Monday, August 29, 2005

Every Word Is Like An Execution

I apologize to thee. Five days between proper posts, when I had said in the morning that I'd be back that same evening. Technical difficulties interfered, you see, by which I do not mean that a large man reached through the window and stole the computer, nor do I mean that someone poured gasoline in the hard-drive, nor even that I locked the computer into a vault with fifty thousand other computers and then forgot what it looked like, thus, sadly, losing it among the other stale technologies. What I'm saying is that the fuzzy headache developing Wednesday night/Thursday morning became a fifty-clawed bone-shredder by Thursday afternoon, and there were no survivors. But Sunday morning, le mal finally broke, and a shiny feeling of unsickness moved in on the new digs. Which is me, feeling better. So last night, a friend back in town, we went to see The Forty-Year Old Virgin, which is excellent, and has dancing ("Age Of Aquarius"!), and a perfectly-ended montage, and subtleness about popular culture, and lots of unsubtleness, too, and is entirely what Wedding Crashers (according to this review) lacks. I'm not alone here, people. The entire theatre was laughing, too. I haven't heard this much audience participation since Snobbbier-Than-Thou-Thursdays at the local Indie Theatre had to be cancelled due to management inadvertently buying old mainstream films and trying to palm them off as ironically cool cultural references. I mean, Hayley Mills? There will never be anything cool about The Parent Trap, and that's just one of the reasons I love it, so hands off, indie-hoppers!

A lot's happened, you know? I won $13,000 in this one contest to find the buried treasure. The treasure was all these loonies crammed in clear plastic egg-cartons. My elderly Mexican friend and I went back through the old folks' home and tried to pick up the bonus prize, because it was worth a million dollars, but then I couldn't find enough information about the bonus, and we got antsy about leaving the $13,000 so we went back to the woods and waited for nightfall to smuggle it away. Then I woke up. Listen, I NEVER have dreams. And since I never have dreams, I was like, "Thirteen thousand dollars? My share will put my car back on the road and pay off the last of university! Yeah!" Tricks like this are why reality and I haven't been on speaking terms in forever.

Reading: The backs of various bottles of aspirin, mostly. Also, Sudafed, Tylenol, etcetera. This is a very limited genre, folks. Character arc is flatter than a Disney cartoon. Plot development, ditto. I get it, this is a non-fiction genre, but come on! Shaping a narrative, anyone? Creating more than a captive audience? I haven't read any reviews for the latest bottle of Maalox, yet, but I imagine it would be more of the same. It's the publishing houses who I hold responsible. "Fast acting," some hack writes, and the editor lets it slip. "Pain relief", another amatuer burbles, and the publisher nods encouragingly. Listen, overextended flame-metaphors, shoddy anatomical diagramming, I'll put up with so much. But not this, not sloppy lies like these, outright misinformation. Like I said, I know it's not supposed to be a fictional genre. Has anyone told the authors?

Listening: About a year ago I began listening to The French Kicks. They were a good band. Why did I stop listening to them? Lack of peer pressure, really. That, and the only CD of theirs I can lay my hands on (which, btw, is a VERY good CD and very hands-on-able) costs twenty-five freakin dollars at the local store, and I'm tired of all that, okay? Poverty blows, but even more extreme versions of poverty blow even more extremely, especially when that extreme poverty is due to the EXTREMELY HIGH PRICE of a CD. I thought, when nobody wanted it, that the thing became cheaper. And that CD has been there for a very long time now, and I think it's actually getting more expensive. That's why I'm listening to the very cheap online blog 3Hive

Thursday, August 25, 2005

"After Eight" Is Right Out

The lilac-scented invitation read "After 6", but there was no post meridian mark. So Briscoe and Ethel-Lucy Cranston showed up at the manor dressed in their cocktail best, looking for coloured martinis before breakfast. The cook made oatmeal, and Ethel-Lucy, though she would never admit it, bit her lip and swore. Briscoe felt quite awkward.

The normal post will appear shortly after 6. That is, in the evening. You are all cordially invited.

Please bring your own martinis.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Sometimes it comes to this: you've got to pick sides. Not that heads is better, or tails is best. You've just got to call it. I'll post something pretty tomorrow, daisies, maybe, or that Roman piazza, or (more probably) what I think about The Time Traveller's Wife, but today I'm writing for real, and that means words, and that means paper. The Blog is beautiful, but today I'm picking The Novel.

