Monday, October 16, 2017


Last week-end Eve and I and my parents drove down to London to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and her family (the boys stayed home because Angus was writing SATs Saturday here in town). This week-end I drove down to Waterloo with some friends to go to an Oktoberfest event with friends that had moved there in the summer (Matt went to Watertown with Angus for baseball - Eve had music camp at school and found it inexpressibly amusing that Matt and I were both going to places that had Water in the name. She's weird).

Both week-ends were great, except I'm getting worse and worse at staying at other people's houses. It's never been my favourite thing. I'm a weird guest. I use a lot of ice. I need a lot of showers. I hate getting up in the morning in a strange place. And I'm used to keeping my house a few degrees above a walk-in refrigerator's temperature and this fall has been unseasonably warm, so I was melting for close to the entire time. I don't know if the perimenopause thing has fully kicked in that way, but unless I was right out of a cold shower and standing in front of a fan I was uncomfortable - and other people were wearing sweaters. It makes me afraid that I'm going to turn into a weird(er) recluse who never goes anywhere. Is it just me? Everyone I was traveling with seemed to just take it all in stride.

Besides that, it was all great. Eve joined school band for the first time last year and had an amazing teacher who really encouraged her and it was a great experience. He invited her to volunteer at a band camp he runs at the school in the summer, which she did, and finished all her volunteer hours before she even started high school. But all my friends were kind of dicks about how she kept saying "band camp", so my sister and I told her to watch American Pie with my niece. She watched it. She said "screw all of you, I'm still calling it band camp". And this is why I love her. They also watched the first episode of This Is Us, and I got to be there when the penny dropped near the end of the episode and they were very satisfyingly open-mouthed and shocked and impressed and teary and it was an epic moment.

I haven't been to an Oktoberfest event since university when I went to a Waterloo bar that just put an '-ausen' on the end of its name and got drunk, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Since we're older with more disposable income now, we bought tickets to a more authentic venue and it was really cool (Dracula jokes aside). There was a band that was a polka band and a cover band, and traditional dancing that was really cool, and traditional food that was delicious, and people in lederhosen and dirndls, and a mechanical bull that I didn't ride because I was wearing a dress (I have some regrets).

And now I'm home, and a comfortable temperature, and had a good sleep in my own bed, and I miss my sister and my friends. But Eve just came home and said "I have an egg test tomorrow so you're all getting poached eggs for dinner". And Angus made the honour roll again last year even though he went to Oklahoma for the Junior Sunbelt Classic one week before second-term exams. So there's that.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

There Were Two-Ton Kangaroos Before We Came on the Scene

It's been kind of a crappy week. I'll spare you the gory details, except to say that perimenopause is not for sissies and my already-dire iron levels are in danger of plunging even further. That coupled with the suffocating, enervating heat and humidity meant Monday and Tuesday were pretty much a write-off. Which was okay, I didn't miss anything important, Lucy and I spent some quality time in my reading chair in front of a fan with some pretty good books. The problem is always re-entry. I end up feeling like Rip Van Winkle, unsure about the customs and expressions in this world that's continued to rush by as I lay fallow.

I dragged myself out to book club last night with ill grace, after apologizing to my husband for snapping more than once (I know it only seems like the worse I feel the dumber his questions get). It was good. We had read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, which was splendid. He does an amazing job of making centuries of human history comprehensible and digestible, while also doing a fairly poor job of concealing that he thinks we are a complicated and fascinating plague on the face of the earth who should probably all commit ritual suicide. The title may as well have been Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Sucking Hard at Nearly Every Opportunity. This naturally led to a spirited discussion between the idealists and misanthropes in the group. Also, there used to be marsupial lions in Australia. Marsupial. Lions.

It's meet the teacher night. Why do I hate meet the teacher night so very much? It's at a reasonable time. The set-up sounds logical and minimally chaotic. The weather is fine. Is it because going back to school stirs up all my old insecurities? I seriously would rather have a root canal right now and I really don't understand why. Of course, I actually do have to make long-overdue dentist appointments for myself and the kids and I'm not doing that either. I can't remember how to talk to people.

Eve and I had a really great week-end at a cottage with friends. This Sunday I'm going hiking in Gatineau Park. This is just a blip. I'll be okay. Well, not in the long run because clearly we're all doomed.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

In Which Defeat is Only the Tiniest Bit Agonizing

I have a friend who posted her engagement on Facebook a few years ago, and then confided that she felt stupid for having done so when it fell through. I told her she shouldn't feel that way at all, because her real friends wouldn't feel anything but sympathy and she had nothing to be embarrassed about. But I confess that I felt slightly the same way about broadcasting my first job interview attempt in twenty or so years in serene confidence that it would go positively and then.... well....

True, I could have slunk away and licked my wounds in private then. But in all honesty, people, is that ever how I roll? Let's see: depression posts; period posts; condom posts.... NOPE.

It's all very well to say that clearly I was overqualified and they were just afraid I wouldn't stay long. The bottom line is that I put myself out there and they said no thanks. And that stings a little. But it was still a good experience. Before I whipped that application together I was paralyzed at the thought of trying to put together a resumé after so much time. Now I know I can, and I can get a response, even if it's ultimately not the response I want.

Plus, now I can go to my friends' cottage this week-end instead of working. We all went to the bar last night (we do most Tuesdays, I wasn't deciding to chuck the employment idea and just become a barfly) and when they invited us to the cottage I said I would only come if I could get drunk and belligerent and tear up Indigo bookmarks. One of the hosts looked concerned and said I should bring my own because they don't have that many. (Silly. I wasn't really going to do it. One does not rip up a perfectly good bookmark even in the face of cruel rejection).

Also, I was going to have to call Zarah and say, in a good news/bad news kind of way, I can't do our girls' week-end this fall because I have a job. Now it's a bad news/ good news kind of thing. Which is good, because somehow circumstances have evolved to the point where I can only buy bras at this little shop in Barrie, and I need a new one. So, Zarah... call me.

A couple more things that happened this summer:

Zarah and the kids came for Bluesfest:

We all fell even more in love with Melissa Etheridge:

There was a lot of reading:

Oh, and Eve and Alex got haircuts.

Then we got ice cream. Obviously. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

In Which I Just Never Learn

I'm a helpful person. It's just how I'm built. I like to help if I can. People seem to sense it - in the grocery store, at parking machines, parked at intersections (I have given directions more than once through two open car windows, before the light turns green). It's mostly a good thing. Occasionally it's not the greatest.

Thursday afternoon I was at my group interview at Indigo. It was so much more fun than I thought it would be. It was a fun group of people and we all kind of clicked. The "team-building" exercises were silly rather than cheesy and made us all laugh and relax. The corporate schtick actually came across as fairly sincere. I thought it would all feel kind of fake and forced and it didn't.

