three small reviews of three small books

   While I was finishing up this past semester I was desperate for some reading but had reading-guilt over pulling out any big tomes instead of my school books, and so: the short audiobook to the rescue again. I chanced onto three excellent reads (listens?) but after writing thousands of words for school I do not have much juice left for blogging. AND SO: mini reviews!

   For a good long while I've been meaning to read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, so naturally I read the quasi-follow-up Blue Nights instead. Here is what you can expect from Blue Nights:
  • Grief
  • Reflections on aging
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Loneliness
  • Discussions about adoption
  • Memories upon memories
   Do not let this list dissuade you! This book is excellent, even as it is fairly despairing. Joan Didion has lost her husband and her daughter, and it is heart-breaking. I have been reading quite a bit about grief lately, and I'd say that this book comes in second only to A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, which you all must go out and read immediately if you have never done so. Also: if you've never ventured beyond the Narnia books in your Lewis-fiction readin, PLEASE read Til We Have Faces and then read the space trilogy, you will not regret it.

   Back to Blue Nights. There were many things that stuck with me, one of them being, oddly enough, a moment when Didion essentially says "I know that a lot of people who read my books don't think I or my family can really suffer, because we are rich" and then goes on to ask how people can think like that, and how you can discount one person's suffering because it is different from another's. 100% my life is better than someone living in a refugee camp, and Joan Didion's life was certainly more interesting than mine, but I do no understand people who refuse to sympathize or empathize with people because they are wealthy or famous or have famous friends. Her husband and daughter died within months of each other! That is excruciating no matter how much money you have.


   The Art of Communicating by Thich Nacht Hanh is one of the gentlest books I've read, and I loved it. There are tenets of Buddhism which I do not agree with, but I am not one for throwing babies out with bathwater, and this book has so many babies in it and so little bathwater that it is definitely worth your time. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about communication as food, and how it is good to make sure you are getting the right kind of nourishment. He talks about the "six mantras" which are basically ways to make sure you are using loving speech, which I am hella on board with.A selection of things to say to people (or yourself), in your own words: "I am here for you," "I know you are here for me, and that makes me happy," "I know you suffer and that is why I am here for you," "I suffer, please help," "This is a happy moment," and "You are partly right."

   I won't be able to explain this book and its ideas as well as Thich Nhat Hanh can so you should probably just read this book. Love and compassion are for everyone, and mindfulness is not limited to Buddhism, and oh my goodness it is so beneficial to make a practice of taking a deep breath before speaking, especially in more tense conversations. Communication! It's important.

   I probably don't have to tell the book blogging world that Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck is par excellance, and that having the author read the book is delightful, and that I listened to the last essay in the collection twice in a row because it was that good.

   Sometimes I think that I am doing well in the arena of being indifferent to my looks (but in a good way) and then I read Nora Ephron talk about the things she does to maintain her appearance and I remember all the lotions and haircuts and waxing appointments and supplements I make use of, and I say "wow, I am not nearly as chill about my looks as I thought." It's a bit of a disappointing revelation, until I remember how far I've come in the realm of body-acceptance (really far) and I cease being disappointed, and recall that all my make-up wearing and hair-removing is done for no one but my own self, because I like it. TAKE THAT, weird self-imposed expectations of cultural defiance!


   All three of these books are great and I need to read more Joan Didion. 



   Yesterday I went rock climbing, had birthday dessert for one of my little brothers, and went to one of my older brother's houses and watched a short documentary about New York hardcore. It was a big day.

   I got my hand caught between the rope and the rock while lowering off of my last climb of the day yesterday, and while it is now swollen and blue-ish, I'm very glad it's not broken. People sometimes ask me or the people I climb with if we are afraid of falling and dying, to which I always say no (and sometimes do a little explaining about how safe climbing is with proper gear and knowledge). What I am afraid of is falling and breaking my ankles, or doing significant damage to my hands. It is weirdly reassuring to be high enough up to know that "if I fall here, I will not be maimed and waiting for rescue, I'll just be dead" whereas if I broke my hand badly or lost a finger or broke my ankles, I'd have to at best refrain from climbing for weeks or months, and at worst have my ankles fused and never climb again. There are people who go to the same climbing gym as me who are missing fingers, so I'm not too concerned about that. You can re-train your hands. It's the ankles, really, that worry me. However, my hand is fine and we are cautious climbers, so all is well.  

