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.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The thing about the Bridget Jones novels is . . . they are (mostly) fluff.  And by fluff, I mean (arguably) entertaining bits of ephemera that are culturally rooted in a particular time/place and don't really transcend their context.  But they aren't completely fluff, or maybe they're just quasi-intelligent fluff, because they do have those moments of humour-driven cultural clarity that highly suggest satire.  Satire on the level of Pope or Austen? Well, no.  But this isn't the time for that, really. Who would read that, I ask you?! 

I can't say I love the novels, but I do enjoy reading them once in a blue moon.  Even this latest novel with all its nostalgia-driven faults (pandering to perceived audience in plentiful evidence) - though the novel that has seen the end (yes, the end!!) of Mr. Darcy. How is this possible? Good question.  And yet, there it is. No Mr. Darcy (this is hardly a spoiler as it made the news . . . so I shall just continue, shall I?  Good)-  somehow works just about (or almost) as well as the first. 

What I liked about this latest instalment? A) That Fielding had the nerve (the nerve!) to kill off Mark Darcy.  It makes me forgive all the audience pandering that seems to go on.  B) The notion of a Daniel Craig type working at an English school tickles my fancy.  C) The keen observations regarding just how silly contemporary life can look via neurotic texting and twittering.  D) And Bridget Jones herself can be somewhat endearing . . . until she's not.

Ultimately, I'm conflicted about these novels. Let's just call them a guilty pleasure, perhaps, and leave it at that.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Best Reads 2013

Again, the events of this year did not afford me as much time for reading as I'd normally have in a given year.  When I did get a chance to read, I chose mostly comfort re-reads, classics or otherwise.  Thus I still managed to read some great books.

Number of Books read: 61

Books by men: 27

Books by women: 34

Books in translation: 5

Books that were re-reads: 30

Fiction read: 54
Of the Fiction . . .

Novels (literary and otherwise):  42

Poetry: 10

Plays: 1

Short Story collections: 0

Novella: 1

Nonfiction read: 7

Of the Nonfiction . . .

Essays/lectures/letters: 1

History/Biography/Memoir: 4

Other: 1

Books By Year of Publication

21st century: 34

Second half of 20th century, 1950-1999: 19

First half of 20th century, 1900- 1950: 7

19th century:  1


Like last year, I'm doing only one top five list which will include fiction (poetry and prose) and nonfiction. These are, simply, my favourite reads of the year (excluding re-reads for novels and canonical/classics for poetry).

In no particular order:

The Bell by Iris Murdoch (novel, 1958)

Alongside by Anne Compton (poetry, 2013)

The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (revised edition) by Charles Nicholl (nonfiction, 2002)

Bite Down Little Whisper by Don Domanski (poetry, 2013)

Two for Sorrow by  Nicola Upson (novel, 2010)

My reading goals for 2014?  Just read, well and often.

Happy New Year, all!  

Monday, 30 December 2013

The Annual Fixture

1. What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?

Gave birth to a wonderful little girl. I thought I knew what it meant to be grateful when my little boy came along, but a second baby just adds to the gratitude and the love.

2. What countries did you visit?

I seem to have not only visited but I've become a permanent resident of the land of sleepless nights and diapered days (not that the nights don't involve diapers as well).

3. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?

More energy. Better overall health.  Same as last year. Xs 2.

4. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Giving birth, yet again, with very little in the way of painkillers (epidural flub). 

5. What was your biggest failure?

Giving in to the fear too often.

6. What was the best thing you bought?

I can't think of one thing in particular.  This year hasn't been about things, by and large.

7. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Mr. Inkslinger. This has been another tough year in terms of the demands on his time and attention.  He's really given it his best.  Little Inkslinger for handling the second most jam-packed year of his life (the second one) with courage and his delightful sense of humour.  Baby Inkslinger for being such a bright, smiley little baby.

8. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

Willful stupidity and determined indifference are still tough to take.  

9. Where did most of your money go?

Undoubtedly Little Inkslinger. But we didn't mind in the least.

