About Me

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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

 

Dinner Party: A Tragedy

 I listened to this episode of Damian Barr’s Literary Salon Podcast a few months ago and ordered the book. I think it will be an excellent pre-Christmas read.




Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Bars For Days

 Any hip hop fans out there? Rapper Mic Nickels has given me a heads up on Bars For Days, his new interactive book and musical project about working in the music industry for more than two decades and the people he has met along the way. Both the book and the album will drop on December 10. Here's the trailer:

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Gum, Grit, and Storytelling


A profile of author Grace Paley with accompanying artwork by Cynthia Korzekwa

She chewed gum while lecturing. It was a habit she picked up once when, while presenting her thoughts in front of an audience, the words got stuck in her throat. Chewing gum induced salivation and let the words flow once again.

Finnegan & His Sisters

My friend Kate has written a short story. Give it a view.
Adolescent self-absorption. That’s what my parents call my habit of lying on the couch to think for hours on end. It’s not true. If I were self-absorbed, I would think that this family dynamic started when I was born. I would think that the whole story revolved around my birth. It didn’t.

It began with news of my mother’s inconvenient pregnancy.

Sunshine, my oldest sister, told me everything. She told me in Vienna, as we squeezed under the eaves of the cathedral to get out of the rain.

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Prodigal Child

A very long time ago I read Irène Némirovsky's Suite Francaise, written as World War 2 unfolded around her in France. It was a mesmerizing wartime novel that was unfinished and left only in notebook form when Némirovsky, of Ukrainian-Jewish origin, was sent to a concentration camp where she died. The real life tragedy that underlies the story made the story all the more poignant. The notebooks containing the novel were kept by her daughter for many years before finally being published in 2004.

Recently I was sent an advance copy of one of Némirovsky's earliest works, written when she was twenty years old. The Prodigal Child is a slim book, just 79 pages long. It tells the story of Ishmael Baruch, a young Jewish boy growing up in abject poverty in a port city in Russia. Ishmael works as an errand boy in the city market but he has a precocious talent for writing and singing songs that tug at the heartstrings of all who hear them. His fellow workers are a rough lot who ply the child with alcohol and sex in exchange for his songs and he is able to make just enough money from his singing to scrape by. One day a wealthy woman hears him and is struck by the naive passion in the boy's voice. She takes him to live with her in her opulent home where she fosters his musical talent. He flourishes under her care and Ishmael thinks of her as a Princess who has rescued him from abject poverty.

Némirovsky's evocative descriptions set an emotional tone for this short novel. The children in the Jewish quarter "begged, argued, swore at passers-by, rolled around half naked in the mud, ate vegetable peelings, stole, threw rocks at dogs, fought, filled the streets with an ungodly clamor that never ceased." The contrast between his sad origins and his new life of luxury is startling: Ishmael now "sat in the shadows next to a pink marble vase, delicate and graceful, with bas-reliefs of dancing nymphs and masks of satyrs decorating its handles… Silk scarves and lace swirled past his eyes like clouds do when the north wind rushes over the plains. A vague but powerful scent of perfume rose from all the gathered women, as if from a bouquet of roses."

 When the boy becomes gravely ill with a fever a doctor attributes his condition to an "overworked brain" for which he prescribes peace and quiet. Ishmael was dispatched to the country home of the Princess for a number of months. At the end of this time the music that once flowed through him spontaneously is no longer there. He questions his own abilities. Without the songs the boy has no value to the Princess and she sends him back to his former life of hardship.

Némirovsky has skilfully distilled the story down to its quintessence. The Prodigal Son reads like a fairy tale but there is no fairy tale ending. The conclusion, when it comes, is quick and brutal. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Canada Post Issues Margaret Atwood Stamp

 


Those Winter Sundays

………..—no one ever thanked him

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

by Robert Hayden, “Those Winter Sundays”
from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden
Liveright Publishing, 1966

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

A Visit to Elizabeth Bishop House


Poet Henri Cole visits Elizabeth Bishop's childhood home in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Sitting on the back veranda, eating my seafood pie, I imagine again that it is 1916. White hens roam the yard. Little Elizabeth has taken the cow, Nelly, to the pasture. She carries a big stick. At the brook, they both take a drink, and she picks a bunch of mint for her grandmother’s leg of lamb. Elizabeth passes the spot where tall spruce and pine grow at the river’s edge. The water is clear and brown. This is where the church picnic was last summer. There is a freshwater smell. Elizabeth nuzzles Nelly and lets her lick her face. She is a Jersey. Very pretty with dark brown eyes. Later Elizabeth will go to the cemetery with her grandfather, who carries a scythe to trim the grass around the headstones of their kin. She will pick blueberries and caress the recumbent lamb made of stone that marks a child’s grave. She’ll sit on the lamb and talk to it. 

Read More: The Paris Review 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Have you tried this?



Excerpt from Maybe This Will Help: How to Feel Better When Things Stay the Same by Michelle Rial.  A visual pep talk of charts and essays on feeling better about not feeling better.

Have you tried Whole30?

Autoimmune paleo? The fodmap diet? Keto? Paleo? Have you tried cutting out nightshades?

Do you meditate?

