Category Archives: Books

House Haunting

 
I like to walk around in other people’s houses when they are not there. It thrills me.

I like to open kitchen cabinets and refrigerator doors and I like to peer under beds and parse paint choices and peruse bookshelves.

I like to straighten pictures and nudge knick-knacks just a touch to the left, just a touch to the right.

I walk, I look, and I wonder about the people.

Would they notice the planter askew, where I had moved it with my finger? Would they mind that I used to bathroom? I startled the cat on my way to the bedroom, poor thing. I creaked the floorboards going up and down the hallway.

Tee-hee! Ha, ha, ha!!

I think about how fun it is to haunt people, and then how ultimately pointless.

Tee-hee.

And then we gave notice on our apartment, and for a while I wondered about my own paint choices, the books lining the shelves in my living room, the contents of my refrigerator. My plants, my furniture, the crusty dishes I left in the sink.

And I thought about being haunted.

Do I want to live somewhere where the people before had painted the walls a deep, insistent mauve? Where the kitty litter had been kept, of all places, in the kitchen? Where Anne Rice enjoyed such an undeniable presence?

And which Anne Rice? Anne Rice, Queen of the Damned? Anne Rice, The Pious? The Once and Future Anne Rice?

Does it matter?

There were hand smudges on the walls of my new place. I painted over them but sometimes when I pass along the hallway, I can almost just see them.

And I admit that for now I will avoid looking directly into the dirty mirrors strewn around this place, I will throw away the greasy microwave that was left here, I will sprinkle “Nature’s Miracle Just for Cats Urine Destroyer Intense Urine Stain & Odor Remover” around this godforsaken place like freakin’ holy water.

I think that would be best, don’t you?

Ha, ha, ha.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Change, People, Places

That Monkey On Your Back

 
They came at us from the front of the room and as they picked each person off one by one, good intentions flaring like the quivering proboscis of an enraged primate, I grappled for a response I could maybe live with for the rest of my life.

An education seminar that begins with six suspiciously keen and terrifically alert presenters, all of them eager to feed upon the attentions of a captive and as yet hapless audience, is a deadly, deadly Thing indeed.  8:15AM sharp.  Bright shiny eyes, grinning from ear to ear. Gorgy faces gazing back at them, totally unawares.

The subject was reading – literacy – how do we as The Concerned get The Youth to enjoy reading as everyone everywhere, naturally, should.  Or something.

Suddenly:

“Without thinking about it, tell us what your favourite book is!”

TEAM BEEFCAKE.

See how they sparkle in the sunlight?

A trick!

A question the answer to which serves to define the questioned for the questioner according to level of intellectual and/or emotional and/or aesthetic maturity – or possibly even to showcase the supposedly advanced capacities of the asker – and infused with an unquestioned imperativeness (WITHOUT THINKING…TELL US) that mires it, all of it, in all kinds of smug, self-satisfied celebration.

A mess.

I am not good at giving people advice.  Any “advice” I do give can easily be broken down to its essential elements: a heady blend of avoidance and denial, topped with a generous dollop of after-the-fact rationalization.  Bait and switch. Cut and run.  That kind of Thing.

But I want to help here. I feel compelled to ease the blunt force trauma of the trick that is the question that is a mess.

I really do.

And if only to get that wild, demented monkey to stop clawing deep into the raw flesh of your back and off of you already!  To stop it from biting up and down your neck as it clings there, frothing at the mouth.

They haunt me still.

It’s in the eyes where they get you, really.

 
The Alchemist

Sensibilities aside, invoking the title of this book at least puts you on par with the nine other people in the room who already sighed it out as their answer.  It is the classic hide-as-a-face-in-the-crowd tactic.  Much like that time in church when you didn’t feel like singing the hymns so you just mouthed “tomato, tomato, watermelon, tomato” until it was, finally, over.  Or come to think of it your entire career in middle school choir, which you saw through just so you could satisfy the extracurricular requirements established by the board of education – the ones that evidently demonstrate your well roundedness and civic mindedness, thereby setting you on the right path towards a bright and prosperous future as a valued member of society.  And everybody.

