My Life in Books

I’ve enjoyed reading other book bloggers’ posts in The Time and Place Book Tag. Bloggers write vignettes explaining the memories and places associated with reading particular books. In Chelsea’s post, she explains, “My life can be told in books, and it is one of the most special things about them.” So friends, here’s my life in books.

The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon StoneGrover

My favorite book as a teeny, bespectacled girl featured Grover from Sesame Street. Although I was quite young, I remember my mother reading the story to me. A growing tension builds as Grover pleads with the reader not to turn the pages. There’s a “scary” monster at the end of the book, after all. My mother would pretend she was terrified of the page-turning, just like Grover, and I would laugh and turn each page defiantly. I still own a worn, cherished copy of the Monster book.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

OwenMeanyCoverThe first book I read by John Irving was A Prayer for Owen Meany. When I was in high school, I went on my first out-of-town day trip with my boyfriend. We left our tiny town, and we drove nearly two hours to reach a “much bigger” town with double-lane roads, a multi-screen cinema, and a chain bookstore. It rained during the ride. We listening to the single cassette of “Wish I Was Your Lover” over and over. I felt grown-up, so clearly I had to buy an “adult” book to mark the occasion. In the clearance bin at the Coles bookstore, I found a book with an armadillo on its cover. The inside flap revealed it was by the guy who also wrote The World According to Garp. I had seen and loved that weird R-Rated movie and figured this book would be just as strange and as adult-themed as Garp. Little did I know that I’d spend the following weekend tucked in my sister Joe’s basement bedroom (she was attending University at the time) and get lost in this story. I remember reading the ending so vividly. I was sprawled on Joe’s bed. I bawled for what felt like forever. I felt both overwhelmed and uplifted. It was the best thing I had read in all my 17 years. (It might still be the best novel I’ve read in all my 40 years. It’s in a tie at the top of my list with Jane Eyre).

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

MeTalkCoverMy husband Brian gave me this collection of essays to read when we flew off to Prague to (secretly) get hitched. He had introduced me to Sedaris (and to This American Life). We listened to podcasts featuring the humourist reading to live audiences. I must admit I was too excited to read when we left Canada. So, I read the whole book during our return flight. I laughed out loud a few times. I cried a bit, too. These stories will forever be associated with Brian smiling at my side, fluffy white clouds, and my left hand sporting a new, sparkling ring.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

HarryPotterPhoenixMy sister, who taught grade 7 for over a decade, introduced me to the Harry Potter series. She lent me the first three books, and I read them over the span of a couple of weeks shortly before the fourth one was published. I couldn’t wait to read the fifth book, but I would have to wait a while for it to get published. Two years later, and a few days before it hit the bookstores, I had a pregnancy scare. I was four months pregnant and was put on strict bedrest for two weeks. This Harry Potter book helped me remain calm and entertained. I remember being thankful it was over 800 pages long. I spent much of my time reading it while sitting on my old plaid couch near the living room picture window. I didn’t lift a finger during this time. I read, read, and read while my baby got stronger. That December, my healthy daughter weighed 8.14 lbs at birth.

The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

TheWorldBeforeUsCoverI read this gorgeous novel last year. I’d read it early in September during the early morning hours. I was determined to take advantage of the last days of summer by hanging out on the new, cedar deck my husband and father had built together. Reading. Drinking coffee. It was bliss. On one of these mornings, I looked up to see a dozen or more hot air balloons floating above me. I’d forgotten it was The Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival that weekend. The balloons often land all over our neighbourhood in parks and farmland. The sky dance was as TheWorldBeforeUsBalloonspectacular as the book. The World Before Us became one of my two favorite reads of 2014 (the other being Sweetland by Michael Crummey).

If you participated in the Place and Time Tag, please share the link with me. I’d love to read your bookish stories. Happy reading!

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MORE THAN A VOICE. OF A GENERATION: Looking Forward to Lena Dunham’s New Book

notThatKindofGirl

 

I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl in September. I admire Dunham’s talent as a writer, actor, and director on HBO’s GIRLS. I love that she puts herself out there, quirkiness and all. Her first book will surely encompass her unique take on life.

Voice of a generation? Perhaps. But I think she represents MORE than a generation. She’s weird and adorable and intelligent and creative and assertive and hard-working and oh so funny. Misfits and black sheep of all ages and walks of life are drawn to her work. Some people are turned off by the humour and happenings in Dunham’s HBO show. They might simply confuse her with Hannah —her self-centered and naive character on GIRLS. On the flipside, those who love Dunham cannot get enough of her and her antics. I am in the latter camp. (Oh, can you imagine spending a week at Camp Dunham with a bunch of girlfriends with Lena as camp leader? Sorry, the word camp veered me in a whole other direction.)

So, when Dunham tweeted about the current campaign for her new book, I had to check it out:

Do you have a problem you want dubious advice on? Bring me the queries, great & small!

