Valentine’s Day…late as usual….

So, we’re a few days after Valentine’s Day, and blog-wise I am pulling up the rear, as usual.  Happy Valentine’s Day Barb!  (For the record, flowers did arrive on the appointed day.)

The issue of Valentine’s Day and books is a little different for me and, in fact, has me a little vexed.  Here’s the thing:  my view of literature is that “happy, well-adjusted people don’t make good fiction.”  So, you know, the heart-warming, live-happily-ever-after Valentine’s Day book probably isn’t in my library.

If only there was a holiday for “living forever in a state of sad acceptance.”

I kid.  Remember, we’re talking about my literary tastes, not my human tastes.

So, I have scoured my shelves to try and come up with some books that might qualify for this holiday, if only in a glancing blow.  (I have tried to tame my sarcastic side and not mention Bonfire of the Vanities, Anne Tyler, Portnoy’s Complaint, Heartburn or Lolita).

sport pastimeA Sport and a Pastime–if we are willing to concede that for men Valentine’s Day might be more likely to mean S-E-X, then this James Salter classic fits well.  It encapsulates the powerful desires that people can feel and how controlling those desires can be.  It is also a testament to the power imagination, the sole transformative power we have as humans.  (Note, if this was a business blog I would call it vision).  I read the book originally because I heard Jami Attenberg describe it as “filthy” on a New York Times Podcast.  (A Widow for One Year would slip in–to coin a phrase–under this general category as well).

John Adams–odd, I know, but why not a non-fiction Valentine’s Day book?  This is a story about a lot of things, but the relationship between John and Abigail Adams is one for the ages.  These people are true Yankees–reserved patricians and they spent year after year separated, but their letters are a testament to the deep affection and trust through troubled times that marks great relationships.

alice eat


All the food books by Calvin Trillin–Trillin’s books about food are actually love notes written to his wife, Alice.  He described her as having a “weird predilection for limiting our family to three meals a day.”

Just Kids--While not romantic in the gynecological sense, Patty Smith’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe is the kind of true love story that would have had wine-drunk Greek poets swooning.

Honestly, you look through my reading list and you might think there could be no person less aligned with “Married Book Nerds.”

A few observations after this exercise.

There seem to be no great romance stories that take place in ordinary places.  Even All the Light We Cannot See, which chronicles a long-distance relationship of a sort, takes place in a romantic, picturesque setting.  Same with Beautiful Ruins.  Anything set in our mundane suburbia seems to turn into The Abstinence Teacher or Mrs. Fletcher. The romance genre would confirm this.  We seem to need to escape in order to suspend our disbelief.

It seems like some of the stories that succeed are ones where a man finds love after a long life of struggle.  You can kind of feel the peace as the couple settles into a quiet old age.  See Canada.

Anyway, Happy Valentine’s Day Barb! I think 🙂

Valentine’s Day: Book Loves


Love it or hate it, today is Valentine’s Day!

I thought I would do a quick post and talk about my favourite love stories…in books. I mean, other than my love story with BJ…awwwww.

Two came to mind.

The first is from Me Before You. I really liked this book a lot. I feel like any book that can evoke emotions is a good one, and this had an ugly-cry-box-of-kleenex ending. The love story between Louisa and Will was charming and heartbreaking. I think what I liked most about it was that it represented what I think love is: it makes both people better.

The other story that came to mind was Jamie and Claire from Outlander. I mean, I think that this is the ultimate love story. Who doesn’t have a crush on Jamie? Right?!! The writing in the book is so good and the characters are so well written. I think what resonates with me about this couple is basically that they have each other’s backs. They have an unconditional love and support for each other even though they both know their arrangement could be temporary.

I could go on, but I need to save some for next Valentine’s Day!

However you are spending it, I hope you have a lovely day! Might I suggest you get a little chocolate, and sit down with a good book and enjoy!