   Hardcore may not be your thing, but regardless of your music tastes you should probably watch this documentary. It is great. Watch it especially if you are interested in underground music movements, or straightedge, or what people do after having been in the hardcore scene.


Girl in the Dark / Anna Lyndsey

   Once upon a time I wasn't a memoir-reader, and then came Bossypants, and then I was all about memoirs (to the degree that I read maybe one or two a year instead of zero). I decided that I should probably read stories from people with varied backgrounds, and so I read Persopolis, which was on my list anyways, and now I've finished Girl in the Dark and OH BOY: Y'all need to get on out there and read every book I've mentioned so far and please don't pass by Girl in the Dark. It's good and heartbreaking and hopeful and sad and bewildering.

   Anna Lyndsey's skin is severely photosensitive, and when she says severely she means severely. This ain't kid stuff. She's not just someone who gets sunburnt easily. Basically, her skin reacts to light so badly that she lives most of her life cooped up in a completely blacked-out room, aside from a couple stints of skin craziness remission. She talks about what it's like to try to block out every particle of light, what she does with her time (loooots of audiobooks, and word games to play in the dark). She talks about the fear of being left alone, and how it is difficult for her to listen to music. She talks, bluntly and honestly, about suicide, and about what a life is worth when it doesn't seem to contribute to the outside world and can't even be in the outside world. She talks about being in love and what love and commitment look like when one person can't be in the light.

   This book is short and small and has so much packed into it. There is a lot about healthcare and what it's like to be chronically ill and how to build up a community when you can't leave your house, as well as talk about love and books and the logistics of everyday life when daylight is a no-go. BUT if you want a strictly chronological timeline from point A to point B then you should still read this book but don't expect it to follow an orderly timeline. Ach, just read it! It's great! It'll take you very little time to read! It's got a great cover! It's honest and conversational! It'll make you want to reach out to people in your life who might be sick and/or homebound! It isn't sensationalized! You'll get annoyed at anyone who interrupts your reading time! (Who am I kidding, that's the story of my LIFE. I'm reading, let me read, or someone gonna get hurt real bad.)

   Long story short, Anna Lyndsey says that words are wonderful and she is correct.


Steelheart / Brandon Sanderson

   Currently, I am in the throes of getting a degree through an online university. Sometimes, this means fun research for film studies, which includes watching hella movies. Other times, it means writing a long, in depth paper about the psychology of sexual offending (among other papers on other non-uplifting subjects) and sinking into a months-long funk and feeling pretty hopeless. And in April, it's meant realizing that my months-long funk resulted in a need for crunch time in a major way. All this to say: I should have been reading and writing only academic things and damn you Brandon Sanderson but NOT REALLY because Steelheart was GREAT.

   Equal blame for my shirking of school goes to a friend of mine, who lent me Steelheart (along with the sequel and two other books). I told myself "as long as I don't take this book out of this bag, everything will be fine" and I held out for almost a week and then I was cleaning my room and I did it. I took the book out of the bag and that was my fatal mistake. Folks: this book is so good. I should have been writing essays but I didn't care, all I wanted was Steelheart, Steelheart, and more Steelheart.


   Here's a thing I love: people who look at the superhuman myth and question it, instead of assuming that a super-powered human would be moral. Because why would they???? There's no all-encompassing reason. Why wouldn't Clark Kent decide to take over the world? The reason the comics give us is "well, he was raised on a farm," and frankly? That's not a very good reason. Having a good upbringing does not mean that a person will never do anything evil. Adding phenomenal cosmic power to any sort of upbringing sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. And even if a super powered person turned out a-ok there would still be a slough of problems regarding their role in society. And sure there are super villains in run-of-the-mill comics but they aren't addressed in a very complex way very often and WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?!?!?!?

they will look up and shout, "save us!" and I will whisper, "no."
   This book might be a plot-driven sci-fi page-turner but that doesn't keep Brandon Sanderson from talking about vigilantism or morality or what happens when you make a power vacuum or the role of vengeance in our lives or what it means to make a difference in a corrupt society. Basically, this book is my jam. I mean, I love me a good superhero story as much as the next person but I also love to think critically.


