A Short Story Challenge

Hey everyone,

Sorry I haven’t been all that profilic with the blog posts so far this year.

This cold winter has been sapping my creative juices, and energy in general.

I’ve quietly been chipping away at my to-do list from January. I’ve made progress on a couple of things. But I think I need to pick up the pace a bit.

I also think I need to take up a personal challenge I put by the wayside …

I’m going to take another crack at trying to read more fiction.

Yes, I know, I know, I’ve said that before. And I have been trying. (I just finished Zadie Smith’s NW a couple of days ago, in fact.)

But I think I need to change it up a bit.

I keep telling myself I should read more short stories and novellas if I can find them. I think I tried this last year, with friends making a couple of interesting contributions.

But I’m going to give it a bit more effort this year.

I’ve made a couple lists, complete with a couple of links I can refer to, and have made a couple of library requests.

While generally I stick to contemporary fiction, I’m also going to try and throw a few older works in the mix.

And if time allows, I’ll post from time to time about the ones I do read.

So, away I go! And if you have any recommendations for short story collections OR novellas, please leave them in the comments below.

Following A Hunch …

Several days before I left for Connecticut, I paid a visit to a Toronto-based writer (and retired university professor), in hopes she might help me with a possible clue in what happened to my great-aunt Ellen.

Confused? Allow me to explain.

The writer is the granddaughter of my mother’s landlady in the early-to-mid 1970s. (She passed away 35 years ago.) It was that landlady who once told my mother a story related to her life when she first came to Canada.

The anecdote goes something like this:

This woman – who I’ll call Mrs. S. – arrived in 1936 (from what is now western Ukraine, but at the time, was part of Poland) with her two daughters, to join her husband, who came here a handful of years previously.

Shortly after arriving, she found a job working in a shirt factory, cutting and sewing shirts.*

According to what my mother told me, Mrs. S. didn’t know a single word of English, yet learned how to cut and sew the shirts, thanks to a black woman who worked in the factory. Using hand gestures, the woman showed Mrs. S. what to do. And my mother seems to remember Mrs. S. telling her this woman’s name: Ellen. (My mother, of course, thought her aunt’s name was Helen, so she wondered about it, but wrote it off.)

This story may very well be the biggest of coincidences. But I thought it was worth trying to follow this thread to its end.

An initial Internet search led me to a book Mrs. S’s granddaughter wrote over 15 years ago, about her own search to understand her family’s history, and to understand the hardships they endured. I checked a copy of the book out of the library — initially to see if there was possibly any reference to this story told to my mother so long ago.

I found nothing specifically related to this mystery woman who helped Mrs. S. But I read the book from cover to cover, and it gave me a greater understanding of, and admiration for, Mrs. S and that side of the family.

I then tracked down the writer – who, as it turns out, lives here in Toronto – and paid her a visit. She was incredibly lovely, and we spoke about my mom’s time living in her grandmother’s house, but also about her late mother and aunt. Eventually, I told her about this decades-old story her grandmother told my mother, and asked if she’d ever heard this story, or whether her mother or aunt had mentioned it.

She wasn’t familiar with the story, but she thought if there was anyone who might know — or remember the name of the factory where Mrs S. worked, at the very least — it would be her aunt. Long retired from the medical profession, she’s now 89, and while suffering from dementia, apparently is still quite sharp when it comes to remembering the past.

So, there is where things rest at the moment. I’ll be getting in touch with the writer to see if she’s been in touch with her aunt, and if are any more shreds of possibility to pursue. Fingers crossed.

 

 

*I am going to double-check this fact, to make sure I’ve recalled this correctly.

 

2012’s Colour of the Year

While everyone else is trying to cope with shopping, holiday preps, and other pressures that come up at the end of every year …

Everyone’s favourite colour institute is boldly looking forward – emphasis on the world “boldly”.

Today, Pantone has announced its top colour for 2012.

People Who Could Care Less, meet Tangerine Tango.

Yup. Really.

Apparently THIS is the hue that will colour our new year.

I’ll spare you the details here, since you could easily read this article for more on why the Pantone folks are all seeing red(dish-orange).

