Category Archives: Books

Please Select That Which Best Applies

If I do not know the ordering procedure of a particular eating establishment, I will:

a) Decide to go somewhere else.

b) Eventually convince myself that I am not that hungry after all.

c) Stare on in puzzlement until it’s officially socially awkward for everyone involved.

d) Turn heel. Run home.

e) b & d

f) a & c

 

Your puppy:

a) Is the most adorable thing I have ever seen. Your puppy has therefore ruined my life.

b) Is the absolute best.

c) I WANT A PUPPY.

d) I cannot afford a puppy right now.

f) All of the above.

 

What That Guy Said?:

a) “Old.”

b) “Ode.”

c) “Auld.”

d) “Bald.”

e) “Sassafras gonads.”

 

PUNCTUATION THROWDOWN:

a) .

b) !

c) : OR ;

d) c OR Both

e) c & d

f) How come no one cares about ampersand?

 

Discreet Flatulence:

a) Acceptable.

b) Diabolical.

c) You ruined it by calling if “flatulence.”

 

Book or Movie:

a) Book.

b) Movie.

c) Both is not an answer.

c) Both.

 

You’ll be in:

a) My heart.

b) My thoughts and/or prayers.

c) Deep shit.

d) Shallow Paraguay.

 

I would love to:

a) Help.

b) Be able to help.

c) Consider helping.

d) Consider being able to help.

e) b, c & d

f) Never a.

 

Choose Your Fighter:

a) Emperor Penguin.

b) Death Cap Mushroom.

c) Giant Spider.

d) Tiny T-Rex.

e) Haunted Waterslide.

f) Ugly American.

 

Nonsensical:

a) “Owning the Libs.”

b) “I can fix them.”

c) “I’m sorry if…”

d) “All lives matter.”

e) “Books are dead.”

f) All of the above (plus a few others, TBA).

g) All of the above (but e especially).

 

Good answer:

a) Yes.

b) No.

 

Best answer:

a) No.

b) GOD NO.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Books, Communications, Dogs, Interruptions, Mind and Body, Places

The Loving Huntsman

A minor triumph recently: I finally secured a nice copy (an excellent edition) of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes; or The Loving Huntsman.

It’s taken about a year to achieve this. Over a year, actually, plus a month or two.

I was, and remain, committed.

***

Lolly Willowes is a story of struggle, privilege, humiliation and personal retribution (which looks very much like vengeance, though it is not). There is a cool intelligence in the writing, a wry and discerning mind behind the prose. A rarity, even now. Even today. Possibly always.

***

Lolly Willowes (or The Loving Huntsman) also has the best narrative portrait of the Devil I’ve ever come across:

 

To be this – a character truly integral, a perpetual flowing of power and cunning from an undivided will – was enough to constitute the charm and majesty of the Devil. No cloak of terrors was necessary to enlarge that stature, and to suppose him capable of speculation or metaphysic would be like offering to crown hi with a few casual straws. Very probably he was quite stupid. When she had asked him about death he had got up and gone away, which looked as if he did not know much more about it then she did herself: indeed, being immortal, it was unlikely that he would know as much. Instead, his mind brooded immovably over the landscape and over the natures of men, an unforgetting and unchoosing mind. That, of course – and she jumped up in her excitement and began to wave her arms – was why he was the Devil, the enemy of souls. His memory was too long, too retentive; there was no appeasing its witness, no hoodwinking it with the present; and that was why at one stage of civilization people said he was the embodiment of all evil, and then a little later on that he didn’t exist (1999: 220-221).

 

Forgive and forget. Who doesn’t need that, once in a while?

Who doesn’t crave it, the reprieve of disremembering just the right thing, at just the right moment, so that everything (present, future and past) will be alright. Will just turn out that way?

Pick and choose, overlook. Exonerate.

That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Speaking especially of the Devil himself.

 

________________________________________________

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. (1999). Lolly Willowes or The Loving Huntsmen. NYRB: New York.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Language, Philosophy, THE FUTURE, THE PAST, Words

Dead & Deader Till We Get to Deadest

Books are dead.”

I keep coming back to this, not because of any apparent (or is that obvious?) absurdity of the statement itself, but the mean-spirited intent behind it. It is one of the funniest things (intentional or not) that I’ve had another person say to my face in a good long while. It has become my dead horse. A true gift.

But anyway, it is Friday – week’s end! And with that in mind, here is a list of the books I’ve been reading over the past couple of weeks and months.

There is no order to the list, no rankings or ratings or reviews. I just like to keep a tally so that I know what I’m reading after having read it. I also know that this list will tell you less about me than it will ultimately reveal.

