Thursday, June 30, 2016

9th Canadian Challenge - 21st Review - The Heart Goes Last

I've already touched on the overriding feature of this book, Atwood imagines a near future where the U.S. Midwest/Rustbelt has suffered a devastating economic collapse, and the vast majority of residents are scrambling to survive.  This leads the main couple of the novel (Stan and Charmaine) to go to a seminar, where instead of pitching timeshares in Florida, the organizers are recruiting people to move to the planned town of Consilience.  The organizing principle of Consilience is that half the town's population is incarcerated in Positron Prison, but the real kicker is that everyone switches roles each month.  Even knowing this (and being warned by his ex-con brother, Conor, not to sign up) Stan feels that there are no other reasonable options, and he agrees to join up.  Charmaine was basically sold the moment she found out that they would be sleeping in beds again (or at least a kind of prison cot half the time), instead of in their car.

Stan gets an "outside" job repairing the scooters that every rides around town (the few cars are reserved for the town's security forces) and on the months he is in prison, he is responsible for monitoring the chickens, grown to feed the town and prison population.  In general, the prisoners (not really being criminals) are put to good economic use, though there are indeed pressures to make the prison more profitable.

One month, Stan finds a note from the alternate tenants in his house -- Jasmine has penned a love note to Max -- and Stan finds himself fantasizing about meeting Jasmine on the switch-over day, since his love life with Charmaine is not as fulfilling as it once was.  In his efforts to find out more about Jasmine, Stan ends up learning quite a few of Consilience's secrets...

This is definitely one of the more plot-driven novels by Atwood that I have read.  (The trade-off is that the characters are all fairly shallow and we don't have much philosophizing in the book.)  It is a fast read, and I thought I would read it over 4 or so days, but on my second day of reading, I got quite hooked and stayed up late to finish it. 

I think it would be unfair to reveal more of the plot now, particularly as the book is still quite new (2015) and it is better to experience the various reveals first-hand.  I will say that little is what it appears, and I certainly wonder if Atwood was at all influenced by Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series (where aliens are behind this massive scheme to resurrect all humans, though I can't even remember their ultimate motivations) or Dayworld, which offers up a vision of people switched on and off over different days of the week (with a few Daybreakers who cross into other times where they don't belong, a bit like Stan incidentally).  Since Atwood has talked in the past about how she doesn't really read SF, she may have been more likely to have watched and been influenced by David Cronenberg's eXistenZ, where nothing is quite as it seems.  That's a fairly apt description of The Heart Goes Last.  The novel probably won't make my top ten list for the year, but it was an entertaining romp with several unexpected twists.  It might be worth reading just to see how Atwood approaches the thriller genre, since it certainly isn't the type of novel she typically writes.


Monday, June 27, 2016

9th Canadian Challenge - 20th Review - Vancouver Walking

Vancouver Walking is a 2005 poetry collection by Meredith Quartermain.  It's somewhat difficult to review, as it is basically falls into two categories: the first two sections "Vancouver Walking" and "International Rooms" are multi-layered and frankly quite academic poems based on walking around Vancouver, whereas "Coast Starlight" is a section comprised of more straight-forward poems about taking a train through the Pacific Northwest and into the heart of the Southwest U.S.  The Coast Starlight train only runs to Los Angeles, but Quartermain may be drawing upon other visits to the States when she writes about Nevada or Utah or even a very jolting ride to finally get to Denver.

I didn't dislike the first two sections, but they didn't do much for me, and I think they would be fairly alienating to a general audience.  (I guess I was hoping for something more akin to W. H. New's YVR.)  The "Coast Starlight" section was more approachable and entertaining.

The poems in "Vancouver Walking" appear at first glance to be the spiritual cousins to Paul Blackberry's poems, spread out all over the page, but very much in the moment.  However, it is very quickly apparent that Quartermain is going for the palimpsest effect, where she discusses a street intersection in the moment (often a fairly run down vision), then she moves back in history, looking for an another important moment, which she then writes about in tandem with what she is looking at.  There is actually an essay by Maia Joseph that delves into this aspect of the poems.  By the last two poems, she is going all the way back to the European "discoverers" of Vancouver and Vancouver Island, and she seems quite inspired by George Bowering's George, Vancouver: A Discovery Poem.  (Again, I have to be frank and say that this chapbook-length poem never worked for me.)

What is a bit different is that the poems are more politicized than Bowering's generally are.  By the second one in the sequence "Walk to commercial drive," she is thinking back to the mistreatment of Chinese immigrants and the head tax and eventual ban on further Chinese immigration into B.C. in the late 19th Century.  She seems to be operating in a similar space as Wayde Compton in "Seven Routes to Hogan's Alley and Vancouver's Black Community" from After Canaan.

It is almost impossible to pull out any representative lines from the first section, but the second section has slightly more conventional poems.  "Night Walk" actually is closer to New's YVR and more like I imagined the overall collection would be like: "Further on, Joy Mansion-- / lo-rise cubicles for old folk, / bank of mail boxes, / brown carpet wall-to-wall. / ... / Street-market trinketeers gone home. / City barricades still up. / Lichee nuts, gailan, durians / at the place on Keefer that's always open."

"First Night" is a bit of a shift, since Meredith is taking a bus home on New Year's Eve when the buses run for free: "... the bus / jammed with jolly people tiny pointed / hats rainbow coloured wands / a woman with pink hair another / with earrings flashing lights blue and red / all starry eyed crowds at Burrard's Bridge..."

"Backwards from Pender Lake" is a stroll around part of downtown Vancouver that I used to visit frequently, though it would have been relatively rare for me to actually walk from International Village (on the east side of the Stadium-Chinatown station) to the main library (a few blocks further west from the station).  I would normally do one or the other, since I don't like backtracking on the same trip.  The trip to the library is one that I made dozens of times while I lived in Vancouver, and this is apparently Quartermain's primary destination as well.

Pender Lake is actually an ironic label Quartermain gives to a hole in the ground where they are eventually going to lay the foundation for some development: "Pender Lake--a hole in the ground / for a tower of stores and condos. / On the side to the sea at False Creek -- / ... the concrete tangle of viaduct and transit tracks to and from the city."

The poem ends as Quartermain returns to the Stadium-Chinatown station: "Down the sky-train steps--how heavy the books-- / no one was buying tickets. Sky train, / the Japanese tourist said, last night. He had no other / English, except Excuse me. / / Down the steps to Pender Lake / and the picket pickers and the man and the starlings -- / where is the train to the sky?"

As already mentioned, the "Coast Starlight" section is a bit more straight-forward, with Quartermain observing things from her bus or train window and not feeling quite as compelled to layer on historical meanings to what she is seeing.

In "Pacific Northwest" she is on a bus, presumably heading south from Seattle to Tacoma and beyond.  "Seattle bus--six a.m. / From my window-- / man on a railway track / no train in sight. ... / ... / At a weigh station--lots and lots of wheels / of trucks rolling down the hill / back to the highway -- / dinky toys. / Truck drivers, thru tiny windows / in their cabs. ..."

Apparently Quartermain can't quite refrain from commenting on some of the odd fellow travellers.  (By now she is on the train.)  While the couple she is talking to seem pleasant enough in "Don't get side-tracked," they are stunningly ill-informed: "They / from Milwaukee say / we have been here for 2000 years / since Christ was born / and before that we just don't know."

"In the parlour car" Quartermain observes "people doing crosswords, / drinking beer, wine, / swiveling armchairs / at passing mountains."  She overlays a conversation about politics with someone asking their neighbour for help with the crossword.

This is a reasonably good metaphor for what she was going for in this section with criss-crossing trains of thought but no real sustained or deep thoughts on her tour through the Western U.S.  There is no question I would have been more interested in the collection had it been more along the lines of the third section, but it was worth reading about walking around Vancouver, particularly when I could so clearly visualize my steps from the station to the main library.

