Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On the Edge of the World

This past weekend I went to Victoria to visit my friend and classmate Thea. She has a condo right on the beach and I have four day weekends: a recipe for a perfect weekend, is it not? I went to Victoria twice last semester, and both times it rained for the entirety of my stay. This time, it was gross and grey on the ferry over on Thursday, but by noon on Friday the sun decided to give me a break and finally proved that it isbeautiful in Victoria.

My original reason for going to Victoria last weekend was an event being held at the University of Victoria on Thursday night. The Faculty of Education was showing the Canadian premier of the documentary Library of the Early Mind: A grown up look at children's literature. Thea and I were the only ones who made it to the showing from our MACL program, and I'm so glad we did. Filmmakers Edward J. Delaney and Steven Withrow interviewed children's book authors, illustrators, publishers, and librarians and asked questions about every aspect of Kid Lit: what it teaches children, how it's written, the process of publishing children's book, and the challenges of the content.

It was a great film. Highlights include an interview from Daniel Handler in which he explains how he created his character/pen name Lemony Snicket (he would find the blandest articles that were entirely uncontroversial in the most middling newspapers and write outraged rebuttals demanding an apology as the intolerant Lemony Snicket); an interview with the tranquil and astounding illustrator Jerry Pinkney; and the remarkable story behind David Small's (of Imogene's Antlers fame) graphic novel Stitches.

One of the greatest achievements of the film, though, is that it completely indulges the mid-twentys to late-fifty-year old audience. It was so well crafted to gauge a reaction from the viewers. First, an author or illustrator would begin speaking on whatever topic, and after a few seconds their name would come up, and after another few seconds, their claim to fame would appear underneath it. It was so interesting to listen to the audible reaction as "Natalie Babbitt, author of Tuck Everlasting" appeared on the screen. No one knew who she was to look at, but as soon as the title of her book scrolled up on the righthand side of the screen, there were sighs, gasps, and whispers of "I love that book!" from across the auditorium (myself included).

On Friday afternoon, Thea taught me how to play squash. She is an avid player, to put it mildly, and a great teacher. I absolutely loved it so we booked the court again for Saturday. Thea told her parents that I was "really good," which we learned was a falsehood the next day. I completely forgot (or never knew?) how to serve, so I was an awkward bumbling mess on the court. God bless Thea and her patience. In any case, I still had a great time AND a great workout. Muscles I had clearly never used before, and therefore didn't know I had, hurt, and I could barely move on Sunday morning. I'm planning on playing again, though, so I can challenge my dad to a game when I'm home and destroy him. Except in a nice, loving way

Since the weekend decided to be warm, sunny, and delicious, Thea and I drove along the coast. It was absolutely breathtaking. Firstly, it was 21 January and there was no snow, and I was walking around in a light rain coat. The waves were crashing just enough to make that great sound of ocean running into rock and then retreating. The sun was just peeking through a few low clouds, and I was seriously blown away. It is so strange and wonderful and profound that in less than a month, I have touched both the Pacific and the Atlantic. I am the embodiment of coast to coast. I have stood on both edges of the world (metaphorically, of course).

Thea and I spent the rest of the weekend cooking, exploring downtown Victoria, and watchingGlee. We stopped into this fantastic used and antiquarian bookstore called Grafton Book Shop. I found a cheap copy of Kit Pearson's A Handful of Time, and this amazing set of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. They were a 1946 special edition, and they have full coloured frontispieces and illustrations. They were so beautiful and so cheap that I absolutely had to have them for my collection. *geeking out*

I'm back in the 'Couv now and forcing myself to be proactive with my school work. My Canadian Children's Literature course really inspires me, in that I, personally, am trying to understand what "Canada" means and how that can be applied to literature and art and food and all things that make a culture interesting. Based on my experience of moving from Newfoundland to British Columbia, I'm entitling one of my assignments "From Coast to Coast." I'm going to examine five Newfoundland children's books and five BC children's books; an homage to my past and to my present, as it were.


PS - I've started adding labels to my posts. The inspiration for this largely came from this amazing mockery of Twilight. Now if you want to find posts where I talk about, say, weather, you can click on "winter isn't really winter on the west coast" and you'll find all those blogs. It's not really of much use, since they're mostly to make myself laugh, but if you ever want to, for some unfathomable reason, find a collection of where I geek out, you have that ability. You're welcome.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Catalogue, of Sorts

I've been back in the ‘Couv for almost two weeks now, and I’ve been flat out pretty much since my plane landed! School this semester is already busy and demanding, and there’s so many people with whom to catch up about Christmas and New Years that I don’t have much time to dawdle around the internet - or, at least, as much as I had last semester.