That’s good for both of us.

That’s what’s best for everyone:

  1. Vi – Kim Thuy
  2. Barracoon – Zora Neale Hurston
  3. Trail of Lightening – Rebecca Roanhorse
  4. Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
  5. The Red Threads of Fortune – Jy Yang
  6. Marriage of a Thousand Lies – S.J. Sindu
  7. Eloquent Rage – Brittney Cooper
  8. Kilkenny – Louis L’amour
  9. Chicken With Plums – Marjane Satrapi
  10. Mr. Fortune’s Maggot – Sylvia Townsend Warner

These are books that I will say that I recommend – or don’t, depending on what you’re looking for in a book, depending on what your particular whims or needs or desires are.

In any case, if it is indeed true that books are dead, they can’t possibly get any deader, can they? They’re the deadest they’ve ever been!

And how could you argue with that?

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Death, Language, Words

Stranger Readings

When and wherever I see a stranger reading (the subway, the park, the doctor’s office), I always try to figure out what is it they’re reading. What, then why.

How being obvious.

(Or is it? There are times the pages are obscured, and I just have to imagine they’re there and also being read. Also, there are so many assumptions in “How,” isn’t there?)

So, why? Why that book? Is it the content? The author? Is this a project, or a pastime (or both)?

Is this good?

More: good in all sense or semblance of that word, “good.”

Tell me stranger: Do you know something I don’t know? Maybe you know something I do.

Also: Maybe I could tell you a thing or two. I have books too.

Then: “Books are dead.” Did you know that?

Finally: Yes, dead. Read for work. Reading is work. Work to get paid, or don’t work at all. Getting paid is everything, or it is nothing. Anyway, no one likes their job, which is the same as work. Don’t be a sucker! A show-off! A conceit!

Never concede.

Books are dead.

***

Now, of course, I wouldn’t take things so far down that particular logic hole; the rabbits there are deranged.

This is nothing that should be done. Stranger readings ought to stay that way.

This is just an exercise.

The premise being ridiculous.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Communications, Death, Interruptions, Language, People, Routines, Words

Dog Days

Louis recently had 14 teeth taken out in a procedure that quickly became a marathon operation, complete with dramatic skips and beats in which he, in his fright and confusion and special doggy frustration, tried to fight his way out; in which his breathing became abnormal (though it stabilized at just the right critical point for the work to continue); in which his teeth, while seemingly normal from the outside (and thus, primed primarily for a cleaning) were actually abhorrently rotten on the inside (hence the transformation of his dental work from standard to complex to troublesome), and in which the resultant financial cost went from the low $$ to the high $$$.

Yet, it was nothing, this being his 4th major procedure (2 back surgeries for herniated discs; 1 for a snapped ligament) in his 14 long years of doggy life. He’s since recovered, as he has 3 times before. He acts as if nothing had happened, though there is less and less of him for anything to happen to as time goes by.

Dog Days

The absurdity of this dog. The absurdity of it all – all of it, our life together.

In a 1972 letter to Jane Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut mediates on the nature of death, having perused the copy of Markings, Dag Hammarskjöld’s memoir, that Jane has sent him:

“I open it at random, and I find a lot about dying meaningfully, and about sacrifice and pain and mysterious destinies…Are you really tuned in to this sort of stuff? Should I be? Well – I’ll try, but it’s not my style. I, for one, am glad I didn’t die in Africa, although that opportunity was mine. I still believe that a dog is going to kill me, and it scares me – and it pisses me off” (2012: 192).

There are fates worse than death, just as there are a million ways to die. Vonnegut’s is the closest that comes to mind as being, if not right, if not justified, if not even true in its most tangible sense, than fair.

Harsh, but fair. More than fair.

This dog is going to kill me.

 

 

________________________________________________

Vonnegut, Kurt. (2011). Letters, ed. Dan Wakefield. Delacorte Press: New York.

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Animals, Books, Death, Dogs, Health, Pets, Philosophy, Relationships

Experiments On Reality, 1.0.

Fantasies are experiments on reality. One of my running fantasies is one in which I have to run. Get away. Go. Find a safe or better place.

The jig is up!

They are coming. Finally!

(It was only a matter of time.)

“Who are they?” Stephen often asks. As if it matters!

(It doesn’t matter.)

It’s they. Them. The ubiquitous They. What more can or needs to be said?

I think about Essun from Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. I think of Mulan, Imperator Furiosa, Stray Cat Rock‘s Mako, and Louise Belcher. People who ran, when they had to, who would not be caught up in fates not of their choosing. People who were ready, even if it’s not what they wanted. People who have had enough, already.