AK, I'll respond later (much later) this evening. There's still something to be said. Crystal, I'll see you later, too. J, are you there? That tattoo-fest is happening pretty soon. Later, you savvy alligators.

Reading: 12% 13% 14% still reading 28% 29% still reading 63% 64% 65% 66% still—Godsake, this book is taking forever to load! The Time Traveler's Wife + Audrey Niffenegger

Listening: I like them. I thought you might, too. Don't be shy. Introduce yourself. They're new, too. Sorry, what's your name? This is "They Are Always Into That" + Rademacher

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Oh, Karen

I know this guy, he's a dark-haired graduate from the U of A. Haven't seen him since June. Never met a guy who made sad sound so funny. He said he would head for California after graduation. Had ambitions to be a television writer. There was a Saturday morning, one summer, I asked him, "What did you do last night, Mattie?" He quirked his mouth and took another bite from his bagel. "Oh, the usual. Cleaned my rifle and prayed for an accident." Then he laughed. The bagel went everywhere.

Here's to you, Matt, for keeping your eye firmly on the bottom of the barrel. Hope you make it to your own [adult swim], or whatever version of Family Guy will have you. You'll be brilliant. And I'll get to say I knew you when.

Reading: Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston bought the rights to this debut novel. IMDB says the movie is in production, but wouldn't that production be part of the Plan B studio stuff that got cancelled when BP and JA split up? But this novel would make a burner of a movie. Yeah, I'm reading one of last year "hot" books, and that makes me a Mennonite by blogger standards, but whatever, whatever. The Time Traveler's Wife is the perfect antidote to that boredom-fest half the blogosphere has lauded in The Historian. Yeah, this is a concept novel, Time Travel For Dummies, but I get the idea it would work great told linearly as well. You see, Henry and Claire love each other. Henry is being biologically yanked through time. Claire isn't. Complications ensue. Violent complications, even. This novel is the kind of genre-obliteration which makes Motherless Brooklyn or Adam Fawer's Improbable such succesful stand-outs on the shelf. The author does a great job of ratcheting up the tension, too, and I'm neck-deep in empathy, hoping for a good end to things, because things are getting bad and I care about the characters. Aaagh! Sometimes I HATE that. But if you don't, and if you don't mind being a Mennonite, travel back to last summer and be cool with me, reading The Time Traveler's Wife + Audrey Niffenegger

Listening: The music is weak, but the video is disturbing enough to get my attention. Plus, the short was directed by Karen O, who is the ultimate sexy sexy indie singer (that's how I wrote it in my My Big Secrets book) and I'll pay attention to anything she's involved in, cause I'm biased like that. Thirlwell references Montreal, cause that's not where he's from, but he's so indie it hurts and maybe he's liking the current trend out of that city. Despite the name, the band isn't death-metal or satan spawn (but what do I know, they might be satan spawn after all, I'm just saying, okay?) and you can sort of hear NIN keyboarding in the back. The video is all The Fly and cheap zombies and Andy Warhol-ish face-shots, not neccessarily bad ingredients. You know what? I'm going to watch it again. Come with me and see "Blessed Evening" + Foetus

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Arabia Will Have Had Its Day, Or, Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants (Sunday Night Edit)

Long ago coralled to the white bones of the whale, the captain's skeleton hardly does more than shiver in the cold darkness off Asia. There is no finding the light in these deep waters. Soft-shelled crayfishes, larger than men know, blindly trawl the mud with other sightless beasts, none as blind as the eyeless skeleton in the arches of darkness. Captain, for your voyage never closed, for no faces eagerly turning, for these and other unfinished braveries, I regret your end. But your damn pride would never let you rest, and it was always pace pace pace up and down the deck with you, waiting for the cry, and, "For hate," you replied, "I spit!"