"Straight down the line"

   And here they are! the 11th-15th movies I watched this year, as seen in this post:
  1. Casino Royale (06)
  2. Double Indemnity (44)
  3. Drive (11)
  4. Mildred Pierce (45)
  5. Not Another Happy Ending (13)
    The next step you should really take in your life is to watch Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce at your soonest opportunity, this is not a drill. They are both masterpieces and let's face it, you are doing yourself zero favours by missing out on them. Watch more film noir, you will not regret it. ALSO: film noir is definitely what my term paper is about and boy howdy I have never used the word "fatalistic" so much in a paper in my LIFE. For reference, some film noir keywords: fatalistic, pessimistic, corrupt, hopeless. Fun!

   If you are on the hunt for a podcast where two people who clearly love movies sit down and talk about movies, then may I suggest The Canon? They had an episode about Casino Royale and after listening to it I said "they are right, it IS a great movie" and had a serious James Bond hankering until I phoned my brother and said "WE ARE WATCHING CASINO ROYALE TONIGHT I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU SAY." And even though it's the only James Bond movie I've seen I still love it, and still say things like "but this movie shows us WHY James Bond is James Bond!" as if I am an authority on James Bond.

   I could go on and on and on and on about Drive and how fantastic it is, but I will spare you because I have never seen a movie be so polarizing as Drive is (except maybe The Fountain, but I don't know why because that movie is a cinematic triumph). A friend of mine and I have had long, drawn-out, in earnest conversations about why Drive is amazing (my opinion) and why Drive is terrible (her opinion). People seem to either LOVE it or to HATE it, with little leeway in between. BUT Drive is, indisputably, neo-noir, and I partly chose to write about film noir because it meant watching and writing about Drive. I read the book last year, it was good. I always want to be the Driver for Halloween. What I will say about Drive is that it does exactly what it sets out to do.

   Every once in a while you watch a whole bunch of movies about murder and mayhem and you just really need a palate cleanser. And so you find an indie rom-com about writers and publishers and Karen Gillan is in it and it's called Not Another Happy Ending and it's cute and does the palate-cleansing trick so you can get back to some super pessimistic movies, as is your wont.

   Also: film noir is making a comeback and that is significant, and says a lot about North American society and ahhhhh everyone should do film studies, at least a little.


11 - 15, 2015

I give myself 52 movie slots every year and oh boy, I am powering through them this year. What will I do if I run out???

Can you a) guess these movies, and b) guess what genre my term paper for Film & Genre is focused on?


Villette, the End "Tired wayfarer, gird up thy loins"

   IN WHICH, Lucy gets high, goes for a walk, and jumps to conclusions. She also meets her kindred spirit in the bookseller guy, who is testy and rude but nice to Lucy.We also get more conversations with concepts:
In my infatuation, I said, “Truth, you are a good mistress to your faithful servants! While a Lie pressed me, how I suffered! Even when the Falsehood was still sweet, still flattering to the fancy, and warm to the feelings, it wasted me with hourly torment. The persuasion that affection was won could not be divorced from the dread that, by another turn of the wheel, it might be lost. Truth stripped away Falsehood, and Flattery, and Expectancy, and here I stand— free!”
   Truth is not a person any more than Reason is, Lucy Snowe. And she's over M. Paul for about two seconds when BAM: JEALOUSY. Then she runs home and gets waved at, by someone who turns out to be Ginevra Fanshawe on the lam. Ginevra Fanshawe, whom we love and who says things like "we never meant to be spliced in the humdrum way of other people" and who, really, has been the best and most entertaining part of this book. I mean, she calls Lucy "dear old Tim". Also, we have apparently been using "literally" wrong since 1853: "she took me to herself and proceeded literally to suffocate me with her unrestrained spirits, her girlish, giddy, wild nonsense." Not "literally", Lucy, or you would now be dead of asphyxiation. 

