Archive for March, 2010

Hostage Negotiations

UPS Lair (...or possibly not)

Dear UPS,

You are holding my book hostage.  I can understand (and, for your sake, I’ll just ignore what the Geneva Convention has to say about this particular practice).  It’s a book, a lovely, precious thing, and this one (Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker) is meant to be particularly delightful, so of course you want to keep it for as long as possible.  You may even form emotional attachments to it – I’ve read Bel Canto, I know that this kind of thing can happen between hostage takers and their victims.

You strung me along for several days, clever you.  Leaving taunting notes that you had conveniently dropped while I was out, laying out the terms of negotiation on yellow stickies.  Why my one little book must be signed for in person you alone know.  I appreciate that you are sufficiently attached that you do not want to abandon it by the door but, I assure you, my neighbours are decent book lovers themselves and would be most respectful.

I did my best to abide by your terms – as requested, I input a new rendezvous point onto your user-friendly website (after your distinctly unfriendly computerized phone service refused to assist).  Immediately after sending these new coordinates, you arrived at the old ones while I was detained, leaving a note acknowledging the new arrangement and the tantalizing knowledge that my book and I had been within 6 floors of one another for the first time ever.  With a renewed sense of urgency, I spent all of Tuesday at the new rendezvous – convenient, as it was also my place of employment.  You never came.  You were too clever for me by half, and had doubled back to our original meeting point.

Now, your most recent note tells me, you have dragged my well-travelled book back to your lair and I must undertake a journey of epic proportions to rescue it. 

Well played UPS, well played.

Until we meet again, I remain, with sincerest hostility,

The Captive Reader (please note NOT “The Captive Book”)

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Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page.  Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

We nearly died on our honeymoon.  Literally.

~Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life by Queen Noor, p. 105

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Cinematic inspiration

Last night in attempt to steady myself before today’s interview (it went well by the way, thanks for all the support), I turned on the tv only to find Claudette Colbert in “The Egg and I”.  When I was younger, my aunt lent me her copy of the Betty Macdonald book and it became an immediate favourite.  I can’t resist a good comedic memoir about naive city-folk moving to the country – why would I want to?

The movie, while not quite as delightful as the book, is certainly a fun distraction: Claudette Colbert, Fred McMurry, Ma and Pa Kettle…However, now I have a desperate need to reread the book.  It’s been years since I last had my hands on a copy (my aunt guards her’s, as she should) and this is yet another reminder that it’s time to buy one of my own.

Does that ever happen to you?  Do you stumble across a film version, good or bad, of a book that you then feel the immediate need to read?  Whenever I see “The Princess Bride” (which seems to be aired every second weekend), I toy with the idea of pulling out my copy of the William Goldman novel and it’s impossible for an Austen adaptation to air without sending me back to at least one of her novels.

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Last Tuesday, Stefanie over at So Many Books reviewed If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson and I immediately placed a hold on it at the library.  I’ve come across bits of Sappho before, scattered in random texts, and have always been intrigued, meaning to pick up a full volume devoted to her.  Here, finally, was my chance.

As Carson tell us in the introduction, “of the nine books of lyrics Sappho is said to have composed, one poem has survived complete.  All the rest are fragments” (p. ix).  The fragments as they appear here range from almost complete verses to only one or two words.  It’s the shortest fragments that are perhaps the most intriguing, the briefest phrases that have no context and which tempt you to imagine the story around them.

It’s a beautiful collection: romantic, nostalgic, thoughtful…Rather than attempt to analyse them here, I’ll leave you with a few of my favourites.  May you spend your Sunday as I have mine, dreaming about ‘many and beautiful things.’


you will remember

for we in our youth

            did these things

yes many and beautiful things



I long and seek after




having come from heaven wrapped in a purple cloak




            but I am not someone who likes to wound

rather I have a quiet mind





I used to weave crowns





someone will remember us

                                    I say

                                    even in another time

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via mary ruffle

For the first time in ages, my real life has overtaken my reading life.  This is probably (almost certainly) for the best, but it’s still a rather shocking change.  Usually my life revolves as such: work, read, sleep, repeat.  I like it that way.  I like going through three or four books a week; this week I haven’t been able to finish even one.

So what has gone wrong (or right, if you’re viewing this from the perspective of my mother whose not-so-secret dream is to confiscate my library card and my entire collection of books in hopes of getting me to talk to real people)?