Have you tried Transcendental Meditation? Mantra meditation? Vagus-nerve breathing? Somatic therapy?

What type of chair do you have?

What type of mouse do you have? Have you tried a separated keyboard?

Have you tried a gaming chair?

Bees?

Have you gotten your blood sugar checked? Maybe it’s your thyroid?

IN-BOX Subject: “Your order of ‘Pain-Free for Women: The . . .’ ” Your estimated delivery date is November 12, 2013.

Have you cut out sugar? Any relief with the alkaline diet?

Have you tested your home for mold?

Do you eat dairy?

IN-BOX Subject: “Michelle, Did Memory-Foam Massage Mat with Heat, Six Therapy Heating Pad . . .”

Let me give you the number for my Rolfer. Ohhh, you’ve done Rolfing? O.K., but Sean is who you need to see.

Would you consider talking to a psychic about it?

IN-BOX Subject: “Appointment This Week?” We miss you around here . . . are you able to come in and see . . .

IN-BOX Subject: “Your order of ‘Thera-Cane Massager’ and three more items . . .” Your estimated delivery date is September 10, 2014.

Are you a perfectionist?

Have you read Dr. Sarno? You have to read Dr. Sarno. My pain is gone after reading Dr. Sarno. Gone!!!

Have you tried Feldenkrais? Alexander technique? Orthotics?

Water therapy?

IN-BOX Subject: “Happy Holidays!” Our holiday schedule is filling up fast, so get in on the healing today!

Would you consider going to Brazil? Have you heard about that one shaman who treats you for free if you are able to find him?


Read More:  The NewYorker

(Thanks Bruce)

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Mr. Darcy Proposes

Choose your favourite Mr. Darcy proposal from Pride and Prejudice film versions (1940, 1961, 1967, 1980, 1995, 2005)

Saturday, November 13, 2021

The 2022 Tournament of Books Long List

I am currently reading Fight Night by Miriam Toews, have read Second Place by Rachel Cusk, did not finish The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen.
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney, Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen  and Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout are in my queue but I'm going to have to add many more.

See the List

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Silence

 Silence: a Sonnet for Remembrance Day | Malcolm Guite

November pierces with its bleak remembrance
Of all the bitterness and waste of war.
Our silence tries but fails to make a semblance
Of that lost peace they thought worth fighting for.
Our silence seethes instead with wraiths and whispers,
And all the restless rumour of new wars,
The shells are falling all around our vespers,
No moment is unscarred, there is no pause,
In every instant bloodied innocence
Falls to the weary earth ,and whilst we stand
Quiescence ends again in acquiescence,
And Abel’s blood still cries in every land
One silence only might redeem that blood
Only the silence of a dying God.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

 

I downloaded a few books to read on a short vacation I took recently. One of them was meant to be the new Sally Rooney novel. I began reading it and thought it was very different from her other books and it was only when I got to the end of the ebook and read the notes on the author that I realized it was written by Kathleen Rooney, an American writer. Luckily Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is the type of book that appeals to me. It tells the story of 85 year old Lillian Blowfish, a long retired successful advertising copywriter and poet, as she walks around Manhattan on New Year's Eve in 1984. As she walks she ruminates on her life as an ambitious young career woman between the World Wars, her friendships and her marriage. She meets various people while rambling and the chapters alternate between past and present. New York City in 1984 has undergone a lot of changes since she arrived in the 1920s - there is more crime, homelessness and racial tension and there is an AIDS epidemic in full swing but Lillian still loves the city. It is her home and, despite pleas from her son, she refuses to leave it. She is a fascinating woman, intelligent, talented, glamourous and fiercely independent. Her life has had its ups and downs but she is a survivor. 

As well as discovering I had the wrong Rooney I also learned that the fictional  Lillian Boxfish is loosely based on Margaret Fishback, a poet and advertising copywriter for R.H. Macy's during the 1930's who, like Lillian, was once ''the highest-paid advertising woman in the world.'' Fishback died at the age of 85 in 1985. 

This book is an interesting look at NYC over the years. It also talks about the challenges facing an ambitious, talented working woman who married and had a child in the 1940s. It may not have been the book I was looking for but I'm glad I read it.

Friday, November 05, 2021

Reasons to Survive November


November like a train wreck—
as if a locomotive made of cold
had hurtled out of Canada
and crashed into a million trees,
flaming the leaves, setting the woods on fire.

The sky is a thick, cold gauze—
but there's a soup special at the Waffle House downtown,
and the Jack Parsons show is up at the museum,
full of luminous red barns.

—Or maybe I'll visit beautiful Donna,
the kickboxing queen from Santa Fe,
and roll around in her foldout bed.

I know there are some people out there
who think I am supposed to end up
in a room by myself

with a gun and a bottle full of hate,
a locked door and my slack mouth open
like a disconnected phone.

But I hate those people back
from the core of my donkey soul
and the hatred makes me strong
and my survival is their failure,

and my happiness would kill them
so I shove joy like a knife
into my own heart over and over

and I force myself toward pleasure,
and I love this November life
where I run like a train
deeper and deeper
into the land of my enemies.

By Tony Hoagland from What Narcissism Means to Me (Graywolf Press)