Friday, September 28, 2007

"That very night in Max's room a forest grew..."

I looooove Craftster. Love it. LOVE IT. The folks there are so... crafty. And inspiring. They almost make me believe I could follow in their nimble-fingered footsteps. Er, if fingers could be said to have footsteps.

I can tell you this: if I were to take on a new project, I'd be tempted to duplicate this amazing mural by a Craftster member called Redforkhippie:

It looks impossibly daunting, but she breaks it down for us here with step-by-step instructions (and more photos, including pictures of the two young friends who helped her with the project).

Or maybe I could just find out if she makes house calls.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

There's a Sausage Party on My Shelf, and I'm Not Invited

It took me a long time to realize there's a total sausage party happening on Sam's bookshelves. Perhaps it's the ubiquity of board books that feature practically androgynous characters, such as that bunny from Goodnight, Moon and the caterpillar from The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I mean, I think I've always assumed they were male, which possibly reveals my own gender biases, but their Y chromosomes always seemed kind of beside the point.

But then when you move into books for pre-schoolers (aka "stories that are actually interesting"), you notice the dearth of female characters. Corduroy? Peter Rabbit? Curious George? Babar? The poky little puppy? All boys. Ditto a couple of my personal favourites: Peter from
The Snowy Day and Max from Where the Wild Things Are. And when you think about it, almost every major character in any Dr. Seuss book is male, with the the exception of Cindy Lou Who, who's really more of a bit part. Though I guess that kangaroo from Horton Hears a Who is an important character, but let's face it: she's kind of an asshole.

Let me tell you about one Richard Scarry book we have, which really illustrates my point:
Busy, Busy World. Billed as "33 exciting adventures for girls and boys," the book is a collection of stories that take place around the world, each featuring a new and different character... and almost every single one is male. There's Couscous the Algerian Detective, Officer Montey of Monaco, Happy Lappy from Finland, Rajah of India, and Ukelele Louie the Hawaiian Fisherman. (Disregard for a moment the raging ethnic and nationalistic stereotypes. The matter currently under discussion is the fact that almost none of the titular characters in these stories are female.)

Oh, there are women in these stories. You've got Heidi, who keeps asking Ernst the Swiss Mountain Climber to rescue her damn stupid cow. You've got Tina, a pig who is so fat that on her wedding day she can't fit into a gondola. (Fortunately, Mario comes along with his melon boat and saves the day.) And you've got Shalom of Israel's wife, a woman who is such a nag she doesn't even deserve to have a proper name. But if you take away the damsels needing rescuing and the nagging wives, you've got precious little left.

There are a
few noteworthy female characters in pre-schooler lit, I'll admit. Sam adores both Madeline and Olivia. And I guess you can sort of count Mary Anne from Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, if Sam's fondness for her is anything to go by... despite the fact that hers isn't really a speaking part. But that's about all I can come up with.

Help! Any suggestions for great kids' books featuring girls? I'm trying to raise a kid who doesn't follow in the footsteps of his father -- a man who, while I love him dearly, has never been known to voluntarily crack the spine on a book written by a woman. Unless you count Annie Proulx... which I suspect he doesn't.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Laying to Rest Childhood Mystery #4619-B

Perhaps you can help me with this. For months -- possibly years -- I've been trying to track down a young adult novel I read when I was ten or eleven. It's called Jem (no, not the National Book Award-winner by Frederick Pohl, though that's the only book the internet wants to tell me about), and these are the only details my spotty memory can yield:

The story starts at some point after the earth's population has been simultaneously afflicted with amnesia. The story is told, I believe, in the first person, by a narrator whose name I can't recall, but he describes how people try to deal with the confusion and aftermath of whatever has happened. A central character emerges in his narrative: a young man named Jem, who seems to have his shit together a little better than everyone else. As the narrator struggles with his own memories, which seem to be trying to resurface, Jem emerges as a possibly dangerous character who may have had something to do with the entire cataclysm.

I think. Like I said, I was only ten or eleven, and my precocious little brain didn't deal well with subtlety, ambiguity, and deliberately unresolved endings. My most vivid memory of reading this book was of perplexedly scrutinizing the last few pages before finally having to return the damn book to the library. And now I need to re-read it just so that I can finally lay to rest the burning question: WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS BOOK ABOUT?