In the second half, we were split into groups and a small group of us were out on the floor. Our first assignment was to take five minutes to grab two items, come back and describe why we liked them. On my way to the sci-fi and fantasy section, I apparently looked so much like I ALREADY worked there that an older gentleman asked me for help. 

It was a no-brainer. I was IN THE MIDDLE of a job interview. I could have easily just said "no, sorry, I don't work here". But I don't know, I spend a lot of time in that store, I know where a lot of things are, and he was older, with a nice face, and a bit of a tremor, and I'm apparently a bit of a moron. I said "sorry, I don't work here... but what are you looking for?" He was wondering if the "...for Dummies" series was all in one place or spread all over the store. 

Crap. Uh... I said "I assume they would be in different sections." There's, uh, a computer right over here". Did I then leave him to look it up in the computer? NO. I DID NOT. I typed "Cooking for Dummies" in. 

It said there was one in the store.

Double crap. Everybody who has ever worked retail knows this is the kiss of death. Six in the store? You're pretty much guaranteed to find a few on the shelf where they should be? Two in the store? Odds still in your favour. One in the store? Could be anywhere. Or nowhere.

Did I say that, and return to my assignment? NO. I DID NOT. I walked with him back to the cooking section and started looking at the shelves. 

FOUND IT. No. Wait. This is "Green Smoothies for Dummies". Probably not what he's looking for. Oh, FOUND IT. No. Wait. This is "Gluten-Free Cooking for Dummies." I look up, realize I'm in all the cooking SUB-sections. The seconds are ticking away, but what am I going to do, say "sorry, sucks to be you" and bolt? I have locked myself into the most absurd situation. And there is no Cooking for Dummies book on this shelf.

Finally, he looks up and says "well, I really appreciate you trying to help me anyway." I race over to the sci-fi and fantasy section, fail utterly to find a Neil Gaiman book, grab a copy of Ready Player One and on my way back to the group grab a pair of fuzzy reading socks. I was last, but they didn't look like they were waiting impatiently or anything.

Clearly if I don't get the job it's because I'm just TOO GOOD AT IT already. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Some Things That Happened This Summer

I applied to Indigo and got an invitation to submit a video interview the next day. I keep trying to feel anxious about going back to work, but I keep realizing that I'm really looking forward to getting out of the house a few times a week, hanging out around books and contributing a little to the family finances. I think I'm really ready. One might argue that it's way past time for me to be ready, but one could then be cordially invited to take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut. I refuse to get nervous about an interview, because I think they'd be daft not to hire me, so I'm willing to let things unfold as they may.

My reading mood was weird over the summer. I couldn't read anything dense or challenging, and I read overall much less than usual. A few weeks ago I did what I always say I never do and put a bunch of holds on at the library that all came in at once. Then I read eleven books in eight days, so I'm feeling better about that whole end of things. It's like the reset button has been hit on a few things, which gives me hope that last year wasn't actually the start of a giant downward slide ending in death.

The summer was good. Really good. One thing that happened was that we got one of those picnic blankets that's soft on the top and waterproof and slippery on the bottom and folds up neatly with built-in carrying straps. It comes in a perfect bundled-up package, and you bring it somewhere and unfold it and experience its lovely soft waterproofness:

Then you spend the rest of your life trying to get it back into that state of pristine perfection, (which is not helped by the fact that one side is insanely slippery),

....with very occasional success.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Small Frustrations, Tiny Satisfactions

I generally make it a habit of grabbing my apron from the hook and putting it on on my way into the kitchen no matter what I'm going in there for. I am not a neat and graceful person and I don't enjoy changing clothes several times a day. This was amply vindicated just now when, without an apron, I turned around from the counter and decided to take the lid off the slow-cooker to check the pulled pork and got splattered with hot meat juice, burning a tiny spot on my chest and leaving brown spots on my pink tank top (sorry if this made you gag a little, Nicole). This was annoying, but the pulled pork smelled delicious, which is a not bad little microcosm of this whole day.

Angus talked quite a bit with his guidance counsellor last year when he was offered a spot on the Team Canada's roster for the Oklahoma Junior Sunbelt Tournament, which meant he would be missing a week of school right before exams. The guidance counsellor liaised with his teachers and everybody was quite nice and helpful in making accommodations so he could go and not have his marks suffer too much (we also realized how much he sucks at blowing his own horn since a couple of his teachers were like, "he plays baseball?"). We realized that we'd kind of been underusing the guidance person as a resource too, since she mentioned she could have worked with us to have his first semester loaded with heavier courses since baseball always ramps up from January to June. She said she could help him with that this year, but today when he went down to guidance following the regular guidelines, the person he ended up with could not have been less helpful, and none of the changes he needed got made, and we have to go in again next week. Which is frustrating.

As for me, even just getting ready to look for a job is setting my anxiety on fire, which is stupid, because it's not like we're looking at getting evicted or becoming food insecure, I just want to be a productive member of society and contribute a little to the education fund. But while the decision to wait until after the summer to look was right, I should probably have gotten my ducks in a row in some fashion before now, and I feel kind of dumb and obscurely ashamed for no good reason. I'm also thinking of just applying to work part-time at Indigo until I find something related to my diploma, which would probably be fine, but I'm already stressing about what happens if Matt's away and Eve has basketball and I'm working and I don't even know if they'd hire me yet. Deep breaths need to be taken.

Angus and I both have trouble with uncertainty. The teachers that understood him best in early elementary school would write the day's schedule on the board so he wouldn't have to constantly be asking "what are we doing after this?" Every time I go to the doctor for reassurance that something isn't dire or life-threatening, I know that what I really want is to be told that I'm never going to get cancer or ALS or whatever, and life just doesn't work like that. A year or two ago I came across a phrase that went something like "if it can be helped, there's no sense in worrying. If it can't be helped, there's still no sense in worrying". I'd like to say it changed my life, but it didn't, not hugely, because my neuroses are entrenched and intractable. But I try to remember it.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that something (Lucy, probably) had left a mark on the cream-coloured carpet in the doorway of our bedroom. I took our Bissell Little Green Machine out of the closet. Then I realized that it was cleaning day the next day, and there were a couple of other stains on the upstairs hallway rug (Lucy definitely) and that Matt was about to go away for a week and when he's away Lucy has the distressing habit of crapping on the rug on the landing even when I let her out late and get up early to let her out again, so I probably didn't want to deep clean until after that. And I left the Green Machine on the floor of our bedroom instead of putting it away, and it stayed there for weeks as I kept missing my window and thinking I'd do it soon. Well, today I finally cleared the piles of outgrown clothes and empty shoe boxes off the landing and deep cleaned all the spots I've been meaning to clean, and put the Bissell back in the closet. I think when I closed the closet door I actually said "There!" out loud.

