Sunday, April 30, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 26th Review - Bear

First off, a note about covers.  The original paperback cover of Marian Engel's Bear is a fascinating mishmash of soft porn stylings and the note that not only was Bear a Canadian best-seller, but the novel won the Governor General's Award.  This incongruity still puzzles people, and over the last few months has led to a bunch of Canada WTF! posts.  I should note that I was planning on rereading and reviewing Bear anyway, but it does seem particularly timely.  I did move up my review timeline to pair Bear with The Golden Ass, as they share bestiality as a common theme.

Anyway, a novel that wins the Governor General's Award almost by default needs to be included in the New Canadian Library, though with a much tamer cover with a pair of hands holding a carved bear.

Even this allusion to sex with bear was apparently too much, so the next cover replaced this with an invocation to wilderness by presumably one of the Group of Seven artists.  But the next cover design seemed to think even that was a step too far, since it hearkened back to where the woman met the bear, so we just have a lamp on this fairly austere cover (to create a book one would totally not be ashamed to read on the subway...).


Interestingly, the most recent (2014) edition is from Emblem (itself a branch of Penguin/Random House) rather than the New Canadian Library imprint.  It basically looks like one of Degas's women coming out of the bath but with the raw scars from where the bear mauled her after one of their romps got a bit out of hand.  This cover also features a quote from Margaret Atwood pasted where a tramp stamp would naturally go.  Enough said perhaps.
 

And now for the meat of the review.

Only a few pages in, I encountered a ten-dollar word I had never come across even once: meridional.  This means "located in the south or southern," and in context it means that Colonel Cary's wife would stay south (in Toronto!) while he headed north to Cary Island.  Cary Island appears to be a real place in Indian Lake, about halfway between Kingston and Smith Falls.  It does look pretty remote.  I have no idea whether any of the other aspects of its history (that it was settled, if you can call it that, by an eccentric former British colonel, who built a house in the shape of an octagon and filled it with a library of late Victorian novels and philosophical tracts) relayed in Bear are true.

Bear starts out very much like a fable.  The main character, Lou, is an archivist who spends most of her time in the basement of the Historical Institute.  I'm not sure that Steve Zipp was riffing off this archivist when he had his female biologist character forced into an underground office in Yellowknife, but it is at least possible.  Anyway, within a few pages, Lou is told that the Institute has prevailed in court, so they now own Cary Island, and she will be sent off to the Island to see what, if anything, is of historic interest.  She drives there in a couple of days, meets the local storekeeper, Homer, and settles in at the octagon house.  Almost in passing, Homer tells her there is a bear that is part of the estate.

As she delves into the library, she keeps coming across notes about bears that have been left in the books in the library.  The library itself is a solid one, but has no meaningful connection to Canada, and she realizes that she could catalogue it in a few weeks.  However, she slows down her pace and keeps fobbing off the threats of the director to come visit and she how she is doing.  In the end, she takes pretty much the entire summer to get through her task.  And as pretty much everyone already knows, she engages in some very kinky sex with the bear.  She invests in him the qualities that she finds lacking in real men she has slept with, including her director and eventually Homer.  At one level, she realizes that she will not actually find satisfaction from a bear or that she can actually love him as a true companion, but she does forget this at times.  (In some ways, this novel should have been titled Looking for Mr. Goodbear.)  

Anyway, towards the end of the novel, it seems she will actually arouse the bear, and they'll take things to the next level, but then he casually swipes his claws across her back and the moment is over.  She basically comes to her senses and examines her life (which could have easily come to an end at that moment): "He ripped me, she thought. That's what I was after, wasn't it, decadent little city tart? ... Slowly, she turned and looked over her shoulder in the pier-glass at her back: one long, red, congealing weal marked her from shoulder to buttock.  I shall keep that, she thought.  And it is not the mark of Cain."

She wraps up her work, and the bear is taken back into the care of the Native family who looked after the estate in the winter.  Lou seems transformed by experience (as one is at the end of a fable) and announces she will quit her job and do something different.  Presumably she means something where she isn't hiding from the world, but it isn't entirely clear.  All in all, a very strange tale.  It does seem to share at least some elements of Atwood's The Edible Woman, or perhaps something that Angela Carter might have written.  Still, for better and worse, I can say that it is unique in all of Canadian literature.  

Doubling Your Pleasure

It kind of goes without saying that rock bands can use a solid gimmick to get attention, at least at first.  I'm just back from the event at the Yorkville Library (where I saw two Beckett books on the shelves but there was no way to check them out -- darn it).  The first act was a completely electronic act called Castle If.  Her gimmick, at least for now, is that she brings plants to her gigs and plays for them as well as for the human audience.  She was good, but I didn't quite feel inspired to buy her download.

The second act was Tasseomancy, which is basically a pair of twins making music.  One pretty much just sings, while the other plays bass or guitar (switching between songs) and singing backup occasionally. I will say that they could certainly sing in harmony.  (There is a third guy who handled keyboards and drums, but I don't know if he is an official member of the group.)  They aren't exactly unique (here are some other bands with twin members), but it's still pretty rare.  Anyway, it was an interesting show and high quality, considering it was free.


When I got back, I found that my piece "Double Suicide" had been accepted for Sing-for-Your-Supper.  Sweet!  This is probably going to be at the Tarragon Studio space next Monday, but this has yet to be confirmed.  I'm still pleased, as it is always a bit of a rush to see your work on stage.  It also gives me a bit of a confidence boost that I can write meaningful dialogue (in this case it was moderately more serious than most of the pieces I have written).  Perhaps I should take this as a sign that I really ought to try to rewrite Corporate Codes and get it in to this other company.  I have just over a week to do that.  I think that means cutting one scene in the first act and overhauling the second act considerably.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Beckett: Going on and on

In honor of reaching post #900, I thought it would be appropriate to honor Samuel Beckett, who seemed to see life as a Sisyphean struggle...

One of Samuel Beckett's most famous quotes is the ending to the novel The Unnamable: "you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on." (Quite a few of his particularly cheery quotes are gathered up here.)  Given that I usually share a fairly pessimistic outlook on life with Beckett, it is perhaps surprising that I haven't delved more into his novels or shorter works.  However, the truth is that I have mostly confined myself to reading and watching his plays.  I usually do seek out his plays when they are staged, including just a few months back U of T did some of his shorter works, including an extremely impressive version of Not I (performed in unison by 10 actresses!).  As I have mentioned elsewhere, I've seen all the major plays (often twice) with the exception of Happy Days.  (Happy Days is playing at UBC in Vancouver this Sept., though I can't really think of a good excuse to get out there in time to see it.)

Time weighs too heavily on me sometimes.  It simultaneously feels like an endless treadmill of activities (the daily grind) that leads inexorably to decrepitude and death (with occasional moments of levity when one can stop and take in the more beautiful aspects of the world) and, at the same time, there are so many things to do and see (and in particular to read) that it becomes evident that one can't do it all in one life time.  I guess the "trick," as it were, is to keep going forward and not letting on be paralyzed by the fact that so much will be left undone at death.  After all, what other choice does one have?  (This seems to be where Beckett lands at the end of most of his pieces -- there is no point to life but one perseveres nonetheless.)  Oddly enough, as I was pondering this, I was also misremembering a song by Camper Van Beethoven as "Endless Press of Days" when it is actually called "Humid Press of Days," though in some ways the sentiment is similar.  Here are some core lyrics: "I wonder how you make it through each day / And, after all, time barely crawls / Unoccupied, between each breath it sticks."

