Wednesday, December 29, 2010

There Sure Are A Lot Of Words.

I had a weird experience a few days ago - I got to the evening of Boxing Day and was conscious of a falling-into-an-armchair feeling, accompanied by an inward sigh of relief. Imagine my amazement when I realised I am "glad It's over". Never before have I been, and hopefully never again will I be, pleased to see the back end of Christmas while the calendar still showed December.

A low-key Christmas, of course, with bits of melancholia mixed in to relieve the near-total apathy. But, all in all, I believe it was no worse than expected, and maybe even a little better.

I was reading an old post the other day - the one about the 106 most unread books. I wanted to assess my progress through my self-imposed program of Improvement. And I've done okay - I have added five to my "Have Read" list, and I have added three to my "Have Started" list. (The library wanted them back.)

Have read:

Vanity Fair
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
The Fountainhead
Watership Down

Have started:

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Tale of Two Cities
The Once and Future King

Initially I was disappointed to see only five pins down, but two of them are Ayn Rand meisterwerke, so I shouldn't feel badly about that. I nearly went blind reading Atlas Shrugged in particular. It was during our June visit to Ontario, and I read that sucker in eleven days. About 1100 pages, in teeny print.

I had a lot to say about Atlas Shrugged after I read it, but that was six months ago and now I'm not nearly so motivated to talk about it. Plus, it's really long and preachy. But on the up-side, the sexual tension is handled brilliantly. If there's one thing Ayn Rand knows, it's timing. (Except "when to quit" - that part she struggled with.)

The Fountainhead made me tired.

Vanity Fair, it turns out, is a page-turner. It's one of my friend Bethro's favourites, and I can see why. I didn't LOVE it, but it's a good one for discussion. I personally think Thackeray likes Becky better than Amelia, but that's despite himself. Or maybe he's just being ironic - giving Amelia the rewards of virtue in the end although he, himself, values Becky's acerbity over Amelia's insipidity. Hm.

Anyway, a word on style: Vanity Fair is like a really long and rather slower-paced Georgette Heyer novel. If you have managed more than a handful of Heyers and enjoyed them, you will probably like VF. I did find, though, that VF is hard to read when spread over a long period. You have to concentrate on it, and that's easier when you read it in, say, two weeks rather than six.

Watership Down, on the other hand, is one of my desert island books now. I always thought vaguely that it was a gentle, pastoral children's book, on the lines of "Wind in the Willows" for a slightly older reader. I certainly wouldn't have called it "edgy", or anything.

Boy, was I wrong.

It's about animals, sure, but it's totally serious, not in the least tongue-in-cheek, not at all wry about the fact that these bunnies have their own myth tradition and none of them can count past five. The world they live in is masterfully set up. I can't say anymore, except that you should read it. If you find it a slow start (there is some background to get through), just at least finish off the first three chapters. If you're not hooked, you probably never will be and you can go on to something else.

Lastly, the self-effacingly titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. And my only comment on that is: neither. It was good enough - certainly had its poignant moments. Lots of gratuitous bad language, which got annoying in a surprisingly short amount of time. So maybe I'd amend the title to "A Slightly Emotive Work of Mediocre Talent".

What am I reading next? I was thinking that maybe you should give me some recommendations. Pick something from the list, and leave a comment saying which book I should tackle next, and I'll read and review it.

If nobody expresses a preference, I'll go on to Anna Karenina, which has just been lent to me by a friend. I've ordered The Once and Future King from Chapters with Christmas money (thanks Mom!), for the #2 spot, and I believe after that will be Catch-22.

Here's the list of what remains unread. I have just counted, and there are 60 titles here, which means I've read 46. I'd like to get half done this list, which is seven more books, by the spring. Just for bragging rights, nothing important.

Tell me what to get from the library, and I'll get started. (Just please, please don't make me read non-fiction. I don't care much about Guns, Germs, OR Steel. And not that true crime one either. I don't like crime.)

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
The Silmarillion
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Tale of Two Cities
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies (I do not want to read this.)
War and Peace
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books (I don't really want to read this either.)
Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Historian: a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Foucault’s Pendulum
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Poisonwood Bible: a novel
Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present (No. I don't want to read it.)
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything (It better be.)
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed (Uh uh.)
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
On the Road
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything (Nothing by an economist, please.)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
Gravity’s Rainbow
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences (Yuck. No.)
White Teeth
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


There is a mile of heavy rain and grey cloud between me and tonight's full moon, but I know it's there. In the fullness of time all things will pass away, but in the meanwhile I am going to light a few candles, brew up a potion (hot buttered YUM!) and enjoy the longest night. Cuddle up, everyone...winter is for sleeping!