So. Many things are unsettled, but one or two things have been set right. For now, that will have to do.

(On the off chance that the dreary minutiae of my day didn't turn your crank, there are tortoises making love on the Queen of Mediocretia's blog. You're welcome. Or I'm sorry.)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

In Which I Recommence Blogging

So what happened was I took an accidental break. Then I noticed the accidental break and decided to follow it up with an on-purpose break. Last year was pretty rocky for me mentally and emotionally, not for any good reason (wait, what would a GOOD reason be? Training for the Depression Olympics?), but it took virtually everything I had just to keep my family fed and in clean(ish) clothes and get everyone where they had to go. So I stopped blogging.

I will now un-stop blogging. Because I missed it a lot. Because when posts come up in my Facebook memories I often read them and think, goodness, I really am incredibly witty on occasion. Because stuff happens and I immediately start shaping it in my mind into blog-post form. Because my memory is absolute shit and this is one good way of remembering anything that happens to me ever.

Besides, Angus is driving now, so I suddenly have more spare time, even when Matt is in L.A. or Bulgaria or whatever. Guess where I'm not right now? Sitting in a gym parking lot in Kanata. Of course, this also means I'm not able to pick up the buttermilk I forgot earlier today at the Kanata Metro on the way home, but... hey, did I mention Angus is driving now?

How many posts can I get out of our summer, which included baseball, Bluesfest and babies? A goodly number, I'm betting. And it's okay if there's no one reading for a while. Like I said, my memory is crap, after a few days I can be my own reader.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Daughter-ish Stuff

A few days ago Eve texted me from school to say her BFF's mother had given her permission to go off school grounds during recess to Tim Horton's for an iced capp, so Eve wanted to know if I was okay with her going too, even thought they're not technically supposed to leave school property during recess until next year. I said yes. She then sent me this:


THEN once they got back to school she asked me to text her saying I'd dropped off their iced capps at the front desk, in case anyone asked where they got the iced capps. Then she deleted all the texts except the one I sent. Total badass, that girl.


She gave me this card for Mother's Day:


I was hanging out with her BFF's Mom after she took all the girls to Comic Con for BFF's birthday. They were talking about how girls still send nude pictures and the other mom and I were goggling and despairing. Then the BFF said "one guy asked me for pictures. So I sent him a picture of Jesus. Before I blocked him". We don't have to worry about these particular girls in that respect, at least.


On the week-end when the boys were away, Eve and I watched The Edge of Seventeen (AWESOME movie, totally awesome). In the movie, Hailee Steinfeld is a teen-ager who starts falling apart when her best and only friend starts dating her 'perfect' older brother.

Me: "Hey, I just thought of something." Eve: "What?" Me: "You have an older brother. This could totally happen to you." Eve: "Please don't." Me: "It's okay. You're nothing like her. You don't just have one friend. You have three." Eve: "...." Me: "Which one do you think it would be?" Eve: "STOP!"


On Tuesday nights, Matt and I go to a bar a block away with some friends for beer and wings. We used to have to be home by ten because Eve didn't like to go to bed alone. Now she's fine with us staying out as long as she can lock the door. Last week she sent me this text:

Having a daughter is fun. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

This Is Your Brain on Jet Lag

You get home from Hawaii on Sunday evening at four. You go straight to your mother's for Easter Dinner. You bring your kids home. You do four loads of laundry and go to bed.

On Monday your husband leaves the country again. You go to your mother's to pick up Easter dinner leftovers. You forget half of them but that's normal, you're a forgetful person. You go back for the mashed potatoes.

You also go grocery shopping and buy stuff for book club, which you just realized you're hosting at your house in two days. Shortly thereafter you look at the calendar and realize that book club is not until next week and wonder what you're going to do with twelve avocados.

On Tuesday you go to Shoppers Drug Mart and stand in line to pick up your prescription. You give your name and wonder why it's taking the girl so long to find it. You then realize that you're not actually there to pick up a prescription, you're there to buy cold medicine for your daughter. You apologize and slink away.

You go out into the parking lot and realize to your abject horror that you're parked in a handicapped spot. You look around wondering if anyone noticed and then realize that it's not, in fact, a handicapped spot but a former handicapped spot with no sign and the pavement symbol mostly painted out, just like you realized when you PARKED THERE TEN MINUTES AGO.

On Wednesday you drive out to Stittsville to discuss and sign your final evaluation from your work placement. It is glowing and wonderful, and you really hope you don't do anything jet laggish to screw things up. It goes pretty well, except you drive over a curb in the parking lot on your way out.

On Thursday you pick up your mother to go watch your daughter in the school play. You stop for gas on the way. You put in your credit card, follow the instructions, pick up the nozzle and stick it in the hole and wonder why nothing's happening. You're about to yell "THIS THING ISN'T WORKING" when you realize you just forgot to select the grade.

On Friday you almost scoop a half cup of uncooked rice into your dog's bowl instead of dog food.

On Saturday you watch funny half-naked men and have some drinks.

On Sunday you throw axes and feel thankful that you can blame anything wonky on the drinking.

On Monday you think you should be fully recovered, but you still feel the urge to yell "THIS THING ISN'T WORKING" at intervals, and the thing not working is your brain.

No wonder my husband is kinda dumb sometimes. This traveling business is hard on the thinking, y'all.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How Was Yours?

This week-end I tried mightily to rise above my jet-lagged, iron-depleted, winter-exhausted fog. I took my mother to see The Comic Strippers (very, very funny). I went and had drinks for a friend's birthday. I cooked a giant pork roast for book club this week. I went to an axe-throwing wedding shower (hurled an axe many many times at a wooden target board at this place - very, very satisfying). It all ended with Angus having severe lower back spasms Sunday night so I had to go into full TENS-machine/icing/muscle rub physio mode as he sprawled shirtless and yelping with pain across my bed.

In other words, my week-end was full of a lot of half-naked man action, none of it remotely sexy.

In other other words, the week-end contained multiple, multiple references to pork, butts and getting wood, in very different contexts.

In other other other words, I went to the strippers thing BEFORE getting drunk and went axe-throwing AFTER, which was not the wisest course of action.

