The View from Saturday

A heart full of love and a bookshelf full of hope and some books.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Attencion, Hordan.

Jordan, I am reading a book and it makes me think of you. It's called Lost Girls and Love Hotels, by Catherine Hanrahan and it's about a girl who teaches English pronunciation to a bunch of Japanese flight attendants in training while trying to come to grips with, and run away from, her past. Not that Jordan is doing either of those things (although, really, we're not sure WHAT he is doing down there in Chile, beyond eating avocadoes by the bushel and taking photos of Bilz y Pap). But this line jumped out at me because it seemed like something he would say...

"For some reason, in Japan, I always expect things to happen like they do in cartoons, for giant red hearts to erupt from people's chests, for connect-the-dot lines to appear when lovers' eyes meet."

I don't know why.

Come home, Jordan. Get on your white pony and ride back to the only hemisphere that matters.

Highschool Confidential.

The end of summer always reminds me of this one year when I was about 17, living back in Hamilton and waiting to start my last year of highschool. My boyfriend's dad was away and we spend the last week of August smoking hash in his backyard, dreading the start of term. Everyone had the same navy blue hooded sweatshirt. The air had that Hamilton smell, smoke and factory fallout mixed with humidity and mountain ash. I didn't want to go back to school; no one ever did, even though at the very least, going back meant you had something to do with your days, not to mention the possibility of someday getting the hell out of Steeltown. I've never understood people who say they were happy in highschool. And yet, I always think of that nauseatingly cliched time in my life, when all I thought I needed was a boyfriend and my parents' car and an inkling of some future responsibility.

And with that, I give you...

Top Four Books that Make you Nostalgic for a Time That Actually Sucked

Blankets--Craig Thompson

I have a horrible habit of getting really unreasonable crushes on graphic novelists, and I got supercreepyobsessed with Craig Thompson's cartoon version of himself after reading this stunning story, a sprawling 542-page epic that chronicles Thompson's childhood, his struggle between religion and art, and his first love, a girl named Raina whose total goodness started to piss me off a little toward the end of the book. Don't fall for her, Craig, come to Ottawa and I will make you dinner and stun you with my wit and my pretty hair ribbons. Thompson's style reminded me of those Little Golden Books from the 50s, all charcoal-y and full of doe-eyed characters. And the way he draws his characters' hands and limbs is so eerily real. This whole book reminded me of "Calendar Girl" by the Stars, which 1. shows you what a huge loser I am that I compare songs and books and 2. is unusual because I hate the Stars. Sort of.

Teen Angst? Naaah...A Quasi-Autobiography--Ned Vizzini

Speaking of unreasonable crushes, if thise whole librarian thing doesn't work out, I intend to move to Brooklyn and marry Ned Vizzini. The guy started publishing essays in mags like the New Yorker when he was a young teen...I love the precocious youngsters. This book is his first collection of essays, and details his highschool years in all their mortifying glory. My personal favourites are the one about him lying to his parents so he could sneak out and play Magic cards all night, the one detailing the rise and fall of his extremely untalented rock band, and the one about him almost seducing a hot older editor at a press event. He's like the World's Little Brother: engaging, endearing, funny, and a bit of a dork. His new book, It's Kind of a Funny Story, has a wicked hipster cover and a photo of the author, which only fuels my obsession. He is a shrugged-shoulders, hoodie-wearing, dark eyed man with the soul of a poet...if anyone needs me, I will be walking the streets of Brooklyn like a crazy woman.

Prep--Curtis Sittenfeld

The teenage girl experience writ large, and played out in that most Teen of settings-the elite New England boarding school. Sittenfeld's dry humour shines through in the voice of Lee Fiora, a displaced Indiana girl who discovers, on arriving at Ault, a prestigious prep school, that maybe she's not part of the upper crust at all. So many boarding school stories about teen girls are full of over the top pranks and dumb love sub-plots. Instead, Prep focuses on the horror and the awkwardness of adolescence, the melodrama of failed relationships, the feeling that you're at the centre of the universe and it's exploding all around you.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower--Stephen Chbosky

This might be my favourite book of all-time. It's an epilstolary (50 cent word) novel, told through 15 year old Charlie's letters to an unknown reader, following his life through highschool in the late 80s as he discovers the Smiths, makes mixtapes, finds friends that aren't assholes (no mean feat, as in most North American highschools...gahhh, so bitter), and eventually comes to terms with a pretty awful experience from his past. This topped the American Library Association's list of frequently banned books in 2005. It's a book that is at once sweet and scary, and expresses what it's like to be a teen outside the popular group.