Anyway, for my birthday I decided to order a book that contains his earliest novels: Murphy, Watt, and Mercier and Camier.  I'm much less certain I will ever get around to reading Beckett's first (unpublished) novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women, which was published 4 years after his death, though it sounds a fair bit like Flann O'Brien mixed with even more Joyce.  I suppose I'll have a fair idea of what it will read like after I read Murphy and Watt.

I thought about ordering How It Is, but that is quite a short novel (and not written as a conventional novel at all) and I'll check it out of the library instead.  Ironically, it on the shelves at the Yorkville Library, and I'll probably be going there for a concert in the stacks this evening, but I assume the library functions will shut down at 5, and I really don't want to hang out in Yorkdale for a couple of hours just to try to check out a book.  So I'll first see if they do have the automatic checkout tonight (though this is doubtful) and then put it on hold and see how long it takes to turn up.  I think I'll also borrow Beckett's Complete Short Prose to decide if I like it enough to buy it, though I won't have time to get to this for a few months.  Interestingly, this does not include the stories from More Pricks Than Kicks, which is sort of a stand-alone novel of short stories, though Echo's Bones was rejected by the publisher (in 1934) and finally published only recently.

I already own Beckett's main trilogy of novels Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable, but I've never cracked them.  I do have them on my main reading list, and I'll probably move them up a little bit, at least to ensure I get to them before my 50th birthday!

I also own his Complete Dramatic Works.  This replaced my stand-alone volumes of Waiting for Godot and Krapp's Last Tape.  I definitely read these and a few of the shorter works.  I don't think I've read Endgame or Happy Days, though I will eventually.

Finally, there is a collection of novellas called Nohow On which contains some of his last published work: Company, Ill Seen Ill Said and Worstward Ho.  This again looks like something I would be better off checking out from the library rather than buying my own copy.

Since this list has gotten a bit jumbled, I'll try to reorder it in terms of date of composition (in French), rather than by translation or publication date:

Dream of Fair to Middling Women (1932)
More Pricks Than Kicks (1933-34)
Echo's Bones (1933-34)
O  Murphy (1938)
O  Mercier and Camier (1946)
O  Molloy (1951)
RO  Waiting for Godot  (1952)
O  Watt (1953)
O  Malone Dies (1956)
O  Endgame (1957)
O  All That Fall (1957)*
O  The Unnameable (1958)
RO  Krapp's Last Tape (1958)
O  Embers
O  Happy Days (1961)
O  Play (1963)
How It Is (1964)
O  Not I (1972)
Company (1980)
Ill Seen, Ill Said (1982)
Worstward Ho (1983)
Complete Short Prose (1929-89)

It seems as if I have quite a bit of Beckett to struggle through over the next few years, but I think I will definitely need to pace myself, as too much Beckett at one time is really too overwhelming.

* Of all the radio plays, this one seems the most successful and yet fairly difficult to "see" in performance, though it is in the Complete Dramatic Works.  It had it's Canadian premiere in 2014 in Vancouver (not long after I left unfortunately) by Blackbird Theatre.  The Beckett estate does not allow it to be performed regularly, and when it is performed, it can only be by actors standing on stage and talking into a microphone (i.e. staging it as a true radio play).  It looks like the 4 CD set Works for Radio is OOP.  UT does own a copy, though I am not sure they let it circulate.  I'll be that way tomorrow, so I'll find out the situation.  (Edit - surprisingly they do but only for 2 days!)  I don't think I'll have enough time to listen to the entire play if it doesn't actually circulate, but I can probably carve out some time later on.  As for Blackbird, I was supposed to see their production of Waiting for Godot, but was misled by a terrible directions to the Cultch and actually missed the performance.  In sad but totally unrelated news, their main sponsor passed away, and the theatre is folding.  One more cultural institution in Vancouver bites the dust...

10th Canadian Challenge - 25th Review - The Roaring Girl

I don't really know what to make of the short stories in Greg Hollingshead's The Roaring Girl.  Quite a few of them didn't really seem to have a point or at least didn't come to what I would recognize as a real ending.  Most of them just seemed like a very small slice of a much longer novel.  In some cases, what would normally be front and center in a typical story (the break-up of a marriage or the fact that a couple is in an open marriage and decide to tell their son) is buried off to the side.  In some cases, I thought I was reading a Raymond Carver story at about twice the length and without any sense of epiphany.

Of all the ones that seemed to lack a point, "The Appraisal" was probably the most disappointing where you basically just had a guy get a disappointingly low appraisal on a vacation property that he wanted to sell after he and his wife split up.  That's pretty much all that happens.

I would say that only four of the stories really felt like they had "endings" with any closure: "The Roaring Girl," "The People of the Sudan," "The Naked Man" and "How Happy They Were."  The others just feel like lights down on a scene and then the characters could be set up again to start events over again in the next scene, again as if we were getting a small slice of a novel.  It's definitely a different approach to writing a story.  I'm not sure I really appreciated it, however.

I found myself really surprised at some of the strange behavior of the characters, especially the parents in "The Naked Man," who seem to have rented out the narrator's room when he went off to Australia and have more or less replaced him in their hearts with the boyfriend of their tenant.  While I didn't care for their actions, this was one of the most interesting stories (it had a certain dream-like quality) and will probably be one of the ones that lingers the longest in my mind.

I was a bit disappointed in "The Roaring Girl," as I think Hollingshead draws on only superficial aspects of Moll in Dekker and Middleton's The Roaring Girl.  (At least I assume this is the reference he is making.  You can learn about the play here.  I actually saw an adaptation of The Roaring Girl but for some reason I thought they had made Moll a pirate, but that's probably just my mind playing tricks on me - hopefully not as bad as for this gent though.)  Anyway, the original Roaring Girl refused to conform to men's expectations and went around in men's clothing and generally tried to live life as free as a man (though society often punished her for this).  There was a real-life personality (Mary Frith) who inspired the play, and she was a thief and a procurer and apparently had no interest in getting married.  Hollingshead picks up just a bit of this in the character of Lyn, a 16 year old runaway who ends up working at a gas station over the summer.  She's more than a little rough around the edges.  What is somewhat disappointing is that Hollingshead decided that the only plausible way for her to get even further away from whatever she was running from was to take up with an alcoholic co-worker old enough to be her father.  They steal from the till and then hightail it out of town.  The original Roaring Girl wouldn't have needed a man's help at all.

I'd say that the two stories I liked the best (even though they still seemed incomplete) were "A Night at the Palace" where a man reconnects with his childhood friend and "The Death of BrulĂ©" which actually had shades of Tremblay's the Chroniques du Plateau Mont-Royal series (from which I reviewed the first novel here).  On the whole, this collection wasn't as good as I had hoped or that some of the hype led me to believe, but there were still some interesting elements to most of the stories.  Generally the actions (particularly of the various parents) seemed a little off-kilter and often surprised me, and that is a good thing on the whole.  Nothing is more boring than a completely predictable story.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Disappointing Day

I guess it was just a bunch of small things that added up to the day being disappointing overall.  Maybe it is partly also feeling a bit at loose ends without a completely pressing deadline (though I'll probably wish I had the extra time back in a few more weeks...).  Anyway, it was a reasonably nice day but I stayed inside for lunch.  I did manage to leave at a halfway reasonable hour (5:45) but then I went to Robarts only to find that it closes at 6 on Fridays (I don't know if this is a year-round thing or just right now).  That was extremely frustrating, since I had biked out of my way to get there.