In other other other other words, the festivities started with half-naked merriment and ended with me rubbing Biofreeze into my son's ass, and I still wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

I Don't FEEL Like Writing

Or doing much of anything, if I'm being honest. I'm done all but three and a half hours of my work placement and I was looking forward to a quiet week with Matt gone AGAIN, but I kind of miss working, and I can't settle to any wholehearted loafing and it's been mostly too cold to walk much (yes, I do have a treadmill now that you mention it, how kind and helpful, shut up). I went to a Lumineers (and Kaleo, swoon) concert with friends that was wonderful even way up in the cheap seats, then I had book club, which was great, and not only because I actually managed to go to the right house this month (don't ask), and yesterday I finally started cooking again after a few weeks of an absolutely pathetic showing in the kitchen. I also made a couple of significant phone calls, to book driving hours for Angus and pay off a forgotten FedEx taxes and duties bill, so, you know, that used up a fair number of spoons. I still have to make a doctor's appointment for me, make dentist appointments for everyone, make an appointment for Eve to get orthotics and *goes fetal with hands over ears* THAT'S TOO MUCH TELEPHONE.

I picked up Eve and two friends from after-school play rehearsal today and took them to Wendy's. They regaled me with tales of their sex education class where they were asked to list reasons why someone might practice abstinence and why they might decide to have sex. Someone had left a paper behind with answers on it: answers on why to abstain included "penis petit (small penis)" and "si tu es un enfant de Dieu (if you are a child of God)". Answers on why to have sex were "penis gros (large penis)" and "I like getting girls pregnant and runnig (sic) away". Ladies and gentlemen, our tax dollars at work. I told them about book club last night - let's just say that if you bring accidental-dong biscotti to book club, I AM going to be immature and giggly about it and make inappropriate comments until you fervently wish you'd just gone with cannoli (apparently the apple doesn't fall far from the tree).

Angus passed his driver's ed and starts his ten driving hours next week. His BFF since nursery school got his G2 on the week-end and showed up to pick up his younger brother from school after band, resulting in Eve pointing and screaming "OMG, NOAH'S DRIVING - oh, he saw me, he doesn't look impressed".

And now it's 8:41 and I'm not sure where the day has gone yet again. I did just throw out an empty carton of buttermilk, having used it all on four magnificent batches of biscuits. Often I forget about it and end up pouring some out. So there's that.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Slightly Thawed

So after begging the Ottawa Public Library to let me work for them for free since September, I finally got the go-ahead to start my placement hours. On a Monday. In February. When Matt had just left for Asia for two weeks. And it was about to snow continuously for three days. And I had my period.

But that's okay.

It's fun. Most of my shifts are at the super-busy nearby branch where I run around like a headless chicken all day from project to project and feel desperately needed. I sat in on baby time. I wrangled kindergartners during classroom visits. I cut out ten felt umbrellas and six big ducks and one baby. I catalogued a filing cabinet full of creepy nursery-rhyme shapes. I had "Five Green Speckled Frogs" running through my head for four days straight.

Remember when I complained about having to learn Excel in my coursework? Guess what I had to use on my VERY FIRST DAY? and remembered nothing about and had to fake until I figured it out?

My other shifts are at tiny little further-away branches and I feel appreciated but not exactly needed. There's something very Zen about shelving holds in alphabetical order in a practically-silent library while the fireplace crackles, though.

I'm tired. My iron keeps bottoming out and even though I'm taking Feramax every day I'm still so exhausted I could cry by the end of a work day and I still want to eat baby powder and drywall dust. I keep trying to decide if I should try to switch myself to the closer medical practice I signed the kids up with. It's so easy getting them to the doctor now, whereas I'm not going to the doctor even though I should, just because it's such a monumental pain in the ass in terms of time and stress and logistics. But I love my doctor. But she's probably going to retire soon. Ack, I don't know.

Funny things the kids have said lately: At dinner the other night, Matt asked Angus "so how was school?" Angus said "Hell! It was absolute hell!" Matt looked at him questioningly and Angus said "well you always get mad when I just say 'good', so I thought I'd switch it up a little."; last week Eve said "this was the first time I've left a project until the very last day even though I had a week and a half to do it. I'm very stressed. One out of ten, would not recommend."

There. I blogged a little. Mostly because I was in front of the computer, had read everybody's timelines for the last four days on Facebook and didn't feel like getting up yet. But still.

Friday, February 10, 2017


I've been feeling a little paralyzed lately, on a couple of levels. First of all, it's minus a million outside. Our street is a series of inches-apart ice speedbumps. I keep losing one mitten out of every pair. Second, my hip hurts. A lot. I go to the chiropractor a couple of times, the pain dies down a little and then flares back up and my sciatic nerve is on fire. I can't figure out what I'm doing to aggravate it or what I should do to make it better (well, I can, but I'm too lazy to go to physio right now so I'm going with internet stretches and complaining for the moment). It's clearly not too much exercise, because I've made it to the gym about once a month since Christmas. So maybe it's sitting. So I stand in the middle of the room looking at all the chairs suspiciously wondering which one is the offending party. Then my feet start to hurt. It's not good.

Then there's the writing thing. Writing anywhere. One of my friends on Facebook posted a status saying it was offensive to post anything "to relieve the negativity" because only privileged people could ignore the negativity. And hey, I get it. I am a privileged person and there's a lot of negativity that I can ignore that others can't. But does that mean I can't ever say anything that doesn't involve politics or resisting?

No. It doesn't. That's not what she was saying. I was making everything all about me because it was January and everything hurt and everything was gray and any bit of wit or insight that entered my brain was immediately devoured by the gray hurt-monster so the impulse to write anything was slim anyway.

I watched the new Gilmore Girls mini-series on Netflix - not the day it came out, but a few weeks later. I watched the actual series in real time when it was on, and I liked it, but not, like, Buffy the Vampire Slayer like-level. But then Eve started watching the original series so I started rewatching it.
Some thoughts: they eat a lot of junk food and takeout for being skinny people on a single income; they make fun of fat people more than I remember; they use the word 'retarded' - was that still done then? Because I find that surprising; the fact that Lorelai keeps chasing Max around after she jilts him makes me want to throat-punch her; I still love the witty banter; Emily Gilmore quite often veers over the line from uptight rich mother to total bitch; the fact that Lorelai uses the Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie Home massacre as a funny dinner-time anecdote seems in really bad taste (I read the book about it between my first time seeing that episode and the second); I adore Lane and I think her storyline got really stupid; I adore Paul Anka the dog; and Lauren Graham dated her tv daughter's teacher in TWO SERIES now, what is WRONG with you, TV writers?

It's problematic, rewatching a series with more than three or four seasons. I start off watching one episode every now and then. Then I start mainlining them until two in the morning. Then by the end I can't read or watch anything else, I just want it to be over and the whole experience verges on hate-watching.

Also, my last placement is finally starting next week, after six months of emails and getting passed around from one type of supervisor to another and interminable legal stuff - you'd think I was asking the Ottawa Public Library if I could put on a three-ring circus in their main branch instead of offering them some free book-shelving and database classification. Anyway, the people I met are really nice, the Stittsville Branch is darling (it has a fireplace!) and I'm looking forward to getting this done.