10. What song will always remind you of 2013?

Somehow, Enya's Only Time managed to get stuck in my head (I'm not ordinarily an Enya fan). Perhaps it's because I was subjected to this via Facebook right before going into labour (and I'm not really a Van Damme fan):

11. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?

a). Definitely happier. Little Inkslinger and Baby Inkslinger make sure of that. b). Fatter. Alas. Two babies, and too many calories. c). Richer in every way except monetary. 

12. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Sleep. Relax.  Enjoy.  

13. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Borrowing trouble. Worrying. The usual.

14. What was your favourite TV program?

Who has time for tv?

15. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Still intending to keep hate out of the emotional diet. 

16. What was the best book you read?

See upcoming top five post.

17. What did you want and get?

Baby Inkslinger!  (Two little babies! When we thought we couldn't have any.)

18. What did you want and not get?

Less fear.

19. Best Musical Discovery?

I'm not sure I really listened to anything particularly new this year, apart from more nursery songs, but Miley Cyrus was hard to ignore. 

20. What was your favourite film of this year?

Pretty much the only one we got to see was Star Trek Into Darkness. So that'll have to be the answer to this one.

21. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Mr. Inkslinger's mother babysat while he and I took in a movie. See answer to number 20.  

22. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

More energy. 

23. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?

Is it clean? Sort of? It'll have to do.

24. What kept you sane?

Little Inkslinger.

25. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Benedict Cumberbatch.  See answer to number 20. :)

26. What political issue stirred you the most?

Do I have the nerve to mention Rob Ford? Yes, I guess I do.  But I'm not sure "stirred" is the right word.

27. Who did you miss?

My mother. Again, always.

28. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.

Trust your own instincts, but only some of the time.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas  

In the process of decorating our tree . . . we MIGHT
get it decorated before morning, but there's no guarantee

Happy Holidays

Saturday, 14 December 2013

There are few things as delightful as watching Little Inkslinger hold things, turn things over, try to figure out how they work.  The way his little fingers move is a marvel.  (Of course, all mothers must think the same about their babies.)  How we touch and feel never ceases to be a marvel, we just begin to take it all for granted after awhile.

In an effort to avoid taking things for granted, I've been thinking about what I love to touch and hold and try to figure out. Still, after all this time, objects, textures, fascinate.  So do lists.

1.  Glazed pottery.  My husband and I were given two wonderful complementary (as opposed to something boring like matching) mugs for a wedding gift years ago.  They're such a pleasure to hold and look at.  Drinking something out of them (usually tea or water) becomes more than an exercise in hydration.

2.  Plums.  There is something about the ratio of smooth to taut that is very appealing about the feel of a ripe plum.  And plums always evoke childhood memories of my mother's friend's farm with its fruit trees and gigantic, rather frightening, husky dogs.  The latter were kept caged whenever we were there, but I can't say that lessened the terror all that much.

3.  Piano keys.  Piano practice was always a chore until it occurred to me that I loved the way the hard keys and pedals could create such fluidity of sound and emotion.  Well, I can't claim an absolute revolution in my way of approaching the dreaded practice time, but it helped.

4.  Books.  The feel  of the paper pages, the covers (hard or soft), running my hand down the spine.  My father, manager of a bookbindery, had a specific approach to testing the craftsmanship of a book.  He'd feel the cover and spine, crack open the book to see how the stitching or glue held at the spine, whether it allowed the pages to fall open easily.  And the smell, of course.  The smell of books and their many parts is the smell of my childhood.

5.  When a child, the soft silky edging of a warm blanket held endless comfort.  Blankets in general should be the sorts of things one likes to touch and feel on the skin.  Never merely utilitarian.  Or, if one cannot justify a non-utilitarian approach, think of it as a utility of sense.

This list could be endless, but I think I'll stop for the moment.  If only because of the utilitarian need to get something other than blogging done today.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Reading "Stilt Jack" Again

"It's all in books, save the best part; God knows
where that is: I found it once, wasn't looking."

                                -- John Thompson