For what it's worth, I've looked on Abebooks and Powell's. No luck. Any tips? Better yet, does anyone have a copy they can send me? In exchange, I'll trade you a book that actually makes sense.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Adventures in Three Dimensions

For someone who's currently unemployed "between contracts", I sure am lackadaisical on the blogging front. And today is no exception. I could have been writing over the weekend, but here's what I did instead:
  1. Napped
  2. Watched season one of The X Files
  3. Updated my Facebook profile
  4. Went to the mall
  5. Napped
Who do I think I am, some university student? Shameless! But your trip here was not for naught. Via Dooce, I bring you the three-dimensional stylings of artist Brian Dettmer:

Dettmer's sculptures makes me want to get rid of almost everything in my house and install nothing but pedestals and spotlights for displaying his work. Go here for many more images. Stunning.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Seventy Years Young!

On this day in 1937, The Hobbit was first released to the public.

Given that J.R.R. Tolkien was notedly anti-technology, I wonder what he would have thought if he'd been told that that his humble little story would someday spawn countless terabytes of online Elvish fanfic.

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: Apparently, scientists have discovered fossilized Hobbit remains. Funny. I thought they'd be taller.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

No, Thanks. I'm Waiting for the Movie.

Hey all. I'm working on a radio story about this whole "book trailer" trend for CBC's Definitely Not the Opera. (If you're new to the concept, book trailers are short videos that authors and publishers are creating to promote their books. It's a relatively new idea, and it's meeting with mixed reviews from the book-loving public.)

What's your take on this? Are book trailers weird, or just good marketing? Have you seen any awesome book trailers, or any that are absolutely terrible?

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Have No Idea Why the Caged Book Sings

This, apparently, is a bookcase. If the designer says this is so, then I suppose I must believe him. But I would appreciate it if someone could explain to me how it works.

Thank you in advance.

[via cribcandy]

Friday, September 14, 2007

Next Best Thing to Crawling Under a Rock

There is a very stern copyright notice on this site saying that unauthorized use of images is forbidden, so you'll just have to click the link to see what I'm talking about when I tell you that THE CAVE BOOKCASE IS AWESOME:
In urban life, there seems to be a common understanding that people tend to consciously or subconsciously become wary of strangers surrounding them. They are always balancing a certain level of privacy with others. A bookcase CAVE provides a private reading space within its form. As a seat height is just above the floor, CAVE gives a feeling of hiding from others standing around it.
I want. Oh, how I want.

[Thanks for the link, roughmagic!]

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Way I See It #275

When I wake up in the morning, I want
to know that my family, friends and
fans know what I believe in and what
I'm all about. That's what should
be important.

How inspiring. It's good to know that the person who threw the empty cup from their grande no-foam extra-hot caramel machiatto into my yard really BELIEVES in something.

Let's all take a moment to silently thank Starbucks for making sure that every piece of garbage it generates has a little bit of philosophy attached to it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I'm not the only parent who, when confronted with a broken balloon and a toddler who's in the process of deciding how big a hissyfit he's about to pitch, rushes to find a Useful Pot to put things in. Am I?

Because let me tell you something, yo: this strategy works.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

But How Does It Handle on the Highway?

I don't know about you guys, but sometimes I feel ambivalent about whatever I'm doing in the moment. When I'm roaming, I feel like I should be reading. When I'm reading, I feel like I should be roaming. It's hard being me.

Clearly, I'm not alone, and FINALLY some benevolent, entrepreneurial soul has developed a
solution to this no-doubt widespread conundrum:

[Ups to Stephie, Juliane and Kay for the link! Also, Rusty just told me that Glark had IMed him this link to forward to me, and Rusty forgot till now. So ups to you, too, Glark! Though the fact that you thought Rusty would actually remember to do this is a sign that we need to hang out soon, because you're clearly forgetting that this "remembering" business is not how Rusty rolls.]

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Midsummer Latesummer Night's Book Reckoning

I guess all those books I've read over the summer aren't going to blog themselves. Problem is, I've read 27 books since I last wrote about one. That's great and all, but it makes for an intimidating round of catch-up. It's like when you run into somebody whom you haven't seen in years, and they ask you what's new, and you're like, "Oh, nothing. Just EVERYTHING."