You can submit your questions (about anything under the sun) to Lena Dunham until August 11, 2014 at midnight. She will then choose ten questions and answer them via video. Sounds like fun. Random House is doing such an awesome job promoting her book. Writers David Sedaris and Miranda July both rave about Not That Kind of Girl, and wrote great blurbs which figure prominently on the book’s webpage. The retro book cover is perfect. These details aren’t surprising, seeing as the writer is rumoured to have received a 3.7-million advance for her first book. That’s quite the investment for the publisher.

So, check out the Ask Lena page and send her a question. Who knows, she may just answer it for all to see. Also, when visiting the website, please read the ‘About the Author’ page (or rather, About the Ather page). She wrote it as an 8-year-old girl —it’s adorable!

*Featured author photo by www.huffingtonpost.com*

 

Grand Barda Illustration Triptych: Telephone Calls in Short Stories

Writers often use telephone conversations to add drama, suspense, or twists to their short stories. It’s a great way to add dialogue at key moments and shake things up. At other times, an important call isn’t made and its absence can change the arc of a story or even the course of a character’s life. This week’s Grand Barda Triptych showcases how anticipating a phone call from a suitor, summoning the courage to call a Hollywood heartthrob, and being unable to use the telephone in a moment of urgency makes for great storytelling.

NOTE: The following short story discussions contain spoilers. Follow links below the illustrations to read or listen to the featured works before reading my comments. Enjoy!

Phone90s

Inspired by:
“Roy Spivey” by Miranda July
The New Yorker, June 11, 2007, p. 90.

Listen to an excellent podcast of David Sedaris reading the story “Roy Spivey.”

The quirky, unabashed Miranda July is so damn talented. She is not only an offbeat performing artist, but also a successful short story writer. On top of that, she is the scriptwriter, director, and actress in odd-yet-loveable films like Me and you and Everyone We Know (2005). She embraces her weirdness and she understands isolation. This awareness emerges in her artistic creations. This bright-eyed, gifted artist is often misunderstood, so some people fail to appreciate the raw emotions at the core of her writing. You either love Miranda July or hate her. I LOVE her and every one of her idiosyncrasies.

There is much sadness in “Roy Spivey,” in which a young woman is enraptured by a famous celebrity after sitting beside him during a flight. True, humorous moments are strewn along the way —like when the narrator lets the famous Roy sniff her smelly armpits and when he nibbles her arm— but this is actually a story about loneliness. Before they part after the landing, he gives her his telephone number. She “wanted a telephone number like this [her] whole life,” and holds on to it for years. The secret telephone number becomes a security blanket of sorts, even after she gets married and grows older. It remains a false, comforting hope for a different life, should she choose that path. She itches to call. She needs to call. Yet this telephone call between the narrator and Roy Spivey never happens —for better or worse.

Phone70s

Inspired by:
“A Telephone Call” by Dorothy Parker
Complete Stories
Penguin Classics, 2002, 480 p.

Listen to a cookin’ 1951 radio recording of “A Telephone Call” by actress Tallulah Dahling.

Some writers have the knack of weaving wit and sadness to create genuine stories about female obsession. Dorothy Parker is perhaps the leader of that of that pack. Her stories are real —funny yet laced with hurt. They will linger in your heart and your mind days after you read them.

My lonely, newly-single 19-year-old self could easily have been the narrator of ”A Telephone Call”. Such love-starved inner dialogues are not merely reserved for teenage angst-riddled girls or young women with stalking tendencies. Surely, most women have had obsessive thoughts about a crush at one point or other. Although this story is set in a different era, when women were not expected to make advances or first moves in relationships, its desperate, frantic yearning is still real and relatable for today’s readers. I can imagine a teenager, clad in a Billy Talent T-shirt, obsessively checking her smartphone for a text or an incoming call, thinking, “PLEASE, God, let him telephone me now.”Reading Parker’s story once again made me chuckle, cringe, and shake my head, thankful I’m no longer part of the dating game. Though, if I was single right now —like I was when I first read this in my early twenties— I think I’d be overwhelmed with heartache.

RedPhone

Inspired by:
Crazy Glue” by Etgar Keret
Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006, 237 p.

Read Keret’s short short story “Crazy Glue.”

Etgar Keret is a world-famous Israeli writer known for his surreal style of storytelling. “Crazy Glue” was the first story I read by Keret. It appeared in a collection of micro stories titled Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories, and it was by far my favorite. The story’s magical quality made my heart skip a beat. After my first reading, I took a deep breath, stared at the wall for half a minute until I processed my thoughts and emotions, then went right back to the beginning and read it again. And again. It’s that powerful.

In this story, a wife suspects her husband of having an affair. When the husband questions his wife for buying glue, she answers, “A lot of things around here need gluing.” She wants to find a way for her husband to stick around. He gets the hint and thinks she is suspicious of his “overtime” hours.  At work that day, he cancels his plans with his heartbroken lover Abby over the telephone. When he returns home, the husband’s wife is seemingly nowhere to be found, yet the furniture is glued to the floors and all of the appliances’ doors are glued shut. He wants to make a call to find his wife, but the phone’s receiver is glued to its base. He finally hears laughter and sees his wife hanging upside down, feet glued to the living room ceiling. He places a stack of books and steps on them to kiss his wife. The books tumble. Husband and wife remain glued in their embrace. Ah… so perfect.