I guess I was able to see some of the cherry trees right near Robarts.  This is the last week that the cherry trees are really in blossom.  I'm debating going to High Park tomorrow to see them, but right now with the mood I am in I would pass.  I suppose it depends a bit on when the rain is supposed to come.  It will likely rain tomorrow and almost certainly on Sunday.



Then I found out that House of Anansi had run out of signed copies of John Lavery's novel Sandra Beck.  I thought it was a bit surprising they had them in the first place; however, they were for sale on the website, but apparently they had misjudged the stock or something.  I'll probably be a bit more satisfied when the order arrives (I mostly was placing the order to get Dennis Lee's Heart Residence), but am somewhat bummed out now.

And maybe it isn't any of these reasons, but rather finding it difficult to make progress on my work (or really find ways to stage it).  I was hoping to have heard back from Sing-for-your-Supper by now, and just in general I feel like it is difficult to get (and stay) connected to actors and artists, or at least without having a production deal in place.  To some extent, I just take a single rejection and move onto something else, whereas if I was a serious artist I would refuse to take no for an answer.  I will ponder this for a while to see if it something I really need to change, but for now I think I will just take a break from what was an inexplicably disappointing day.

Atwood - riding the zeitgeist

There has been quite a bit of ink spilled on how Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is proving quite prophetic, particularly in the U.S. where quite a few states are approaching theocracies, specifically over their attempts to control women's reproductive rights.  Here is Atwood herself recalling the writing of the novel and its main influences.  The number of articles has only increased since Atwood released an updated audiobook that expands on the questions and answers that form the last chapter of the book.  Will I try to borrow it just to hear them?  I haven't decided.  And of course, The Handmaid's Tale is coming to the small screen (or at least Hulu).  In Canada, it will be on Bravo (starting this Sunday in fact) and then can be streamed on Crave.  This sounds like something I probably ought to watch (along with Amazon's The Man in the High Castle), but I really have cut so far back on TV that I can't imagine how long it would take me to get through the whole series.  Nonetheless, I will see if I can get the PVR to record it.

What is perhaps more impressive (or at least less gut-wrenching at least immediately) is how the sex robots that she mentioned in The Heart Goes Last are coming along.  I suppose this was a case where she picked up on something that was already underway and only extrapolated a bit (here I am confining her prognosis to the sex robots -- there are other parts of The Heart Goes Last that are more of a stretch from today thankfully).  As I found out in a limited way recently, it can be a shock when something you imagined becomes a reality.  Anyway, for those who want to learn more on the subject, there are articles here and here.

Plastic pants

I don't normally comment on style trends, but this one caught my attention.  Inspired by the "success" of jeans with plastic windows at the knees, TopShop is apparently selling jeans made entirely of transparent plastic.  There's a bit of a story here.


While this sort of thing goes over on the fashion runways, I doubt very much we'll see it that often in real life.  Though I suppose if some pop singer wears it, some of her fans will as well.  They might be seen (as it were) once or twice in the wild in New York City.  If I actually do spy anyone wearing these jeans, I'll circle back and update this post.

The real reason I find this interesting is that when I was in 5th grade, I wrote a one or two page story about coming home and finding that all my clothes had been replaced by clear plastic.  I don't think this was inspired by a dream (though this sort of thing certainly happens in dreams), but it is far too long ago for me to remember clearly.  I do recall that I ended up reading it in class (again, whether I volunteered or was called on is opaque to me now), and about halfway through I realized that this was an early example of oversharing.  I did get through it somehow, perhaps adding a twist about how I found my original clothes.  This was an important moment in my imposing a filter on my thoughts (not that my filters have always saved me...).  Anyway, it was a bit of a shock, seeing this fantasy come to life as it were.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Relief/release

It has been a long couple of weeks.  Today was a big meeting of the Board of Directors, and our work was presented.  (We aren't actually allowed in the board room, not even if we hide in the back.)  Apparently, it went well, and we'll be briefed tomorrow.  There is still quite a bit of follow-up work, but maybe the pace of work will be a bit more reasonable, at least for a few weeks.  This is actually the first time in a very long time I didn't bring my laptop home.

In addition, I managed to mail off all the taxes.  I was so close previously, but then found I had to file a Schedule 8, which then forced me to revise 5 other forms.  Which was a total drag, but the upshot was that my tax return will actually be larger.  As I have delved deeper into some of the more arcane rules, it looks like I probably do need to file amended taxes for 2014 and 2015.  I'll wait until next week to get started on that, however.

Getting home on transit was a real drag today (and actually the morning wasn't great either).  I was so glad when I finally got off the train.  I stopped in at the library and grabbed some CDs that were on the hold shelf for me.  I got sprinkled on a little bit, but on the whole I beat the rain.  I kind of feel at loose ends a bit today, but I think I'll try to rest up, maybe write up a couple of book reviews, and then if there is any time left, start revising Corporate Codes of Conduct.  I have heard about a company looking for new scripts, and this might just fit the bill.

BTW, I really had to rush on this short script, between also wrapping up taxes and all the extra tasks I had to do at work, but I think it came out reasonably well.  You may remember there is a movie by Shinoda called Double Suicide (on the Criterion label in North America).  I decided I would call my piece Double Sabbatical, taking a slightly less fatalistic view of what would happen if two academics took a sabbatical at the same time.  I even snuck in a Haiku as a bit of a reference to the Japanese film.  If interested, you can read it here.  I hope to find out in another day or two if it will go up at Sing-for-Your-Supper.  But it is nice to find that the creative juices are still flowing; I just need to harness them a bit more so that I can finish up some of these longer pieces.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Marisol and Buffalo

I came across this interesting piece of news yesterday: the pop artist Marisol has left her entire estate to the Albright-Knox Museum in Buffalo.  (Another version of the news here.)  This will definitely make it an important research center for those interested in her work, and I assume that in the near future they will put on a big show centered on her donation.  (While it sounds like that would happen after the museum expansion is completed in 2021(!), I hope they put on a show sooner than that, so we aren't left hanging.)  Apparently, she was eternally grateful that the Albright-Knox was the first museum to collect her work (The Generals), and she has repaid them handsomely.  I'm don't think I've seen this work or the other sculpture they own (Baby Girl), though I suspect they'll try to find a way to put one of them on display in the very near term.



















I would definitely travel down for a Marisol show.  I do try to make it to the Albright-Knox roughly once a year, though the upcoming exhibits aren't exactly calling to me.  I'll check again in the fall.  I did check on-line, and, as of yesterday, the Max Beckmann painting, Hotel Lobby, still hasn't been reinstalled.  (I'm really hankering to see it again.)  Maybe if they do double or triple their exhibition space, they can keep more of these masterworks on display. Here's hoping.

Ideal vs. Reality

I'll keep this brief.  I have finally gotten through my Canadian taxes.  Each year, I delve a bit deeper and understand the overall approach better.  This year, I realized that I can claim a small foreign tax credit on certain investments.  I hadn't caught that in previous years.  It looks like I probably need to file an amended return for last year anyway, so I might as well claim this.  Of course, it is possible I am misunderstanding.  (While the U.S. tax code is far more convoluted than Canada's, they do have more explicit and detailed instructions for how to treat investment income.)  Last year I realized that investment fees are called carrying charges here and directly reduce investment income (whereas in the U.S., you can only claim them if you itemize your deductions and then they usually get clawed back through the AMT anyway!).  That is a more substantial error on my part, and I probably will file amended taxes back to 2014, but not beyond that.