Wednesday, December 08, 2010


That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been.
-Ecclesiastes 3:15

I had a lot of time to think, while we were on the ferry back to the island. We embarked on our 31-hour journey from Prince Rupert in the afternoon, under a cloudless sky. We sailed south past barge terminals, docks, and canneries. Then those dropped back to the stern, and it was tugs and seiners and buoys. Then those dropped astern and we moved on into isolated channels, past narrow coves and innumerable waterfalls. As the sun set, dropping smudgy and red through the clear winter sky behind the western mountains of Grenville Channel, the full moon rose pale and chilly in the east.

It was too cold to be much on the outer decks, but I spent as long as I could tolerate outside, thinking, staring at the steep sides of the channel we were navigating.

Darkness crept up on us while we were still in Grenville Channel. I put the children to bed, and stayed curled on the porthole sill, watching the moon.

I was hundreds of kilometres from the nearest electric light. The ship was barely lit. The passage we traveled was waveless – protected from the open sea. The black ocean slid underneath in a heavy liquid ink that felt bottomless. Above me was the round and silent moon, sailing in her own black unending sea.

For hours I watched it – saw it above, saw it below. I gazed at the coastline, an otherworldly, blurred slash of distant paleness, the only proof that we were divided: sea and sky. If it weren’t for that shoreline, we – the moon and the sleeping children and I – could have been on the continuous inside of a dark liquescent ball.

Bathed in the moon and the remoteness of the night, my communion with the dark Pacific brought a sudden realisation.

Sandy died hours after September’s full moon, in the early morning following the autumnal equinox. The high tide had begun to ebb one hour before - and not long before that, she had sat up in bed and said her last words. I have to go.

Four Fridays later, I had watched October’s full moon rise and thought of how she had left - intentionally, it seemed - on the turning of the tide, the turning of the moon, the turning of a season – her favourite season.

And now eight weeks had passed, and on my journey home from retreat, I saw a third full moon rise.

I know when the next one will come: a rarity – a full moon on winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Solstice marks the time when earth’s life forces are at their lowest ebb. Everything is dead or sleeping. But every day afterwards will be a little longer...our faces are turned towards the sun for a few extra minutes of warmth every day, until finally it will be enough to awaken the plants, and rouse the animals, and break open the seeds lying under the melting snow.

The wheel of the year will turn again.

It has been a hard time. Nearly a full year has passed since Dad came to tell me of his diagnosis, and since Sandy came to me and told me her cancer was back. Now he is cancer-free – healthy – and she is dead.

And we have suffered.

So there is one more moon to come: a full moon to light the longest night – the moon that will close this season of mourning.

The morning after, light will begin to return to the sleeping earth.

Light will begin to return to me.

Last spring, I wrote “I’m lost. I don’t know how to lose a friend. I think the handbook for that might turn out to be short: muddle through as best you can.” Now I’ve lived the end of our story, hers and mine, and I can look back on the last twelve months and say, with peace: I have done well. This job I had to do, this task given me to accomplish, was painful and difficult and it broke my heart...but all I could, I did.

And it was enough, and more than enough.

Now I find, at the end, that one of the most important things is to let go of a thing that is over. To know the job is done, to have experienced it fully, to let it become a part of who I am, and to go in peace towards something new.

There are times in your life that grow you up – push you up a steep and rocky slope, which you have to scramble to stay on top of, and when you reach the summit your hands are bleeding and your fingers ache from holding on, but you’re changed, and stronger, and the view is incredible.

Life is a beautiful thing. Death can be a beautiful thing.

The time for weeping is nearly over. I can feel the season of mourning passing away. I’m ready for the wheel to turn, ready for the next season to begin. It’s an everlasting cycle, and I am a part of it.

Friday, December 03, 2010

A Milestone

We're not quite finished yet, but my sister has had a major breakthrough in her adoption process.

I feel like putting on a floaty dress and heels.*

And now, for your admiration, I'd like to introduce my beautiful niece and nephew:
Brother and sister, they have been in care at Addis Ababa for about 7 months. Gwen hopes to bring them home in the spring - once the rest of the paperwork is done. (It's agonising.)

My nephew is probably 8 or 9 years old (though his paperwork says 7), and my newest niece is 3.

For now my sister is referring to him (online) as Weundem, which is Amharic for "brother".

And this is "Ehet" (sister).
I'm so excited...want to charge over to Ethiopia and clasp them to my bosom!

*I don't remember it being this racist!