Some years back, Galileo was imprisoned for denying the commonly accepted idea of the structure of the universe. Merely by saying that the earth revolved around the sun, the man not only realigned the planets, but erased the word distance (which defined, among other things, the physical path to the First Mover) and replaced it with eternity. Physical God was forever defined as outside the natural physical world. Galileo's new universe was cold, filled with eternal distances, and correct. Well, not quite. Sir Isaac Newton, filled with bold ideas, picked a few pebbles from the shore and studied them closely. Which resulted in the definition of gravity, the distance between planets, the movement of the stars, the different parts of light, and calculus. The universe became stable and Newtonian, though not as fast as Alexander Pope would have it. Which lasted until Charles Darwin synthesized what many had been thinking, and found proof in his pudding, too, and hard questions. So the universe became Darwinian, a product of unknown forces rather than an unknown Force.

Now, perhaps Galileo was not entirely correct, but he was certainly more correct than his peers. Perhaps Newton did not see far enough ahead, but he saw farther ahead than the rest of Europe. And who knows what drove Charles Darwin? But whatever drove him also drove him to at least formulate something that could explain the state of the universe. The common thread in all these stories is the same: each man arrived at a theory which, for better or worse, forever affected the current established dogma of science and religion; each man explained the basis for his thinking; and each man, if not widely proven correct, at least proved the established mindset of his era to be proud, stubborn, and lacking in the knowledg of the times and what men ought to do. In other words, wrong.

What is the established dogma of science and religion in this modern Darwinian world? Understand, I do not argue for a divine six-day creation of this universe. To argue is to express logic, proof, and demonstrable truth and untruth. I find no such ingredients in the story of creation. On the other hand, I find no such ingredients in evolutionary dogma. As an explanation of a process, there is nothing offensive to reason in evolution. But as the origin of that process? Evolution contends that it is, literally, the answer to the question. Life, evolution explains, is a series of reactions. Reaction to what? Rephrase, then: a series of adaptations. Adaptations to what? If evolution is the inward drive to prolong life outwardly expressed, does this mean that one day humans will achieve immortality? But every fuel source in the universe must one day darken. Even Arabia will have had its day. Even as Darwinism has had its day.

The Church could not let her universe go, and became ridiculous for not acknowledging truth when Galileo spoke. Those few who opposed Sir Isaac Newton (Liebniz, Hooke, James II) stand forever in his shadow. The many who raged against Darwin became ridiculed in the man who wrote that God planted dinosaur bones to test His people. Age changes to age, who can resist it? The old moon must fade before the new moon can be seen.

Ahab would not let his passion pass. Revenge on the animal which had marred his world was all the captain desired. His emotions became his reasons. He tied himself to a single object, that object unachievable. And he died. And the sea swallowed him up. And only one man of all the captain's crew survived.

Are there not other universes beside the Ptolemaic, the Newtonian, the Darwinian? Why should an age of new understanding not come to pass?

[Sunday night edit—

Reading: You've probably seen a few previews, and know the movie is coming out this December. Think of it as LOTR in watercolours (like how there's colour Tim Burton and dark Tim Burton—this is colour TB), a gothless Tolkien, except it totally isn't. Tolkien, or gothless. This is what I love about the Narnia series. Someone had the guts to make a fantasy series where the good guys are unequivocally good and use only goodness to make the world good. Is my vocabulary suffering? Well, these books are intended for children after all. Maybe that has something to do with it. The second in the series (but the first written) is famously titled The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe + Clive Staples Lewis

Listening: I wanted to link to that new Corb Lund song (you know what it's called) the song titled "Truck Got Stuck", but I can't find a legit link anywhere. Corby just keeps getting better, you know? Let's face it, the man is spearheading an entirely new country scene. I think of The Uncas here in Edmonton, or, say, Tim Aylesworth out east, neither of whom really resemble The Corb Lund Band, but, somehow, each seems to echo the CL sound (ound ound ound). Then I got to thinking of other alt country stylings (which aren't really alt so much as old time and retro, less hot and more country), like the incomparable Peter Bruntnell or, better than most, Robbie Fulks. RF got in on that one Johnny Cash tribute, dealing out "Cry Cry Cry" like it was personally his, but enough of that. "Sleepin" isn't all that typical of Robbie Fulks' sound, unlike his newest release, the quintessential and amazing Georgia Hard, but it's still solid, very piano. "Cocktail" is also available for download on this same page, and what strikes the ear about both of these songs is the old-fashioned sound of them, but a genuine old fashion. These could be uptempo George Jones songs. And when would that ever be a bad thing? "Sleepin" + Robbie Fulks]

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Popular Media For A $1000, Alex

A few years after her primetime television career fizzled, Marsha Brady stepped up to a successful seventh-inning stretch in le film biz merely by changing her name to Jared Leto.