Who wants to be chased? It’s not about the chase. It’s about the ability, the capacity to run, to deal. The wherewithal to have runny-sacks; maps, fake IDs, loose cash. A stolen War Rig. Your father’s sword. Cocktails (molotov)! All of it at the ready, or ready for the taking. It’s in the daring, or the will. The need.

(I will neither confirm nor deny the existence of a bindle of likewise necessities somewhere on the premises – cell phone, wallet, keys will not suffice.)

If and when They come, I want to be ready. They are not going to get me. Or at least, I won’t make it easy.

More: one way or another, they will be sorry they tried. They will regret what they started. No matter the outcome.

Now.

How’s that for fantasy?

 

 

________________________________________________

Jemisin, N.K. (2015). The Fifth Season. Orbit: United Kingdom.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Change, Characters, People, Plans, Routines, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

The Quick and the Dead

“Books are dead!” proclaimed my guest, who wasn’t really a guest as a surprise visitor who came in with one of my actual guests. He was just that type, just the sort of person to do just that, just to give you an idea.

It is my fault for letting him in, I know. Though I do not take responsibility for his behaviour. That would be asking too much, I think. It would be expecting the whole world.

Books are dead!” he cried out again, after I faltered in my response, not knowing exactly what he was getting at (but also noting all the books we have weighing down the shelves and invading the little free spaces of our tiny apartment).

I read for work,” he continued. Incredible. There was an aura of self-induced triumph about him.

And that’s what made me think of the boy.

It was a Saturday morning and the subway car was, as usual, overcrowded – Stephen and I and quite a few others were jammed up close, near a young boy and his mother, who were seated but nonetheless closed in with the rest of us.

The mother sat by the window, the boy sat towards the aisle.

“Eee-er-rect? Ee-rect-a?” said the boy.

His mother ruefully shook her head, but did not discourage him. She smiled to herself and then at us as her son struggled with the ad hanging tantalizingly above our heads, its message as yet a mystery to his young mind.

“Dis-disfunct. Dis-func-sia-in,” he enunciated, carefully, loudly, heedlessly.

We waited. Stephen and I, the boy’s mother and the boy, and the half dozen people to our immediate left and right in that moment became a coterie, a clique, an inner circle facing out. The world be damned.

The boy continued: “E-rect-tile. Erectile! Dis…dysfunct-dysfunction!”

There was so much laughter threatening in that moment to break through. The boy’s mother congratulated him – sincerely, proudly – on his having mastered two very difficult words. Who would dare laugh then, and spoil everything?

And then the boy asked, pointing to the ad: “What is it?”

His mother looked at him. She looked at us. She looked out the window. “Ask your father,” she deadpanned.

So much laughter then, the boy’s merging with ours and I think, not because he understood his mother’s exquisite joke or deft delivery, but because, together, they had elicited a moment of joy out of the drudgery of the everyday. His mother laughed as she pulled him to her, beaming.

“Books are dead.” “I read for work.”

I guess what I’m saying is this:

I wish the boy and his mother had shown up at my house instead.

 

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Books, Children, City Life, People

About Fran

As I said:

Fran has some very interesting theories regarding a library thief at her local branch.

Again, to reiterate: “Not the hoity toity library in the neighbourhood, the working-class library.”

She makes that distinction. How could you even begin to fault that? Really.

How could you deny it?

To wit: someone’s been ripping recipes out of the new magazines that come every Friday and Saturday at Fran’s library, and Fran is on it.

Forgetting “why” for the moment:

WHO?

  1. Most likely a woman. Fran is rather convinced of that, given the apparent gendered nature, as it were, of the evident act, though I have my doubts. But this is Fran’s Thing.
  2. A fellow library patron; one lives in the neighbourhood, given the frequency of the crime, the opportunity afforded by it (this is not an offence committed from a distance).
  3. Someone who must come to Fran’s library on New Magazine Day because Fran goes to the library on New Magazine Day. That person, whomever they are, has thus far managed to somehow get to the new magazines before Fran (the magazines arrive Fridays and Saturdays, but the timing of their arrival varies greatly).

WHY?

Who knows? Someone quite inconsiderate. Someone desperate? Someone.

My suggestions (which Fran took into serious consideration): A collector. Someone who wants material proof of their proclivities. Evidence of taste, action, deed.

“Really?” said Fran.

“Really,” I said.

OR

Someone who had it in, personally, for Fran – who knows her habits, her routines, her likes and dislikes, and is making some kind of point about it. A point of contention!