this is what Ginevra is like
   But who cares about any of that: behold the return of GHOST NUN. BUT NO: we are bound for disappointment, in this and in EVERYTHING ELSE (except that Ginevra was fairly happy and wrote letters, because I love Ginevra). Because Ghost Nun is none other that DE HAMAL, and I am irked. I so wanted Ghost Nun to be more awesome, even though sneaking in to see your lady while dressed up as a nun is pretty hilarious. 

    I do not like that CB made Pere Silas so conniving and awful, and I thoroughly dislike Beck and her scheming and if-I-can't-have-him-no-one-can-ing

   I am still torn as regards M. Paul. He considers marrying his ward repugnant (well done, sir), and give Lucy a school and proposes to her, and then he DIES IN A STORM. What in the world, CB. WHAT IN THE WORLD. You are the weirdest writer in the world

   And so ends our delightful readalong, for even when Villette was exasperating, you were all lovely. I can't say I'm sad to be finished this book, since it was so bizarre and so infuriating, BUT I'm glad to have read it. I vote for more readalongs in the future. 


Skaha, I Love You

before (clean baby hands!)

after (if we were climbing in the Rockies there'd be more blood)
   My brother Tyler and I spent Easter weekend in BC, climbing Skaha Bluffs near Penticton, and here is how it all went down:

   Wednesday: we decide that we are going to leave at 7:30, stay in the hostel at Castle, then set out from there uber-early to make it to Penticton in time to get in some climbing. Shortly after 7:00 we decide we'll leave in the morning and skip the hostel. We say we'll leave at 4:00, but of course we switch that to 6:00 instead, like reasonable human beings.

   Thursday: OMGOSH it's 5:15, wake up, shower, chow down a banana, get on the road! You are going to CLIMB in the SUNSHINE AND WARMTH today!!! But first you have to drive for eight hours :( But WHO CARES, it will be WORTH IT.

   AND IT TOTALLY IS. After a long drive (Why is Kelowna so huge??) we arrive at our campsite, check in, set up the tent, and high-tail it to the bluffs. We climb some easy routes and get super stoked about climbing something that isn't a) plastic gym routes, b) polished limestone, or c) freezing cold. Skaha Bluffs are all gneiss and after limestone it is like climbing on rocks made of angels. ANGELS.

   We leave after bumping our grade up to 5.9 (Tyler climbs a trad 5.10a, I do not). It gets a bit chilly but we don't even care. A stop at a market for soup and breakfast/lunch fixings means that all we have to do is heat our soup, chow down, bed down, and sleep till morning.

it's alright I guess
   Friday: we wake up at a much more reasonable hour and make our way immediately to the bluffs. We are staying at a campground across the lake from Skaha Provincial Park and it is alright I guess (hahahahaaa, we have a tent site right on the lake! Gorgeous). We climb ALL DAY and it is AWESOME. I get in my first lead of the season on a 5.6, and it is scary and great at the same time. After a winter of gym climbing it is a bit of effort to get my head back into the outdoor game. Skaha climbs are verrrry crimpy, which results in sore finger pads and elbows. It is very much Tyler's style and not so much mine, but crimpy climbs have been on my "get better at this" list and I am very pleased with how I'm doing. We get on a 5.8 which I constantly want to take a break on but I power through and am quite proud of myself. We are stoked on life.

I took essentially this same picture many times
   Saturday: my climbing weekend came with the caveat of making sure I got some school done, so we take it easy in the morning (including making good use of the camp showers. Let me tell you: there ain't nothing much better than a good shower after a couple days of hard outdoor work) and head into Penticton to locate two things: a guidebook and a Starbucks with electrical outlets. We find the guidebook in an adorable used bookstore where I cannot resist a book about Arctic exploration, and find the Starbucks down the block. Tyler logs climbs and figures out what we'll climb today and tomorrow, and I write about the effects restructuring in the public and private sectors has on Canadian women. The Skaha guidebook is excellent, my essay is alright.