But if I’ve said it once (and I’ve actually said it twice), I’ll say it again:

Periwinkle deserves a chance. It’s calm. It’s charming. And it’s been long overlooked. Just sayin’.

*Picture courtesy AP, via The Toronto Star.

2011’s Colour of the Year …

Looks like the Pantone Color Institute is at it again.

Remember a few years ago, when I posted about how (while we were all busy living our own lives) the institute’s research branch dubbed chili pepper red the colour of the year for North America?

Hold on to your skirts and shirts, ladies and gents, because the shade for 2011 is good ol’ 18-2120.

That’s colour-authority-speak for honeysuckle

Which is fru-fru-fashion-speak for “pink”.

Reddish-pink, if you want to be technical.

“A brave new color, for a brave new world,” crows the press release.

Apparently it’s going to show up in everything from men’s and women’s fashions to furniture fabrics.

And hockey commentator Don Cherry showed how fashion-forward he already is, when he sported an ostentatious blazer in the aftermentioned hue in December, at Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s swearing-in – incidentally, while giving his “left-wing pinkos” speech.

Yep. Pink. How ’bout that?

Y’know Pantone, After last year’s selection of turquoise, I was slowly starting to change my mind about you guys.

In any case …

Wednesday morning on CBC Radio’s arts and culture program Q, colour forecaster (and Pantone consultant) Keith Recker, explained that hockeysuckle speaks to “our happy rediscovery of positive thinking, of growth, of energy, of looking forward, rather than bemoaning what we may have lost in the recent (economic) downturn.”

He went on to explain a few of the things that go into shaping a colour forecast – which doesn’t really start with colour, but with getting a feel for what people are thinking about, are needing, or lacking, and making the link to such things as psychology, sociology, economy and current events.

Recker says there are already talks about the colour for 2012. The small group of forecasters are taking into consideration next year’s presidential election, plus the tragic events in Arizona – all of which, he says, means things are going to be ” high-volume, high-conflict”.

As a result, he says, people could either end up embracing that conflict by incorporating colours and patterns in their clothes, etc. to demonstrate this feeling of protest … OR shy away from said conflict, by turning to more calming, serene hues.

Huh. Okay.

So, why should we even care? Well, you can listen to the podcast to hear Recker’s opinion. But he does make a point about how much of a cultural thing colour can be. I mean, it explains in part why, for example, in one culture, white might be worn at weddings, while in another, it’s red.

Recker mentioned the colour-picking process for next year may soon be underway. He added that he thought 2012 could be the year for a muddy or earth-coloured tone.

Hmmm …

Well … since Pantone hasn’t yet turned its forecasting towards 2013 … perhaps I should resurrect my campaign to get periwinkle (a.k.a. colour code  17-3932) on the radar?

In my opinion, it’s a hue that just hasn’t been given its due. Colour me biased.

D’s Loquacious End-of-Year Reads for 2010

Hey everybody! Hope your Christmas was excellent and that you’re enjoying the remainder of your holidays.

Apologies for the severe lack of posting. It’s been due to a lack of motivation, I’m afraid. I meant to post this back in October (or was it late September?), but, well … you know.

So to rectify this injustice, here are a couple of novels – both recent AND not-so-recent – that I managed to complete in recent months.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

I did not read this in high school. Or university. This is my first time reading this book from cover to cover, without giving up after several pages and returning it to the library.

Yes, I am of sound mind (to thoseof you who can’t figure out why I’m reading this). I’m probably the last person over the age of 30 to touch this book.

So, what have I gleaned?

One: Rich people are vain, selfish, mean, possibly alcoholics, and yes, they CAN kill you.

Two: Jay Gatsby? Arrrgh. I hate him. That is all.

Three: Even after completing this book, I still don’t like it, despite the fact that it’s a “great American classic” or whatever the cliche is.

Perhaps I am too uncouth or not well-read enough to appreciate it. In which case, those of you who love this book, please use your strongest argument to convince me otherwise. ‘Cause I’m not a fan.