Anyway, while in principle I agree with progressive taxation, it does pinch at times.  There are a few things that I do find unfair about Canada's system, such as you can no longer get a deduction for dependent children (at least provincially) unless you are quite low income.  On the other hand, children's art/cultural expenses and fitness fees are deductible.  I really don't like Ontario's tax surcharge, which is a tax upon one's income tax!  I think it would be more honest to just change the marginal rates.

There are certainly bigger issues that worry me, such as double taxation on investment income, and if one is a particularly high earner, then double taxation on earnings in the U.S.  That hasn't been as much of a problem for people lately, given the weakness of the Canadian dollar, which is likely to remain low for the near term.  Anyway, I am glad to have wrapped up both sets of taxes for another year.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Two Quintets

I've been running around a bit too much this weekend, so I decided to skip Toronto Cold Reads in the end.

Saturday I needed to go get a new bathing suit for my daughter, and I wanted to get a new skillet as well, so we went off to the mall.  Then we went to work, though not for a very long time (and not as long as she hoped to be at the office).  Since there was such a long wait for the 72 bus at Pape, we ended up walking south and dropping in at the library along the way.  There was just enough time to go to Matty Eckler and put in 30 minutes in the pool.  I'm trying to get her more confident while being in the water, since both her current school and middle school have swimming as part of the phys ed requirements.

I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to leave the house in the evening, but I had donated to Scaramella's fund-raising campaign, so I set off for Victoria College.  They announced that between the fund raiser and the ticket sales, they were going to break even for the season, which is good, though it mostly shows how hand-to-mouth most arts organizations are these days.  The first half was quite good, though the highlights were in the second half when there was an interesting bass and cello duet by Rossini and Hummel's Quintet.  The orchestration is the same as Schubert's Trout Quintet.  I don't think I had heard the Hummel Quintet before, and it was played very well.  It turns out the library has a copy of the Melos Ensemble playing it, so I hope to borrow that soon.

Then today, I had a number of tasks, but in the afternoon, I set out for the Mooredale Concert with my son.  The highlight was Schubert's String Quintet.  I had seen this a few years back in Vancouver, but this time I had a better view of the ensemble and could really see when the second cello was doubling and when he was doing something else (like plucking his strings).  It's quite an amazing piece, and it is particularly remarkable that it wasn't publicly performed until many years after Schubert's death.

As it happens, the last time I went to a Mooredale Concert was just over a year ago to see the Afiara Quartet (plus Joel Quarrington on bass) doing Dvorak's String Quintet.  That was good, but not at the same level, since the Quintet was broken up and played movement by movement.  So I'll keep on the lookout for an opportunity to see the piece played again in full.

Anyway, it was an awful lot of music back to back, and next weekend might be more of the same (with a concert at the library and then Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time!) and then late May I am again going to concerts back to back.  Toronto's chamber music scene is very much alive and well, I am happy to report.



Krazy Post

I have to admit, I don't always get George Herriman's Krazy Kat, particularly the adulation over it.  It is droll at times, but in many ways exhausting to see Herriman returning to the same themes over and over and over.  (More often that not, the backgrounds of the Sunday comics are far more radical and interesting than the love triangle that is driving the plot.)  Nonetheless, to remain a member of the intelligensia in good standing, I have bought the entire run of the Sunday comics from Fantagraphics, though I've probably only read through about 25% of the books.  I don't know if I would get the dailies if they put them all in one place -- probably only if there was an on-line subscription somewhere.

That said, I do appreciate Herriman's art in small doses.  I really liked his art for Don Marquis's Archy and Mehitabel.  I keep hoping that Fantagraphics will go ahead and release Stumble Inn, which collected Herriman's strips about humans.  (It's going on 4 years overdue at this point.)  Here is a run-down of the main characters in Stumble Inn.

I'm bringing this up, since there was a recent piece about Florence Nightingale and her trip to Egypt.  While she didn't rate them all that highly, some of the amulets have turned out to have historic significance, while the seals that she liked so much were all forgeries.

This was my favorite of the amulets.


The stance reminded me just a bit of how Herriman drew his characters at least some of the time.  Herriman picked up a bit on the Egyptian craze and this portrait of Kleo Kat (one of Krazy's ancestors) came out in 1919.


Incidentally, Mehitabel claimed she was Cleopatra reincarnated as a cat (this is one of the first entries in archy and mehitabel).  It isn't entirely clear whether this was first published in the New York Sun prior to Kleo Kat's appearance or a bit later on, perhaps in the New York Herald-Tribune.  I suppose it doesn't really matter.  There was just something in the air at that time.

I don't have anything particularly profound to add, so I will give Mehitabel the closing lines:
there s a dance in the old dame yet
toujours gai toujours gai

 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Sneak Peek at O'Keeffe (AGO)

I made it to the final night of the member's preview for the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the AGO.  I knew it was going to be crowded, and it was also later than I wanted to be there.  So I really zoomed through the exhibit in 15 minutes, just getting a sense of what paintings were there, and which ones I would want to check out in more detail on a second and third visit later in the run.  (Since I had some time to kill before I could slip in, I spent some time looking at the reinstalled paintings downstairs.  I also learned that they have put Kurelek's The Batchelor back up, which is my favorite of his works.)

The O'Keeffe show is representative of her entire career, starting with some early works and some skyscraper paintings (I liked these quite a bit).  Then there were many drawn on nature and an entire room of her oversized flower paintings.  (No jack-in-the-pulpit but some of the other famous ones, plus an eggplant painting that the AGO owns -- and which hopefully will end up prominently displayed on the AGO walls after the exhibition tour is over.)

O'Keeffe, The Eggplant, 1924

Then there were a handful of the animal skulls that she did, plus paintings from New Mexico, including some of the irregular churches that she often painted.  Then things get a bit more abstracted in the final room.  I'd say it is a good exhibit, but not quite as amazing as the major exhibit I saw in Chicago in 1988.  (In addition to missing out on jack-in-the-pulpit paintings, the AGO doesn't have any of the massive cloud paintings that O'Keeffe did in the mid 1960s.  The 1988 show also had more of her early water colors, which can be stunning.)

One thing that probably made sense to the curators, but probably will be an issue for visitors is that they have quite a few photos of O'Keeffe by Stieglitz.  Even if this made sense on an artistic level (and personally I think it needlessly distracts from O'Keeffe's achievements), it is going to force people to clump and cluster in this room, as the photos are on the small side and need to be seen close up.

In addition to the skyscraper paintings, these were my favorites (they have abstract elements but could still be viewed as broadly representational of stones, water, snow and mountains).

Georgia O'Keeffe, From the Lake No. 1, 1924

Georgia O'Keeffe, Black Place III, 1944

To my surprise, both of these had been in the 1988 exhibit I saw at the Art Institute of Chicago.  There was considerable overlap with some of the flower paintings and the New Mexico landscapes as well.  Both the Art Institute and AGO shows feature slightly over 100 works of art, but the AGO show counts quite a few photographs by Stieglitz towards the total, so I give the nod to the Chicago show, but, as I said, the AGO show is quite comprehensive and absolutely worth a look.  I'll be back several times.* 

There was more divergence in her skyscraper paintings from the 1920s.  While I probably don't need any more books on Georgia O'Keeffe, if there was one that really focused on this period in her career where she was painting urban scenes and skyscrapers, I would probably pick it up.  As it happens, Georgia O'Keeffe: the New York Years looks like it fits the bill.  I will check it out of the library first and decide if it is worth ordering.

