Monday, June 26, 2017


I haven't watched the movie, and I didn't realize they were beetles. I was also unaware they went by "May beetles".
  1. Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn
    • I forget where in my periphery this showed up, but the moment I realized this was another book about a little boy's friendship with a tree, I realized I needed to read it, especially after having been left completely torn about The Giving Tree not too long ago. Goldstyn does not disappoint. A meditation on both friendship and death and how friendship transcends death through the imaginative and heartwarming gesture of the little boy, this book is absolutely beautiful.
  2. A Streetcar Named Desire ballet
    • I'm so glad I went to the pre-show talk for this, because I didn't realize how much of it I had forgotten - no surprise, considering it's been since high school though - and what I had never really picked up on (for example, desire being something that is inescapable being signified by the streetcar, in that we are all in no more control of our own desires as we are as passengers in a streetcar). I had also completely forgotten about Stella's pregnancy, and while I'd never watched the movie before, which scene was the "Stella!" scene? I'm also blithely unaware of the mime gestures used in ballet and what they mean, so it was very helpful to have it pointed out the significance of the gesture of Blanche placing Allan's hand to her forehead when they first dance. I'm sure I would have made the connection at some point later on, especially after he has shot himself and she tries to revive the connection, revive him and undo her vitriolic rejection of him.
    • All this to say, I wanted to love this ballet very much, but for personal reasons, I couldn't. I was predisposed by situational factors, mostly, so I'll go over real quick a couple of things to give an idea of what my commentary's going to be coloured by: going in straight after work, I had forgotten my water; the subway was having power failure issues at Finch when I got there, and when it started back up again there was an incessant loud beeping noise that continued until either Sheppard or Lawrence; and I only had a cookie for dinner, during the intermission. So in that state, going into the second act and listening to a slew of cacophony with an eerie slant of classical thrown into the mix, I was quite unable to rouse myself to absorption in the ballet. That being said, I completely understand how the music chosen for both the first and second acts complemented the events in each scene, both physical/literal as well as internal. I loved the death scene, the repeated deaths, and the recurring dance where Blanche is lifted by her partner, happening throughout the ballet and becoming more suspect each time.
    • I'm pretty sure I made the connection back when we were studying A Streetcar Named Desire, but I know for sure we didn't actually play the song in class nor discuss lyrics to It's Only a Paper Moon. I remember searching up the song, and I can only hope I wasn't so daft as to not realize what it meant in the context of the play. It remains one of my favourite songs to this day, and I think its incorporation within the ballet, interrupting Blanche's memories incessantly, was quite a nice touch. There was something about it that was both lonely and accusative, and it captured Blanche's state quite well. Her desires and the consequences to the actions she takes to either procure what she desires or to reject them is captured in her inability to run from the reality of what has happened, even - or perhaps especially so - in her memories.
  3. Ice Diaries: An Antarctic Memoir by Jean McNeil
    • This was more of a work-related reading and something I most likely would not have picked up on my own, by dint of the fact it is filed under Biography & Memoir. Not that I veer far away from it and avoid them at all costs, so much as I don't browse there, generally.
    • I cannot help but think that this memoir could plausibly have taken place anywhere; not in the sense that anywhere would have done, so much as it is much less a book that transports you where the author has gone, and one that details the author's thoughts and revelations, her anxieties at every turn and how they are related to her past. There is not a single instance where I am carried away entirely by the text to Antarctica, and I find myself disappointed. I looked forward to the blocks within the book, between her diary entries and her narrative, the separate thread - her past - was much more intriguing to me. I know it all ties together, and even at the very beginning McNeil states that the characters featured are of necessity characters and not people, despite their having basis in reality - to an extent, I feel as though any one person's interpretation of another, either through observation or by transcribing them into words, already renders the one they have created in their mind, on the page, a separate existence from the person they are based upon - but for myself personally, I would have preferred either a full narration, a novel (which I believe actually does exist, so perhaps I should have looked there instead), or a diary. McNeil does blend them all quite well, in a cohesive manner, and I enjoyed the way she achieved this, but there is a self-consciousness there - one that is part and parcel of the category of memoir, I suppose - that made me think it no memoir, rather a guarded telling of a story, threaded together from elements of McNeil's life.