Fifty Shades: My thoughts

10818853I was originally going to call this post: In Defence of Fifty Shades.

But I am not really looking to defend it.

Full disclosure: I read the Fifty Shades series (yes, ALL of them) and I liked them.

Just because I liked them, doesn’t mean everyone else is going to. And yes, I get why someone wouldn’t like them. I also get why people might not even want to read them. But that is the beauty of books, you don’t HAVE to read them. If they don’t interest you, if you find the topic offensive, then you don’t read it.

Here is the thing that i need to get off my chest….

I see posts, or hear people talking about it ….. that never read the book. The Facebook post/conversation would go something like this….

I haven’t read the book BUT….

Then there would be a whole tirade about how the book wasn’t well written, or that it was misogynistic, or promoted rape culture…or a litany of ills that the book seemingly portrays or represents.

First, if you haven’t read the book….how do you actually know? You don’t. So don’t make judgements or assessments on something you don’t know about.

Second, it is completely reasonable to say, I refuse to read this because of the subject matter. And, even more reasonable to say, I don’t want to read it because the subject matter makes me uncomfortable. But that is difficult to say. I think it’s easier to trash the book and look for reasons to hate it, then to admit that either the subject matter offends you or makes you uncomfortable.

Here is my take: the book was wildly popular. The trilogy has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide (yes, I had to google that fact). And it’s possible (here is where my opinion comes in) that people read that book that haven’t read a book in long time…or even ever.

I remember when the Harry Potter series came out and there was backlash that children shouldn’t be reading about such violence and magic. I was like, are you kidding me? That series has got so many people reading books, including children and young people, and how can that be wrong. As a reader and book lover, that gets me excited…to see other people get excited about reading.

Also, (again, my opinion) this was a way for women to start to explore their sexuality and have words to talk about what they want or don’t want. I think that is pretty empowering.

And, I get it, this isn’t a serious work of literature. If you want literature, go and read War and Peace (I did, it’s delightful). Criticizing the bad writing or literary value of the book is like criticizing cotton candy for not being more nutritious. It’s not, never will be and wasn’t designed for that.

So if you want to hate on the books and/or the movies. Go right ahead. But hate on them in an educated way. That’s all I ask.

Literary Podcasts

podcastYou can’t get far today without talking about podcasts.  They’ve been around for a long time.  When I first started listening, they were all of the homebrew variety and the only professional one was the Daily Source Code by Adam Curry, but now they are increasingly being produced by large media and publishing companies.

I think Serial did a great job of showing the power of the medium, which is really the AUDIO medium and goes all the way back to the radio dramas that were big in the pre-television era.

Naturally, I have been interested in sampling them and seeing what might be interesting.  In fact, I used to have a significant commute, but now it is shorter, so I don’t get quite as much time to listen.  Even so, a significant portion of the time is spent listening to literary podcasts.

One caveat.  I don’t want a podcast with readings.  I hate readings.  I hate them in person and even more on a podcast.  So those are out.  Also, I’m not interested in your audio book club.  Nor your book club.  (My line is that book clubs take away the best part of reading, which is solitude.)

It isn’t easy to make a good book podcast, just because there are SO MANY books.  Many of the ones I have sampled have focused on YA and fantasy, which is fine and understandable given the audience sizes, but not my cup of tea.

The obvious go-to choice is the New York Times Book Review.  This is a staple and is always good if for no other reason than they get access to the good authors.  Sometimes I’d rather hear from the reviewer than the author, but this is a consistent high-quality podcast that has made the transition to Pamela Paul as host.  They also discuss publishing news and add in a personal note with what they are reading (a favorite married book nerds topic).  This allowed me to discover Emmanuel Carrere.

One podcast that is excellent but not literary specific is Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen.  Just excellent.  The American Icons series is especially strong, but this podcast addresses creativity in all its forms and Andersen gets the people talking about what creativity means to them, not just about their latest works.  They have recently moved to Slate.

