The View from Saturday

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Boys, boys, boys.

I recently watched High Fidelity for the millionth time as part of a poorly-executed attempt to get out of a state of despair. Note to self for future reference: When trying to remind oneself why it's fully okay to be a lone reed, watching John Cusack play the world's most adorable, likably fallible, well-listened boyfriend is probably not a great strategy. Oh well. It only confirmed what Chuck Klosterman has already proven: John Cusack ruined relationships for a whole generation by virtue of his sheer perfection--girls expect their one true love to be Lloyd Dobler, and guys can never hope to be so romantic. (Incidentally--and Freya, I know you'll back me up here--Chuck Klosterman has kind of ruined my Man Ideal too; you read his books and you fall in love with his prodigious knowledge of everything from Kirk Cameron's weird Christianity to pro sports to LA Guns and you fall in love a little; you turn to the back flap of Killing Yourself to Live and expect to fall in love a little more; and then you see this dorky dude staring out at you from the author photo in an ill-fitting T-shirt and, to quote Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, "Your heart dies.")

High Fidelity did put me in the mood to read some more Nick Hornby, though, and when I couldn't get my hands on his latest novel, I settled for The Polysyllabic Spree, a collection of his bitchin' essays on reading from The Believer. Any book nerd should have to read this book. I am infintely envious of his reading tastes and the fact that people, like, SEND him BOOKS for his OPINION. I wish people would do the same thing for me. And when he picked up on a creepy similarity between sections in Seymour: An Introduction by J.D. Salinger and Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem, I knew I had found a man as truly anal in his reading as I aspire to be. This is also a book that fits neatly into a tote bag alongside dirty tupperware and twelve chapsticks and the other random crap I travel with, and is much less cumbersome than the stories of John Cheever, which I hauled home last night before realizing it was too big for transit reading.

And finally, because I'd planned to make this a post about books for boys, here is one of my favourites: Matthew and the Midnight Turkeys by Allen Morgan is one of my favourite picture books. It is totally off the wall and if you're looking for a book that kicks Walter the Farting Dog's ass, this is the one.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

dear John K. Sampson: Will you marry me?

How not to get out of a funk:

1. Spend a disproportionate amount of your weekend at work.

2. Spend an equally disproportionate amount of your weekend listening to the music of the Weakerthans. Develop unattainable crush on John K. Sampson.

3. Read Mother Come Home by Paul Hornschemeier. What a powerful, disturbing, stark graphic novel. Hornschemeier shifts his style a few times, and some of the passages look like a child's drawings, while others are full of depth and detail and incredibly emotive faces. The story is told by Thomas Tennant, a young boy who struggles to come to grips with his mother's death and his father's growing emotional instability. HEAVY! It's a lot to grapple with, but Hornschmeier never sentimentalizes the subject matter or glosses over difficult feelings and ideas. The book opens with a strange, seemingly senseless section in which a slightly off version of Thomas' dad floats over a creepy dream landscape. I was almost put off by the opening, but I promise, if you keep reading, the odd language and disconnected images will make sense. It might not put you in the mood for, say, getting dressed and leaving your house to be part of mainstream society, but it's a must-read for any graphic novel afficionado.

Sigh. If anyone can recommend a very very happy book to me, please do so before I turn into the human lady manifestation of Eeyore (according to Freya this has already happened).

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Remember the Babysitters Club?

Man, fiction for girls has gotten out of hand in recent years. Oh sure, series that feature the Olsen Twins may sell books, and that new Dear Dumb Diary set actually seems kind of cool. But where's the heart? Where's the carefully-developed character writing, the lightly-handled social issues? Where, I ask, is the Babysitters Club?

Scoff if you want to, but author Ann M. Martin is no Cathy East Dubowski (and if anyone catches THAT reference, I will buy you a coffee for being even more into mass-market kids' publishing than me). She won the Newbery a few years ago for the very heartfelt A Corner of the Universe, which explored the now-popular trope of the child getting to know a mentally unstable adult as more than a scary stereotype with sincerity and grace. Waaaaayyy back in the day, she also wrote such classics as Ten Kids, No Pets and collaborated with Paula Danziger on P.S. Longer Letter Later, one of the books that helped spawn the current trend toward epistolary novels for kids. That's why the Babysitters Club books were so damned good--they were written by an AUTHOR, not a publishing house lackey.

There was something for everyone in the series. All my friends had their favourites. Mine alternated between Claudia, the artist with junk food hidden all over her room and clothes that seemed exotic and daring at the time but now sound more like the rags of an escaped mental patient, and Stacey, a New York City transplant, Claudia's best friend and a sophisticated gal who shopped at The Limited before anyone knew what The Limited was. She made me wish I had diabetes so I could be as cool as her and learn to give myself insulin shots. I also had a soft spot for Dawn, who ate weird health food and had long blonde hair, but I thought Kristy was a total bossy bitch. But you have to hand it to her--it WAS her big idea to start the club in the first place. The rest--Mary Ann, Mallory, and Jessi--I could take or leave. I know they introduced some new Club Officers (yes, they were actually called Officers) later in the series, but by that point I had lost touch (or else I was, like, nineteen years old and had realized that I could no longer check these books out from the library without looking like an asshole).

