The View from Saturday

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

laaaaast christmas, i gave you my heaaart

Jane asked me to tell you about my top ten CanLit books, or maybe it was top five, I can't remember. Anyway, I'm not going to do that right now anyway because I don't feel like it. But I promise, at some point, some day, that list will exist, and it will not have any mention of Margaret Atwood on it, at least not for any of her novels (sorry Jon, that's how I roll). Instead, I'm going to tell you about Christmas books I like, because as anyone who has ever met me will know, I have a low-grade obsession with the birth of our Lord and Saviour, mostly just for the baking and the TV specials. And the amazing children's stories.

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs is a wickedly funny story with a real comic book feel--it's a picture book but all the text is in dialogue bubbles, many of which are filled with Santa cursing and getting cranky as he gets ready for his Christmas Eve trip. Raymond Briggs does such wonderful figures, all rounded and cozy looking, and his take on Santa is curmudgeonly and dry. Kids' minds will be blown with the idea of Santa as more than just a one-dimensional toy factory. Raymond Briggs' other winter classic is The Snowman, a textless book that always makes me cry and wish for a huge fluffy blizzard.

On Christmas Eve by Peter Collington is another wordless book and probably one of my all-time favourite picture books. It follows a girl on Christmas Eve as she falls asleep and the amazing things that happen as Santa makes his way to her house. I won't give anything away but I will tell you that it involves little fairies bearing tiny candles and will make any 4 year old girl swoon with excitement. The illustrations all have a snowy muted quality and you'll want to read this one over and over to explore all the details and the stories going on in the background.

Morris' Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells is classic Wells. And if you know what that entails, you're as dorky as I am. Morris is a bunny who gets annoyed on Christmas morning when all his siblings get better presents than his lame teddy bear--till he discovers the extra package behind the tree. Rosemary Wells has a quirky, simple style that makes you laugh without quite knowing why, and her bunnies are always so incredibly human, especially in the complex and annoyed relationships between brothers and sisters. You'll never find a better illustrator of bunny facial expressions, I guarantee it.

Sweet lord, I could go on and on with this one. Look forward to more installments as the month wears on. And happy Santa Lucia...if there are any Swedish chicks reading this, be careful not to set fire to your hair.

Friday, December 01, 2006

East Side West Side: CAGE MATCH.

Dear Ottawa,

Why are you acting so messed up towards me? Is it something I said? My constant grousing that Vancouver is a way more hospitable place (well, maybe not during the last few weeks, but STILL)? Is that why I can't hear myself over the ice pellets pounding on the roof? Can I make it up to you or whatever?

How about if I tell you how much I love Ontario writers? Alice Munro? KILLER. Though I just couldn't get into her newest book, The View from Castle Rock. The general consensus seems to be that the first section is pretty dense, and I'm sorry, but if I don't love something within 50 pages, I move on. But I still remember reading Progress of Love when I was about 13 and pretty much losing it over her insight, her plainly descriptive language, the way she sees into the hearts of her characters in a way that makes you re-evaluate your life and your relationships through the reflections of these made-up people.

I've cheated on you, Ontario. I admit it. I got caught up in the granola-infused authors of the West Coast, and I'm sorry. But seriously, man, check them out. Carol Windley's amazing book Breathing Under Water and her new short story collection Home Schooling are addictive. She has this knack for the slightly supernatural, for sticking creepy ghosts and imaginary children in backyard corners and under the ocean, this way of describing the below-surface details of life on Vancouver Island that pull you right in. She juxtaposes her characters' somewhat depressing daily lives with the humbling, terrifying beauty of the mountains and the ocean and that green green landscape that's almost too much to handle.

It's a coastal cage match of epic proportions, I know. I don't know whose side I'm really on. The fact that Brian Doyle lives right here in Ottawa might be the tie-breaker; I was mildly obsessed with Angel Square and Up to Low as a kid, his dryly witty poetic language and his funny-sad stories. There's a tenderness in Doyle's writing that's all the more pronounced because it's found amid such weird, hilarious metaphors. I read Mary Ann Alice last year when I knew I was moving to Ottawa, and his description of the Ottawa Valley made me feel less sad to be leaving the mountains behind. Not to mention the way he captures the raw vulnerability of a teenage girl; Mary Ann Alice's voice is so earnest it almost embarrasses you to read it. In a good way.

There's beauty wherever you plant your roots in this vast country of ours. Except right now, in the parking lot of the Library of the Future, where my poor little car is slowly turning into an ice block. At least we can drink the tap water.