I’m taking three courses this semester. One is called New Media for Children and Young Adults. I decided to take it for several reasons: 1. I love YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, and all those avenues for self-expression on the internet, 2. I was advised it would be a good course to take by my supervisor, and 3. I heard the prof was great. All of those things are still true, but it’s also bru-tal. I consider myself to be fairly adept at computers, at least in the sense that I learn quickly, but I feel slightly retarded in that class. It’s sort of boys v. girls class as well: the three guys are all uber tech savvy and bring their aluminum MacBooks to class, while the three ladies still use the archaic pen and paper to take notes. I have to lead a seminar, which I had cleverly avoided for the entirety of my undergraduate career, and now I don’t know how to do it. This class may or may not be the death of me. I’ll keep you posted.

My second class is Canadian Literature for Children. It’s taught by Judi Saltman, the head of the MA in Children’s Lit program, and an absolute wealth of knowledge on Canadian Literature. I’m fairly certain she knows everything about every Canadian writer, illustrator, and publisher. It is impossible to listen to Judi’s lectures and *not be inspired and impassioned by her love of Canadian content. Judi is also good friends with Kit Pearson, whose books are the reason I applied for this program. I have loved Kit Pearson since I read The Sky is Falling when I was eleven years old. Kit will be visiting our class on March 8th, and I made sure that there will be plenty of time for pictures and autographs and gushing over her work. I will also, perhaps obviously, dedicate a blog to that event once it happens!

Finally, I’m taking another Language and Literacy Education class, this one about trends and issues in teaching children’s literature. There’s only six of us in the class, and the other five are teachers. Last night we spent half of the class talking about how to introduce novels in verse into the classroom, then spent the rest of it cutting and pasting a storyboard. Best.class.ever. I took a class with the prof, Kathie, last semester and I thought she was just so lovely that I had to take another class with her. She has such a vast knowledge of illustrated books, a knowledge base that I want to build, so I’m lucky to have her as as resource available to me.

In other news:
The weather since I’ve been back has been incredible. Aside from a few days of snow and/or rain (usually a combination of the two, so it ends up snowing slush), most days have been precipitation free and warm. While St. John’s has been snowed and rained in, I’ve been walking about campus, wearing a cardigan and watching lawns being mowed. The SFU campus in Burnaby shut down for a day when there was an inch of snow, and yesterday the Environment Canada had a “Snowfall Warning” for Vancouver: 2cm. I could really, really get used to this winter.

I’ve been having a grand time gallivanting around the city. Michelle and I, accompanied by her cousin and friend, saw the Body Worlds exhibit at the Science Centre. I had read about it in my history of medicine course I took at MUN, and it was super interesting to see the human body used as both an art form and an educational tool. I finally met the esteemed Andrew and Natalie Poirier and spent a lovely Sunday afternoon with them and my cousin Paul. I finally did my due diligence to Matt Damon and saw True Grit with Jeanette (great movie, by the way. Funny, well written, good acting, and a great homage to the Westerns of old). The Writing Centre girls got together for a final to-do before Marion moved back to Newfoundland. We broke out the old school Dutch Blitz and had an uncharacteristically tame game.

In further other news:
Another room mate has moved out! Now we’re down to two of us in the apartment. It’s nice because we have more fridge and cupboard space, and we each have our own bathrooms. It’s also odd, because now I’m alone a lot in the apartment. My last remaining roomie, Shelly, is very quiet and rarely around, so everything is almost eerily silent. I really like that there’s only two of us left, though, because I have so much more room to enjoy cooking in the kitchen. I’m not sure if we’ll be getting any more room mates, but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Happy weekend, all!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Pride and Joy

Fewer things bring me greater joy than turning the last page of a book and closing the back cover. I love the feeling of accomplishment I get holding a book and knowing that I’ve consumed that story, those words, a part of the author’s soul. I love feeling that I am different in some way because I have read that book - every time you read someone else’s thoughts, you are infusing your own with a piece of them. It’s a profound thought, really, to know that we are so intimately connected by the written word.

Inspired by my friend Stacey’s completed 2010 resolution to read 50 books in a year, I thought I would count how many I read last year. The final count is somewhere around 40 (give or take one or two, because there are some that overlapped Christmases on both ends). I thought I would list them, if for no other reason than my own pleasure, and note the ones that I particularly enjoyed and think are worth reading, or the ones that are generally awful and should be avoided. (You'll also note that I have a habit of finding an author I like and reading them in bulk. I suppose there are worse customs one could have.)