I <3 used book stores

   We drive up the winding road to the crowded parking lot, and realize we may have to make the long ardous trek from lake-level to bluff-level, and we do not look forward to it. A Conservation Officer tells us the lots are full, but we arrive just as a family is leaving. We snag their vacated parking spot and feel triumphant. Lunch is crackers and meat and cheese, which we relish.

   But what about the CLIMBING!? We get in an excellent afternoon at Red Tail wall, despite a group that hangs out on the climbs we want for an amount of time that we decide is impolite. But! A couple two-star 5.7s make up for any waiting around we had to do. I cheer at the top of one of them; it was such a good climb and I am so happy to be out here. We chat up the people climbing beside us, they are friendly, we are friendly, the world is friendly.

someone left their blood on the rock, gross

   We get back to camp, eat supper, drink wine, and soak up the beautiful night. The moon is nearly full, the sky is nearly clear, the wind has died down, everything is bright with moonlight and good company/experiences. We decide to climb in the morning tomorrow and find a place for sitting and schooling in the afternoon. I have almost finished my book (Girl in the Dark).

   Sunday: we wake up and it is cold, but no matter! We eat breakfast at the trailhead and set out on a short almost-hike to the Go Anywhere wall. We arrive as the sun is juuuust hitting the top of the climbs, and peruse the guidebook and snack until we feel like the rock will be adequately warmed. So follows a decent climb, a great climb, and a FABULOUS climb which I unfortunately have to take a break on due to weirdly sore elbows. My poor joints are not used to several days of sustained climbing. Nevertheless, my general level of "so stoked on life" continues to rise. Everything is awesome: the view, the climbs, the garter snake we see on the way back to the parking lot. I love it all. I belay Tyler on a sustained 5.10b, I do not feel up to much beyond 5.8 at this point.

oh yeah, 5.10b, you did it, nice work
   We drive into town slightly later than intended, find a (different) Starbucks, and camp out for a couple hours. I write about women's movements in Canada, Tyler pores over the guidebook, I draw all sorts of blanks on writing anything academic. I think my face is sunburnt. We decide on soup for supper again, and head back to camp via the grocery store.

   Back at camp we pack up as much as we can, and eat a great deal of food because we are STARVING, oh my GOSH. I read Villette until I almost drop it on my face because I'm falling asleep.

   Monday: it is calm and clear when we wake up, which is excellent since it is time to break camp and pack up the car. Our plan is simple: tear down, climb for as long as we can, drive home. Tent-take-down goes quickly, we eat pizza buns for breakfast, and we are on our way! Back to the Red Tail wall to send a 5.7, a 5.8, and a 5.10b which I don't even think about attempting. We say things like "just move up" and "I got a hold of that jug and I knew I was taking it to sends-ville" and "gaston into a hand jamb" and of course climbing jargon sounds ridiculous.

much ropes. so safety. wow. carabiners.
   Too soon, it is time to walk back to the car and power through eight hours of driving. Kelowna feels like it takes up two thirds of the drive but we DO see a sign for "Butt Road" and stop for blended coffee drinks/books at a Chapters so WHATEVER, Kelowna. You thought you could beat us but you CAN'T.

   Once we get into the Rockies we see a great deal more snow than when we left. Apparently while we have been wearing t-shirts in the afternoon and maybe getting sunburnt, a cold front has moved into my homeland of Southern Alberta. We are even more pleased with our climbing trip, since there is no way we would've ventured out into the Rockies to climb while it was cold and snowy.

instead we climbed in THIS

   At last: home. The trip was excellent, and it is also excellent to be home again home again jiggity jig. I sent a couple 5.9s this weekend, which is the level I had laboriously worked myself up to last season. I got in a lead on a 5.6, and had several 5.7s and 5.8s that felt GREAT. I am pleased with my abilities. It was a very good few days, and much needed.


