals afloat in a road puddle . . ." (from 'Six workdays').

I liked this collection a lot (can you tell?) and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it ended up being a favourite read of this year.

For an interesting interview with the poet, check out this one at The Toronto Quarterly.

*much thanks to Brick Books for the review copy.


Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Things I've Been Inspired By Lately

1.  If you haven't been listening to Thomas and Simon at The Readers, rush right over and have a listen! I've just started (yes, another example of me being late to the party) and I can't rave enough about it.  Makes me want to read more, and other, and then more again. (And they now have me thinking about children's classics, which is timely.)

2.  Dan Culberson is a Saint John photographer. Often as not, the moments he captures transform the reality in front of his camera into an image that speaks volumes about place and identity. I'm not sure how he does it, but his photographs of Saint John drop my jaw every time.  I'd recommend taking a look at his site for a sampling.

3.  Roadside bird sightings .. . .


4.  More photography. Very different in style from Culberson.  And this is an ongoing inspiration (see sidebar): Janet Blyberg on Instagram.

5.  Peter Firth's performance in the 1986 Northanger Abbey. Yes, it was an odd mix of Austen and saxophones, dream and dreamy. But Firth's performance was both startling and endearing, creepy and sexy. How anyone can pack that into one believable performance is beyond me, but I return to that movie every now and again to enjoy trying to figure it out.  Not quite a comfort movie - the soundtrack precludes it getting on that list - but close enough.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

The thing about living in southern New Brunswick is there is always so much beauty not too far from any given point.  

(Which is, evidently, distracting.)

Thursday, 27 March 2014

It seems whenever I have a moment to post something here I can't think of what to write (despite having written half a dozen posts in my head when I didn't have a moment to post), or I post something on Facebook instead (I have opinions about Facebook, it's a love/hate thing) . . . but I have been doing quite a bit of reading and writing . . . even some thinking.  And I've managed to watch a few things (in instalments, mostly, worked around the requisite feedings and changes and cuddles).  So here's a bit of a catch-up post.

Currently Listening To: The sound of two children having a nap.  Which is why I'm able to write this . . .

Recently Read:  I spent a glorious week rereading Pamela Dean's Secret Country trilogy. Yes, she's a bit iffy when it comes to plot (what does happen, after all?), but in terms of characters and character motivations she's the queen.  And I indulged in a little late night reread of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost.  I have to say, Shakespeare is quite a challenge when one's brain has turned to late night mush from lack of sleep.  It's quite a different play when you can only get in one word in ten.

Currently Reading:  The Lodger Shakespeare by Charles Nicholl.  Nicholl is the kind of writer who can keep your interest even when you have a toddler yelling and bouncing in lieu of taking a nap.  I'm enjoying this read.

I'm also taking a slow meander through Alcott's Eight Cousins.  I'd read it when a very young teen (thirteen or fourteen, I think) and I've since forgotten most of it.  The only thing I remember is that I enjoyed it so I'm taking another look. So far, I'm mostly noticing the things it has in common with The Secret Garden.  I wonder which came first?Ah, Google says it was Eight Cousins.

Recently Watched: So, late to the game, as usual.  I just recently watched State of Play. Not the American film, but the British tv mini-series it was based on. While I enjoyed the acting, the plot felt inconsistent to me and I wasn't surprised to read that the writer didn't have a clear idea of what was going to happen ahead of time.  That having been said, I thought it had a lot of interesting things to suggest about the relationship between the government, the media, and the public's expectations.  I'm now kind of curious about what the film did with the plot.

And speaking of Love's Labour's Lost . . . I wouldn't mind having a big ole roomful o' books like this one:

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Our son, Little Inkslinger, recently celebrated his 2nd birthday amid a flurry of wrapping paper and toy horns.  He is easy to please, our little guy.  Just make sure there is a book, or maybe two, and he is happy.  He is enthusiastic about learning things, and he loves words.  He tells stories to his stuffed animals, improvising some and repeating others.  Among his presents this year is a sequel to the very sweet children's book Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff.  Mr. Inkslinger is particularly partial to these books as Danny and the Dinosaur was one of his childhood favourites.  So he brought home Happy Birthday, Danny and the Dinosaur . . . which seems quite fitting.  

When we think about books for our children, I have to admit gender does play a part in our choosing . . . we try NOT to consider it.  Despite warnings that we'll never succeed, Mr. Inkslinger and I are determined to raise our boy and girl as people, not prescribed gender roles.  This means trying to ignore colour coding for gender designated items. It means, in fact, ignoring gender designations as often as possible.  For example, Mr. Inkslinger's uncle and aunt gave Baby Inkslinger a deliciously soft, but very decidedly pink blanket. Little Inkslinger is the one who loves it and we think that's just fine. He also loves his blue blanket that a family friend gave him when he was Baby Inkslinger's age.  We think that's just fine, too.




Baby Inkslinger is a little young still to make her own decisions about what colours she likes best and which toys she prefers to play with, but we're trying our best to keep it all rather open . . . not steering either of our little ones in any one particular direction when it comes to what might be considered 'normal' (ugh) for a boy or girl.  