So here's what I'm going to do to make this enterprise less scary for myself. Today I'm going to list all the books I've read, with mini-reviews. Maybe I'll get to longer reviews someday, maybe not. I am, after all, a fey creature, prone to vapours and whimsies, as ephemeral as a unicorn fart. But if there's a particular book you're especially interested in, let me know, and I'll do my best to bump it to the top of the list of things to write about. (Note: 50 Books management is unable to define in clear terms what "do my best" actually means.)

Espresso Tales, Dream Angus
by Alexander McCall Smith (#17-18)
Do I have anything new to say about Alexander McCall Smith? Dare I repeat myself? Simply put, McCall Smith is my go-to guy for stories that give me a sense that there is an order -- a gentle order -- to the universe. Unrealistic? Probably. Who cares?

A Curtain of Green and Other Stories
by Eudora Welty (#19)
This is Welty's first collection of short stories, published in 1941. If these are just the first, I can't wait to read the rest. And can I just thank all you folks who pimped Welty to me way back in the day?

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
by Kurt Vonnegut (#20)
I was feeling sad after Vonnegut's death, and wanted to re-read this, his most optimistic and redeeming novel. I was still sad afterward, but it was okay.

The Line of Beauty
by Alan Hollinghurst (#21)
For some reason, this book made me think of The Great Gatsby and Evelyn Waugh's Mayfair novels and Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children. In other words, it was pretty good. There's a movie, isn't there? Worth seeing?

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
by David Sedaris (#22)
This, to me, is Sedaris's most wistful collection of stories, and my favourite to date. It's funny, too.

Einstein's Monsters
by Martin Amis (#23)
Reading Amis's circa-1987 thoughts and stories about nuclear weapons and the Cold War was, strangely, anthropological yet relevant. As interesting as the stories are, the introduction is even better. I don't usually push introductions on people, but you really should read Amis's forward to this book.

Vinyl Cafe Diaries, Home from the Vinyl Cafe
by Stuart McLean (#24-25)
After Martin Amis finished scaring the living shit out of me, I needed to read some stories that were the literary equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. If you tend to disparage this kind of reading... well, bully for you. I'm made of more fragile stuff.

After Dark
by Haruki Murakami (#26)
I wanted to read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. I ended up reading this. It was okay, but it felt kind of like I was reading a treatment for a screenplay. This is a trait I've noticed in other contemporary novels, as if the writer were already planning two steps ahead to when their publisher sells the movie option for their book. Or maybe I'm just projecting my own cynicism. Maybe the more innocent explanation is that TV and movies have moulded how some writers create stories. Or maybe I just got a bad translation.

Shooting an Elephant
by George Orwell (#27)
Don't tell anybody, but I think I have a crush on George Orwell. I could read his essays every single day for the rest of my life and never get bored. Plus, I think if he were alive today, he'd either be a blogger himself, or at the very least he'd be a huge blog advocate. I have proof.

Youth in Revolt
by C.D. Payne (#28)
I read this years ago, and while I didn't love it quite as much this time around -- due, no doubt, to the fact that I am now somewhere between an old biddy and a fuddy-duddy -- I still enjoyed it. It's sort of like The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole meets Portnoy's Complaint.

Arthur and George
by Julian Barnes (#29)
This novel surprised me by being one of the best new books I've read this year. Oh, and look: I guess it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, too. Those people are S-M-R-T.

A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, An Acceptable Time
by Madeline L'Engle (#30-34)
I was sad to find out that L'Engle recently passed away, but I was glad that I finally got to read the entire Wrinkle in Time series. They're a bit cheesy and New Age-y (the power of love and forgiveness seems to save the day a fair bit) -- and yes, there are unicorns -- but that's what makes them so sweet. Enjoy them before we get even further away from the '60s.

Freddy the Detective, Freddy Goes to Florida, Freddy and the Space Ship
by Walter R. Brooks (#35-37)
I don't know. I just like stories about talking pigs, okay?

Season of the Witch
by Natasha Mostert (#38)
This was given to me, and I kind of worried that, what with the smoldering hero and the hot ladies and the occult stuff, it would be like a poor woman's version of an Anne Rice novel (which is tough, since sometimes Rice herself writes the poor woman's version of her own novels). But then the book redeemed itself by being like a cross between a poor woman's Anne Rice novel AND a poor woman's Umberto Eco novel, and somehow the combination worked. I'm not too proud to say I pulled a nigh all-nighter to finish it.