    • While McNeil writes in a beautiful prose, I kept getting this nagging sense of pretense throughout precisely because of her style. There are a family of adjectives that keeps popping up in her descriptions at some point, along the lines of glutinous and glaucous, and while I can appreciate there being a glutinous quality to the air, the atmosphere, the very experience of being on base in the Antarctic, there appeared to be some pattern of choosing her adjectives such that they conjured the feeling of starting with a G, if that makes sense. I realize in terms of meaning, the words don't have any relation, but there is a physicality in reading the words that groups them together in some stringy, sticky mass, impossible to disentangle from the text. Something about the sheer quantity of words that McNeil chooses that fall into some nebulous category of "not quite often observed in the vernacular from my own experience of it, apart from the literary crowd perhaps" strikes me as another layer of defense against what I associate to be the revealing nature of memoir: it is as though we see her thoughts, her connections, and the events she experiences only through layer upon layer of ice, in all their colours and brilliances. I suppose this is what makes me feel as though I am reading not so much a memoir as a novel. It is less of a revealing, a flensing, as McNeil herself might put it, than a meditation on her life as a collage. Which is fair; it is a memoir. It's simply not what I expected, and when I keep reading on, trying to transport myself to the Antarctic or the Arctic, wherever it is McNeil goes, I realize I am doing it using brute force, and my sheer force of will is not enough. I am instead transported into McNeil's thoughts, and the general sense of her thoughts remains the same throughout, essentially unchanged and unaffected (despite what it may seem, and against what is written).
  4. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
    • I like the rundown before the novel of places you might like to enjoy a leisurely read. I wonder if Colgan does this for every novel she writes? Another one of the armchair travel (as Ice Diaries above) reads for work. Next on this list is A Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks. See a pattern here? Sheep, countryside, Antarctica... isolation and a harking back to the good ol' days I never partook in (which generally means a romanticization of what it is to actually live those climes)?
    • Whenever Scotland comes up as a topic, I always refer to it as my spiritual homeland, because the one time I went for vacation, there was this feeling of belonging, or perhaps it was just a level of comfort I'm unused to, and Colgan captured that beautifully with Nina surveying the fictional town of Kirrinfief: "here, looking down on the valley, at the tiny villages full of people getting on with their own lives in their own way... Nina had the oddest sense of things she had ever experienced... she felt that she had come home" (p.41). Not that I got too many views of tiny villages, but you get the idea. The novel is peppered throughout with descriptions of the beautiful countryside, complete with festivals featuring dancing and drinks and a view of the aurora borealis, all transporting you to Kirrinfief with the beautiful imagery. The daily life is what really gets me, though, in the closeness of the entire town and how everyone gets along and looks out for each other (as Nina wryly remarks in response to her friend Surinder saying much the same as I just did: "Well, we have to... there isn't an Accident and Emergency for sixty miles" (p.216)).
    • As far as the plot is concerned, well. It's pretty lighthearted stuff. Not so much the content, I suppose, although that too, so much as the style of writing and the general tone of the novel overall. It's some light reading for your leisurely time, as Colgan herself suggests in the Message to Readers right before the story starts.
      • To be honest, I really wish that Nina became able to stand up on her own, without the romance aspect of it. "Good thing I don't talk much then"????? Really? Anyway.
  5. The Lottery and Other Short Stories by Shirley Jackson
    • Each and every single one of these short stories has an odd mundaneness to them in that they seem to be a story about just another ordinary day... until they take some weird twist, as when Jim leaves his own apartment, where he has hosted a neighbour for dinner, and he goes "back" to her room instead, leaving her and her colleague in his apartment. It's as though our notions of what constitutes the norm don't apply, and yet these stories don't exist in another dimension altogether: they have just enough of the surreal to them to strike the reader as really weird and kind of freaky, but enough similarities to our familiar world that the oddness of the story creeps in on you rather than rudely making itself known.
    • The titular story is quite disturbing, and the stoning that happens retains its savage quality despite not being written in full (to her death), precisely because of the nonchalance of that town's inhabitants throughout. Chilling, unsettling, these stories are spooky in their own right despite not really detailing anything all too out of the ordinary (save maybe in The Lottery).
  6. XXY (2007)
    • What a beautiful film! That family has such a wonderful dynamic and the support and love that the parents provide and have for Alex is palpable. The only thing is, I'm not sure whether the surgeon had to be as stubbornly unchanging as he was, in viewing Alex as a case that needed to be solved, as well as embodying most evidently the societal norms that the family moved to get away from when he talks to his son about leaving. I'm not sure that Alvaro leaves ready to face the changed dynamics between his parents and in terms of his own life, although he was able finally to talk seriously with his father. All said, all the characters developed throughout the film, and while Alex always had her own, it was great to see in the end that she chooses not to care about what others think about her being intersex and (from what I understood) going on to lay charges.