We had considered this a reasonably respectable approach to parenting, but we recently discovered how alone we are in this assumption after reading the comments to the story about the British couple (see here) who allow their son to wear whatever he wants (including pink tutus), play with typically girl toys if he likes, and experiment with nail polish if the mood strikes him.  The comments seemed quite overwhelmingly negative in response last time I checked (here's hoping that changes, though).  And this gives me pause.  When did we come up with this notion of boy clothes or girl clothes for toddlers? It wasn't so long ago they all wore pretty much the same thing.  And girl toys?  What on earth is a girl toy? I know there are gender coded products we're expected to see as girl toys (usually coloured pink for our buying convenience), but I'm just not convinced.  

When I was growing up, I played with dolls and action figures (surprisingly similar, are they not?), trucks and  toy ovens, Matchbox cars and Play-doh.  Toys are toys.  Imaginative play is imaginative play.  Why limit the roles you try on as a child?  And books . . . oh, don't get me started on books. I mean, are we expected to believe that little boys only like to read books about trucks and ferocious beasts and other little boys?  And girls only like to read books about dresses and kitties and other little girls? Nonsense.  Sheer, utter, absolute nonsense. Bring on the dragons, the kitties, the girls and the boys.  Bring on the knights, the Robin Hoods, the Nancy Drews.  I read them all as a child and found great delight in the imaginary worlds that came to life through the words of good writers.  Why would any child want to miss out on any fun just because of someone else's ultimately limiting notions about gender roles?

Fighting Dragons, An Admirable Pastime

Knight-in-armour by A.A. Milne (from Now We Are Six)

Whenever I'm a shining Knight,
I buckle on my armour tight;
And then I look about for things,
Like Rushings-out and Rescuings,
And Savings from the Dragon's Lair,
And fighting all the Dragons there.
And sometimes when our fights begin,
I think I'll let the Dragons win . . .
And then I think perhaps I won't,
Because they're Dragons, and I don't.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Confessions of a Bibliophile

I have stopped using my Kindle.  I will wait while the shock settles . . . . 

Yes, it's true. I do not read ebooks at a time when everyone is increasingly reading ebooks.  And I'm digging  my heels in about it. Why?  Two things: 

A) I'm getting tired of certain aspects of technology . . . like the need to upgrade every few days (ok, I'm exaggerating, but it feels like it's every few days) and the benefits of each upgrade do not seem to balance out the costs . . . in general.  While the Kindle is one of the lesser offenders in this category, the fact remains that it preys on my patience. Its very presence. Preys. On my patience. 

B) I found over half my joy of reading was disappearing while using the Kindle and that I was wasting time reading nonsense I would never have read because it was easier and cheaper to download than to physically acquire a volume I had doubts I really needed/wanted/desired to read or own.  And even though the Kindle is so much easier to hold, even though you can store ever so many virtual tomes on that slim little device, you still can't beat the physical satisfaction of an honest-to-goodness book. There is joy in the texture, the cover art, the smell of ink and paper and whatever else that volume has picked up and absorbed from its various sojourns around your living space.  

But I'm living in a paradox. While the benefits of consolidating a vast library on a small, portable (but breakable) device elude me, I'm choosing to come to terms with the physical reality of books in our increasingly smaller space.  Downsizing our personal library is requiring a discipline of deliberation and being honest about what role books play in my (our) life.  I have lived so long in the realm of the mind and ideas, I have spent so much time between the covers of books, meandering the aisles of libraries, inhaling scents and thoughts, that having to focus on what is truly valuable to me about that side of my life is sobering.  I want to keep what is healthy - the love of ideas, story, thoughts - and leave behind what was escapism or a kind of elitist bookism (which you could argue is the same thing), keep the joy and toss the belief that intelligent people must have lots of books lying around on shelves and tables and floors.  Because life is something more with books, but it isn't books.  And I want to bring more life into my slightly dusty library-ish existence.  
As for the Kindle, I'm probably fighting a losing battle with reality.  There may come a time when I will have to resort to a Kindle (or similar but upgraded device) to read anything at all as there will be no more print books.  But until that time, I will resist the notion that it is inevitable, necessary, or desirable. Because it isn't for me.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

There are few things as warming as poetry and cuddles on a cold winter's afternoon.  The cuddles were provided by Baby Inkslinger, the poetry . . . 





Jeremy Northam reading Gerard Manley Hopkins is almost too wonderful to bear.  Glorious.