The Cry of the Dove, Fadia Faqir

A warning in advance: this book is so sad. But it’s good.

The Cry of the Dove tells the tale of Salma, who in her former life is a shepherdess from a family in a tiny Bedouin village. She ends up pregnant out of wedlock, which violates tribal law and causes upheaval in the village.

 To restore honour, the villagers set out to kill her, but for her own protection, Salma is thrown in prison. She gives birth to her child, who is ripped out of her arms shortly after, and spends many years in prison. She’s later smuggled out and whisked away to England to start a new life.

But even that isn’t easy, as she tries to navigate this new way of life – the culture, the customs, and the racism. Amidst all this, she’s continuously haunted by thoughts of her brother coming to kill her … and by the cries of her lost child. And even though Salma finally starts to get her life on track and truly start to enjoy the freedom she has, she never stops hearing those cries.

While the “time-shifting” narrative is often my favourite, I did find a bit difficult to follow the story in a couple of places. Nonetheless, you could sense the frustration and melancholy in Salma’s story. Despite everything that happens to her, you just want her to succeed, move forward and grow stronger. This book may not be for everyone, but I liked it and it’s one I’d recommend.

And that’s it for me for this year. Hopefully I’ll be able to tackle more – and even better books in 2011. ‘Ta for now!

D’s Loquacious Late Summer 2010 Reads

Labour Day has just passed … the weather is starting to cool … but that doesn’t mean summer’s completely over!

Apologies for not writing anything much lately, but it might have been the dog days of summer that rendered me lathargic.

But I wasn’t totally lazy! In between trying my best to have a social life – as low-key as it’s been – and grinning and bearing it at work, I managed to cover a bit of ground in the reading department. These aren’t specifically summer reads, but here are the latest books I decided to tackle:

A Mercy, Toni Morrison

This one was a random pick from the library (and an unexpected one for me, as someone who’s read various novels by Morrison and come away more ambivalent then when I start them).

A slim novel at 167 pages, A Mercy brings to life the atmosphere in the early days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade through a motley crew of characters.

Each “chapter” slips back and forth in time, into individual voices: Jacob Vaark, a trader; his wife Rebekka, a ordered bride in exile from her homeland because of her family’s religious beliefs; Florens, the little girl bought by Jacob in a trade to settle a debt (which, incidentally, saves her from the cruel Portuguese master); Lina, their American-Indian servant whose dark story of which we only see the briefest of glimpses; Sorrow, the crazy, tormented soul whose early life started at sea … and in the very end, the voice of Florens’ mother.

It’s hard for me to have a definitive opinion on this book. I like the style in which the book was written, and the way in which Morrison plays with the timeline to weave the story together. But with a lot of her books, I always find that touch of strangeness, of the other, that leaves me confused, and having to go back a couple of pages to re-read things, just to make sure I’m following along.

Luckily, A Mercy was less confusing than a couple of past novels I’ve read. But I’d be lying if I said I completely understood the things not necessarily put in writing.

The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews

FINALLY, after visiting this book in the library, I made the commitment and got my hands on Toews’ most recent novel. I have to say that I actually liked this one better than A Complicated Kindness. The Flying Troutmans has a sort of Little Miss Sunshine quality to it, although the purpose of the quest is completely different.

The plot: Twenty-eight-year-old Hattie, on the outs with her boyfriend in Paris, gets a call from her 11-year-old niece, Thebes. Her mother Min – Hattie’s sister – is in a deep depression and Thebes needs Hattie to step in to help her and her older brother Logan. When Hattie arrives and sees the state of things, that’s when the journey – both physically and figuratively – begins for the dysfunctional Troutmans, and for Hattie herself.

The Flying Troutmans is simultaneously off-beat, awkward, funny and sad. It’s also a good exercise in trying to translate the teenage mind into print … as well as that of the awkward twenty-something.

I really like Toews’ writing style, and the way she’s composed her characters. The Troutmans may be fictional, but given all the wacky stories and people I hear about these days, it wouldn’t surprise me if there are people out there like the Troutmans, in real life. I say, give this one a go and determine for yourself.