I guess I am feeling a tiny bit of nostalgia, so I'll put a few pictures together to memorialize the route.  (Notice that I started with a rainy day photo, since that was a big part of the Vancouver experience, though one not at all hinted at in Quartermain poems -- W.H. New is a bit more honest in that regards, if I recall correctly, and certainly Bowering wrote about the rain.)







P.S. I'm currently debating whether I will actually review Quartermain's follow-up collection, Nightmarker, which is even more directly indebted to Bowering's George, Vancouver.  It appears that all of the poems are basically prose poems, and periodically one of them is written as a letter from the explorer George Vancouver.  The collection would certainly appeal to those who were intrigued and moved by the first section of Vancouver Walking, and the prose poems contain a bit more overt humour, but I think it may be a bit beyond me to actually review this collection.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Deck Follies #4

This was a long, tough weekend, especially Sunday when it got really hot and I had to take a few extra breaks.  I actually do feel kind of ill, so I probably have sunstroke.  Hopefully not sun poisoning.  I think regardless of the weather tomorrow, I should take the train rather than bike in.

This is where I started on Sat.


Here is where I ended -- some progress on the long strips to the right, but still a lot of paint that is not coming up easily.


I'm definitely in damage control mode.  I said that Sunday would be the last day of sanding and scraping, though there are a limited number of spots I will probably still hit.  This is where I ended on Sunday.  While I got lots of bits of paint up, the return on investment is definitely diminishing!


Ideally, I can take care of those last bits and do the final sanding (no scraping) Monday, though I expect it will be Monday into Tuesday.  That would allow me to see if I can put down a coat of stain Wed. and the final stain on Thurs., though this means I can't see Avishai Cohen at the Jazz Fest, which would be unfortunate. 

I hosed down the deck, and this is a preview of what it might look like with the new stain.  I guess this would be acceptable.  It's mostly covered by furniture anyway.


Note that this is only the top part of the deck.  There is a lower deck!  Though that will only need to be sanded once, not scraped.  (On the other hand, if it had also been painted, I would have just painted the whole darn deck, and I probably would have already been done.  Hard to tell.)  I am not going to be a perfectionist since we don't even use that part of the deck that often.  Also I don't feel that the lower deck must be done by Canada Day, though it should be done by the end of the summer.

Possible entries for 10th Canadian Challenge

I thought this probably merited its own post.  The 10th Canadian Challenge is around the corner (I hope to review one more novel and perhaps a couple of poetry books to round out the 9th Challenge.)  I'm going to distort my main reading list a bit to try to cover some of the key Canadian novels I've been wanted to read (or reread).  I'll add an asterisk to the books I would/will be rereading.

There's no question I could read all these books, but that wouldn't leave much space for other things, and that approach is too extreme (and thus un-Canadian).  Still, I'll be aiming for about 25 from this list.  I think for the duration of the challenge I'll track them in both places, but then close down this list in July 2017.

* Bowering Burning Water
Paul Quarrington Whale Music
Mavis Gallant Home Truths
Shields Unless
Steve Zipp Yellowknife
Munro The Progress of Love
Findley Dinner Along the Amazon
Anderson-Dargatz The Cure for Death by Lightning
Bissoondath The Soul of All Great Desire (Cartes postales de l’enfer (Postcards from Hell) in translation)
Lawrence Hill The Book of Negroes
Mistry Family Matters
* Findley Not Wanted on the Voyage
Bissoondath Digging Up the Mountains
Skvorecky Miss Silver's Past
Russell Smith Muriella Pent
* Engel Bear 
Bissoondath A Casual Brutality
Munro Friend of My Youth
David Bezmozgis Natasha and Other Stories
Guy Vanderhaeghe Daddy Lenin
Atwood Moral Disorder
Greg Hollingshead The Roaring Girl
Mavis Gallant The Moslem Wife
Laurence The Tomorrow-Tamer (short stories set in Africa - much different from her other work)
Ross The Lamp at Noon and Other Stories
Mordecai Richler The Street 
Miriam Toews A Complicated Kindness
Hugh MacLennan The Watch That Ends the Night
Guy Vanderhaeghe Homesick 
Morley Callaghan The Many Colored Coat
Richler The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz 
Jane Urquhart The Stone Carvers
Bissoondath Doing the Heart Good
* Davies The Salterton Trilogy
Findley The Piano Man's Daughter
Skvorecky Dvorak in Love
Ross As for Me and My House
Ringuet Thirty Acres
* Leonard Cohen Beautiful Losers
Atwood's dystopian trilogy (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam)

It's not that likely I will get all the way to Oryx and Crake and the others by next June, so I will roll them over to the 11th Challenge, assuming someone picks up the baton from John.  In Challenge 11, I would focus on Atwood, Margaret Laurence, Marie-Claire Blais and perhaps rereading some classic Carol Shield's novels (at least those I haven't reviewed previously).

Edit (7/1): I am seriously considering bumping Carol Shields up, and adding Unless (her final novel) to the top* of the list and The Stone Diaries (which would be a re-read) to the end.  The rest could be carried over into the 11th Challenge.

* At least towards the top, though I would probably be better off reading it in the late fall, since it seems so autumnal.  Maybe November?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Incredible concert (Sarah at the Jazz Fest)

Actually several of us at work stayed up far too late watching the Brexit results come in.  While it doesn't really affect us that much, we are incorrigible policy wonks (as well as instinctual metropolitan thinkers who thought that the EU, for all its faults, was a project worth salvaging).  So it was a relief to be able to listen to an incredible concert Friday night.

While it was not jazz by any stretch of the imagination (and there have already been a few articles written on this topic), Sarah McLachlan was one of the headliners of the Toronto Jazz Festival last night.

This set-list is not at all in order, aside from the first two songs and then the last song before the encores.  I think Building a Mystery was 3rd, but I wouldn't swear to it.  Here goes:
Possession
In Your Shoes
Building a Mystery  
Drawn to the Rhythm   
Hold On    
Adia    
Good Enough   
I Will Remember You
Prince cover - Nothing Compares 2 You
Loving You is Easy
Into the Fire     
Sweet Surrender    
World on Fire    
Fear (remix version)
Monsters
Beautiful Girl
Angel

Encore(s):
Song for My Father
Ice Cream
The Sound That Love Makes (Sarah on ukulele)

It is very possible I have made a mistake and she didn't perform one of the above songs, but I am telling myself she played all of these.  She also played a brand new song, but I can't remember the title.  She more or less played all her singles that cracked the top 20, with the possible exception of  Stupid and Fallen.  For that matter, she probably did play Stupid, but I will wait to see if anyone else posts an actual review of the concert or a better set list before I correct this one.

It appears that she played 5 songs from Shine On, but only 1 (or possibly 2) from Laws of Illusion.  She did note that she wanted us to go out feeling relatively upbeat, which is the main reason she holds back and plays Ice Cream in the encore.  (She is well aware that most of her songs are about break-up, pain and recovery.  Though she gets a lot less flak for it than Taylor Swift for example.)

Toronto was the first stop on a new tour, and this is actually the first time that she has played with this line-up, so that was impressive.  I thought her voice was incredible (especially on Nothing Compares 2 You), though she said she'd had laryngitis for quite some time and that she had to cheat on a few notes.  Also, some of the songs were rearranged a bit differently, most notably Sweet Surrender was played as a solo piano piece and was slower and much darker than the single.  Also during Angel, part of the time she was dueting with her guitar player.  I know that she said she wasn't going to change anything to fit into a jazz festival, but it would have been so awesome for her to attempt Someone to Watch Over Me for instance.  Perhaps some other time.