I have also listened to Other PPl, from Brad Listi.  It is generally a high-quality podcast featuring a long  (or LONGform) interview with an author who is usually from the indie world more than the NY Times world.  Sometimes the interviews get too long and sometimes Listi talks too much about himself, but you can always switch it off it gets too far off track.  There’s almost always 45 minutes of strong content.

I tried listening to the Book Riot podcasts and also Books on the Nightstand (no longer produced), but just found too much description of the books themselves–books I will never find a chance to read–to find it consistently interesting, despite the obvious passion and highly insightful commentary both podcasts provide.

I honestly think there’s room in this space for new entries, and maybe better ones exist. One idea I have comes from a podcast they did to accompany the show The Americans, where there was an interview with people inside the show that ran after every episode.  It was excellent…could be the actors or the writer or the directors or the set designers or the costumers, but you really got an idea the depth of creativity applied to ever single detail in the show.

Why couldn’t you do the same thing with books?  Now, you never know when people are reading a book–oh wait, you don’t with TV anymore either–but think about this.  New book comes out.  Let’s say Gentlement in Moscow.  You could do a podcast covering, say, every 75 pages.  They’d only need to be 10-12 minutes long and the reader would stop and listen when they hit that interval.  I honestly think that’s a way to modernize the reading experience.  If you use this idea, you owe me $100 million.

AJ Finn meet and greet…and The Woman in the Window

img_4440About a week ago a post popped up on my Facebook feed, it was from HarperCollins Canada and it was an invite (not just to me…..obviously) to their offices for a meet-and-greet with A.J. Finn, author of the book ‘The Woman in the Window’. I sent an email, and I got on the list. <insert happy dance>

First things first, no I haven’t read the book yet. And yes, there was a goody bag that included a free book and a coffee mug!

I will say this, I was super geeked out to get to go to this as well as to the HarperCollins offices. For me, it was kinda exciting. As I was leaving, there was no one in the reception area. There were a bunch of books on display (yes, I was tempted to just take one! and no, I didn’t). And I had a fangirl moment. BOOKS!

Honest, I didn’t take any!


The event was really cool. We gathered in a board room and A.J. Finn came out and was interviewed by one of the marketing staff at the publisher.

I have been to many author readings and interviews and they are hit and miss. Just because someone is a good writer, doesn’t mean they are a good speaker and are actually interesting. In the case of A.J. Finn, he was a delight. He was funny and intelligent. I want to hi-light two things.

First, he was very forthcoming about his struggle with depression and mental illness. I think it’s really brave and inspiring when people are upfront about that. It was even ore relevant since it was Bell Let’s Talk Day on the previous day. (For those unfamiliar, the day is about hi-lighting mental health and bringing it to the forefront of conversations, especially in social media.) I appreciate the fact that he was honest and forthcoming about that.

Second, it is apparent (at least to me) that he is a fan of books and reading. He has a background in publishing, and did his thesis and post graduate (I think) study on Patricia Highsmith (of The Talented Mr. Ripley fame). So he has a pedigree in the crime and intrigue book genre. He spoke about his favourite authors: Evelyn Waugh, Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith, Henry James, Kate Atkinson, Gillian Flynn (that’s the short list). I get excited when authors talk about reading and their love of books. And some of his favourites are mine too!

He told some funny and engaging stories. When a member of the audience asked who his favourite authors were, he answered then asked the question back to her. I thought that was nice. I just found him to be a cool dude.

About the book…I am actually very excited to read it. I am pondering pausing my current read to sneak it in. It seems in the genre of Gone Girl (which I loved). As of when we had the meet and greet, it was #1 on the NYT Bestseller List, not saying that makes it good, but it doesn’t hurt.

Overall, it was a delightful evening and HaperCollins Canada were gracious  hosts. Thank you!

Me on the way out trying to act cool….and failing.