There. I moved a little. Perhaps a thaw is imminent.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Five-Star Books Read in 2016

As usual, I make no claim to any kind of objectivity or even consistency in applying a five-star rating -  it's a perplexing combination of the actual book, my mood, the timing and whatever else I'm reading at the same time. I try really hard not to feel 'obligated' to give a top rating - by the opinions of other readers or anything else - but this year I feel like maybe I could have been a little freer with the five-star appraisal, especially when looking over some of the four-stars. Whatever. Here they are.

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anne Whiston-Donaldson: On an ordinary September day, twelve-year-old Jack is swept away in a freak neighborhood flood. His parents and younger sister are left to wrestle with the awful questions: How could God let this happen? And, Can we ever be happy again? They each fall into the abyss of grief in different ways. And in the days and months to come, they each find their faltering way toward peace.
In Rare Bird, Anna Whiston-Donaldson unfolds a mother’s story of loss that leads, in time, to enduring hope. “Anna’s storytelling,” says Glennon Doyle Melton, “is raw and real and intense and funny.”
With this unforgettable account of a family’s love and longing, Anna will draw you deeper into a divine goodness that keeps us—beyond all earthly circumstances—safe. This is a book about facing impossible circumstances and wanting to turn back the clock. It is about the flicker of hope in realizing that in times of heartbreak, God is closer than your own skin. It is about discovering that you’re braver than you think.

Obviously I didn't LIKE reading this. But I also don't give five stars to any book by someone who's lost someone - I will give them my heartfelt sympathy, but grief doesn't make your book amazing. This book is amazing. She says you can't get an A in grieving (which coincides with my own indefensible sense that some people do grieve better than others) but I think she does. She captures her son's exceptional sweetness, but she doesn't idealize him beyond belief. She takes comfort in her faith and in signs and wonders without losing all skepticism. She's a devout Christian who cusses colourfully. I wish she's never had to write this book, obviously, but I'm so grateful I got to read it. (Was anyone else pissed off at the neighbours? I was so pissed off at the neighbours. Every day she has to watch the kids who played by the river while her son was drowning, and she gets chastised for not being NICE enough to them? Really? Clearly I am not as charitable and forgiving). 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?  
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality. 
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir. 
Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

This book may have been amazing to me chiefly because if I had terminal metastasized cancer I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be up to writing a limerick, let alone putting together an insightful, gracious book devoid of self-pity and containing a wealth of wisdom, kindness and humour. Paul Kalanithi was definitely a type-A personality and had a surgeon's ego - "Let's see, to which field of study should I turn my prodigious intellect in order to solve the mysteries of life and death as efficiently as possible?" - and he was hugely intelligent and ambitious. I just find his determination to keep striving towards a good life and a good death in the face of an overwhelmingly disheartening and unlikely catastrophe very compelling.

Step Aside, Pops: A Hark, a Vagrant! Collection by Kate Beaton: The sequel to the hit comic collection Hark! a Vagrant, which appeared on best of lists from TimeNPR and USA Today; spent five months on the New York Times bestseller list; and won Harvey, Ignatz, and Doug Wright awards.
Cartoonist Kate Beaton returns with all-new sidesplitting comics that showcase her irreverent love of history, pop culture, and literature. Collected from her wildly popular website, readers will guffaw over “Strong Female Characters,” the wicked yet chivalrous Black Prince, “Straw Feminists in the Closet,” and a disgruntled Heathcliff. Delight in what the internet has long known—Beaton’s humour is as sharp and dangerous as a velocipedestrienne, so watch out!

Oh my god, oh my god, where has Kate Beaton been all my life? Well, she's been right there for a good part of it, being incandescently funny (in ways like this, for example) I was just too dense to discover her comic genius until this book practically had to fall off a shelf on my head. Like Emily Dickinson, Beaton tells the truth but tells it slant. The humour is sharp and whip-smart and often twisted. The words and pictures compliment each other perfectly. I bought this book or her first one for practically everyone I knew for Christmas. 

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow: The world is at peace, said the Utterances. And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask?
Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.
Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.
As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.

Erin Bow wrote Plain Kate, one of my very favourite books ever, even though it was terribly sad. Then she wrote Sorrow's Knot, which was also very good and possibly even sadder. When I saw the synopsis for this book, I had to keep double-checking whether it was, in fact, the same author, since the Modest-Proposal-adjacent plot device sounded like such a departure. Of course, while the subject matter has gone all future-y rather than past-ish like the other two books, the constants remain the same - heartachingly beautiful writing, wonderful, strong, fiercely intelligent, striving characters and thought-provoking exploration of issues. Erin Bow is a clear-eyed, fearless storyteller, and nothing here exactly follows the expected path. I can't wait for the next in the series. 

Louise Beeston is being haunted.
Louise has no reason left to stay in the city. She can't see her son, Joseph, who is away at boarding school, where he performs in a prestigious boys' choir. Her troublesome neighbor has begun blasting choral music at all hours of the night—and to make matters worse, she's the only one who can hear it.
Hoping to find some peace, Louise convinces her husband, Stuart, to buy them a country house in an idyllic, sun-dappled gated community called Swallowfield. But it seems that the haunting melodies of the choir have followed her there. Could it be that her city neighbor has trailed her to Swallowfield, just to play an elaborate, malicious prank? Is there really a ghostly chorus playing outside her door? And why won't they stop? Growing desperate, she begins to worry about her mental health.
Against the pleas and growing disquiet of her husband, Louise starts to suspect that this sinister choir is not only real but a warning. But of what? And how can it be, when no one else can hear it?
In The Orphan Choir, Sophie Hannah brings us along on a darkly suspenseful investigation of obsession, loss, and the malevolent forces that threaten to break apart a loving family.

I read this in the midst of a run where I disagreed with everybody on Goodreads about every book I had read lately, and it was no different, except for my eminently sensible friend Sarah (HI SARAH). I don't think I've ever seen a better illustration of the term 'psychological suspense'. Louise's twin aggravations - the neighbour who blasts loud music at night and the school choir that is co-opting her young son's entire childhood - are so sharply portrayed that I could feel my blood pressure rising. A fine balance is maintained between a suspicion of paranoia and the belief that terrible forces actually are at work, and the resolution was perfect and devastating.