I saw Sarah at a Christmas concert in Toronto in 1993.  I assume she played a few of her hits, but mostly she was doing Christmas-y music, backed by the Creegan Brothers.  The rest of the Barenaked Ladies appeared and did a couple of songs as well.  This seems to have vanished into the mists of time, but I was definitely there.  In fact, one of the guys in our group had a bit too much to drink and nearly got into a fight (partly because he wouldn't stop trying to sing along with Sarah...).  Well, feel free to correct me if I am wrong about this or the set-list above.  I probably have seen her enough times.  (I am certainly not an obsessed stalker like the man who inspired Possession.  Sarah had quite a bit of between song banter, including how she got a bit queasy whenever anyone told her they played Possession at their wedding reception.)  What I am holding out for is to try to catch Bruce Cockburn on his next show (when he is playing with a band, not as a solo act) and Leonard Cohen.  I think then I will have truly punched by CanCon card.

I don't know for sure if I have been inside the Sony Centre before, but I think probably not.  I was really wowed by this mural inside the Sony Centre called The 7 Lively Arts by York Wilson.  Here is an article about the mural,* and I'll post an image below, though it really ought to be seen in person to grasp its size.







* There is one weird bit in the article about how A.J. Casson was the last-living member of the Group of Seven, which is true in that he died in 1992, long after the rest of the members.  But first -- he wasn't an original member of the Group of Seven, and second -- several members of the group were still alive in 1958, so he certainly wouldn't have been looked upon as the "last link" at that time.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Back to Reality

The Second City Guide to the TSO was really amusing.  One of the more interesting jokes was when a guy tried to pretend he knew all about the symphony to impress his date (at the exclusive restaurant Just Two Chairs), and he said that he played the bazoo, which was a cross between a bassoon and a kazoo.  An awful lot of the show was the Second City crew coming up with funny lyrics to sing on top of classical phrases, which was entertaining though not really all that deep.  I actually liked the sketches better, and the musical improv they did was impressive.  Probably my favorite of all was the Bach-off where C.P.E Bach and W.F. Bach are going after the same gig and they have a rap battle.  It was clever and reasonably impressive.  I would love to see that on Youtube one of these days.  Anyway, it was fun and silly and a nice break from all the seriousness in the world.  BTW, somehow I managed to get myself turned around on the subway and I ended up at Spadina before I realized my mistake.  I haven't done that in quite a while.  But I am back now, checking the internet and seeing about the news from the UK (which is why I am riffing off of an episode of Red Dwarf from Series V).

Anyway, for once the news from the U.S. is fairly subdued, relative to the news from the UK, though it is certainly a shame that any sort of gun control is just off the table in the States.  Also, the U.S. can't have any kind of adult conversation, let alone political compromise, on the issue of immigration.

But immigration fears are really at the heart of Brexit, and it looks like the Leave camp will prevail (52%-48%), which almost no one was actually expecting.  They thought it would be another squeaker, like Scottish independence or even the various Quebec referendums, but that the "right" choice would prevail.  I was pretty sure that the recent waves of immigrants would break up the EU, especially given that the political elites simply will not allow meaningful debate over immigration controls in Western Europe.  However, even I didn't expect that it would come quite so quickly.  On the whole, I think voting to leave was a mistake, but it definitely serves as a warning shot across the bow to political elites who feel they know what is the best for the general public, particularly in the EU but elsewhere as well.  Anyway, the entire situation is far too complex for me to do it any real justice in a post.  It is always risky predicting current events, but I will say that depending on how Brexit unfolds, the next time there is a major debt crisis in Greece (probably 3-4 months from now), Grexit might look a lot more tempting to the people at the top, and frankly I think Greece should have withdrawn from the Euro a year ago when it still had some level of sovereignty.  An even more intriguing and potentially upsetting development is that Scotland voted fairly overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, and they will almost certainly try to trigger another referendum right away to break away from England. I'm not really sure what else to say, though I do prefer watching this as an outsider rather than experiencing what happens to Britain and the rest of Europe from close up.  I suspect that there will be some spillover in North America and a lowered economic forecast over here, but it will most likely be a muted impact.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Comic Musical Interlude

Tomorrow night I am off to see the TSO taken over by Colin Mochrie and a handful of Second City comics.  I'm pretty excited.  (Work has been unusually stressful due to some fraught interactions with our sister agency, so I wouldn't mind a distraction from that.)  I've never gotten around to seeing Colin Mochrie live, though we used to see him on Whose Line? all the time (on TV).  This Second City at the TSO concert was a huge hit last year, and I am somewhat sorry I didn't go, but I had other things on my mind at the time.  (Somewhat akin to The Chasse-Gallerie at the Storefront; if they bring it back next Christmas, I'll most likely go.)

In any event, this is the last TSO concert of the season (for me), and I am somewhat proud of the fact that I didn't lose track of anything and lose out on a ticket.  The last ticket I couldn't or didn't use was for a play in Brooklyn, but that doesn't really count, since I got so, so sick and had to cancel the entire trip.  I can't recall actually just slipping up and missing a show, though I assume I have done it once in a while.  I have a vague memory of finding out that I was supposed to go to a show either the day of (or possibly even one day after the show!) and the box office was able to get me a ticket for a different day.  I am thinking that might be Tarragon, but it would have had to have been a show that wasn't a huge hit.  It's certainly not a common occurrence.  I have called up the box office and changed dates (giving them a few days notice).  That was quite necessary when I was a consultant, though truthfully I didn't leave Toronto all that often, and having exchange privileges is probably the main reason I try to go the mini-subscription route.  What is slightly more common in terms of missing out is that I hear about something sort of interesting and file it away for future reference, and then I find I have missed the date.  I can think of at least 3 things this season that fall into that category.  But in these cases, at least I haven't lost any money.

I should have spent at least some time on the deck tonight, but I really am exhausted, and I think that pushing too hard would just make me ill.  It looks like I will have pretty much the whole weekend to sand, and then I'll go ahead and stain no matter how much paint is left embedded in the deck.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

9th Canadian Challenge - 19th Review - The Luck of Ginger Coffey

I think I alluded to this previously, but I had mixed feelings about Brian Moore's The Luck of Ginger Coffey.  In some ways, it reminds me of a very toned down (& perhaps a Canadian version of) Donleavy's The Ginger Man, which is incidentally one of the last books I officially abandoned.  There is far less overt misogyny in Ginger Coffey, though there is certainly a casual sexism that pervades the novel, particularly the expectation that a man's role is to be the bread-winner and that his wife should support him in all ways.  Many of the conflicts in the novel arise when Ginger falls far short of a solid provider and his wife's somewhat surprising reaction(s).

SPOILER ALERT & TRIGGER WARNINGS

For those that are particularly sensitive to these things, there are two fist fights involving Ginger and a moment when he loses his temper under a lot of stress and slaps his daughter in the face after she acts up and taunts him to some degree.  Even in the era in which the novel was set (late 1950s), he realizes immediately that he crossed a line and tries to repair the damage he has done.  It's an unfortunate plot point, and it is very hard to read this in 2016 and not see him as a complete monster who needs anger management classes (probably indeed that would have been a good thing had this really existed in the 1950s) when that isn't the tone that Moore is going for or the message he wants to convey.  I'm sure this incident would have been omitted had the novel been written more recently and Moore would have found some other way to add to Ginger's isolation.

I don't think I can really talk in sufficient detail about the novel without even more SPOILERS.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book is that Ginger decided to settle in Montreal rather than Toronto, which would have seemed to have been a better fit in terms of a wider range of job opportunities.  However, one must also keep in mind that Montreal was a very different place with a much more prominent Anglo-Canadian presence.  It actually was the centre of the Canadian banking world and had more head offices than Toronto until 1961 when the positions began to reverse.  Metropolitan Montreal was larger than Metropolitan Toronto until the mid 1970s.  Even in the mid 1960s, many people expected Montreal to remain the larger, more dynamic city.  There were multiple reasons why this didn't happen, but the rise of Quebec separatists and the imposition of French language laws were certainly a major contributor to Montreal's relative decline.  If Ginger managed to stick it out into the 1970s, he might well be thinking hard about whether he wanted to retire (if that was even financially feasible for him) in Montreal as opposed to resettling in Toronto.  But that is very far from the main concerns of the novel.