Loves!

The.

Alchemist.

 
War & Peace

Go ahead and fire off this salvo at them – a real fatty – and do it with everything you have in you, and especially if you’ve never read War & Peace. They will not call your bluff. They will move on after a moment of dubious yet acquiescent pause. The risk here is just too great. The stakes too high for anyone to do otherwise.

 
Black Beauty

“But not the one with the horse.”

 
Catcher in the Rye

A lot of people find this book admirable not just as reading material but as evidence, unequivocal, of a mind able to slice through the phoniness of society just like everybody else who has read this same exact book in high school for 11th grade English because every single copy of Life of Pi had been checked out and there was, like, no way you were going to take the bus across town on a Friday afternoon to the main library just to get it.  So you might as well let them have it. Go with it.

 
How to Train Your Cuttlefish

GRIPPING… an extraordinary achievement that completely redefines everything we thought we knew and then some. [How to Train Your Cuttlefish] is both deeply rich and luxuriously illuminating…[an] utter tour de force! With cuttlefish.”

 
 I, Platypus

No lies.  You’ll probably get called out right away for this one, but that actually makes it worth the effort. And if you don’t? Still totally worth it. You cannot lose.

 
The Phantasmagorical Journey Through the Outworlds of Nibs and Doon: Oridon’s Lament (First Edition, Vol. 2)

Extra points (10, 000+) if you can: 1) say this with a straight face and 2) preempt any follow-up questions as to the actual existence of this book (“Really? I’ve never heard of it”) with a dramatic, over the top eye-roll. Then flip the table and leave the room without another word. Have a sandwich and congratulations!

 
The Bakers’ Dozen

I dunno.  But sounds good, doesn’t it?  Legitimate, even. If pressed, try: “It’s a mixed-genre mystery thriller/cookbook. It is very psychological.”  That should do it.

Indigenous in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

These lovelies are known as Persians. Their pinkness is literally and figuratively the icing on the cake.

 
Shakespeare’s 10 Things I Hate About You

Yes. GO THERE.

 
Infinite Jest

“By David Foster Wallace? Have you heard of him?”

No?  OK. Then, yeah.  With raised brow and laudable guffaw I repeat: Infinite Jest.”

Yes? OK. Never mind. My favourite book is, uh, The Alchemist. It changed my life or something.”

 
Like I said.  Cut and run.
 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Education

THE CLASSICS

I was over at a friend’s place a few nights ago, and he said that he had read the classics but not Jane Austen because her books are “all about marriage or something.”

As a Jane Austen fan and something of a reader of myself, I was slightly offended but not utterly surprised.

We often belittle the Things we only possess and are only really inclined to possess a passing familiarity with.

Here are some authors and books – CLASSICS – which I have not read:

 

Charles Dickens

Yeah.  Never got around to anything of the Dickens.  But I can surmise.  Urchins, cobbling, buggies and blacking factories, a magician…?

And a stacked audience.

You should see what this man can do with the Statue of Liberty!

If I were to write an autobiographical novel, I’d call it Siegfried & Roy.[1]  It would, naturally, draw on my childhood experiences of big cats and the men who love them.

Here's a secret: the Tiger is me!

Sexy Sandwich!

 

White Fang

Jack London.  Right.  I actually watched a Canadian TV show back in the 90s called White Fang, which starred an unhyphenated husky instead of a wolf-dog.  Kind of like Memoirs of a Geisha, which had Chinese people playing Japanese people, all of it and everyone caught up in a lavish production.

Memoirs of a Geisha is not by a geisha just like White Fang is not by a wolf or a dog.  But canines at least – and in any form, so far as I know – cannot write.

I’ve never read Memoirs of a Geisha either, and neither has Jack London.

It’s safe to say that we both never will.

 

Plato’s The Republic

I “read” this only in the sense that I had a first year university lecturer who summarized The Republic from her wonderfully meticulous and wondrously vapid notes, verbatim. It was a weekly, three-hour long class in the dead of winter and my only real accomplishment during the whole Thing – the whole ordeal – was that I lost all my vitamin D that semester.