I've seen one other significant O'Keeffe exhibition, which paired her landscapes with Ansel Adams photographs.  I managed to see this in San Francisco in 2009.  It was a good show, particularly showing how what happened when the two artists faced similar landscapes, even the same adobe churches.  However, there were none of her urban scenes in this show.

Just to gather them into one place, I will throw in two skyscraper paintings that were not in the AGO show nor the 1988 Art Institute show.  The first I saw on a recent trip to Minneapolis.  I most likely saw the second at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, though I can't vouch for it with 100% confidence.  I suppose that just means I'll have to make an extra effort to get back to Spain one day...


Georgia O'Keeffe, City Night, 1926


Georgia O'Keeffe, New York with Moon, 1925



* (Added 5/11) The crowds have already become much more manageable.  There are still quite a few people at the exhibition, but it isn't nearly as crazy as the Mystical Landscapes show.  While this is much better for me, it does seem that O'Keeffe deserves the same level of hype.  But I guess she just doesn't have the same name recognition as Van Gogh...  I did note that according to the catalogue, there are several paintings that didn't make it to Toronto, including New York with Moon, along with a couple of the Black Place paintings and a cloud painting.  So that's a bit of a disappointment, but the exhibit is still quite nice.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Fund raising options

I've been thinking about different ways to raise money for artistic productions.  I was not successful in getting into this theatre festival (at least in part because I didn't have the entire script ready nor had I gathered the entire cast, so I can understand that the pitch looked a bit on the flaky side).  That means I won't need to raise money for this project in the short term, though assuming I keep working at it, I might try to go in as a site-specific work in next year's Fringe.  If not this, then I will advance some other production, and in a non-festival or non-Fringe venue, I'll need to raise even more money.

It's interesting, and perhaps more than a little depressing, that even relatively well-known artistic units have registered as charities.  That's far too much work, though there are more options if you go that route, but also more administration, since it involves generating tax receipts for donors.  I think in the States it is somewhat easier to just register as a non-profit (rather than a full-blown charity) and then donors can treat part of their donations as a charity.

Anyway, this page has a useful run-down of whether Kickstarter or Indiegogo makes more sense with specific slant towards Canadian non-profits.  In general, I would lean towards Indiegogo, since it doesn't have to be all-or-nothing, but I didn't realize that you pay 9% administration fee if you don't meet the goal vs. 4% if you do.  (My wife has a friend who somehow made her Kickstarter campaign, but we suspect it was a family friend who swooped in at the last minute.  Most campaigns aren't so lucky.)  Another useful option open to charities is CanadaHelps, though it is restricted to charities.

It's an interesting game theory dilemma I am facing.  I plan on giving to Scaramella for their upcoming concert.  They have options to donate to support their upcoming concert this weekend, and they have an Indiegogo campaign and a CanadaHelps button.  If I give to CanadaHelps, then less is taken off the top.  However, they look like they might actually make their Indiegogo target, and thus my contribution would help them get that additional 5% of the entire goal.  But if they don't make the target, even with my help, then I will have "wasted" 6% of my contribution.  I think all things considered, in this case, I should contribute to the Indiegogo campaign, though in the future I would encourage them and other charities to just stick with CanadaHelps.

Feel free to weigh in with your own experiences, and remember to support the arts when you are able.  (I may indeed be soliciting donations to make some of my productions come to pass, but it is a bit premature now to speculate when that might happen and how much filthy lucre I will need to raise.)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Transgressive novels

One constant of life is that mores and morals change all the time, so novels that were racy and daring (such as Ulysses or even Howell's Indian Summer, where out-of-wedlock sexual relations do not automatically lead to the female's death, as in Sister Carrie, for instance) are now seen as fairly tame.  This is definitely the case for homosexual characters.  Whereas it was fairly daring to include homosexuals in Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness or Molly Keane's Devoted Ladies, it really isn't any longer, at least not in Western fiction.

Novels that feature abortion are still on the rare side.  It was particularly ground-breaking for Molly Keane to tackle an attempted abortion in Taking Chances and for Tess Slessinger to write about an abortion that didn't kill off the woman in The Unpossessed.  Still, today they generally wouldn't be considered transgressive novels, with all that implies.

I'd say there are probably only four bright red lines that still mark a novel today as really transgressive: incest (between immediate family, not between cousins), corrupting of minors (i.e. statutory rape), bestiality and necrophilia.  Possibly some of the more extreme forms of S&M might still qualify, depending on the level of detail but also whether there was full consent or faked consent under duress.  Maybe a novel that featured cannibalism, with or without a sexual element.

Based on this classification, I am wondering how many transgressive novels I have read.  While there is a lot of sex in most of Bukowski's novels, especially Post Office, it probably doesn't count.  Perhaps Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers still is on the transgressive side of the line and probably Han Kang's The Vegetarian.  I actually dropped a novel fairly recently when it became clear it was about father-daughter incest, though I did finish Alice Denham's Secrets of San Miguel, which includes a short story partially told from the perspective of a child abuser, which makes for very uncomfortable reading.  I definitely couldn't finish an entire novel from that point of view, which is the same rationale for not even attempting to start Ellis's American Psycho.

I have to admit, I have never made it through Burroughs's Naked Lunch or any of Henry Miller's novels or de Sade's Justine or Juliette.  I'm fairly sure these would all still make the transgressive list.  I don't have any immediate plans to pick any of these up, though Naked Lunch will probably be the first I do actually read.

On the other hand, I finally read The Satiricon by Petronius and have launched into Apuleius's The Golden Ass, which are certainly pretty racy and would easily be classified as transgressive today.  It's kind of mind-boggling that they were written so long ago (and then weren't completely destroyed during the Middle Ages).  To round out the collection, I'll be rereading Marian Engel's Bear soon, which along with The Golden Ass and a small section of Kosinski's Steps (and perhaps an incident from Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries) are the only literary explorations of bestiality that come to mind.

I'm not sure I've actually read a book about necrophilia, though it is possible that some of the events in Kathy Acker's works qualify, even if some of them occur in dream states.  Boris Vian's Foam of the Daze (aka Froth on the Daydream) features a wife who sort of falls into a coma and this may be close enough for (dis)comfort.  It was certainly a quirky book.  There are probably at least a few short stories or even novels about old men whose hearts gave out during love-making, though none come to mind at the moment.  Since it is such a squicky topic, it is usually played for laughs when it comes up at all.

Orphans' Home

I had read only a little bit about Dennis Kelly's Orphans, which is playing at Coal Mine, but from the description about how it was a savage piece about exposing liberal hypocrisies, I was pretty sure it was going to be a downbeat play.  There are certainly some moments where Danny has his liberal fantasies shattered (although he was previously attacked by teens, which comes up over and over again), but more than anything this play serves as a cautionary tale that in a declining U.K. one really shouldn't marry across class lines.  I didn't care much for the play for two reasons, well actually three.

Moderate SPOILERS ahead.

I'm generally tired of watching plays where the acting is great but the play itself weak.  That is certainly the case here, but in this case the fault lies with actor-centred companies that go after flashy, crunchy parts that don't add up to much.  Kelly's style seems very derivative of David Mamet, who likewise spends a lot of time not saying much of anything.  Perhaps people really do talk in these repetitive ways, not driving the plot forward very far forward, but I think it is an empty calorie style of theatre.