And what a club it was! Three meetings a week, free snacks from Claudia (meetings were at her house because she had her OWN PHONE LINE--LUCKY!), responsibility and wonder it spawned a board game and a horrible movie (which inexplicably stars a couple people who actually became semi-famous...if you count being in Orange County as fame, which I DO). The board game was wicked, though. Danielle and I used to play it at sleepovers and it was far more fun than Girl Talk--no embarrassing "zit" stickers to wear, just killer trivia about our favourite books and the occasional poorly-executed truth or dare question ("What was the last thing that made you laugh out loud?" OMG, SCANDALE!).

The Babysitters Club ruled because it had all the qualities of pop preteen lit that girls love--an exclusive clique (conveniently devoted to a socially responsible cause), a cast of characters wide enough for everyone to identify with at least one, and lengthy descriptions of clothing, malls, and dates--combined with quality writing and problem plots that never seemed heavy-handed. Martin struck gold with the series, and I, for one, miss it a lot. I feel sad that girls today won't have these books in their lives. Instead of learning about how eating disorders are a bad thing (like Jessi did in her ballet class), they're learning to emulate girls who treat anorexia like a character trait. On the plus side, the series is now being morphed into graphic novel format. I've had a look at the first installment, and while it doesn't quite suit me, I hope it'll bring a new generation of readers back to Martin's series, so that they, like me, can learn about the joy of readerly guilty pleasures. And about how to know if a kid is being abused. Or how to stand up to your dad so you can choose your own clothes. And what to do if you're getting weird phone calls on the job. And how to deal with your parents' divorce. And how to manage diabetes. And what to say when a boy calls you on the phone. GOD, I learned a LOT from those books.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Hello, jerks.

Okay, so in my ongoing efforts to heroically waste as much of my employers' time as possible, I've now started cataloguing the books I review here on LibraryThing, a superfun website that you should totally use if you are looking to procrastinate instead of

a. writing your thesis
b. moving to the country
c. helping get a great leader elected
d. getting a sex-change in chile
e. helping first-year university students find articles on Chinese foot-binding and its impact on Communist movements in the hinterland when really they'd rather be getting shittered
f. feeding baby triplets
g. painting your porch

ANYWAY, if you click on the My Website link from the Profile page, it'll take you right there. Or just click here like a lazy chump.

Typing the word "Sassy" in the title made me nostalgic for the days when Sassy was in fact an amazing magazine for teenage girls, full of good short stories and real-size models and features that had little or nothing to do with the prom. It was in Sassy that I first read Blake Nelson's writing--it was a short story that eventually became his novel, Girl, which remains one of my very very favourite books. Freya recently pointed out that it's basically a novelization of My So-Called Life. (She also once told me that watching My So-Called Life "explained a lot" about me. I chose to take this as a compliment.) What she failed to realize is that it is also a love letter to the early 90s rock scene in Portland and thrift store shopping and teenage confusion, all written in the best stupid-smart girl first person narration ever executed. I read this book about once a year and remember how wicked it was to be intensely into my friends' bands and pretend to skateboard and wear ratty cardigans. You should too.

Incidentally, Blake Nelson's latest book, Prom Anonymous, just came out. I'm sad to report that he, like Sassy, has fallen into the prom trap. I'm a little disappointed. Also, there's a picture of him on the back flap, and he's not nearly as cute as I'd always imagined he'd be. Another adolescent literary crush bites the dust. Oh well. At least I still have young J.D. Salinger. And with his current recluse status, the odds of seeing a spoil-the-fantasy recent photo are happily slim.

Desperate times.

Any of you who are in Canada (hello, I have a readership of like FOUR, and probably none of you even read anymore anyway because I haven't updated in weeks...the shine wore of THIS apple pretty fast) have likely heard about the sad, weird, sobering event yesterday in Montreal. I'm not going to be Captain Blog Hero and wax philosophical about violence in society and how goth kids are fucked up; I'll leave that to greater windbags than I. What I WILL do, though, is tell you that you should run right out and read Hey Nostradamus!, by Douglas Coupland, if you want a lovely little book that will make you think about school shootings, lost love, and the total randomness of the world. It's my favourite of Coupland's books, probably because it's his most emotionally sincere, and because it deals with loss and recovery and the inexplicable end to relationships that seemed to be going just fine.

Nostradamus opens with an eerie first-person account by Cheryl, a secretly-married highschool girl who describes the day she died in a school shooting with creepy foreboding. We're in the present and the future the whole time, aware that tragedy is going to strike. After it does, the rest of the book is spent jumping from Cheryl's distraught husband, Jason, who struggles to make sense of the event that ripped his life apart, to Heather, Jason's much-later, estranged girlfriend, whose desperation to find Jason leads her into a sketchy situation with a would-be psychic, to Reg, Jason's too-religious dad. My favourite of these later sections was Heather's; as she tries to piece together the reasons why Jason might have left her, she reconstructs the off-beat, particular world they inhabited, the characters they created, the ongoing jokes that became their reality. I don't know--it struck a chord with me. Coupland is at his most thoughtful in this book, but his characters are still as weird and wonderful as ever, with personalities, and hearts, a little larger than life, floating a little bit outside the world they inhabit. Also, Heather refers to herself as Eleanor Rigby at one point, which, in retrospect, is a coy little jab at Coupland's next novel (haha, I'm so good at picking out intertextual references...thanks, U of T.).


In other news, I love the dinner hour...all the rowdies go home and I am left in peace to help the keen kids learn how to use an index. Good times, my friends. Good times.