Atonement, Ian McEwan

Set in the Great Depression and World War II, Ian McEwen’s novel centres around the wealthy Tallis family – specifically 13-year-old Briony and her older sister Cecilia. What seems like a sleepy novel at first, quickly picks starts to pick up the pace, when Briony is witness to two incidents involving Cecilia and Robbie Turner – the servant’s son, whose education was subsidized by Briony and Cecilia’s father. Young Briony lets her imagination run rampant, with lasting consequences she spends the rest of her life paying for.

Overall, I liked this book. It’s my first McEwan novel, and one I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I wasn’t bowled over, mainly because of how long things took to pick up. I appreciated the descriptions of the sprawling Tallis manor and such, but it was a little bit much after a while. Once I got to the meat of the story – the point at which Briony lets her imagination (and snap judgements because of her lack of understanding of what she sees) – and everything after, that’s when things piqued my interest as a reader and I could use my own imagination to turn McEwan’s prose into my own images.

Atonement also had a couple of small twists in the latter part of the book, which I didn’t expect – a good quality in a novel, obviously. The only downside? Since I didn’t read this book before the movie adaptation came out a couple of years back, I had the hardest time picturing anyone but Keira Knightley as Cecilia the entire time. But if you can get over that, you should try and tackle this, if you haven’t already.

Okay, that’s all for now, kids. I’ll post more again soon.

D’s Loquacious Heat-of-Summer Reads

Yes, I know, it’s been a while.

But when I haven’t been busy doing what I have to do (which has unfortunately meant an enormous dearth of blogging on my part), I’ve been trying to keep my mind active – and occupied – with the following books.

I’ve been making an effort to mix it up by reading more non-fiction books, rather than just novels. And it’s been an interesting exercise so far.

Every Light in the House Burnin’, Andrea Levy

Levy’s first novel, set in 1960s England, chronicles the Jacobs family, as they tackle living in a cramped council estate home, struggling with the racism that’s rife around them, and – for the children – coming of age as British-born youth under Jamaican parentage.

Angela, the baby of the family, acts as narrator in the novel. The storyline is well-done in the sense that, while it starts out as fairly linear, it does move back and forth, depicting the collision between Angela’s childhood memories and her current life – 20 years later – as she tries navigating a harsh health care system to help her dying father.

Reading the book, I  felt the awkwardness of the little girl trying to grow up in a world where her family still isn’t fully accepted. But I found the battle that adult Angela has to fight even more heartbreaking, especially towards the end.

Having grown up in Canada in the 1980s and 1990s, I’ve largely been spared from what Angela and her siblings endured. But I do have an understanding, from the stories my mother would tell me of her time as a student nurse in the U.K., what they had to do to make it through.

Every Light might seem heavy, from what I’ve just described. But it’s a fairly read – one I’d suggest over a weekend.

Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stimgatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.

Big disclaimer: Icame across this book COMPLETELY by accident.

I read a Globe and Mail article several weeks ago about people who are just too busy with their careers and lives in general for relationships and sex. DePaulo was quoted in the article, and once I read what she had to say – as well as the title of her book – I had to read this for myself.

DePaulo, a psychologist whose area of study happens to deal with singletons, uses studies, anecdotes and even stories about celebrities to address the various myths and perceptions laid out by a society which favours the ideal of a nuclear family above all other types – and to shed a little light on the reality of things.

And it’s not just those never-married folks she refers to. She addresses those who are single due to divorce, and even single parents, who seem to bear the brunt of society’s judgement.

Her message: Believe it or not, there are single people out there who are perfectly normal, well-adjusted, and not biding time until Mr or Mrs Right come along. They’re happy and doing just fine, thank you very much.

As someone who has never been married, while my friends, for the most part, haven’t been the types of friends described in DePaulo’s book, I can relate to the occasional feeling from time to time as if I’m a kid who’s gotten the privilege of sitting at the grown-ups’ table. So while the book can be a little dry in places, I completely appreciate the reinforcement that, hey, there’s nothing wrong with being single and happy with it.