A Tangle of Gold (The Colours of Madeleine #3) by Jaclyn Moriarty: His visit turned out to be ridiculously brief. Madeleine and Elliot barely talked before word came that he and his father would be bundled back to Cello. On the train platform, Elliot didn’t snap out of the distant fog he seemed to be in. And Madeleine’s nose bled—again!—just as she tried to say good-bye. Now she’s mortified, heartbroken, lost—and completely cut off from Cello.
Cello, meanwhile, is in crisis. Princess Ko’s deception of her people has emerged and the Kingdom is outraged. Authorities have placed the Princess under arrest and ordered her execution. Color storms are rampant, more violent than ever. And nobody has heard the Cello Wind blowing in months.
But Madeleine can’t let go of Cello. It gave her a tantalizing glimpse of the magic she’s always wanted—and maybe it’s the key to the person she is meant to become. She also can’t let go of Elliot, who, unbeknownst to her, is being held captive by a dangerous branch of Hostiles.
What will it take to put these two on a collision course to save the Kingdom of Cello, and maybe to save each other?
For fans of Lev Grossman and Deborah Harkness, this funny, suspenseful, and totally original fantasy comes to its brilliantly colorful conclusion.

I've written about the many-authored many-sistered Moriarty family before, not that I can find the post now. They're Australian, which not that many years ago would have meant that I would have been even less likely to stumble across A Corner of White, and I don't even want to think about the lifetime in which I didn't get to read these books. I've been a dismal re-reader for most of my life - there's always so many more books to get to it's hard to make myself go back - but I've started forcing myself to take the time, especially to reread the previous two books when the last one in a trilogy comes out. This is one of my all-time favourite trilogies, and this conclusion was completely audacious and assured and satisfying and wonderful. There is so much in this series to love, from Cambridge and the way science and philosophy and magic are all braided together so matter-of-factly, to Cello and its magical, dangerous colours. The world-building is so amazing that every wondrous new thing that's introduced is a jaw-dropping surprise and yet simultaneously seems absolutely inarguably right. I've heard the same complaints about A Tangle of Gold that I've heard about the third book in Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy (which I also adored): that some hitherto-unintroduced matter was "suddenly" brought in. This complaint baffles me - is the whole point of a concluding book in a trilogy not to synthesize and build on the stories of the foregoing books while bringing in additional information to draw the whole thing to a magnificent conclusion? This was everything I wanted from this story and more. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Four-Star Books Read in 2016: Short Stories and Fiction

Short Stories:

In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay: This collection by Paul G. Tremblay (author of The Little Sleep and No Sleep Till Wonderland) features fifteen stories of fear and paranoia, stories of apocalypses both societal and personal, and stories of longing and coping.

I am terrible at taking properly detailed notes about short story collections, but this has one (Feeding the Machine) I remember vividly (mentioned in this blog post) for personal reasons, as well as the fact that it's a really well-written story. There's also one about a girl with two heads (where the other head keeps changing into historical figures) that is bloody brilliant. Overall my impression was that this was a fantastic collection. 

The End of the World: Stories of the Apocalypse edited by Martin H. Greenberg: Before The Road by Cormac McCarthy brought apocalyptic fiction into the mainstream, there was science fiction. No longer relegated to the fringes of literature, this explosive collection of the world’s best apocalyptic writers brings the inventors of alien invasions, devastating meteors, doomsday scenarios, and all-out nuclear war back to the bookstores with a bang.
The best writers of the early 1900s were the first to flood New York with tidal waves, destroy Illinois with alien invaders, paralyze Washington with meteors, and lay waste to the Midwest with nuclear fallout. Now collected for the first time ever in one apocalyptic volume are those early doomsday writers and their contemporaries, including Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, Lucius Shepard, Robert Sheckley, Norman Spinrad, Arthur C. Clarke, William F. Nolan, Poul Anderson, Fredric Brown, Lester del Rey, and more. Relive these childhood classics or discover them here for the first time. Each story details the eerie political, social, and environmental destruction of our world.

We all know I never turn up my nose at yet another anthology of stories about the end of the world. All the reviews seem to indicate that the ebook of this was a hot mess as far as editing went - I honestly don't remember if I read it as an ebook or not. The Store of the Worlds by Robert Sheckley was a reread for me, but it's fucking fantastic, so I'm cool with that. 

Bark: Stories by Lorrie Moore: In these eight masterful stories, Lorrie Moore, in a perfect blend of craft and bewitched spirit, explores the passage of time, and summons up its inevitable sorrows and hilarious pitfalls to reveal her own exquisite, singular wisdom.
In "Debarking," a newly divorced man tries to keep his wits about him as the United States prepares to invade Iraq, and against this ominous moment, we see-in all its irresistible hilarity and darkness-the perils of divorce and what can follow in its wake…In "Foes," a political argument goes grotesquely awry as the events of 9/11 unexpectedly manifest at a fund-raising dinner in Georgetown…In "The Juniper Tree," a teacher, visited by the ghost of her recently deceased friend, is forced to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in a kind of nightmare reunion…And in "Wings," we watch the unraveling of two once-hopeful musicians who neither held fast to their dreams nor struck out along other paths as Moore deftly depicts the intricacies of dead ends and the workings of regret…
Gimlet-eyed social observation, the public and private absurdities of American life, dramatic irony, and enduring half-cracked love wend their way through each of these narratives in a heartrending mash-up of the tragic and the laugh-out-loud-the hallmark of Lorrie Moore-land.

Lorrie Moore is one of the few authors who write non-genre short stories that I will read eagerly rather than dutifully. I often find that short stories that are just about, you know, life and people and eating salad and stuff are too amorphous and squishy to get a handle on - it's better for me if you have a zombie or vampire or catastrophic extinction level event structure to hang stuff on. But Lorrie Moore writes about dating after divorce (oh my god, I just wanted to throat-punch this woman and her spoiled suckhole of a son SO BADLY) and vacationing to avoid divorce (losing all your clothes and having to wear ill-fitting resort-gift-shop-wear while trying to seduce your husband so he won't leave you? Ninth circle of hell) and being married for a long time and NOT getting divorced, and it's all so poignant and riveting and perfect - even the salad eating. I love her. I worship her. I'd love to see what she could do with a few zombies or maybe a shape-shifter.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 edited by John Joseph Adams: Science fiction and fantasy enjoy a long literary tradition, stretching from Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, and Jules Verne to Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, and William Gibson. In The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy award-winning editor John Joseph Adams delivers a diverse and vibrant collection of stories published in the previous year. Featuring writers with deep science fiction and fantasy backgrounds, along with those who are infusing traditional fiction with speculative elements, these stories uphold a longstanding tradition in both genres—looking at the world and asking, What if . . . ? 
The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 includes 
Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, Karen Russell
T. C. Boyle, Sofia Samatar, Jo Walton, Cat Rambo
Daniel H. Wilson, Seanan McGuire, Jess Row
and others
 JOE HILL, guest editor, is the New York Times best-selling author of the novels Heart-Shaped BoxHorns, and NOS4A2 and the short story collection 20th Century Ghosts. He is also the writer of the comic book series Locke & Key. 
JOHN JOSEPH ADAMS, series editor, is the best-selling editor of more than two dozen anthologies, including Brave New Worlds, Wastelands, and The Living Dead. He is also the editor and publisher of the digital magazines Lightspeed and Nightmare and is a producer of Wired’s podcast The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy. 