“Unlikely,” said Fran.

“But not impossible,” I said.

HOW?

They, whomever they are, must be taking the magazines home, ripping out the relevant pages and returning the magazines before anyone gets wise (again supporting the proximity theory).

Unless

To avoid suspicion, they are ripping the pages out within the library itself. The magazines NEVER LEAVE THE PREMISES, are never checked out in that person’s account. There’s no paper trail.

The perfect crime.

To this, Fran brought up a good counterpoint: her library is small; you’d hear the ripping (these being quality magazines with good, glossy thick pages).

“The bathroom?” I suggested.

“Single stalls. I’m watching,” was Fran’s response. “And I’d still hear it.”

UNLESS

I showed Fran the tiny pair of folded scissors on my keychain.

“Where did you say you lived again?” asked Fran.

I asked what the staff at her home library thought of the whole sordid affair. The state of things.

(I wonder how the hoity toity library would handle something like this. Or is this a hoity toity library problem?)

“It’s like they don’t care,” said Fran. “They do, the staff there do care, but there’s nothing they can do about it.”

Ah. But they’re not Fran, are they?

So to them I will only say this: You are not alone. Fran is on it!

Our own working-class hero. Really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Books, People, Places, Politics, Relationships, Routines

SERIOUS BUSINESS

Yesterday (March 15th, 2018) was the first day of the Friends of Toronto Public Library Clearance Book Sale over at the Toronto Reference Library. All items, library discards and (here’s the important thing, the key) donated books, most of which are in good, gently used condition: $.10-$.50.

Cents to the dollar.

***CASH ONLY***

Best deal in town. Can’t be beat!

See the impetus? Sense the urgency?

The Plan:

  • Wake up early.
  • Dress.
  • Eat pre-breakfast (boiled eggs prepared from the night before).
  • Make sure phone fully charged (again, ensure this is done the night before).
  • Grab extra bags (for books).
  • Bring cash, bring pockets full with change (Correct change matters; correct change = ADVANTAGE).
  • Take out dog.
  • Leave home.
  • Arrive early: no later than 9:00AM, a half hour before the book sale (in recent years, word has gotten out and people, lots of them, come for the sale even before the doors to the library open at 9:00AM…these are serious people).

I am a serious person…when it comes to books and massive book sales (when it comes to this massive book sale). This is a serious book sale.

Things. Did. Not. Go. As. Planned.

Woke up on time, but hit snooze and spent way too much time in the bathroom, forgot to boil eggs, grabbed breakfast bars only after the absurd amount of time it took to remember we had them in the first place and the panic that ensued thinking I’d have to go into this, one of the biggest book sales of the year, hangry, took out the dog, bolted from home only to find transit delayed, trains so slow, so slow and lumbering, arrived at library just before 9:30AM and found myself forming part of a very long line that went through the building, out the door, and around the block.

IMG_7714

Evidently, I am not the only serious person serious about this most serious sale.

Serpentine line, like at amusement parks, or celebrity wakes. Too many people, so many bodies blocking the doors it was a fire hazard. There was some confusion as people shuffled, and were shuffled, to and fro:

“Whomever believes the are at the end of the line, put your hand up,” said the burly library security guard. Many hands, scattered here and there, scattered all around, came up. Shot up into the air.

Libraries have burly security guards? This one does. Seriously.

The line was broken up; people waiting after a certain point (this was, roughly, underneath the stairwell inside the main foyer) were asked to line up outside, against the building and down the block. They politely obliged, so wiling they were to get into this sale that waiting in line was an accepted exchange, a hardship readily borne.

So serious.

People from all walks of life were there, but I could see clusters that mirrored each other: kids off from March break (serious ones, of course, who waited patiently for their turn at the books), retirees, university students (more than a few reading textbooks as the lined lurched forward at irregular intervals), obvious hoarders. Many brought backpacks and tote bags and suitcases, the kind with the wheels on the bottom and an extendable handle, for ease.

(Kind of wish I had thought of that, extra baggage in this case would have served as an extra advantage. For serious.)

I spent my time in the line chatting amiably with a woman named Fran,* who told her work she had an important “appointment” that morning which could not be rescheduled. Not a lie. Good on you Fran!

Fran has some very interesting theories regarding a library thief at her local branch (“Not the hoity toity library in the neighbourhood, the working-class library”): someone’s ripping recipes out of the new magazines that come on Fridays and Saturdays and Fran is on it. Together, we came up with some more interesting theories about who this person could be, and how to catch them.