  7. The Book of Henry (2017)
    • We were supposed to go to the ROM FNL. Then we were supposed to watch Wonder Woman. And because we got the times wrong, we ended up going with the movie that had the worst rating & the most hilarious review titles instead: The Book of Henry. Here are a few of the ones that popped up immediately following a quick google search: The Book of Henry is so deliriously bad, it feels cursed (Vox), The Book of Henry Review A Unique Kind of Terrible (Vulture), and The Book of Henry is a Warped Nightmare of a Movie (The Atlantic). They're all true.
    • What is this movie even about? What's the overarching plot? Is there one? I get the feeling the director tried to fit in too many subplots and didn't end up making any cohesive and believable story (e.g. Christina goes to live with Susan? Really? Henry's not much of a genius if he shakes the instax polaroid slide, among other things). The characters aren't fleshed out, and personally, I don't think the scenes that were supposed to be tearjerkers were very successful at all. Why did the principal end up reporting Glenn? Is it because Christina started crying on stage? Or her dance conveyed the extent of her abuse? Wait. But what exactly did the abuse consist of, exactly? Was she being beaten, or sexually abused, or what? Because it's such a serious issue at hand, I think it's kind of important for this detail to be hashed out. Besides which, where are her bruises? And she doesn't grow as a character, at all.
    • And what bothered me most was probably the fact that Glenn ended up killing himself - was there no way to fix the issue without him dying? Are there situations where you really do just have to get rid of the person in order to help everyone else? What's the message I'm supposed to take away here? What's the role of that doctor????????? I thought he might be a potential love interest, but there's nothing there for him. What is he even doing there? He's not much emotional support, but he's a bit more than a nameless side character - what's the point of him being there? Ugggghhhhhhh.
  8. The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
    • I was recommended this by a customer after I remarked that I had read Rotters (Daniel Kraus), and it's a pretty spot-on recommendation! If only I could do RA with the same aplomb as him for every customer, my (library) life would be pretty golden. Someone who has read Rotters will most likely enjoy The Monstrumologist, and here are just a few reasons why:
      • Father-son dynamics are very similar, in that they're dysfunctional, and it's this odd relationship that fuels the boy's maturation into a young man.
        • The protagonist starts off a boy, reliant upon his parents, before losing them (in Rotters, it's more that the father was never really a father figure, so even though his father is who he gets sent to live with, the boy did lose his parent figure) and being sent off to live with someone who fills the father figure role in an unconventional manner. Someone who's awkward but honourable and lives by rules that don't seem to match completely with the mores of whichever society they're living in.
        • It's a coming-of-age sort of plot, in short.
      • Gravedigging, death, descriptions of dead bodies. If you're into that. Lots of unusual activities taking place under the cover of the night - grave robbery, monster hunting - and a sense of those who participate being at an elevated remove from the rest of society. Elevated in that they are of the impression they are more worldly and know more about nature, or how the world works, than everyone else just living their lives completely unaware of the grave-digging battle happening underfoot, or the existence of monsters that were supposed only to live in myths.
      • Religion, specifically Christianity (or something like). In Rotters, through and through, whereas in The Monstrumologist, used a bit more sparingly and not quite permeating the text.
      • Although Rotters doesn't have a supernatural element to it, there sort of is, in the character of Boggs, and the entire situation is odd enough that you'd be willing to suspend your disbelief for the purposes of immersing yourself in the novel. With The Monstrumologist, there really are creatures of a supernatural slant, so you know what you're getting into, but it's also presented in a more matter-of-fact way, not wavering much between dream/hallucination and reliable testimony.
    • For all that, though, and while I enjoyed the overall plot, adjectives probably constituted about 80% of the text, which is really off-putting and comes across as a bit try-hard. That on its own might not be entirely too much, but coupled with the overall feel of the writing reminding me of someone trying too hard to imitate a writing style gone by of ages past, so I couldn't really get into it as much as I could Rotters. I don't know how authentic Yancey managed to be, as I haven't really made it a hobby to read 19th c. manuscripts, but it prevented me from plunging into the novel. I'm somewhat interested in whether this remains constant throughout the series (I have heard it does), but it's also off-putting enough that I'm not much looking forward to trekking through them.
      • Also, just a note: I didn't get that the monstrumologist was supposed to be handsome until Will Henry commented on it outright. This is odd.