Reading: There's a lot of good reasons to read the eleventh installment in the children's series pastiche by the elusive Lemony Snicket. The Grim Grotto was published sometime last autumn, I do believe, but I reread it again after coming across The Reluctant Champion's link to the Name-The-New-Lemony Snicket-Novel Contest. So, Reason Number One To Read Or Reread The Grim Grotto: The good guys' uniform is a wetsuit with a large picture of Herman Melville across the chest. R#2: The bad guys are dressed in wetsuits featuring the face of that once-household-name-but-now-extremely-obscure poet Edgar Guest. Is this a pun on the whole sea of literature thingy? Whatever. Threadless should get on the whole Herman Melville thing, though. R#3: Where else are you going to have the opportunity to read lines like, "Look at yourselves, orphans, snacking and reading poetry while the powerful and good-looking people of the world cackle in triumph". R#4: The Submarine Q and its Crew of Two actually has a crew (by my count) of three to six. R#5: Carmelita Spats will not stop calling people "Cakesniffer", and it's very satisfying to read what other characters think of her. Are these enough reasons? If they are, go stand in your local bookstore and browse through The Grim Grotto + Lemony Snicket

Listening: Rachel Stevens. It was a big question, I know. Existential questions like this haunt me. Why does jello taste so good, but jello powder taste like the bottom of the saltiest barrel? Why does my girlfriend believe I'm Jewish (k, she doesn't, but why not? what's wrong with her believing that?). Why do the masses buy tickets to movies they know Julia Stiles will be in? I have no answers for you. These are the X-Files, you understand? But that first question! I remembered. What is S Club 7, Alex? Back in the day, Rachel Stevens was just another bubble in the pop machine. She's still just a bubble, but she's a lot bigger of a bubble. The pop machine is a lot shinier, too, and sells more adult-themed beverages, like Red Bull and sexy-ness. Yes, sexy is a beverage. I thought "So Good" was the best of the bunch, but Fluxblog put his cash in the machine, and he's letting us have a taste of "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)" + Rachel Stevens

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Tennyson Would Have Liked It

There was a time, not more than this-or-that day past, a person said to me, "What a stupid name." He was referring to the title of my blog. Fair enough. Opinion is just opinion, even if it is presented as fact. But when did an eccentric title ever take away from the contents of the work? And if the title be eccentric enough, interesting enough in its own right, surely, obviously, such a title becomes a positive. It is to this kind of title that the name of my blog climbs on its little blog feet, to the titles which intrigue one simply because they do not reveal instant or explicable meaning. I'm thinking here of novels like Cry, The Beloved Country or the wonderful To Kill A Mockingbird or anything written by Philip K. Dick. My philosophy here is a condensation of the Dave Eggers school, which seems to buy interest by itemizing possibilities instead of quantifying them, the contents of the page instead of the headline, if you will. My philosophy here is that of Umberto Eco, who sought a title that would achieve obscurity by meaning too many things at once, a title that would ride madly in all directions, a title that was exotically ordinary, or the reverse. This, of course, is the heart of Romance. I like to think that my blog's title is Romantic. I do not like to think that it is stupid. Why did this person regard the title of my blog so unfavourably? Perhaps he thought it had no relevance to the contents of this site. Right, then, he was wrong, my critic was.

Within each craft, there was a massive library. The Terror carried 1,200 volumes, while the Erebus had 1,700. The assortment of books included narratives of early Arctic explorations, as well as the Dickens classic, Nicholas Nickleby.

John Franklin believed there was a Northwest Passage through the Arctic. He thought he could reach the cold seas of Japan if he only persevered long enough. Well, John Franklin was a foolhardy ass and a bad leader. He was forced to abandon the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror in the deep winter ice, and take the bare chance he might reach the far distant Canadian shore. He never made it. His men turned cannibals, he himself froze to death, and his ships, that summer, sank to the bottom of the sea.