Second, I hated the way that the couple's unborn child becomes a pawn in the power struggle between Danny and his wife, Helen.  She starts saying that she is having second thoughts about keeping the child, mostly to drive home the point that Danny won't commit to loyalty to (her) family above all else.  Later she tries to smooth things over by saying that she is having warm feelings about them and this child, but Danny is completely alienated.  It's not so much that I couldn't believe Danny's transformation, but they already have a young son together, and unless the knife rattling that was heard offstage is meant to imply a Medea-like ending, Danny is thoroughly trapped already.

Third, just as Liam's story gets stranger and darker with each telling, the actions that Danny takes (offstage) are not really believable.  I guess Danny is a weaker person than he is made out to be at the beginning, so easily manipulated by taunts that he is a coward that he will cross the line which most audience members would stay well behind.  In general, I am not that interested in plays or movies about how far would you go for family.  There are already a few movies about mothers covering up their children's crimes: Meryl Streep in Before and After and Tilda Swanson in The Deep End.  (Neither of which interest me at all.)  I know for my part, I wouldn't cover up for any of my extended family, and, depending on the nature of the crime, I probably wouldn't even cover up for immediate family.  To some extent, this reflects a somewhat naive and somewhat cynical belief that because I have access to far more resources (i.e. good lawyers) than a working class family, it would be better to go through the system rather than expecting the crimes to go unnoticed and unpunished.  (In my actual interactions with the police, including after a break-in and after being mugged, they were pretty useless, so why I have any faith in "the system" is a very good question.  Liam and Helen know it is stacked against them.)  In some ways, I think that would make for a much better novel -- someone who believes he or she can get a fair shake out of "the system" (for something they have actually done -- none of this Fugitive-style innocent man claptrap) and finding things go very badly indeed once dropped down the rabbit hole of the justice system.

One thing's for certain.  This couple needs to get the heck out of Barnet.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter on the block

We had heard that our block goes a little gaga over Easter, but we had been away last year, so missed out.  This year we were in town and helped out with the preparations.  They actually are fairly elaborate.  One of the mothers enlists everyone to pack 100s of eggs.  Then on Sunday morning all the little kids are taken over to the school to play while the adults (and some of the older kids) hide the eggs, though given the huge number of eggs, scattering them on the lawns is a more appropriate description.

We had been worried about the weather, but actually the rain held off and it was a beautiful morning.  Some of the kids had apparently been up late the night before, putting rabbit tracks all over the neighbourhood.




Here are some of the lawns with eggs planted.



And here are the happy hunters.


The most intriguing aspect of the morning is that an adult in a rabbit costume turned up towards the end.  Last year, he (or she) was also there.  It apparently isn't one of the people living on the street, as the rabbit hopped into a taxi and took off.


Definitely an interesting mystery, and perhaps one I will explore in a short scene.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

McMichael at Easter

In addition to the AGO being open on Good Friday and Easter Monday, apparently the McMichael is also open on both days.  Who knew that these places would be among the few things open?  I already squeezed in a visit to the AGO.  My schedule is such that trying to make it to the McMichael on Sunday is just not feasible.  Monday is definitely touch and go, but I think I'll try to go.

The main exhibits (mostly focusing on Lawren Harris and his late abstract paintings) will be on view through Sept., so there would be plenty of time to drive up over the summer. However, I am somewhat intrigued by the exhibit Once Upon a Time, Deep in the Dark Forest, which closes Tuesday.  So this is the last weekend to go.  I probably would have been satisfied by a virtual exhibit or even a publication, but it seems like the only way to see this is to go in person.  At least if I do make it up, the Harris exhibit is already running, so it will feel like I got my money's worth.

It's finally stopped raining (I got completely soaked this morning), and we are all hoping that the rain holds off tomorrow at least until noon, so that the kids can hunt Easter eggs outside.

AGO updates

Yesterday was pretty full and eventful.  And indeed I was more than a little sore, so after helping my daughter pack up Easter eggs for a neighbourhood Easter egg hunt, I basically crashed for the rest of the evening.  I didn't even get the laundry done, so I'll have to do that first thing in the morning (the washing machine is far too loud, so I can't run it at night).

It was just going on 10 am when I rode past the Ferry Terminal.  The lines were so long they spilled well outside the terminal.  I suspect it was a combination of it being a really nice day and there being some sort of Easter program on the Islands.  Anyway, I was glad I wasn't trying to take my family there.


At the Power Plant, I saw the Hupfield exhibit.  It was interesting how she used grey felt (sort of like Joseph Beuys) to make all kinds of things, like boots, a camera, a canoe and this light bulb.

Maria Hupfield, Bright Idea with Instructions, 2016

However, only a short while into the visit, I realized that this wasn't the exhibit that I had really wanted to see.  That is the Ydessa Hendeles solo exhibit, which opens June 24, and I should be able to see that a couple of times this summer.

I put in 3 hours at the office and then headed over to the AGO.  I was curious to see how it had been reorganized, since they said they were rehanging some of the main collection.  Indeed, three rooms they have been using for smaller exhibits is now given over to early 20th Century art (mostly European).  Going back to my checklist of missing paintings, quite a few have been installed in this room, including the Vuillard, Miro, Tanguy and the Kline (see below).  The Chagall is off in Paris.  I do miss the Tissot, so I hope it reappears soon.


Of the paintings on my list, I think the most notable one that hasn't been reinstalled is the Rothko, but I do wonder if it will be back soon (since the room they use to rotate through late 20th Century art was closed off for reinstallation).  I definitely liked what they had done with the three rooms (though they probably should adjust the lighting, since there is too much glare on the paintings).  There were a few paintings that I don't recall seeing before.  In general, there are still too many rooms at the AGO that are just being wasted in terms of not containing enough art (given how much is in storage), but it is a good start.

Pablo Picasso, The Soup, 1902-3

Willi Baumeister, Painter with Points, 1932-33

Maria Da Silva, Nocturnal Space, 1954

There was a big sign advertising the O'Keeffe exhibit, which opens next weekend.  I booked a ticket for the members' preview next Friday, but the earliest slot that was left was 7:30!  I'll probably just hit the exhibit quickly to get a sense of what I really like and then try to come back in a month when the crowds may be a bit more reasonable (perhaps).  I did see the catalogue in the gift shop, but even with the members' discount, it was a bit rich for my blood.


Then I went over to Robarts and dropped off a couple of books.  I wanted to go up into the stacks, but they seem to be down to a single elevator.  I waited a while and then just gave up.  This is a real problem, and they don't seem to be able to maintain their elevators.  Other parts of the University seem spruced up, but Robarts feels a bit shabby these days.

Anyway, that was more than enough to try to fit into one day, but at least I spent time outside while the weather was so nice.  Today I need to do grocery shopping, since it is the only day all weekend the store is open, and get to the library (ditto).  I'd like to laze around a little bit, but that probably isn't in the cards, especially if I end up helping out with the egg hunt.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Two Long Days

The title of this post is a bit of a tribute to School of Fish and their song "Three Strange Days."  Today may end up fairly full, but as it is Good Friday and many things are closed, it naturally can't be quite as long.

Wednesday started off as a fairly normal day, but I did have to stay longer at work on this major presentation coming in about two weeks.  I've been cracking the whip on the consultants as well, but there are many smaller, random things I am called upon to do.  I finally got away at about 7:15, which was the absolute latest I could stay, since I had a concert to get to!  I quickly walked up to Massey Hall, just stopping briefly for a sandwich at Subway, which I ate along the way.  I was quite worried about being late, but I make it there with a bit of time to spare.  I was really there to see Tinariwen, but the opening act was Dengue Fever, and I thought it was worth checking them out as well.