      • Also, the doctor is a bit too flawed, in that the glimpse of humanity we get in the form of his affection towards Will Henry doesn't balance off the general asshole that he is throughout. He's supposed to be intelligent, which would to an extent justify his arrogance and the way he treats everyone else (though even then... but at least he would be more sympathetic as a whole), but he's wrong all the time. And Will Henry, being the narrator, while being critical of the doctor, doesn't have the fortitude of will to go against him outright, for the entire book. I should hope there's character growth in that department throughout the series, but as far as this particular book goes, it's not getting me emotionally vested in the characters.
  9. Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper
    • For some reason or another, it appears that words - perhaps languages - have secret lives that are easily discoverable enough that we are able to find books that purport to give us the inside look at, say, pronouns, or in this case, dictionaries. Word by Word is witty and engaging Stamper is everything you could hope for in a narrator about the dictionary and how it is to work as one of the editors who writes the dictionary. Let me say that again: writes the dictionary. Stamper relates it as though it's nothing out of the ordinary when she's asked what she does and she answers that she writes dictionaries, but if you will, just think about the enormity of that phrase: writes dictionaries.
    • Stamper cracks me up at least once in almost every chapter, which is kind of a big feat (maybe less nowadays, but I still think it takes quite a bit to make me laugh out loud when reading). Witty and enlightening - it took Stamper an entire month to define "take" (do you see what I did there?), and another editor nine months to overhaul "but" - NINE MONTHS! That's a baby! - Stamper reveals the day-to-day operations of being a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. The outrage from complaints she recounts I could already imagine, and I have a lot of trouble defining words when asked to do so on the fly, so it came as no surprise that new lexicographers have to take in-house classes on how to define a word, and that it should take so much work to do so, but all of it is is still so well written and frankly hilarious at times that I could barely get myself to put the book down. Read it! Then follow Merriam-Webster on Twitter. Better yet, buy one of their dictionaries so they can continue to churn them out!
  10. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
    • Ultimately, I feel as though it ended up being much more an analysis of the relationship between Bechdel and her mother, or rather the effect her mother had on her growing up (and continues to have as an adult). To be honest, I'm not sure how to write about it, but the way the "story" jumps from one place to another to explore different episodes in her life and how they manifest themselves in her dreams was interesting, and worked well in this graphic novel; it imitated the associations made during therapy, I think, which are explicit following the dreams.
  11. Amerika by Franz Kafka (edited to completed list June 30)
    • It's an onion man, right? It's an onion. Right? (On the cover of the edition I've got, at least.)
      • Is it a representation of Karl's integrity being peeled away and lost one layer at a time?
    • I'm surprised I haven't read any Kafka until now, although I do remember trying to read The Trial during my spare in grade 12. It hooked me in from the start, but I wasn't a library user back then, despite me being an employee at another library. Even just going by Vonnegut's diagram of Kafka's stories (his plot plots are hilarious and I hold them dear), I'm all the more struck by how odd it is I hadn't picked up any of his novels prior to this. I've also tried listening to Benedict Cumberbatch's narration of The Metamorphosis at some point, but I think it's more just that audiobooks aren't quite my jam (or weren't, at any rate; it's been a while).
    • It took me a while to finish this one, mostly because I was reading it as my work breaktime novel, but I'm glad I ended up finishing it after I read The Miner by Soseki. I do think that Karl slowly loses sight of himself throughout Amerika, but at the same time, there is his naivety and industriousness that is never lost, characteristics that help define how this young man has not learned a thing from the beginning of the story to the end. Likewise, the protagonist of The Miner (I forget his name) has much of the same personality characteristics: he had a bit of a problem at home to do with a woman, was banished and went off on his journey, in much the same sort of mood as Karl (though in the beginning with much fewer prospects), and ends up basically just where he started (in terms of what he has learned from the whole experience), though now fully entrenched.
Not quite done these:
  1. The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks
    • Another work-related read for armchair travel reading. This is actually my second time trying to read through this book, and considering the subject matter, you'd think I'd be all over that, right? I thought so too! But I'm just not getting pulled into the life of being a shepherd in Lake District. It might have something to do with the style of writing or the tone, or the way it can get a bit choppy, although there are instances of pure gold in the writing, as in Rebanks' comment about dipping the sheep into chemicals: "No one worried about such things too much back then - but basically we were dipping them in chemical agents developed to kill people in the First World War" (p.35). No comment follows as to whether they have switched to more environmentally & sheep-friendly alternatives to keep the flies away.
    • It's just surprisingly difficult to get through such a short book with such large set type. It's less like strolling through the hills & valleys and more like climbing up a cliff.

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