It may be that Franklin's lost ships will one day be recovered. And the 2900 books that sanks in those ships, together with the new inventions of the time, will also be recovered. But until that day comes, those books are forever missing from this world, and we must make do without them. This blog, then, is part of that making-do. In variety, in content, this site is plainly lacking what the Erebus and Terror contained. No matter. Sir John Franklin's library will not be forgotten, not by me. I like to think of those black wooden ships, lying in the utterly cold darkness a mile below the ice and surface of the sea. Nothing of those wrecks will ever fade, nothing will ever come to those books until the last fire heats the deep, and the great monsters, rising, bring all the sunken world with them.

Reading: Humour is so hard to find in writing. This site, for instance, is nearly devoid of it. But there's a lot of humour out there in newer genres, specifically online. And although not everone can be a funny man, or a clever writer, right now I'm reading a writer who is both, and you should, too. His latest piece, "The AntiChrist Is Among Us, And He Has A Moustache", a review of the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie film, is bitterly ridiculous, and nearly had me in tears. I recommended him before, I'm recommending him again. Check out The 16mm Shrine + Ash Karreau, or, possibly, Ash Carreau

Listening: I like her, but that's no reason for you not to. She's got her own mention on the frontpage of Myspace and a retooled album. She's everywhere, of course (well, for the next 15 nanoseconds on the net), and she should be. Don't check her out because she's everybody's darling, check her out because she's good. And she has the cutest name ever, too, don't you think? Come on! You like it! Tennyson would have liked it, too. "O'Sailor" + Fiona Apple

Monday, August 15, 2005

Blank Et Blank

I just wrote a poem about a man with Tourette's. The poem is eighty-nine lines long. All the lines rhyme, because every line ends with the word "blanket".

I didn't really write a poem. Not like that. I don't even know anyone who has Tourette's. And, by the way, why is it always the guy that has Tourette's? Where are the girls in the popular picture? I'm thinking of that guy in Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn, the crazy man Nikolai Levin in Anna Karenina, that writer guy André Malraux, heck, even Neve Campbell's brother turns out to be a guy. Inquiries, commence. Aside, be ended.

The Historian is part of the collective Tourette's Syndrome. I'm not saying this bitterly, I'm not saying this with favour, I'm just saying, is all. The facts of the case are simple and easy to blanket. The novel turns out to be yet another cycle through vampire mythology (lore? legend? urban myth? urblore? mythurblore? blanket?). There's garlic, and silver, mist of a mistness, bleeding necks, Transylvania, multiple narrators, death and dragons, and rich rich prose. All the usual blanket. Give me a cameo from Anne Rice (suitably phrased in the "erotic" prose she's awkwardly ripped from Dorian Gray) and every hallmark of Your Modern Vampire Novel will be stamped on the bottom of the blanket. I'm only half-blanket through this blanket blanket but I blanket I know how it blank.



Reading: Let's face it, not only is The Historian a repetitive novel in its subject matter, but (forgive me) it's practically TS in phrasing and layout as well. Does that make it a bad novel? Ill-scribed? I'm not so sure. I'm still reading it, after all. But listen, EK, please, next time, a little less on the backstory to the backstory to the backstory. Why play Calvino? He was a cool writer, yeah, but he never tried to moderate action-adventure born of Victorian sensationalism, did he? Anyway, this isn't a criticism proper, more like a wistful awareness of the faults of my own writing. Is all. I am sadly ("sadly" because I'm lazy and use hack emotional description, instead of writerly skill, to make actions seem interesting) only two hundred and a little-bit-more post-modern pages into The Historian + Elizabeth Kostova

Listening: My ears got cut off. KIDDING! But seriously, my ears were cut off. Ha, still kidding! Love it. But, really, I actually can't hear anything, never mind music. What happened was this: I was carelessly fiddling with a jammy new eraser, one of those beige ones you can buy in the art stores, I know you've seen them. The erasers, I mean. Whatev. SO I absent-mindedly scratched my ear while holding the eraser, and wiped off half my earlobe, and nicked the eardrum, too! My eardrum! Because I'm a pencil outline, you see, and I can't hide that anymore. I'm two-dimensional, and my one ear is gone. They're calling me Vincent around here, but I just want to get back to Family Circle.