Ginger is an interesting case study of someone who chafed under the class-based restrictions of his home country, Ireland, and in particular resented being taught to respect authority and hide away his own opinions.  He came to Canada, as it was a wide-open place, where one could make one's own way.  However, it turns out that he is not a business wiz and has not been able to generate enough sales to be kept on as a representative to a handful of Irish companies.  He has quickly run through his savings, including the money he was supposed to keep aside to buy their tickets home in case all his ventures failed.  He has naturally been hiding this from his wife, as he is ashamed of his failure and yet convinced that success is just around the corner.  What's somewhat impressive is that Moore makes this character fairly sympathetic and even a bit likeable, though I would probably avoid him in real life.  Being around such people, who never quite get their plans to gel and are always looking for the Next Big Thing, is exhausting.  Plus, they start hitting you up for money.

As it happens, Ginger's main problem is that he basically has an inflated image of himself and his talents, and he doesn't like to work in places where he isn't respected, though consequently he never lasts anywhere long enough to get any seniority.  He somehow gets it into his head that his pal, Gerry, can get him a job as a reporter on the Tribune.  Why he thinks this is an ideal job (or that he would be good at it at all) is completely beyond me, but he has his heart set on it.

In the end, he manages to get a job as a proof-reader on the paper, which he interprets as a clear steppingstone on the way to becoming a reporter.  However, his salary is just not enough to pay the rent, and after they are basically kicked out of their apartment (obviously tenant protections were less in those days), his wife goes into a shelter with their daughter and finds her own job, which pays better than his proof-reading gig.  She also declares she is through with him and all his false promises (and wishful thinking that things will work out for the best).

Before you know it, Gerry starts making the moves on his wife, and Ginger basically goes through the roof.  He takes a second job to prove he can still be a meaningful provider.  Interestingly, he manages to give this new boss a useful idea, and towards the end of the novel, he is offered a much higher-level position to be Chief Assistant or some such thing.  He turns it down to focus on this hare-brained scheme of being a reporter, which of course doesn't materialize and he is fired from the paper.  In many ways, he is clearly his own worst enemy, though his pal Gerry wasn't much of a friend in the end either.  I have to say I didn't really buy all the twists and turns of the denouement where Ginger's luck finally starts to turn for the better, but I won't reveal them here.  I was also more than a little disappointed that Moore felt that the proper resolution of the love triangle was for Ginger's wife to realize she really did love him with all her heart and that she would stick by him no matter what.  Blech.  That aspect of the novel still bothers me, but perhaps the finally chastened Ginger will prove to be a better husband and certainly father going forward.

All in all, I rate this as a decent read, but one very much stuck in its era.  It certainly does not transcend the casual sexism of its time.  I didn't find myself rooting for Ginger to win his wife back, which is clearly the effect Moore was going for, but others may feel differently.

Inside the Hearn

In case you haven't had a chance to get down to the Hearn Generating Station, which is the site of Luminato #10, it is definitely of interest to those who like hulking industrial ruins.  It definitely has a lot of potential, but it is very, very raw space.  Also, the food options are extremely limited -- either the ultra-expensive (and sold out) restaurant on the mezzanine or overpriced food trucks outside the venue.  Add to that that there are no proper rest rooms in the Hearn -- just a bunch of porto potties (and inside the facility there is less ventilation than is desirable).  There wasn't quite as much art on display as I had hoped.  Mostly some video and light-based art on the ground floor and Trove on the mezzanine -- sort of a graffiti style tribute to the top 50 artistic treasures in Toronto.

Here are some of my photos from last Sunday.






Trove #3: Philip Guston, Untitled Head, 1979, (Private Collection)

Here you can see the world's largest disco ball in action.

video


Tafelmusik at the Hearn

It was quite amusing seeing Tafelmusik in such an unusual space.  The acoustics were ok, but not amazing.  They often had to pause between numbers to wait for the elevator to stop moving.  Fortunately, it didn't run during the middle of a piece, or I was able to tune it out.  I wonder if that affected The James Plays.  The set was a bit further from the elevator than the music stage, but the sound probably echoed throughout the whole Hearn anyway.

So I think they would have to spend a fortune to turn this into a permanent art gallery/event space, and it doesn't help that it is definitely off the beaten path and transit options are quite limited. Biking down wasn't too bad, however, though I would be quite hesitant to bike back after dark.

The Hearn is definitely worth a look, and pretty much everything will be on view through Sunday, so there is almost a whole week left to go check it out.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Strange book conceits

Just to follow up from the previous post, sometimes the conceit of a book can be completely overwhelming.  This is particularly the case for science fiction, where characterization (and sometimes plot!) take a backseat to some elaborate setting with odd rules and where a large part of the book is taken up showing how there is an internal consistency to this setting (and thus nowhere near enough on the plot).  I'm sort of thinking of Larry Niven's Ringworld or even his The Integral Trees.  I pondered for quite some time whether I should do a parody of a world shaped like a Mobius strip but decided it wasn't really worth the effort.  Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is another case where the setting is pretty overwhelming, though in this case, I think she does do a reasonable job of creating personalities that carry the novel along.

Interestingly, she has just published a novel (The Heart Goes Last) set in a dystopian society that could be the U.S. in only another few years, particularly after President Pumpkinhead is done with it.  It's a bit like an alternative future novel without any major scientific breakthroughs.  Basically, some corporation is conducting a kind of social experiment to see what happens if an entire town is constructed to serve the needs of a prison, but then the prisoners and those outside the prison swap roles every month.  I have to say, it doesn't entirely make sense even from a think tank perspective, since prison economies work only through massive transfers from federal or state revenues.  I don't think no matter how bad things get, the federal government would agree to never-ending subsidies to create a prison big enough to lock up half the population of a town.  There may be something more sinister at work, like the corporate honchos are really getting their rocks off by investigating the Milgram experiment on a massive scale.  I haven't gotten to that point yet.  I know (from the book cover) that the lines start crossing and the prisoners and their wardens start interacting in forbidden ways.  While it is a quick read so far, I do find the level of characterization a bit lacking or maybe I just find the main characters pretty shallow.  Still, it is an interesting conceit, and I'll probably wrap this up in time to review before Canada Day.

I don't really know enough about Atwood and her reading habits to have an informed opinion on this, but the plot is at least somewhat reminiscent of Philip Jose Farmer's Dayworld (which was more of a true science fiction novel).  I actually thought I would write a short story or a novella where the leaders of an off-world space colony were worried that the inhabitants would go mad if they realized how alone they were.  So they created a fake second city on the other side of the planet which had really long delays in communications and so forth.  No one ever traveled between the two cities.  Well, the citizens of the two cities were actually the same people, just living two lives (mass hypnosis and who knows what else to make it all line up).  I think in addition to Dayworld, I must have been thinking about the movie Dark City (or if I had the idea previously, I refined it a bit after that movie came out).  I might still do it, but I think this would be a case where the scaffolding to support such an elaborate setting is just too much for a story.  The reader would start asking questions about couldn't the citizens realize from star charts and what have you that not enough time had passed and/or that the latitude was exactly the same.  And just how much delay would make sense for email?  So probably too many problems for not enough of a payoff.

Speaking of a novel where the conceit doesn't pay off at all, I am nearly done with Brigit Brophy's In Transit where a traveler basically gives up their ticket in an European airport and then literally spends the next 150 pages unsure of his (or her) gender.  All kinds of contrived situations intervene, even an interrupted bathroom break, and I've totally lost my patience with this book.  I clearly should just abandon it, but in this case I am close to the end, and I'll stick it out, so that I never waver and read another book by Brophy again.  (Pretty much all her novels are too clever for their own good, at least from the plot summaries and reviews I have seen.)  For a dissenting opinion, you can turn here.

