Tag Archives: Literature

Beating Back Cabin Fever

Just before the weekend Toronto received 50 mm of rain in less than 12 hours. On top of all of the snow dumped onto us this winter that has yet to fully melt, this adds up to a lot of water that needs to be absorbed back into the ground in a short amount of time. 

And I’m feeling the frustration of cabin fever. It seems like spring will never arrive.

To amuse myself, I’ve been compiling a list of stories that include missing or erased seasons.

For example, Jadis casts a spell in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe that locks Narnia in an endless winter where Christmas never arrives.

The Giver describes a human civilization so advanced that they’ve learned how to control the weather. There are no longer any seasons in Jonas’ world. In fact, he doesn’t even know what snow is until he begins his special assignment.

Fallen Angels is a science fiction novel on my to-read list that describes what happens to humanity after we successfully reduce our carbon output so much that we effectively end global warming. Unfortunately the greenhouse gases we were emitting were the only thing preventing the earth from plunging into another ice age. Society collapses and our standard of living is dialled back several hundred years when winters become long, snowy, and bitterly cold.

It also made me think of the holodeck on Star Trek. Because the characters spend their entire lives in a season-less, temperature-controlled environment, it makes sense for them to go skiing or spent a humid day at the beach when it’s time to relax. Being uncomfortably warm (or cold) is a new experience to them instead of something that happens regularly whether they want it to or not.

What books or movies have I missed? What do you do to combat cabin fever?

Less Guilt, More Pleasure

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Photo by Lotus Head. Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa.

I loved the first Backstreet Boys song I heard on the radio. It was catchy and fun to listen to as I rode my bike around our neighbourhood in the summer of 1997. And then I figured out that the Backstreet Boys were a boy band and instantly stopped admitting I liked their CD. I was a serious poet, you see, and could not be seen earnestly bopping along to guilty pleasures like pop ballads.

One of the unexpected surprises of growing up was learning how freeing it is to stop believing in hierarchies. Scrambled eggs and ketchup were made for one another. Jodi Picoult’s body of work and almost every dystopian novel ever written are so much fun to read I’d rather stay up an extra hour to learn how these stories end than feel well-rested tomorrow. Sometimes the best way to wrap up a long day is by dancing to The Hits: Chapter One.

You may or may not agree with my taste in food, books or music. That’s ok. I have an aversion to olives, Inspirational fiction and Bluegrass but that doesn’t make any of these things objectively good or bad. Feeling guilty for liking the “wrong” things is counterproductive and silly.

For example, I absolutely abhorr F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing style in The Great Gatsby. I had to read it in high school and it was all I could do to not fling that silly book out the window every time Nick pined over not being married to his snotty, deceitful (second) cousin.

Beowulf has been one of my all-time favourite tales because the poetry was beautiful and I immediately sympathized with Beowulf’s fierce desire to protect his community. Some of my classmates loved The Canterbury Tales but The Wife of Bath was the only character I found particularly amusing in that book.

Classic music or novels become classics in large part because ordinary people find universal truths in their subject matter and continue to seek them out decades after they were originally released. Today’s classics were often yesterday’s bestsellers and may have been considered “lowbrow” entertainment when they first came out.

Does this mean that I’m the final authority on what’s good in life? No, not everything can or should appeal to everyone!

Just keep your stinky olives away from me. 😉

Why We Need More Books About Forbidden Fruit

CDC_cherimoyaA proposition for 2013: we need more stories about forbidden fruit.

In Love and Other Perishable Items Amelia, 15, and Chris, 21, fall in love while working together at a grocery store. They’re both trapped in unfulfilling lives for different reasons and find kindred spirits in one another. Of course, acting on their feelings is illegal until Amelia reaches the age of consent.

What surprised me the most about this book was how quickly it was labelled controversial. It’s difficult for me to argue against that label without giving away spoilers but this story is pretty tame even under the standards of mainstream teen fiction.

Teenagers falling in love with older people is nothing new. It happened regularly in the small, midwestern town where I lived as an adolescent and young adult. A childhood friend started dating a guy who was in high school when we were in the 7th grade. I lost touch with her after graduation but during our senior year of school they were planning their wedding.

Not everything in life is black and white.

Another story: one of my closest friends in junior high and early high school was a a gifted writer and one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. He also smoked weed. A lot of it. On paper the quiet, obedient, honors student that I was had nothing in commons with this boy and yet he’s the only classmate I miss. Our connection was never romantic but I’d love to see how his life turned out.

No, I’m not encouraging anyone to break the law. But we do teens – everyone, in fact –  a disservice when we assume that their feelings aren’t real or that if we mention “controversial” subjects without sermonizing they’ll take that conversation as a license to do whatever they want.

It’s entirely possible to read a book, listen to a song or watch a movie without emulating the characters.

It’s also possible that nuanced discussions on topic X make people less likely to try it in unsafe ways. I almost always saw through the myths adults told me about sex, alcohol and other hot topics. What they really taught me was that their opinions couldn’t be trusted but factually accurate information is empowering.

Books You Should Be Reading

Comic by Liz Climo

As I mentioned on Monday blog traffic is quite slow around here this time of year, but I would like to talk about books with those of you who are still around.

Here’s my list of must-reads:

After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. These genres shine in the short story format. As much as I love dystopian fiction sometimes entire novels focusing on the same ideas can be overwhelming. This is even more true for the creepiest stories.   If you only have time to read one of these stories make it “The Segment.” The twist in it was chilling in large part because I can see how easily it could actually happen in our world.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. At first glance Hailsham appears to be a typical English boarding school but as Kathy and her circle of friends grow older they begin to unravel the mystery surrounding the only home they’ve ever known. I figured out what was happening early on but the ethical questions this book raises are chilling and based on how I interpreted the ending are not at all resolved in a typical manner. Online reviews are split as to whether Ishiguro intended to write these characters that way. Some people think he was actually trying to make the opposite statement but didn’t write certain scenes clearly enough. I disagree with this theory.