  1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - One of the best books I have ever read. It won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, and for good reason. A warning: it's a bit of a slog to get through the first third and can get confusing with characters and names, but never have I found a book whose ending is more worth it. If you haven't read this book, you need to.
  2. Saturday by Ian McEwan - After reading the astounding Atonement, this book was a major let down. It's action is set all in one day, and the whole book is basically McEwan going "Look how good of a writer I am!" Annoying, really.
  3. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Writing My Life by Don Miller - Another brilliant book by my favourite author. Definitely some profound thoughts, especially about the necessity of the now in life, and how we can't wait for life to just happen around us. We need to create our own story-lines.
  4. The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger
  5. First Comes Marriage: Modern Advice from the Wisdom of Arranged Marriages by Reva Smith - This book had some interesting thoughts about marriage, like you don't have to have the same interest as your partner, but you do have to share the same morals and virtues to make a marriage work. Generally, though, it was poorly written and seemed aimed at teen girls. By and large a waste of my money.
  6. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
  7. Lottery by Patricia Wood
  8. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer - Another must-read. This is the story of a ten year-old boy who loses his father in 9/11. The narrative is unique, complicated, and beautiful. This is one of those books that I makes you angry when you have to put it down to do things like go to work and eat. One of my favourite books I've ever read.
  9. A Contract With God by Will Eisner
  10. In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson - I have a hard time saying any of Bryson's books are my favourite because I love almost everything he's written, but this is one of his best. Funny, informative, and an historical document, it's the embodiment of a perfect piece of travel literature.
  11. Is It Just Me or is Everything Shit?: The Encyclopedia of Modern Life by Alan McArthur and Steve Lowe
  12. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer - This book was a massive let down after reading ELaIC by Foer. The ending almost makes it worthwhile, but you have to suspend your disbelief for so much of the novel that I couldn't get into it. Many disagree with me, though, so I still recommend checking it out.
  13. Angry Conversations With God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir by Susan Isaacs - I love this book. It's a real, raw retelling of a rocky spiritual journey, filled with profound thoughts and honest revelations. I was moved.
  14. Little House on Rocky Ridge by Roger Lea MacBride
  15. Paper Towns by John Green
  16. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
  17. On the Way Home: The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894 by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  18. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  19. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan - This might be my favourite John Green book, for several reasons. One, John and David each took turns writing alternating chapters, so the book is told from the perspective of two different characters. Two, it's a great story about acceptance, sexual orientation, and trying to reconcile your identity based on your current friends. I thought it was an interesting book, to say the least.
  20. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  21. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood - Totally don't get the hype around this book at all. I felt like there was an eons worth of build up for, like, the most unexciting climax ever. I finished the book and thought "That's it? All that book for no big deal?"
  22. Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant - Jessica Grant is a Newfoundland native and this, her first book, won Amazon's First Novel Award, and for good reason. It's a unique story of a mentally challenged girl, her pet tortoise Winnifred, and her attempt to understand her past in the wake of her father's death. It's funny and touching and deep and worth the read.
  23. Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
  24. Let the Great World Spin: A Novel by Colum Mccann
  25. The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket - I think Lemony Snicket is one of the best children's writers that I've ever read. He doesn't talk down to his readers and isn't afraid to tackle difficult and dark topics in his books, while still being funny and light hearted.
  26. For One More Day by Mitch Albom
  27. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  28. The Maestro by Tim Wynne-Jones
  29. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  30. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  31. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - Suzanne Collins' trilogy (including the next two books) are without a doubt my favourite find of this year. I've already blogged about the first book, which you can find here, but the other two are just as good. If you read nothing else this year, read this trilogy. I mean it. Seriously, seriously good.
  32. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  33. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  34. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie - I read this book for a class last semester, and it's stayed with me. It's a semi-autobiographical story about a Native American who is forced to choose between retaining his heritage and achieving a better life in the "white man's" world. It's a powerful Young Adult novel that I didn't think would affect me as much as I did, but after reading it, I really questioned equality and if it actually exists. It's one of those books that everyone should probably read in the hopes of spreading understanding and tolerance.
  35. Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie
  36. Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey - and Even Iraq - Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski - I wrote about this book in an earlier post as well. See here if you're interested.
  37. I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away by Bill Bryson - I laughed out loud a lot while reading this book. It's a collection of short articles published in a New Hampshire newspaper between 1994-1996. Not my favourite Bryson, but, as with all his books, a good read.
  38. Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
  39. Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children’s Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter by Jack Zipes
  40. Harvey by Herve Bouchard
  41. At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson - I gave an excerpt from this book in an earlier post (see here). I've since finished it and, surprise surprise, I loved it. Bryson, as always, is fascinating, funny, and completely engaging. It's not for everyone, I know, because it's dense and very historical. But he makes reading about the fabrication of cement interesting, and that is a feat of word manipulation if there ever was one.
  42. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris - If you've ever read or heard any of Sedaris' essays, you'll know he is essentially a stand-up comedian on paper. This is a link to one of his essays, both in print and audio, that's in this book. Check it out. You will legitimately laugh out loud, I pinky swear.
  43. Feed by M.T. Anderson
  44. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - This is one of the most profound books I have ever read. It's the story of a German girl and her foster family during WWII. The book centers around the importance of reading in preserving life - both physically, as well as the soul. It's a heavy book, but so many times I had to put it down and ponder what I had just read. Zusak has an incredible command of language.
Thanks for indulging me! Please leave me comments or emails telling me what your favourite literary finds of 2010 were. I'm always looking for new reads, and I don't really possess the skill of picking great books off the shelves at random.