I have nothing against married people or couples with families, but as a single person, the following quote was the one that has stuck with me since: “Married people are on training wheels. Singles are riding the bikes for grown-ups.”

Whale Music, Paul Quarrington

I sadly admit, I knew nothing about the late Mr Quarrington until his death back in January from cancer. But I do remember hearing about the movie adapted from the book. So when I was tooling around the Toronto Library Web site, I decided to give his 1989 novel a go.

Desmond Howl is an obscenely rich, drug-addled, often-naked, alcoholic crazy former rock ‘n’ roll genius who has been living a secluded existence for years, tinkering away at his magnum opus – the book’s title – when he’s not in and out of consciousness.

That is, until one day, 20-year-old Claire appears – seemingly out of nowhere – into his life. And what happens after that forces Des to consider the fate of the Whale Music … and of the ramshackle state of his own life.

The novel also chronicles Des’ dysfunctional family and life on the road with his younger brother as their band breaks into the business and tries to make it big in the 1960s and 1970s. It also sheds a bit of light as to why Des is the way he is.

I found Whale Music tobe funny in places and a surprisingly fast read. However, I wasn’t completely in love with it. I might give Quarrington another try on another occasion – maybe I’ll tackle King Leary before I arrive at my own personal verdict.

Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House, Meghan Daum

This is hard to admit out loud, but over the past several months, I probably become a tad more obsessive when it comes to real estate – visiting the MLS Web page, looking through the weekend classifieds, whatever. Then I heard about Meghan Daum and her new book, just released this spring.

The writer and Los Angeles Times columnist takes readers into her inner psyche when it comes to the world of real estate. She starts with her childhood, during which her parents made multiple moves through several states until she was almost nine years old, and introduces us to her parents’ (more so her mother’s) near-obsession for finding the perfect home. These early memories seem to be the basis – and explanation – for Daum’s own decisions to move constantly … first through dorm rooms, then apartments … and then her own obsession with finding the home of her dreams, to the detriment of other aspects of her life.

But while using her life’s experiences as an example, Daum also tries to explain in Life Would Be Perfect what the difference between “house” and “home” really is, and through several turns of events in her life, comes to realize – and express to those of us reading her book – what’s truly important.

I loved Daum’s writing style – although in a different situation, I could relate to her. It also had me thinking about my own mini-mania when it comes to the adulthood ritual of house-hunting. This, combined with her sharp humour, definitely makes for a good read … whether you’re in an obsessive hunt for real estate or not.

And with that, consider another reading post done.

I can’t guarantee when the next time I’ll post will be. Plus, it’s summer. Would YOU stay indoors sitting in front of a computer with all that good weather outside?

Talk to you soon!

D’s Loquacious Late Spring Reads, 2010 Edition

Hey, kiddies. It’s been a while.

Can’t believe it’s June already! Hopefully this hot, new month will spawn some creativity that was lacking in May.

In the meantime, here are some my most recent reads:

Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi

I’d heard good things about this memoir by Azar Nafisi, in which she recollects her life as a young university English professor during the Revolution in Iran.

The book certainly opened my eyes – at least, to the way she saw the events unfold around her. I liked how she paired the works by her favourite authors with anecdotes from the rapidly changing world around her – a life in which the very love for her livelihood and for English literature was threatened. I learned how it was her love of books that kept her sane.

Come to think of it, this book reinforces for me – as a lifelong reader – how astounding the power of words can be,  how books play such a huge role in regimes and periods of oppression … and how the written word seems like a threat to those who try to control.

In any case, I encourage you to give this a try, if you haven’t already.

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga

I didn’t actually plan on reading this one anytime soon, especially so soon after reading Midnight’s Children, which took me a dog’s age to finish. And after feeling disappointed, the last thing I wanted was another long, winding yarn.

But I took a chance after an impr0mptu visit to the library … and I’m so glad I did YES! THIS is what I’m talkin’ ’bout!

The White Tiger takes on the form of a very long letter to the Chinese president, from a self-made entrepreneur in Bangalore. But it’s not too long before we learn the secrets of the protagonist’s so-called success.