Finally, I am just starting Blackass by A. Igonibo Barrett.  The novel is inspired by Kafka's Metamorphosis, though in this case a Nigerian man is transformed into a white man on the morning he is to go off on a critical job interview.  Apparently, the only part of his body that is still black is his posterior (hence the title).  I like the writing style and the pacing so far, so I expect this is a case where the conceit enhances rather than detracts from the overall novel.  Still, it is a fairly overwhelming conceit, though perhaps even more closely tied to Dostoevsky's The Double than the Kafka story where the transformation leads to a complete withdrawal from society (and thus leading into a narrative dead end).  If it's not too much of a stretch, I am detecting hints of Mark Twain's The £1,000,000 Bank-Note as well, where the rarity of the bank note (or here the combination of white skin and a Nigerian accent -- apparently the official language of Nigeria is English! but it is likely that much of the dialog takes place in Yoruba) allows the main character to skate by and thrive without recourse to using his own funds.  I may have more to say about the novel after I get a bit deeper into Blackass.

Giving up on a book

Until I was maybe 22 or 23, the idea of abandoning a book was fairly alien to me.  There were a few novels I didn't complete due to time pressures, and a few non-fiction books that ended up laying down and not getting back to.  Indeed, I am finally back to Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle after a gap of 20+ years and expect to be done towards the end of the summer.  Maybe next year I will get back to Caro's The Power Broker, which is the story of Robert Moses and his impact on the New York region.

Even back then there were probably a few books where I was so turned off by the first few pages that I decided not to embark upon reading a book, but once I had launched, I usually tried to finish.  I can't recall when I started valuing my time in a different way.  Maybe some of the economics courses I took in grad. school finally took root, and I worried less about the sunk cost of what I had already read and more about the opportunity cost of what other more interesting things I could be doing with my time rather than reading a book that wasn't doing much for me.

I still don't do it that often, particularly if I am reading a book that I happen to own.  I'd rather get through the book once and for all, and then get it out of my library.  Although if it is a particularly long book, then those rules don't apply.  The last two books that I was tempted to abandon but stuck it out were Jacobson's The Finkler Question and Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival.  It is worth noting that in both cases, pushing on to the end didn't really add to the experience.  They didn't magically get better, and I could have used the time in a more enjoyable way.  Again, something to think about for the future.

I generally have to feel that the author is not playing fairly to the reader, either by setting up an incredibly unlikely scenario (such as Beth Powning's The Sea Captain's Wife, which is really just a romance novel masquerading as literature, another reason I disliked it) or by setting up absurd characters who aren't really internally consistent.  I should expand a bit more on this point.  I have already expressed how I dislike feckless characters (many of the artists in Barbara Comyns' work as well as several of the mothers in Molly Keane's work) but it isn't that hard to imagine them existing at some level or other.

However, I basically cannot believe that the immigrant father in John Marlyn's Under the Ribs of Death would ever had the gumption to come to Canada in the first place, given how he is such a pushover, at least as seen through the eyes of his son.  He makes his family eat the cheapest foods possible but has his wife cook beef soup for a sick man upstairs, where the boarders don't even pay him.  To add to the insult, one of them sued the father and ended up taking away his shop but then turns up shortly afterwards, penniless, and takes advantage of his hospitality.  Give me a break.  (The only time the man shows any spine is when he forbids his wife from trying to collect rent from these leeches.)  Such a person would have lived and died in the Old Country.  I guess the deal-breaker for me is that he expects 12 year old boys to reason things out and not get into fist fights when they are called names such a Hunky or other slurs against their ethnic background are made.  I understand Marlyn wants to show why the son rebels against his father and becomes a pre-redemption Scrooge-like character, but I am finding the plot and psychological insights to be laughable.

In general, this got quite poor reviews even among Canadian readers.  The main reason I wanted to read it was Neil Bissoondath wrote the afterward and there just aren't that many books set in Winnipeg.  Also, it is reasonably short and I thought it might round out the 9th Canadian Challenge.  I'll hang onto the book for another year and, perhaps against my better judgement, try one more time when I am in a more forgiving mood.  However, I expect in the end I'll just read the afterwards and then part with it.  As noted already, I have far better things to do with my time.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Saddest Father's Day aka Deck Follies #3

That was what my daughter told me: that it was the saddest Father's Day when I told her I would be working most of the day (as well as going off and getting the groceries).  We agreed that hungry fathers were sadder, but yes, it was pretty sad that I would have to work.  Both the kids helped a bit on the deck, but it was a fairly hot day, and I didn't want them to overdo it.  I might have a touch of heatstroke myself.

I didn't mind the working per se, but the fact that it just doesn't look much better after an entire day's work.  See below.


I am finding the paint on the boards to the right is just entirely intractable.  It can't be scraped off and it has to be sanded off.  Even to the left where the paint often peeled off, there are still lots of spots left to be sanded.  It's looking like even with the wash (which I can probably put on tonight or Tuesday, which is a bit more likely), it will be another day of medium sanding and then a day of fine sanding, which would be next weekend.  After that, I will just leave whatever paint is left and go ahead and start staining.  I can't be bothered anymore at this point. 

Depending on the weather and how much I can do in the evenings, I might have the first coat down by Canada Day.

Anyway, I am going to shower and head off to Luminato to hear Tafelmusik.  Hopefully that will partially make up for a fairly tough day.  Ciao.

9th Canadian Challenge - 18th Review - The Moons of Jupiter

It's actually a bit shocking how long I have been sitting on this review (roughly 5 months).  It is unfortunate, as this is my overall favourite Munro collection to date, though I have to admit it gets off to a fairly slow start.  Overall, The Moons of Jupiter is a welcome return to form from Alice Munro.  I really wasn't all that crazy about Who Do You Think You Are?, particularly when Munro was clearly using these stories to work out issues with her own marriage and essentially attack her former husband.

There is one moment that was very uncomfortable in the first story (or rather a pair of stories -- "Chaddeleys and Flemings") where her husband criticizes one her relatives and she throws a plate at his head.  The plate misses him but he still ends up with pie on his face.  Munro has a short note about how what sort of seems funny on TV or in the movies can be shocking in real life (though of course this is still just mediated experience in a supposedly entertaining story).  The narrator of these stories doesn't really acknowledge that she was deeply in the wrong and that violence is never acceptable in a marriage.  So I was worried that this would be another collection where Munro was still going to be attacking her ex-husband in various ways.  Fortunately, this was the last story along those lines.

I found the next story "Dulce" to be kind of meandering and the next one was sort of a snapshot of a youngster learning about the adult world as she worked in a turkey processing plant over the summer.

"Accident" is the first story where Munro really throws the reader a curve ball.  The story starts off describing a somewhat desultory affair between two teachers in small town Ontario (still Hanratty).  Then there is a terrible automobile accident, which sends the main couple into a somewhat unexpected direction.  Perhaps one could call it the carpe diem effect, though of course not everyone agrees on what (or whom) must be seized (or life would be much easier).  This was the first story in the collection that really caught my attention.