Diary of a South Beach Party Girl
by Gwen Cooper (#39)
What can I say? When you're on a roll with the chick lit, you're on a roll. This novel is a diary. A diary about a girl. A girl who likes parties. A girl who specifically likes parties in South Beach. (Cryptic titles are so passe.)

by Curtis Sittenfeld (#40)
I seem to be rocking the blank-meets-blank trope today, so why stop now? Prep is like Catcher in the Rye meets, er, something not unlike Catcher in the Rye but more contemporary and written by a woman. Maybe A Complicated Kindness? Maybe?

The Dharma Bums
by Jack Kerouac (#41)
We had just come back from a fantastic camping trip and I realized that I needed to re-read this story about camping and hiking and Buddhism and enlightenment. Pretentious? Holy crap, yes. But compelling nonetheless. Side note: You know you're getting old when you start developing fond, forgiving, maternal feelings toward Kerouac characters.

Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Brontë (#42)
I know Jane has her haters out there, but for the love of god, I have no idea why. An undergrad professor came thisclose to ruining this book for me, thanks to his obsession with what he termed the sadomasochistic qualities of Jane and Rochester. It's taken almost fifteen years, but fortunately I've bounced back. And while I'm providing the running commentary on my age as it relates to the characters in the books I'm reading, I should mention how disorienting it was to realize that I'm two years older than Rochester is at the beginning of the story. Maybe I'm just developing fond, forgiving, maternal feelings toward EVERYONE.

by Carol Shields (#43)
I spent way too long trying to read Umberto Eco's The Island of the Day Before, before I realized that I needed less whimsy, not more, swirling around in my fevered brain. Thank god for Carol Shields. Her stories about regular folks encountering minor-but-important crises and crossroads in their lives have a roundness that may not be exactly true to life, but at the same time have their own internal truth. Plus, quilts!

Done! Whew. That felt good. And remember what I said (unless senile dementia has struck you since you first started reading this post back in 1973): if you want more on any of these books, fire me a comment!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Memo to Inventors: There's Nothing Left

So your books are crammed tightly on your shelves... so tightly, in fact, that your delicate, petal-like fingertips pinken ever so slightly at the effort of extracting a tome.

To get past this vexing problem, you could:

a) suck it up
b) get rid of a few books
c) get one of these little doohickeys*
*Except that you can't get them, unless you happen to live in Japan. Alas.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Boho or Bust

There comes a time in every aspiring young bohemian's life when she or he embraces all the decorative trappings that come with the territory: the beaded curtains... the gazillion votive candles... the big faux-gilt mirrors... the Indian bedspreads hung just so over the futon... the cheeky holographic Jesus poster whose eyes follow you around the room.

Sadly, for me, those years are naught but hazy, patchouli-scented memories, which is why I have to pass on this biblioteca bookrack.

But perhaps it's not too late for you?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Designer Stool

New Year's Eve is kind of a big deal for most of the population. A time for renewal, resolutions, starting over, blabbidy blah blah. Like I said: for MOST of the population.

Nerds like us know that the REAL time for new beginnings is autumn, specifically Labour Day. Because deep down, we're still back-to-school junkies who get a weird hard-on at the prospect of sharpening our pencils, putting fresh-smelling ruled paper in all our three-ring binders, and getting a spanking new geometry kit, despite the fact that we're not really sure about what half the gizmos in it actually do. And somehow we associate the smell of pencil shavings and new paper with rebirth. Because we're freaks.

I'm not sure why, but I thought of all that when I saw this contraption:

That's right. From Paris, by way of New York, it's a pair of black cotton-and-nylon straps that turns a common stack of magazines and/or books into a useful stool. It's called the Book Stool, and it, too, can be yours for the low, low price of $39 USD (magazines not included).

Or, if you don't mind losing out on the cachet of owning the Parisian original, you could get a couple of virtually identical straps from your local camping or army surplus store and make your own stool for under five bucks. It all depends on how you feel about cachet. (Me, I just like to say it, lingering lovingly over the second syllable. Try it yourself: Cash-ayyyyyy. Fun, right?)