The book is dark, with punches of humour to match. And life portrayed in the book is rough and tough from start to finish. Is it realistic? I can only place my trust in the author that it is, to some degree.

That aside, once I started reading, I made fairly quick work of devouring The White Tiger. I highly recommend it.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

I was drawn to this book, not by anything I’d read – because I hadn’t – but simply by the cover. Who was Oscar Wao? What made his life so brief?

It literally was months before I got my grubby hands on Oscar Wao. And all I can say is, well, wow

If you like books written from a nerd’s perspective, in a sci-fi/fanboy style, complete with footnotes about Dominican history and generous helpings of Spanglish, this might be a book for you.

Oscar Wao is a thick chronicle of the de Leons,  dyfunctional Dominican-Americans with a rough family past. But a huge portion of the book is, obviously, dedicated to the title character – an obese young man with both a desire to make it as a fantasy writer … and no game whatsoever, when it comes to the opposite sex. The novel isn’t narrated by Oscar, but mostly by Yunior, a family “friend”, and some narration from other family members who give scarred flesh and bone to the family’s backstory.

Some people may not like the footnotes at the bottom of a number of the pages. But I actually found them helpful and loved the sharp style in which they were written. 

But, still. Consider giving this book a try before either putting the book down or ploughing right through it. And I hope that if you do, that you’ll end up doing the latter.

The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors, Hal Niedzviecki

It’s perhaps coincidental – or uncannily relevant – that I’d just happened to complete my read of The Peep Diaries last week, amidst all this talk about Quit Facebook Day to protest the site’s new rules on privacy settings and whatnot. 

In his tome, Niedzviecki explores the realm of Peep culture – think of it as The New Voyeurism in the age of Facebook, Twitter and reality TV, amongst other things.

Through his conversations with YouTubers, bloggers, reality TV show participants, and even performing his own experiments, Niedzviecki tries to wrap his head around why people are obsessed with seeing, as well as being seen by, others. He ponders the different ways in which people watch others, whether it’s relevant, and and whether sometimes it simply crosses the line when it comes to issues of privacy … if lines can still be drawn.

Everyone’s got their own perspective on the matter, so that might colour what you think of the subject matter in Niedzviecki’s book. But if you’re like me – or the millions of other people spending hours online – it’s a good attempt at making you take a step back and soberly think about the times we live in.

Sorry this took so long to put out. I blame an enormous lack of motivation, paired with procrastination. But until I blog again, enjoy!

D’s Loquacious Long Winter Reads

I’ve been meaning to write this and have kept putting it off for various reasons. But better late than never, I say.

Here’s my latest list of books I’ve read over the past few months …

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, Immaculee Ilibagiza

The book chronicles the author’s harrowing experience as a young Tutsi woman trying to survive Rwanda’s bloody 1994 genocide – hiding in a tiny bathroom with seven other women for three months – as well as her miraculous escape to freedom, unscathed.

I want to describe this book as simultaneously horrifying and astounding. But I’m not even sure those words do it justice.

Obviously the underlying story is how Ilibagiza found God during her time in that tiny bathroom, and how that she was going survive that hell on earth. But it doesn’t even matter whether you hold religious beliefs or not. To read how Immaculee managed to survive – physically, mentally and spiritually – for so long while sheer horror took place outside that bathroom window – is perhaps reason enough to tackle this book. 

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Not a new book, but one I’ve never read. Rushdie’s novel chronicles the lives of “midnight’s children” – those born at the moment of India’s independence in 1947. What isn’t immediately known is that these children have been born with unusual physical characteristics and special gifts or powers.

Narrated by the main character, Saleem Sinai – among those who hold the strongest powers because they were born precisely at midnight – the book follows the twisted history of Saleem’s family, and the act which determines fate, intertwined with fledgling India’s numerous conflicts and political struggles.

Of all the authors on this list, Rushdie has been the one I’ve wanted to read for the longest time, out of sheer curiosity.

Unfortunately, of the books on this list, this one took the longest to read – about two or three months. Not because of its size. At roughly 530 pages, it’s hefty, but not insurmountable, for an adult novel.