Fran and I separated once we were finally ushered into the sale, way back towards the back of the big, reliable building by a volunteer who, one hour into the sale, at 10:30AM, was already losing her voice wrangling so many book-hungry people, poor woman.

“Bye, Fran! Good luck!”

Mayhem inside, but of a managed sort. Totally doable, and worth it for the books. Rows and rows and tables full of them, ten cent paperbacks, fifty cent hardcovers, although a lot of what was on offer seemed already picked over.

IMG_7715

Some people grabbed boxes which had been emptied of books for the sale and filled them with the books from the sale. Some people went from table to table, methodically running their hands over spines and covers, picking up titles that intrigued them. Others grabbed at the books, regardless of title, condition or type, and threw them into bags and boxes.

Takes all kinds.

I spent two hours at the book sale, jostling about, snatching books were I could. For all that trouble, I good a good haul: 14 books for just over $4.50.

You can’t beat that, and hard to dismiss it.

The sale goes on until tomorrow (March 17th, 2018, 9:00AM-4:00PM). So many people, so many books: the volunteers, mostly older people wanting to do good by the books, are heroes.

One, overheard on my way out: “Once we started posting about on Facebook and places, the sale has become so popular. It’s like we can’t keep up. We just keep refilling the tables and they just keep buying.”

12:30PM. There was still a line that went through the building, out the door, and around the block. More people outside waiting to get at the books inside.

IMG_7720

The best laid plans indeed.

 

 

 

 

________________________________________________

* Not real name. I got you, Fran!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Hobbies, Ritual, Thrift

Book B-I-N-G-O (Part 2)

(con’t from Monday’s post)

The BOOK BINGO sheets were prominently tacked on the wall near the stairway leading up to the managers’ offices, a veritable dead zone for employees like me. Dallas, my manager, caught me a week or two into The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of Twenty-Fifteen, standing in her way, staring at the sheets, paralyzed by indecision.

The sheets glared back, white and hot and waiting.

“You know,” Dallas said. “You’re allowed to read whatever you want.”

“This isn’t a test. Just pick a favourite,” came her voice, tinny and smelling faintly of copper.

“I’d like to know your favourite,” said Dallas, and smiled.  

***

(Dallas’s teeth were sharp and yellowed. Rumour had it she had a fake tooth, but no one knew which tooth was the fake tooth. It was anyone’s guess.

I sometimes imagined her taking her new tooth, fresh from the dentist’s office – a brilliant enameled chip, or maybe a hard, alabaster nugget if it was a molar and meant to crush and grind – and staining the tooth with tea bags and coffee grounds on her kitchen table, late into the night, and doing so until she was absolutely certain no one, not one living soul, could tell just which tooth was the fake tooth as she smiled at them from behind dead eyes.)

***

Rumours are many-edged, double-faced things that can cut and bite you if you approach them the wrong way. They proliferate like vermin; spread like wildfire.

Which also means that rumours can be useful – travelling fast and burning away at things until their cores are naked, exposed.

Eventually, it hit me again: the categories didn’t matter.

It was the books.

The books were the key.

***

“Why the Hell would you read Fifty Shades of Grey as your BOOK IN A SERIES? That book is pure, unadulterated smut. And it’s not even good smut.”

“You sure, Dallas?”

“Trust me.”

I read, I adapted. I read some more.

The Secret is your IMPORTANT BOOK? Dallas and I love that book,” boasted Houston, another manager and Dallas’ husband (the place was pretty incestuous, but only insofar as most office environments are incestuous, which is to say not very much, by comparison). “You know,” he continued, lowering his voice, “It’s, like, an open secret.” He winked. It was foul.

I read.

It became a source of power, and a refuge.

The Art of War isn’t an EPIC POEM!”

“It is, Phoenix, if you read it fast enough. The Chinese starts to rhyme.”

“Are you joking?”

It saved me from myself.

***

Did I read all the books I marked off on my BOOK BINGO sheet?

Yes.

Did they fulfill their categories?

Yes.

Were they good books?

Honestly: any book that sets you free is a good book. Any book that does precisely that is worth its weight in fucking gold.

Yeah. I won BOOK BINGO that year. That year, I got bragging rights and learned so much compared to what I eventually gave away. And then I found work in a better, more supportive environment.

There is no doubt about it. It was because of the books.

***

I wonder: did the others who partook in The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of 2015 do the same as me? Had they recognized the power lingering on the other side of books?

If they had, I didn’t notice, which of course would have been the whole point.

 

THE END

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Education, Employment, Interruptions, Jobs, People, Relationships, Ritual