Monthly Archives: December 2015

Finished this book: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Cover of The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood.

Cover of The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood.

I’m a big fan of dystopias and (post-)apocalyptic stories. And basically, when Margaret Atwood writes scifi, she is writing for me. I love her understated style, and the way she can write about the most horrible things in a matter-of-fact kind of way.

The Heart Goes Last is set in the USA after part of the country has experienced an utter economic collapse. The story follows a youngish heterosexual couple (Stan and Charmaine) as they make a lifetime commitment to an enclave that promises shelter, employment, and safety. Of course, once they sign up and are committed, they start to find out all kinds of things about the place (and their relationship), and Atwood does her usual morbidly thorough job at imagining the possibilities.

Charmaine is a fairly common type of female protagonist for Atwood. While they are all different, many of them share some basic elements of being concerned for social conventions, but also being almost ruthlessly  pragmatic and practical and sensible no matter what’s going on. There’s often a really delightful dissonance—and a simultaneous, almost inevitable consonance—between the character’s beliefs and actions. In this book, for example, Charmaine is very concerned with doing her job professionally, efficiently, and compassionately, and this leads her to (*major spoilers deleted*).

The last third of the book was… Oh, I hate to say this. It was not really up to Atwood’s usual work. it was as if she was trying to fit too much in, and so she couldn’t pay enough attention to each piece.

I found the ending a little too pat, but upon further reflection, it had something  to say about Charmaine’s ideas about relationships and her capacity for freedom. So while I had a bit of an eyeroll near the end, I have come to appreciate it more with some thought—although again, it was not as strong as I have come to expect of Atwood.

I devoured this book in a couple of days, fitting time for it around other stuff. It made me think of one of those massive holiday meals: so much preparation goes into it and then it gets eaten in no-time-flat. Fortunately, there are no dishes to do—but as with most of Atwood’s books, there’s always an aftermath for me as it takes me a while to get her books out of my head and move on to another.

 

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood. 2015.

 

Finished this book: If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler

Cover if If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler

Cover if If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler. Usually I try to find the cover image from the actual copy of the book I read, but my copy is so old that I can’t even find the cover art online… So here’s a different version.

Ben Joe Hawkes is the only male in a family of many sisters. He worries about his sisters and mom a lot but they seem to be doing fine without him. This book opens with Ben Joe off at college and kind of depressed as well as anxious about changes in his family; he heads home and the story takes place over a short period of time while he’s staying back at home. We find out a lot about Ben Joe and his dad (who’s no longer around), but the women all stay rather mysterious. It’s a shame, because most of them seem quite intriguing.

This book was written over fifty years ago, and it does have a bit of an old-fashioned feel to it. It is gentle and easy, in a kind of odd way. Maybe because all of the tropes are so familiar, so there’s no challenge. Everyone is white and straight and believes roughly the same things about relationships and manners and how people should move through the world. The one exception ends up getting smoothed down (look: no real spoiler, though!).

I like Tyler’s writing style, especially her dialogue. This is a sad and yet pleasant book. I mean, maybe it’s just me who finds it kind of sad how people are so constrained by all the unspoken societal expectations and norms that pressure them into certain acts, but in this book they seem so inevitable that the sadness is there but in a kind of resigned way, if that makes sense.

I’m always curious as to why a woman writer would choose a male protagonist. But the more I think about this book, the more it feels like Ben Joe is totally steered by the choices the women around him are making. He’s not the kind of person who really puts his foot down much, while the women in the book seem to have more direction (even though that direction is pretty traditional).

If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler. 1964. ISBN 0425098834.

Finally got to play with my new loom

First I hemmed the work in progress that was already on the loom when I got it.

First I hemmed the work in progress that was already on the loom when I got it.

Back at the beginning of November, I got a new-to-me loom. It was one of those via-via things: the owner of the loom died last year, and her son was finally cleaning out her condo. The son’s partner is in an artist’s collective with a good friend of mine, who heard about the available loom and asked if I was interested, with the caveat that they wanted it gone quickly.

Did I want it? Of course! Could I transport it, and did I have room for it, and do I really need another loom? No, no, and no. But I really miss weaving. My jack-type Artisat loom is in the Room-Formerly-Known-as-My-Studio, and currently known as my bromate’s digs. There is no other place I can put the loom, since it has to be locked away from the cats (all those strings and threads and ribbons and dangly bits: can you say “vet bill,” boys and girls?). Continue reading

Finished this book: How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan

Cover of How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan

Cover of How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan

Warning: Full of spoilers.

This is an entertaining “beach book”—a quick and undemanding read. It was a fun look at a boy-May / girl-December relationship, although it was somewhat marred for me by the countless times Stella let her defensiveness and insecurities run wild. “Oh god, he didn’t come to the phone right away, well to hell with him, I knew he wasn’t really interested. “Shit, I still don’t have a letter from him, well screw him, I knew this was just a fling for him.” “He’s a few minutes late for our date, well goddammit, I guess he found someone his own age, what would he want with an old lady like me anyway.” And so on and so forth ad nauseam.

On the other hand, it’s nice light reading, and it was a pleasure to read a book where none of the protagonists were white. I liked the pieces about Stella’s relationships with her sisters, and how she parents her son. Stories where the main character has no money worries are always kind of fascinating to me, in a “wow, I wonder if that’s what I would do if I wasn’t always so broke” kind of way. It was good to see how Stella eventually decided to return to making her art, although it would have been interesting to hear more about that and rather less about the detailed lists of items she bought on her shopping sprees.