However, for someone not used to Rushdie’s way of storytelling – such as myself – some points along the story’s path were a bit too winding for my taste, even a bit too slow. Even trying to imagine the various scenes in my mind took some doing.

I can’t say I hated the book. But I found it a tad underwhelming, and it left me a bit disappointed.

Corked: A Memoir, Kathryn Borel Jr.

After such a long slog through Rushdie, I happily turned my attention to a book patiently sitting on my bedside table for weeks.

The first book from brand-spankin’ new memoirist (and colleague) Kathryn Borel, Corked is the story of Borel’s wine trip through France with her father Philippe, a hotelier and wine connoisseur.

As the trip winds through France, the book also takes us into Borel’s deepest thoughts about love, her attempts to learn about wine, and death. The trip is also opportunity she seizes to hash things out with Dad over a life-changing event five years earlier.

Having gotten flashes of Borel’s off-beat personality in real-life, I could hear her voice loud and clear as I turned the pages. I also recognize a couple of the people she talks about. Yes, I snickered here and there (hopefully where appropriate). But even though I can’t say I know her very well, Corked helped me understand a bit more about her. I appreciate who she is because of what she’s written.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

My personal goal for Black History Month was to take on a what was considered a classic novel – although acclaim at the time it was published was heavily divided, and then it fell out of sight until it was rediscovered again in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The novel follows the life of Janie Crawford, who transforms from girl to woman (through the course of two marriages) in the Southern U.S. of the 1930s.

The book is supposed to be an ode to African-American culture and heritage (so says the explanation on the inside front flap of the jacket). It was a bit of a challenge to me, navigating the dialect, and trying to imagine what the characters were all thinking and doing. The male-female dynamic between Janie and her husbands was certainly something interesting. And ever-present were some the issues, such as class and skin tone – something that seems to be around, even in this day and age.

I wasn’t bowled over, but I’m glad I gave it a read anyway. It’s not a long book, so I’d recommend anyone to give it a go.

C’est tout, y’all. Maybe I’ll find some meatier morsels to tackle for the spring.

Happy reading!

Why I Send Cards

While at work last weekend, I was trolling the Internets, when I turned my attention to the Globe and Mail’s Web site and stumbled onto the latest column (at the time) from Leah McLaren, about why she doesn’t send Christmas cards.

And, I admit, her points are all valid. When your insurance company feels the need to send you a card (to keep their business with you ongoing), and when all forms of social networking makes the old idea seem antequated … not to mention trying to reduce your carbon footprint by generating less junk than necessary … it sucks all the intent out of doing it in the first place.

But you know what? WASP, I am not. (Or at least, I don’t think so – unless this makes me a BASP). But here are a few reasons why it’s one yearly habit I’m not quite ready to let go of:

It’s my own little tradition. I find the older I get, the Grinchier I get. Christmas music in November annoys me to no end. And friends who start the countdown to the holidays in JULY? I find them certifiable. So when December hits, I find I’m not getting into the spirit until I sit myself down with a box of cards, some stamps, and those address labels that never seem to finish. And then, it’s on.

I want to brighten someone’s day. I guess I’m one of those “good” people that make people like Leah McLaren feel bad. But it’s really not my intent. I really DON’T care if I get a card back. I only hope that it’s a pleasant surprise to someone I know, to receive a piece of mail that ISN’T a bill or a piece of bulk mail trying to get you to sign up for yet another credit card, or charity, or bogus magazine. And for a two-week period before it goes into the trash or recycling bin, it’s a bit of holiday spirit. It’s the thought that matters.

I get to practice my handwriting. McLaren mentioned social networking as being a major reason which eliminates the reason for sending cards. Here’s the downfall of online social media – or even the online communication/texting age we live in. Nobody writes ANYTHING with their hands anymore. When was the last time you wrote something down? And I’m not talking about a grocery lists or filling out forms, or anything like that. When was the last time a friend or family member sent you something in writing? It’s just not done.

(I do admit, though, I really need to work on WHAT I write, when I write those cards. Maybe getting blank cards would work.)

That’s my personal philosophy. What’s yours?