I also appreciated "Labor Day Dinner" which featured a near-accident that got the main character thinking about the preciousness of life.  This story essentially showed the inner thoughts of two people in a second marriage and was a bit more rounded than some of Munro's earlier stories (particularly those in Who Do You Think You Are?).  It started out with getting into the head of Roberta, who was starting to feel dissatisfied with her marriage to Gary, primarily around how he subtly (or unsubtly) criticized the way she was raising her children.  She seemed to feel that they needed the summer off to deal with the new family dynamics, and Gary basically felt they should be doing "something" or working.  (This is what I remember, but it has been a long time since my first reading of the story.)  Where this is a bit different from earlier Munro stories is that Munro then shifts perspective to Gary and shows how some of his frustration stems from being the unappreciated bread-earner who is actually somewhat unsure of his status, particularly with the children, who seem to be comparing him to their father in a sort of competition (where he doesn't really know the rules).  This is somewhat akin to Eliot's Middlemarch, though Munro isn't quite so blunt about what her characters are thinking and the reader must infer quite a bit.  We even see a bit into the minds of the children, and one is more or less a peace-maker while the other one never wants to fall in love, since she doesn't like the changes that have come over her mother.  This sounds like it could be the set-up for some heavy play by Eugene O'Neil when in fact it is basically just a pretty typical day for a blended family, and Munro seems to hint that one shouldn't dwell too much on the negatives since family dynamics are changing all the time and in some cases getting better.  It is very possible that next summer, the children (particularly Eva, the younger) will be more accepting of Gary.  Roberta wants to get back to work (as a book illustrator) and Gary is supportive of this in a general way, so it might well happen.  Of course, it might not and they end up in a very crabbed marriage, but that wasn't the sense I got from the ending of the story.  Again, I may be over-interpreting what is going on, but I generally think that Munro is good at exploring these transitory states and how a person's life and even their feelings about their own life isn't stable.  (One very good exploration of this idea is Michel Tremblay's Albertine in 5 times where Albertine alternates between being deeply discouraged about her life and being more upbeat or at least more philosophical.)  I'll come back to this idea when I write about the title story.

Munro was basically in her late 40s during the writing of these stories, but she may well have started facing up to the ordeals of dealing with elderly parents (again a major theme of "The Moons of Jupiter").  "Mrs. Cross and Mrs. Kidd" features two older women in a managed care facility of some type.  They look out for each other, and the story mostly appears to be about perseverance and finding ways to manage in a fairly impersonal institution.  Munro actually has written a fair bit about old women ending up along in these kinds of nursing homes (especially Flo in Who Do You Think You Are?), and it possibly was one of her biggest fears that it would happen to her.

"Visitors" is a slightly different take on aging, about a couple that has retired (relatively recently?) -- Mildred and Wilfred -- and how Wilfred's brother has turned up on a visit with his wife and her sister (who is almost a twin).  Their house is quite small and they struggle to fit everyone in.  Fortunately, the 3 visitors are stick-thin, but the couple are overweight and can hardly seem to fit into their own bed now that they are obliged to sleep in one room, rather than wherever they choose in their home.  Wilfred has stayed relatively close to where they grew up, though he has never visited.  (He had a hard-luck story of their mother dying giving birth to him and then his aunt dying when he was roughly 12 and his uncle driving him out of the house to fend for himself.  His brother was somewhat older and somehow managed to get to business college but wasn't in a position to help Wilfred out.) Mildred convinces everyone to head out to see the old homestead about 45 miles away.  It turns out that the old farm has vanished, and they spend nearly as much time investigating and talking about a nearby swamp.  Mildred is astonished how the two sisters are like peas in a pod, while Wilfred and his brother Alfred don't seem to have anything at all in common, not even their general outlook on life, with Wilfred being the more easy-going and open of the two, despite having less education and certainly fewer opportunities.  After the visitors leave, Mildred is astonished to find Wilfred crying and saying that he will never see Alfred again.  Mildred says that it isn't that difficult for them to visit his brother in Saskatchewan, though she thinks it "she would be as likely to visit Siberia."  The story feels set in a time when physical distances across Canada were shrinking but the psychological feeling of separation still remained.  I can attest that long-distance phone call bills in the late 70s and early 80s were nothing to sneeze at, so people just didn't stay quite as connected.  In a sense, this story occurs at a midway point on the mobility/connectedness spectrum when compared to an episode from Gabrielle Roy's Street of Riches where the narrator and her mother go off on an extended trip back to Quebec to see relatives at a time when the general population just didn't make long-distance pleasure trips.

The collection ends with "The Moons of Jupiter," which is another story that hints at multiple viewpoints (in this case the narrator, Janet, and her father).  The father has suffered a medical episode with his heart and he is given only 3 or so months to live unless he has surgery.  After a night of reflection (and listening to an older, more cautious doctor), it appears that he has decided against the surgery, and Janet takes this in stride.  He never made a fuss, and this seems natural to her that he would take the path of least resistance, i.e. going home and trying to take it easy during his last days.  Then there is a bit of a discursion where Janet remembers how she was upset when her father confided that her formative years were just a blur to him (when they were so crystal clear in her memory) and then she finds the same thing has happened to her with her two children.  At any rate, she calls her father and finds out that he is about to drive back to Toronto for the surgery after all.  He says in an offhand way that he "might as well" have the surgery.  It turns out that he didn't want to go gently into the night after all.  (I suspect this is another area where Janet will come over to his point of view when she is his age.  There are very few people who are truly stoic when it comes to their own demise, or at least if they are not in a state of constant pain, which is another thing altogether.  There is no indication that her father is suffering in any meaningful way, other than having a somewhat wonky heart.)

The story wraps up with a bit of a discussion of Janet's visit to the ROM and the planetarium (where she sees a show about the planets and the moons of Jupiter) while she has some time to kill between tests that the hospital is doing to ensure that her father is stable enough for surgery.  She spends most of her time at the ROM in the Chinese temple that used to be on the Bloor side of the museum (where the gift shop inside the hideous Crystal is now).  Both the planetarium show and the sense of eternity one gets in a really old space (even a reconstructed one) calm her down and let her take the longer view.  While the surgery most likely will be successful, there is no question her father may not wake up and he will be snuffed out like a candle, i.e. all at once, and this actually seems to be what is bothering her.  It seems that she would have preferred the assurance of more time spent with him (even though it might only have been for a few more months) as opposed to this gambit, this gamble, for a longer time spent on the earth.  Still, she realizes it was his choice to make.  Again, I liked the way that multiple viewpoints come through in the story, and Janet recognizes that her decisions or preferences are not inherently better than her father's.  Also, I liked how this story memorialized the ROM in its glory days before the horrible desecration by Libeskind.

After a fairly thorough revisiting of this collection, it appears that my positive view of it stems primarily from "Labor Day Dinner" and "The Moons of Jupiter," though some of the other stories are interesting.  I found it impressive how a number of viewpoints could be represented in short form.  I do hope that this was not a fluke and this is the way Munro's writing was trending.  It might be a while (six months or so) before I get around to her next collection, The Progress of Love, though I have said I would make an attempt to read more Canadian fiction during the 10th Canadian Challenge, so perhaps I will end up picking up the pace a bit to ensure I get through that and Friend of My Youth before the next (but hopefully not last!) Challenge ends.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Deck Follies #2

Progress has been slow, but I made just enough today to avoid the slough of despond.  Will I actually manage to get all the paint sanded and scraped off by Sunday 5:30 pm (at about which time I need to pack up and head over to the Hearn)?  I doubt it, though it is not impossible.  I'm going to switch to a different grit tomorrow.  I think I will avoid putting down any more stripper, as tempting as that is, and perhaps cover the whole area with the cleaning solution and let that soak in for a while.  I really ought to see about starting to put the cleaning solution on the bottom part of the deck, but this looks like it is going to be a multi-day process, certainly including the sanding of the bottom part of the deck, and then the staining.  But I might be done with the top part by Canada Day, and then I could at least get the deck furniture back in place.  Maybe that is the more sensible approach.

Anyway, to give you an understanding of what I did today (Saturday), this is where I had to leave off last weekend.


And this is where I am today.


There are still a lot of very stubborn patches of paint left, and it is possible I do give up and just stain on top of some of them, though hopefully few (and only in places that are not quite so out in the open).

I do know that I will surely be sore tomorrow, and I can assure you that I am not enjoying this at all.

Mo' Much Ado Mo' Problems

I'm going to throw up a relatively short review, since I don't think anyone has reviewed the joint production of Unit 102 Theatre Company and Leroy Street Theatre of Much Ado About Nothing.  It is playing this weekend and then next week, and that's it.  Several nights have sold out, but it was a thin, but appreciative, crowd last night.  I would definitely encourage more people to make it out.  Details here.