[Edit (regular font): My eyes are very grey, sometimes they turn blue (but only for you), and, the thing is, they work fine. So I used them to watch the latest Kutcher kick, Guess Who. Who else thought that when his character was getting blackballed ("blackballed"? seriously? no, no, I can't go to the club tonight, Jeeves, I'm blackballed!), who else thought that the murky rumours of bad credit swirling around Ashton's name would naturally and inadvertently have been started by the prospective father-in-law using his job as a loan officer to investigate Ashton? And who else was disappointed to see that path lead NOWHERE! I hate bad writers.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Eric Strange

The Toronto Maple Leafs are illiterate. They cannot read. Somebody else is writing the contracts, and that somebody probably works for the Philadelphia Flyers. Either that, or Leafs management just hired on Bob Goodenow to coach and are getting typical Bob Goodenow results. "Je Suis, Je Suis," you say to me, I hear your soft mutterings. "What are you saying, you hotheaded young man?" I'm saying the Leafs can't spell. Not S-T-A-N-L-E-Y, anyways. Perhaps that noun just isn't in their vocabulary. How many years has it been since the Leafs could legally use "Stanley Cup" and "Toronto Maple Leafs" in the same sentence? No wonder they don't know how to use the word. But stuttering and spitting out "LINDROS!" before this season starts is no way to accustom yourself to saying "STANLEY". Lindros was so five jerseys ago, but I guess the Leafs just figured there weren't enough rings in the tree, yeah? Needed a little more age and experience. Whatev, boys. But you won't be putting any rings on your fingers, that's for sure.

When did I miss this? So, there's going to be a movie, then, yeah? But how is New Line Cinema going to condense a near 800 page novel into 120 minutes, tops? Jonathan Norrell & Mr. Strange was one of my favourite novels of last year. Let's hope the scriptwriter is up to the job.

Reading: Somewhere beside a red-tiled Croatian café (seashore? yes, and autumn, too, or early spring, and the black branches of the trees talk bitter behind the house), a dark-haired girl is pouring strong red wine into my ceramic cup. But I'm not there. I'm a hundred beating pages into The Historian + Elizabeth Kostova

Listening: Whiles past, the singer for pink pop-hearted Hello Saferide was invited to guest-post on Said The Gramaphone. Excellent stuff. I had no idea that The Ricky and Mike Sing-a-Long Group was just a side project of the unwistful boys who put out waltzes to the very real pleasures of the day-in-day-out. Many especially good bits of music are wrapped up in a confetti holiday cracker which is rightly called "Wonderful" + The Galactic Heroes

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Harry Potter & The Half-Western Prince

Today's front page relayed from Ottawa claims Harry Potter is the favourite consolation for the martyrs at Guantanamo Bay. Listen, I stayed silent about the Hollywood-football-movie-style-hazing, didn't even speak up about the bad photography, but this is the end of the line. When will the abuse at Guantanamo Bay stop? If pyro-islam didn't think America and Britain were Satan before Harry Potter And The Modified Noun, they'll surely view the West as children of The Beast after reading JKR. What? No, those saints aren't reading Potter for pleasure, you kitten-eating tree-burner! That's impossible.

Reading: Treachery, lust, murder, rape, pride, powerless good, sodomy, theft, and torture—there is too much evil in the world. And there is too much evil in Arabella Edge's The Company. There is no justice in this book. Quotes inside the covers of the paperback liken it to The Lord Of The Flies, and Edge plays no tricks with lines like "I am drawn to the familiar leer of one—my old friend Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies" and, "Instead I stun flies with my fan, capture them in my hand, tear gauzy wings from dry frail hinges". Additionally, I see similarities to The Caine Mutiny, for Captain Queeg (of Mutiny) and Jeronimus Cornelisz have a suspicious and selfish perception of reality which transforms each man into a monster. There's a certain type of boy (generally, I think, it's a boy) who lights grasshoppers on fire, rips the fine-veined wings off the imitation monarch. That boy is this book, and this book is full of those boys. Now, The Lord Of The Flies is told in the third person; so, too, The Caine Mutiny. And it seems to me that this third-person narrative provides a nice moral cage for the main monsters of either novel. But the first-person narrative of The Company obscures morality, imposing the view of it's main character on the prose, and JC (what initials!) renounces good and evil—"I also make them understand that for us there is neither good nor evil". The man does, however, abdicate responsibility for his actions, even blaming his chief tool Wouter for the bloody ends of the Batavia survivors. Yet why, if he truly is above all men and lives in an amoral universe, why does Cornelisz deny responsibility for his actions? Arabella Edge does not, I think, sufficiently explain or explore this paradox, and the reader (myself) feels cheated. Cornelisz is led to his execution firmly believing his own lies, a man, he thinks, betrayed, and therefore cries "Revenge, revenge". How can he be betrayed if there is no heaven or hell? In other words, the man remains unpunished, and for the author to have created such a monster and not to have punished him, is to have inflicted this monster on her readers and punished them—if, that is, we are against Cornelisz and his view of the world.