Dengue Fever is an interesting band.  They were formed in California by a group that wanted to combine psychedelic rock with Cambodian/Vietnamese elements.  They quickly recruited a singer who could sing in Khmer.  (Lately they've added a few songs in English into the mix, but the majority of their music is in Khmer.)  The bass player is a giant!  I just read that the singer ran into major visa issues and was nearly deported, though they seem to have straightened them out for now.  What was interesting was that the touring line-up had a different musician on keyboards (who also played saxophone in places that were flute on the recordings).  I enjoyed them, but some of the people around me thought they were a bit of a novelty act.  They played a tight set: 7 songs in about 45 minutes.  I believe they played Cannibal Courtship and Uxu off of the album Cannibal Courtship, but I am not certain.

Anyway, Tinariwen came on right after 9 and played an amazing set, though I wasn't as familiar with much of the material, so I suspect it is mostly off Elwan (the latest album) and Emmaar, neither of which I have really listened to as much as their older albums.  This actually makes the third time I've seen them - twice in Chicago (once in Millennium Park for a free concert).  I'm reasonably sure that the founder, Ibrahim, was at both the Chicago concerts (at one point he was sidelined by illness and then by family issues).  Everyone except Ibrahim wears elaborate head scarves, which just seem so exotic.  (I may be wrong, but I think at the Chicago concert, there were female back-up singers, but this was a stripped down unit.)  Ibrahim was on stage maybe 40% of the concert last night, but it was memorable when he was there.  It was a very solid concert.  On the way out, I heard one guy laughing to another about how it was a "Toronto thing" that older, middle class white folk (like his professor) would come out in droves to support world music.  Maybe Toronto has that in common with London, though at a smaller scale.  Anyway, it was a pretty exhilarating concert and helped make up for some of the stresses of the last few weeks.  I'll get Tinariwen back into my listening rotation and definitely listen more to the last couple of albums.

Because I knew the seats in Massey Hall were extremely narrow and tight, I left my laptop bag and everything at work (a good call).  This meant that I had to get up even earlier and get to the office by 7:30, in order to get the laptop and meet up with a group travelling out to a regional meeting.  I decided I ought to bike it, since I wanted the bike later in the day.  So I was out biking the city streets at about 6:45!  That is the earliest I have ever biked to work, and while it was nice that the traffic was light, it isn't something I plan to do again.

Unfortunately, I was about 5 minutes late (having to print out something for the meeting), and then we ran into two accidents on the highways, so in the end we were about 15 minutes late.  It was a strained meeting (not because we were late), but we got through it.  Back at central HQ, I managed to make a back-up copy of all the pages in my U.S. tax return and mailed that off.  (I'll try to finish the Canadian taxes over the weekend at some point.)

Then we had a meeting at Toronto City Hall.  It ran from 2:30-4:30; it was kind of strange planning a meeting that late right before a long weekend, but at least the core people showed up.  Everyone else split after that, but I had to go back to the office to help my manager on the presentation.  I had thought I would stop off at Robarts on the way to the Toronto Reference Library, but I just didn't have time.  In the end, I just biked straight over to TRL.  I was actually a minute or two late, but the reading hadn't started.

I was there to see Kelly Clare read from Mitzi Bytes.  She did read, but only a very short section.  The time was largely spent on an interview and then a Q & A session.  I enjoyed it.  I'm glad that I heard her defend her book.  She explicitly wanted a female character who refuses to apologize (or try to change) even when some of her actions have hurt others' feelings (which indeed upsets quite a few readers).  At the same time, she was pretty thrilled to have written a beach novel that was actually being sold in Loblaws and other grocery stores.  It will take a while for me to get around to reading and reviewing this novel, but I think I shall, and now I have a better understanding of what she is going for.  I have enjoyed poking around on her blog (hoping to make note of the two or three authors besides Virginia Woolf by whom she was inspired).  She has a good sense of humor and is very enthusiastic about so many things.  I particularly liked this post, not only because she picked up on something I noted in my review of Unless by Carol Shields.  It also will prompt me to try to move Woolf's To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway up a bit in my reading list (they would make good summer reading, n'est-ce pas?).

I stayed through all the questions but skipped the book signing.  I had just enough time to request Rosenquist's Time Dust, since the copy I borrowed from Robarts has two pages torn out!  So it was a productive evening after all, even though I had to ride home in the dusk.

Today, I think I will try to ride my bike again, as it is the last nice day for a while.  I'll probably be fairly sore tonight...  My plan is to start off at the Power Plant (which should be open) to see the Maria Hupfield exhibit, which closes in about a month.  Then I'll put in 2-3 hours at work, trying to catch up on a few things.  Then swing by the AGO (and see if I can pre-book tickets to the O'Keeffe exhibit, which opens next week).  Then up to Robarts to return a couple of books.  Robarts is open, but Pratt is not unfortunately.  And that should be plenty to do for what ought to be my day off.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Stories of the internet age

There are many, many novels in which email has taken over the role of phone calls, though of course increasingly people use Skype (and fiction reflects that as well).  In the end, it may end up being a fairly short period where we have email used as a proxy for epistolary novels (never that common to begin with), and characters in more conventional novels use Skype.  (Here's a list of recent novels with email used in an epistolary way, though I must admit most are not up my alley.  The wikipedia list includes more books that interest me, though only a handful are conducted entirely through email.  Matt Beaumont's e might be one that I add to my reading list, though I am less sure about David Llewellyn's Eleven.)

I'm not sure how many books there are featuring blogging (or that excerpt the best bits of a fictional blog, as opposed to books that have been stitched together from actual blog posts*).  I'm sure there are quite a few, though the only two that I can think of at the moment are Sarra Manning's teen-lit Adorkable and Kerry Clare's Mitzi Bytes.  The second one is marginally more literary, with the first part being devoted to whether "the public" will uncover who is writing the Mitzi Bytes blog, and then the second half dealing with the aftermath of the reveal.  There are not a lot of reviews, but mostly the reviewers don't like the second act where the blog author won't own up to any responsibility for what she wrote in the blog.  It is an interesting premise, and it could be taken in interesting directions.  As it happens Kerry Clare will be reading from and talking about her novel at the Toronto Reference Library on the 13th (this Thurs.) and I will try to make it to the event (it helps there is something else I want to do at the Reference Library).  I still haven't decided if I will read the novel, but I will at least consider it.

Speaking of reviewers, there is one novel I am aware of that is built up from fictional reviews of hotels (and a few motels) -- Rick Moody's Hotels of North America.  The somewhat absurd premise is that one of the top reviewers of Rate Your Lodging started adding in more and more personal information into his reviews (quite the over-sharer) and then the reviews accumulated together become a cri du coeur about his condition as a failed husband and father, at least in part because of his poor prospects as a breadwinner.  The novel (or rather series of faux reviews) is amusing and tragic, and I'll probably write more about it later.  Curiously, it was an actual reviewer who said read Rick Moody, it is better than X.  Oddly I cannot recall (or reconstruct) if X was Mitzi Bytes or some other cautionary tale of revealing too much online.

I do have to run now, but if there are novels about blogging or other forms of electronic communication that would like to feature, please add them in the comments.  Thanks!

