Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Do You Need Help?

I've noticed something lately. Cars parked awkwardly at the side of the road, sometimes in places (such as a roundabout) where it's not really safe to stop.

It turns out there's no emergency. I see the driver a few feet away holding up his phone. It's October and since everyone is carrying a phone with them at all times, there doesn't seem to be any reason not to stop and capture the beauty of the leaves.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Girl Mans Up

Girl Mans UpGirl Mans Up by M-E Girard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! What a great way to spend a weekend. M-E Girard's Girl Mans Up first impressed me with its universalism on how we all have to deal with the vagaries of love. The book deals with gender, sexuality, family drama, high school bullies, peer pressure, friendship, videogames! and grabbing your own power.

The protagonist, Pen, is a girl who is mistaken for a boy, but defies categorization. When someone asks her if she is a gay girl, Pen thinks: "I don't think of myself as being gay, because that word sounds like it belongs to some guy. Lesbian makes me think of some forty-year-old woman. And queer feels like it can mean anything" (65). The one thing that Pen is adamant about is that she is a girl.

Out of the two female relationships Pen has in the book, I find her friendship with Olivia the most interesting. There's more growth between those characters, maybe because there is much more at stake. The love interest, Blake, is definitely kick-ass, but restricted in her role as the object of desire. That said, their scenes together are well written: not graphic, but plenty to activate the imagination.

The guys in the book don't come off well. The opening chapters of Pen hanging out with the boys have a greasy feel. Maybe those guys just need to Woman Up.

Except Johnny, of course. I love Johnny. We all need a big brother like Johnny.

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The Return of History

The Return of History: Conflict, Migration, and Geopolitics in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Return of History: Conflict, Migration, and Geopolitics in the Twenty-First Century by Jennifer Welsh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Four and a half stars

I have to admit, I had some trouble getting into the first two essays, but the book picks up power and speed with the last three: The Return of Mass Flight; The Return of the Cold War; and The Return of Inequality. Jennifer Welsh clearly explains the times we are living in. Scary. The coming American election has become all that more important in my eyes.

Vital reading to fix the cracks in our liberal democracies.

Listen to the Massey Lectures on CBC Radio's Ideas from Mon Oct 31 to Fri Nov 4.

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Monday, 3 October 2016

Between Buddha and the Bible: The Mercy Journals

The Mercy JournalsThe Mercy Journals by Claudia Casper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Four and a half stars

The book opens with a brief explanatory prologue: In 2072, these journals have been found next to the human remains of an adult male, a pistol and a cougar. The journals begin in the year 2047, after a third of humanity has died off due to war, ecological collapse and a flu pandemic. There’s a new world order where the state has much more control of its citizens, doling out rations for food, power and data. The younger generation find that they like this socialist lifestyle and are angered by those who still insist on being wasteful and greedy, while a murky resistance group criticizes the state.

Our hero and writer of the journals is Allen Quincy, a war veteran who is almost permanently holed up in his apartment fighting PTSD. He comes back to life when he meets the singer and dancer, Ruby. They quickly become lovers. She, herself, is dealing with the damage from the past; her performances are an exorcism of that time because she is “afraid we’ll stop the process of destroying and tearing down too soon. We need to keep going if we’re going to break through to something truly different” (99).

Quincy began to write these journals in his own attempt at obliteration. He reads a quote from Socrates that “[w]riting destroys memory” (17) and so he describes his world in an attempt to rid himself of his taunting PTSD visions. These visions stem from a calamitous army tour defending the border after Mexico ran out of water. From his time there, he earned the nickname, Mercy.

The book is made up of two parts: Journal One is a meditation on writing and memory. When recording the first time he met Ruby, Quincy realizes that his writing may be “accurate but [he still] left so much out. The part is made to stand for the whole, and then the part becomes the whole” (151).

In Journal Two, the book becomes a thriller. I found that answers to questions about characters are left implied, so that you can let your imagination get away with itself. The re-entry of Quincy’s brother Leo into the story creates a tension; Leo’s actions are underscored by incredible malice. Language becomes a slippery thing. Where once Quincy wrote to forget, around Leo he is hesitant to ask questions because “asking was a submissive act; it left you waiting for an answer, vulnerable to a lie” (222).

Like in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Canada is seen to be some sort of haven: the place Americans escape to. Quincy, Leo and Leo’s stepson, Griffith head up to Vancouver Island where their family had a cottage named Nirvana. The band is mentioned a couple of time, as well as Buddhist philosophy. There’s also the paradigm of Cain and Abel and talk of beginning a “new covenant” (228). Ostensibly, they are there to find Quincy’s lost sons, as Leo has reported that they have been spotted. They go deeper into the forest, and away from what they knew as civilization.

Initially, I found myself comparing The Mercy Journals to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road - sparse writing style, limited punctuation and almost as bleak. There’s also a little bit of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when journeying up the river and having to deal with Kurtz.

Claudia Casper’s writing and observations are exquisite. The split nature of the novel (part meditation, part thriller) may bother some readers, but the book made me think and kept me wanting to read past my bedtime.

There’s something about dystopian novels that I really like: Station Eleven, Hunger Games. My husband hates them: He says they’re too dark. Maybe I am a pessimist of the highest order. But I find these kinds of books are ultimately about faith in humanity - how low we can go and still survive.

The Mercy Journals is highly recommended.

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Saturday, 1 October 2016

Book Signing

At the Edinburgh Book Festival, I attended an interview with a former pro athlete who had written a book. He was very animated and outgoing during the talk - even leaping up to kiss a woman at the back of the auditorium.

I sometimes dread asking an author to sign my book because it's hard for me to make small talk with someone who doesn't mind spending hours alone scribbling. Based on his personality during the interview, I thought that this elite athlete would be a chatterbox.

But as the long line coiled out the door and around the gardens, the author looked petrified as the queue never seemed to end. When I got to him, I tried to be chirpy and upbeat, but the work of performance had worn him down.

An introvert. Like me.