Villette 34-37, "I am ferocious and bearded and monkish"

   WELL, I am very glad this week's selection was super short because I was doing a whole lot of this:

   and not a whole lot of reading. As usual, however, there's an Arnold gif to sum up my feelings re: this whole damn section:

   You know what? CB should write a book about Ginevra teaming up with Ghost Nun (who I refuse to believe is what's her face no personality lady) and them going on paranormal adventures and it would be like a mash-up of Supernatural and Elementary, with a little Scooby-Doo thrown in. Mr Home or whatever his French name is can finance them. He seems an alright dude, if a little dense, and he wouldn't be able to control or strike fear into Ginevra the way he does Polly.

   I was reading in my tent and thinking, "wow, CB has really eased up on the Catholics," when BAM: vitriol to the nth degree. I am glad Alice has told us about M. Heger or not much of this would make sense. Poor Charlotte.

   Okay, also? Dr John and Paulina and their whole dynamic? Uber creepy and weird. SHE WAS SIX, DJ. SIX. I don't care if she is "grown up and will be no taller", just stoooop recollecting her sitting on your lap as a TINY CHILD in your dumb love-letters. EVEN SO, I was sad to read "once even there rose a cry in their halls, of Rachel weeping for her children" and know that Paulina had lost a wee bairn. 

   The problem is, essentially, that I'm not MAD about reading this book. I'm glad to be reading it and I think it's valuable, but I'm ALSO glad we're almost done. I don't really like Lucy Snowe so much as admire her. It seems like she goes through life giving everyone she meets a mental middle finger and she's had a pretty rough go of it and it makes me dislike her less.

   p.s. if you want to read about climbing I will *probably* post about it tomorrow. Long story short: it was awesome.


Mort(e) / Robert Repino

   If you are looking for an even-handed and well thought out discussion of what religion looks like in dire circumstances and where the line between devotion and extremism is, don't read this book. This book is not, shall we say, nuanced in this area. BUT if you are looking for a story of giant ants taking over the world with the help of anthropomorphic animals, then get on board.

   One day Mort(e) isn't Mort(e) but Sebastian, dutiful house cat, and the next day he is suddenly sentient! What could it mean?! It means there is a giant colony of giant ants who are determined to wipe out all humans. Although there are things that make the suspension of disbelief extra difficult in the story (if someone grew from cat size to human size overnight, it would be so painful), and it seems that Repino has a very simplistic view of religion, it's still a good read. Let's just say that as soon as an author even hints at a group functioning with hive mind I freak the hell out because hive mind is my favourite science fiction device in the world*. Hive mind covers over a multitude of sins. Maybe it sounds like Repino read a bit of Marx and came across "religion is the opiate of the people" and just RAN with it, but I mind so much less when there are awesome ants who function as many parts of one giant unit.

   The book has a narrow viewpoint when it comes to religion, and it doesn't quite convince on the science, but on the whole I enjoyed it and expect others would as well. It's a science fiction book about a war between humans, ants, cats, and other creatures. MOSTLY it's about a cat who is searching for his dog friend and the war that gets in the way of his quest.

   This book is like a mash up of We3 (which I didn't really like but I think about a lot), and Watership Down. Actually, add in Blacksad (which might be all about animals but is definitely not a book for children) and viola: you've got Morte(e), except it isn't a comic book, as these comparisons may lead you to believe. Short chapters, quick pacing, giant ants. Plus there's hive mind, so, you know.

   *There have been multiple times when I've been watching/reading science fiction and have said excitedly "OMGOSH THEY PROBABLY FUNCTION AS A HIVE MIND!!!!!" and I'm usually wrong but I alllllways want it to happen, but it doesn't and it's upsetting. Repino writes hive mind really well and it makes me so happy. When I was reading Ender's Game I definitely shook my book and said, "All you have to do is kill the Queen and the rest will just die! They think with her brain!" and so on.