Edit (4/11): I could easily write an entire post about comments in the internet age, but I'll try to refrain from doing so.  I don't know about Mitzi Bytes, but in Hotels of North America, the ostensible author of the reviews refers to the people who leave comments on his reviews.  These unseen missives from various commentators do sort of typify behavior that is pervasive on the internet.  There are some fawning responses, but more often you get people who seem mortally offended that anyone can hold an opposing view.  In addition, as the reviewer was at one point a "top reviewer" on the site (though quickly faded into obscurity), he seems to attract some particularly disturbed commentators, including someone who starts cyber-stalking him and trying to ruin his credit rating(!).  This last strand is particularly sad, and, while fictional, certainly has its roots in documented internet stalking, reminding us once again of how the internet could have been a democratizing and positive thing, but has so rarely lived up to its promise and in many ways has just magnified human failings.

I think in particular about comments on media websites, where the comments about almost any news story quickly break down into tribalism (internet commenting wasn't really "a thing" in the Clinton era, but from W. through Obama and now Trump, it is completely tribal).  In particular, there are some very dogmatic law and order types, who see no problem with doctors being pulled off planes due to "overbooking" for example.  I'm just sad that there are so many authoritarian types out there, and it is a shame I have to share a country with you...  Reading these comments is definitely a bad habit that I need to break myself of (i.e. reading any comments on any news story whatsoever), though I have to say it will probably only be another couple of years before all "respectable" media websites throw in the towel and decide that they are more trouble than they are worth, particularly in the U.K., with its particularly stringent libel laws.  Of course, it is probably only another few years beyond that that we will even have mid-level newspapers (and most of them already are not much more than outlets for pushing out press releases side by side with click-bait articles).  I don't really think the next phase beyond this looks at all appealing unfortunately.  But don't let that stop you from leaving a comment on the blog if you feel so inclined...


* There certainly are an increasing number of books that have their origins in blogs (and I still think at some point I will gather up the best reviews and essays from this blog and put it out as an e-book -- at this point I might as well wait until I have reviewed all of Alice Munro's short story collections).  One collection I have just come across looks somewhat interesting -- Userlands : new fiction from the blogging underground edited by Dennis Cooper.  The story of how this book came to be is itself sort of interesting, as they were aspiring writers that found themselves drawn to Cooper's blog and exchanged information in the comments and became a quasi-community (but definitely a very male one).

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Daily Grind (better in spring)

I've been thinking quite a bit about the seeming endless cycle of tasks that make up modern life -- off to work 5 or 6 days a week, trash and recycling every week (or alternating weeks in some cities), and of course the annual tasks like cleaning up gardens and dealing with taxes...  I've actually gotten the U.S. taxes figured out roughly a week early, but I still need to go through the Canadian taxes, at least to get a good estimate if I owe anything probably tonight.

Nonetheless, I would agree that all these tasks seem slightly easier now that we have finally eased into spring.  I saw nearly all the neighbours out in their front yards over the weekend.  I probably should have done more yard work, but I'll save that for next week.  I was a bit disappointed that the lower deck looks horrible: all the stain I put on is coming up, so I'll probably look for something that is more purely a stain and less of a stain/paint hybrid.  At least the upper part of the deck looks acceptable after the winter.

Anyway, I've been biking to work roughly twice a week (and dealing with the accompanying soreness).  Usually by May I can get up to 3 or 4 times a week, though that doesn't really seem like enough exercise to undo the damage of the winter.  I am somewhat hopeful that this year I will be able to add in another form of exercise (like swimming or even jogging).  I've bought some proper shoes.  My blood sugars seem slightly more in check, since I've given up the Diet Coke.  I am going to try hard to stick to my next resolution, which is to give up crackers and rely more on gum and rice cakes (and fruit obviously).  At this point, it is probably going to require a better work-life balance as well as the willingness to go to bed when I am really hungry (in the middle of the night) rather than staying up and snacking.  I guess we all need these dreams that "this year things will be different" or we couldn't get through the grind.  And sometimes it is true.  I do think this year I'll make more progress on writing and actually getting something published or staged.  I've found even in the past few weeks that when I am more focused, I am able to crank out some good material, so I'm off to do that for a while (before the working grind catches up to me tomorrow).

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The return of the ten-dollar word

I've been coming across quite a few odd words lately, especially in Freud's write-up of Dora.  In his case, he often used medical terminology in a way that is no longer current, so I am hesitant to include any of his words in this follow-up to this post.  However, two words from Dora's case history did stand out, and I will add them to my ten-dollar list.

Ratiocination is a noun referring to the process of logical reasoning, which builds off the verb ratiocinate - to reason methodically and logically.  I have to admit, even after knowing the definition, I don't like these words, which seem unnecessary, since we already have the verbs to think and to reason; it would make more sense to modify those to indicate situations where someone is using faulty reasoning or thinking emotionally rather than rationally.
 
Another word that keeps coming up in Dora is reticule, which means a small purse or handbag. Given Freud's constant conflation of reticule and (external) female sex organs, I thought he was referring to a change purse, but it larger than that. I don't think anyone today still uses the term reticule to mean purse, just as most people don't believe in the old wives' tales that underpin Freud's analysis of Dora, including that bed-wedding is a sure sign that someone has been masturbating.  (The wheat to chaff ratio with Freud is surprisingly low, I must say.)

Pressing on, it is quite odd is that one dictionary says that reticule is just a variant spelling of reticle, which is a network of tiny lines that make up a sighting scope for a telescope or microscope. More generally, we would use the phrase lining up something in the crosshairs. Even stranger is that in the U.K., graticule is used in place of reticle.

Rick Moody's Hotels of North America offers up the word haphephobia, which is the fear of being touched.  Some information about this phobia here.  I suspect as with most phobias, there is a wide gradation in how impacted people are by haphephobia.  I wouldn't say I fear being touched by others, but I certainly don't like being touched by others, particularly people outside my immediate family.  Moody's use of the term falls into this broader sense of the word.

Superannuated appears periodically in books I read, most recently in Durrenmatt's A Dangerous Game.  I find this an interesting case, since it originally referred to someone who was allowed (or forced) to retire due to old age and then was on a pension, i.e. an annuity.  However, over time the annuity aspect has faded away (as have pensions in the real world) and the meaning of the word has broadened a bit to refer to a person or thing (or even an idea) that has become obsolete, outmoded or old-fashioned.  In some rare cases, it seems to refer to something being old, but it is probably better to try to keep some precision in the term and to retain that aspect of obsolescence.

I'll end with enervating, which can either mean a kind of wasting away associated with a disease (i.e. literally debilitating) or more colloquially to be tiring or exhausting.  In context: even reading about the long party at Trimalchio's house in The Satyricon was enervating and I had to take a nap after finishing that chapter.

 
One final note is that this blog has surpassed 150,000 views (technically not Likes).  It took something on the order of 4 years to reach 100,000 views, but then only four more months to reach 150,000!  So thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave a comment now and again.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Construction Time Again

Many cities in North America are undergoing redevelopment, but there are few that seem to be growing quite as much as Toronto.

Roughly two years ago, I posted this shot of a building being torn down at Dundas and River.  I think the shot came out well, and I particularly liked the somewhat random colours that some of the tenants had used on their walls.  It did look a bit like a doll house with the cover off.


Some of the other parts of Regents Park have developed more quickly, particularly the Aquatics Centre.  They have made progress on the athletic fields, and now on the spot that this building was torn down, a new building is rising.

I was biking back from work (and fighting against the wind) when I decided I ought to capture some of these changes.

Looking north to site where previous building had been demolished

Looking west over athletic field towards downtown


At this rate, they may actually be ready for occupancy by the end of 2017.