These were the days before the easy wisdom of Wikipedia, you see.  I guess I could “wiki” Plato right now and impress the shit out of all of you (unless, of course, you all “wiki” it too and then we’ll all be standing, exposed, in a pool of our own inadequacies).  But simple ease has never been much of a contender to absolute laziness.

I just don't need to know how deep the rabbit hole goes, you know?

WHOA! Just take blue pill.

So…yeah.  According to Plato, this – everything this – is, um, The Matrix.

 

Walden (or Life in the Woods)

What I know of Walden, I’ve managed to piece together from fractured coffee shop conversations, The Simpsons and a snippet or two from CSI (who knew?). Not to mention my own prejudices, which can be shockingly astute.

Yes.  They are.

So, ok.  Deep breath.

Annnd…this-is-a-book-that-is-a-social-experiment-that-is-about-a-man-who-decides-to-leave-the-drudgery-of-modern-society-for-the-simplicity-of-life-in-the-woods-as-he-experiences-it-let’s-face-it-from-the-luxury-of-his-(upper?)-middle-class-sensibilities.

He sits on pumpkins and thinks that that is just neat.

If  you're doing Walden, would you also have to read Walden while you're doing it? Or would that be too much?

"March 15th. I wish I brought a TV. Oh God, how I miss TV!"

I think this is really a book that is about having your cake and eating it too, even if you have to bake it yourself (and not entirely from scratch).

Although I have not read Walden, I have read A Walk in the Woods (1998), in which Bill Bryson writes that “Henry David Thoreau thought nature was splendid, splendid indeed, so long as he could stroll to town for cakes and barley wine, but when he experienced real wilderness, on a visit to Katahdin in 1846, he was unnerved to the core.”

Sounds apt.  Exactly apt.

 

Steppenwolf

What is with wolves and literature?  How about something kicky and new?  Steppennarwhal!  Steppenmanatee!! Steppenhippopotamus!!!  I’d be all about that.  Totally.

Anyway, the internet tells me that Steppenwolf is this:

 A wild longing for strong emotions and sensations seethes in me, a rage against this toneless, flat, normal and sterile life.

It is also this:

I like to dream, yes, yes

Right between the sound machine

On a cloud of sound I drift in the night

Any place it goes is right

Goes far, flies near

To the stars away from here

Perhaps I should read Steppenwolf while listening to Steppenwolf.  Maybe they’ll sync up.

 

Moby Dick

This is a kind of a cheat because I am always continually trying to read Moby Dick. The intent is always there, nice and solid, but the execution is always sloppy at best.

"Who had had his fill of K-OS' Crabbuckit!  Except that was not true, Crabbuckit is 'coo.  They should teach it each day at the skools!

"There once was a man from Nantucket" is not, incidentally, the way this book starts. But it should be.

10 months later and, like, 280 pages in, and it turns out it’s about a whale.

And revenge.  Or something.

Sweet revenge.

 

References

Bryson, Bill. (1998).  A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. Broadway Books.

 


[1] (The Cindy Phan Story!)

2 Comments

Filed under Books

Book Club

I like taking the subway to get to Other Places because I can do Other Things while I’m at it.  It’s like a kind of wondrous, effortless multitasking.

I love to battle it out in the underground.

Game on, game on.

Sometimes I listen to music.  I mean, how often can you just listen to music?

(Finally!  A chance to enjoy MMMBop, on repeat, without distraction).

(And in plain sight of a Society at Large that is none the wiser.  HA!).

(Mmm bop, ba duba dop/Ba du bop, ba duba dop/Ba du bop, ba duba dop/Ba du...)

Seeing double plus one.

I know you're in here...somewhere...

(I never stopped loving you, Taylor Hanson).

Sometimes, I people watch.

(That woman looks drained and downtrodden; she needs a break.  That man is robust, yet unfocussed, and just a little bit glib; he has had too many breaks).

(Everywhere I look pants are getting both tighter and bagger.  It’s like one is compensating for the other but I’m not sure which is doing which).