In other news, I fully figured out how to add links to text, which is not that hard, but I'm proud of myself. YES GUY.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hi, Tara.

Yesterday's in-depth Anne Tyler review really took a lot out of me. I've decided that from here on out, it's going to be nothing but short, to the point, completely unreasoned reviews based entirely on personal preference. Because she's probably the only one reading this and because I adore her, here's my first top five list...

Top Three Books to Tell Tara About that I Keep Forgetting to Tell Her About When We Talk On The Phone Because We Are Too Busy Hating Ourselves And Talking About Making Over Our Lives

1. The Thurber Letters--James Thurber
Tara has probably already read this but when I think of James Thurber, I think of her and a story she told me once about how she brought a book of his to the Aveda Salon in Vancouver and was trying to read it quietly as some young biscuit cut her hair but the chick just kept asking unreasonable and uneducated questions and it really pissed her off. This might be an amalgam of a few stories involving Tara and Aveda but I don't care. Anyway, we just got this lovely new edition in at the biblio, and it is very pretty. Till I figure out how to edit the html on this bad boy you're going to have to make do with long amazon links.

2. Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack--M.E. Kerr
During library school, making Tara read YA and kids' books was my most time-consuming hobby (after watching Gilmore Girls and cake baking, of course). She took it in stride and only hated about half the books I forced down her throat. I know she will love Dinky Hocker because it contains in-jokes about librarians, references to McCarthyism and the failure of 1960s radicalism (and it was actually written in the 1970s, so it is, like, TIMELY), articulate young people, and hilarious 70s Brooklyn diction that has not stood the test of time and is therefore endearing. Kind of the book version of The Squid and the Whale in some ways. M.E. Kerr is still a really wicked and relevant writer, but her earlier books are sometimes forgotten. I hope Tara will help me choke a new generation of teens with this one. Literally and spiritually.

3. Caddy Ever After--Hilary McKay

I haven't read this one yet but one of the great successes of me trying to make a children's lit afficionado out of Tara was my introducing her to Hilary McKay. Tara fell in love with her because her wonderful series, The Exiles, features numerous very precocious, verbose female heroines. The follow-up series about the children in the Casson family, which began with Saffy's Angel, doesn't have quite the same magic, but the books are still drier than a stiff martini and gloriously sarcastic, given that they're intended for the 12-15 set. They've just rereleased these books with swishy new covers; if you haven't read them before, you should begin at the beginning, as apparently you need the back-story to follow this latest installment.

I also wanted to include all of the Ottawa Public Library's holdings on raw foodism (foodism! it's a word, apparently!) on this list because I have been reading them, against my better judgement, and they remind me of the days when Tara and I would check out the whole vegan section of the Kitsilano Branch of the Vancouver Public Library and sit around our living room reading them while we noshed on chocolate cake and slices of non-organic cheese. Those were the days.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Monday Morning Reviews: Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Okay, one of the pages just handed me a book to be recatalogued and it is called The Tailchaser's Song and it has a really crudely drawn picture of two cats on the cover, one of whom is apparently coughing up a hairball onto the other. This magnum opus by the venerable Tad Williams is the story of (AND I QUOTE) "Fritti Tailchaser, a ginger tom cat of rare courage and curiosity, a born survivor in a world of heroes and villains, of powerful feline gods and whiskery legends about those strange furless, erect creatures called M'an." The back-cover teaser goes on to invite us to "join Tailchaser on his magical quest to rescue his catfriend Hushpad--a quest that will take him all the way to cat hell and beyond."

This is not a children's book, by the way. It is a book intended for grownups. Scary, scary grownups. Anyway, reading this stellar summary inspired me to start writing reviews of my own. I think this will help me feel like I am contributing something to the world of professional readers' advisory. Furthermore, it will remind me that I didn't just get my Masters to help people log into msn Messenger properly. So here we go.

I blame Anne Tyler for my long-enduring, completely unfounded interest in visiting Baltimore, Maryland. I started reading her character and relationship driven novels on the advice of my local librarian when I was about twelve, and was immediately drawn in. Tyler has that rare gift of being able to create a world that is at once universal and particular (those of you who know me will know that I have been VERY BIG on the universal meeting the particular ever since I was a doe-eyed undergrad obsessed with Virginia Woolf). Most of her books take place in Baltimore, and while they are definitely grounded in their setting, there is also the sense that the story could be unfolding anywhere--in your own house, with your own demented but lovable family. Tyler's characters are complicated and endearing and unintentionally funny: Digging to America's Bitsy Donaldson, for one, wears nothing but black and white clothes for the first year of her child's life because she has read that children can't process colours and organizes a Binky Party to create a tradition out of her daughter getting rid of her soother.