Now I'm reading a book about the possible immortality of Vlad The Impaler. At least we all know Vlad is a bad man, yes? A good tale is what I expect. There better not be any fine shading of post-modern etiquette here, not in The Historian + Elizabeth Kostovo

Listening: Thanks to Robot Mark over at Music For Robots, I get to listen to a toy piano being grimly and steadily tapped (but wait for the ending!) in "Freshman Thesis" + Thee More Shallows

Monday, August 08, 2005

[Not] Caught Up In The Mechanism

Today, I will finally play an entire game of Jenga. Today, I will pick up the new edition of Heeb. Today, I will meet an old friend from Ontario down on Whyte Ave. Today, I might diagram an imaginary peace tower for the capital of Libya. I might finally finish that last section of Splinter Cell. I might watch Say Anything. Oh, sweet life's ambition! Today, I am OFF WORK.

Reading: Well, I was re-reading The Rule Of Four, but now it's in Winnipeg, so that's not happening anymore. I've started reading this other book, then, a historical psychothriller taking place on a Dutch East India ship called Batavia. Only picked it up in Chapters for the Batavia reference, because—outside of this circle of one—I don't know anybody who even knows about that wreck, nevermind cares enough to base a whole novel on it. Think that famous painting where everybody's cannibal-style on the raft, insert Hitler or Herod as the narrator, and you've started thinking along the lines of the too-much-titled The Company: Portrait Of A Murderer: A Novel + Arabella Edge

[Editor's note: I just CANNOT seem to italicize the title of E's novel without throwing off the coding for the whole page, which results in an ugly white line riding the right hand side of the post box. I can't even italicize this note without screwing things up! Therefore we shall sorrowfully close our MLA guidelines for today.]

Listening: Bit sore in the wallet. Pockets a little sniffly round the edges. Sure enough, I came down with a bad case of poverty leading up to this weekend. Don't you just HATE that? Seems like I always catch a case over the summer, and this has been a bad summer. One of the side-effects? No Folkfest. That's a tough one. Useless! Bad enough to miss Loreena McKennit restarting her singing career after a five-year absence of the most miserable Shelley-and-Byron (insert "esque") tragedy, but Sunday night? Sunday night, I (insert "de") finitely wanted to be there. Let's check the list: Carolyn Mark, Martha Wainwright, Alison Krauss. Dammit, each of these singers is good enough to make the weekend her own, nvr (insert vowels) mind all three in one evening on the hill. Whatever, alright! Whatever. So today I'm listening to Alison Krauss (let's face it, Martha is for late nights and Diana Rigg fans, and so is Carolyn, minus the Avengers bit), because Alison is wonderful and earnest, especially when the car's wheels softly bite an early-morning gravel road, and she makes one realize the wonderful (scratch "wonderful", insert appropriate synonym) seriousness of life. If you don't believe it, hum softly to yourself and listen to "The Scarlet Tide" + Alison Krauss

Friday, August 05, 2005

Sometime Billy Sunday

Too tired. Look at that timestamp, will you? Go read The 16mm Shrine, instead. That's a sidebar alert, boys. The guy is ace. And way funny, if you like the bitter side of ridiculous. Think Wally in Dilbert, but better. Actually, think every Dilbert character, but better. And the mean side of Seinfeld. And that younger brother of yours who wouldn't shut up about how much he hated boarding school.

My cat just fell off the flaming monitor. Regular posting will resume sometime Billy Sunday. Hope to go the Folk Festival over the weekend. We'll see. Good night, Crystal.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Feels Like Sinning

I have no excuses. Certainly, it's been eternity since I last posted—eternity, apparently, beginning around midnight, July 27. What have I been doing? I played a lot of Splinter Cell and my bowstaff skills are coming along nicely. I even watched The Grudge at seven am one morning in a desperate bid to stay awake until it was time to go to work (yes, I'm THAT employee). Let me calmly and high-mindedly say I extremely unrecommend ever watching THAT movie while in a feverish state of sleep deprivation. Small children now terrify me. So does moving to Japan. Dammit, I did nothing with my time. I didn't even write more of my imaginary novel—which reminds me that I wrote a real novel once, and then found out someone else had already written it. Stupid Melville. Hands off my Moby!