The poetry is necessary as a brace against hard tasks.  Mr. Inkslinger and I are downsizing our library, jettisoning the unnecessary - the books merely collected and not loved - to make over the office into our daughter's room.  It's not just a matter of making more room for Baby Inkslinger's things. We're also interested in moving towards a balanced life.  A balance of books and activity,  and a moving away from collecting for its own sake.  This is a rather gigantic shift in thinking for us, occasioned by a handful of life-altering events that focussed our priorities in a way we hadn't experienced before now.  Instead of lessening our appreciation of books, it heightened our appreciation of greatness.  That which we can experience and share in this life, since limited, should, in general, be deliberately chosen with much care.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Return To Austen

Having endured Baker's Longbourn, I'm indulging in a little P&P to recover my Austen equilibrium.  (insert sigh of satisfaction here)

Such flashes and sparks in Pride and Prejudice. The humour of Elizabeth, the puzzle that is Mr. Darcy (seriously, is he not one of the most fascinating, most difficult of characters to get a handle on?), the frustration that circles around Mr. Wickham and Mr. Collins. It stands the test of time, transcends manners and dress, reaffirms my belief that people are people regardless of time and place.  I've known many a Mrs. Bennet, steered clear of a few Mr. Bennets in my time, and have been fortunate enough to encounter reasonable facsimiles of the delightful Jane and Elizabeth.  I'm not sure I've ever met an authentic Darcy, though.  He's a tough one.  The characters leap of the page, but that's not even the half of the genius that is Austen.  The whip-crack dialogue, the beautiful pacing of sentence, chapter, plot.  The narrative themes.  We could - and obviously do - become absorbed in this world of Austen.

I was recently commenting to a friend that I find novels that 'borrow' plot or character or imagination from Austen initially fascinate and then inevitably disappoint me. And I wonder why I keep trying to read them. Why, if Austen is that rare thing, a genius novelist, is it so insufferable that any attempt to write prequels or sequels or narrative asides of her work suffers by comparison?  And yet I find myself fretting and fuming over whatever recent knock-off I'm attempting to read my way through. Silliness of expectations. Perhaps one of the Mrs. Bennets I have known is myself.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

C.J. Sansom's Dissolution:  I really enjoyed this novel and will most likely try to find a way to read the rest in the series. It felt like a less disturbing (philosophically), less dense and complex (though Eco is dense and complex in a good way) revisiting of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.




 It is its own story, though, with its own characters. The story takes place at a monastery with a sketchy history and an uncertain future while a hunchbacked lawyer does some investigating on behalf of Cromwell and King Henry VIII.  I didn't find the plot convincing at all times, and the lawyer took awhile to grow on me as a character, but I was won over in the end.  The period details were the highlight for me.  Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, the impact that had on the 'regular' people, the reality of a reforming king (who may or may not be surrounded by the sincere and may not be so sincere himself) are touched upon in quick, intriguing ways.  It is the kind of novel that excites interest in topics beyond itself. And that is not a bad thing.




Longbourn by Jo Baker:  I struggled to find anything to like about this novel, but managed to finish it anyway.   The novel dances around the edges of the plot in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, creating a completely different narrative by focussing on the servants at Longbourn instead of the Bennets.  The idea is great, the execution . . . not so much.  I couldn't sympathise with the character we follow around the most - Sarah - and really would have preferred more time spent on James Smith and Mrs. Hill. Sarah is a dissatisfied, miserable character for all of the novel (with the possible exception of the final few pages) and I found myself growing increasingly impatient with her. While it's not altogether shocking that a servant at that time may not have enjoyed his/her life, the way in which Sarah expresses it, how she envisions reality, had a too modern sensibility about it for my taste. It didn't feel authentic to me. It was as if a contemporary girl had accidentally slipped back to Regency England and found herself working for the Bennets.  Ultimately, the novel felt shallow to me, the characters hadn't been explored fully, the story only partially told.  

A Series of Short Reviews

Despite not managing to find or carve out the moments needed to post many reviews, I did have thoughts about books read last year.  So I am going to jot down some mini reviews of the reads that stuck in my head . . . 




Alongside by Anne Compton:  I love Compton's poetry, as a rule, and so it comes as no surprise that I loved this collection.  I think her previous collection (Asking Questions Indoors and Out) is still my favourite, but this was a great joy to read.  This collection deserves a longer post. I need the time to do it justice.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams:  Perhaps it was a matter of timing, but I found myself becoming impatient with the absurdities this time around.  I liked the first novel, but this one left me wondering why. Somehow it felt like I was merely skimming the surface of a rich imaginative world, never getting the opportunity to dive in.  

Humble Men In Company: The Unlikely Friendship of Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge by Kirby Evans: Another one that ended up being disappointing.  Engagingly written, it just seemed to be a bit out of balance in its treatment of the two men and I found this distracting.  The author clearly preferred Charles Lamb - seemed even to have something of an ax to grind on his behalf - and Coleridge suffered a bit, I think.  

Christopher Marlowe: Poet and Spy by Park Honan:  Formidable.  Informative. But I still feel like I don't know Marlowe . . . which is, well, not unreasonable.  

Bite Down Little Whisper by Don Domanski:  Domanski is always worth a look and this collection of poems certainly didn't disappoint.  Was it an all-time favourite like All Our Wonder Unavenged? No, but it was the kind of collection that could easily tax one's knowledge of enthusiastic adjectives.




The Pirate King and Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King: I finally (FINALLY!) managed to procure and devour the next two instalments in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series.  And while The Pirate King, though diverting, didn't have the richness of some of the previous novels, Garment of Shadows seemed to get right back on track, as it were. The characters are always consistently well drawn, however, and I wasn't disappointed by either novel (as some have claimed to be).  I love this series simply because King brings a depth of character and a richness of writing style that is rare for any kind of contemporary fiction, literary or genre.