Digging to America tells the story of two families who meet by chance at the Baltimore airport, waiting for their newly-adopted daughters to deplane from Korea. What follows is the intergenerational, multicultural version of the Odd Couple: The Iranian-American Yazdans and the slightly left of centre WASP Donaldsons are linked for life by the coincidence of their children's arrivals. Tyler traces their stories from the points of view of several members of the two families, but always comes back to the psyche of Maryam, the Yazdan grandmother, an assimilated American whose ongoing struggle to determine her identity as an Iranian and an American, a traditionalist and a modern woman, expresses the cultural and emotional complexities that echo through the voices of all the characters.

Like most of Anne Tyler's books, Digging to America broke my heart in the nicest possible way. A description of a recently widowed man as feeling "as lonely as God" is just one example of Tyler's simple but powerful command of metaphor and simile (hello, English major). It's a book about belonging, about family, about making your way in a world that isn't always familiar. Her stories walk the precarious line between happiness and sadness, always mindful of the fact that any good is tempered with bad, that the balance of our lives is always teetering toward one end of the spectrum or the other. I love the way she incorporates familiar events into the story without sermonizing --things like 9-11 and the 2003 hurricane on the Eastern seaboard are woven into the narrative so seamlessly that the story's currency never feels forced. Some of Tyler's recent books--The Amateur Marriage, for one--have been panned by critics and readers alike, and she's been criticized for falling into a rut. With Digging to America, though, I think Tyler is back on her game in a way we haven't seen since her earlier works like Saint Maybe and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (my personal favourite). Whether this is your first taste of Tyler's writing or you've already read a lot of her books, any fan of familial fiction and emotional interiority will love this story.

...and with that, my sincerity for the day is tapped out. Now back to yelling at kids for running, helping people perfect their resumes, and googling people I used to date. It's a good life if you don't weaken, folks.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Caitlin Intends to Read. part one.

Given that I am 1. a librarian and 2. a big dork and 3. living in a new city where my second best friend is a kitten with intestinal problems (don't worry, Arlo, we're going to the vet on Tuesday to get you all sorted out) (my cat can't read, why am I writing to him), I get a lot of reading done. I keep losing my teeny lists of books I'd like to read, so I'm going to start recording them in cyberspace because that is what we Information Professionals do.

In other news, the very loud and poorly enunciated French closing announcement just came on in my library and took five years off my life.

to reeeeeeeaaaaaad...

1. Alan Moore's various things--Batman, the Maxx, etc.

2. Water for Elephants--Sarah Gruen

3. A Dirty Job--Christopher Moore

4. Black Swan Green--David Mitchell

Those last few are only because they're nominated for the Quill Awards, a consumer-choice literary award based out of the states. Their wicked-varied shortlist can be found in this cbc article... . I am a big fan of pop fiction, and I'm stoked to see such a well-rounded bunch of nominees for so many cool categories. And that last sentence is the reason why I'm going to go home tonight, heat up a can of Chef Lonelyheart's soup, and continue teaching Arlo to fetch and return paper balls ripped from the pages of old New Yorker issues. Hello spinsterhood, you're looking fetching tonight.

More reading to come.

First (past the) post.


It's a long hard road to the liberry (a technical term) on Saturdays, especially with the SuperEx (Ottawa's saddest fairground exhibition) on my bus route, causing veritable tens of carnies to mill around my usual stop like a bunch of dirty, chain-smoking pigeons. I'm almost too tired to be embarrassed by that pigeon metaphor. I'm definitely too tired to be depressed about the fact that I, like every other two-bit newbie librarian, am starting a lame blog that no one will read except other two-bit newbie librarians. No matter; I am a lone reed, unconcerned with the reality that no one needs the badass book reviews and pointless anecdotes to be contained herein. Mostly, I keep forgetting to carry my notebook with the photo of the poodle in a cheerleading costume on the front of it around with me to record things like what I've read and what I'd like to read and my thoughts on the CBC's summer programming--you know, really weighty stuff. Putting it all out there in the ether of the interweb is more about the convenience than anything else. This is not a public record. This is definitely not for the ages. You might as well stop reading right now. Seriously.