Stitches by David Small. An autobiographic graphic novel about a teenage boy who is treated for cancer without being told his diagnosis or that he isn’t expected to survive. I’m hoping his mother’s life is the focus of a future book as her experiences haemorrhaged into so much of David’s suffering. Some people respond to horrific trauma by doing everything they can to end the cycle for good. Most folks I’ve known who chose this path were extremely successful at protecting the next generation. Others recreate the terrible circumstances and play the role of the abuser this time. Often they succeed.

Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotypes of the Promiscuous Young Male by Andrew P. Smiler. Abstinence-only sex ed taught me that men can never be trusted completely because they’ll say and do anything to get you in bed. While I don’t agree with all of the assumptions in this book I’m so glad to see more people pushing back against this stereotype. There will always be individuals who take advantage of others but they are not the standard by which entire groups should be measured.

Gwinna by Barbara Helen Berger. I first read this story 20 years ago and still lull myself to sleep some nights wondering about these characters. The plot in a nutshell: a lonely infertile couple asks Mother Owl to give them a child. She agrees under the condition that the child be allowed to return home on her 12th birthday. As their daughter grows up her mother binds her wings in order to prevent her flying back to Mother Owl. This works…until it doesn’t. What happens to Gwinna after she discovers her destiny is why this is the best children’s book ever written.

Delights and Shadows by Ted Kooser. A book of poetry Sabio Lantz recommended. Ted Kooser’s affinity for the written word shines through his work. This is the kind of poetry that seeps into your bones. A week, a month, a year passes and then one day these words bubble back up again in a quiet moment.

My favourite lines from this collection include:

The bright wire rolls like a porpoise in and out of the calm blue sea – “A Spiral Notebook”

and

I was that old man you saw sitting in a confetti of yellow light – “That Was I”

Respond

What are you reading over the holidays?

Hobbits and the Nasty Business of Adventures

Last weekend Drew and I watched The Hobbit. I’ll try to review it without sharing spoilers but stop reading now if you don’t know the basic storyline.

The cinematography is breathtaking. Rivendell and The Shire in particular were amazing well done. I felt like I was standing next to the characters as they explored both areas. We didn’t pay extra to see it in 3D so I can’t contrast the two. Just know that the regular screening of it is still lush.

There are a few scenes in The Hobbit where Bilbo talks about how unsuited he is for this quest. He isn’t tall, strong and brave like his companions and his timidity and compassion definitely don’t fit the archetype of a traditional hero.

Someone whose life revolves around books, the food and the company of a few good friends isn’t the first person most of us would pick to take on a dragon. It’s easy to root for a shiny-armoured knight rolling out into battle. Even if few of us can identify with what feels like to swing a sword or walk in full body armour everyone knows knights stand a good chance of surviving fantasy battles.

Nobody expects the same thing from a  short, awkward guy who thinks adventures are too long, sweaty and dangerous. I grok this fellow and suspect he’s so beloved because far more people identify with hobbits than with the elves or dwarves. (Sorry, Thranduil!)

Yes, there were some changes made to the story as the original book does not include enough material to flesh out the plots of three movies. While I think everything could have been compressed into one or two movies I was mostly happy with how the new material was integrated with what I was expecting to see. Honestly, though, it’s better to go into The Hobbit without any intention to compare the movie to to the book. As far as I’m concerned they’re two different stories and deciding which one is better is like asking your parents which child they love the most.

The major concern I had with the new material is that some of it is so dark that The Hobbit is no longer appropriate for children. This movie truly earned its PG-13 rating and I would strongly recommend against ignoring this guideline. Even as an 11 or 12-year-old I would have had nightmares from certain battle scenes.

Respond

What did you think of The Hobbit?

 

Finding Love in The Art of Racing in the Rain

When I was a little girl I had two hamsters named Cherry and Pretty.  Cherry was given to me by an extended family member shortly before my family moved cross-country when I was seven. He travelled those 2,000 miles with us to our new home out west. I believe my mom made a little nest… Read More

But I Like My Shell!

It’s been a hot, muggy July here in Toronto so far. My lungs aren’t a fan of breathing oven air so I’ve been absorbing this book. Introverts, I’m sure you know how this conversation goes: “You’re so quiet!” “Yes.” “Is everything okay?” “Yes.” “Don’t you want to come out of your shell?” “No.” *tap, tap, tap*… Read More

5 (More) Books that Changed My Worldview

The first half of the list.  William Golding, The Inheritors. One of the questions I’ve come back to again and again over the years when I want something interesting to think about is this: what was it like to grow up Neanderthal 30,000 years ago? What were the real differences between Neanderthals and Homo sapians… Read More

5 Books That Changed My Worldview

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye. As a white child and teenager living in an overwhelmingly white community I honestly hadn’t thought about racism very much before picking up this book. What surprised me the most about this story is how much Pecola (and other characters) internalized the hate. Without giving away spoilers the last few pages are particularly… Read More

Passing Through

Craig Hart and I share remarkably similar backgrounds. We were both preacher’s kids who grew up in conservative homes and churches, home schooled for several years each, and devout Christians who eventually questioned more and more of what we had been taught. Eventually both of us switched to other beliefs. Agnosticism for me, Energetic Universalism… Read More