But let's get to the serious stuff. Let's get to the blog. Let's get down with Robert Fulford in Tuesday's National Post. The man has a big essay (technically, little, and not an essay at all, but can't anyone be allowed to pleasingly exaggerate any more?) on the power of first words, first lines, first familiar phrases in our favourite novels. Fulford is eloquent, as usual turning not only a fine phrase, but directing appreciation to the fine phrases of others, namely Austen, Tolstoy, Dickens, and other, less famous luminaries. And Fulford makes an observation most of us, I think, have felt on re-reading Frank & Joe Hardy's Billionth Mystery Of The Smuggler's Peninsula Of Staggering Coincidences, Plus Chet Gets A New Haircut, which is, "If a book begins badly, there's little chance it will improve as it grinds on. (I've never put this selection theory to work, however; while possibly foolproof, it feels sinful.)".

First words (obviously) are more important than most any other words in the novel. But first lines, I'd like to add, are not so important that a good novel can't redeem the bad beginning or even mediocre middle. Exhibit A, I'd like to declare, would be my favourite novel in the English language, one of Dickens' best efforts, one of the greatest novels in the English language, which is rasing very high, very Great Expectations. Take a look at the beginning: "My father's family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip". Alright! I get it! The guy's name is Pip! Yes, it's an important first line, establishes context, identity, and a thousand other boring tasks. Get on with it, then. And the novel does, roaring through a great couple of early chapters until bogging down in London and the middle of Pip's young life among the usual Dickensian universe of grim eccentrics and oddsbodies. It's wonderful, readers, but it squelches, it undeniably squelches. Who cares? The last line of the book is as heartfelt a piece ofwriting as has ever been put to paper: "in her face and in her voice, she gave me the assurance that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham's teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be". That line was worth waiting for. That line shifts the whole book. That last line realigns the Dickensian universe, and sadness and suffering become so much more worthy of endurance than either could ever have been considered before.

Well, there are other examples, of course. Horror-writing is a rich field of last lines; the dénouement is all, here. Who is Edgar Allan Poe without the last line?—yes, yes, I've read the opening to "The Fall Of The House Of Usher"—have you read the last line of "The Tell-tale Heart"? And what about Koji Suzuki, who opened the modern horror classic Ring with a banal description of apartment buildings, but ended his novel with these memorable blocks of cliché: "Black clouds moved eerily across the skies. They slithered like serpents, hinting at the unleashing of some apocalyptic evil". I think of O. Henry, saving the turn-around-joke for the last line, and realize that humour walks shoulder to shoulder with horror when both wave the flag of the last line. And modern literature has not forgotten the respectable and ancient power of the final phrase, the fitting phrase for the eternal moment (as detailed by Dante, who, summing up the heart and motion of the universe, finished The Divine Comedy with "The love that moves the sun and other stars".Lionel Shriver ends her heartbreaking We Need To Talk About Kevin with pragmatic powerful prose, banal out of context, but speaking movingly of forgiveness and offering and love at the end of chapter after chapter of detailed familial hate and antipathy: "The sheets are clean". Or Connie Willis, who labours to open her books with the interesting sentence, but rarely suceeds in surpassing her first effort in her last line, except once, that line coming at the end of Lincoln's Dreams, when the hero realizes he was never the centre of the story, that he is only a sidekick, a servant, a burden, a loyal pet, and accepts his doom and loneliness, and identifies with General Lee's famous horse Traveller, saying, "I have picked up a nail".After last lines like these, there is no reason to write "Finis" or declare "The End". To have given up on books like these, like the novels listed here, would have been a sin against these novels and books, a sin against their authors, a sin against their fellow-readers, and more, a sin against yourself. Like packing for a journey and then never going, that is what giving up on these books is like; is the end of the journey worth the effort? Only the end of the journey will tell; only the end of the book will show.

Reading and Listening will be posted later. [Editor: Turns out, not so.]