While the Majlis Art Garden wasn't quite as spectacular as I had in my mind, it was an interesting hybrid space.  You are clearly outside, yet covered in case it does start raining.  Not to scare anyone off, but there are small animals in the garden, and one actually scampered across the seating area in the second half.  Virtually all the performance is in a stage area, though Benedict does hide in the bushes (next to the audience) at one point in the play.  Since the outside world was literally locked away, the performance was far more intimate than the usual Shakespeare in the Park (this review does suggest that Love's Labour's Lost is struggling a bit in its setting).  As is typical in many of the comedies, they have musicians and even a bit of dancing integrated into the show.

I thought they did a very good job of the play.  I could see Margaret struggling with the decision to reveal what she knew when Hero is falsely accused.  Unlike in Othello, where it would cost Emilia personally very little to reveal that the handkerchief was not a particularly valid token of dishonor, Margaret would be quite stained to reveal that she had been messin' about in Hero's chambers.  Nonetheless, she is quite the moral coward not to have done so, and it is a little strange that she comes back on and is just bantering with Hero and Beatrice during the period Hero is pretending to be dead.  Maybe she is an expert on going with the flow.  (It is interesting that there still is a fair bit of bantering, particularly between Beatrice and Benedict in the 2nd half of the play, but that is probably Shakespeare's way of hinting that this is a comedy and things will be set right.  That said, for much of this later battle of wits, Beatrice is using her feminine wiles to ensure that Benedict will challenge Claudio to a duel.)

This may be the strongest Benedict and Beatrice I have seen, and it is worth catching the show to see them in action.  Both Claudio and Hero are played by younger, less experienced souls, sort of as a way of excusing their tempestuousness (a la Romeo and Juliet).  What was really quite interesting to me, and something you don't usually get with outdoor theatre, is that they ended with Hero in a particularly pensive mood, perhaps a bit envious of Beatrice finding a more noble mate than Claudio has turned out to be.  Does she really even want to be married to him, even though it was all just a mistake, and he is surely repentant?  She doesn't really say a lot in the last scene, other than to repeat her claim that she is innocent of all charges that had been laid against her -- and she is in a jolly mood when she hands over Beatrice's note saying that she (Beatrice) was enamoured of Benedict.  I think this is a perfectly logical, if slightly downbeat ending, trying to push Much Ado About Nothing into the category of a problem play.  It's certainly not how it is usually played.  If they succeed, there will be very few pure comedies left in Shakespeare's oeuvre...

Of course, nothing can take away from the pure silliness of Dogberry, here played by Chloe Sullivan.  She is quite good, and the role seems a million miles away from the prostitute she played in Red Light Winter last winter.  So again, quite a few reasons to see this show.  It is a bit of a shame that it ran for two weeks only, and interested parties have just a bit over a week left to catch it.

I think it is fair to say that in Shakespeare's day, it would have been fairly difficult to construe Much Ado About Nothing as any sort of a problem play, since not just one but two marriages were soon to be completed and two houses tied together.  Emotional fulfillment only came into the picture secondarily.  Also, as Benedict himself says "The world must be peopled."

Nonetheless, I've already written about how difficult it can be to reconcile today's understanding of marriage and the status of women and several of these plays.  No question the hardest is The Taming of the Shrew, which in some ways has such a meaty role for an overlooked, unlovable character such as Katherine, but the last scene where she revels in her submission is almost entirely impossible to reconcile with such a reading of the play.  Generally, the closest one can come is to play it as though the lines are in fact not totally sincere, but Katherine is putting on a show partly for her own amusement.  As it happens, just the other day, this issue came up in the New York Times.  The Shrew probably would just end up relegated to the bottom of the heap of problem plays aside from the fact that it does offer up these meaty roles and it is so funny (aside from Katherine's speech about submission).  I noted elsewhere that Driftwood will be doing it in Withrow Park this July, and I wish I knew just how they were going to handle this (and whether they would subvert the final message of the play), since I would like to take my son to the show.  In a way, it is amazing that a play over 400 years old can still inspire such different approaches/ideas and even heated feelings.  I am very glad not to be living in a society where hurt feelings are to be avoided at all costs (or even one in which ambiguity (and irony?) must be stomped out) and that we can have challenging plays in our parks.  And with that, I will step aside for a while.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Long day - and what makes a million

I suppose many of my days are long, even at the new gig which usually lets me go home at a usual hour.  In any case, I had a meeting Thurs. morning at 9 sharp, so I made my way to the bus stop a bit early.  (I had originally been told it would rain Thurs., but the rain actually came earlier on Wed. (just as I was crossing the river on my bike incidentally).)  The transit app said the bus would be there in 3 minutes, which wasn't too bad, but I think they must have cancelled a bus, since it clearly ended up being 12-13 minutes.  I am getting really annoyed at the unpredictability of the Pape bus, even though I know it is still better service than the Jones bus, for example.  I ended up being 2 minutes late to the meeting, but there was a delayed start, so I didn't miss anything of any importance, and for once I didn't totally lose my cool over the transit snafus.  It might have helped that it really was a pleasant morning, weather-wise.  (Today looks about the same, and I think I will bike to work, even though I have another late night out, and will have to risk biking home after dark.  I will take a couple of tokens in case I end up leaving the bike at work.)

The meeting went fairly well, though this is a case where I was glad I wasn't the consultant, as the feedback we provided will change their results considerably.  Just in general, I have been appreciating no longer being a consultant, though it is also because I see the bigger picture as I am reviewing a wide variety of work done by a number of consultants.

I didn't have a lot of time between this meeting and then one over on Spadina.  I left a bit early, since I wanted to go to a bagel place I used to occasionally frequent.  I have to say it was a bit of a disappointment.  They've reconfigured the place to give more priority to food couriers and the cashier's line was a mess.  Also, they messed up my order, and the sandwich included onions.  Not a lot, but certainly more than zero, which was what I had requested.  In a sense, this makes it easier to move on, since I am a lot less likely to want to eat there again (or the Manchu Wok in Metro Hall, which has failed its health inspection a couple of times now -- yikes!).  I even had some issues with dinner at Freshii, where they have changed the flavour of one of their burrito/wraps, and I like it much less now.  I am really hoping that Union Station opens up its food court again, since the options nearby feel extremely limited.  Though I just need to buckle down and start bringing my lunch more often.

I had a little time left before the meeting, so I wandered over to Prefix Institute on 401 Richmond to see their Rodney Graham exhibit.  I have to admit, it was a let down.  There were only three of his oversized photos on display.  Not worth the trip on its own, though the 401 Richmond Building has quite a few other art galleries and art just hung in various places.  There were quite a few large scale photos by the activist-art duo Condé + Beveridge (see their site here).  They have several photos that focus on the ills of global warming and nuclear power.  I think of all the photos, this was my favourite:

Condé + Beveridge, The Plague, 2009

It appears the various installations will be up though June 25, so it is worth running over if you have a chance.

I also ran into a small gallery called The Red Head Gallery, which was featuring art by Ian Mackay.  I particularly liked this piece, though several others were nice.  In person, I picked up some echoes or hints of Philip Guston, in part the pinks (though he usually combined pinks, darker pinks and reds) but also the soft forms.  Looking at it on-line, the color palette seems just a bit closer to Kandinsky, but the painting is far more static and sedate than a Kandinsky abstract.

(This exhibit closes Saturday, so only a very short time left to see the paintings.)

Ian Mackay, Short Squeeze, 2016

Then I ran over to my 3+ hour meeting.  It was a struggle but I spent the time listening and not interjecting, since I really was supposed to be an observer.