(Did I just indadvertedly make eye contact with that old lady?  Shit.  Look away!  No, wait.  Don’t look away!  PRETEND YOU’RE ASLEEP AND DON’T KNOW ENGLISH).

Hell is...

Happy 7:00AM, People! Watch me as I'm watching you.

Sometimes, I just, kind of, you know…space out and go from there.

Just…

…kind of…

…you know…

ZzZzzzzzzzzZZZzzZZzzZZZzzzzZZZzzzzZZZZZzzzZzzz.....

Amen, sister friends.

Mostly, though, I read.

I love to read on the subway because I win at reading on the subway.  I absolutely DOMINATE.

But it is not without its perils.

After all, nobody wants to LOSE at reading.  It’s all a matter of knowing when to pick your battles.

At a Tim Horton’s?  Go ahead, pull out that brand new copy of Jean M. Auel’s The Land of the Painted Caves.  Read it over timbits and half-eaten crullers and lowered expectations.  “Ooo” and “ahhh” whenever the mood strikes your fancy.  Laugh your head off.  Or not.  Who cares?  WHO CARES??

At a Starbucks?  Best then to go with that worn copy of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra that you picked up at Goodwill for just the occasion.  Be sure to smile indulgently at the page every now and then, and to nod your loving approval to a brilliance not unlike your own.  Chuckle, a little, to show your engagement with the DISCOURSE.

But the subway…

…On the subway, reading is an art.  Of war.  You have to know the terrain you’re on that particular day and adjust to the conditions and – this is critical – to know to withdraw when you have to.  It’s not like listening to Rock N’ Roll Razorblade, or reading from a Kinkle or Kooboo or whatever the hell, which you can do with the immunity of anonymity.

My other iPad is a Millennium Falcon.

iPad Dude! Damn you and your impunity from my scrutiny!

NO.

Because maybe today is a Dan Brown kind of day.  Sheep!  I shall raise the stakes with my rare edition of hitherto unpublished Mark Twain manuscripts!

But what if The Autobiography of Mark Twain is the Name of the Game?  Why, then, I shall counter with the Collected Works of the Emmanuel de Mure Volstein!  It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t exist; even if he did, you still wouldn’t have heard of him!

The Help.  The HELL?  HA! Allow me to retort with The Hunt for Red October, because it’s the better movie.

Twilight?  You’re better off with the movies in the way that people are better off trapped inside burning houses than under churning seas.

No surprises in the end, but least you’re not wet.

Shakespeare?  SHAKESPEARE! Shit…Oh shit.  How am I supposed to know if you’re reading in earnest or with ironic detachment?  Is there a book report due or a play in production?  Is Kenneth Branagh up to something??  Too many variables here.  Best to rock myself gently to the soothing melodies of Middle of Nowhere and live to fight another day.

(Plant a seed, plant a flower, plant a rose/You can plant any one of those/Keep planting to find out which one grows/It’s a secret no one knows…)

You may ask: must I live this way, constantly on edge?

YES.

Because sometimes you have to lose to win.

Because sometimes the content of the book isn’t as interesting as who’s holding it by the covers.

Because sometimes Tenuous Something is better than Ample Nothing.

But sometimes…

…Sometimes I think that Things would be easier if I just read whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.

"She was there to sell makeup, but the father saw more..."

"Put it away! Put it away!!!"

But the world doesn’t work that way, and it is in moments like these that I realize that I just can’t betray the standards I have set for others to impose on me.

It’s just easier to accomplish Things without really having to accomplish anything and that’s what we call SUCCESS in the end.

It is a hard Thing, living for others; entering the combat zone weary, battle scarred, knowing that in my heart of hearts, my love resides elsewhere.

No word of a lie: I LOVE Fran Drescher.  She is great to me.

This book has everything.

But I shall persevere.

(In an mmm bop they’re gone/In an mmm bop they’re not there/In an mmm bop they’re gone /In an mmm bop they’re not there/Until you lose your hair. But you don’t care).

(Repeat Chorus).

Leave a comment

Filed under Books