I bought this because Susan Palwick, a kickass fantasy writer and all-around splendid human being who lets me follow her on Facebook and likes my posts every now and then just to give me a special little thrill, had a story in it, but the whole collection was really good. In 'Help Me Follow My Sister Into the Land of the Dead' by Carmen Maria Machado, a woman crowdfunds her trip into the underworld to look for her sister - like, like, WOW. That was pretty much worth the price of admission right there. Seanan McGuire's story 'Each to Each', which I've read so many times now I've lost track of where I first read it, is here also, and it's mind-blowing. Susan Palwick's story was everything I expected - intelligent and kind and sad. Really recommend this collection. 

Lightspeed Magazine, June 2014: Women Destroy Science Fiction! Special Issue edited by Christie Yant: It could be said that women invented science fiction; after all, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is considered by many to be the first science fiction novel. Yet some readers seem to have this funny idea that women don’t, or can’t, write science fiction. Some have even gone so far as to accuse women of destroying science fiction with their girl cooties. So to help prove how silly that notion is, LIGHTSPEED's June 2014 issue is a Women Destroy Science Fiction! special issue and has a guest editor at the helm.
The issue features original fiction by Seanan McGuire, Charlie Jane Anders, N.K. Jemisin, Carrie Vaughn, Maria Dahvana Headley, Amal El-Mohtar, and many more. All together there's more than 180,000 words of material, including: 11 original short stories, 15 original flash fiction stories, 4 short story reprints and a novella reprint, 7 nonfiction articles, and 28 personal essays by women about their experiences reading and writing science fiction.

McGuire's story is in this one too - actually, though, you can read it right here, and you should. Like, now. I'll wait. Well? Is it not august and resplendent? 
If you haven't followed the shit-show in the sci-fi world that's been developing over the past few years, whereby some disgruntled male writers have decided that social justice warriors (I love how that's a negative term) are ruining science fiction by daring to write about things like emotions and relationships and various things that make humanity human, the title of this issue won't make sense. That doesn't really matter - it's still a great issue full of great stories by female writers. 

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang: Ted Chiang's first published story, "Tower of Babylon," won the Nebula Award in 1990. Subsequent stories have won the Asimov's SF Magazine reader poll, a second Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award for alternate history. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992. Story for story, he is the most honored young writer in modern SF.
Now, collected here for the first time are all seven of this extraordinary writer's stories so far-plus an eighth story written especially for this volume.
What if men built a tower from Earth to Heaven-and broke through to Heaven's other side? What if we discovered that the fundamentals of mathematics were arbitrary and inconsistent? What if there were a science of naming things that calls life into being from inanimate matter? What if exposure to an alien language forever changed our perception of time? What if all the beliefs of fundamentalist Christianity were literally true, and the sight of sinners being swallowed into fiery pits were a routine event on city streets? These are the kinds of outrageous questions posed by the stories of Ted Chiang. Stories of your life . . . and others.

Jesus, this book. So I read 'The Story of Your Life' in an anthology some time ago. Then I read it again. Some time passed and I read it yet again - forwards and backwards. Then I learned that it was being made into a movie, so I read it again and then bought Chiang's collection so I could force a bunch of people I know to read it also, mainly because I was pretty sure the movie was going to suck. Turns out the movie didn't suck, but the first person I lent the collection to is really enjoying it. As it turns out, that story, as much as it broke my brain, was probably the most accessible one in the collection. Chiang likes math. He speaks math like a language and then builds complex stories around math. Math and me? Not so much on the best of speaking terms. The stories dealing with religious concepts are also very cerebral, but I found most of the stories here challenging and very beautiful and I can see going back to all of them repeatedly and finding a little more in them every time. 


Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: THINGS FALL APART tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo's fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society. 
The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. THINGS FALL APART is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within. 

I'd been meaning to read this for years - a classic, referencing one of my favourite poems. Profoundly sad and moving and laced with an incredible feeling of inevitability and despair. There is a particular kind of sadness from observing a character who, although flawed, tries so hard to do everything right and maintain his integrity, to little avail. 

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: It’s the early 1980s. In American colleges, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead - charismatic loner and college Darwinist - suddenly turns up in a seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus - who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange - resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.
Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they have learned. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.
Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.

Four stars, for the literal "I really liked it" rating, not because I thought it was all that good. Compared to Middlesex, which was so rich and dense and subtle, this was kind of a sophomoric train wreck - someone in my book club opined that it read like a book he had started much earlier and then dug out to finish, and this struck me as exactly right. The scenes from graduate school, particularly about reading Derrida and Barthes and feeling terribly clever about interrogating social conventions, were amusing because they were so recognizable, but that's as far as it went - nothing very profound came out of them. Some of the elements of the marriage plot were discernible and interesting, but the book as a whole never managed to maintain any kind of structure or continuity about it, just random references and representations. I still really enjoyed reading it, but it seemed unfinished.

The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald: At first The Emigrants appears simply to document the lives of four Jewish émigrés in the twentieth century. But gradually, as Sebald's precise, almost dreamlike prose begins to draw their stories, the four narrations merge into one overwhelming evocation of exile and loss.
Written with a bone-dry sense of humour and a fascination with the oddness of existence The Emigrants is highly original in its heady mix of fact, memory and fiction and photographs.

I would suggest going to Goodreads and reading some of the reviews - I don't feel equal to enumerating the virtues of this remarkable book.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce: Harold Fry is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old friend in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance.
Recently retired, sweet, emotionally numb Harold Fry is jolted out of his passivity by a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend, who he hasn't heard from in twenty years. She has written to say she is in hospice and wanted to say goodbye. Leaving his tense, bitter wife Maureen to her chores, Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie--who is 600 miles away--because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes that Queenie will not die. 
So without hiking boots, rain gear, map or cell phone, one of the most endearing characters in current fiction begins his unlikely pilgrimage across the English countryside. Along the way, strangers stir up memories--flashbacks, often painful, from when his marriage was filled with promise and then not, of his inadequacy as a father, and of his shortcomings as a husband. 
Ironically, his wife Maureen, shocked by her husband's sudden absence, begins to long for his presence. Is it possible for Harold and Maureen to bridge the distance between them? And will Queenie be alive to see Harold arrive at her door?