Happy reading!


Monday, January 10, 2011

The Return (and Some Housekeeping)

A belated happy 2011!
My posting for the new year has been delayed, and if you’re the sort who really enjoys reading this blog (I’m not sure if that sort even exists), I am sorry for the wait! Over the Christmas season, I had a thoroughly lovely time at home, and I didn’t spend much extended time on my computer; thus, lack of posts. But I am back in The ‘Couv now, and the frequency of posts shall increase dramatically.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - right now, in fact: The best part about leaving home is returning back to it. I was back in Newfoundland for a month and it was time well spent. I definitely appreciated this Christmas more than I have others in recent memory, because every moment mattered. I saw almost all of my favourite people, met some lovely new friends, and rarely saw my bed before 3am. It was nice to sit on the couch and listen to Mom playing old hymns on her new accordion (and when I say nice, I really mean I tolerated it), watch Glee with the sister and the bro-in-law (who pretends he doesn’t like it but actually finds Sue hilarious), and play an endless number of board games.

Speaking of board games, I just need to point out how many I played over Christmas. I love playing games because you often find out a lot about people, and with the right group you can be in stitches from laughing. By about January 3rd I was completely “Game Night”ed out, yet we played on. You know you’ve played too many rounds of Catchphrase when you start using clues like “This is the word that Megan had twenty rounds ago and no one could guess it,” and then someone gets it right. During a game of Monopoly, Kayla threatened to divorce Gavin if he didn’t sell her Marvin Gardens, Margot and Leah revealed their true fantasies in one round of Things in a Box, Mom schooled Dad and I in Wizard, and many, many people messed up the scoring in Catchphrase. Whatta time, indeed.

I also got to drive across the island and see pretty much all of my Newfoundland family while home. I stayed in Gander with Kayla and Gav and got to meet a few of their friends, then spent New Years in Corner Brook. I played (more) games with my aunts, uncles, and cousins, ate way too much good food, and had a splendid New Years with some extended family and displaced friends.

And now I am back on the West Coast. I had a harder time leaving St. John’s this time than I did in the fall, and I felt pretty bummed out for the entire journey back. There were some noteworthy events along the way, of course: There was a girl at the Toronto airport carrying her kitteh on the plane, so I chatted with the cat for a while. There was also a man with a steel briefcase in front of me in the Tim Hortons line up, and I suspected that he was carrying millions of dollars - or drugs, as it is Vancouver - onto the plane. I paid an insane amount of money for a sandwich and promptly dropped half of it onto the floor. The woman sitting next to me on the Toronto-Vancouver flight was a legit hippie (“My husband and I own a little piece of land where we bathe in the stream and raise chickens, and I teach art to people with disabilities and he is a wood carver. We’re one with the earth.”) and she sort of stared at me in disbelief when I told her I didn’t really like the book Where the Wild Things Are. Also, the pilot kept talking, telling us that we were going to “scoot” over to get the wings deiced, and then “scoot” up to our cruising altitude of 35 000 feet as we “scoot”ed over to Vancouver.

Anyway, I was feeling very discontent, tired, and generally crummy for the entire day until we flew into Vancouver. The sky was a clear, bright blue, the mountains were capped beautifully with a dusting of snow, and the grass was green. I could spot familiar locations as we landed, and there was a thick, bold rainbow arching right over the harbour. I don’t necessarily believe in, like, “signs,” but over the past few months rainbows have cropped up more often in my life than I think is perhaps normal, so I took this sighting as a good omen, and it felt good to be back in Vancouver.

Now, for the aforementioned housekeeping of this entry:
I’ve heard that some people have had trouble posting comments on the blog itself. I’ve fiddled with the settings and I think it should be easier now. It is possible to post without having a Google ID, you can just select the “Name/URL” option or “Anonymous” to leave your comment. Your comment will not appear immediately, as I have to moderate them to make sure no one is spamming before I confirm them. So I request that you post a comment here, just so we can see if I’ve got the problem fix’d. If it doesn’t work, send me an email or a Facebook message, and I’ll contact the Blogger people to see if they’ve broken my blog.

A bientot, mes amis