I still had some time to kill before the concert, so I went back to work (grabbing the disappointing burrito along the way).  I didn't really manage to get a lot done, but it was (perhaps) better than just hanging out outside Roy Thompson Hall.  One public group has pointed out how few places there are to just sit outside in Toronto, and that felt very real to me today.

I was bored by the first piece on the program -- a modern piece supposedly reflecting the musicscape of the city.  It was better than an Unsuk Chin piece, but that's not saying much.  The Beethoven Piano Concerto #3 was played very well by Yefim Bronfman, but I just don't think as highly of this as #4 or of course #5.  I don't know quite why I am so cranky about it, but I am starting to think that Peter Oundjian is an incurable ham that just milks the applause.

Anyway, somewhat incredibly, the family next to me didn't come back after the intermission, so I could stretch my legs a bit, which was nice.  I thought they did a very nice job on Beethoven's 3rd Symphony.  I suppose it is shallow of me, but I really only go out of my way to hear Beethoven's 3rd, 5th and 7th Symphonies.  I find the 9th too exhausting to attend more than once every 5 years.  I probably am due to see the 7th soon.  (It looks like the TSO will be doing it March 2017.  I'll have to see if I already ordered tickets.)

During the interminable applause, I started asking myself if I had seen a million faces of strangers.  Given that I take a lot of public transport and in New York and Toronto I was near transit hubs, where I easily would see 100-200 faces a day (and just as many in Vancouver/Burnaby), though maybe more like 75 in Chicago, I assume I have gotten to that number.  Now this is not the same as seeing a million unique people, though given that I have switched cities so many times in my life, it is more plausible for me than for others who are more rooted.  The rough calculations look like 80 people per workday (and Saturday since I usually am out and about) equals 24,000 people per year, and 30 years or so of working life makes 720,000.  In fact, I think I am grossly underestimating the number of people I have seen, but it is true I saw fewer people in Cambridge for instance, and in general I see fewer people when I bike to work.  If I haven't actually seen a million strange faces (and again there may be considerable duplication of people on transit, though I do leave at different times), I am probably well on my way.

Then I was wondering if I had read a million words (almost certainly) or a million pages, which is less certain.  Over my life (say starting from 16), I've probably averaged 75 books per year (again a somewhat conservative estimate), which is 2250 books.  It is so hard to say what the average might be, but probably around 250 pages.  That would make 562,500 pages, though I do think it is a conservative estimate.  (That's well over 100 million words!  And not counting internet browsing!)  If I keep up the pace, I would hit 1 million pages by 75 (and something on the order of 1 million minutes spent reading), though I would certainly expect to be reading almost twice as much as I do now when I enter into retirement or a phased retirement.  (I'm sure some people have watched a million minutes worth of movies or certainly of television, though I am probably not in either group.)  So like everything, it all adds up.  Unfortunately, I am a bit late, and it is now time for me to go back to accruing my minutes at work.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Author readings/signings

I've been going through my main book collection lately, trying to recall which authors I have actually seen at a reading or public lecture of some sort and, of this relatively short list, which authors did I have sign a book or two for me.  I do have a small, even tiny, number of books that were bought with a pre-existing autograph, most recently Neil deGrasse Tyson's Death By Black Hole, though in that case, I did buy it from the gift shop at the Hayden Planetarium where he works, so it felt legit.

The literary world has changed substantially since I started going to readings in the tail end of the 80s, and you don't find nearly as many readings at book stores as one used to.  There may be about as many (free) readings at major libraries and on college campuses, but I must admit that I am just not nearly as attuned to them as I once was.  One thing that is relatively new is the rise of literary festivals, particularly in major cities like New York, Chicago, and Toronto where authors are packaged into panels and you can see two or three of them at once.  However, in most cases, these are ticketed and paid events, and I just haven't felt any desire to pay to go see a reading.  I'm sure it is my loss, but it feels like too much a betrayal of my conception of how the author and audience are supposed to relate to each other.

These are the ones I can recall, with a * if I did get an autograph:

Ann Arbor 1987-1991

Toni Morrison (delivering the Tanner Lecture rather than reading from her work, though her lecture does discuss The Bluest Eye and Sula)
There was a symposium the following day with Amiri Baraka among others commenting on the lecture
Tim O'Brien (I cannot recall if he read from The Things They Carried or The Nuclear Age, though probably the former)
Paul Auster (reading from The Music of Chance) * (he signed The New York Trilogy for me)
Jim Gustafson *
Alice Fulton *
Adrienne Rich * (I already told the story of how my signed copy of The Fact of a Doorframe was stolen, and I ultimately bought a different collection with a signature right after her death.)
Douglas Adams (reading from Dirk Gently, if I recall)
John Sinclair *
Jim Carroll *  (Allen Ginsberg was supposed to be at this reading as well but cancelled.  Such a shame.)
Grace Paley (I actually fainted towards the end of this reading, overwhelmed by some anecdote of Mary Shelley nearly bleeding to death after a miscarriage.)

I'm fairly sure I saw Charles Baxter and Ethan Canin reading (not at the same event), and this most likely would have been in Ann Arbor, but I can't be sure any longer.  The downside of a life stuffed with events is that some fade from memory.
 
(During my NELP residence, we were supposed to meet with Jane Kenyon, but she was already too sick.)

Newark/New York 1991-93
Doris Lessing * (I suspect she read from The Fifth Child, but cannot swear to that.  I had her sign a copy of The Good Terrorist, but I ultimately parted with it)
Amiri Baraka
Haki Madhubuti *
Charles Simic *

Toronto 1993-94
Margaret Atwood * (I had her sign two poetry collections, which surprised her a bit)
Susan Swan *
Michael Ondaatje (I'm almost certain he read from The English Patient.  Years later I had an opportunity to hear him read his poetry in Chicago but it didn't work out for fairly absurd reasons.)

I have a vague memory of seeing Timothy Findley reading or at least telling stories about the writing life, though it might have been in New York rather than in Toronto.  I'll have to see if this made it into my journal at some point.

New York 1995
Robertson Davies (reading from The Cunning Man at the 92nd St. Y)
Grace Schulman
Patti Smith (this was a reading/happening in Central Park)
T.C. Boyle (I think this was in New York, which is his stomping ground, but it could have been Chicago a year or so later.  I think he was promoting The Road to Wellville and read part of that, as well as a short story.)

Chicago 1996-2010
Gwendolyn Brooks * (technically reading in Evanston; she signed a copy of Blacks)
Charles Simic
Salman Rushdie (this appears to have been an event in 2009 when he read from The Enchantress of Florence at the Harold Washington Public Library)

Toronto 2014-2017
Ann Choi (reading from Kay's Lucky Coin Variety at the Word on the Street Festival)
Kerry Clare (reading from Mitzi Bytes, though this was more of an interview than reading)

I'm sure I missed a few, but these are the readings I recall.  (I am definitely sorry for any author whom I have forgotten.  The fault is entirely mine.)  I really have slowed down going to readings post-2000 and don't make a point of even seeing what readings are going on nowadays, though I am far more active in theatre circles.  In addition to the disappointment in missing out on Ginsberg, Faye Kicknosway often came through Ann Arbor and gave a reading arranged by my poetry teacher, but not while I was there.  I suspect I probably missed out on seeing Philip Levine read while I was living in Michigan (or worse, I went and the event has completely slipped my mind...).  I would definitely have liked to see Robert Kroetsch read, though I don't know if he came through Toronto that often in the mid 90s.

It's awfully hard to rate/rank these.  I think the rarity of going to a Salman Rushdie reading probably does put that up at the top, but I am awfully glad that I saw Douglas Adams and Robertson Davies read, as well as Adrienne Rich and Doris Lessing.  Honestly, though, I appreciate any of these authors taking the time to go on the publicity tour and take the time to spend it with their readers and potential readers.  I'll try to keep that in mind and at least open up a bit more to the possibility of going to more readings here in Toronto now that I am putting down more roots and integrating back into the literary community to a certain extent.