I wasn't caught right at the beginning. It seemed a little glib, and everyone Harold met was just SO unusual and quirky it was too pat. I got over it, though. It's a quiet story, but a good one.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper: I've gone. I've never seen the water, so I've gone there. I will try to remember to come back.
Etta's greatest unfulfilled wish, living in the rolling farmland of Saskatchewan, is to see the sea. And so, at the age of eighty-two she gets up very early one morning, takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 2,000 miles to water. 
Meanwhile her husband Otto waits patiently at home, left only with his memories. Their neighbour Russell remembers too, but differently - and he still loves Etta as much as he did more than fifty years ago, before she married Otto.

Apparently this was the year for fictional old people going spontaneously walkabout. I'm not sure I really got this one - above all, what the heck was the deal with Owen? but I still enjoyed it.

The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke: "I first met my demon the morning that Mum said Dad had gone." 
Alex Connolly is ten years old, likes onions on toast, and can balance on the back legs of his chair for fourteen minutes. His best friend is a 9000-year-old demon called Ruen. When his depressive mother attempts suicide yet again, Alex meets child psychiatrist Anya. Still bearing the scars of her own daughter's battle with schizophrenia, Anya fears for Alex's mental health and attempts to convince him that Ruen doesn't exist. But as she runs out of medical proof for many of Alex's claims, she is faced with a question: does Alex suffer from schizophrenia, or can he really see demons?

When you read a lot of books, it's rare and special to come across something different - not capital-D Different, like some books try to be, just not quite the same. This doesn't quite fit in with anything else I've read, and I appreciated that. Not that the 'psychological or supernatural' thing isn't done - I've referenced it two or three times in these posts alone - but not quite like this. There's some beautiful drawing of the relationship between mothers and children here, and I think some psychological stuff related to living in Belfast. Apparently there is vast confusion created by the fact that the U.S. and U.K. versions of the book had different endings, which I think was dumb. I can still smell the onions on toast. 

And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass: Kit Noonan’s life is stalled: unemployed, twins to help support, a mortgage to pay—and a frustrated wife, who is certain that more than anything else, Kit needs to solve the mystery of his father’s identity. He begins with a visit to his former stepfather, Jasper, a take-no-prisoners Vermont outdoorsman. But it is another person who has kept the secret: Lucinda Burns, wife of a revered senior statesman and mother of Malachy (the journalist who died of AIDS in Glass’s first novel, Three Junes). She and her husband are the only ones who know the full story of an accident whose repercussions spread even further when Jasper introduces Lucinda to Kit. Immersing readers in a panorama that stretches from Vermont to the tip of Cape Cod, Glass weaves together the lives of Kit, Jasper, Lucinda and ultimately, Fenno McLeod, the beloved protagonist of Three Junes (now in his sixties). An unforgettable novel about the youthful choices that steer our destinies, the necessity of forgiveness, and the surprisingly mutable meaning of family.

I got this out of the library and let it sit for weeks, and then picked it up to remind myself what it was about, read the first paragraph and pretty much didn't look up again until seven hours or so had passed and the book was done. It wasn't perfect - there was one sort of deus ex machina death that pissed me off and a couple of sentences that jarred me right out of the narrative - but the flaws actually just highlighted to me how much I loved the rest of it. She has that ability to create a whole sprawling world and a wide-ranging cast of fully-realized characters and somehow keep it precariously connected. Not all of the characters are sympathetic, but they all seem like someone I might have met once. The questions of faith, and how much of their parents' secrets children are entitled to, and what is forgivable and not - they're all addressed but not answered, because how could they be? I was totally absorbed in a book, right when I really needed to be.

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney: Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems. 
Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the future they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.
This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down. In this tender, entertaining, and deftly written debut, Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love.

I kept vowing not to buy this just because of its heartbreakingly beautiful cover, and then I was in Indigo buying baby things and a very tall, very enthusiastic bookseller thrust it into my hands and I was basically helpless. Then I felt immediate trepidation about actually reading it, because do I actually LIKE books about dysfunctional families? I just pruned my Netflix queue ruthlessly on the basis of being weary of watching shows, however well-written and -acted, about people being horrible to each other.
Then I read it. All of it. Today, because I'm home from a week-end away and exhausted from driving and sleeping crappy broken hotel sleep. And I really liked it. I found almost all of the characters sympathetic to some degree - not because they were likable, but precisely because they weren't. They're not horrible, mostly, but they're not all that good, either, and I can relate to that. I loved how peripheral characters were fleshed out and nuanced as lovingly as primary characters. The writing wasn't show-offy, but it was very readable and very deft when outlining each character's flaws, foibles and personal mythologies.
Curiously, I found Amy Poehler's review - which the tall enthusiastic bookstore employee pointed to excitedly - kind of off-putting. Calling the Plumb family's dysfunction "juicy" puts a gleeful, gossipy, voyeuristic spin on it that I didn't find in the book at all. I found the obsessive worrying about money really sad, especially when it was because of an intense desire to create a safe, beautiful home which is something that none of the Plumb children really had, and the idea that someone would have to keep a secret about growing debt from their partner made me feel literally nauseous. I liked the review (I can't remember whose it was now) that said the book kept "its blade sharp and its heart open". The lens on the characters was unpitying, but in the end the gaze was mostly kind and somewhat forgiving. (Not so much for Leo. Leo was just kind of a dick.)

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty: Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child.
So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. 
Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.

Did not break my streak of reading Liane Moriarty books and finding them invariably charming, readable, engaging and unexpectedly thought-provoking (Truly Madly Guilty did that, as it turns out). Her style seems effortless and is so enjoyable.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell: Following a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: a sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.
For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly’s life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born.
A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.

Some of this was wonderfully cheesy and some of it was just wonderful. I remember one reviewer saying something about David Mitchell seeming to be just having a wonderful time writing (I think it was about Cloud Atlas), and I completely feel that here. This has the same sprawling, prodigiously imaginative, joyous creative energy as C.A., and I was just as pulled in, although for quite a while it seems impossible to keep all the narrative threads and concepts straight. The plot veers like Mr. Toad's wild ride from bittersweet family struggles and fragile loves stories to Marvel-worthy battles involving psychoprojectiles, souls egressing out of foreheads and gnostic serpents. Great fun.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley: On a foggy summer night, eleven people--ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter--depart Martha's Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the passengers disappear into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs--the painter--and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful media mogul's family. 
With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members--including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot--the mystery surrounding the crash heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy: Was it merely dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations--all while the reader draws closer and closer to uncovering the truth.
The fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

I'm not sure exactly how to review this. It's kind of a mystery and kind of a meandering philosophical novel. It goes fairly skillfully between the big, dramatic, world-shaking event and the daily minutiae of the characters' lives. For such a cinematic set-up, the characterization is richer than I would have expected. I didn't read it breathlessly, but I looked forward to picking it up again every day.