On Monday, I received a.) a raise and b.) an invitation to interview for a new position within the company.  Both pieces of exciting news and both hoped for, but to be told both within a span of fifteen minutes left me spinning.  I haven’t interviewed for anything since 2007, when I spent the fall of my final year of University eagerly tracking down a job.  The interview is this Monday, two days from now, so thankfully I have the weekend to prepare.  Being told that I am the first choice for the position has not been a great help – now I have the feeling that the role is mine to lose, rather than to win.  As long as I don’t psych myself out prior to the interview, all should go well, but still, it’s going to be a stressful weekend.

Clearly the stress is getting to me already: on Friday, for the first time since starting work a year and a half ago, I agreed to go out for after work drinks with coworkers.  I don’t actually drink, so in my case it was a glass of water, and I think my decision to come was as much a shock to me as it was to everyone else.  These Friday afternoon gatherings have the tendency to extend into Saturday morning, so I left after a couple of hours but it was still fun.  My (small) social circle here consists almost exclusively of work friends but this was a much larger group than I would usually go out with, including a number of new hires that I hadn’t had the chance to really socialize with previously.  Don’t think this will become a weekly event for me, but it was different and enjoyable even if only for the shocked face of my one friend who has been trying and failing to get me to join them for months now.  He was sitting at the other end of the table and the disbelief on his face every time he looked over at my end was priceless.

Now I’m off to a Saturday morning brunch!  This is more of a normal social event for me, as my two guy friends and I try to meet up every month or so, just to catch up on how everyone is doing and to occasionally talk about careers, etc.  What news I have for them this week!

So yes, a rather strange, twilight-zone week for me but a change is as good as a rest, right?  As much as I love my solitary, book-filled weekends, it’s good for me to remember that I am actually young and that resigning myself to the life of a hermit at the age of twenty-four is perhaps premature.

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Friday Potpourri

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Just three links this week, all to books that have caught my interest:

Three Stories of Gossip Not Even Austen Could Resist: a reminder that I really, really must read Mapp and Lucia.   

‘Girl Power’ From Botox And A Bustier?: a review of Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done  by Susan J. Douglas.  Described as “whip-smart” this is certainly the kind of book that will do more to anger than to please me.  Clearly, I must read it.

The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them: Elif Batuman’s “fantastically entertaining memoir-cum-travelogue of her education in Russian (and Uzbek!) language and literature — in Hungary, Turkey, Russia, Uzbekistan and suburban California.”  I want this, possibly even enough to purchase it.

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Library Loot

I have spent much of the last week starting and then abandoning books, desperately trying to find something that would hold my attention.  It’s been rather stressful at the office, despite some exciting new developments, and I find I just don’t have the patience to work through books that don’t immediately intrigue me right now.  That said, I have high hopes for the following:


Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehman

Came to this is in a rather round-about way: the Persephone edition of Mariana makes reference to another of Lehman’s novels, Dusty Answer.  Intrigued, a quick search on Lehman revealed a number of delightful options, but I was particularly taken with this blurb:

A diary for her innermost thoughts, a china ornament, a ten-shilling note, and a roll of flame-coloured silk for her first evening dress: these are the gifts Olivia Curtis receives for her seventeenth birthday. She anticipates her first dance, the greatest yet most terrifying event of her restricted social life, with tremulous uncertainty and excitement. For her pretty, charming elder sister Kate, the dance is certain to be a triumph, but what will it be for shy, awkward Olivia?

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

How to resist after almost everyone chose this as their pick for my introduction to Gaiman?  Excited, but also a little nervous that if I don’t adore it I will be shunned by those who championed it.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

A graphic novel!  Very exciting for me.  To date, the only graphic novels I’ve read are French Milk and then something zombie-related, recommended by a usually trustworthy workmate, that did more to reinforce my prejudices against the genre than overcome them.  However, I’ve great hopes for this chronicle of Delisle’s time in Pyongyang while there working for an animation company.

They Fought in the Fields: the Women’s Land Army by Nicola Tyrer

This has been on my wish list for years.  Finally, I have tracked down a copy, which my library has mysteriously acquired within the last twelve months (since the last time I did a search for it).  Based on letters, diaries, and personal interviews, Tyrer chronicles “the forgotten victory” of the Women’s Land Army during WWII.

Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman

I’m actually a little skeptical of this one, which is generally, I find, the most useful attitude when approaching any work on Austen.  Hopefully, like A Truth Universally Acknowledged, it will surprise and delight me.  I’ve just started it and have found the first pages rather trying – want to guess how many times you can mention terrorism in an introduction to a book about Jane Austen?  Trust me, it’s more than you thought.

Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life by Queen Noor

This is the only book this week that I pulled randomly off a shelf, rather than placing a hold on in advance.  It was a great favourite with many of my high school classmates and teachers when it was first published and somehow dropped off my TBR list in the years since.  Picking it up today, I find myself quite excited. 

Library Loot is hosted by Eva and Marg

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We first meet Cynthia and Adam on their wedding day.  It’s the 1980s and, at twenty-two, they are the first of their friends to get married.  We meet them separately which, as the novel progresses through 20-plus years of their lives, you’ll realise is to meet them at a disadvantage: they are strongest when together.  Cynthia is perfection: beautiful, young, poised, smugly self-satisfied and absolutely in control.  Adam is not much different, though he approaches the day with a frantic energy not matched by his bride. 

The Privileges by Jonathan Dee follows Cynthia and Adam through over twenty years of their marriage, from solid middle-class beginnings to the world of private jets, two-story penthouse apartments, and multiple vacation homes purchased with Adam’s not-entirely-above-board earnings. Their children, April and Jonas, are born within the first few years and quickly become integral players as well.  Jonas is by far the more compelling of the two: from childhood he is driven by a need for authenticity, in music, in people, in everything.  He is an odd child, noted for acting like a forty-year old while still prepubescent.  His sister, on the other hand, is a far more typical youth: pushing boundaries, rebelling in small but not shocking ways, and pursuing the path of a socialite and party girl as she matures.  Both Jonas and April face character-defining moments at the end of the book, which makes their storylines all the more satisfying.  Somehow, neither come across as stereotypical and April’s description of the drugs and parties that consume her life is surprisingly simple and therefore compelling, even to a teetotaler like me.

Cynthia and Adam are less simple to describe than their children.  Fierce is perhaps the best description.  They are what the society pages might call a ‘power couple’ – formidable opponents on their own, unstoppable when joint.  As the book began, I worried that I was not going to like Cynthia, though I was instantly taken with Adam, perhaps because he is depicted as vulnerable in the opening pages.  Cynthia, on the other hand, is terribly confident and capable in that way that makes all other women insanely jealous.  But, as the novel progressed and I learned more about her, saw how fiercely she clung to her family, how devoted she was to Adam, how committed to raising her children and acting as a mother-figure to those who needed one, I came to admire her too.  Both characters have their flaws, large and small, but they couldn’t care less about them and, frankly, neither could I.

I adored the storyline devoted to Adam’s business dealings.  Adam is handsome, charming and clever and when he finds a way to work the system, he does it.  And like everything Adam touches, it goes off without a hitch.  There is no comeuppance, no internal angst over what he has done, and no dramatic showdown with the law.  Adam is always in control and it’s perfect.  Sublime even.  I’m tired of books/films/television shows that condemn the rich, so to see a character here who has committed a crime but remains the hero is strikingly refreshing (particularly since this was written in the wake of the recession).  For both Adam and Cynthia, remorse is an unfathomable emotion: there’s no point in looking to the past when you can be preparing for the future.  It’s a sentiment I’ve never quite been able to adopt, but one that I admire nonetheless.

I think that Jonas’ description of his parents’ relationship is the most accurate: “they are just really in love with each other, in this kind of epic way” (p.209).  They love their children and are surprisingly fantastic parents but, more than anything, Cynthia and Adam love each other and their entire lives are focused on making the other happy.  It’s kind of epic, yes, and kind of twisted in the ways they go about it, but it’s also kind of sweet and absolutely worth reading about.   

I had no expectation of particularly liking this book.  It was getting wonderful reviews from all of my favourite publications, but the synopsis really didn’t seem all that exciting.  And it’s not terribly exciting but the book is still excellent.  Sometimes all you need are compelling characters facing a relatively normal existence.

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Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page.  Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

What are the odds that such a spectacular girl would be willing to spend her life with a guy who wears those stupid madras shorts he wears; who thinks he’s a comedian but lacks the attention span to tell so much as a knock-knock joke from beginning to end; who believes with all his heart that near the garbage, ashtray, or hamper is the same thing as in the garbage, ashtray…That’s just a million to one shot, my friends, and frankly my brother deserves about as much credit for marrying this woman as he would for waking up with a winning lottery ticket stuck to his forehead, the lucky bastard.

~The Privileges by Jonathan Dee, p. 27-28

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Library Lust

I had a wonderful and abnormally social weekend: my father was visiting from Vancouver so much time was spent catching up but very little was spent with my books.  Now that he’s heading home, I wish that, rather than going to work this morning, I could just curl up in this beautiful library and read all day!

from Perfect English by Ros Byam Shaw

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