When you read history, one of the things you pick up pretty quickly is that there is nothing new.  Everything has happened before.  You can sound high and mighty and say things like people are flawed and always will be and therefore the whole world is cracked with imperfections, which change only in degree and audacity.

Or you can be a jerk and say something like people “have no originality and if we were as smart as we like to say we are, we’d at least find new ways to fuck the world up and cannot move past out our own limbic system.”  So much for being the evolved species.

Either way, I ran across a good example in Grant and the battle of Shiloh.  Long story short, the South caught the North and Grant by surprise.  How much by surprise is open to debate, but even honest journalists struggle with nuance in their stories.

But we don’t have here is honest journalists.  We have what Donald Trump sees when he watches CNN and what sensible people see when they watch Fox News.  We have this man.

His name is Whitelaw Reid.  Writing under the name Agate (and don’t lie, that’s as cool as

This asshole

hell), he was an ardent Republican and a supporter of those people who were out to get Grant, for a variety of reasons.  He wrote a 14,000-word story about Shiloh in which he said many things that were true but then added many details that were, you know, made up.  And as always, they were the most graphic and memorable details of the story…in fact, they still resonate today, if for no other reason than Reid wasn’t constrained by what actually happened and was a skilled propagandist.


For example.  Reid created a detail in which the Confederates were bayoneting the surprised Union soldiers in their tents while they ate breakfast, a memorable insight that did not happen. In fact, Chernow writes that the consensus on-field position was that there had been no bayonet deaths in the entire battle.  Reid’s writing dogged Grant for his entire career (along with similar exaggerations and untruths about his drinking) and Lincoln was under constant political pressure to replace him, inflamed by the yellow journalism.

It goes back past that.  Without leaving Chernow’s writing, we can recall the story of James Callendar in Hamilton’s era.  And it hasn’t stopped.  I give you Troopergate.  And I’m only counting the partisanly-inspired fiction jobs, not the incompetent/lazy Janet Cooke or Jayson Blair versions.

It matters because we have the tendency to think that we are in the worst of times, that the world is swirling down the drain, whereas in reality, it is only as bad as it has ever been.

Mikhail Baryshnikov….on a book blog?

img_4429I am a fan of Baryshnikov. For the record, I was a fan even before he was on Sex and the City. I liked him back in the day – my friend and I oogled over him in the film White Nights. I saw him perform back in 1995 at Art Park in Lewiston, New York with the White Oak Dance Project.

When I saw that he was coming to Toronto, I was like I’m in. What made this more intriguing was that he was doing a performance based on the poetry of Joseph Brodsky.

WHAT?! Dance to poetry. I had to see this.

I had heard of Joseph Brodsky, but was not familiar with his work. Turns out he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987. He and Baryshnikov became friends when they both were ex-pat Russians living in New York City.

Back to the performance…

Here is what was interesting: the performance featured Baryshnikov reading some of img_4430Brodsky’s poems in Russian (there were English subtitles, thank goodness. I forgot to brush up on my Russian before I went.) There were pre-recorded poems, both by Baryshnikov and Brodsky. During those segments, he danced, kinda. It was more that he interpreted the poem through movement. It’s not like he acted it out, per se, but he kind of showed what the poem felt like.

It was an extremely inventive and compelling way to experience Brodsky’s poems.

Poetry is such a personal experience. You and I could read the same poem and have very different reactions to it, and very different interpretations. Poems are about evoking a mood and feelings (mostly). So to have that translated into visual form, was interesting, and quite frankly, makes sense.

Let’s be clear, if I tried to do that I would look like a fool. But Baryshnikov is able to channel the poems and use his body and movement to express them in a way that is…well…just amazing.

I will leave you with a poem that is recited at the end, “written when Joseph was 17 years old”:

May many successes await you
more than are waiting for me.
May the battle resounding in your chest,
be magnificent and strong.
I’m happy for those,
who may happen
to travel
along your way.