A nice light book, although it is sad to me that Stella’s groove came back because of the man; I would have liked to see her art be the groove-maker. Although it is entirely possible that I am misunderstanding the concept of groove.

Apparently this book has been made into a movie and I am the last North American who hasn’t seen it yet.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan. 1996. ISBN 9780140259627.

 

1978: The Steve Miller Band opens for The Eagles

 

Blogger sonofabeach96 posts often about music history. One of his recent posts reminded me of the very first concert I ever attended. So this throwback post is for you, son. 🙂

On July 27, 1978, the Steve Miller Band opened for the Eagles at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg. My mom, who was only 32 at the time, really wanted to go but couldn’t find anyone to go with her. So she took me (just turned 8), my brother (6), and two of my cousins (9 and 12). The venue was an open field with rush “seating” (grab a spot and stake out your tarp, basically).

I got my mom to retell the story the other day, and she put a lot of emphasis on how often we kids all had to use the toilet. At one point, the lineup for the women’s toilets was super long, and there was nobody waiting for the men’s. My mom says I just sized up the situation, zipped into the men’s washroom, and emerged drying my freshly-washed hands and looking very pleased with myself (that does sound like me). She was laughing at how much of the concert she viewed from the toilet lineups.

I asked her why in the world she would take four little kids to a concert like that with no other adult to help, and she just shrugged “I thought it would be fun!” And besides, she added, my 12-year-old cousin could be trusted with two kids at the blanket while she took the fourth kid to the can. So it all worked out!

I have two memories of that concert. In one, we are all sitting on a blanket. In my memory, it is one of those acrylic blankets with the wide satin trim—remember those? But my mom says she can’t remember what blanket it was (and kind of side-eyed me for asking about such a detail, haha!). I remember jostling for space with the others, and there were lots of people around us.

I think there were several opening acts. By the time the penultimate band played, we kids were exhausted, so my mom had to start packing up to take us home. My second memory of the concert is of sitting on a bench in the dark and seeing the stage very far away and bright, with tiny people on it. The crowd was a sea of shadowy heads. My mom remembers this as well. She said that as we were headed for the parking lot, the Eagles started playing Hotel California. She stopped at a bench to listen to that song. I loved hearing her retell this story for lots of reasons, but mostly because of the smile on her face when she remembered this.

When I was a kid, my mom’s music was my music. I was probably twelve or so before I realised that other types of music weren’t random anomalies but actual genres. Mostly I thought all music was the Eagles, and Led Zeppelin, and Meatloaf. Foreigner and Loverboy and Toto and 10CC and Eric Clapton and Neil Young and the Who and the Guess Who and Supertramp and the Rolling Stones and CSNY and Bob Dylan and Billy Joel and Queen. Van Morrison, ELO, the Moody Blues, Elton John, Dire Straits, Tom Petty, ZZ Top, Boney M… And above all, Pink Floyd. The family still goes wild for Pink Floyd; my uncles close their eyes and moan, and my mom sings along happily.

It’s not my music anymore, not in terms of what I choose to listen to around the house. But when I hear it, I am carried back to my childhood. The nights I spent falling asleep in my bunk-bed to the comforting vibration of bass, the way my mom and her siblings let their faces open up with joy when their favourite music plays, the lyrics to hundreds of 70s songs that still pop fully-formed into my mind when the first notes of those old songs play… These are some of my best childhood memories. I’m grateful that my mom thought it would be fun to take a pack of kids to an outdoor concert. We don’t often listen to the same music anymore, but we still talk about music a lot. I listen when she has something special to play for me, and she has made it out to a couple of my gigs. I’m glad that she has always loved music so much, and that she has passed that appreciation on to me.

In true sonofabeach96 style, here’s a list of some of faves from when I was just a pup:

Pink Floyd: One of These Days

Boney M: Rasputin

10CC: Dreadlock Holiday

The Guess Who: American Woman

Santana: Black Magic Woman

The Moody Blues: Melancholy Man

Electric Light Orchestra: Don’t Bring Me Down

Loverboy: Turn Me Loose

Finished this book: Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde by Alexis De Veaux

warriorpoet

Biographies aren’t generally my thing, but Audre Lorde—“black, lesbian, feminist, mother, poet warrior” (her own words)—is a writer whose writing has had a profound effect on my life and thinking about the world. I had come across her poetry in (I think) the late 80s, and was intrigued. Imagine my surprise when I signed up for a few Women’s Studies courses and discovered that some of Lorde’s essays from Sister Outsider were on the syllabi. Next time I re-read Sister Outsider or her other books, I’ll talk more about that, but for now, let me just say that she’s one of the people whose writing has greatly influenced my thinking about race, gender, social justice, the value of art, and the need to live my politics rather than just talking about them.

So when I came across Warrior Poet by Alexis De Veaux, I was excited to have a chance to learn more about Lorde and how she grew into the icon she became. I have to admit the book sat on my shelf for a very long time, because as I mentioned above, the idea of biographies doesn’t excite me (although when I buckle down and get started, I tend to enjoy them—go figure). Continue reading

Some Sources of My Christmas Stress

People at work keep stopping by my desk to harass me about Christmas. Well, to be fair, they are stopping by everyone’s desk, and they probably think of it as “small talk” rather than “harassment.”

But honestly I am getting so sick of deflecting the casual questions. Are you ready for Christmas? Got your tree up? Have you done all your Christmas shopping? What are you doing for Christmas? Got a big Christmas planned? Spending time with your family for Christmas this year?

I used to just go along with it and shove down all my holiday stress to not make the conversation awkward. But now, I think screw that, why should I be uncomfortable because you are asking some personal questions loaded with cultural assumptions and obliviousness? Continue reading